Posted in Communication, Leadership, trust

Surviving the Pandemic – Thoughts on Vulnerability and Ellen DeGeneres

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I recently donated my newly purchased book Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, by Brene Brown. Her rise to fame began with a her first TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” I’ve watched her and think she is fun and charming. I imagine, she would be a wonderful friend.

Being vulnerable has really not worked out very well for me, unlike Brene teaches. (Sorry I can’t figure out how to place the accent on her final “e”. Maybe somebody could help me out with that.) And, increasingly, with “cancel culture” I find that I don’t want to open myself to destruction, because that seems to be the result of vulnerability.

After seventeen years of hosting a super successful talk show, and no accusations of perceived negative off-screen behavior, Ellen DeGeneres is suddenly pelted with criticism to the extreme that her show has been cancelled in Australia and is under investigation in the U.S. That rarely ends well.

I’ll throw in this little bit. I am beginning to detect when the avalanche will come. Ellen did a “no-no” back in October and defended herself. What did she do? She sat and chatted with Republican, and former president, George Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game. They talked and laughed together.

Conservatives drew some hope from Ellen’s comments. But a certain element found this completely unacceptable.

Ellen said that she happened to be friends with George Bush and also with a lot of other people with whom she disagreed on some points. This may actually be what inclusivity looks like. But the mob came after her. She broke one of the commandments of the liberal far left, namely, you cannot endorse or give a platform to anyone on the right.

Ellen’s show focused on kindness and goodness and acceptance, and I’m sorry to hear she may not have been all of these things off screen at all times. But the way she was mobbed was unfair.

Let’s note that there are people who know her well and saw her in many different situations who have nothing but good to say about her. Her brother Vance DeGeneres wrote on Twitter,

If you think Ellen would knowingly allow bullying or racism on her show, you don’t know my sister. She has been and continues to be a bright light in a dark world. She’s one of the kindest, most generous people you’ll ever meet. And one of the funniest.

Maybe she is not the monster the media has made her out to be. Many of the allegations are unsupported, and many are about her staff, not even about Ellen. But it makes for plenty of fodder. News sites have become cheap tabloids.

I’ve thought recently about the statue of Jesus beheaded at a church in Florida and another in Indianapolis. The last prayer of Jesus Christ, as he hung on the cross, was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Think for a moment. Jesus went about doing good, healing the sick, feeding the poor, teaching about forgiveness. I can only conclude that the people doing this know nothing about the significance of his life. Jesus was a peace-maker. But some people only want war.

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And speaking of war, the media is trying to prime us for war. Have you seen it? We do not want war. We do not want our men and women fighting and killing other men and women.

I’m going to throw something out here. It could be possible that the “influencers” who are behind the trouble we see in the U.S. are not even Americans, but people who do not have the best interest of the American people in mind.

Another intellectual has been forced to resign because of his scientific views. James Cantor resigned his 27-year-long membership in the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Read here,

Top Canadian sex researcher quits scientific group after being blasted for views on transgender issues

The essay he posted on the listserv argues there is no defence for discrimination against transgender people in areas like housing, jobs, access to public washrooms and sports. But he says the dismissive acronym TERF — trans-exclusionary radical feminist — is used too broadly, including for Rowling or people who say children should not start transitioning before age 12, a view he says is backed up by science.

I learned yet another term from this article. It is sea-lioning. This professor was accused of sea-lioning. This is how the article ends:

Myeshia Price-Feeney, research scientist at the Trevor Project, a crisis-intervention group, said her only concern is to support transgender and non-binary people to live “their true authentic selves,” meaning that there is “literally nothing to debate here.”

Wayne State University PhD student Jami Pittman said “I would just like to express a great sense of violence that I feel from being exposed to this conversation.”

Finneran Muzzey, a PhD student at Michigan State University, wrote of having been subjected to Cantors’ “harmful tactics” previously on the forum.

Cantor responded forcefully to his critics on the listserv, asking them to point out any factual errors he had made. (my bold/italics)

Purnell, in turn, accused him of “sea-lioning,” an online trolling tactic that involves “pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretense of civility and sincerity.”

Apparently you cannot discuss facts because some people feel “a great sense of violence” when they are exposed to facts. And requests for evidence are not welcome either. Your sincerity and civility is in question if you do this.

There is a saying that prophets mourn while the people are laughing and laugh while the masses are mourning. When the masses see catastrophe, they see deliverance coming. While others laugh and cast off restraint, the prophets see difficult times ahead and judgment on wickedness.

I don’t know if it was a prophet I heard speaking this week, but he was laughing. He was saying that this is the last act for the leftist activists. That is why they are so desperate and are behaving so irrationally. I don’t know if it is true. But it could be. Let’s not fool ourselves. We reap what we sow.

I’m not known for my vulnerability. When I try to be vulnerable it only comes across as pathetic. Not only that, I find people don’t value my vulnerability. They trample me when I am vulnerable. Sorry, Brene. Your book doesn’t work for me. Apparently it’s not working for Ellen DeGeneres either. Maybe we need another book.

