News & Events

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Friday
Oct122012

Read this Article to Survive the Convention Season and Feel Better About Politics

That Pain in Your Political Gut? It’s Telling You Something.

Lucky us. Florida is the birthplace for what passes for political discourse these days. Yep, the Sunshine State is where the modern political era got its start. So you may think I’m crazy for predicting that a harmonious new era could come out of a totally partisan event like the Republican National Convention in Tampa. But I’m telling you that better political discourse is within our reach. I know because of my own journey. I’ve learned a secret to making something positive out of that “sick to your stomach” feeling that comes whenever you hear a political candidate open his mouth.

The 2000 election put my hometown of Tallahassee under the microscope and on the map. Remember all those “hanging chads” and clashing hearts? In the lead-up to the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, if felt as if the entire outside world had come to my sleepy, little city. The downtown streets were clogged with news trucks and reporters. The route I took to pick up my girls from school each day took me by the Supreme Courthouse building, which was overrun with picketers from both sides. I remember rolling down my window and SCREAMING my own opinions towards the people with the signs. I felt so much rage and turmoil inside and such deep despair when my candidate didn’t win.

Now, with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, all eyes and ears are on Florida once again. What if we were able to build a different story this time? It’s possible. The trick is to pay attention to the pain (yes, I’m going to use the word “pain” here!) that political rhetoric may stir in you, but without getting caught up in it. Let’s say you’re flipping through the TV channels and you notice the Republican Convention (or, later, the Democratic Convention) is on. Maybe you hesitate to click because you don’t want to get pissed off. I say “click.” Get to know yourself and the other side better.

That is step one – listen to the other side and, rather than reacting, try to focus on your discomfort and figure out the need beneath it. As with a pain in your body, the pain you feel when listening to a politician is trying to tell you something. What is the universal human need below your ache? Is it a need for well-being? For security? For safety? As you listen to an opposing viewpoint – and all the spin – imagine you are deciphering another language. Challenge yourself to figure out the universal human need underneath all the garbage. Because this is the astonishing fact: when it is all said and done – both political parties really share the same needs. We are merely divided by arguing about the strategies to meet those needs.

For example, any debate about our economy is REALLY about how we are all scared. We’re all craving well-being and security. We want and need the same basic things. We just get distracted in the fight over our divergent strategies of how to get there and we blame and turn the other side into monsters in the process, making that pain in our stomachs get worse.

“Maybe so,” you may be thinking. “But that’s not going to stop me from wanting to clobber my Uncle Jim the next time he starts talking about his political views.” In fact, recognizing the needs you hold in common with Uncle Jim will help you in your response to him. And it will help you get clearer on your feelings toward all of the “opposing team” with whom we have to share an increasingly crowded planet. If you can speak with Uncle Jim or anyone from the “opposing team” from that place, there is a much better chance your own views will be honored.

So use the National Conventions as your training ground to start a new habit. What if we were all able to recognize that we are all actually wanting the same things? If we were to get that, not at a cognitive level, but at a heart-felt, human, neighbor-to-neighbor level, we could begin to lead the way for our political leaders. The 2000 election left a huge hole in my heart – but it also led the way to some healing and a new way of being with people of different opinions. I want that for our country. I especially want that here in Florida, a state of almost humorous culture clashes. But we are all neighbors and we’re all in this together. (If you’re like me, I bet you’re pretty fond of your neighbors, no matter what their political stripes.)

For me, that’s the takeaway from all the political drama here in Florida. You can be politically active, internally peaceful, and externally respectful regardless of which side of the aisle you ride. You can do this — we need to do this — regardless of the frenzied political machinery that seems designed to churn up hate. Whether “red” or “blue,” we can all do with a little more nuance, a little more empathy. Let’s teach our politicians and media outlets how it is done. Let’s “be the change we wish to see.”

Wednesday
Aug152012

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged … a simple quote that holds a lot of wisdom. In a nutshell, it sums up the vicious cycle to which most of us succumb when we are in conflict. Even those of us who think we are “bigger” than judgment usually fall prey to our thinking/evaluations when someone has “wronged” us. (Note: “wronged us” is an evaluation / thought.) The idea of separating our evaluation from observation is one of the most precious gifts I can offer to those wanting to have conflicts that connect rather than divide.

Take a second to think of a recent conflict. Is it possible to stop and watch what you are telling yourself or others about the other person in the conflict? I have yet to meet a human being (including myself) who doesn’t go into a whole bunch of thinking about the other person with whom they are in conflict.

