Posts from the “Jim Roy posts” Category

Getting Stuck in the Terrible Two’s

The terrible two’s – an iconic rite of passage when a toddler becomes aware of his abilities, his personal preferences, and the discovery that he can disagree and even say no. The terrible two’s are famous for causing parental frustration as children resist being coached toward trust and cooperation. Two year olds can be pretty adamant about their view of things.

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In the last post, Perceptions as Portraits, Not Photographs, we were reminded that reality, for each of us, is not so much like a photograph in its exactness, but instead is a like a portrait that we paint, very much a creation based on our values and preferences. It is a significant thing to realize that reality is your perception of it. One reason for its significance is that we can admit that we don’t have all the information or all the answers, and that new information can therefore affect our view of reality. I can be an on-going learner, open to new facts and experiences.

Your view of reality is like a portrait you paint.

A two-year-old, it turns out, wrestles with reality, too. Some of our insights about two year old behavior we get through our own observations, while other such insights we get from people like Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist and researcher who became very interested in children’s cognitive development.

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A young Jean Piaget, probably the age when he worked at the school for boys in Paris.

The book I spoke highly of in the last post, Stumbling on Happiness, describes one of Piaget’s discoveries very well, especially as it relates to the theme of perceptions as portraits, not photographs. Here is a wonderful passage from the book –

In the 1920s, the psychologist Jean Piaget noticed that the young child often fails to distinguish between her perception of an object and the object’s actual properties, hence she tends to believe that things really are as they appear to be—and that others must therefore see them as she does. When a two-year old child sees her playmate leave the room, and then sees an adult remove a cookie from a cookie jar and hide it in a drawer, she expects that her playmate will later look for the cookie in the drawer—despite the fact that her playmate was not in the room when the adult moved the cookie to the drawer from the jar. Why? Because the two-year old child knows the cookie is in the drawer and thus expects that everyone else knows this as well. Without a distinction between things in the world and things in the mind, the child cannot understand how different minds can contain different things. Of course, with increasing maturity, children shift from realism to idealism, coming to realize that perceptions are merely points of view, that what they see is not necessarily what there is, and that two people may thus have different perceptions of or beliefs about the same thing. Piaget concluded that “the child is a realist in its thought” and that “its progress consists in ridding itself of this initial realism.” In other words, like philosophers, ordinary people start out as realists but we get over it soon enough.
Dan Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

But do we? Do we come to see that others may view something differently than us, or do we at times seem to be stuck at the level of . . . well . . . a two year old? The realistic or photographic view is so appealing, especially when it comes to religion or politics or the behavior of our spouse. Things are exactly as we see them, right?

Recognizing that we don’t know everything or that what we know can change doesn’t mean that we can’t have convictions and strong beliefs. Each of us can and will continue to paint a canvas of reality that represents our view of things, of people, of events, and of ideas. It’s important, though, to also recognize that as we paint our reality that we are doing just that, that there is a paint brush in our hand and that we are capturing events and ideas as we see them, and that everything that we have been and are, everything we hold dear and value, is somehow influencing the canvas in our heads, influencing our reality.

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It may sound crazy, but our mental health actually depends on being aware of this truth. When we help students understand concepts like forgiveness and working through disagreements with a classmate, when we mentor them in conflict resolution and teach them about perspective and empathy, seeds for the betterment of students and society are planted. Piaget saw the importance of schools in this matter when he said –

Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.

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Fun Facts:

+ Piaget was referred to as “the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing.” I am a constructivist so I think he and I would have gotten along fine here.

+ After graduation Piaget went to work in Paris at a school for boys. The school was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test (think IQ test). Piaget got involved marking the tests and while doing so he began to notice that young children consistently gave wrong answers for certain questions. That is what got him started in his life study.

Perceptions as Portraits, not Photographs

I do a lot of my reading on my iPad. Books that I am reading or continuing to re-read I keep on my main iBooks screen. I have created a folder for Finished Fiction and another one for Finished Non-Fiction. Usually when I finish a book I move it to one of those folders. In a few cases, though, even after finishing a book I leave it on my main screen, since I know I will be going back to it again and again. Such is the case with Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness (2006). More than his funny, even irreverent, style of writing, I am drawn to the amazing research studies to which he refers and bases his points. This research points to the incredible complexity of human beings and the processes that affect our thinking and behavior, a complexity ultimately anchored and intertwined in choice.

 

 

According to Choice Theory, people are always in the process of creating and monitoring their view of reality. A person’s view of reality has a great deal to do with how she relates to others and especially how she values her own status. This view affects how events are interpreted. Our personal view of reality is a big deal.

It is on that word personal, at least when it comes to their view of reality, that many stumble and eventually disagree. We see with our eyes what is and we hear with our ears what is – and that means, we figure, that we know what is. Previous posts have commented on the frustrations, and even dangers, of this way of thinking. (e.g. – Three Types of People – Awesome, Dangerous, and Run and Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian?) Is it possible that what we see and hear is somehow different than what we see and hear?

A portrait, not a photograph, of John Locke.

Immanuel Kant, showing off the look of the day. What keeps this hair from coming back into vogue?