Posted in Communication, Coronavirus, COVID-19, De-stressing, Home, Love, Marriage & Family

Surviving the Pandemic – 12 Good Things That Have Happened

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Good things that have happened because of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown:

  1. I’ve slowed down to think. I feel like I have more room to think. It’s like the bookends of my life have moved out. They were pressing in on me. I have more space now. I can take my time, and it’s alright. I’ve been forced off the high speed treadmill of my life. I’ve opted out of the rat race–the crazy habit of busy, busy, busy. The “busy” was in my head. My brain has found a lower gear, now, and I like it.  More “frames” have been added to the movie of my life, stretching out the scenes. It’s not flash/flash to the next scene.
  2. I’ve arranged my house the way I like it. Each room and the balcony give me joy.
  3. With my husband being home, he has learned what it is I do as a writer. He has seen my rhythm and grown to appreciate it. It took awhile for me to ignore him and go about my business. But we settled into a groove of sorts.
  4. I’ve reassessed my role with my grandchildren. I’m taking a more long-term approach and planning games and activities that will not only entertain but prepare them for the future once we can be together again. I’m also realizing that there are stories of my past I need to share with them. Most importantly, they will learn by watching how I interact with them and others and how I live my life.
  5. My husband has learned it is possible to “plan” a once a week grocery shopping trip instead of just hopping over to the grocery store when we need something multiple times a week.
  6. I’ve learned to “tame” my compulsion to go out and I now have a greater appreciation for the activities I am able to do outside the home.
  7. We cut out eating cakes and cookies and ice cream, for the most part, and are consuming healthier food on a daily basis.
  8. We prioritize going for daily walks, even if they are short.
  9. I understand my husband better as a result of being together, working on projects and talking. For example, when I was videotaping his children’s music videos I only suggested improvements when it was absolutely necessary. Otherwise I would suppress his artist instinct.
  10. My husband calls his parents more frequently now and they appreciate it. Previously if we called more than once a week they would be surprised and think there was an emergency.
  11. The biggest conflict we’ve had as a couple has been around watching and listening to news and commentary, and talking about reports. My husband has a much lower tolerance level and over the weeks I’ve learned to adjust. Sometimes I watch when he is not around, or even suggest he go for a walk while I watch. I’ve reduced the amount of conversation time around certain subjects. Our children, like me, want to talk, so we’ve had to modify our conversations around their dad.
  12. I’ve consciously tried to add humor to our days and this has made life more fun.
Posted in Abuse, Church, Communication, faith, LGBT, Love, Marriage & Family

My Thoughts on Letter from Farris to Harris

This letter was published on July 27, 2019, open to the public, on Michael Farris’ Facebook page. See my comments below.

Josh,

My first memory of you was in Olympia, Washington standing in my driveway as a grinning kid when you were about nine years old. I saw you many times as your dad and I spoke at many conferences over the years.

How can I forget that meeting in the lobby of a hotel in Rochester, New York when you told me you had signed a book deal for “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”? I told you it was a bad title and wouldn’t sell. Of course, it outsold everything I have ever written by a wide margin.

The last time I saw you was at your dear mother’s funeral. (I can’t recall if you were at your brothers’ graduation from Patrick Henry College.)

We knew each other very well for many years. And I loved you like a younger brother. And still do.

It is established here that their friendship goes back a long way. It was a caring relationship. The writer is older. This makes what follows altogether more painful.

I don’t think I can reach you in private and what you have said and done is very public, so I am reaching out to you in this way.

First mistake. If you can’t reach someone privately, then don’t do it publicly. You think this is compassion or brotherly love? It is not.

You have walked away from your marriage. That’s not right. You have walked away from your faith in Christ. That’s even worse.

The writer fails to ask the most important question, “What happened?” I’ve made this mistake and I’ve regretted my insensitivity.

This says nothing about Jesus and a great deal about you.

That is a loaded accusation if I ever heard one.

Jesus told us there would be false prophets and teachers among us. Your story doesn’t invalidate Christ’s message because He predicted that people would do exactly what you have done. I just didn’t expect it would ever be you.

Now the writer is calling his friend a false prophet and expressing surprise and shock. Harris has made some adjustments in his thinking and he’s probably not through making adjustments. Yes, there is also pain and disappointment in the statement, “I just didn’t expect it would ever be you.” The writer had high expectations. But maybe this was part of the problem to begin with. Lofty ideals that were a bit unrealistic.

I do commend you for the intellectual integrity for recognizing that your secondary views (embracing the LGBT agenda, etc.) are utterly inconsistent with Christianity—as is your view that it is ok to walk away from your marriage for the reasons you have stated. Both of these proved that you had renounced Christianity before you said so publicly.

A lot of people are really struggling with how to respond to the LGBT lifestyle. We cannot condemn them for not wanting to condemn others or finding the biblical view difficult to embrace. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree on points. I think this writer felt compelled to carry out a mandate of correction.

As to Harris walking away from his marriage. That is one of the most painful and conflicting experiences a person will ever go through. Again, ask the question, “What happened?” This is much more helpful.

My heart aches for you in so many ways. It seems that you thought that Christianity was a series of formulas. Formulas for marriage. Formulas for systematic theology. Fear of choosing the wrong formula. Fear of failing to live up to your formula.

Of course his heart aches. But I think Harris will feel shattered when he reads this because someone he deeply trusted is not willing to sit with him and listen to his thought process and feelings.

So, if Harris really did think Christianity was a system of formulas, (maybe the writer knows something) then it may indeed be a very good thing that he is de-constructing his “formula” and trying to find out what it is he actually believes. People need space and time to do this. We as Christians can offer this to them and say, “Take your time. Seek God. He will show you.”

