Violence is the Problem – Not the Solution

So many times in life we expend our energy solving the wrong problems. Our country has faced too many mass shootings. Each time, the problem has been framed in the context of the Second Amendment. The problem, the debate, has become “Do we have the right to bear arms? Are you trying to diminish my Constitutional rights?” The answer is simple: the right exists. I’m not sure why this particular discussion continues. After all, framing the problem this way has not ended the problem of mass shootings. It is time, then, to consider what solutions would be possible if we reframed the problem.

For example, we could reframe the problem as:

Did the victims have the right to live?  Did the parents have the right to see their children grow to adulthood?  Did the friends and family have the right to enjoy more time with those they lost?  Did the shooter have the right to better access to mental health care?

Consider the implications if we made the problem even broader:

What is the source of the anger that allowed this mass shooting?  Why does the solution of killing others seem appropriate to so many people?  What is producing all of this frustration?  Is the increased use of technology part of the problem? Is it both increasing our isolation as well as our belief that violence is a solution?  What structural changes can we make in society that might ease this anger and frustration?

The questions we ask determine the solutions we generate. Clearly, the questions we have been asking about our Constitutional rights are not producing the solution we ALL want. We ALL want less violence, less death, more personal security.

Perhaps, then, the real questions are:

How can we achieve less violence?  How can we reduce the national murder rate?  How can we achieve greater personal security?

So many more solutions are possible when we reframe the issue in this manner. It is time that we change the frame, expand the possibilities, and resolve to solve this. We cannot continue to allow mass shootings at school, at work, at places of leisure, or at churches. We cannot allow them to continue anywhere.

When Sex and Intimacy Got a Divorce

As far as I can recall, the separation began in the 1960s. Women’s liberation was making its mark. Women took off their bras, declared that they were more than their bodies, and demanded true equality in the workplace and at home. These were wonderful truths and wonderful goals. Women were ready to move from a norm where sex was a male prerogative and they were simply there to please the men they married. We were ready to move away from the imbalance of power between the sexes. Again, a very good goal.

The difficulty with any social change is that to change we focus on the extremes. The horror, the injustice, moves us to fix the problem. What is lost in the process is the fact that most of us do not live on the extremes; our lives are more normal than that. So, while the stated norm was that sex was a male prerogative there were always men and women who were eager to satisfy each other’s sexual needs and recognized that their own pleasure was enhanced by pleasing their partner (whether opposite sex partner or same sex partner). In reality, just as it is today, the balance of power was not a giant divide, but a place where control shifts from side and side and where each member has responsibility for the actions they take. Men are not always the enemy, women are not always the victims; we all make choices and our choices have consequences that impact us in the moment and in our futures.

While it may seem I have digressed, I hope you will now see the connection. The focus on the extremes led us, I think, to a new extreme – to a place where the norm is that sex is an activity one can engage in solely for pleasure, divorced from intimacy. Early on in the separation process, I began to hear of the “three date rule” (you have sex by the third date or you stop dating that person). Now, of course, there are apps where you simply pick a person based on their looks, “hook up”, and resume your life as it was before the act of fulfilling your need for physical pleasure. In sessions, I meet men and women who feel embarrassed that they want more from sex than that; they want to feel a connection.   I think the embarrassment stems from the shift to this new extreme and the fact that our focus became intercourse (sex) rather than sexuality.

Sexuality involves intimacy. It involves familiarity with the other person, knowledge of and an understanding of that person, a feeling of affection for them, and at its deepest level, a feeling of love for them. Sexuality is a term that encompasses values, body image, sense of self, and self-respect, as well as intercourse. This broader definition brings trust, caring, concern, warmth, and connection back into the equation.

Our power – our control over our bodies and our lives – lies in our sexuality, not in our ability to have sex without intimacy. It lies in our ability to trust our partner, to know that they are looking out for our pleasure (as we are looking out for theirs). It lies in our willingness to be vulnerable – because vulnerability in a trusting relationship allows us to not only be genuine, but to move out of our comfort zone and to grow. Our power lies in our ability to give consent based on our values, our body image, our sense of self, and our self-respect. Our power lies in knowing that our value to the other person does not rest on what we do in this moment, but in the fact that our partner knows and understands us, values us, and that their affection and/or love is not based on the moment, but on our history and our future. Our power rests in knowing that a “no” does not mean our time together is over.

