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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Let’s Talk Hate…

I am always amazed at the way people talk and the way in which they use words. Add in hyperbolized and selective usage and there is an excellent chance the speaker is, at best, negating what they are trying to say or, at worst, being a hypocrite. These days, hate is used quite a bit and, in my opinion, in an incorrect way. Now it is all over the news.

First, what is hate? Is it an emotion, a feeling, a thought, or a state of being? It can be all of these, but the one thing they have in common is these descriptions of hate stem from a mental construct. I hate lima beans, insects, bats, negative people, etc.; these express your opinion that you have possibly formed from experience. However, is it true? As Shakespeare stated in Hamlet, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So in the above example, hating lima beans as an adult might be that lima beans interact with your palate in a way that is unpleasant. That is an observation, not a judgment; but do you “hate” lima beans or just find them disagreeable? Also, ask yourself if you have objectively and with full attention evaluated lima beans in the last five years; remember, our palate is always changing.

What if you came into contact with lima beans, insects, and bats (or heard stories about them) as a child and determined you disliked then without actually giving them a chance. Children do this quite often over new foods, experiencing an automatic “yuck” simply because the parent wants them to try it. Children are also notorious for determining they “hate” a new food without even tasting it!

And then, our minds can change in an instant; this might be because we taste a formerly disliked food prepared a different way before realizing it is what we were supposed to hate! Peer pressure is also a huge determinant. Look at the diversity of behaviors when children react to many things; some play with spiders, other will run screaming. Seeing their best friend do something they thought they “hated” could push children to try, and possibly like, something they shunned.

Some think hate is the opposite of love; again, this comes from when we are very young children, and our brains think only in black/white. So when a child has to do something her mom says that the child does not want to do, they tend to say, “I hate you!” We can all probably agree that the child does not truly hate her mom; it is merely a go-to expression that articulates her dislike.

I think the opposite of love is indifference. We see children all the time trying to get their parent’s attention; if positive things do not work, they will do what the parent “hates,” as even bad attention is better than no attention. But this still falls under judgment, what one parent hates, another can love.

Now there is another word that I feel is frequently applied incorrectly. I remember my daughter at about three saying, “If you get me that (fill in the blank), I will love you forever!” Love can also be a state of mind (judgment) or a state of being. So now, like so often when I blog, we are getting into the nit-picky weeds! But those nuances around words are where the subtle energy lays. If I say, “I love ice cream!” would anyone think I am equating ice cream with my love for my spouse, my daughter, or granddaughter?

When I hear a client say he loves his spouse/partner, I ask questions because I do not know his frame of reference with that word. Is it love (lust, companionship, how it makes him feel) or is it Love, he reveres them and only wants for them? Is it Love like Robert Tizon states, “I would rather have eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, lips that cannot speak, than a heart that cannot love.”

That is where I feel the word “hate” gets misused these days. I like to look at issues as being on a line; where on the intensity line does it fall? I would think that most of us would say that hating lima beans and hating a murderer denote different points on the intensity line. And yet, any hatred, these days, seem to be homogenized, notwithstanding their disparate impact.

Why has the nation devolved into infantile black/white thinking? Why is it so hard to compartmentalize our feelings? My dad is a wonderful dad and also a bigot. Out of earshot of other (mostly), he still uses the “N” word. Every time, I feel udder disdain and call him on it. And yet he consistently received the Teacher of the Year Award from students in an inner city, poor high school teaching black and Hispanic (yes, he has a word for them also) students that he championed to excel. By not allowing something I loathe about my dad become all consuming, I can pigeonhole some things he does, and I can love him for all the amazing things he has done and continues to do for me.

When I was pursuing my master’s in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica, we were taught that when we feel bereft of being Loved in some aspect of our life, we feel fear. When we live in that fear long enough, we become angry and retaliate.

