wind up car

Where Are You, Where Are You Going, But More Importantly, How Fast Are You Moving?

In our consumerist, status-oriented culture, we all too often measure our worth based on the things we have and the vacations we take. It seems that we evaluate our selves and others based on what level of status we’ve achieved and the level of status that the others around us have achieved. (See Who Am I? for more on being motivated by status.)

Sometimes we take a step back and reflect on where we’re going. We ponder the legacy that we’re leaving behind. We make hard decisions about whether to accept a new position or continue our financially stable, but not excessively rewarding, job because of the impact we can make. We refine our understanding of the path that we’re going to take – or try to take.

However, except in times of depression and sorrow, we rarely evaluate how fast that we’re reaching our goals. Only when we wish to be down on our progress do we consider whether we’re sauntering through life, walking briskly, or sprinting for all we’re worth.

It’s important to know where you are – perhaps not from a status-oriented perspective – and where you’re going. However, your velocity will indicate how far you will get towards your goals and in life. Velocity isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon. It’s a marathon that you have to know you’re running.

Where are You?

While measuring our worth against our bank accounts, the car we drive, the house we live in, and the watch on our wrist may not enrich our lives, knowing where we are is critical. If you don’t know where you are, you won’t know how to get to where you want to get.

If you can’t measure your position based on your “things,” how do you measure your position? Today, most of us measure our physical location based on a GPS receiver. Embedded into our phones and cars, these receivers help us know our position based on signals from up to 12 orbiting satellites. It’s not that any single satellite can tell you where you are – or that the satellites are always in the same position themselves. By comparing the signals from the different satellites, the receiver begins to understand your position.

On startup and with only a few satellite signals being received, the GPS receiver begins to develop a picture of where you are – but it has a very large margin of error. When receiving signals from many satellites, the picture of where you are has a very high degree of precision – within just a few feet. However, with only four satellites locked, your position – particularly altitude – can be off by hundreds of feet.

Too often in our lives, it’s hard to see where we are by ourselves. We look out on the terrain, and if we’re not in a city of environment with a clear landmark, we’re unlikely to be able to figure out where we are at all – much less within a precision of feet. The fact of the matter is that we need other – trusted – people to help us know where we are.

It’s important to note that, when we’re trying to figure out where we are, we’re not comparing ourselves to others, but we’re receiving signals from them that help us understand where we are. Also, it’s important we understand that the people we use to help us understand our position must be reliable. The GPS system works because the GPS satellites have very precise clocks onboard. We can trust the time signal they send out was accurate when it was sent. Based on knowing where the satellite was supposed to be when it sent out the time signal and the device’s own sense of what time it is, you can measure the distance from a satellite when you do this. With enough satellites, you get an intersection area. (The clock in the receiver isn’t nearly as accurate as the ones in the satellites – but by using multiple satellite time signals, the device can continuously calibrate its own sense of time.)

In this model, the GPS satellites are reliable and trustworthy. They will continue to be what they are for as long as they’re operational. People can’t be as reliable as an atomic clock, but some people are more able to provide consistently accurate and useful feedback – and others less so.

Of course, the question “Where are you?” isn’t referring to your place on the planet. The question is about where you are relative to where you want to be. This can be measured in terms of your personal development, your relationships, or how you want to give back to the world. How Will You Measure Your Life shifts the conversation from where you are to where you are going by asking the critical question about where you want to end up.

Where Are You Going?

In our instant-access, explore from the internet world, we’re given the opportunity to evaluate where we want to go in ways that we couldn’t imagine even two decades ago. Picking where we’re going no longer requires writing to the travel and tourism bureaus at the various states. We don’t have to call to request mailed information about where we want to go. Instead, the world of physical exploration is open to us.

Similarly, where we want to go with our lives is open to us as well. Many of us can pursue any vocation or avocation that we choose. We’re able to access seemingly limitless resources to better and shape ourselves.

While we’ve removed the barriers to our personal growth and evolution like we’ve removed the barriers to travel planning, we’re often faced with the dilemma of knowing where we want to be in the end. In The Paradox of Choice, Swartz makes the point that more options can create stress – and inactivity.

How Fast Are You Moving?

Fight, flight, or freeze has been used to describe our reactions in the face of fear. Our amygdala dumps a chemical wash on us that most notably contains adrenaline. That cascades into a set of physiological changes that transfer biological priorities to defense. Sometimes that causes us to lash out or run. Sometimes, we’re frozen with our fear.

