In my work as a psychologist, I work with children and teens who have disorders considered to be primarily genetic in cause. Environmental factors play a role as well, but according to our current understanding, they are mainly factors that maintain or exacerbate symptoms as well as the pervasiveness and persistence of the resulting impairment in carrying out life’s activities and responsibilities.

About 90% of my patients have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the primary treatment for which are stimulant medications, which can make an enormous positive difference in an individual who is responsibly diagnosed and treated. However, even with medication, ADHD can make what we typically see as moral and responsible decisions much harder to make. Environmental supports from parents, teachers, and other professionals can help and as children grow into adolescence, individual psychotherapy can also be useful in helping an individual who has trouble internalizing rules that are good in the long run but not salient right now and to use strategies to promote life skills and success. Nonetheless, based on current longitudinal evidence, individuals with ADHD, even treated ADHD, have a much higher rate of high school drop out, only a 5% college completion rate, and a higher rate of accidental death as well as suicidality, among many scary possible outcomes.

This is why these kids, teens, and young adults are the “it takes a village” kind of people. Actually, I believe that we all belong to the village and as social animals, we rely on one another and impact one another for good, for ill, or for nil. But these individuals are particularly vulnerable. They do not tend to be resilient. They need particular parenting and educational strategies that are often inconsistently or not available. They need effective healthcare that is often in short supply.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate for many aspects of my life that just happened to me. I inherited a strong mind, a basically happy personality, grew up in a loving family, went to good schools, and had my basic needs for shelter, food, and belonging more than amply met. I take responsibility for cultivating these gifts very seriously but I don’t for a minute take responsibility for having receiving this gifts in the first place. I got very lucky and have made very good use of what I have.

Consequently, I have a great deal of love and compassion for the individuals I see, even the ones who are honestly, not very likable. Some of them are not even very nice. Sometimes they are very likeable, nice most of the time, but do really impulsive awful things. A common characteristic of many, but not all, individuals is a lack of consistent self-awareness and a very difficult time connecting their actions to negative consequences. This is a neurological issue and it results in difficulties taking responsibility. It is made worse in that when they are aware of short-comings or consequences, they often respond with very harsh judgement of themselves. This lack of self-compassion makes it harder to own up to personal responsibility. All of this is compounded with the fact that medication often makes a big positive difference because it fuels the belief that control is external.

A common way of framing this tension is by saying, “It is understandable that x, y, or z is really hard for you but it is not an excuse. You are still responsible for your decisions and behaviors. We realize it is hard and that is why we are all part of your team to support you. But you are part of the team, too.”

Yesterday, another heinous racist hate crime, an act of terrorism against African Americans was committed in our country. Many of us are angry, grief-stricken, and overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. We are trying to make sense of this.

I think we need to stop trying to make sense of it, at least in the usual way that we do. The easiest way to explain something horrible is to put it under someone’s control and the easiest way to do that is by laying blame at a particular person. Another easy way to deal with these kind of events is to distance ourselves from them, the “I am not that” approach. Another way we can deal with this is to feel really sad, angry, and anxious for a day or two, or even a week, and then move on to the next horrible news story, further cultivating cynicism and passivity.

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed by this, to be enraged, to feel impotent, to wring our hands in perpetuity. It is even understandable to feel paralyzing and unproductive self-recriminations about the ways that we have acted unkindly to others. It is understandable to criticize the behaviors of others, to join with others in demonizing people we don’t know who have done wrong things; with social media, we join in with the professional media in shaming people in a very intense and protracted way. It has become brutal in a way that makes me fear for our culture. The stockades of the Middle Ages come to mind. Stoning. Throwing acid in a woman’s face.

These are actions that understandably fill our need for agency at times when we can think of nothing else to do. I have participated in these public shame-fests. I have participated in cynicism in the place of effective action. I have participated in judgment that is inconsistent with compassion toward myself or toward others. I have participated in racism, some of which I am aware, and likely some that I have done without self-awareness.

I believe that I am a good person in the way that most people use the term “good person”. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t done harmful things to myself or others. It doesn’t mean that I have not contributed to a hateful culture either through action or inaction, the latter because I was either “busy” or clueless.

As a psychologist, it is understandable for me to see yesterday’s terrorism as a mental puzzle to solve. But none of these understandable beliefs, actions, or conditions are an excuse for not taking my own portion of personal responsibility for being a part of a culture that can be hateful, cynical, passive, selfish, violent, and oppressive.

I am not responsible for the whole problem but I can take responsibility for my contributions to it. These are the steps I have decided to take:

1) I do not consider myself to be a racist person as a trait. However, I accept that as a human being, aggression and dominance are part of me and that I am not immune to the socializing impact of institutional racism. I accept that I can be a good person and person who has done racist things.

2) I accept that I have benefited from institutionalized racism due to the privilege afforded members of a dominant race

3) I will exercise self-compassion despite my moral and ethical failings.

4) I will work to be less judgmental, of people I know and of people I don’t know.  In terms of social media, this means objective criticism of ideas or behaviors but not of people and that said criticism needs to fuel a positive purpose.

5) I will work to help children and families be healthy.

6) I will work to maintain my own mental health.

7) I will work to treat cynicism as understandable, but as being incompatible with compassion and effective change, nonetheless.

8) I will work to promote unity instead of division in my culture.

9) I will work to elect individuals who promote unity and fairness instead of division.

10) I try to listen to others with different viewpoints and life experiences with an open mind.

11) I will accept that complexity is common in the very situations during which I feel the urge to simplify to make myself feel less overwhelmed.

12) I will expect myself, despite my best efforts, to fail from time to time. I will work at these times, to keep trying.

I may be wrong in my arguments, in my beliefs, and my actions. That does not make me a bad person. My imperfection and the limitations of my own mind to understand all of this is understandable. But it doesn’t take me off the hook.

It is understandable but it is not an excuse.

Stop making sense.

Start making change for the better.