This hate quandary is where Charlottesville falls. So the neo-Nazis and white supremacists get a legal permit to march and do so, spewing their intolerance. Gross, but protected free speech. Antifa then shows up in masks and with clubs (without a permit to march) and attack the neo-Nazis who, it turns out, also have weapons. Where on the “hate line” do both these groups fall? Are they not the flip side of the same coin? As John Lennon said many years ago, “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”

Hate is hate. You cannot attack hate with more hate; this will only increase the level of hatred. Further, when we enter into an agreement with others to hate, our greater numbers further magnify that hatred. Hoards of angry folks will commit atrocities that many of the individuals would never do on their own. Agree with others to apply Love, and the same magnification occurs!

Don’t believe me? I offer two powerful examples where Love overcame hate… Gandhi and Martin Luther King; using peaceful demonstrations are what Cuba’s Women in White are doing now. We laud their accomplishments and peaceful protests, acting in the spirit of Love! We revel in how, with persistence and non-violence, they succeeded (or, with the Women in White, are trying to succeed). Why then do we persist in opposing hate with hate?

Words and the actions that follow have meanings; since everything in this universe is made up of energy, so do those meanings. Mother Teresa was asked to join an anti-war rally, and she declined, saying (and I paraphrase) she would, however, march for peace. This example points to a huge distention and pays homage to the meaning and energy behind words.

Worse, this undifferentiated, black/white hated is invading all aspect of our lives. I read an article recently where a yoga instructor said, “I get angry at the way yoga seems synonymous with whiteness, spiritual bypassing, and cultural appropriation.” Wow, did we study different yoga courses to become instructors? Her supposition may be correct (I wholly disagree), but why would she respond with anger? The yoga teachings I received and practice stress Love, oneness, and unity. I feel the same when I read some postings by my USM classmates, did we study the same spiritual psychology based on Love?

In every minute, we have a choice, are we responding to life with Love or are we responding in fear or anger? Are we going to be a beacon of a light of Love shining on anger and hate, or are we going to add to the level of fear and hatred? And do not be fooled, while the intensity of wielding a baseball bat against another human and writing of feeling angry with a person is different, it is a matter of adding a few hundred dollars to darkness or adding a few cents.

I am sometimes accused of being “Woo-Woo” when it comes to this energy of words and living in Love stuff. Well, then I am in good company; another John Lennon quote, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”

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No-No Words!

No matter which side of the political isle you fall under regarding the current news story about transgendered people using the restroom of their choice, I am more interested in the fact that adult professional newscasters cannot bring themselves to use anatomically correct terms for male genitalia. I am not sure where this comes from, but I have a couple of ideas.

What I am talking about is the use of terms such as, “male parts,” “male equipment,” and even, “male junk!” What is the big deal about saying the word “penis?” In describing almost any other part of the male body, newscasters and the general public use anatomically correct term; we say arms, legs, ears, and usually even buttocks. But when it comes to genitalia and their functions, everybody seems to hedge, whether talking about a male or female body!

One reason is probably due to how we talk about our bodies to our children, especially very young children. We used euphemisms for many things, potty for bathrooms, beddy-bye for sleep, and, of course, peepee for urinating. Also prevalent are fingies, tootsie, footsies, etc. when talking with pre-verbal and very young children, but all the euphemisms gradually fall way after children turn five or six. So why do these culturally inoffensive words that deal with our genital also not fall by the wayside?

Another reason probably is the puritanical history of our country, with strict codes of ethics and morality until the 1960s. I remember as a teenager growing up in the south, my father telling me to turn on the water in the sink when urinating to mask the sound coming from the toilet! Like, what else would I be doing in the bathroom for about two minutes! Like women did not need to urinate themselves and would be so scandalized to hear a male urinating; of course, he did not use urinating, he said “passing water!” And this is so ingrained in us, that even I forget at times and use words like potty and poop.

So many taboos fell away in the 60s and 70s with regards to ethics and morality, especially sex, but here it is half a century later and a newscaster cannot say penis! Even more astounding, not only are we still using terms such as pee, poop, and little girl’s/boy’s room as adults, but we’ve made up new euphemisms that we would yell at our children for using!