If his was a fear-based “faith” maybe by making some changes he can go deeper and find the true basis of faith, that goes beyond fear.

Having said that, it is not wrong to fear God, or to fear doing wrong. But there is so much more context we have to include. It sounds to me like the writer may be living according to formulas and fears. The two men did come from similar backgrounds.

You know that I believe in the general approach to courtship that made you famous and pretty rich. You included the story of my oldest daughter and her husband in your second book.

I still believe that purity of mind and body before marriage is the right ideal. But it is not a formula for a happy marriage. It is simply a guiding principle that has to be applied with wisdom, grace, and often forgiveness.

Here is a kernel of truth, but a truth-speaker may not be what Harris is in need of during his time of crisis, and I observe this as a crisis when his former close friend cannot reach him to speak to him in private. I think the writer is genuinely trying to be helpful and as Christians this is where we fail so often, and then we end up being offended, when it was our approach that caused the offense.

I would never reach this conclusion about you on my own but what you have said yourself can be fairly summarized as this: you thought your faith and your marriage were based on formulas. They never went deeper than that.

Jesus says about people like you that in the last judgment, He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

You know that this means you never actually knew Him.

As immersed as you were in Christian culture and a career as a pastor, you never actually knew Jesus.

It gives me only heart ache to say these things to you. And Jesus will take no pleasure in pronouncing those words in judgment of you or anyone.

Ouch! Even if Harris said that, to repeat it in this way is just not kind. And what follows is not really our place to say. God is the one who judges our hearts. Of course, this is a conclusion I have come to after many years and making many errors. For someone trained in theology, the Calvinist view is that if you are once a Christian you cannot fall away, so the writer explains to himself that Harris “never actually knew Him.” I don’t believe this is true. It is also not consistent with what he wrote earlier. The writer clearly thought Harris was a Christian at one time. Now he calls him a false prophet, but says his message is still valid. Lots of contradictions here.

Quite simply, Harris is re-thinking his faith. He might throw it away. I don’t think he has done that yet. From what I have observed he is seeking for a more comprehensive truth. This is a scary place to be. But he can come forth as gold, after he is tried. This is the hope we need to hold out for someone we love as a “brother.”

You haven’t walked away from a relationship with Jesus. You have walked away from the culture you were raised in.

So, as I said, another contradiction. But this may be the only message the writer actually needed to communicate. Harris has walked away from a culture.

Jesus still loves you at this moment. And so do I and countless others. And I will love you no matter what in the days ahead. But my love is tinged in deep sadness.

Josh, you and your story are not the measure of the validity of Christianity.

Jesus is real. He doesn’t want you to return to your prior formulas. He wants you to come to Him for the first time and learn to love.

I can hear the heartfelt love in this letter, but the sad thing is that it will not be perceived as loving, at least I don’t think so. So I hurt for both parties. And I see that I have done what the writer has done, provided a critique. Finding the balance between correction and simple compassion is tricky. But I think none of the above was news to Harris and most of it didn’t bear repeating and was actually offensive because it showed a lack of understanding and a lack of support. It was motivated by fear, fear of Harris falling away and maybe fear of him taking others with him. Our God is bigger. He can handle the questions and struggles we have. Maybe it will lead to error at times. Maybe it will lead to greater understanding of truth. Let’s look at the whole person, all Harris has strived to do. That person is still there, wanting what is best. I believe this. And I believe God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. Let’s come alongside the seekers. It’s not about our disappointment. It’s about offering hope.

I am praying for you, Josh.

With love and sorrow.

Mike Farris

Posted in Children, Communication, Home, Marriage & Family, parenting

What I Would Change if I Could Parent My Children Again

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Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

If I had the chance to go back and parent my children again, what I would change?

When thinking about what I would change, I have to look at my values. What is most important to me? What was most important to me when I was raising my children? What mattered most and why was that so important? Was I true to what was important to me? And were my methods effective?

We tend to follow the model set by our own parents. It is all we know, as children, but later we begin to examine other models. We watch other families, we read books, listen to podcasts or sermons, watch videos, and attend parenting seminars. Some of the input I gleaned from these sources was very helpful to me.

Here are the things that I wanted and were important to me as a parent.

  1. I wanted my children to like me.
  2. I wanted my children to respect me.
  3. I wanted my children to be happy.
  4. I wanted other children and adults to like my children.
  5. I wanted my children to like and respect other children and adults.
  6. I wanted my children to be healthy and safe from harm and injury.
  7. I wanted to train my children in such a way that they would have a successful future as adults.
  8. I wanted to train my children in such a way that we would have a good relationship as adults.
  9. I wanted to pass on my values to my children.

I look back, now, and ask myself if I accomplished my objectives. How well did I do? Were the methods I chose the best ones I could have used? Could I have done some things differently and possibly had a better outcome?

With any responsibility there is daily opportunity for success and failure. Each day requires an evaluation of what went right and what went wrong and from these evaluations we can determine how to make more suitable choices and how to carry out a more effective plan the next day or the next week. As someone has said, the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. For a different outcome, there must be a new input. A change—large or small—is necessary.

Wanting my children to like me and respect me

The first and most important thing I realized in parenting was that who I was would determine how I would act, as a mother, and whether my children would like me and respect me. They were watching me. They would see my flaws. They would benefit from my strengths.

I saw that these little people needed me to be a strong and wise and consistent person in their lives. If I was this kind of person then they would feel confident in my leadership. They would like me, and they would respect me.

