Posted in connections, know better do better, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Dig around for underlying reasons

The Kid was in a bad mood this weekend. Easy to inadvertently poke without any discernible reason.

Sunday night, after another large incident over a benign thing, the three of us sat down and had a conversation to try to figure out what was actually going on.

Turns out, he had read something in one of his books a few days prior that really bothered him and he had been ruminating about it all weekend.

Once we talked through the stuff in the book, he felt much better and went back to being his usual self.

(Also, the stuff in the book was in no way something that he “should” have worried about, but we had a gentle conversation instead of just telling him he shouldn’t be worried, or “I’ll give you something to cry about,” or “man up,” and on and on. It’s important for kids—for people—to know that they’re safe and they’re not going to be dismissed if they are vulnerable with you. Talking about fears is vulnerable.)

A friend and I had a conversation about an incident with her kid. The kid came home from school cranky and withdrew. It took several hours before the kid talked about it; it was concealed simply by cranky and withdrawn behavior.

Cranky and withdrawn behavior is easy to see as “that person is being a jerk.” Especially if the person is an age where sulking is expected.

We build bridges in these situations when we meet the cranky (or angry, or withdrawn) person with love.

We sat down with The Kid, first with him on The Climbing Daddy’s lap and later on mine. We talked calmly, we expressed concern, we let him write things down when he wasn’t comfortable talking. And we were patient in both his grossly unfounded fears and the amount of time it took to work through it. (And we suggested, since he agreed that talking helped, that he volunteer next time to talk about things that worry him instead of steeping in them for days.)

My friend met her kid with love. Went and snuggled. At first she was rejected, but instead of leaving, she stayed. The walls came down and the tearful story came out.

Back in the day, the first really big argument between The Climbing Daddy and I wasn’t really about what we were arguing about. The incident had strong ties to underlying things, and those were the things we needed to have a conversation about, instead of an argument about the surface stuff.

I’m 100% certain that that wasn’t the only argument for which that was true. Does it sound familiar to you?

In that case, meeting the anger with affection would have both calmed the anger and gotten to the heart of the problem. (I don’t fault him for not doing that, in part because that’s not how most people react most of the time, and in part because I was pushing his buttons just as well as he was pushing mine. But we’re getting better at it. Especially as we have more practice with The Kid.)

Anger and withdrawal are defense mechanisms, fueled by anger in return. See if you can diffuse them with love.

Posted in know better do better, mindset, vulnerability

A spin on know better, do better

We frequently see changing one’s mind as a weakness, when really, we should support people who do better when they know better.

I know a solid handful of people who, in the last couple of years, have pretty substantially changed their point of view on a variety of impactful topics.

The problem is—often, we reject people if they haven’t aligned with us all along.

Consider the following:

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

In that context, I feel like we should celebrate anyone who is brave enough to say, “I helped make this mess, but I’m going to help clean it up.”

Why wouldn’t we want help cleaning it up?

Posted in connections, ebb & flow, know better do better, marriage, mindset, parenting, podcasts, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Podcast quote: problem maintenance

As I mentioned a bit ago, I have been bingeing on Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel.

The first episode of the second season (“You Need Help to Help Her”), she’s talking with a couple who has a young adult daughter with problems. Most of the details of the episode aren’t relevant to this post, but if you have a child with any sort of mental health issue, you might gain some insight from it.

Basically, there weren’t (known) problems, and suddenly, there were big problems, and the whole family dynamic and structure changed.

At the end, Esther is summing things up, and she says this (emphasis mine):

“When mom speaks of the holistic view, the way I would define it is this. I am a family therapist. I think systemically. I think about problems in context, problems in an ecology, not just what causes them but what maintains them. How is the relationship system, how is the family organized around the problem?”

Maybe you’ve thought about this before, but I’ve never thought specifically about problem maintenance (when the problem doesn’t start as a systemic one).

I’ve been thinking about this and am starting to apply it to my closest relationships.

  • What am I doing that maintains problems? (within my level of awareness)
  • How can I change that? (within my level of control)
  • Where can I connect disconnects to make life happier for everyone who lives here? (within my levels of awareness and control)

Hopefully, in time, we can all connect in to that, but I’m starting first, and we’ll go from there.

