Genius or Toxic?
Genius or Toxic?
So what do you think, fellow choice theorists? Many external control motivators are obvious, easily analyzed, and quickly labeled as hurtful or destructive. What about this note, though? Is it genius or are there elements of being toxic in the approach? The mother adds a “proof of life” element that you see in movies about kidnappings, and she tries to make it feel more lighthearted with “Thank you for playing.”
If we see genius, are we overlooking something manipulative that always come back to haunt or hurt relationships, and if we see toxic, are we making too big a deal out of a parent having fun with incentivizing the chore of cleaning the kitchen?
Genius and Toxic?
Maybe it isn’t either/or; maybe it’s both genius and toxic. Help me with this one; what do you think?
Heading for Japan tomorrow. Looking forward to giving presentations on the writing of the Glasser biography. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the biography, Champion of Choice, has been translated into Japanese. And for good reason since there is a very strong Glasser organization and choice theory presence in Japan.
Could the same question be asked of grades? I really think this one depends on the relationship that is already in place. There does need to be structure and consequences to our actions… In school we tell kids, IF you meet my requirements in the class THEN I will give you a grade. The grade is a natural consequence of how well they meet the requirement… I understand wifi passwords may not be a natural consequence in this situation… What would be? I think kids look at the big picture, if mom is fun and loving and they know she cares deeply about them, they may respond well. Would love to hear other thoughts.
Good way in which to start this discussion, Joel. The relationship is a key piece, a really key piece.
It is clever and it is light-hearted, which makes the toxic easier to swallow, maybe? As a parent, it sounds genius. However, when looking at it through my older teenage sons eyes, they would most definitely see it as controlling and toxic. Even with doing the groundwork of helping them make choices that are beneficial to the family – like chores – the withholding of something we know they highly value would not set well, in my opinion.
I like your pointing out how the strategy’s cleverness “makes the toxic easier to swallow,” yet toxic is still toxic, even when taken in small doses. Is it ok that younger children may not see all the implications right away, while it would be harder to get away with this with older kids?
How about if the child replied, “Would you please tell me what you want, Mom? You know I can go to a friend’s house, or a coffee shop, or the public library and get wi-fi, right? I’d rather you didn’t treat me in such an ‘if – then way.’ I’d rather we treat each other in a mutually respectful way by telling each other what we want and asking for help from one another to get there.”
Of course this can be fun and playful. Whether it’s toxic or harmful really depends on how the parent meant it, how the child understood it, and what the present state of their relationship is. If they just watched a movie together about hostage taking this could be fun. But if they just had an argument about how irresponsible and unhelpful the child is being lately then this note is manipulative and toxic.
As far as grades in school go, this is another example of external control. If you, student, do the work we agreed upon, and do it to a certain standard then I, the teacher will give you a grade. But this “if-then” exchange is par ot the contract or deal that both parties have agreed upon. Certainly most teachers have experienced students who don’t want to “play.” They don’t care about grades and are unwilling to be controlled by the bribe or punishment of the grade dangled before them.
From a Choice Theory psychology perspective, any time there is an “if-then” relationship presented by a person with greater power, it is an attempt to externally control. And if you ask many students if they work hard in school to earn the reward of a grade you just might be surprised to hear some students tell you that the grade is NOT their greatest incentive.
Thanks for letting me share my point of view here.
Thanks for a great set up for this conversation Jim
Have a great and fun time in Japan😃
You thank me for setting up the conversation, but your response leads me to be very glad I asked the question. Your reminder that “any time there is an if/then relationship presented by a person with greater power it is an attempt to externally control” is a key point that we all need to remember. I think within a short period of time the kids reading the refrigerator message would come to resent it and in the process come to resent doing chores, which is the exact opposite of what the parent wants. So glad you shared
In Japan as I write this. Really glad to be here. My first time actually. I will post some pictures soon.