Given that Solomon was right when he said that “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Eccl. 1:9) Stumbling on Happiness reminds us that the argument over how we perceive reality has been around for some time. John Locke, English philosopher of the Enlightenment and regarded as the Father of Liberalism, described the theory of realism in 1690, which explained that our senses confirm that things exist and that this existence produces an idea that we then perceive. Almost a hundred years later Immanuel Kant threw that way of thinking out the door. His theory of idealism in 1781, instead described a multi-faceted process through which a person’s picture of reality is created. An excerpt from Stumbling on Happiness says it best –

Kant’s new theory of idealism claimed that our perceptions are not the result of a physiological process by which our eyes somehow transmit an image of the world into our brains, but rather, they are the result of a psychological process that combines what our eyes see with what we already think, feel, know, want, and believe, and then uses this combination of sensory information and preexisting knowledge to construct our perception of reality. “The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing,” Kant wrote. “Only through their union can knowledge arise.” The historian Will Durant performed the remarkable feat of summarizing Kant’s point in a single sentence: “The world as we know it is a construction, a finished product, almost—one might say—a manufactured article, to which the mind contributes as much by its moulding forms as the thing contributes by its stimuli.”

I think Gilbert summarized the centuries-old argument even better when he wrote that “Perceptions are portraits, not photographs, and their form reveals the artist’s hand every bit as much as it reflects the things portrayed.”

Perceptions are portraits, not photographs.

 

Locke believed the eyes and the mind combined to produce a photograph, a perfect replica of reality, whereas Kant believed the eyes, and all the other senses, combined with the mind to create a painting of reality that represents sometimes our best guess, sometimes a deep need or want, but always a reality that is meaningful to us and that makes sense. The research in Stumbling on Happiness reveals that Kant was right. The ideas of Choice Theory certainly affirm the accuracy of perceptions as portraits.

Whether we view our perceptions as photographs or portraits is a big deal! It’s a big deal when it comes to our mental health, primarily because it’s a big deal in our relationships. Of course, how we perceive reality affects all aspects of our behavior, including how we vote politically, how we drive a car at rush hour, how we manage children and students, how we see gun control, and how we worship, to name just a few. If we believe our senses take in a perfect picture of reality, like a photograph, then there isn’t much to talk about when faced with a person who supposedly sees things differently. The photograph in our head confirms our rightness; there is no need to talk about differences, other than to inform the other person of their being wrong. Such a view, as you might guess, leads to a narrow, locked-in mentality and hurts relationships in the process.

If we believe our senses take in a perfect picture of reality,
like a photograph, then there isn’t much to talk about
when faced with a person who supposedly sees things differently.

Being able to recognize our own role in forming our picture of reality creates a healthy freedom that allows us to learn from changing circumstances, especially when it comes to communicating with those whom we love. We allow that we don’t know everything and that we are open to new information. Because of seeing reality as a portrait we are constantly in the process of painting and modifying, we are more able to accept and respect the knowledge and views of others. This perspective skill set is one of the keys to empathy, which is a powerful piece of mental health and a huge piece in healthy relationships.

We do our children and students a big favor when we teach them about how we each paint a portrait of the world as we see it. Such knowledge allows for growth (mindset) and prepares the way for positive relationships in the future.

If you haven’t already read it, I encourage you to check out Stumbling on Happiness. It is an enjoyable read that is chock full of insight.

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Such as are your habitual thoughts;
such also will be the character of your mind;
for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.

Marcus Aurelius

 

Marriage and Those Pesky Trash Cans

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Sophie Sims-Stapleton turned onto her street and could see them as plain as day. It wasn’t day, of course. It was actually twilight, the evening fast approaching as street lights started to come on, the darkness slowly draping the neighborhood. Her commute had taken a bit longer this evening, which had prompted her to abandon her plans to stop at Safeway on the way home, but even in the twilight she could clearly see them. All three of them, standing in front of her house like sentinels – the brown one, the green one, and the blue one. Except they weren’t sentinels; they were trash cans, standing somewhat askew after the trash truck had emptied them with its robotic arm and unceremoniously dropped them back onto the pavement. And now they were chiding her with a message as clear as their bold colors, that message being, You don’t matter!

As she neared the house she could see her husband’s car already parked in the driveway, which seemed to grind salt in her festering wound. Hadn’t she and Greg, her husband, talked about this at length last week, after the cans had sat in front of the house for three days following trash day, both of them expecting the other to bring the cans to the side yard where they were stored during the week. The two of them had quietly and sullenly dug in, both acting like they hadn’t noticed the cans in front of the house, even though it was difficult to park with them sitting where the trash truck had ditched them.

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“Why can’t you just bring them in?” she pleaded. “You usually get home first.”

“I usually do,” he retorted, “but why can’t you bring them in once in a while? I help around the house, seems like you could help with some of the outdoor stuff now and again.”

Truth be told, she felt that her job was more stressful, and basically more important than his, and that he should pick up more of the chores at home. It bothered her that he could act, through his ignoring of the trash cans, like he was somehow equal to her. He had reminded her of the things weighing on him at work, as well as at church, with all the time he was donating to the needs of the building committee, and she had momentarily relented, even as she harbored a sense of resentment toward his laziness and stubbornness. In the end, they had gone out and brought in the trash cans together, which kind of felt good, like they had solved a problem through communicating and respect.

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Yet now, just a few days later, the trash cans once again were askew in front of the house, with big grins on the front of them (at least as far as she was concerned), driving home the point that her needs didn’t matter. As she navigated around the blue recycle can to park in her usual place, her thoughts were not positive.

I kind of hate him, she thought to herself. Why can’t he just bring in the freaking trash cans? Seeing his car parked in its usual place she got even angrier. He’s been home for how long? A half hour? An hour? That’s plenty of time to bring in a few trash cans. Jeez! Why do I have to nag him? His laziness makes me crazy!

The thought occurred to her to bring in the trash cans herself, but she responded gruffly to such an idea. That would be totally non-supportive of her goal. There are responsibilities for which he needs to step up to the plate, and this is one of them. She laughed at herself for even entertaining the thought of bringing the cans in herself. True, during last week’s discussion on this very point she had agreed that sometimes she could bring in the cans, too, but she pushed this memory aside now. Instead, the thought occurred to her to place one of the cans directly behind his car so that he would have to move it in the morning.