While we’ve all heard of the proverbial deer in headlights who freezes, we fail to recognize how our circumstances may freeze our growth and development towards our goals. In our quest to become the best, we may become unwilling to admit our weakness and desire to get help in our growth. There’s no shame in professional athletes or those at the very top of their professions having coaches, but we somehow get stuck in the middle in our desire to not admit that we can’t do it alone. (See The Art of Learning and Peak for more about coaching and peak performance.)

Even if we’re not paralyzed by fear or immobilized by choice, we aren’t necessarily moving at our fastest, sustainable pace towards our ultimate goal. While there must be some allowances for the reality that we live in a world where we don’t have control of our path towards our destination – we only have influence over it – we can seek a sustainable pace for growth. (See Extreme Productivity for more on our cow path.)

The best way to know we’re making progress is to ask what we’re doing each week to develop ourselves into the people that we want to become. It’s too easy to let week after week squeak by without progress. Consider that glaciers move imperceptibly slow to the naked eye, but they are powerful forces that shape the landscape.

In the end, the best way to know where we end up is to know where we are today, where we want to go, and the velocity with which we’re moving towards or beyond our goals.

Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager

Book Review-Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love

Parents pour so much time and energy into their children. They become the focus of their lives. From an evolutionary sense, it makes sense to have humans wired to take care of their children. It increases survival of the species. It might even explain the crazy cat lady who has 27 cats – and no children. Imagine the pain of a parent who has an out-of-control teenager. A child that you’ve poured resources in time, money, and emotion into for thirteen or more years who is out of control. This is the situation that sits square in the sights of Dr. Scott Sells’ work, Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love.

Out-of-Control

A key component of the title is the aspect of “out-of-control.” A key reality is that, over time, we must trade our control of our children for influence. We can put them in a play pen they can’t get out of when they’re young. It’s harder to keep control of them as they age. However, here Sells means something slightly different. He’s speaking of teenagers who struggle to fit into social norms, obey parents, and “make it” in life.

He’s talking about children where something has gone wrong in the development process, and something needs to be done to correct their course of action. This is a troubling situation. Judith Rich Harris speaks of the limitation of a parent’s ability to influence a child in The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike. She holds out little hope for any parent’s ability to substantially shape their children’s path once the genetics have been set. While there are books designed with general parenting advice, they’re targeted towards those children who fall in the normal range. Parent Effectiveness Training and The Available Parent are both designed to tune up a parent’s skills when there’s a child with challenges – not necessarily one that is out of control. Similarly, Saving Our Sons and Raising a Modern-Day Knight are about how to raise boys with a greater connection and greater purpose.

Sells is dealing with different animal.

What Works When What Normally Works Doesn’t

Sells’ work started with teens for whom regular counseling solutions weren’t working. He studied eighty-two teens over a four-year period to develop a professional book, Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide. He was looking to find a way to help save children who needed something they weren’t getting.

Love and Limits

Like “normal” children, even out-of-control teenagers need both love and limits. It cannot be one without the other. Both ingredients are essential to the healthy development of a teenager. In today’s “friend first” culture of parenting, we often neglect the limits that are necessary for teens to learn the hard life lessons.

Conversely, in overly authoritarian environments without love, children struggle to understand that the world is really a helpful place and can become bitter and negative.

Sells recognizes that out-of-control teens need limits, but also recognizes that this can’t be done without love as well.

Seven Reasons for Teen Misbehavior

Sells believes there are seven top reasons for teen misbehavior:

  • Unclear Rules – You can hardly expect a teen to follow the rules if they honestly can’t understand them.
  • Not Keeping Up with Your Teens Thinking – Parents need to be one step ahead, but often fall behind the teen’s thinking.
  • Button Pushing – Teens and parents spend time pushing one another’s buttons so that nothing productive happens.
  • Teenager Drunk with Power – Teenagers find new freedom and power, and they get addicted to the experience.
  • The Pleasure Principle – Teenagers believe that if it feels right, it must be right, without the understanding of the long-term consequences.
  • Peer Power – The peers of the teen are guiding them in the wrong direction. (It is here that No Two Alike and The Nurture Assumption are focused.)
  • Misuse of Outside Forces – Outside forces are used instead of parents taking positive control of their children. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for more on why parents may not handle things themselves.)

Authority Confusion

As Sells is quick to point out, if you’re unwilling or unable to take charge, one of five things will happen; however, two of these are causes, and three are results. The causes are:

  1. Spousal Fighting – Disagreements with your spouse, ex-spouse, or significant other will freeze or stall your efforts to take control of the situation
  2. Button Pushing – Button-pushing and constant conflict will drain all the nurturance and softness from the relationship.