I do hope that sex and intimacy reconcile. For it is in that reconciliation that true pleasure is found.

 

 

 

 

 

When It Becomes the Not-So-Happy-Holidays

Before I became a psychologist, I thought the holidays were only times of great joy. I looked forward to them with great anticipation, eagerly awaiting all the commotion.
Now, however, I realize that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a very painful time for so many people. For them, the holidays are a time of increased isolation and despair. As some of us talk about whom we will visit and how we will juggle multiple invitations, others wish they had even one place to go. As some of us complain that our in-laws want to see us, others wish they had in-laws. As some of us complain that our children will visit in-laws, others wish they had children. There is no one single cause of the pain people feel during this time of year. The pain they are in reflects their unfulfilled wishes, their dreams that – due to no fault of their own – cannot be realized, and their hopes that are fading with each passing day.

Given this reality, what can we do to help make this season more joyful for ourselves and for others? I propose that this holiday season we all do our best to turn our burdens into someone else’s joy.

This concept is not intuitive. After all, our burdens, our pains, are not things we tend to think are worth sharing with others. That’s because we see those burdens from our own vantage point; seeing it from someone else’s can make all the difference. Some examples will help:

  • If you cannot spend a holiday with someone because you are accepting a different invitation, tell him or her when you will visit and that whenever you are with them, it is a holiday (http://real-matters.com/?p=27).
  • If one of your holiday guests is your burden, treat that person as if you have never met and try to get to know them. Perhaps a new relationship will develop as you listen to new stories rather than focusing on the old ones.
  • If you have no children, help someone who does. Offer to watch their children while they prepare for the holiday. If you don’t know someone with children, volunteer at a center that will have a holiday party for children in need. Volunteer to bring food to parents whose child is hospitalized.
  • If you are overwhelmed with the children you have, ask someone who longs for children, to help you. If you know that you will complain that you have no room in your refrigerator or freezer for your left over food, don’t cook it – donate it to a food bank.
  • If you will be alone for the holiday, spend it with someone else who would be alone, but not for your offer to spend it with them.

No matter what your situation is, giving of self will increase your connection to others and connection is the key to joy, not just over the holidays – but any day.

Love Is Like Rice

When it comes time to add a sibling to the family, young children are often concerned if there will be enough love to go around. I have found it helpful to make the answer as concrete as possible.

Concrete thinking is a well-documented characteristic of children. Jean Piaget described how our thinking changes throughout childhood. A child under the age of 6, for example, tends to overlook a transition. They see the beginning and end but not the transition itself. So, if given play dough, and asked to roll it into a ball and then into a sausage, and asked if there is more, less, or the same amount of play dough as a ball or sausage, they will tell you there is more when it is a sausage. They see it as bigger and cannot see that material was not lost or gained in the transition. I understand why children, who have such difficulty with abstract ideas, find this difficult to understand and persist in their worry about whether their parents will love them as much when there is another child.

So, when dealing with a child’s concern of a new baby brother or sister, it is best to respond as concretely as possible. A simple way to do this is to demonstrate the transition from uncooked to cooked rice. I have them hold a cup of uncooked rice in their hands. Then, together, we add it to the pot and add the water. Then we watch it boil and we wait. We keep watching and waiting. Then we uncover the pot and see how much the rice has grown. This is followed by the simple statement: “Love is like that. When we add something, like a new baby brother or sister, it makes the total amount of love grow. Just like the water made the rice grow. There will always be enough love to go around.”

What is even more interesting to me is the idea that, at times, adolescents and adults find this concept difficult too. Middle school and high school students worry that there is not room in the group for everyone; so letting someone in means someone may have to be excluded. First-time parents worry that they will not love each other as much once their child arrives. They worry that a child will take up their time and they will “lose the romance”. Parents worry that they will not love the second child as much as they love the first. These worries reflect a concern that there is only a limited amount of love to go around; that when we have to divide it among more people, each person will get less.

