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.


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

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