Blew my mind.

Problem maintenance.

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Our culture of victim-blaming and shaming

Victim-blaming is almost a national past time.

My [expensive thing] was stolen from my [car/house/desk/anywhere]. “Was it locked?”

She was raped. “What was she wearing? Was she drinking?” (I could make a giant list of victim-blaming that applies just to women.)

My purse was stolen out of a shopping cart. “What did you expect?”

Kids at lunch were making fun of my hair. “I told you not to wear it like that.”

He was just diagnosed with lung cancer. “Does he smoke?” (Tidbit: diagnoses of lung cancer in non-smokers is on the rise and has been for a few years.)

In cases where we’re judging other adults, it seems to be a simple self-protective mechanism. If I can blame what happened to you on your actions, then I don’t have to worry about that thing happening to me, because I’m smart enough not to act how you do/did.

(I believe this is also why we ignore data on common things that are carcinogenic—because then we’d have to be responsible for not using them or for our diagnosis if/when it comes, and we would rather attribute it to bad luck, random chance, or a deity.)

In cases where we’re judging children, it’s either because they’re experiencing something painful that we did (or still do) and instead of dealing with that pain that brings up for us, we wall up and blame them. Or we’re judging their parents through the kids.

(Which is why so many of us are over-invested in what we think other people think about our kids. Sometimes shitty kid behavior is because of shitty parents, and sometimes it’s not. Often can’t tell by the snapshot you get.)

This is not to say that no one has personal responsibility for anything, contrary to what the current socio-political climate might suggest. (Or how some parents act regarding their kids.)

People are responsible for their actions. What they choose to do and say (or not do and not say).

That’s the thing—it’s not the owner’s fault that someone decided it was OK to open a car that didn’t belong to them and take things from inside. That is completely on the thief. No matter what is inside, no matter how much you can see or not see through the windows.

It’s not my fault that while drunk, a friend decided he could have sex with her. That is completely on the rapist.

“What did you expect?”

I expect that people will be decent to each other. I understand that this is not reality, possibly even most of the time. But I also know that often enough, people live up to or down to expectations.

I feel like … blaming the victim gives a pass to the perpetrator. And as soon as perpetrators get a pass, word spreads, and there are more of them.

Start to notice how often we blame the victim. Start to think about how much better off we’d be if we held the appropriate people accountable. Polish up your words and actions so as to have fewer victims. (None of us are never the perpetrator.) And see if we can spread that, instead.

Posted in mindset, vulnerability

Don’t ask the question unless…

…you actually want the answer.

This is a thing that makes me a little crazy.

If you ask for an opinion, you need to be able to receive the opinion.

If you ask to hear someone’s experience, you need to be open to hearing their experience.

So often, we ask a question and are open to one of the potential answers, and that’s all.

And, if possible, ask the question that you’re wanting the answer to.

There’s the stereotypical “Does this dress make me look fat?”

What does she really want to know?

Most likely, is this dress flattering to me? Regardless your size or shape, some styles are going to look better than others. Different colors look better with certain skin tones and hair colors. Some patterns suit your personality better than others.

Beyond that, the question is viewed as a trap, and for good reason.

Too often, she doesn’t actually want any answer; she wants the right answer.

(This example is a woman asking, but there are plenty of man-based examples as well. Don’t let yourself off the hook, gentlemen.)

If you are just looking for reassurance and a yes-man, tell your audience that you’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable in your skin and need some reassurance. It’s vulnerable, but it’s real.

(If you’ve never had a conversation that went anything like that, the first one might not go ideally, depending on who you’re having it with. Process it and try again.)

And if the answer is an honest, “That dress doesn’t make you look your best,” say thank you and get changed!

But in any case, don’t ask a question and then get mad that the question wasn’t answered the way you wanted.

Hurt maybe, sad maybe, happy maybe, mad at the circumstance perhaps, but mad at them for answering? No, please.

Worse than that, in my opinion, is asking someone their experience, and then telling them they’re wrong.

Whether you perceived it the same way or not, it’s their experience. Ask yourself what you have to lose by believing that it did happen to them that way.

So. If you want the answer—any answer (or any you can reasonably predict)—ask the question. Otherwise, shush.