However, that is simply not true. Love is meant to fill the space that is available to it. It fills the spaces and brings us closer to each other. The more people we share our love with, the more love there is to go around.

Love is like the water that makes the rice grow. Be afraid to skimp on your love, not to share it.

If you enjoy my posts, please subscribe using the signup box at the side of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that email, you will get updates on any new items I post.

 

Just Change Your Pants, George

“Just change your pants, George.”

“I’m gonna change my pants, Alice. But if I change my pants, I gotta change my jacket! If I change my jacket, I gotta change my shirt! If I change my shirt, I gotta change my tie! I hafta change my belt! I gotta change my shoes! I gotta change my socks!”

“Just change your pants, George.”

This interchange from the movie Beethoven (1992) takes place because Beethoven, a large St. Bernard dog, drooled on George’s pants and by doing so, “destroyed” George’s morning schedule – which George feels is the start to an overwhelming pile of problems.

These few lines make Beethoven one of my favorite movies of all times. It captures the thinking we all experience on those “bad” days when nothing seems to go our way and when we see problems everywhere we turn. More importantly, it represents the panic we all experience when change is required.

Sometimes, all we can see are the negative effects of change, blinding us from the opportunities for growth and happiness that are in front of us. In George’s case, innumerable problems confront him if he accepts the need to change his pants: he’ll then have to change his jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, and socks. In the moment, George cannot see that changing his pants presents him with the opportunity to, on the most basic level, go to work with pants that are not full of dog saliva, but also with a more important opportunity: the chance to start his day over, look and feel better, and, most importantly, change his attitude about “life”.

This scenario is a humorous depiction of our tendency to “not be able to see the forest for the trees.” He is so caught up in the details that he misses the opening into the clearing. We all have the tendency to do that sometimes. The details overwhelm us and we lose sight of the bigger picture. Like George, we get caught up in the anticipation of change. It is the anticipation that often overwhelms us, not the actual change.

Change is an inherent part of life. We change physically, mentally, and emotionally every day. Most of these changes go unnoticed. It is the larger changes – the ones we anticipate – that cause us to worry.

As I have written before, worry is simply an indicator that some kind of change is necessary. So the key is to minimize the anticipation of the negative “what ifs” and keep our eye on the goal – that change is natural, that it represents an opportunity for our growth.

Let me provide some examples:

  • The start of the school year brings changes in schedules, routines, and expectations. A parent gets caught up in the chores that are part of the start of school – the need for backpacks filled with supplies, the need to prepare breakfast and lunch, the need to get to the bus on time. They anticipate that if their child is unprepared in some way, that the teacher will get annoyed, the teacher will have a bad opinion of their child, the child will have a bad year (in other words, the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of school). They forget that the actual goal is to prepare their child to enjoy school, to enjoy learning, and to listen to the best and worst parts of the child’s day. Once that goal is recognized, the chores can become part of the solution. If the chores are done together, as a family community, then chores provide an opportunity for chatting and for listening to each other. The change that occurs is positive and reflects the natural growth in all members of the family.
  • Generally, the rule in elementary school is that everyone in class must be invited to a party. As that rule changes, a child anticipates that not getting invited to a specific party represents the end of their social life. The spiral of catastrophe (they will never have friends, their social life is over, school will be awful – the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of school social life) is all that is seen. If they focus, instead, on the goal of having friends who share their interests, and values, and who are kind, then the change in rules provides an opportunity to learn how to be more selective in our friendships – a lesson that we learn and re-learn throughout our lifetime.
  • A couple considering their future together is often confronted with a considerable amount of negative statements about commitment. They are bombarded with information that tells them that people are not meant to be monogamous, that long term relationships get boring, that they will get on each other’s nerves (the pants, jacket, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, socks of commitment). They worry that the commitment will lead to a negative change in their relationship. If they focus instead on the goal of making each other happy, they will continually find ways to do that, making their relationship a “living” entity that must be nourished and attended to as it grows (changes) over time. If they want to make each other happy, they will find ways to do that. They may not (in fact will not) be able to do that all the time, but the want provides a path toward happiness.