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The front porch was dark, which added to her anger fuel. If he gets home first, can’t he at least turn on the porch lights as a courtesy to others that come home later? How did I marry this jerk? What was I thinking?

She put the finishing touches on her anger and frustration, all of it completely merited and defensible, as she covered the final steps to the front door. Which persona to be she wondered as she unlocked the door – should I go with lashing-out anger or should I go with the silent treatment? Full of appropriate disgust she entered a dark house. What’s going on? she thought.

“Greg,” she called out. “Greg,” she tried again. But only silence in return. What in the world?

And then a memory slipped across her mind. Her brow furrowed as the audio memory tape in her brain wound into position. She almost declined to press the play button, but her brain seemed to have an automatic play option. Faintly, but growing stronger, the tape said, Honey, I will be home late tonight. Roger is picking me up in the morning, as we have a joint meeting in Forrest City tomorrow for work, and then we are both part of the special board meeting this evening at the church. It may be close to 10:00 when I get home. She recalled the look on his face as he explained his schedule, the way he regretted being away from her for the evening, and a pang of awareness began to overtake her.

She turned the kitchen light on and immediately saw the note he had written, after she had left for work.

Just a reminder that I will be home late tonight.
More meetings at the church.
I’ll get the trash cans in when I get home, though.
Love, Greg.

She stared at that simple note for a long time, her eyes growing wet as the recognition regarding her own anger became clearer and clearer. A tear dropped on to the note, quickly blurring the ink of trash and cans. She had created a story and nurtured it into a reality that she had fully embraced. Her reality had led her to think terrible things about her husband, but she was beginning to see that she had made it all up. All of it. For some reason, she realized, her version of reality applied the worst interpretation to Greg’s behavior, while applying the best interpretation to her own behavior. Another tear dropped onto the note, this time obliterating the word Love.

That can’t happen she thought to herself. Our love can’t be so easily blurred. And with that she returned to the entryway, turned on the porch light, and headed into the night air to get the trash cans and put them away.

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It is true that reality influences our perceptions. Our circumstances can affect any part of our total behavior – our thinking, our acting, our feelings, or our physiology. Information and events external to us may or may not matter. A ringing telephone, as Glasser used to say, lets us know that someone wants to talk with us, but it can’t force us to answer it. An angry, threatening person may convince us to comply with his demand, or it may not. We decide. In fact, we make a ton of these decisions every day. Circumstances constantly hit us with data; we process the data and decide how to respond.

It is just as true that our perceptions create our reality. In fact, this may be one of the most important of the elements of choice theory. It is probably more accurate to say that our embraced perceptions create our reality. When we settle on a value or belief, everything we experience passes through our values filter. The result of this filtering is our version of reality. Our actions are always based on our view of reality, so the importance of this process cannot be overstated.

It can be hard for some to come to grips with the idea that people create their own version of reality. Reality is reality, some say; it isn’t a matter of opinion. For each of us, though, reality is formed in the frontal cortex of our brains, which continuously takes in millions of bits of information and turns it into pictures and sounds and smells. A danger lurks in the belief that our personal pictures and sounds and smells represent total, all-knowing, crystal-clear reality. Such a view cannot tolerate new information and limits itself to shrunken interpretations. Sophie had embraced faulty pictures of Greg, but she was able to admit this when new information corrected her version of reality. This is not always easy to do – Has anyone’s mind been changed, for instance, because of all the political information and articles being shared on Facebook? Exactly, we choose to ignore some articles, even as we consciously click on links to other articles we consider more trustworthy or accurate. Having values is fine, even preferable, but staying open to new information is a healthier state of mind.

Just remember not to jump to conclusions when you round the corner and see those pesky trash cans still sitting out by the road.

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** This post first appeared on The Better Plan page on October 29, 2016. Trash cans still need to be brought in, though.

A Gun and Winter Survival

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With so much attention being centered on guns, my mind recalled a group exercise in which I participated years ago. I was completing a degree in Educational Leadership and the exercise was meant to “compare the effectiveness of five different methods of group decision-making.”* The exercise, which placed group members in a hypothetical survival scenario, revealed the communication habits of not only groups, but also specific members within the group. Our focus today, though, will be less on the communication patterns and more on the survival scenario on which the exercise was based.

This post first appeared in October, 2015, and is being re-printed today
because of the on-going effects of guns in our lives.

After organizing the groups (and each group is given a unique set of instructions) the following scenario is distributed –

You have just crash-landed in the woods of northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba. It is 11:32 am in mid-January. The light plane in which you were traveling crashed on a lake. The pilot and copilot were killed. Shortly after the crash the plane sank completely into the lake with pilot’s and copilot’s bodies inside. None of you is seriously injured and you are all dry.

The crash came suddenly, before the pilot had time to radio for help or inform anyone of your position. Since your pilot was trying to avoid a storm, you know the plane was considerably off course. The pilot announced shortly before the crash that you were twenty miles northwest of a small town that is the nearest known habitation.

You are in a wilderness area made up of thick woods broken by many lakes and streams. The snow depth varies from above the ankles in windswept areas to knee-deep where it has drifted. The weather report indicated that the temperature would reach minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and minus 40 at night. There is plenty of dead wood and twigs in the immediate area. You are dressed in winter clothing appropriate for city wear – suits, pantsuits, street shoes, and overcoats.

While escaping from the plane, several members of your group salvaged twelve items. Your task is to rank these items according to their importance to your survival, starting with 1 for the most important item and ending with 12 for the least important one.