The results are:

  1. Teen in Charge – In the absence of someone else being in charge, they’ll take on the role.
  2. Transfer of Parental Authority – Outside forces like hospitals, group homes, etc. will be called upon to take on the parenting role, with varying degrees of reliance on the outside forces decisions and not the parents decision.
  3. Family of Peers – The teen’s family of peers will take on the role of shaping and “parenting” your teen.

The Teenager’s Seven Aces

Sells believes that there are seven aces that teens attempt to play with parents to get their way. They are:

  • Running away
  • Disrespect
  • Ditching school
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Threats or acts of violence
  • Threats of suicide
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

These aces are designed to cause the parent to back down and allow the teenager to retain their control. (You can learn more about the dynamics of control from Compelled to Control.)

It’s Getting Worse

One of the fears of a parent dealing with an out-of-control teen is that it’s getting worse. In a strange twist, it might get worse before it goes away. Behaviors are sometimes stronger before they’re extinguished. Here are the seven signs that Sells believes means it’s getting worse:

  1. A lack of remorse for any hurtful acts on others
  2. Blaming others for their problems
  3. Persistent lying
  4. Repeated acts of drunkenness or use of drugs
  5. Repeated fighting
  6. Repeated suspension from school
  7. Inability to hold a job

Experimentation

Sells is quick to point out that it’s possible to overreact to singular cases of experimentation that are normal teenage behavior. Note that it’s normal – but not necessarily desirable – teenage behavior. Teenagers often experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Sells does suggest that it may be helpful to share your experimentation with your teen – though I personally disagree with this perspective.

I believe that sharing stories about your experimentation can be helpful – but only in so much as they can establish some common ground. I believe it’s very easy for unskilled parents to go too far and share more information than is useful. They move from building common ground to establishing that, no matter what the teen does, it won’t be as bad as what the parents did during their experimentation. Also, it creates another potential opportunity for a teenager to use this information against the parent during a button-pushing competition.

So normal teenage experimentation is something to be met with understanding and conversations, not grounding for the rest of their lives.

Getting Clear and Getting Concrete

There are two major factors that allow out-of-control teens to operate. The first is the lack of clarity in what is expected of the teenager. The lack of clarity makes it hard for the teen to understand what to expect. The other issue is that the rules change. The parent doesn’t consistently enforce the consequences. This can be due to the parent forgetting the consequence that was associated with a behavior, a lack of willpower to follow through, or a lack of a practical way to implement the consequence.

Consider for a moment the idea that the teen would be denied access to their electronics. If they’re a latch key kid – coming home before their parents – how would you possibly prevent them from being on their phone or computer? There are answers to this, but they may be out of reach for some parents. Having an IT background means that I can snipe individual children’s devices off the network here and establish acceptable use times – but that may be beyond the technical capabilities of some parents. If you can’t enforce the consequence – if it moves – then it shouldn’t be a consequence. Teens will learn that consequences aren’t really consequences. They’re just a starting point for negotiation.

Both tendencies, to be unclear and to move consequences, are why Sells recommends having a written contract with your teen. Things should be as clear as possible – and there should be a sense of definitiveness about what the consequences are.

It’s important to realize that consequences really need to be harder on your teenager than they are on you. If you can’t sustain the consequence, then the teen will just wait you out – and know that they can do it again.

Trouble in Paradise

A teen’s behavior is just a part of the family system. It happens that teens act out as a result of unresolved issues in the family system that have nothing to do with the child. It might be parents that don’t get along – whether married or divorced. Attempting to get control of a teenager when the family system itself is broken doesn’t work.

(Sidebar: This was part of the reason that Terri and I worked with parents of troubled teens while others worked with the teens. You can see more about this in the Kin-to-Kid series of posts.)

Crucial Conversation Skills

It’s obvious that, when things aren’t going well, conversation skills are essential to try to improve understanding and reduce negative emotions. Sells spends a lot of time walking parents through the skills to navigate these crucial conversations. (See Crucial Conversations for complete coverage on crucial conversation skills.)

In practice, the skills needed to navigate the turbulent waters of a conversation with an out-of-control teen may take more than any parent could reasonably be asked to develop. I’ve written about communication, conversation, and dialogue repeatedly, and I’m still out-matched with some of the conversations that we enter with our teenagers. (See Dialogue and Conversational Intelligence as starting point for more resources on effectively communicating.)

