Rod McAfee

Lesson 5 – The Changer: Discovering your Strength

Goal: Understanding a situation can sometimes be all that it takes to overcome it!  Armed with understanding allows us to tackle the challenges of living in two cultural worlds.

The Changer

This role is referred to as the “magician” in the traditional hero’s journey; it’s a place of self-awareness. This is the stage where you realize you possess the strength and wisdom necessary to bring about change. These are qualities you had all along, but the act of the journey reveals them to you. This is a place of realization and revelation.

Activity: Living within two worlds.

Being an Indian in America involves living in two worlds.  It’s a natural process to evaluate and compare the qualities that exist between two environments and we often do just that; compare our worlds.  This style of thinking is called “dichotomous thinking,” or more simply put, “black or white” thinking.  Dichotomous thinking is the simplest way to process information, but it doesn’t always work, especially in a world characterized by so many features.

Read the following passage from Rod McAfee’s interview and identify the ways dichotomous thinking affected his father’s experience with his traditional culture:

“She (my mother) told him (my grandfather) that she didn’t want me to learn that (the old ways)…She made him stop…She told him, ‘I don’t want him to learn that.’ So he just left and stopped teaching.  So I went to his house and tried to tell him to teach me. I begged him but he just left and said, “No.’

“She (my mother) was into the Presbyterian religion.  Really fanatical I guess you could say.  It was so confusing because my father was a traditional man.  He’d tell us stories about the early times, but then he would disrupt it and say, “This is nothing.  Forget it.  This is past.”

  • List the emotions you feel as your read the passage above.
  • Which emotions did you recognize by the described behaviors of Rod’s mother, father, and grandfather?

Learning to recognize the cultural qualities of two worlds using a dichotomous thought process doesn’t allow us to see beyond “right or wrong,” or “good or bad.”  Doing so causes us to become trapped in a mode of comparing our worlds, which often times leaves one group being the winner while the other is the loser.   We have to be able to recognize the differences between our worlds and then embrace them for, well, just being different.  Being different doesn’t necessarily mean one thing is better (or worse) than the other.  And once you can begin to recognize that being different isn’t a negative quality, you will discover many kinds of advantages to having lived between two cultural worlds.

Interpreting difference as a strength

If we think of being “bicultural” as similar to being bilingual, it’s easy to recognize the advantages to living between two worlds.  While it may be difficult to move between two worlds, the skills you acquire while doing so gives you strength.  Qualities that come with cultural dualism include: 

Empathy – Empathy is a powerful emotion, and is one that allows us to successfully interact with those with whom we share the world.  Having empathy allows someone to better understand the perspectives of other people.  Living between two or more worlds allows us to develop the skill of being empathetic towards others.

Leadership – Having skills in empathy and multiculturalism nurtures the kind of worldliness representative of leaders.  Having a foot in two worlds will help you to gain strengths from each one.

Activity: On the top of a sheet of paper, list two cultural worlds you live within.  Next draw a line separating the two worlds.  On each side of the paper, list the qualities you gain from each world.  (For example, under your tribal name, you might include qualities, cultural characteristics, values, support systems, etc., like “having a supportive extended family,” or “living in relaxed and friendly environment.”)

Once you’ve made your lists, notice how much you gain by living between the two worlds.  Finally, rank the qualities according to which has the highest priority for you.  Visualize all of the qualities of both worlds as giving you strength!


In this journey, the leaders are the heroes who will lead the others from the dark side of addictions.  While your addictive world was not a pleasant one, being there most likely taught you some valuable lessons, some you will be able to call upon as you continue in our own recovery. You will remember many things about the dark side of addictions, and that knowledge will help your on your quest to help others as you assume the role of the Changer.  Reflect on what you gained from the world you are leaving behind.  And determine how you can use that gain in a positive way for helping others.

Imagine how you can use this knowledge in a plan to help others.  Will you be a model for others to emulate? Will you mentor someone along their own journey (like Rod did in becoming a counselor)? Or will you use your knowledge in a way to educate a group of people (by becoming a speaker or other kind of educator)?   Where are you headed and where will this journey take you?