You may assume that the number of passengers is the same as the number of persons in your group and that the group has agreed to stick together.

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The items to be prioritized are as follows:

______ ball of steel wool
______ newspapers (one per person)
______ compass
______ hand ax
______ cigarette lighter (without fluid)
______ loaded .45-caliber pistol
______ sectional air map made of plastic
______ 20-ft by 20-ft piece of heavy-duty canvas
______ extra shirt and pants for each survivor
______ can of shortening
______ quart of 100-proof whiskey
______ family-size chocolate bar (one per person)

Ok, so your task is to rank these from 1-12, from most important to least important. Think, too, about how you would defend your rankings to your fellow group members. (One way to do the activity is to have individuals complete the ranking and then have the group complete a group ranking. The group score needs to be the same for each group member. Each member then compares his individual ranking and group ranking to the answer sheet, noting the numerical difference between their scores and the right score. For example, if Joe lists the compass as #1, and it turns out to be ranked #12, that would be a difference of 11. If the group ranks the compass at #9, the difference then would be 3. Like golf you want the lowest score possible. When the score sheets are all completed, with the differences noted, you can begin to see how well the group functioned.)

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Welcome back. You’ve finished your ranking scores, right?

Fortunately, a small expert panel weighed in on how to prioritize the items, along with a rationale for their ranking. There are surprises, but that is part of the fun of the exercise.

For instance, the top three items in order of their importance are –

+ the cigarette lighter
+ the ball of steel wool
+ and the extra shirt and pants for each survivor

The gravest danger to the group is exposure to the cold; therefore the greatest need is creating a source of warmth. The lighter, even without fluid, is essential in that it can still create sparks. The steel wool is the best substance to catch a spark and support a flame. The second greatest need is for signaling devices. According to survival experts, the importance of the rest of the items on the list would be in the following order –

+ the can of shortening (the lid would be an excellent reflector)
+ the large piece of canvas
+ the hand ax
+ the chocolate bars
+ the newspapers
+ the loaded pistol
+ the bottle of whiskey
+ the sectional map
+ the compass

It is interesting to me that the loaded gun appears toward the bottom of the list. It has some value as a signaling device, and the gunpowder from the shells could help in starting a fire, but these advantages are significantly outweighed by the danger a loaded gun contributes to the dynamics of the group.

Surviving a plane crash in a life-threatening environment, especially with two people killed in the crash, is traumatic. With people in shock, clear-headedness and reasoning may be all that stands between life or death. The gun represents quick access to power and control, not good when the group needs to work together to survive. As the group waits to be rescued, members will need to deal with fear, anger, irritability, and even lapses in rationality. The presence of the gun brings a substantial danger to the group under these circumstances.

It seems to me that guns bring a similar level of danger to the everyday situations across the country in which fear, anger, or irritability are present. As I think of it, fear, anger, and irritability are present a lot.

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The Winter Survival Exercise is an excellent activity from which individuals and groups can learn to communicate more effectively. Why do some people try to force their wrong answers on others? Why do others with the correct answers silently sit in the background? On what basis do we allow some to influence us, while we ignore others? These are important questions that can be addressed within the choice theory classroom. There are many such exercises. Others include Stranded in the Desert, Lost on the Moon, and Lost at Sea. Each of them are based on the same group format.

* All quotes in this post, as well as all of the specific material related to the Winter Survival Exercise, have been taken from David and Roger Johnson’s classic book, Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills (1994).

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The Illusion of Control

It is number four on the list.

The list is actually a good set of questions at the beginning of Positive Discipline for Teenagers: Empowering Your Teen and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting, which was written by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott and that was published in 2000. (When did 2000 start sounding like it was a long time ago?)

The questions are meant to set the tone for the focus of the book and provide an outline for the book’s content. Today’s blog, though, is not meant to be a review of the book, rather it is overarching Question #4 that gets our attention.

4. Do you have the illusion that control is effective with teens?

The authors admit that “control sometimes provides the illusion of success on a short-term basis,” but that sooner or later kids being controlled will go “underground” in search of simple freedoms and power. Going underground means that kids will comply on the surface when they are in the presence of a parent or teacher, but then will behave differently when alone or with friends. This is why the phrase “illusion of control” is so important.

Developmentally, the importance of the teen years cannot be overstated. It is an intense decade of insecurity, fear, and angst, but it also brings the discovery of personal identity and values, a process that begins to form an overall view of the world. Teens, rather than going underground to elude adult control, need caring adults in their lives to help them navigate the pressures and complexities. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to want to separate from parents and teachers, though. Just like baby eaglets high up in a nest, each of them will need to at some point step out into the unknown and fly on her/his own.

Because teens are no different than other members of the human race (no, they are not from a different planet) and are internally-controlled just like the rest of us, external control will lead to two possible outcomes –

1) Adult efforts to control teen thinking and behavior will cause them to go underground where they can attempt to live their lives on their own terms.

2) Adult efforts to control teen thinking and behavior will cause them to give up on discovering their own identity and values and lead them to be dependent on others for their thinking and their direction.

I assume that we are in agreement that neither of these options is appealing.

Glasser believed that the most important thing when it comes to parents, teachers, and teens is to get and stay connected. Getting and staying connected means that we will not attempt to force our Quality World pictures into the heads of the important teens in our lives. As Glasser said repeatedly, as long as we are connected we have influence. When we attempt to externally control a teen we threaten and often sever that influence. And we unwittingly do this at a time when teens most need our influence.

As long as we are connected, we have influence.

Positive relationships, connection, and influence are the result of our learning to use the Caring Habits, rather than the Deadly Habits. It always comes back to this.