Jim, Have to say I utterly agree with Nancy and Joel and I do believe the relationship is key; also believe the best starting point is a family meeting in which Mom explains that having a clean and workable kitchen is really important to her (in her Quality World) and her kids are really important to her (in her Quality World) and that relationships are more important than the messes that can happen when people share space and have different standards. We aren’t sure of the ages of these kids, and we don’t know if they are “latch-key” kids with a working mom—so many factors which can influence possible solutions, but we can probably assume this is a fun loving mom who hopes her kids will honor her wants and perhaps even adopt her QW picture as their own. A good, solid assertive role message can help (eg I appreciate and understand you want snacks after school and I try really hard to supply them; when you leave the mess I feel frustrated because it’s hard for me to work in the mess later. How can I convince you to finish the snack project, eg if you open the cheese and cut it up, you throw away the wrapper and wash the knife?). This sounds a lot like a quid pro quo and perhaps it is but it does model a couple of things for kids—-talking about what is important to you and why is better than stars and rewards which emphasize the power inequity. I think it represents more a parent who wants power-with her kids than power-over, a parent who wants things to work out OK for everyone in the family. If this is a single mom, all the more relevant. I worked with literally hundreds of single moms in the 35 years of practice, and most of them were utterly exhausted and knew they were over functioning, but I don’t think I ever worked with one who welcomed more chaos into her kitchen? !!! (I can only remember a couple who cared less about the kitchens; feminists will wince at this comment for sure). BUT cleaning up is part of what Maria Montssori taught: remember? You take out the toys, play the game, and then you pick up the toys. It’s kind of an issue of personal responsibility. I suppose at the family meeting, an agreement could be drawn up and posted if folks need reminders (your word is your bond sort of thing), but the most interesting avenue of all is what solutions the kids would invent. This notice is a creative mom who is trying to solve a problem and I commend her for her sense of fun and ingenuity; at the same time, inviting the kids to solve a shared dilemma is, in the end, much more empowering for children. I wish I knew this mom (maybe I do)—I like her loads and she is willing to try things rather than sit around criticizing and blaming. A good start.
And, I feel wonderful about having you as Glasser’s angel in Japan. Have fun—I know you will!!!!
Your response helps all of us to really weigh this scenario through a compassionate, choice theory lens. You understand, for instance, the challenges of being a parent, especially a single parent, who is simply trying to inspire children to see their part and do their part. Your specific wording regarding how a parent might dialogue with her children about home chores is really helpful. We talk about the need for classroom meetings, but you remind us about the need for home meetings, too. Teaching kids how to talk about these things, and maybe even negotiate an acceptable outcome for all, is the goal. Very thankful you weighed in on this topic.
I’d like to add my perspective, not to detract from other comments. Many of us are born defective in a variety of aspects: color blind, tone deaf, inactive mirroring neurons, MBD. Others suffer ACE’s at various levels. Certain individuals as well as the collective group have the power to control and or manipulate others. This is reality. I recognize the neutral fact of this reality. Unfortunately, even “authorized” authority, parental and civil, have limited wisdom and skills and authority tends towards corruption and corruption craves power. To deny and reject the power that parents and communities possess is to fail in our responsibilities to protect oneself and others from harm. When nature, government, parents fail to bring others into good relationships together, then we resort to laws, courts, police and power. Otherwise, evil will reign without control. This doesn’t relate to the illustration above, yet is foundational to life on planet earth. I don’t believe “control methods” or “manipulation” are always destructive, depending upon definition.
Consider competition. My granddaughter had recently started school. I was showing her how to play 2 square. I hadn’t explained it to her as a game. I was just getting her get used to sending the ball back and forth when she asked, ”Are we against each other?” That hit me hard—No Way was I against my granddaughter– and got me thinking about competition. Can we play a competitive game and be for each other? I came to realize that competition (my definition) does not happen without a foundation of cooperation. We agree on the rules, the place, the time, etc. Fun play and fun conflict is based on good will, respect, and mutual enjoyment. If the winning and loosing is more important then the mutual benefit, if we, in fact, do not have a foundation of togetherness and cooperation, then we are, in fact, at a level of war. And even war has a level of cooperation in the sense that both are coming together with a common intent? Well maybe? Like an argument. Either side could quit.
