Category Archives: For Parents
Communicating? Or Connecting?
Today I’m asking you to read through the blog with the intention of sharing an experience where you learned something about communication.
A man and woman walked in to my office and took a seat on the sofa. They looked normal enough, and appeared to be respectful of and courteous to one another. After basic introductions and “house cleaning” necessities, I asked the woman if she would explain to me why they had chosen to come for counseling. Like a microwave on high, she instantly set the stage with a diatribe of criticism that was primarily aimed at her fiancé, the man sitting only inches from her. But she never got to finish, because as quickly as she began, the man began loudly defending himself from the arrows she was slinging. The conflict went on for two or three minutes before I held up my hand and asked, “Can we all stop for a minute and bring our conversation down to a helpful level?” Both turned their heads back and simultaneously answered, “Sure.”
After a few more minutes of information gathering on my part, I began talking them through somewhat of a strategy – a course of action, and recommended that one of the first areas attempt to conquer was communication skills. Both the man and the woman turned and looked at one another and she said, “We thought that’s one of the things we did best!” I smiled, breathed in slowly, and explained, “Neither of you appear to have any trouble speaking your mind. But from the small sample of communication I’ve seen between the two of you, I’m telling you that throwing up on one another in a moment of hurt or anger is not effective communication.”
In the coming weeks we waded through the dynamics of effective communication, focusing frequently on respect and resolution. The duo did not, in their course of therapy, master communication completely. But they did make really good strides sharing their hearts and minds with one another with a focus on resolving their problems, rather than winning.
It seemed that one of the primary faults in their communication with one another was that they were trading information with each other, but they weren’t really connecting.
“He who answers before listening- that is his folly and his shame.“Proverbs 18:13
One of the common downfalls in relationships or marriages with any longevity at all is that we lose that connectivity we had when we were “young and in love.” The corporate effort to be an effective team seems to fade away like a sunset sinking below the western horizon. We spill our guts when needed, but otherwise seem to be living separate lives that are on truly different paths.
The longer people are in a relationship, the more comfortable they become with one another. Although that comfort is a nice thing to experience and observe, it often has children. Bad children. The kind that do their best to cut corners and make everything short and easy. The children of comfort can often be apathy, individuation, and maybe most importantly, the loss of connectivity.
Being connected requires intentional effort. Ongoing effort. Unfading, and selfless effort. If that effort is not put forth by both people in a relationship, the likelihood is that one or both are truly going to be connected.
Just not to one another.
People tend to get connected to their work, their hobbies, recreation, friends, and in the worst situations, intimate relationships with members of the opposite sex. Affairs are seldom initially about sex. They’re about communication.
A wife is weary of her husband tuning her out and assaulting her at every turn, so she begins to confide in someone that will listen – sympathize with her plight – tell her she’s right – and offer encouragement that may just be meeting a bigger need in his life at the same time.
There is no possible way to cover the gamut of dynamics needed for truly effective communication in a blog, but there are hundreds and thousands of resources available to us all that can help us begin the journey of communicating in our relationships responsibly, lovingly, and intentionally.
Don’t want to put in the work? Then don’t expect it to get better. Willing to make the sacrifices and put forth the effort to make it better? You have no idea how blessed and fulfilling your friendships, relationships, and marriages can be.
Remember, true wisdom comes from experience. We can only learn so much from books or observing others. Having found ourselves in places we don’t want to be, and putting forth the genuine effort to correct the problem, provides the fertile soil for wisdom to both be planted, and to grow.
So agree with your BFF, boyfriend or girlfriend, or spouse to go through a “check-up from the neck-up.” What are you learning about your own communication style or skills?
I’m Just Sayin’ . . .
I eagerly anticipate hearing from you! Don’t forget to “follow” and share!
If you haven’t done it you’ve likely seen it. It’s the team-building activity called “Trust Fall.” Someone stands on a platform with their back to their team. With arms crossed over their chest, they count down and while remaining as stiff as a board, slowly begin falling backward. The team is awaiting the fall. With their collective arms, they catch the individual and spare them the injury of falling needlessly to the floor.
Trusting others to catch our life-falls isn’t natural. It has to be taught and learned. Instinct must be betrayed – logic denied – fear unlearned. Some either inherited or have developed incredibly powerful strands of independence DNA. In those cases, trusting others to catch them when they fall, fail, or otherwise flounder in life is about as likely as putting a saddle on the wind.
As time passes, most of us do learn to trust – at least in part. Sometimes we’re forced into it in order to survive, and then occasionally we figure out it’s in our best interest, and allow others to step up and give us what we cannot provide for ourselves. An inevitable challenge to our collective trust will affect us all when our children and our children’s offspring become those to whom our nation looks to for leadership.