 

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Here is the complete list of overarching questions at the start of the book, Positive Discipline for Teenagers.

Are you building appropriate bridges for your teen?

Do you understand the developmental growth process?

Have you lost your perspective and your sense of humor?

Do you have the illusion that control is effective with teens?

How will your teen react to your new parenting skills?

Have you forgotten that you count, too?

Does your teen have the same needs as other teens?

Are you working with your teen?

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Two courses on Choice Theory beliefs and strategies are scheduled for this summer (2018) at Pacific Union College. They are –

The Better Plan 1     June 25-28

The Better Plan 2     July 9-12

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Glasser’s Beliefs Continue to Influence

It has been four years since William Glasser passed away on August 23, 2013, but not a week goes by, or even a day, that I don’t think about him or one of his ideas. It is interesting just how important his ideas have become to me. For instance, when it comes to wanting to be in a better place psychologically and emotionally, I continue to look through a Choice Theory lens. The principles of Choice Theory are a wonderful mirror from which to self-evaluate.

Choice Theory ideas seem to be important to other people as well, or maybe I should say the principles of Choice Theory, since I continue to see articles and books that point in the same direction he pointed to throughout his career. Whether you want better schools, better parenting, better relationships, or just a better psychology to guide your life, Glasser continues to be a lighthouse guiding the way.

The article links that follow will show you what I mean, plus they are good articles in their own right. Click on the article titles to read for yourself.

1) A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry

The article describes a grass-roots movement in which 40 schools in New York City have adopted a program that has students focusing on achieving grade-level skills rather than receiving traditional letter grades. And rather than being mandated to make this shift, all 40 of the schools have adopted the program voluntarily.

A student stays after school to keep working on her own.

“Mastery-based learning, also known as proficiency-based or competency-based learning, is taking hold across the country,” the article informs, with Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Idaho also phasing in the new approach.

It is impossible for me to see phrases like competency-based learning and getting rid of grades without thinking of my mentor and visionary friend, Bill Glasser. Since his early days with Bea Dolan at the Ventura School for Girls and his first books, including Reality Therapy (1965) and Schools Without Failure (1969), Glasser recognized how learning needed to be organized. Throughout his career he was driven to help schools make this shift.

And of course, his clearest statements regarding competency-based learning can be found in his book, Every Student Can Succeed (2000), where he emphasized the need for students to achieve competence, and the strategies schools can employ to support them in the process.

“The real world asks for competence
and usually gets it when what they ask the worker to do
is useful and they treat the worker well.”
William Glasser

2) When Schools Forgo Grades: An Experiment in Internal Motivation

The article describes the efforts of teachers and students at the Integrated Global Studies School in NYC to move away from traditional grading and instead implement narrative feedback on work in which students want to be involved. IGSS is a small school (160 students) within a much larger high school (over 4,000 students) in which administrators, teachers, and parents wanted to see if grading differently would make a difference in learning. It turns out it makes a huge difference!

Escaping from the cage

Kirby Engelman, a junior at the school, describes how “It felt totally different. It opened my mind to education as something more of, rather than learning content, you were learning how to learn. It opened my mind to my potential as well as the potential of humans and the world.”

It’s about “learning how to learn.”

Engelman admits she was hesitant to give up the traditional model at first. It was all she knew. And while at first she opted to receive traditional feedback, too, she explained that “Grades or no grades you get a written narrative about every assignment and how you are as a student, which showed me how unnecessary grades were,” she said. She also found the system more motivating. “Rather than just learning information and learning specific facts, we were learning how to learn and that felt a lot more meaningful.”

Glasser began describing this very process in Schools Without Failure (1969), his first book on schools specifically, and stuck with this message his entire career.

3) Good Genes Are Nice, But Joy Is Better

Harvard researchers began tracking the health of 268 sophomores in 1938, hoping the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives. While 19 of the original 268 are still alive, many more subjects have been added over the years, and altogether a lot of impressive data have been collected. So what matters when it comes to leading a satisfying and happy life?

“The surprising finding,” began Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, “is that our relationships have a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care, too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

This finding would come as no surprise to William Glasser or anyone else into the ideas of Choice Theory, as he believed that all significant psychological problems were based in relationship problems.

 

“Close relationships,” the study continued, “more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives that social class, IQ, or even genes.”

4) Loneliness Epidemic Growing Into Biggest Threat to Public Health

Also commenting on the topic of happiness, or lack thereof, this short article points out the importance of being socially connected. Examples from the article include –

+ Being connected to others is a fundamental human need.

+ According to an AARP Loneliness Study, over 42 million Americans suffer from chronic loneliness.

+ Another study showed that greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.

+ There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality.

+ Greater emphasis should be placed on social skills training for children in schools.

+ Doctors should be encouraged to include social connectedness when medical screening.

+ People should be preparing for retirement socially, as well as financially.

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Like a lighthouse alerting ships to navigational information, Glasser alerted me, and many others, to information that contributes to health and well being. Four years after his passing he is still missed, especially by those closest to him, yet his ideas continue on. Ideas that matter as much as his tend to do that.

 

3 Minutes, 27%, and Having a Bad Day

Isaac Lidsky is back and is as helpful and impressive as ever!