The next time you feel the anticipation of change, don’t let it impact you in a negative way. Think of the anticipation as a sign that change is necessary. Try to identify the goal – the change that is required – and let the goal help you find a solution to the problem. Recognize that the anticipation is almost always worse than whatever the change will actually be. Remember that change is natural and necessary; change represents an opportunity to start over, to improve, to add to our lives. Remember to just change your pants, George, and it will be okay.

If you enjoy my posts, please subscribe using the signup box at the side of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that email, you will get updates on any new items I post.

If/Then

Our English teachers taught us that complex sentences use conjunctions – a “joiner” word – to bring two thoughts into a unified whole. Not only do complex sentences help us sound more intelligent, they also help us shape our lives because how we connect our thoughts can have a profound effect on our happiness.

For example, when a client says, “I want to meet someone but I know I never will” they are unhappy in the moment and see a future filled with unhappiness. If they say, “I want to meet someone and I know I will” they are filled with hope in the present and optimism for the future. If they say, “I want to meet someone so I went out” they are actively doing something that might change their present condition. It is not the connecting word alone that matters – it is the thoughts that are logically connected by the word we choose. It would not make sense, for example, to say, “I want to meet someone so I stayed home alone.” The so demanded an action to accomplish the goal stated in the first sentence.

In other words, being aware of these connections – and choosing to make more effective connections – is a fairly simple way to change our perspective. Let me give you more examples:

 “If I stay in this job I hate, then I will become more and more unhappy.” A more effective connection would be, “If I look for a new job, then I might find one that brings me more satisfaction.” “If I leave this relationship, then I might be alone forever” could be changed to, “If I move on to a new relationship, then I might find greater happiness.” Similarly, if only statements can get us stuck in the past rather than move us toward a more satisfying future: “If only I had not pushed for a commitment, we would still be together” keeps us pining for a relationship that is over.  Saying, “Although he/she was not ready for a commitment, I’m glad I let my goals be known”, however, allows us to take the positive from the past while moving toward a future in which both parties can find greater fulfillment. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you but I’m worried that I don’t make as much money as you so I will be a financial burden” changed to “I want to spend the rest of my life with you so I was wondering how you feel about the differences in our income” allows greater problem solving and less anxiety/worry.  It keeps the focus on the goal and invites multiple options to emerge.

 Even if can also be problematic. I have heard clients say, “Even if I meet someone now, I’ll be too old to have children.” Here the focus is on unfulfilled dreams and, in essence, provides no path to new dreams or fulfillment. Changing the statement to “Whether I meet someone or not, I will find a way to make some children happier” leads to finding a way to fulfill the original dream in some form (work in a hospital with babies born to mothers on drugs, volunteer to coach or spend time with children who have single parents or are in foster care, spend time with nieces/nephews/children of friends, etc.).

Words are important; they matter. So, choose your words carefully and use them as a pathway to greater contentment. If you seek greater happiness, then you will find it. It will “pop out” at you because your new perspective will allow it present itself.

If you enjoy my posts, please subscribe using the signup box at the side of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that email, you will get updates on any new items I post.

Another Look at Hate and Fear

I am certain that human nature is based on empathy, love, and compassion. The kind of violence that erupted in Charlottesville this week seems to provide substantial disconfirmation of that assumption. If humans are essentially “built” for love, how can we treat each other with such cruelty?  The answer is simple. We must be taught to hate and fear.  I have written on this before and I hope you will read my post on this topic.  http://real-matters.com/?p=56

We can choose to allow our natural empathy to flourish. We can choose to teach love and acceptance. 

I Cut, You Choose

Growing up, whenever my sister and I had to split dessert, my very, very wise father had a wonderful rule that ensured we’d be fair to each other. He would say, “I cut, you choose.” Such a simple statement made sure that, whoever cut into the cake, cut it as evenly as possible. Otherwise, the other person would clearly choose the larger slice. The point was always to remember that when we choose to divide something, we need to keep the needs/wants of the other person in mind. Over the years, as I enjoyed my fairly distributed slices of cake, I realized that sharing is an interesting concept.