While reading from a blog source to which I subscribe, one of the titles stopped me in my tracks. It read, The Teens Will Save Us (Dina Leygerman). With such a title, I had no choice but to read it. As I read through the article I was looking forward to the final word, the main point of her story. When I got there I was stunned. Here is the final paragraph:
“Teenagers will save us. So, just like Emma Gonzalez, my students did not back down nor conform. They fought for their rights. They won. And, adults can learn a lot from the teens of this generation. While the adults are complacent, jaded, and disparaged, teenagers are ignited, spirited, and take no prisoners. Do not squander their fight; they really are our future. Do not call them entitled; that entitlement is their drive and their passion. Do not get in their way: they will crush you. Foster their rebellion. They are our best allies.“Diana Leygerman
I had to go back and read the paragraph several times to ensure my understanding of the writer’s sentiment. Once satisfied, I came to my own conclusion. I couldn’t possibly disagree more.
Before moving on please understand that I am 100% invested in championing today’s teens toward reaching for and achieving their best selves. There are some huge holes however, in this blog’s conclusion, and someone has to talk about what is being observed. If it had been written 20 years ago I might have jumped onboard. In 2019 I assure you there are quite a few directions our kids are going that you don’t want to see fulfilled. If these gain too much momentum it’s a good bet we will be crushed anyway.
It’s actually quite difficult to separate the behaviors I and many other educators and mental health professionals have observed in the past few years. You don’t have to look far to see the hundreds of thousands of articles and even books written about millennials and their sense of entitlement. Many of them are now parents. Want to wager a guess as to what they’re passing along to their kids?
This entitleitis, I believe, has paved the way for another huge, maybe even bigger complication. It is called victimitis, and although it’s not necessarily new, it is enjoying a resurgence for the ages. It seems that huge numbers of Americans are looking for new and more excessive ways to be victimized. The mere sense of discomfort has given rise to hypersensitivity and taking offense at almost anything or anyone, and nobody is safe from having the finger pointed at them.
If a child is uncomfortable with, or not interested in a subject at school, it is not unusual for him to have every expectation that the teacher will just leave him alone. If there is a struggle to understand a new topic, idea, or subject, there is a growing likelihood that he will simply give up. Simply put, the work ethic just isn’t there. Grades aren’t nearly as important to a majority of students, and their overshadowing parents are feeding them from this poison apple.
One of the greatest challenges to these dilemmas is, the public education system has also bent to the will of the hypersensitive public (including the children). Many parents regularly threaten teachers. Educators are told by these parents that they don’t know what they’re doing and should consider another line of work. This is before taking the time to come to school for a parent/teacher conference. They threaten everything from “meeting behind the school” to court actions. School districts, in order to avoid anything of this nature are afraid of what parents will do. This has given way to a gradual loosening of expectations of students both behaviorally and academically.
The states have in turn, followed federal mandates, and lowered their bars to ensure that every student passes to the next grade in order to preserve their self-esteem. I never saw one student held back during my time as a public school teacher. Knowing there were students that never put forth an ounce of real effort, their “diplomas,” if they stay in school, will share the worth of a paper towel.
Yes, teenagers will fight for their rights. To a point, it is a good thing to let them learn to advocate, but not unbridled or without overwatch. Literally all kids are a long way from understanding what their “rights” really are. The cure for anything they don’t like becomes their “right,” and a clarion call to the offended masses. The unwillingness to give respect to adults – their own parents, and teachers alike – could easily lead to anarchy.
When the focus again shifts to reading, mathematics, history, writing, and learning to be a good person while children and teens are still in their formative years, we will see a return to accountability and respect. Until then, they’re an angry pack looking for a place to spend their hypersensitive emotions. As long as their primary focus is about them and their rights those of us who have gone before might be in for a rough landing in this Trust Fall. Seeing to the needs of others before you satisfy your own takes time to develop. If too many “rights” are given before selflessness is learned, there will be a sad, dire price to pay.
I Can’t Help It
I own a brain. Just one, and it’s mine. I am accountable for the ideas it gives me, and how I choose to act on them. This is not always such a great deal for me. I’d be a little more optimistic but my brain, of late, has begun to lag in its response time to my calls. Sometimes it doesn’t show up at all, and this has become a problem. I’ve inquired about trading it for a later model, but it tells me I should be content with what I have. You never know what you’re going to get when you go pre-owned.
While my brain was listening to a radio program earlier this week, the host said, “They just can’t help it.” My brain locked onto the oft-heard statement and then did what it sometimes does. It didn’t consider the context of the sentence, but simply wondered where the phrase originated. That was good because it’s always a great idea to exercise your thinking organ. It was also not so good because I couldn’t get it off my mind.
The simplest explanation I could develop was that it had to first be knocked back a level. It likely didn’t start as a corporate justification, but a personal one. Sometime, somewhere, someone screwed up. Once the mistake was discovered, the “Eve” of excuses uttered the four miserable words that have at one time or another haunted us all, “I can’t help it.” What do those words really mean?
The first word “I” reflects individual participation, if not accountability. When you add the next word, you then may have the most powerful two-word combination of any generation. “I can’t,” has become not just one of a few choices when faced with challenges, it is now the default choice. “I can’t,” is so prevalent in our youth that school districts require posters in every classroom that provide alternative statements to “I can’t,” or “I don’t know.”