Almost a year ago I wrote about an incredible TED talk by a guy named Isaac Lidsky, who movingly described how our brains masterfully construct our own unique, personal, and virtual realities. I’m not going to say anything more about that talk, because I don’t want to give any spoilers for why the talk was so moving, but you can access the blog post and talk at the following link –

What You Feel Can Change What You See

I said Isaac Lidsky is back because I recently became aware of an interview he conducted with Michelle Gielan, who I will say more about in a second. It turns out that Isaac has a website, which you can access at www.lidsky.com, and which you can also access below –

Ms. Gielan is a former CBS News anchor who became disturbed about the amount of negativity in her reporting, so she left to begin studying positive psychology with Martin Seligman. As a result, she has become a positive psychology expert herself and is a researcher and best-selling author. Specifically, “She studies the power of mindset to create happiness and forward progress in our lives.”

The interview, one of Lidsky’s Mastering Your Reality series, is not long, less than 15 minutes, and I encourage you to check it out. In case you don’t watch it right away, here are some of my takeaways from their visit, each of them so complimentary to Choice Theory beliefs –

+ Happiness doesn’t just happen, it takes attention.

+ Starting your day with three minutes of negative news in the morning increases your chance of having a bad day by 27% (as recorded 6-7 hours later).

+ It’s incredibly important to focus on a solution, rather than focus on the problem.

+ 91% of us need to respond to stress better; people get stuck in the problem.

+ Helpful to get the brain to focus on even one small meaningful action you can take right now to start solving the problem; so many benefits from getting to an action phase.

“You’re not going to get from A to Z unless you get from A to B.”

+ Becoming who or what we want to be isn’t about discovering and flipping some life-changing switch, as much as it is about intentionality everyday and managing your own well being.

+ Optimism is basically the belief that in the midst of challenges our behavior matters and the expectation that good things will happen.

+ We are malleable and can change our levels of optimism.

“Starting your day with 3 minutes of negative news in the morning
increases your chances of having a bad day by 27%.”

The interview closed with noting three dimensions of stress –

1) Do you stay stuck in the problem? vs. Do you move to an action plan?

2) Are you keeping things inside you? vs. Are you communicating with people you trust? Building social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness.

3) Are you staying calm? vs. Are you letting something ruin your whole day?

In general, do you view events as a stress or do you view them as a challenge? The brain really gets into taking on challenges, which also results in less stress symptoms.

Finally, the interview ended by emphasizing the importance of taking your vacation days, all of them, every year! We are better at our jobs when take vacations and mentally disconnect from work. Choose to go on vacations!

Improve your work.
Go on vacation!

Lidsky has written his own bestseller, Eyes Wide Open, which will be even more impressive to you after viewing his TED talk.

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On a personal note: After reading about and watching the Lidsky / Gielan interview, I did a search on The Better Plan blog and re-discovered my post of October 9, 2016, in which I not only introduced readers to Lidsky’s amazing story, but also shared my own (then recent) cancer diagnosis, a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma known as Waldenstroms. Seeing that I am writing about Lidsky again, it seems right to update you on my cancer thing.

After almost a year of chemo pills and infusion therapy, my blood levels are almost entirely back where they need to be. My energy is back up and I have even gotten back on the bike and conquered the small mountain on which I live. Recently, I was taken off of the pills and the infusions because they want to see how I can do on my own. So far, so good. Love to all.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser’s ideas and his career.

So, There’s a New Deadly Habit

Not that we need another Deadly Habit. We have enough of them already. Still, in our effort to get what we want, and to just feel right (darnit), we are capable of coming up with some pretty interesting behaviors. Take “ghosting,” for example. Yes, it’s an actual behavior, and yes, it deserves to be included in the pantheon of Deadly Habits.

Around for centuries, ghosting was finally labeled as a social phenomena (according to one author) in 2014. In case you’re wondering about its definition, ghosting is “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.” Originally, the term was used to describe how a person in a dating relationship one moment could disappear without a word the next moment. In this scenario, a person ghosts when he or she doesn’t want to confront, negotiate, explain, or say good-bye.

It is confusing, and even painful, when you are ghosted by a friend. It is even more confusing and more painful when it happens in a church setting, as it did to Benjamin Corey and his family. In his blog*, Benjamin, a church leader and teacher, describes how he and his family were ghosted after fellow members questioned whether or not he was “truly the head over his wife.” This, along with his stance on advocating for a higher minimum wage, his stance on loving our enemies (church members saw his message as unloving toward gun owners), and his stance against bringing guns into the church.

“And then it happened. Silence. Distance. Non-existence.” Close friends, people he and his family hung out with and did things together with on weekends became invisible. His children’s close friends no longer included them. Their social and spiritual network was laid waste. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day threatened to ostracize people from the temple and all religious life if they didn’t think and behave the way the Pharisees demanded. Such a threat was taken seriously because being a part of the community meant everything, even survival. Such ostracization strategies continue today.

When a person close to us – a spouse or child or relative – doesn’t behave as we want, or when others in our life – co-workers, fellow church members, a driver on the road beside us – behave in a way that upsets us, we have a choice as to how we will respond. If we view the world through “reward and punishment’ glasses we will call on behaviors that attempt to make or force the other person to behave according to our expectations, or that at least give us a shot of brief satisfaction for expressing our anger or disgust. Reward and punishment behaviors are known, according to Choice Theory, as Deadly Habits and include behaviors like Criticizing, Blaming, Complaining, Nagging, Threatening, Punishing, and Reward to Manipulate. They are called deadly because whenever these behaviors are used they are damaging, and even deadly, to the relationship. When I was younger my go to Deadly Habit was Withdrawing, which is form of Punishing. After reading Dr. Corey’s blog I will now include Ghosting as another form of Punishing.

