Is It True, …

I have written about the subject of discernment before we speak; some say it is a Socrates’ quote, some a Sufi adage, and others from an Indian guru: “Is it true; is it kind, is it necessary?” Too many do not follow this saying, especially on Facebook. One post the other day upset me tremendously because it involved a child, but luckily, not to their face.

I have mostly held my tongue these last several years, but the level of viciousness and hate on Facebook can be appalling, in particular, political posts. Unfortunately, I see as much, if not more, from my fellow Democrats; most troubling are those from my classmates in Spiritual Psychology!

I have never met this person, just taught yoga at the same shala, and she is the one that requested to be friends on Facebook. I enjoy most of her posts, especially her own and her children’s musical accomplishments. The one that disturbed me in particular read: “I learned today of a child who told their doctor that they are ‘missing school because of the Chinese disease.’ Racists raise racists, you guys.”

And then, of course, followed by the seemingly obligatory and equally judgmental and profanity-laced comments. So, first of all, her post is about second-hand information; nevertheless, there can be several reasons why this person would believe this, but it does cause the information to be suspect. How can she know what really was said?

It is gossip to discuss someone that is not present and, as this Facebook post does, when an evaluation or a judgment is stated, particularly a negative one. I am making an assumption here that this person is talking about a tween or younger, but begs the question, does she even know how old this child is? Very young children say things all the time that have nothing to do with their surroundings or the way they are raised.

I would offer that any child younger than tweens would probably not know most social norms, including very young children not being able to identify a noun or adjective as even racist. So let’s digress a bit here. For centuries, a plague or, now, a virus was named from the local in which it originated or first discovered. Who are these people to decide that this convention used by scientists and medical practitioners is now racist? They seem to be as small-minded as someone that would blame their Chinese neighbor for the Coronavirus!

Getting back to the Facebook post, the child could have picked up the phrase “Chinese disease” anywhere and repeated it. But this person still thought the child racist? Really, a child? Is this statement true?

Did I miss some context? I will agree that if the child did know what they were saying and meant it to be racist, he would have learned it from his parents or caregivers. But not only does this person have no shame in labeling a child racist, but she also doubles down and names the parents as racists with absolutely no corroborating evidence.

And then there was the juxtaposition with another recent post she made, talking about working at a church. I know there are some despicable churches out there, like the Westboro Baptist church. Still, most churches I know of, whatever the religion or denomination, do not condone judgments of anyone, least of all children. Churches, synagogs, and mosques tend to teach being kind to our neighbors; was this statement kind?

As a therapist, I always look at what a person says for the meta-message. While a possibility, I doubt she is a closet racist herself. Bitter, prone to judgments, hateful, I doubt it based on most of her Facebook submissions. I believe from her posts that she loves children and is a fantastic advocate for her own.

Most yoga instructors are not as traditional as I am, but I know she would not have been hired at that shala without adherence to basic yogic concepts. So I am perplexed at her meta-message or how she discerned what she heard to be explicitly racist; maybe she was just having an off day in these strange times.

I thought about writing her a message but then thought it best to blog on this topic. Unfortunately, as I stated in the beginning, there are too many hate-filled posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think all need to be called out, and some even condemned, but, I think, especially when directed at a child.

I will admit to seeing red over this post and that this my issue! I can seemingly justify my upset because I am a child therapist, but I know that I am, in some ways, unloading on this person. So while I believe what I have written is the truth and it is necessary to discuss wrongs I see, have I been kind? I hope so.

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Coronavirus vs. Tried and True Hygiene

There seems to be an issue I have noticed with families these days; they seem to think that children learn by osmosis, at worst, or by lecturing, at best. I wrote an article about this a while back (that I am still shopping around!), but had not thought of handwashing back then. At that time, I had not felt that this is an issue that I believe stems from those of us in the boomer generation.

There is a lot that I do not like about my parent’s and grandparents’ parenting, nor would I condone now. But while they taught us through intimidation, fear, and corporal punishment, by God, they did teach us! I remember in both junior high and high school, getting swats for any infractions, mainly by vice-principals and coaches. While I was not happy, I was glad they punished me in school and did not call home, that would have been ten times worse!

I find myself now in the middle of the continuum for this punishment. Unlike most in the developmental field, I do not think paddling should be totally discontinued, but only used as a last resort and never with anger. Unfortunately, we boomers then took parenting to the other extreme, and the next two generations are now clueless.

Two things are missing from most parents these days, teaching and knowing their role. I see most parents these days just lecturing their children rather than teaching them; think back when you were a child, did you like being lectured? And as a teen, you actively tuned out your parents, so why do they think the next generation will like being told what to do? Next, too many parents want to be their children’s friend and not their parent. Teach and then consequence when children choose to ignore you!