According to Dictionary.com it can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb. For example, when used as a noun it might refer to the part allotted to or belonging to someone, such as a share of stock. When used as an adjective it might refer to sharing data online; as an idiom it might refer to sharing the losses or profits of a company. As a verb, it is used to indicate a division or distribution of something, such as sharing food. What is most interesting is that the definition does not indicate or require that the division/distribution of the item must be done equally like my father suggested. We just like to think that it means everyone gets an equal amount. Well, we like to think that most of the time.

Sharing, to some extent, is natural. It is based on empathy. A child will offer a favorite object to a parent, sibling, or another child if that other person seems distraught. Sharing is also taught. We share food with our children and they learn to share with us. We do not always want their soggy, half eaten offering, but it is important to demonstrate the reciprocity of sharing. Sharing can only happen between or among people; it is not a solitary action. As children grow, we encourage sharing. We tell them to share their toys with others, to take turns, to give a cookie to everyone at the table, to invite everyone in the class to their party.

We not only encourage our children to share, sometimes we demand it of them. If there is a toy they do not want to share, we take it away from them saying, “If you won’t share then no one can have it!” What we fail to realize is that we do not always model that behavior. There are many things we ourselves will not share with everyone. We do not share our cars with every friend; they must be a very particular “status” of friend. We do not share our favorite piece of jewelry with every friend; we must really trust them to return it. Most of us do not share our significant other allowing them to have an intimate, sexual relationship outside of what they have with us. So, a child who does not want to share a special toy feels the same way. If they will not share anything, well, that is a problem. But, it seems to me that to really help them understand sharing, we have to help them understand why they are willing to share some things and not others.

It is important for all of us to examine what makes some “things” – including our feelings, vulnerabilities, secrets – sharable while others are not. The answer is not easy because what we are willing to share varies for all of us. For example, some families purchase duplicate toys so that siblings won’t fight because the need to share has been eliminated. We have multiple televisions, computers, mobile devices of all kinds, so we don’t have to share what we are watching or what music we are listening to – we can all have what we want. I am often concerned that this need to make everyone happy at once will impact our thinking about the power of sharing: it increases our connection to our fellow human beings, allowing us to influence the life of someone else.

If we are given the option to detach ourselves at an early age, it can affect our ability to share as an adult. It is interesting that for many people, it is easier to share (or over-share) what we are doing on social media, rather than to share one’s feelings or to share what we perceive as our weaknesses with those closest to us. Sometimes we fear that what we share will put us at some kind of disadvantage. It will mean we have less – less food, less time, less information that gives us status. It seems that this is a powerful concern in our world today. If I share my wealth, I won’t have enough for me and mine. If I share my knowledge at work, someone younger who can be paid less than I am being paid will replace me. If I share my vulnerabilities, someone will use that against me.

Such thinking is present in our personal relationships and in the larger societal picture. The healthcare debate has become one where we segregate the ill into a separate pool so that the healthy can pay lower premiums. We will let the ill, who have less resources than the healthy, pay more than the healthy do. We will call that fair because we do not want to share the benefits that our health has given us nor do we want to share the burden of the cost of healthcare. I am guessing, however, that when poor health hits “home”, our perspective about sharing will change just a bit.

I say that because it is actually common that when we have the largest amount of something, we don’t really want to share equally. We want to keep the largest portion for ourselves. It seems to me that when we have the largest amount of anything, those very wise words “I cut, you choose” encourage us to consider the reason for our hesitancy to share, allow us to amend our decision based on the facts of the situation rather than on our fears, and, most importantly, guide us to a decision that allows us to embrace our humanity.

“I cut, you choose.” ~ Jerry Chiappise

If you enjoy my posts, please subscribe using the signup box on the side of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that email, you will get updates on any new items I post.