Fortunately, there is also a list of Caring Habits, too, which I hope would especially be present within the behaviors of a church family. Maybe Benjamin Corey not have having control over his wife and not wanting guns in the church is a deal-breaker for people within that congregation, yet isn’t it possible to talk about this difference in views and separate amicably, rather than by inflicting such pain? The church, of all places, needs to teach and model Caring Habits, which prioritize relationships, and which include Listening, Encouraging, Accepting, Supporting, Trusting, Respecting, and Negotiating Differences. We will not always agree with others, but we can choose to respond in a way that at least maintains the relationship.

(Click here to read Benjamin Corey’s article – Christian Ghosting: The Destructive Christian Practice We Don’t Talk About.)

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It is especially toxic when externally-controlling ways are combined with religious views. It adds to our authority when we claim that God thinks like us and when we claim to be doing His will, but we misrepresent Him when we try to control others. For more on this topic, check out the following links –

Stuffing God into a Box

Religion and the Only Person I Can Control

God as Coercer

Why Are So Many Christians Un-Christian?

 

 

Three Dogs and a Lady

While at the beach recently, I noticed a woman with three dogs in tow, young Australian sheep dogs, I think, beautiful animals, obviously well-cared for, each of them on a separate leash and following her very, very closely. I watched them walk in this tight formation until she stopped, bent down, and undid their leashes. It was then that something happened that was quite amazing to me. More on this in a second, but first –

On a personal note – yesterday, July 28, was special to me for several reasons:

1) After nine months of taking three chemo pills a day, yesterday I took my last three pills, at least for the foreseeable future. The doctor wants to see how my body, and specifically my bone marrow and red blood cells, will do on its own. The pills have had some side effects, so I will be glad to be free of them.

The last three pills, hopefully for a long while.

2) I went on a bike ride with my son-in-law, Sean, yesterday. He had back surgery a year ago and has been slowly re-habbing ever since. The recovery road has not been easy, with leg and foot pain or numbness exerting an on and off presence, but he works to get back to a place of well-being in every way. So finally arriving at a point where he could get back on a bike and do a 19 mile bike ride is a significant moment that I was glad to share with him. Just a couple of weeks ago I did a similar ride with my good friend, Ron, after his own back surgery kept him from riding for so many years. I am so proud of both of these guys!

Sean and me after our first ride together in a couple of years.

3) Yesterday would have been my dad’s 100th birthday. I thought about him a lot, and about my parents in general. They loved me so much and did so much for me, and yet they operated from an external control perspective. They didn’t know better and were doing the best they knew how. I wish like anything I could talk with my dad now. He passed away before either the Soul Shapers book or the Glasser biography – Champion of Choice -was published. We would have so much to talk about.

Me and my Dad (1957)

The pills, the bike ride, and my dad’s birthday all are Choice Theory moments. Choice Theory has helped me work through the whole cancer thing, including dealing with the side effects of the drugs; and it has helped Sean work through the pain and frustration of the rehab process; and it has helped me recognize the wonderful traits of my parents, rather than get bogged down in their frailties and mistakes.

Ok, enough about me.

Back to the three dogs and a lady.

The trio and their master leaving the beach.

When she undid the leashes of these high-energy dogs, they   .   .   . did nothing. One of them even looked up at her with an expression of what do you want me to do now? She walked a few steps and they stayed right on her heels. She tried to shoo them away, I assume to explore or do their thing, but they seemed uncomfortable at this possibility. She proceeded to a hilly area with trails and ice plant and shooed them away again, trying to encourage them to play a bit and experience some freedom. Eventually, they seemed to get it and began to wander from her heels, although never that far.

The dogs were well-trained, that’s for sure, and I know parents and teachers who would love to have their children and students behave in a similar manner, anxious to please, worried about wandering to far from our heels, quite ready to do whatever we request or direct. As impressed as I was the dogs level of obedience, I was also a little bit sad at their inhibition and what appeared like fear. So much energy to run around and experience the sand and water, yet they crouched while looking up at their master through furtive eyes. As I observed the dogs I recalled a passage from one of my favorite authors. She writes –

The training of children must be conducted on a different principle from that which governs the training of irrational animals. The brute has only to be accustomed to submit to its master; but the child must be taught to control himself. The will must be trained to obey the dictates of reason and conscience. A child may be so disciplined as to have, like the beast, no will of its own, his individuality being lost in that of his teacher. Such training is unwise, and its effect disastrous.

Parenting and teaching would be simpler if all we had to do was get our kids to be obedient, but fortunately it’s more complicated than that. Apparently we need to keep in mind that there is a good kind of obedience and a bad kind of obedience, and that we should pursue one while staying away from the other. I say fortunately because this quality about being human, this complication, if you will, is what makes us so incredibly special, so individually unique, and so internally controlled. If obedience alone was the end goal we would be like programmable robots, but it turns out we are not robotic at all. Thank heavens!

Speaking of heaven, I actually do believe that this special quality of being human, of being individual and internally guided, was a Creator’s plan. This design speaks to His own needs for love and belonging and for freedom. He desires to interact with intelligent beings who are free to interact with Him, creative in their own right, with opinions to which they have arrived, and able to agree, disagree, and think through things for themselves. This level of intelligence and freedom is a huge deal to Him!

The reason the bad kind of obedience is, well . . . bad, is described in the following passage –

In some schools and families, children appear to be well-trained, while under the immediate discipline, but when the system which has held them to set rules is broken up, they seem to be incapable of thinking, acting, or deciding for themselves.

Within a Choice Theory jacket, obedience can be a good thing that ultimately leads to self-management. Without Choice Theory, a focus on obedience leads to dependence and helplessness. The bad kind of obedience also leads to resentment and, most sadly, broken relationships, as internal control human beings were not designed to be under the control of another person.

Within a Choice Theory jacket, obedience can be a good thing
that ultimately leads to self-management.