Boobs, tits, knockers, schlong, one-eyed wonder, Johnson are just a few. Doing a quick search, I found over 200 synonyms for breast and 2000 for penis! While this discrepancy can be partly explained by needing different words due to the physical condition of the penis, whether it is flaccid or erect, I would bet that the majority of all these euphemisms come from men and their insecurities surrounding anything to do with genitalia and sex!

And what is it with the movies? Vulvas have been shown in films since Last Tango in Paris came out in the early 1970s, but very few penises ever make it to the big screen. If they do, it better be quick and flaccid, otherwise the movie will garner an X rating. Sure, you might say, the vulva is usually hidden by pubic hair whereas a penis could be seen through the pubic hair, but I would bet this phenomenon is either misogynistic, male insecurities around their genitalia, or both!

I am absolutely amazed at the dearth of knowledge or, worse, the misinformation people have about sex in general and their bodies in the, so called, information age. Working with children, teens, young adults, and even those in their 50s, it is truly sad to witness the embarrassment shown if, due to some information they have imparted, the subject of bladder and bowel movements have to be addressed in a session. Forget having an honest discussion about their sexual lives until about the third or fourth time it is brought up! One way to start combating this just to use correct terminology with children, no matter the body part or function. But first, adults will have to get over their fear of using the no-no words!

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The Art of Asking

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.” Lou Holtz

This morning, as I was walking the dogs out to the end of the driveway to collect the papers, a young fellow on his way to high school slowed, rolled down his window, and said, “You have a couple of great Irish Wolfhounds!” I thanked him and mentioned they are Labradoodles. As he pulled away, I thought back to my own teen years and remembered clearly how important it was to me at that time to sound learned.

This isn’t to condemn the young guy for stepping out and making a statement. In fact, I find many young people are reticent to talk to people they don’t know, so kudos to him for acting neighborly and communicating! Nor was he completely off the mark, we have had many people think that they were either Irish or Russian wolfhounds; being first generation Labradoodles, they do not have curly fur like the later generations. Being an educated guess, I definitely would not put him into the category of the Abraham Lincoln quote I used in an earlier blog, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I also do not know for certain that this teen was doing what I did back when I was his age, that is my own bias, but I do see it in many teens, especially boys. And although many times it indicates low self-esteem when we present ourselves as an authority, as was the case in my life before my 50s, I have no idea that this was the case this morning. However it does point to something that I have learned and could benefit many people.

As I have also mentioned in past blogs, our perceptions in life our totally dependent upon our experiences. We see, hear, think, and expect what we have already experienced. As we have already learned much by the time we are teens (but not near as much as we think at that age!), it is natural to delineate the vast amount of information that we are receiving through our senses, pigeonholing that information into easier to understand categories. Even when faced with something totally new, our brains are constantly searching to find like patterns from the past.

Unfortunately, this can result into what is called a closed system, categorizing new experience that we have into an old familiar group, and then shutting out the possibility of there being a different explanation for that experience. An open system, while it might initially categorize a new experience like one from the past, is open to the possibility that that categorization is incorrect and seeks clarification. Too many of us fall into the former closed system.

That is because, whether real or perceived, the older portion of our brain is constantly searching for threats. This closed system helps us to survive, let’s a look at an easy example. If we lived in Africa and had seen a female lion attack another human, and then we happen to chance meeting a jaguar, the older portion of our brain does not want the newer, thinking and analyzing brain to wonder, “gosh, I wonder if this new animal that looks like that lioness, really is a kinder, gentler kind of cat? Our limbic brain quickly categorizes the jaguar as being sufficiently like the lioness, despite the differ color, as a threat to our safety, energizing us to flee.

The key to learning as we get older, is to revert back to our early developmental ages and question everything. Utilize the positive aspects of a closed system, but recognize that it may be closed. Treat every experience as if it were new; allow the limbic brain to do its work of comparing and categorizing, but then question the process. Had the young guy this morning done this, he might have stated and then questioned, “You have a couple of great looking dogs; they look like Irish Wolfhounds, are they?”

