by Jason Saffer, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
It’s been over thirty years, but I still remember the pain of junior high school. That’s when schooling and education began to go bad. That’s when the joy of learning began to get tainted, overlaid by a new imperative: evaluation, testing, “making the grade.” School got to be very competitive, the distinction began to get drawn between what “counted” and what didn’t. And we began to have to think in terms of “the future,” and how our grades and performance would measure up for college, which was still at least 7 years away. Education became an anxious hustle to stay ahead and to perform well.
In the midst of this new trauma, there was a teacher who stood out and who was a pleasure to be taught by. His name was Ken Pittman and he taught 7th grade General Science. Mr. Pittman (I still think of him that way) brought to his teaching a warm humanity, a vibrant humor, and a caring from the heart. I still remember him in his gray lab coat, a young man with close-cropped hair (after all, this was still the early 1960’s), standing in front of his lab table teaching us about the respiratory system and how car engines worked. And I remember being inspired, interested, and nurtured. If we’ve been lucky, we’ve all had a teacher like Ken Pittman somewhere along the line during our school years.
I think of Ken Pittman when I sit down to write about John Bradshaw, another teacher who teaches from the heart. What I liked about Mr. Pittman is that he taught me about how things worked, he helped explain the mystery underlying automobiles and the physical body. In much the same way, John Bradshaw has helped so many of us understand how we got to be the way we are. He has demystified the process of human learning and growth, and he has done so much to help us begin to remove the stigma and burden of self-shame, self-blame, and self-hatred.
These two men share something in common: both were very real. They weren’t pretending to be something they weren’t. They brought to their teaching their own self, their own sense of being who they were. They weren’t out to prove anything, they were just being. And from this groundedness, they taught us things that were useful, that were helpful, and that nurtured the soul.
In so many ways, John Bradshaw has been a pivotal force in bringing us out of hiding, and out from the toxic shame that always accompanying hiding. Through his teachings in his writings, on TV, and in person, he has synthesized and articulated complex principles of human growth and family dysfunction, so that not only can we understand it, we can put these learnings to good use. As any good teacher does, he opens our eyes to new possibilities, he helps us remove the crusted prisms through which we’ve seen life. He gives us hope and he shows us a way out. And, as any good teacher, he leaves it to us to do the work, to practice the principles, to live according to our highest values.
It’s been my pleasure over these last eleven years to work with John when he comes to the Bay Area to do his workshops and lectures. While he had his inpatient treatment center in Los Angeles, our counseling center, the Center for Creative Growth, was his Bay Area counseling affiliate and, as such, we had the rare privilege of being trained in codependency treatment by Kip Flock, the Clinical Director of the John Bradshaw Center. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that who John Bradshaw is on stage and on TV is the same person I experience when I share a lunch with him or talk with him one-on-one. He demonstrates and models what he teaches us: to be authentic, to be congruent, to be yourself. To use 12-step terminology, I’ve always respected that John “walks the walk,” and doesn’t just “talk the talk.”
John offers us a message of hope: that there’s a way out from the painful and hurtful patterns that we learned growing up in a dysfunctional world and in dysfunctional families. It’s not a new message, really. He doesn’t pretend that it is. In fact, more than any other “superstar” in the human potential movement, John is quick to acknowledge where he learns the things he teaches and who said it first. His mastery and his contribution come from the heartfelt ways that he has synthesized diverse psychological material and in the way he shares it with us. We resonate with him, he’s also “on the path,” he’s “one of us.” He gives us permission to be ourselves, to feel our pain and our grief, and to transform those feelings over time into serenity, acceptance, and purpose.
John Bradshaw is, of course, part of a larger movement at work today: a movement of all life towards enhanced awareness and fulfillment, a great shift in consciousness from scarcity and deprivation to a deeper grounding in ourselves as spiritual beings, not “human do-ings.” As part of that consciousness shift occurring throughout the world, more of us are determined to shed the weight of old shame and hurt that has been passed from generation to generation and we are finding potent paths to uncover our true selves and to drop the encrusted residue of the old. As a true Teacher of our Times, John is helping point the way.
© Center for Creative Growth