As clearly stated in previous comments, the issue of extrinsic manipulation with rewards is understood according to the relationship. If mutual agreements, back scratching, is agreeable it enables an artificial money economy with much potential, and many pitfalls. If the money game is played by parties with inequality of power there can be serous abuse by the powerful, and serous revenge by the ones who have nothing to loose.
Mutual agreements, trades, are also important in maintaining healthy relationships. If I “love” you so much that I will do anything to keep your approval, If I “love” you so much that I will give up my personal responsibility and ethics, then it is not love and it is not healthy. In so many ways, Choice Theory is about mutual agreement, could I say “bargaining”? In the best relationships of course the deal is mostly informal and who is counting? One must be free to love and and free to learn.
So much to think about here, Glenn. Thank you for the thought you have put into your comments.
I think parents do have power and authority, which are neither good or bad in themselves. As others have said, it comes down to how we use the power, based on our “philosophy of power,” I guess is one way to say it. Children need to learn about loving themselves, loving others, having appropriate respect for others and situations, etc. The catch is in how adults go about engendering and coaching and mentoring these vital traits. Adults who believe in “gentle parenting” strategies do not ignore poor behavior in their children, but they handle the behavior differently than a parent that immediately seeks to intimidate or punish the behavior out of the kid. I frequently find myself explaining this to teachers, who wonder aloud to me whether or not they can really confront behavior in a choice theory classroom. Teachers definitely need to confront poor behavior in their classroom. Glasser emphasized that a teacher can’t teach if a student is being incorrigible. Such a student needs to be asked to move to another place in the classroom or probably even be asked to leave the classroom until he/she is ready to behave better. As the teacher I would want to talk with the student before returning, even briefly, and ultimately I would want to help the student verbalize what he/she isn’t getting in the room, which could then lead to us talking about how to create options of his/her success.
Yes, Jim, having read Soul Shapers I am totally with you on all of that. In my response to Suzy ( which I got in my mail box first) I expressed myself more fully and mentioned some resources. thanks for your response.
Would there be a difference if the mom and son had talked about it and agreed on this way of doing chores? A kind of game between the two of them? That they had discussed the problem of too much time on the internet, and mom needing help in the house? Maybe it was the son who suggested that she could tell him something to do before he got access to the internet? Maybe it should only last for a period until he managed to Control it in other ways?
Thanks for an interesting post, Jim, and all the other comments I have read to it. Look forward to also reading about Your trip to Japan!
Very good to hear from you, Nina!
I think there is something to what you are saying, that is the idea of mother and son talking about the situation and maybe agreeing on a strategy for getting the chores done, maybe even including an if/then component. Glasser said as much during one of our interviews. I was asking him about a tactic that Dr. Harrington had back in the 60s while supervising mental health patients at the Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles. The tactic involved patients working on crews building sidewalks in exchange for increased levels of independence and autonomy. Years later, Glasser said he didn’t really approve of that in the way he did back then. He described how if was to go back to that time he would want to talk with the patients and seek their input and agreement before putting such a strategy in place. This sounds like what you are suggesting.
Writing from Japan as we speak. More about the trip soon!
Glenn! thanks for this thoughtful piece; I appreciate the contents and found it interesting. I was reminded of Rollo May’s paradigm about power. I think I remember that he postulated that exploitative and manipulative power were not morally informed; competitive power may or may not be, and the more enlightened forms of power = nutrient and integrative. In a way, the notice and situation Jim is inviting us to think about could be driven by nutrient power; that is, of a loving mother hoping to teach her children some lessons she believes is important to learn. A family meeting could move the group into an even more synergetic situation provided it’s managed well and all participants are fully invested in solving the problem. The parts of your commentary which center on defining healthy love also interest me, and I suppose the underbelly is, “If you loved me, you would….” In which a power play is introduced as an “opportunity” for one person to “prove” their love of the other. That feels manipulative to me too. I’m not sure about “bargaining,” and would want to think about that more, but if it means that we can find an agreement which respects that you have needs,wants, and pictures, and you know profoundly that I do too, I guess we could strike that bargain. Collaboration often has elements in it of, say, accommodation simply because the relationship is more important than the issue. I think your granddaughter is a very intelligent young person and it is possible she has taught Jim’s readers a lot!