For instance, a husband walks in the door at 8:00 pm and the wife is angry because (here’s the judgment) “He is always late. He doesn’t really care about me the way he cares about his work. He is so caught up in making money; he has lost sight of what is important. He’s clueless.” And on and on and on…. we tell ourselves these things. We share them with friends in search of consolation. We even speak them to the other person. Yet (here’s the kicker) NONE OF IT IS TRUE and yet we believe that our thoughts are real.

What Is Real?

To this I say, “Just the facts ma’am.” The more you can take what happened and see just the observation and then communicate about just the observation – the greater chance you have for connection.

In the example here, the observation is that the man came home at 8pm for the third time this week. (You can also express feelings and needs – but that is a different lesson. In this instance, the wife is sad and lonely and really wants to know she matters.) The fact is that the man came home at 8:00 for the third time this week; this is what is real – nothing more and nothing less. All the rest…"you are always late; you don’t care, etc.” is just thinking based off of past experiences.

The thinking is productive in only one way. I have found the evaluations to be helpful when I’m super angry, have a lot of energy around the situation and I just need to vent. It is productive to just get it out to myself out loud, in a journal, or with a friend who can listen with presence but not agreeing and adding fuel to the fire.

I haven’t seemed to be able to have a conflict, even after years of living and teaching Non Violent Communication, without first having some evaluations/judgments/blame about the other or the situation. Here is the important part and what is different from most people’s process. When I am in the blaming place, I realize it. I even can hear myself saying “You are in the evaluation stage of your conflict. Let it out… but it’s not real.” After giving myself some time and permission to have my thoughts, I will also say to myself – “It’s not real. What is real? What is the observation?”

Getting things down to pure observation is more difficult than it sounds. By observation, I’m talking about what you can see, hear, touch – what you take in by the five senses only.

Absolute words like: always, never, or seldom are typically not part of an observation. Toss adjectives and adverbs out the window as well. So, instead of “he is so selfish,” one would say exactly what he did or didn’t do to be labeled as selfish: He bought five shirts for himself and didn’t get me a gift on my birthday. Then we would also get in touch with what we feel as a result and what we need (in terms of Universal Human Needs. – Click Here for a list.

These are the things we want to communicate, when the time is right, with the other person – NOT all the stories / the thinking that goes on in our heads.

There is a lot to learn about communicating when in conflict so that you end feeling connected and complete. For now, I offer this simple tip. Just begin to notice all the things you tell yourself, all the stuff going on in your mind about the other person or the situation when you are triggered. See if you can stop long enough to tell yourself it isn’t real. See if you can get yourself to actually believe and understand that. Then, attempt to figure out the observation. Start with just that… and see the difference that occurs just by separating out the two. It’s hard work – but peace of mind and peaceful relationships are worth a little effort!

Monday
May142012

A New Approach to Child Discipline

I’ve always wanted to do what I’m about to do but don’t because I fear that people are going to hear it in the wrong way. I fear that people are going to hear a mother simply bragging about her kids and hear it as only ego. So let me just state up front – some of this is ego, yes I’m a great freaking mother and I’m super proud of myself and the way my children have turned out. However, while I want you to be in awe of me and bow down to me (that is sarcasm – please catch it), I really want you to get the actual message here, which is this: You do not have to punish your children or yell at them or really even consequent them in any way to make them turn out as you like.

Since my children were very young, I used to say to them, “I’m doing an experiment on you! I’m going to prove to the world that you do not have to punish your children, or hit them, or yell at them to have them ‘be good,' so please don’t mess up. I don’t want you to ruin my experiment.”

My children will be 17 and 20 this summer, so I think I can report in about the outcome of my experiment. Granted, the research will not be 100% complete until they die, but I think I can give an account now – at the end of their teen years – and still have some credibility.

DISCLAMER: Please realize I am trying to provide the “data” as non-biased as possible, but I am the mother reporting here so I will admit I am not 100% unbiased – just wanting to state that up front!

I know my girls are not perfect and I don’t want to paint a picture of the Brady Bunch or Father Knows Best (I know I’m dating myself with that comment.) But here are some hard core facts about my kids – and the part I love best – because I get to brag, after sitting silent for basically 20 years.

WARNING: Extreme Parental Bragging Ahead:

My oldest daughter – Tylre (pronounced “Tyler” – don’t ask, it was a pregnancy moment and she has suffered the results of no teacher EVER pronouncing her name correctly) is currently a sophomore at Elon University.

