Guest of the Month - Dale
Michael, Retired World Book Executive VP and Psychotherapist
Michael was Executive Vice President for World Book
Encyclopedia, president of The Old Spaghetti Factory
in New Orleans, a volunteer for many worthwhile programs,
a Reserve Police Officer, and eventually a psychotherapist.
During our interview, he shared how the Bible has
helped him find peace and worth for himself and others.
You've had two careers, really. Before we discuss
your 22 years with World Book Encyclopedia, I'd like
to ask how you became a psychotherapist later in life.
For years, both my wife Mary and I worked with people.
We started doing work with illiterates and then ran
into a lot of alcoholics and drug abusers. I worked
at a halfway house, owned a restaurant, and eventually
went to the Police Academy. I was a CEO of a hotel
and then went to Spain and Portugal for two years
to work. When we returned to the States, the question
for me was, "What do I do now?" I decided
I wanted to go back to school and be professionally
trained. I went to graduate school and got a Masters
in Counseling Psychology. Along with that came an
official credential in substance abuse counseling.
What were some of your challenges as a psychotherapist?
Some of the challenges were working with older people
who had been using drugs for so long and were so jaded
to the point that they felt their lives were not worthwhile.
One man told me, "If I have to give up pot, I'd
rather die." But some of the most rewarding challenges
I had were in marriage/couples counseling. Frequently
I would use ideas I learned in Sunday school about
God and the Bible, which has some of the most powerful
- Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt.
- Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that
men should do to you, do ye even so to them. (Matt.
How did you use the Bible passages?
I couldn't always come right out and quote the Bible,
but I used the concepts. I could help people who had
low self-esteem understand that they had innate goodness.
I was able to help them understand why they felt so
unhappy about themselves and begin to love themselves
as they loved others.
How did you find out if they were open to God?
I often asked my clients, "How do you think you
got here?" The discourse would often lead to
God. Then I'd ask, "What do you think about God?"
There's a saying, "God don't make no junk,"
which I shared with them. I would follow that with,
"Do you think God made you imperfect?" "No,"
they responded. So we worked together to have them
understand what they could do to feel better about
themselves. Tears would often well up in their eyes.
Sometimes I just asked if they cared to talk about
their religious background. Most were Christians.
I asked who their favorite character was in the Bible,
and most of them didn't have one. I asked them if
they wanted a Wisdom Figure in their life -- someone
with whom they could talk whenever they had a problem.
Among others, King David is one of my Wisdom Figures.
He was about as bad as you could be. He murdered a
man so he could have his wife. But he was still an
amazing man when you consider his reformation and
contributions. So sometimes I'll have a little mental
talk with King David.
A Jewish girl in her twenties came to me for help.
She had two Masters, one from a Hebrew University
in Tel Aviv and one from an American university. Although
she was incredibly intelligent, she was very disillusioned.
I was able to go back to the first five books of the
Bible. She was raised in an orthodox home. I had a
copy of the translated Hebrew Bible on my shelf.
What did you use from the Bible, or the Torah,
I used the concept of "love thy neighbour as
thyself" (Lev. 19:18). She thought it was only
in the New Testament. She had such low esteem and
problems with promiscuity, drinking, and relationships.
She hated herself and fought back by hating others.
We looked at King David. I asked her if she saw him
as a successful man. She said, "Oh, yes."
Then I asked her if she knew that he had made a lot
of mistakes. She didn't. We discussed all the mistakes
and all the good choices he had made. We talked about
how Moses killed the Egyptian soldier and how other
individuals in the Bible had grown after doing terrible
things. She began to get very interested. She loved
the Cantor (singer) at her synagogue and had a good
relationship with him. I encouraged her to talk with
him, and he got her interested in the spiritual aspects
of Judaism. As a result, her promiscuity lessened,
and she met a man she eventually married.
It sounds like she was really searching, and you
helped her find God again.
Our discussion reminds me of an experience I had.
I owned a restaurant in New Orleans. One individual
with whom I worked asked if I wanted to go to a St.
Francis Jesuit monastery retreat with him. From Thursday
lunch to Sunday lunch, you weren't permitted to speak
a word -- just meditate and pray. Although I'm not
Catholic, I went twice in a three year period. They
were beautiful experiences. During a young priest's
homily, he said to us, "You all look sour, and
you all look angry and disappointed. I'm going to
tell you something now that you should never forget.