One specific skill that Sells shares is the use of the words he calls “reflectors.” These are words and phrases like nevertheless, regardless, that is the rule, or no exception. These are reflectors, because they get the conversation back to the issue at hand. For instance, if you told your son to sit up for a conversation, he might say that he’s tired. “Nevertheless, that is the rule,” can help him to recognize that his being tired doesn’t change the rule. (This presumes that this was a known rule.)

Parenting is Hard Work

At the end of the day, parenting is hard work. Whether your children are two or in their twenties, parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Having a difficult teenager makes it even harder. Sells shares some inventive and interesting strategies to help your teen understand that you mean business and that they must listen to you.

If you don’t have an out-of-control teenager yet, I’d still recommend that you pick up Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager, because it can help you be prepared when your child decides to test the waters. Maybe you can stop the process before it starts.

The Art of Loving

Book Review-The Art of Loving

Sometimes to move forward, you must move backwards. To understand the future, you must look to the past. While past performance is no guarantee of future performance, looking to the great thinkers of the past can lead you to a better understanding of the present – and a better perspective on the future. I stumbled across Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving through a mixture of updates from GoodReads and references to his work in The Road Less Traveled, Coachbook, and Predictably Irrational.

Love Is an Active Verb

Most people see love as an emotion. For most people, to be in love is to be intoxicated with a new relationship. However, Fromm has a different perspective. His perspective is that love is as much – or more – about the giving than the receiving. The view is the same general view as is expressed in Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. (It doesn’t reference Fromm’s work, though The Art of Loving was initially published in 1956.) The Road Less Traveled does reference Fromm’s work and conveys the same sentiment that love is in the act of loving someone else.

Give to Get

In evolution’s perverse sense of reverse psychology, we’re most fulfilled when we’re fulfilling others. We feel the most lasting joy when we’re helping others. (See Flourish and The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness for more.) Somehow, in the expression of our love for others, we recognize the love that others have for us. When we aren’t able to demonstrate our love for others, we believe that others can’t demonstrate their love for us. We get stuck into a negative frame – essentially negative confirmation bias – that we’re unlovable, because we can’t love others. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on negative confirmation bias.)

When we love others, we are more attuned to seeing how others love us. The more that we can see and feel this love, the less separate we feel.

Separateness

Humans have evolved with a biological need for connection. It’s how we compete with ants for the most biomass on the planet. As How We Learn comments, we have the cognitive niche. However, most of our cognition is designed to manage relationships. Haidt in The Righteous Mind calls our ability to work together the “Rubicon crossing” of our species. Mindreading tears apart this critical piece of mental machinery and explains how it works that we practice our mindreading skills. Robin Dunbar has mapped the size of the neocortex of primates to their number of stable social relationships. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more.)

In short, evolutionary biology, philosophy, learning, psychology, and sociology agree. We need connections to other humans to survive. We’ve got an aversion to being separate from others for good reason. It’s our relationships with others that have kept us alive as a species.

Altruism

Loving one another is, at its core, our willingness to put others ahead of ourselves. Judith Rich Harris in No Two Alike shares the basic functioning of altruism and how evolution got us caught up in a game of sophisticated set of statistics – that we never think about – when it comes to how we help others, including our progeny. It is in our personal genes’ best interest to sometimes sacrifice themselves for the sake of those likely to share the same genes who are closely – and not so closely – related to us.

Altruism may be hardwired into us, but it’s not locked in the “on” position. There’s a sophisticated set of probabilities about whether our genes will be able to see the positive impacts from this personal set of altruism. This isn’t a game played out in one person. The dice are rolled across countless combinations of genes. Those that survive the shuffle have the right balance of altruism to the right people in the right circumstances.

Love in Three Forms

Fromm doesn’t clarify exactly what he is speaking about when he says love. The Greek had three different words, which all translate into what we call love. Eros is romantic love. Philos is brotherly love. Agape is global or God love. Despite the lack of clarity, I think it’s clear that Fromm isn’t trying to explain romantic love. Fromm is trying to explain the platonic love that a human has for another human. In the Buddhist tradition, this might be best translated to compassion – except that compassion is related to the relief of suffering, and love is more focused on removing the disconnect between people.

Empathy and Compassion

It starts with empathy. Our connection to one another starts with understanding. Empathy says, “I understand this about you.” This is a meaningful step. It’s the first step in connection. Compassion extends this understanding further and moves into the desire to alleviate the suffering of another person. This moves from understanding to action.