Parenting is about leadership. We show our children a pattern of behavior that we want them to follow. We care for them. We plan activities. We play with them. All this time we are teaching them how to respond to life. From our approach to life they determine how to engage with life and even whether life itself is worth living. They pick up our hope for the future, and, conversely, our hopelessness.

Wanting my children to be happy

There are discussions going on these days about whether or not it is a wise thing to pursue happiness. I wanted happiness for my children. I don’ t think it was a bad thing to want for them. I wanted each day to be happy. I made a point of being cheerful in the morning when I awoke them. I tried to maintain my cheerfulness and optimism throughout the day. Bedtime needed to be a happy time as I put them to rest with sweet thoughts and feelings. The reason I did this was because I heard from someone that as adults our happy childhood memories will sustain us through the difficult times. We had regular “happy family times” that we looked forward to when we would do fun things as a family, such as play a game or have popcorn with a movie in the living room. We took pleasure in simple, ordinary things like a good meal or snack, or a family walk in the neighborhood, or camping, or gardening in our small backyard. I tried to model enthusiasm and instill wonder and curiosity–traits that contribute to happiness.

Wanting my children to respect others and have others like them

I wanted others to like our children, so I treated other adults with respect and spoke respectfully about them. I especially treated their father with respect and required that they did the same, even in times when I disagreed with him.

We were delighted to host other families and have them over for meals. This was a highlight for me and for our children. My culinary skills were put to the test and honed. Our children saw this. They shared my pleasure. Children are encouraged by the risks we take and the competence we show. It gives them confidence that they can do the same, and confident, adventurous children are more likable.

Wanting my children to have a successful future

I knew that work would always be an important part of our children’s lives. If they could hold a job and be good employees that would greatly impact their success as adults. So I started giving them small responsibilities early and I modeled a positive attitude towards work. They might do the dishes grudgingly some days, but it was required. They might not clean up their rooms as regularly as I wished, but I modeled tidiness in the home. They learned personal discipline through weekly chores like cleaning bathrooms. When we were offered the job of vacuuming the hallways in our small apartment building, we realized that our sons were old enough to do this and we gave them the job, along with the income. They saved the money to buy bikes and had their first sense of the power of work to give them what they wanted. This was a lesson in responsibility. They each held part time jobs while they were still in school. Work would not always be fun, but it was an unavoidable fact and a means to an important end, that end being to put food on the table and pay the bills. Growing up, my parents required that I give 90% of my income to them. We did not expect this of our sons because we wanted them to learn to be responsible with their money and see that they could accomplish their goals. We did, however, incorporate a very realistic aspect into their financial responsibility training. Once they had full time jobs they contributed to the expenses of the family by paying a minimal amount in rent which essentially covered their food costs.

We encouraged our children to explore music and art and technology, anything that might round out their skills and better equip them as adults.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

So, what would I change in how I raised my family, if I could do it again? I think my values are still very much the same, but I know I would pay attention to a few areas where I could have done better.

I would reach out more

If I had it to do over again, I would still focus on a happy childhood. But I would reach out more to others and teach my children to observe needs and meet them. I was so focused on meeting their needs that I did not teach this very well.

In a small family of two children my sons missed out on the opportunity of caring for infants and small children under my supervision. I was the eldest of seven siblings and gained a lot of experience as a result. I did not see that my sons were not benefiting from the same experience.

I also did not teach them the value of visiting and looking after the elderly or the infirm because I was so caught up with my job and volunteer responsibilities.

I would speak more openly about suffering and injustice and our response

Although it is important to have a happy home, I would be more realistic with my children and talk more openly about the pain and suffering and evil in the world, at an appropriate age. I would share coping skills with them, and possible ways of thinking about and responding to what happens in the world.

I would include warnings about abusive behavior and train them in assertiveness

In teaching our children about respect for others, I would also include warnings about when blind respect can go wrong. I would be more open, once again, at an appropriate age, about signs of abuse. I would teach them about discernment and what emotional abuse looks and feels like. I would teach them how to say no and set boundaries.

I would be involved in talking about sex

I left the sex talks to my husband and I would be involved in this important area if I had it to do over again. A wife and mother has much to contribute and I missed my chance.

I would emphasize the importance of good communication skills

All of our lives we are going to be communicating with people and our success will depend to a great degree on our relational skills. We must model good communication skills to our children and I fell short in this area. Our sons turned out to be fairly good communicators, however, I notice areas where they could have benefited from skills such as negotiation and conflict resolution. Later in life I took helpful training in these areas. I wish this training would have been available to me much earlier because then my family might have enjoyed the long term benefits.

Those are a few of the things I would change. There is little point in living with remorse, as a parent. I know I did the best I knew to do at the time and I was aware that I wouldn’t be a perfect parent. None of us are. But we can still learn, even later in life, and become more effective in our various leadership roles. Maybe others can even learn from the areas where we failed. I’m hopeful that in some way what I have gleaned will be helpful to others. I have a undying admiration for those who take on the life-long responsibility of parenting.

Posted in Communication, Social Media

Why You Shouldn’t Go Off of Facebook and What You Should Do Instead

I am giving you permission to stay on FB. I don’t know if you need that permission or not. But if you have been feeling overwhelmed, or obsessive, or guilty about your FB use, then you might want to read on.