This inquiry is fairly benign as it dealt with my dogs, and did not reflect specifically on me. What if, however, someone makes a statement about you that you categorize as hurtful when in the other person’s mind they are actually paying you a compliment? We all have had the thought, “what did he mean by that?” Having a closed system keeps us from enjoying the differences in people. I have a friend that I met in a spiritual setting that, had I not met him there, was so different from me that I quite possibly would have dismissed him as a flake. Not allowing myself to be a closed system, I got to know this person, and we had many enjoyable experiences over the years.

This lets us draw on our experience, while still keeping our thought system open in order to continue learning. Keeping in mind that when we apply our categorizations to others without asking questions, we do not allow ourselves to really know the other person. As I have stated before, we can use “I” statements and questions to inquire without putting our interpretation on the other; then, keeping an open mind (system) and really listening without judgment, we will enjoy a more complete understanding of the other person.

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Another Election Goodie!

One of the benefits of writing a dissertation is learning to avoid the trap called “correlation does not imply causation.” I know many of my fellow grad students that, like me, got nailed by their committee by committing this error! The rebukes were swift and intense, so much so that we all learned our lesson and utilized critical thinking before drawing another conclusion!

One example often used is the admonition not to buy a red sports car because police ticket red sports cars more than any other vehicle. While this is true, it is not the color of the car; it’s the drivers. Young men tend to drive faster than any other demographic, and they also tend to prefer red cars to other to colors. It is this demographic group that garners more tickets, irrespective of the color of car they are driving!

Election time provides a plethora of folks violating this trap in trying to promote their candidate or denigrating those they do not support. The other day on Facebook, a distant Canadian relative did this. Based on her past posts, I know that she votes the Liberal party in Canada, lots of anti-Harper and pro-Trudeau memes and comments.

She posted a video of a Texas Tech University journalism major asking random students historical, current event, and cultural/entertainment questions. The historical questions were centered around the Civil War and asked when it occurred and who were the combatants; the main question about current events was, “Who is vice president of the United States?” Unfortunately, there were very few students who could answer these questions.

The cultural/entertainment questions were: “What show did Snookie appear in?” “Who is Brad Pitt married to?” “Who was Brad Pitt married to before?” Every student was able to answer these questions correctly!

The caption to her post was something like, “And we wonder why these kids are voting for Trump?” There were only two comments on her post as I caught it fairly soon after she put it on Facebook, and they both made references to the intelligence of Texans. As an aside, it’s interesting after I made a succinct comment based on what I’m writing here, not one other person chose to make a post! Unfortunately, my relative not only violated the causation/correlation rule but logical deduction to boot!

I dismissed the latter comments to simply being parochial, usually centering around the two President Bushes. Funny how we do not hear any ignoramus Texan style responses to Lloyd Benson, Ann Richards, or Wendy Davis in the political arena. I also never hear derogatory comments about the education level of Tommy Tune, Jerry Hall, Matthew McConnaughhay, Tommy Lee Jones, Jamie Fox, or Sissy Spacek, to name a few actors!

Unfortunately, this dearth of knowledge is symptomatic of the lax education standards across the country, not this university in Texas. Just look at any old Jay Walking clips when Leno was the Tonight Show host or some of the responses to Jimmy Fallon’s questions of people on the street! The same is true on the other coast; I saw an article showing a similar lack of historical and current events knowledge in Ivy League schools juxtaposed against 100% correct answers regarding celebrities. It makes you wonder about the admission requirements for Ivy League schools.

But worse, my relative doesn’t even check out the demographics on who is supporting Trump; it is older white males without a college education! She is actually maligning Bernie Sanders and her liberal causes because his supporters are mostly young white college students! While this might be a bit harsh, my Canadian relative might have heeded the United States Civil War president’s admonition, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

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Lies and Damn Lies!

This morning at the gym, while I was “cooling down” from exercising on a stationary bike, I happen to see a news feed going across the bottom of the television tuned to the Fox News Channel. It stated that Hollywood actors were claiming they would leave the country if Donald Trump was elected president. Wow, now that’s a huge newsflash!