God loves you right now just the way you are, not
the way you think you ought to be." It's stuck
with me. So many of us think we're so far from what
God wants us to be that we don't have a chance of
changing. But the truth is that we already are what
God wants us to be because we reflect His perfection.
You spoke about marriage counseling. What were
some of the challenges you faced?
I think the primary challenge is that most people
think that the spouse will give him or her what he
or she needs
if he'd/she'd only change. The
idea that the one can give the other what the other
doesn't already have is nonsense. I'm not talking
about money or material things. I'm talking about
happiness, joy, and fulfillment. Each person already
has what he needs for himself. People often go into
relationships thinking they can change the other.
It's not necessarily a conscious thought. But "once
we're married, I know he'll change" is a fallacy.
Nobody can make anybody else change unless that person
decides to change for herself. What a capable psychotherapist
does is to show the person the benefits of changing
and how he can do it. There are four areas that ruin
a marriage: 1) sexual problems; 2) money problems;
3) trust and respect problems; 4) communication problems.
Those are things that often need to be addressed early
Do you have any success stories from marriage
Oh, yes. I remember a couple who came to me for help.
They were in their early 40s. When they were married,
the wife was very trim (he showed me a picture of
her). When they came to me, she weighed in excess
of 240 pounds. She had started to put on weight four
or five years after their wedding. The man had fallen
"out of love" with her. If we lose love
because figures are sagging or hair is falling out,
then we're not really loving. These people were smart
to realize they needed to love again. I had him try
to understand that he was looking for a perfect physical
body to love, but there is rarely a perfectly shaped
person year after year after year. We talked about
love being already in their hearts; it's not a question
of gaining love. They just had to be willing to uncover
it. We role-played a great deal. They saw that what
was important in their life was not the physical aspect.
One of the greatest problems in relationships is
the lack of good communication. Most people do not
really know how to communicate. So, often, an innocent
discussion grows into a bitter argument.
So how do you communicate successfully?
There are entire books written on that subject, but
here are a couple of pointers. You communicate by
listening very hard to the other person -- listening
to the feelings that are creating the words, listening
to the intonations, looking the person in the eyes,
not thinking about what you're going to say. When
it's your turn to reply, you ask questions to help
you understand. Communication should never be, "I
want you to think the way I'm thinking." That
becomes an argument, which is really a control struggle:
one person wants to be powerful and control the other,
and the other person does not want to be controlled
and wants to control the other. An argument is rarely
just about a subject.
Looking at an earlier aspect of your life: How
did you become a police officer?
When I had The Old Spaghetti Factory, we gave the
policemen free meals. I became very friendly with
the captain of our district. One of the times he took
me around, he suggested I join them as a reserve police
officer. I went to the Police Academy and, after graduation,
worked about 20 hours a week, usually in a one man
car. I ran across a lot of substance abusers. I was
the only one who took them to the hospital to be detoxed
instead of to the county jail. It was quite remarkable,
but no one stopped me, not even my sergeant, although
that was the rule. Maybe they had some respect for
me because I was in my fifties. I was a police officer
for five years.
You had had previous experience with substance
abusers when you worked at Bridge House, a Catholic
Charities halfway house. What was your motivation?
My heart went out to them because I saw what they
were up against. I can remember when I was a little
kid, I saw a very deformed person selling newspapers.
I was so upset that I cried. As a child, I always
ran around with the kids who were compassionate. One
kid we called "Doc" because he walked around
ants. I have always wanted to help people. I have
had to learn patience with those who call people at
the shelter good-for-nothing, lazy bums. I know from
experience that so many of them were raised by a grandmother,
as their mothers were on drugs. They grew up never
knowing their fathers. These kids would join gangs
because they wanted to belong. Gangs were their only
social activity. We need to love so extravagantly
the people who appear to have no chance to improve
their lives. When I worked at World Book, I gave motivational
and inspirational talks. I always tried to help them
see that they were capable of doing much more in life
than they had ever dreamed.