The first reason why you shouldn’t go off of FB is because you like keeping up with what your friends are doing. You scroll down the NewsFeed and you see something funny, someone’s unique sense of humor, and it makes you laugh. Then a little further down you read that someone has a health challenge and maybe you make a short encouraging comment. You read further and see that your friend is expecting a baby. Yay! You congratulate her. And so on….

You enjoy FB or you would not be spending so much time on it.

The second reason is, believe it or not, just like you take an interest in your friends, they take an interest in you. Now, not everybody is diplomatic and understanding and some posts are downright offensive. It is not FB’s fault. It is the fault of your friends. But, I suspect that most of your interactions are actually pretty positive and you enjoy them, and others enjoy you. Your friends liked that humorous post you found, and The Happy Birthday banner you posted, or the Memories you shared. Maybe you posted your artwork or a craft you did. Your friends enjoy seeing what you are up to.

Keeping up with your friends and letting them keep up with you are the two most important reasons to stay on FB. If you honestly do need a break, then FB has an option called, “Deactivate.” This means your account will not be shut down forever. You can still see it but others can’t. You can do this while you think about whether you permanently want to go off FB.

However, I have a few ideas you might want to try before your deactivate, or–hopefully not–quit altogether. But first let’s take a look at some possible reasons you might be thinking of going off of FB.

You might have heard that FB is bad and that they are censoring stuff and limiting what people can see, even good stuff. That could be true. But FB is a tool. It is something you can use to satisfy your own purposes. It does not control what you do. Usually. I know there is the legitimate fear that something you post might be deemed offensive by FB and FB itself might shut you down. But that is a problem that has been experienced by a select few. The FB team tries to censor the bad stuff and they go overboard sometimes. But, for the most part, you are safe, if you behave reasonably decently on FB.

You might also be put off by the ads, and believe me, I am. But you can ignore them. There are even settings you can access to limit certain ads. I’ve limited a lot of ads. Whenever I see something that offends me, or that I am tired of seeing, I click the pull down menu on the right of the ad and indicate I don’t want to see any more of this. Of course I can’t control the very fact that there are ads, so I move on quickly. In this way I control my FB experience, to a great degree.

Some things you have no control over, like hackers, unfortunately. Anyone who has been a victim of hacking has felt violated and I can understand this. There is little we can do to defend ourselves. We can simply explain to our friends and march bravely on.

One important way to control your FB experience is to pay careful attention to who your friends are. If necessary, un-follow them if they constantly drag you down. At worst you can un-friend them. But this has caused numerous hurt feelings, so it’s probably best to un-follow, since they can’t tell if you un-follow.

You can also click “hide post,” if you don’t like someone’s post. I recently discovered that it is a good idea to click “hide post” after I make a comment on a post, like a “Happy Birthday” and I don’t want fifty notifications of others who have also wished this person a Happy Birthday.

You have a lot of control over your FB activity. That being said, you might still want to get off FB because it is consuming too much of your time.

Well, how about considering a few other options first. Here are some ideas.

  1. Take a one day “FB fast” every week.
  2. Go on FB to relax, like during a coffee break or in the evening.
  3. Go on FB every other day.
  4. Have short FB sessions of 5-10 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day.
  5. Have less frequent longer sessions and set a time limit, say one hour.
  6. Don’t go on FB when there are other people around.
  7. Go on FB only once you have completed certain chores.

In other words, craft FB around your life, around what makes sense to you. You still want the pleasure of interacting, but you don’t want FB to interfere with being your present with others in your daily life, or to stop you from doing the things that matter, or become a substitute for meeting face to face.

I find FB is great for keeping up with friends who live far away. For me that happens to be most of my friends. At one point I almost closed my account but then I reflected on how much I would lose. I thought of all those faces, all the people I want to keep up with, and I changed my mind. My reason for wanting to get off of FB was not so much the time I spent on FB, as it was my frustration with changes to FB which reduced my ability to interact with friends as effectively as I used to. But, alas, FB is not a perfect medium of communication.

Instead of leaving FB, I focused on ways I could continue to use FB as a great way to keep in touch.

So, think it over. You might be able to modify your FB use and not quit completely. But if you still find it is taking over your life and making you miserable, what can I say? The decision is yours. All the best!

 

Posted in Communication

How Do Others Hear You?

Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself and not been able to believe you sounded like that? I have. The truth is we often don’t have a clue how we sound to others. Do I sound whiny? Do I sound gruff or abrupt? Do I sound bored?

With so much emphasis these days on the importance of listening, I think some time also needs to be given to how the person who is speaking will sound to others.

There are people we would much rather listen to than others. Their tone and expression is engaging. They appear to be genuinely interested. They sound concerned about the welfare of others.

People who are perceived as self-centred or disinterested do not get an audience for long. The same is true for people who are harsh, or whiny. We tend to withdraw from them.

So the truth is that if you want to be heard, you have to be listening–to yourself.

Think of saying the following:

It’s raining.

It’s raining again.

If you are happy that it is raining, your tone will be different than if it has been raining for forty days and forty nights.

Now consider a relationship, like a marriage. Your spouse forgot to pick up the mail when he or she said they would. You respond:

Did you pick up the mail?

You didn’t pick up the mail.

You forgot to pick up the mail, again.

Does your spouse hear, “I care about you as a person. I know you mean well. Sometimes you slip up, but, really, it’s not a big deal.” Or does he or she hear something like this:

Did you pick up the mail? (Accusation in the wings, waiting to pounce and nail him.)