I can’t remember if I actually heard this in the last two election cycles with either McCain or Romney, but I do remember hearing the same thing back when George Junior was running both times. Normally, I mock psychotherapists who “diagnose” anyone in the news without actually having had a session with that person, as it is highly unethical, so I’ll keep my comments strictly to observations; what a bunch of spoiled children. Oops, sorry, I guess I just maligned spoiled children!

Doing a quick cursory check, it seems that an actor’s education level fall into a bell curve, just like every group, if a bit lopsided. There are a few at the top end of the curve that have postgraduate degrees, and then a few more in the next statistical deviation with STEM/business bachelor degrees, followed by a large group with bachelors in drama or general studies, and then tapering off to a fair amount with a high school education. Even those with no college degree were sure to have taken a large number of acting courses.

This information isn’t to knock any actor’s ability or intelligence, it is just to point out that like everybody else that has not made a career of politics, their utterances on anything other than acting is simply their opinion. Would anyone expect that my doctorate in clinical psychology would make me an expert on economics, meteorology, diplomacy, or even acting?

I am always amazed when people quote actors on the environment, politics, or other subjects as though they are somehow brilliant in that subject due to their fame! It is just their opinion and, I have observed, usually fairly shallow and devoid of facts.

I used to think people different back in Leo Tolstoy’s day which led him to say, “Ignorance in itself is neither shameful nor harmful. Nobody can know everything. But pretending that you know what you actually do not know is both shameful and harmful.” An even better Tolstoy quote on this topic is, “There are two types of ignorance, the pure, natural ignorance into which all people are born, and the ignorance of the so-called wise. You will see that many among those who call themselves scholars do not know real life, and they despise simple people and simple things.” Nuff said!

Have you ever seen a list of what most “A” level actors require in making or promoting their movies? Their contracts spell out the number of assistants, drivers, food likes and dislikes, the size of their hotel rooms, what vehicles must transport them, and even what candy must be in their dressing room/trailer!

They are constantly complaining about the 1%, and yet they are in the 1%. They are regularly berating the rest of us on race relations, when their own industry is deemed racist. They are forever harping on women’s rights, when male actors make more than female actors. They lecture us on gun and sexual violence while appearing in movies that features, even glorifies, that very violence. And lastly, they profess to be concerned with the environment while flying private jets or riding in limousines to many of their appearances. What a bunch of hypocrites!

And now that Donald Trump might be president, they’re going to leave the country? Oh boo-hoo, and as we like to say in the South, “Don’t let the screen door hit you in the butt on your way out!” Worse, along with being hypocritical, they are liars. Funny how Robert Altman, Alec Baldwin, Elton John and others that promised to do so, didn’t leave when George W. was elected. I guess giving up all their perks and millions, built on the backs of all of us “commoners” was just too much, so they stuck around and “gutted it up” while George Junior was president.

As I have said before, quoting Don Miguel Ruiz, words are magic; we can use them for white magic or for black magic. Lies are both black magic to those who hear them as well as to those who speak them. While I might not relish a Donald Trump presidency, one upside would be to watch these prima donnas have to eat crow again.

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Ginsburg’s teaching moment to the United States

Yes, she penned her tribute to her fellow Justice, Antonin Scalia, but I hope that every citizen of the United States reads and really ponders what she wrote; doing so would go a long way in healing this nation. I have been amazed how, over the years, the public rhetoric has diverged, many words on harmony, cooperation, and inclusiveness accompanied by many words and actions of scorn, vindictiveness, and down right hate.

Justice Ginsburg starts her tribute with, “Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. To bad our current politicians cannot emulate this. This is respect; this is true friendship, to disagree so vehemently at times, but always with deference.

Ginsburg continued, “…when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.” Wow, what a concept, reverential, dutiful, and civil disagreement in which we support and even assist while diverging. Yet we live in a culture that revels in name calling, put downs, and libelous and fallacious accusations.