 

The Joy of Parenting

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are often billed as days for children to “pay back” parents for all they do for them all year. Parents forgo personal desires for them, devote themselves to them, and struggle for them. Some parents see Mother’s and Father’s Day as a reimbursement for all the sacrifices and struggles. While mothers and fathers certainly deserve love and attention, the term “payback” makes parenting sound like a chore rather than a joy. I like to think of it differently.

For me, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are opportunities to sit back for a moment and reflect on the wonders of family. Instead of rushing around, we have the opportunity to observe the love that surrounds us. On such days, we indulge in the luxury of watching our family. We watch our toddler share their blanket, or their cookie, or their toy; in other words, we watch them share their heart. We watch our teen struggle to say, “I love you” with a card. Whether that card is funny, near silent with so few words, or two pages of heart-felt words that are not said on any other day, we watch them learn to share their heart and expose their vulnerability to others. We watch our adult children navigate the world of including their significant other into their family while they also navigate how to become a part of someone else’s family.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are opportunities to celebrate our successes – the times we parented with poise and grace, the times we said and did just the “right” thing, the times we were able to provide just the right amount of support. It is also a time to celebrate our less successful days – the times we yelled, the times we hurt their feelings, the times we said all the wrong things, the times we provided the wrong support (too much, too little, the wrong kind). These are, after all, the times they had to learn that they could stand on their own and figure out the world on their own, and survive the curveballs that life would throw at them. These are the times we taught them the power of forgiveness and the continuity of love. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are days to celebrate our strengths and weaknesses as people, as sons and daughters, moms and dads, as siblings, and as members of our family.

They are days to express our gratitude to those who have shared their love with us. I am grateful to my mom for showing me how to be strong on the outside when inside I may want to cry. That is something that has been so helpful to me professionally and personally. I am grateful to my dad for showing me that I deserve to be treated like a princess – like a person who is confident, respected, loved, listened to, admired, and fun to be around. I am grateful to my husband for helping to create a family bound together by love, respect, fun, and mutual support. I am grateful to my “mom friends” who shared growing up with me (our children’s growth and our own). I am grateful to my children for helping me see that parenting is not a chore; it is a joy.

I wish you all a day of reflection. Happy parenting!

  • ~”Parenting is a journey that takes us from total responsibility for another person to the development of a responsible person” Diane Urban, PhD ~

If you enjoy reading my posts, please subscribe using the sign-up box at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that confirmation email, you will get updates on any new items I post. It is my hope that these blogs are a starting point for great discussions and shared ideas. I look forward to reading the comments you post.

 

Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World

 

There is anxiety about the safety of pesticides on food, lead in our water, road rage, terrorist attacks, school shootings. And the list goes on. Feeling safe in the world today is not easy. We are confronted with so many situations that make us anxious. The situations and the anxiety they provoke are on a continuum, but it seems that the uncertainty of our safety has resulted in an almost constant state of anxiety. Sometimes we are well aware of our anxiety; at other times, it is below the surface, but can be easily pulled to the top. So, how can we help ourselves and the young people in our lives cope with this world of uncertainty?

I need to stress that feeling safe is different from being safe. We cannot always control the reality of the world. Parents cannot eliminate pollutants, lead in water, road rage, and so on. They can, however, help children develop a sense of trust in the world. We do that from the moment we hold our newborns in our arms; we make them feel safe. When we hold them and feed them, we let them know that their needs will be met. When we respond to their cries, we let them know that their communication has meaning and they can trust that communicating will have a positive consequence. When we reassure them by going in their room when they are calling us, we let them know that we will do what we can to keep them safe. As they get older, we let them know that we trust that they can take care of themselves, meet their own needs, and make good decisions about their own health and safety. This process is ongoing; even as adults, we know we need to trust our safety to others sometimes (our physicians, our lawyers, our significant other, our own children).