You didn’t pick up the mail. (Gotcha! What I expected.)

You forgot to pick up the mail, again. (You hopeless, pathetic…)

The tone of our words is like body language. It just happens. And it flows out of our attitude. If I think the world is out to get me, I will sound like a fighter, abrupt and defensive. If I feel hopeless, and think I am always the victim, I will whine and pout. But if I am hopeful, if I genuinely appreciate others, and am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, then my tone will more likely be uplifting and encouraging.

We may be disappointed, but we do not actually have to make the other person feel small. There’s no need to dump on them the full weight of all of our past discouragement. Instead we can voice hope, maybe even offer praise, “You usually remember the mail.”

To do this effectively will require taking a moment to evaluate how others hear us. A small adjustment can make a big difference.

Posted in Communication

12 Hindrances to Communication

not-listeningOne of the best books I have found on communication is People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflict, by Robert Bolton, Ph.D. In his book he borrows a list of twelve hindrances to communication from Thomas Gordon, author of Parent Effectiveness Training. Below is the list.

Criticizing:  Making a negative evaluation of the other person, her actions or attitudes. “You brought it on yourself–you’ve got nobody else to blame for the mess you are in.”

Name-calling:  “Putting down” or stereotyping the other person. “What a dope!” “Just like a woman…” “Egghead.” “You hardhats are all alike.” “You’re just another insensitive male.”

Diagnosing:  Analyzing why a person is behaving as she is; playing amateur psychiatrist. “I can read you like a book–you are just doing that to irritate me.” “Just because you went to college, you think you are better than I.”

Praising Evaluatively:  Making a positive judgment of the other person, her actions or attitudes. “You’re such a good girl. I know you will help me with the lawn tonight.” Teacher to student: “You area great poet.” (Many people find it difficult to believe that some of the barriers like praise are high-risk responses….)

Ordering:  Commanding the other person to do what you have done. “Do your homework right now.” “Why?! Because I said so….”

Threatening:  Trying to control the other’s actions by warning of negative consequences that you will instigate. “You’ll do it or else…” “Stop that right now or I will keep the whole class after school.”

Moralizing:  Telling another person what she should do. Preaching at the other. “You shouldn’t get a divorce; think of what will happen to the children.” “You ought to tell him you are sorry.”

Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning:  Closed-ended questions are often barriers in a relationship; these are those that can usually be answered in a few words–often in a simple yes or no. “When did it happen?” “Are you sorry that you did it?”

Advising:  Giving the other person a solution to her problems. “If I were you, I’d sure tell him off.” “That’s an easy one to solve. First…”

Diverting:  Pushing the other’s problems aside through distraction. “Don’t dwell on it, Sarah. Let’s talk about something more pleasant.” Or; “Think you’ve got it bad, let me tell you what happened to me.”

Logical Argument:  Attempting to convince the other with an appeal to facts or logic, usually without consideration of the emotional factors involved. “Look at the facts; if you hadn’t bought that new car, we could have made the down payment on the house.”

Reassuring:  Trying to stop the other person from feeling the negative emotions she  is experiencing. “Don’t worry, it is always darkest before the dawn.” “It will all work out OK in the end.” (pp. 15-16)

Bolton tells us that, “These twelve ways of responding are viewed as high-risk responses, rather than inevitably destructive elements of communication. They are more likely to block conversation, thwart the other person’s problem-solving efficiency, and increase the emotional distance between people than other ways of communicating. However, at times, people use these responses with little or no obvious negative effect.” (p. 17)

We tend to use these responses when another person is experiencing a lot of stress. It is a learned response that we have picked up somewhere along the way and generally it is a way of getting beyond an awkward situation. But these kinds of responses are particularly ineffective when the other person is struggling.

The responses fall into three categories: disapproving or approving of what another person says (Criticizing, Name-Calling, Diagnosing, Praising Evaluatively), offering quick solutions (Ordering, Threatening, Moralizing, Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning), and avoiding the other person’s concerns (Diverting, Logical Argument, Reassuring). Rather than encourage people to talk, doing any of these things tend to shut people down and discourage further dialogue. We may not even know we are doing this. It may be so important to us to offer a solution and move out of this uncomfortable stage that we miss the real need of the other person–the need for an empathetic listener.

The goal of communication is to gain a greater understanding of the other person’s perspective and feelings about their situation. By identifying and avoiding the hindrances to communication we can work at changing how we communicate and in turn help others feel heard.

There are times when we need to encourage the other person to talk. You might ask, simply, “Care to talk about it?” You might make an observation like, “You look like you’re not feeling up to par.” Or ask if they are alright, or if they are having a rough day. Then take a bit of time to allow them to tell you about it.

There is something powerful that happens when another person is truly listening and trying to understand another’s thoughts and feelings. It is consoling.

When someone shares their struggle with you, focus not only on the words, but also note the accompanying emotions. The more emotion, the more need for a listening ear. Show that you want to understand but use words sparingly. You might say, “Looks like things didn’t go well for you today.” Or you could reflect emotions, by saying something like “That must have made you angry,” or “You look really sad.”

By communicating that we are observing what the other person is feeling we make them feel like we are there with them. They are not alone.

It also helps to repeat what you think you heard by saying, “It sounds to me like….” “What I hear you saying is….” This communicates that you have been listening and that you want to understand more clearly.