In journalist Katie Couric’s book The Best Advice I Ever Got, actor Matthew McConaughey – along with dozens of other very interesting people – weighed in on the book title’s topic. He wrote, “Growing up, my dad got mad at me for only two reasons: if I told a lie or if I said ‘I can’t.”‘ McConaughey went on to describe a moment from his childhood when his father helped him to understand that instead of saying “I can’t,” one might be better served by saying, “I was just having trouble.” His father said:
“Look, don’t ever say you can’t do something. That means there’s absolutely no way to do it. If you can’t do something, how are you ever gonna fix something? How are you gonna figure the problem out? How are you gonna ask for help? You’re gonna have trouble doing a lot of things in life, but they can be done. If you say ‘I can’t,’ that means there is no solution, you’ve given up, you’ve quit.”
McConaughey went on to say that this advice has helped him solve problems, work harder, and not feel so helpless in difficult times.
At last check, Mr. McConaughey was getting by just fine.
Throw in the last two words, “help it,” and you have a complete sentence; and almost always, a lie. Everyone knows what it means to help, and when you look at this phrase literally, there is a very ugly truth in it.
Whatever I cannot do or avoid doing is a stronger force than my emotions, my thinking, my experiences, and my resolve. That decision overpowers all of these characteristics in me. I am helpless before it. Now plug what you “can’t help” into this sentence:
____________________ is more overpowering to me than my good sense, and everything I know that is better for me. Have you considered that you’re giving the issue more control than you are to God?
What is it for you? It could be anything from ice cream to stealing from your employer – or worse. But seeing it written in front of you may be a sobering declaration. It is also a lie. The hard truth is, whatever we gain from what we “can’t help,” is more attractive to us than putting forth the effort to overcome it. Yep, we’re lazy, and the current trend in your neck of the woods and mine is not one any of us want to know about.
“I can’t help it,” kind of goes along with “I’m only human.” This one has always baffled me. Seriously? Only human? Just think of all the things that means. Go deep, and realize how many parts of being human are so super-sized compared to any other civilization we know of. Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t punish the dog for doing what dogs do?” There are a lot of applications for that statement – and dogs. But not for us. Our capabilities so far overshadow anyone or anything known to us in the universe. Saying you’re only human is not only weak and lazy, it’s stupid. We are human, and we can help it. Maybe we should celebrate those portrayals of us instead of using them as excuses!
Besides, in addition to all of the wonderful things our minds can do, don’t forget that being “only human” comes with the delightful, first-rate use of opposable thumbs. Now that gets my brain going.
What do YOU think? (Comments go below!)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (1st Amendment, United States Constitution)
Two days before many of us celebrated our nation’s birthday and the freedom it represents, one of the duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives gave us a clown show that has caused many to wonder how or why she was ever elected in the first place.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida provided the most entertaining moment of a week filled with accusations, innuendo, and perhaps spin, regarding conditions in the immigrant detention centers that are manned by the United States Border Patrol. Wilson led a delegation of congressional representatives through the facility in Homestead, Florida and following their tour, said this. “Those people who are online making fun of members of Congress are a disgrace and there is no need for anyone to think that is unacceptable (sic),” Wilson said during a press conference. “We are going to shut them down and work with whoever it is to shut them down, and they should be prosecuted.”
Regardless of political affiliation or opinions on current affairs, the Congresswoman from Florida displayed an amazing ignorance of our Constitution and its very first amendment, which was ratified in 1791, four years after the creation of the original supreme law of the United States.
This is not the first time that elected members of the U.S. Congress have recently given us reason to marvel at the electoral process, and question how it has gotten to the place it is. The answer to the question is perhaps quite simple. United States citizens have, rather than electing qualified candidates, chosen to support activists instead. Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle articulated this when she wrote (regarding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), “If she weren’t a comely and personable young woman with a flair for left-wing organizing, Ocasio-Cortez wouldn’t be a member of Congress, and no one would care whether she spouted nonsense.”
There is more, of course, but the point has been made. Elections and congressional action seem to no longer be about constituents (the will of the people), but more about power, money, and party politics. We can’t even pretend this is something new; it’s been part of the game since politics became politics. It just seems that right now, this kind of “representation” has become the rule rather than the exception.
There is however, a new focus since 2016, the destruction of the office of POTUS. There are those at the highest and most powerful levels of government who have leveled their focus on ensuring that Donald Trump fails. One would appear unenlightened if he were to suggest the President and his choices are white as snow, but there seems to be little if any consideration to the blowback that would occur were POTUS dethroned, especially while in office.
The point is this. You and I, representatives of Congress, our children, and the President of the United States simply need to give more consideration to our words and actions, and be accountable for them. Personal accountability, it seems, is no longer considered a moral attribute, but a low-level chore that can be taken care of at a later time. History has shown us that when there are no consequences for our choices of words or actions, social and political chaos evolves.
We need a grassroots campaign that will lead to a change in the mindset and behavior of our country’s leaders. We can’t depend on it happening on Capitol Hill. It has to start in us.
When the full-time effort of our lawmakers becomes spewing hate and vitral rather than focusing on the will of their constituents, the outflow looks eerily similar. Regular people – even children – begin to mimic both the rhetoric and the behaviors. But when the leaders say things like, “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right,” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), it is easy to see that we have a long, long way to go.