Several years ago I read the transcript of the Kennedy-Nixon debate and was amazed. I remember Nixon as brilliant and an astonishing forward thinking (although I disagreed with many of his policies), but also as mean spirited and vindictive. Imagine my wonder to see him praise JFK, calling him “my esteemed colleague,” “my friend.” That is not what I hear from our representatives and senators today. Many people were shocked to hear then vice president Chaney tell Senator Leahy to “F-off” when Leahy tried to exchange pleasantries with him. Now, I do not condone what Cheney did, but considering what Leahy had said about Chaney, his former fellow Senator, on the Senate floor no less, I can understand why Chaney reacted this way.

We cannot live a double standard and, as I always teach, words have meanings and consequences. For many years, I have read and heard that the Republicans are the party of hate. And yet, when I read the postings of my many Democrat and Republican friends on Facebook, they see to be the flip side of the same hate coin; I am saddened that we as a nation no longer embrace what Justices Ginsburg and Scalia practiced daily; and for over thirty years!

I read several years ago how many young people would never even date someone from the other political party, how narrow-minded and intolerant. Kudos to Mary Matalin and James Carville who are showing how spouses can both love and disagree and to even Dick and Mary Cheney, a parent loving and respecting his daughter although they are so politically divided.

Bravo Justices Ginsburg and Scalia! Thank you for showing us how we can live with one another, even those with whom we disagree. One of my all-time favorite, sorely missed, opinion writers (although I disagree with her many times) was Molly Ivins; I am somewhat relieved she did not live to see the extent to which this nation has devolved. In 1995 she presaged our current condition when she stated: “When politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as ‘enemies,’ it’s time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and also a good way to wreck a country.”

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It is not okay!

The other day I was talking with my daughter on the phone when my granddaughter began to cry. I heard my daughter say, “It’s okay JoJo, it’s okay.” To which I gently replied, “No, it is not okay.” I must be experiencing what recovering smokers or alcoholics experience when confronted with their old habits. I recognized this as something I used to say to Susannah when she was crying and, now that I am aware of this statement, I am hearing this phrase all the time from parents to their children.

Unfortunately, if we examine what is being said, that statement is placating at best and dismissive of what the infant is expressing, at worst. When this happened, JoAnna was four months old, how else is she or any infant to communicate her dislikes? Four months is about the time that I have found that parents begin to discern the differences in a baby’s cries, recognizing the tone, volume, and intensity. However, even the tiniest of cries is a communication, whether we are smart enough to decipher them.

I have not done any research on this, but I would imagine that at this point in their life, there is no way to know if the infant’s preferred way of relating to the world will be auditory, visual, or kinesthetic/somatic (touch and/or feeling). I do know that infants utilize all three at different stages of their development, both trying to explore their new world and in communicating. Even if they are maybe crying to let us know something is simply displeasing them, take a look at how their whole body is involved! Later on, hand gestures will augment and clarify their cries.

One way in which I like to drive home a point is to either use an analogy or to state the point in the extreme. Imagining an infant could talk and was saying “I need your attention because I am feeling abandoned,” would we reply, “It’s okay?” Even if this request is totally selfish on the infant’s part, say you have just turned away for a moment, and they are demanding 100% of your time, would we answer, “It’s okay” after this statement?

Words have meaning. Although a preverbal child may not know what is being said, there is an energy behind the words that conveys a meta-message, the message below the message. What message is being conveyed by, “It’s okay?” Using the example above, is the message, “It is okay that you feel abandoned,” “It is okay that you feel ignored,” “It is okay that you feel dismissed?” I know that is not what the parent is really trying to say. Still using “It’s okay,” is not what I would call a complete communication.

After being hammered when using “it” in my dissertation, I now know that this is a meaningless word. We humans have a hard enough time truly communicating our thoughts and feelings to another without using easily misunderstood words and “it” is one of the worst. Just exactly does “It” refer to?” Is that word referring to the crying, the situation, the baby’s feeling, or something else? At least take the time and make the effort to define “it!”