Such a large part of helping people is actually about listening effectively. People will often feel helped if someone is just there with them in their struggle. They know you can’t offer immediate solutions. In fact, there are times when talking by itself can help others to see their situation more clearly. They might even come to some personal insights as they talk.

This week I told a friend about an incident where someone behaved very inappropriately. My friend’s impulsive response was, “Stupid idiots!” This might look like a violation of the above hindrances to communication, but it was actually exactly the opposite. He heard my frustration and he mirrored it in his own way. By saying what I had not dared to put into words and he made me laugh. It was just the right medicine.

When someone “gets us” we feel relief. I remember trying to communicate with a person who had been misunderstood in a situation. I paraphrased his experience. I began, “When….” and then I concluded with my observation “It seemed to me that what was happening was….”  When I finished, his eyes lit up, as though, finally, someone got it. “That’s it. That’s what I meant,”  he exclaimed. There was such joy and relief on his face at finding someone who understood him at last.

In the Bible there is verse that reads, “Deep calleth unto deep…” (Psalm 42:7). The more deeply we understand ourselves and human nature, the more we will be in a position to relate to others. We will be able to touch the deep places of the heart. These are reverent moments that we should never take for granted.

 

Posted in Communication, Leadership, Marriage & Family

Getting Ready for Halloween

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We all know that Halloween, just like Valentines and Easter and Christmas, is highly commercialized. Gone are the pillow cases and apples and homemade costumes. Buy your Halloween bucket at Walmart!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I want to examine present day Halloween festivities without delving into its origins–whether it began as a harvest festival, or as a festival of the dead, whether it has Celtic pagan roots with bizarre rituals, or Christian beginnings–a Hallowed Eve preceding All Saints Day.

When we lived in the Philippines, All Saints Day was a huge holiday and families faithfully placed food on the graves of the deceased. On Halloween children went and sang in front of homes in hopes of receiving a few coins. Even adults did so, sometimes dressed as the twelve disciples, going from home to home singing and collecting money. There were no costumes and of course no pumpkins.

But in North America we are all familiar with the symbols and trappings and activities of the occasion,–candy, costumes, masquerades, pumpkins, pranks, haunted houses, witches, ghosts, etc.

Image courtesy of hin255/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of hin255/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Halloween will mean different things to different people. When I went to the mall with my firstborn in a stroller, wide-eyed, taking in all the hideous displays of the occasion, I wanted to cover his eyes, shield him from all that represents evil in the world. To me Halloween pretty much covered it.

Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was in a store one year and observed a father taunting his five or six year old son as he recoiled in fear when he shoved an ugly Halloween symbol in his face. I remember thinking, this is how we teach intimidation and bullying and how we destroy innocence.

Image courtesy of  Victor Habbick/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since then, each year during the harvest season I re-evaluated my perspective of Halloween. As the day approached I was so preoccupied that I frequently forgot my father-in-law’s birthday which falls on November 1st.

What is Halloween without the fear factor? Some people crave the adrenalin rush fear incites, as a weird kind of high. Without this there would be no ticket sales to horror flicks, no customers for graphic psycho thrillers.

I walked through the Dollar Store the other day. Halloween displays are out, right along with Christmas, ironically. I saw, among the skeletons and skulls, chocolate eyeballs, and a hacked off, bandaged and bloody foot. I admit I felt a little sick.

What do children think when they see these, I ask myself? What feelings do these images arouse? What is the impact?

As I was a child I remember for a time hanging around kids who told ghosts stories and I could repeat a scary story pretty well myself. It was an abbreviated season in my life but it helped me relate to the thrill of the scare factor. I soon found myself avoiding the unpleasantness.

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here in Vancouver we recently had the Vancouver Zombie Walk. This is the perspective of the organizers:

Though we big kids all see the fun in it, small children may not and if you see any children reacting fearfully, please do not add to their distress. Just move on and let their parents explain. Do NOT accidentally be the douche who gives them nightmares for a week by leering in their face! However, if they’re into it, they’re fair game for fun, like ALL of the living! Vancouver Zombie Walk 2013

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So is this really all it is, fun and games? Something you enjoy? Is it something you prefer, like you prefer chocolate brownies to cream puffs? Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know that Halloween is an opportunity to glorify what is dark and deadly.

As a child I had a fascination with Halloween. For me it was about black cats, witches on broomsticks, pumpkins, and of course masks and trick or treating. In elementary school we made pictures of these symbols and put them up on the walls and windows of our classroom. I had not training about Halloween from my parents. We did not attend church, so I had no religious teaching back then.

Image courtesy of bandrat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of bandrat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My parents never had a very strong conviction about Halloween and basically let us kids do what we wanted. My aunt took us out trick or treating for the first time when I was seven. I remember that some folks complained that we had no costumes, while others they complimented us and gave us extra candy for not dressing up. In my mind I was absorbing this information and asking myself if it was indeed bad to dress up.

But many churches I have attended since frowned on any Halloween activity and created their own separate “Harvest” event for the children, featuring, of course, lots of candy. I once helped decorate for one of these events and made the mistake of thinking that a black, lace, spider-web table cloth would be nice on the table in the entry, but I was quickly told to remove it.

Black Lace Tablecloth on sale at tias.com
Black Lace Tablecloth on sale at tias.com

Is it possible to enjoy Halloween without the dark scenes and themes, without sinking to the depths of evil–death, mutilation, witchcraft, demonism? Are there elements that we can redeem, things that are fun and beautiful, unspoiled?