What was your 22 year experience with World Book
I started with World Book when I was 29 at the lowest
rank and worked my way up to the home office. It was
easy and fun because for many years I was the "fair-haired"
boy of the company. I made money and traveled a great
deal around the country. That's when I got away from
the Bible. I got so tied up with climbing the ladder
that I stopped relying on God. I was too busy for
Him and too successful to need Him. I got on the fast
track, and the fast track is bumpy. But whenever I
was going through really tough times, I remembered
things from the Bible. They came back to me as feelings
more than words. They were the 23rd, 91st, 139th Psalms
and verses in Romans and Genesis. They spoke of the
absolute inevitability of our protection and safety:
- If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell
in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall
thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold
me. (Ps. 139:9, 10)
- Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that
neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall
be able to separate us from the love of God, which
is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35, 37-39)
I tried to realize that I was a person created in
God's image and not a person making my own way. My
wife, who had never veered from trusting solidly in
God, wrote me a note: "You shine by reflected
glory." I put it on my desk and kept it there.
What you do mean, "shine by reflected glory"?
I'm a good speaker, and people had me on their waiting
lists to give talks at their branch meetings. That
made me feel great. But Mary realized that any success
I enjoyed came from God. She helped me realize that
I should give the credit to God, not to myself. We
reflect God's glory. That's the basic and absolute
Was that how you got back to God?
Yep. What I had learned was still with me from Sunday
school. It never really leaves any of us. It's in
our being. I also had some physical challenges that
made me turn to God. My work was very exhausting.
Sometimes I would fly to three cities in one day,
meeting with managers and giving talks. The verse
from Isaiah made me feel that there were no limitations:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew
their strength; they shall mount up with wings
as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and
they shall walk, and not faint. (40:31)
Tell me about your talks and speeches.
My talks were given to managers and representatives
who were eager to get ahead. They seemed never satisfied
with what they achieved. So, I helped them realize
that being motivated by serving their customers rather
than themselves was basic to their success. Self-satisfaction
and fulfillment are the result of unselfish effort.
As a Sr. Vice President, I was the only one in the
company who didn't agree that setting goals was always
the best policy. People set goals so high that if
they didn't achieve them they thought of themselves
as failures. I tried to help them be happy and satisfied
with who and where they were. They were successful
if they could provide well for their families and
live comfortably. What were they trying to prove?
What's wrong with setting high goals?
Absolutely nothing -- if you realize what you're working
for. But if you think that more money means more things
and, therefore, more happiness, you might be in for
a surprise. I wanted to help people work in a way
that was going to help them and their families not
only gain a more comfortable way of living, but also
gain a greater sense of self-worth by helping others.
Many wives were so dissatisfied and discouraged because
of the pressure and anxiety they faced because their
husbands spent so much of their time, energy, and
thought on their jobs. I asked my wife to support
and encourage other wives. If you're really into it,
business can eat you up. Work can come before God
and family. After five years of being an executive
vice president, the work got so hectic that I went
to my CEO fully planning to resign. Before I could
give him my rehearsed speech, he promoted me. The
responsibility and travel became my life. I had to
take the responsibility for anything that went wrong,
even though I wasn't responsible. There was no sense
of beauty, peace, or contributing to the world. I
had gotten so far away from the people who I was trying
to help because I got so involved in PR, advertising,
sales promotion, and flying to six different places
a week. I realized it and gave it up. I'm extremely
grateful that those days taught me so much that I
could apply in my next activities. You can learn so
much from just living, if you're thinking about it.
What have you learned from life by living it?
If you really want to find fulfillment and satisfaction,
you have to go beyond the material. None of the material
things -- jewelry, cars, furs, houses -- will alone
bring you what you really want. See, people try to
get things, but people don't really want things; they
want what things can give them. Everything we buy
or have or work for, we do for a reason. But things
alone don't add up to a hill of beans really. The
only thing that brings fulfillment is peace of mind.
This inner peace comes from the understanding that
you are perfect and loved right now because that's
the way God made you; you are in the hands of God
right now and always. If you know that, it won't matter
if you don't have a dime in the bank. The dollar is
not the real symbol of success. I guess I'm at the
point now that the most important thing to me is finding
peace within myself.
Why is finding peace important?
If you find that peace within yourself, you have everything
that everyone could ever want. You can take away everything
I've got, but if I have a sense of inner peace, the
key to permanent security, nothing else matters.