Assuming that the “It” in the phrase “It’s okay” in the above example is really trying to communicate, “I hear your crying,” the absurdity of this statement then becomes truly apparent. “Your crying is okay.” Gee, thanks mom that I have your blessing to communicate to you in the only way I know how. How about, “Your feeling of abandonment is okay.” Really?!? If the child just fell and feels even minor pain, are we saying, “Your pain is okay!”

We need to remember are talking to an infant that has almost no reference in the world, no situational memory to draw upon, and no way to conceptualize what an action truly means. For many months, a baby does not even know where the pain she is feeling came from, she just know that she hurts. Since the communication is a cry, how much better to acknowledge the cry has been heard, conceptualize what we think in happening, fully giving our attention to the child?

Again, they may not understand, but they will feel the message. My daughter may have said, “I hear you are displeased and it might be because I am talking to Poppy and not paying attention to you. I love you and I am going to fully pay attention to you when I hang up in a few minutes and then we will play again. If you need me to hold you while I am talking, just let me know.” First, this in of itself is giving attention to the baby and in an authentic way, acknowledging that they are trying to communicate a thought and/or and emotion. Then, we are framing a time period and offering a return to what the baby considers normal, her mother’s attention. A further benefit is allowing the child to feel disappointment and then learn that feeling does not last forever, preparing them for when disappointment again enters into their life adventure.

Convoluted, you say! I would offer that this complete communication only feels strange because we simply do not practicing this form of speech. Instead of passing on incomplete communication techniques, how much better to begin to authentically communicate with an infant, and then carrying that communication forward as she grows, coaching them how to talk. A colleague of mine practiced this communication with her daughters and then witnessed one of them communicating with her dolls in exactly the same manner!

My daughter has become so adept at this style of communication, she even taught me! A couple of months later we were driving to Denver to see my dad and Susannah brought up an issue with her in-laws that is causing the family some concern. After a few minutes, JoAnna began to cry and Suz immediately acknowledged that JoJo might be concerned that something bad might happen to her paternal grandparents, apologized for having an adult conversation with me that we didn’t realize would be upsetting to her, and let JoJo know there was nothing for her to worry about. Did JoAnna understand the words, of course not, but she did understand the energy of our conversation. After being acknowledged, JoAnna responded with a smile and no longer cried!

Also, do not expect this to come naturally, that same weekend I watched JoJo one afternoon when Suz and Charlie had errands to run. JoAnna was a bit cranky due to not wanting to take a nap and although I didn’t say “It’s okay” much, I still caught myself saying that phrase! As is the case with all parenting/grandparenting, getting it right the first time is not necessary, but that we then initiate a repair when we recognize we have not parented optimally. I had several opportunities to repair that afternoon!

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Adolescent Sex

A couple of days ago I was having an in-depth conversation with a Relational Somatic Psychology colleague of mine about developmental issues in adolescents, including puberty and sexual issues, and she recounted something that had happened earlier this year with her son, a sophomore in high school. He was going away with a group of young men for a week to a function where there would be an equal number of young women. After shopping for the needed clothes, she asked her son if there was anything else he might need and, after receiving a “no,” then asked if he needed her to buy condoms.

My friend said her son broke out in a big grin and asked if she would really do that for him? What a beautiful “teaching moment” a semi-mentor, Barney Glaser PhD, would say and, to which I would add, what a beautiful “parenting moment!”

So first, this question is acknowledging the reality of the situation. Here is a young man, a few years past puberty, who also is good looking, active in sports and regularly works out, going off for a week. While chaperoned, there will be plenty of opportunities to get away for some private time. Given the group and the environment, there is sure to be plenty of discussion of, let us diplomatically say, the appreciation of the female form. With all this, there is every possibility of him having a sexual encounter, if he hasn’t already experimented, especially with her son having an attractive “Adonis” physique.

One of the arguments I have heard against having an in-depth sexual conversation, and sex education in general, is that it “encourages” sexual experimentation; experimentation is probably going to happen anyway. However, present day dynamics must be recognized. No one is sure why, but adolescence has increased from about two years to almost 15! A hundred years ago, adolescence began just before puberty, usually about the fourteenth year, and then courting and marriage followed a few years latter. Now adolescence is recognized to be from about nine to 24 years old.