The churches I have attended have taken a dim view on Halloween, perhaps understandably, and as a result my husband and I never allowed our children to go trick or treating. Our boys never made a fuss because there was always a fun alternative, but when our son left for BIble College we heard that he and his friends went trick or treating. Recent immigrants in the neighborhood were happy to hand out candy to these silly young adults.

When I was in primary school I asked my friend’s dad if she could go begging. Maybe I should have used the words “trick or treating.” He gruffly told me that his family didn’t go “begging.” An article by a pastor friend of mine essentially says the same thing–Halloween is of the devil and Christians will have nothing to do with it.

One year we visited my husband’s aunt around Halloween and she asked us if we gave out candies, “Or are you too cheap to give candies to little children?” I admit we were influenced by teaching not to participate in Halloween, but we were no longer in a church that dictated what to do. My husband and I talked and decided that it would be a positive thing for us to hand out candy. It was a charitable thing to do, a way to get to know our neighbors and their children. Handing out candy to innocent children felt good, even if we didn’t believe in everything the occasion represented.

halloween-candies

After the kids had come by for candies, we decided to go for a walk in the neighbourhood. It was truly one of the most gorgeous, “magical” nights I had ever seen. The street lights shone off of the red and orange colored maple trees. The leaves rustled beneath our feet as we walked. A few stragglers in costumes were still out, and to our great surprise we ran into a family from our church. The children were “begging” and the father was reverting to his childhood and lighting a few fire crackers in the street. I admit it took my husband and I back to our childhoods when I dressed up like an “Indian” in a fringed gunny sack and his mom dressed him up as an old woman with a curly wig.

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After that night my thinking underwent a transformation. I saw the evening as God’s evening–the gorgeous colours, the sweet air, the still night. Even the candles glowing in the pumpkins were beautiful.

Recently I have been introduced to  Liz Curtis Higgs‘ children’s book, The Pumpkin Patch Parable. It makes me realize we can look at pumpkin carving in our own unique way. We can tell our children our own stories about Halloween.

Image courtesy of Liz Curtis Higgs Books
Image courtesy of Liz Curtis Higgs Books
Image courtesy of ammer/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ammer/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I think Halloween is an unequalled opportunity to teach our children how to respond when faced with the dark side of life. Are they to cloister themselves in churches, or is it alright to hand out candy to neighborhood children?

What about going door to door? What about costumes? When I was young we bought a scary mask or two. It’s what kids love to do. But our parents frowned on masks so we dressed up creatively using make-up and non-threatening costumes.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choosing costumes is a great opportunity for parents to talk to their children about values. For instance, what do skeletons represent and would this be a reason why you might you not want to dress like one? What are the other options? Talk about how your family feels about themes around death. Make your children aware of the dark side of Halloween, but show them they can choose light.

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I refused to go on a local Halloween train ride because the artistic producer told me it would feature mutilated babies. Talk to your children about how they feel inside when they see certain images. Is this a comfortable feeling they want to have again? Would they like to avoid it? How could they do that?

When I was older I wanted to go to a masquerade but never did. Sometimes in large gatherings there can be a lot of peer pressure to do things you are not comfortable doing. I think I realized this.

As Christians we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” As children, and even as adults, there are times when we have to look ahead and plan to avoid temptation.

Some children find it very important to see and experience what their peers are telling them about. Rather than a sharp, “no,” you might want to talk about different scenarios. DIscuss possibilities and prepare them for what could happen. Let them know that you want to be sure they are safe and that they are making wise choices.

Image courtesy of samarttiw/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of samarttiw/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Probably the most scary situation for a child is to find him or herself in a place where they don’t have a choice, or where they feel forced into choosing something they would rather not do. As parents we know that the dark side exists, and that it is dangerous, and it is our responsibility to protect our children, prevent early exposure to situations beyond their understanding and control, and prepare them for eventualities.

Image courtesy of  Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can understand why many churches refuse to have anything to do with Halloween. They see it as evil, and much of it is. It would be a lot of work to sort out what, if anything, to keep, and what to discard, and then to explain this decision making process to the congregation. As you can imagine, it would be very time consuming. Undoubtedly there would also be a lot of different opinions to consider. So it’s easier to just forbid the lacy spider web table covering, and anything else black or orange, or Halloween-related.

I suggest that when our children are old enough to understand and ask questions, we talk to them about the aspects of Halloween that are playful, fun, maybe even scary, as opposed to those which are vulgar, repulsive, degrading and evil. Teach them to think. Teach them to choose wisely.

It might be a good idea to look at Halloween from the perspective of love. From this vantage point it might not be so bad to turn on the outdoor light and hand out candy to neighborhood children or to allow our children to dress up and go door to door with their friends. We might even decide to decorate for Halloween!

Image courtesy of Apolonia/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Apolonia/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I happen to like the color orange, and I like decorating. I’ve decided it is not an ‘all or nothing’ attitude when it comes to Halloween. There is definitely some sorting out to be done. I incline toward what is life-giving and uplifting and it saddens me to see how evil and the grotesque is paraded and gloated over on Halloween. But, I reiterate, we can teach our children to be discerning, to pray, to understand and explain their choices, to respond lovingly to others and perhaps even have some good clean fun with their friends on Halloween.

Image courtesy of Keattikorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Keattikorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of sippakorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of sippakorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net