She graduated from the Interbaccalaureate (IB) program at Rickards High School, which is probably the most rigorous academic program around. I think (don’t quote me on these numbers please) about 200 students started in the program in freshman year, and only around 30 students ended up with the IB diploma. She graduated with a 4.1 GPA and was chosen as “Most Likely to Succeed” by her classmates.

She was the captain of her high school varsity team in her Senior year and president of the PeaceJam club – along with being a member of the usual million bazillion clubs that kids are in these days and volunteering hundreds of hours in the community.

In college, she is a super serious student and she has a huge desire to make a difference in the world. She was flown to Boston last summer (expense free) to be trained by Oxfam International to start an Oxfam movement on her college campus and she has. (For those who don’t know Oxfam, they are worth checking out: http://www.oxfam.org/ )

She was also 1 of about 30 students chosen to be a Periclean Scholar and work on a 3 year project of global social change and raise the level of civic engagement and social responsibility of the entire university community.

Perhaps, even more impressive than her list of accomplishments, however, is her character. One of her high school classmates once described Tylre to me in this way: “She is so funny. But what I like most about her is that her humor is never at the expense of others. She doesn’t have to tear someone down to build herself up. She is a kind and sweet human being.”

My youngest daughter – Jessica – is known in our community as one of the best high school softball players around. I can say that here because I don’t think I will get any dissent – it’s a fact! But again, it’s her character that makes my heart swell. She is a junior, also in the Rickards IB program, the Student Government Vice President (this year and last.)

Jesse has played Rickards High School Varsity softball for all three years, as pretty much their only pitcher. She is captain this year! Yesterday, during our game at Maclay – her coach took her off the mound after five innings to save her arm for districts. She has pitched just about every game this year and her arm has been hurting as a result. However, when her teammate (who is basically new to pitching) was struggling at the mound, Jesse called time out (on several occasions) to give her words of encouragement. Please know, this same player/pitcher said some difficult things to my daughter at the beginning of the year – when Jesse was a stand out on the field and at practice and it was hard for the other players because they paled in comparison. The point here is about character. My daughter did not hold a grudge. She was a team player AND she was able to see past this young lady’s comments and understand the bigger picture. Her actions yesterday on the field were probably not noticed by anyone, but as a mother, I knew what they meant about her integrity.

Another bragging point… Jesse has a 4.6 GPA in the IB program. Basically, she has made all A’s in high school – except for her first B last semester – and she even handled that “defeat” in a way that made me proud – just using it as an experience to see she doesn’t have to be perfect and she can be just fine. That is a very valuable lesson.

Bragging Complete: Now Back to Our Regular Programming

I’m pretty sure if you were to ask any adult that has spent any real time with my children about their makeup, they would get nothing but praise. In fact, I’ve had several people be in wonder about how does one “make” such great kids.

Here is the secret: I don’t punish them or yell at them or even consequent them. I use communication skills to create a connection and a forum of understanding so that they do the “right” things, not out of judgment, guilt, or blame, but because they have real understanding about how to live life in a way that is fulfilling.

I’m not special – ANYONE – can learn these communication skills if they are willing to put in the time and effort and sometimes pain. I say pain because it takes a lot more willpower to keep from hitting or yelling at your child in a moment of anger or upset (yes, I’ve had those with my children) – instead of figuring out a different way of connecting with them and letting them know what you expect.

There is some serious work involved there, but it is so worth it.

I say worth it – not because my children have seemed to excel in all the ways we, as a society, measure success. I say it is worth it because of the relationship I have with my girls. My girls like me and I really like them. We enjoy spending time together; yes, we are friends! They are not embarrassed to be with me. In fact, I think they are proud of our relationship because they understand that it is a statement of what is possible for all human beings (even parents and their teenage kids) when we take violence out of the equation and replace it with compassion and communication. There… I said it. I wrote what has been in my heart and mind for years. I hope and pray you got the message and did not just take away my enormous enjoyment in celebrating my children. Anyone can have children like these. Anyone can have connections like these. Compassionate communication IS a learnable skill. I’m ready and willing to help anyone in the world learn them! I want a world full of Jesses and Tylres!

P.S. I also hope you did not hear blame or judgment about how others choose to raise their children. I know we all do the best we can, and I also know different people have different processes. I just wanted to share the results of my experiment so that others might consider this particular approach.