Adding to that equation, years ago most adolescents were highly supervised and social taboos on sex and unmarried pregnancy were huge. This meant sexual experimentation was held to a minimum, and yet we all know it still happened; now days, there is virtually no chance that adolescents will not experiment to some degree. So while sex education would have been helpful 100 years ago to enhance the experience of a couple’s expressing their love, I feel it is absolutely imperative these days. Sex education, condoms, and birth control are not a license to experiment, they are insurance against poor decision making in the “heat” of the moment when even the strongest of intentions and/or belief system may falter.

My friend also took the time during this conversation to reinforce the sacredness of sex, reminding her son how males and females react differently to stimuli (both physically and mentally), and that the time before and then after sex is just as important as the time spent having sexual intercourse. The most interesting point, which harkens back to what I feel is the lame arguments agains sex education, is that my friend would not be particularly happy that her son become sexually active, but she didn’t let that sentiment create a “head in the sand” mentality.

Better yet, while she stepped up as a mom, coached (not lectured) her son, and then supported him, she also discussed that she may have a different opinion about sex than he does. Letting her son know her reasons why he should not become sexually active, doing so in an knowledge based manner verses emotionally, and yet still “having his back,” not only pierces that relational void created by teenage individuation, it also reinforces to the adolescent that they are both loved and respected. Well played!

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Is it kind?

And now we reach the last of the admonitions to loving communication, is it kind? After we are reasonably sure that an exchange is necessary and that it is as true as it may be, this third requirement is to achieve a peaceful dialog. How do we frame our words?

I once again point to one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, to be impeccable with our words. This time highlighting his warning that words can be white magic or black magic! And not only the words, but also the intent, the congruency with what we are intending to impart and our inflection. Sometimes in my authentic communication talks I will use an example using the same exact words, but with a different inflection.

At dinner, the fellow says to the cook, “Where did you get the recipe for these potatoes?” It is hard to convey this in a blog, but think of one way with this being said with a bit of a sneer and another way with a smile; the former with an inflection indicating disgust and the latter with a “Wow!” nuance. A teacher once taught me that the meaning of a communication is the response it elicits; which question falls into the black or white magic realm and what response do you think those questions will receive?!?

Further, the question begins with “you,” it may not be the first word in the question, but it will be what is heard first. How much better to own what we want to say and then ask a question? First stating, “I think these potatoes are great! Where did…” leaves no doubt as to the intent of the question. Even stating, “I’m not sure these potatoes are my favorite way of having them cooked; where did…” takes ownership and does not make the cook wrong. Whenever we communicate, using “you” before an “I” statement, makes it accusatory and, therefore, not kind.

Unfortunately, for all the same reasons I have already given, words that are a trigger to one may not be for another, but that is a great place to start. While our word choice will still be based on our life experiences, if we strive to be kind in our words, at least our body language and tone will be congruent with being kind. Additionally, if we are being present and conscious with our communication partner, we will be able to ascertain if our words have hit a nerve.

As another teacher always states, the touching of that nerve is now grist for the authentic communication mill! Being present, we can name what we have just noticed in the other and ask if we’ve hit a nerve; again, starting with an “I” statement! Further, even if we miss the way in which our communication was perceived, if the other is present and conscious, she or he will be able to feel the trigger, know that it is from their past, and ask for clarification to insure if what was said was meant as black magic or an innocent mistake.

Authentic communication takes effort, perseverance, and can sometimes seem stilted and a detriment to a flowing conversation. However, as Harville Hendrix PhD and Helen Hunt point out in their Imago Relationship Therapy (Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples, 1988), not being authentic and perception checking while communicating in short, “I” statement sentences is what stokes the fires of discord in relationships.

As in everything in life, we have to constantly practice authentic communication to become fluent in it. Asking ourselves “Is it necessary, is it the truth, is it kind?” will insure our words are “White Magic” and enhance our conversations!

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