Much can be said here, but you get the point. We want kids to obey, but always within the context of helping them to be self-managers. This is the challenge of parents and teachers. We want our kids to obey, but even more we want them to be free.

* The above passages can be found in the book, Fundamentals of Christian Education, pgs. 57, 58.

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Both Champion of Choice and Soul Shapers are available in hard copy or electronically.

Click here for a hard copy of Champion of Choice; click here for an electronic version. Electronic versions are available for both Kindle or iPad.

 

What to Do if Your Teen Demands More Freedom Than You’re Ready to Give

This important article recently appeared in U.S. News & World Report. It’s author, Dr. Nancy Buck, is a Choice Theory and peaceful parenting expert. I am glad she put the following ideas in writing, and that she gave The Better Plan permission to reprint it.

Are you the parent of a teen or soon-to-be teenager? If so, then you know you are in the middle of an exciting and challenging time. Most teens are ready, willing and convinced they’re able to handle more freedom with less parental involvement. In fact, this is part of normal development. Unfortunately, many parents do not feel the same way.

A parent’s job is to help children learn to manage freedom. As your child grows, his level of freedom increases, necessitating continual learning. Responsibly managing freedom doesn’t start when children become teenagers. When your child took his first step, he was already moving away from you and walking toward greater freedom. The same was true when your child started school and began participating in after-school and extracurricular activities. Now that your child has become a teen, there is more he wants to do on his own, with or without your permission or approval.

“A parent’s job is to help children learn to manage freedom.”

At the same time, unlike the baby steps of years past, your teenager is making major strides toward greater independence, and this can leave her exposed to dangers she didn’t face as a younger child.

Some parents manage their discomfort with risk by denying their children freedom. In an attempt to ease their worries, these parents oppress their children. These same parents are surprised when they discover their children have been going behind their back, lying and doings things they know their parents disapprove of. These adolescents aren’t trying to be disrespectful but rather are emerging adults acting on their greater need for freedom and power. These needs are stronger than their desire to please their parents.

The better alternative for parents is to teach teens how to meet their needs for greater independence safely, responsibly and respectfully. At the same time, parents need to learn to manage their own fears, rather than unnecessarily limiting what kids can do.

The best approach is to begin early, when your child is young. Slowly allow your child to become more independent while you teach him responsible behaviors to handle this new freedom. When parents do this for the first 12 years of their child’s life, the teenage years becomes less frightening and overwhelming for both parents and children.

However, if you aren’t sure how well you’ve done thus far, here is a process that will help you and your adolescent manage your child’s need for more freedom and your need to feel your child is safe. When your child makes a request for increased freedom and asks permission to do something he or she hasn’t done before, follow these steps:

1. Ask yourself, “Do I understand the request?” If your teen says she wants to go to a coed sleep-over party, do you really understand what that is? The first time I heard this from one of my sons I was quite convinced he was asking for permission to go to an orgy! I learned it was two consecutive parties in one night. Party one was coed. Party two, all the boys left and the girls had a sleep over. If you don’t understand exactly what your child is asking to do, find out. Even if you think you do understand, ask anyway to clarify any potential misunderstandings.

2. Consider whether your child can handle this responsibility. Does your teen have a plan for how she will manage when she discovers underage drinking at a party she’s attending? What will your child do if she is home alone with your permission and several friends want to come over uninvited? If your child is shopping at the mall with several friends, and one of them is accused of shoplifting, how will she handle it? Your job is to teach your child the responsible behaviors necessary so she has the opportunity to handle additional freedom.

3. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” It’s reasonable to ask your child to help you overcome your fear. Remember how you helped your child overcome his fear of the monsters in his closet? Now you’re asking your child to help you overcome your fear of careless drinking and driving or other risky behaviors. Asking your child to pledge he won’t drink or ride with someone who has been drinking, for instance, is a reasonable reassurance to expect when granting him permission to go to a party.

“Now you’re asking your child to help you overcome your fear .  .  .”

Ultimately you may withhold your permission because of your own fear. Doing this 1 time out of 10 is understandable. Doing this 9 times out of 10 is oppression and probably will result in your child disobeying, sneaking out and realizing his freedom without your permission and support. If you say no and stop at this step, make a plan with your child for how long you will withhold permission for his requested expanded freedom. If what your child wants to do is illegal, like illicit drugs, you can explain that you will never give permission. The criteria is that the request is legal and can be handled responsibly by your child.

4. Give your child permission. Say yes. Now you know what your child is going to do. You know your child is able to handle herself and the situation. There is no reason not to give your child permission.

5. Make a plan for how you will work together if problems arise. Be sure to work with your child on the plan and include in it that you will be there when help is needed. You want your child to know that you are on her side, you will work together to find responsible solutions, and that punishment and blaming is not part of this growing process. Work together to create this tentative plan, understanding that the plan will be appropriately modified as needed.

6. Plan for how you will spend your time. Now that your child has newfound freedom, how will you handle yourself so that you aren’t overwhelmed by your fear and worry? Your goal is to stay engaged doing something you enjoy. Resist the urge to be constantly preoccupied with concern, and instead trust that while all problems can’t be anticipated, you’ve been preparing your teen to be more independent.

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Nancy S. Buck, PhD, RN is a developmental psychologist, expert in children’s motivation and behavior and parenting coach. As the founder of Peaceful Parenting Inc., a blogger for Psychology Today and author of numerous books on parenting, including “How to Be a Great Parent,” Dr. Buck advises parents on effective practices to improve life for every member of the family. As an early childhood mental health specialist, she is devoted to helping families develop, improve and maintain optimal mental health and happiness.

Click here to link to the article in U.S. News & World Report.

 

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