This development of trust, therefore, is a critical factor in feeling safe in an unsafe world. It can be enhanced by various strategies:

  • Recognize the impact of the availability and representativeness heuristics. Heuristics are “rules of thumb” that we use to make our “everyday” decisions. They allow us to make decisions quickly and efficiently. For example, the availability heuristic is based on the “rule of thumb” that if something is easily recalled, it must be important. For example, when we search for a gift for our significant other, our search is not random. We start with the things we “know” they like; that is, we start with the things we easily recall about their preferences (he/she likes movies, theater, sports, gardening and so on). The representativeness heuristic is based on the “rule of thumb” that if something is easily available, it must represent the bigger picture. If we stick with the “problem” of getting a gift for our significant other, then a gift we selected in the past (which is easily recalled/available to us) becomes representative of their preference for future gifts. (If they liked the flowers last time, flowers come to symbolize or represent the category of “appropriate/good gift”). Thus, the easier it is for us to think of something (the more available it is to us) and the more we think that it is the “rule” (representative of the total situation), the greater impact it will have on our thinking. In essence, these heuristics combine to form the basis of a stereotype. Based on the example that comes to mind, we generalize to the larger group. So, if we watch the news and see stories about bullying, illness, murder, and terrorism, then we will think of these things often and come to believe it is the way the world is. If we hear stories of helpfulness, kindness, and compassion, then we will believe that the world is full of such attributes.
  • What we are exposed to via all forms of media, influences what is available and representative. We need to make a conscious effort to seek the balance – that is – to seek out the stories that remind us of the safer parts of our world. When we are talking to children and teens, we need to make it a point to mention the daily kindnesses we experience. Sometimes that is difficult for adults to recognize, but such things happen every day. Someone picks up something we have dropped, someone offers us candy while at a meeting, someone offers a seat on the bus or train, a baby offers their blanket to a parent, someone offers condolences, and so on. These “simple” acts are as much a part of human nature as any horror we hear about on a daily basis; in fact, they are the norm while the horrors we hear are the deviance from the norm.
  • While it is important to teach our children about stranger danger, it is also important to let them know why we, as adults, can talk to other adults we do not know. The same way they make friends with other children in school or at the library or in the park, we can make friends with other adults in the supermarket, or at the park. Let them know that when they are grown-ups, they will be able to make friends with other grown-ups. After all, this is the basis of all future intimate relationships. Relationships without trust are fragile at best.
  • Once we hear something that makes us feel unsafe, and the anxiety begins, then we must control the anxiety. The first thing we need to do is calm our body down. This is best accomplished by taking a few deep breaths and concentrating on breathing (rather than on the event that caused the anxiety). The second thing to do is “think good thoughts.” We need to have a “go to” list of happy, good thoughts that are easily available to us (this can be those pictures of kittens and puppies or the list of kindnesses discussed above). Third, we need to have a “what if” plan – a plan of what we will do if the thing we are worried about really happens: if that bully at school is trying to get you alone, you will ask the teacher if you can stay after class to talk or offer to buy a snack for a friend so you are walking with someone else; if there is a terrorist event that once again eliminates cell service and electricity, we will have a specific meeting place set up and we will get there as soon as possible, etc. Finally, as an adult, you will model feeling safe. You will breathe, say good things about the world, talk about how you will handle things if they do not go as we would hope. You will not be afraid.

The world we live in bombards us with realities that are frightening.   As adults, we feel it on a daily basis. We need to remember that the children and teens in our lives have an even more difficult time dealing with these realities. We need to let them talk about what they are feeling when the see the children in Syria living in the rubble, when they see the children of undocumented immigrants crying as their parents are arrested for minor infractions, when they see parents crying because their child was born ill because they were bitten by a mosquito when pregnant, or crying because their child was a victim of a school or random shooting. We need to help them process these thoughts cognitively and emotionally. We need to provide them comfort and reassurance while we also model how doing even a small act of kindness can make a difference in the world. We need to let them know that these events, while easily available to us, are not representative of the human race. Humans are born with the capacity for empathy and retain that capacity throughout their lifetime. We need to make it clear that the instances of empathy, kindness, and compassion are representative of who we, as humans, really are.

~“Looking down, you’ll see just shadows. Looking up, you will see the sun” – Jon Gilbert ~

If you enjoy reading my posts, please subscribe using the signup box at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that confirmation email, you will get updates on any new items I post. It is my hope that these blogs are a starting point for great discussions and shared ideas. I look forward to reading the comments you post.