(Yes, she is. Grandma thinks so too!)
I do appreciate your response. And I like Rolo’s concept of nutrient and integrative power. I’d like to add what I should have put in with my first comment. There are so many ways to get along jolly well together. Still, there are sometimes very difficult circumstances. As I mentioned in this statement—When nature, government, parents fail to bring others into good relationships together…——, what I want to be understood, is that failure is part of life on this earth and no matter how we try or how much we learn we must be aware of our limitations in working with others. I don’t like to say it this way, but sometimes the less then ideal, the best we can do, is the best choice. Otherwise we can become dysfunctional in even less ideal ways. What I am so happy to say is the available knowledge is huge if we will seek it out and live it out. The potential to do better is gigantic. Not magic, not quick, but as abundant as the air we breath. It is living and relating in grace. It is transformative for all involved. Two sources I would like to share are the field of restorative justice and Rosenberg’s teachings on Nonviolent Communication. They are as life changing as Choice Theory. Rosenberg goes so far as to say there is no right or wrong, which leaves me dysfunctional, but it is not so far from Paul saying “all things are lawful.” I now understand Rosenberg to say we can live in a blame free world. In an atmosphere of grace, where others are so loved and accepted and free, that they are forgiven before they even do wrong. I don’t mean this to say the wrong is ignored, but that others are accepted, that they are not condemned or rejected or punished, as in “tit for tat.”
Regarding “bargaining” ( not the best term): Rosenberg speaks of a dialog in which each individual seeks to understand the needs of the other, and after they connect, getting past their fear and defensiveness, and come to understand one another, then together they create a way of meeting the needs of both. I suppose it is comparable to a family meeting. I can send links to some of these resources if anyone is interested. email@example.com
Thanks, Glenn, and yes, I would welcome easy-enough links to Roseberg; I was trained by Ted Wachtel when he came to Vermont and managed some restorative justice meetings with high school students. I found the approach immensely useful and were I still practicing, no doubt I would still embrace the model (and use it). It has always helped me to remember that the “dys” in dysfunctional just means pain. And I also think I remember that the Greeks were a polytheistic lot, and when one entered the household, often there were statutes of the gods and goddesses honored in the household. To “understand” means literally to “stand under” the gods in awe. (I am smiling here thinking that to enter my house, one would stand under images of Bill Glasser, Rolo May, Ted Wachtel, Chloe Madanes, Michael White and others….a chorus of wisdom keepers!!!!
Greetings Suzy and others,
I’ll make this simple and send you a cut and paste from an email I sent to Mia, the granddaughter. Do you think that if I stand under the entrance to your house I could absorb some of the wisdom?
sorry these are not active links, you will have to cut and paste.
utube link to the audio book
utube link to video of a workshop called the basic. the total time is about 3 hrs, that is why it has part one,etc.
Many other books by many authors on couples and parenting and teaching etc.
Howard Glasser has a unique and very effective technique to keep kids connected with you. I really like it. It is more of a “technology” approach then a broader theory.
I do believe it is very effective.
My phone is 541-432-4036
and a couple of really great ted talks
And I almost forgot Pam
I just found this utube which explains the Nurtured Heart Approach very well.
I find this post most intriguing, and kudos to you Jim for asking your readers to weigh in on something – I anticipate this will get more comments than most of your other posts.
As for the post, (and I don’t have too much time to go in deep) the only issue that bugs me about it is she is anticipating her child(ren) to be dishonest. I do not see an issue with asking for chores to be done, as wifi is not vital to existence, such as food. The child(ren) can choose to not do the kitchen and forgo the access to the internet.
Often I have a list of three or four items for my children to complete before they can visit or play with the neighborhood children. There are days that they will simply stay home and read a book or do other activities.
You were right, Chris, this post is getting lots of comments and good discussion.
Your points seem very important to me, the first related to the assumption of dishonesty, and the second being the possibility of the children saying “screw the kitchen and screw the internet.” Your statements quickly reveals one of the flaws in this approach.