In my article, I said, “Like most mammals, humans learn through example. It always amazes me that we would never think of teaching a toddler how to dress with a lecture; we merely show young children how to dress over many months. The same is true of tying shoes, learning to speak, and, while learning to bake a cake might not take months, nevertheless, we demonstrate each step. And yet, after a certain age, we tend to shift from showing by example to telling how to do something with, at most, a onetime, halfhearted demonstration. While we might walk in with our children to supervise them brushing their teeth, do we not tend to tell just them how to brush their teeth? And then after a few months, we only tell them to brush while glued to the television (or worse, our phones) and then express shock and dismay when we catch them lying about actually brushing.”

And now, I just realized, we do the same with handwashing! Just like brushing teeth, get your hands under the water with them to show them how to wash effectively with soap. Worse, while most parents lecture, they do not take the time to lecture “why!” Why do we brush our teeth, and why do we wash our hands after working outside, going to the bathroom, or before we cook if it has been a few hours since our last handwashing?

Along with not knowing how to parent, the younger generations hygienically challenged. A study in Great Britain showed that “Although 95 percent of people said they washed their hands with soap where possible, 92 percent of phones and 82 percent of hands had bacteria on them.” Worse, 1 in 5 phones had E. Coli (from fecal matter) on them! Forget the coronavirus; I might not ever shake hands with anyone ever again!

Parents in the fifties and sixties might have been over the top with punishment, but they parented less severely than the generations before them. And we did learn basic societal rules, both cultural, “please and thank you” and other societal norms, and basic hygene, how and when to wash out hands. I saw a funny meme on Facebook this week that said, “Now that we have the correct way to handwash down, next week, we will tackle using our turn signals!” I do hope that, even after this virus is history, we will continue to wash our hands correctly!

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Rules Are Meant to be Broken

We have all heard the statement, “Rules are meant to be broken.” Like so much in life, there is both truth and untruth in its meaning. Of course, that begs the question, “Does that mean that ‘rule,’ too, is intended to be broken!”

For me, the more apt statement is, “There are exceptions to every rule.” But which rules? There are different levels of external rules, household, society, religious, educational, governmental, etc. Now to add to the complexity of this conversation, not only the spoken/written rules we learn but all the unspoken rules. A therapist friend in Taos always liked to say that children know all the unspoken rules in a home by the time they are four.

Those are rules we learn to conform and fit in, but then how about those rules we place on ourselves. These can lead us to present ourselves in two ways; I will never dress that way again because of all the criticism I received (especially from peers), and I will always dress that way because of all the criticism I received (especially from parents)!

While we always have a choice to conform or not to conform to other’s rules, but there is usually some punishment involved determined by the severity of the breach and the authoritarian level of the rule maker! The discipline we receive can range from time-out to execution!

For most of my life, I was a “color inside the lines” kind of guy. Known rules were comfortable because they gave me a sense of who I needed to be. This pattern was definitely due to my mother, whom I jokingly say hit the trifecta to be a “drill sergeant” disciplinarian, full-blood German, black/white personality, and a Scorpio, loving to be in a position of authority!

For me, life was more comfortable learning the rules as fast as I could and then following them. This was especially true with my mother but extended into most areas of my life. My undergraduate is in engineering with clear delineations of solutions; an I-beam spanning X feet and carrying Y load has about as absolute an answer as you can get. However, when I went into the MBA program in finance, my world was rocked. A finance prof said of a problem, “there are many answers to this question!” Huh?!?! I quickly switched to accounting with their friendly, useful rules!

If we choose to grow and continue to learn about life, at some point, we may start questioning why we follow specific rules, whatever their flavor. I remember another prof in grad school saying that she and all her sisters, like their mother, always cut off the end of a ham before cooking it and finally asked why? Their mom said it was because her oven back then was small, so she had to use a small pan. Even with a larger oven, they all still cut off the end!

So we need to ask ourselves why we do everything we do? Examination and questioning do not just belong in the formal classroom, but also the real-life class. Remember, too, even the best thought out rules do not always apply. Thirty miles per hour may be the perfect speed for a road, but if we need to get to the emergency room to save a life, we are going to break that rule.

Closed systems, whether mechanical or our brains, do not take in new information; open systems do, and they are continually adjusting to new situations. To become more aware, we need to be curious, conscious, present, and be honest in our inquiry. If not, the rules we choose to break may not be for our or society’s benefit.

All this musing on rules came up recently due to a colleague who is just beginning to date again after many years of marriage. Like me, after my divorce, he wants to have a loving relationship. One woman, he thought perfect, told him that she’s not comfortable dating anyone who hasn’t been post-divorce for a few years. A sage rule usually, as we have to undo all our old habits from a prior relationship and learn who we are without another; my friend thought he might stop dating for a while.

While this rule might serve her (and most) well, I reminded my friend that, unlike 99% of the people out on the dating circuit, we had done a tremendous amount of deep self-reflection as part of our education. I was lucky, lucky, lucky, to quickly find a woman that was matching my authenticity, and he might have to date longer. However, to stop dating will probably ensure he does not find someone!

We cannot become our true selves without shedding the rules that have caused us to adapt our true nature to conform with others. Many rules we live by, if scrutinized, only helped us to fit into some group and do not support our being our authentic selves. “Question authority” is a famous slogan attributed to the psychologist Timothy Leary; I would say, “Question rules.”

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