If love is an active verb, one of its forms is compassion. Compassion always comes after empathy. You cannot feel sorrow until you understand.

Loving Enough for the Hard Conversations

Fromm makes the observation that sometimes the conflicts that people have are not the real conflicts but are instead poor echoes of the real issue. Sometimes, the conflicts that exist between people who have a genuine concern for each other aren’t the real issues. Those real conflicts are the ones that are hidden between pleasantries. This is the key issue faced in Crucial Conversations.

Love and Faith

Love is an act of faith. At first glance, the statement seems to make little sense. What is love faith in, exactly? The answer is a bit difficult to find. In part, it’s faith that a life of loving is worth living. It’s faith that if you love, you’ll be loved. It’s faith that love is what makes life worth living. If you have no faith in these things – or little faith – then how could one extend themselves so much to demonstrate love?

Love is a choice. For all the high moral beliefs that we behave without regard to how we’ll receive something in return, research shows that we give love where we’ll get love in return. It’s hard to choose love when you don’t believe that you’ll get it back.

Mastery of Love

Fromm makes a point that you must be dedicated to something – to the exclusion of all other things – to be come a true master at it. While I understand the intent of indicating that great dedication, grit, is necessary to become truly good at something, I don’t know that you need to have a single-minded focus on love to become good at it. (See Grit for more on what grit is.)

While I do believe you must be interested in getting better at loving, I don’t believe it must be a single-minded focus. (See Peak for more on improving in whatever it is that you’re striving for.) However, decide for yourself. Do you believe, as Fromm does, that to master The Art of Loving, you must dedicate yourself to loving – or simply that you must be mindful in your practice of loving?

Appropriate Vulnerability

Kin-to-Kid Connection: Appropriate Vulnerability

When we talk about human connections, it often necessarily involves vulnerability. Our most meaningful relationships are the ones in which we make ourselves vulnerable in front of others, because it means we can trust those people. But how vulnerable should we be? How do we balance sharing too little and not forming a connection with sharing too much and potentially harming our loved ones? In this talk, “Appropriate Vulnerability,” we walk you through the importance of trust, how to temper our vulnerability, and how to form the connections we need as humans.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

Understanding Shame and Guilt

Kin-to-Kid Connection: Understanding Shame and Guilt

We’ve been motivated throughout our lives with shame and guilt but too few of us have looked into the heart of what they are — or the scars they leave on our hearts.  Sometimes, we can even get caught up in feelings without really knowing where they come from or what to do about them. In “Understanding Shame and Guilt,” we discuss guilt, shame, judgement, and blame and how these concepts tie together.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

The Greatest Generation

Book Review-The Greatest Generation

I’ve heard the stories – or rather I’ve heard the sensationalized stories – about how World War II came to be and how it ended. However, somewhere in the reduction done for history books, I missed the importance of the event. I don’t mean the importance to the world. I mean the importance to the men and women, to the families of those that served in the war. The Greatest Generation is Tom Brokaw’s tribute to a generation that openly faced some of the hardest challenges that our nation has ever seen. Coming out of the Great Depression and into the fire of war, this generation demonstrated what Americans could do.

Generational Context

I was introduced to The Greatest Generation in Chuck Underwood’s book, America’s Generations. It was there that I realized that the challenges faced by my generation and my children’s generation are nothing compared to the struggles that were faced by previous generations. It’s also where I realized that every generation – to be great – must have a test that helps to define them and demonstrates their ability to triumph.

Through story after story – some of them personal – Brokaw paints a picture of the values, commitment, and grit wielded by this great generation. Stories of mothers and daughters swapping roles between caring for young children and working outside of the home. Stories of entire families working to pool enough money to survive. Story after story of people helping each other to survive the harshness of the world.

Values

Personal responsibility and accountability are at the top of the list of the values that were held by this great generation. They didn’t blame others for their success or failures. They didn’t whine that they didn’t have control. Certainly not everyone had the values and personal fortitude of the people that Brokaw interviewed; however, time and again, these great Americans would speak of how they didn’t earn medals, but rather they accepted them on behalf of others. This kind of humility wasn’t an outlier. It was woven into the very heart of how these servant citizens operated.

They were honest when it was difficult and hardworking. There was a sense of being connected to one another through our shared struggles. There was a common enemy so there was less fighting amongst ourselves. Consider the impact of the 2001 terrorist attacks. For a moment, there weren’t any Democrats or Republicans. There were just Americans. The greatest generation were Americans for their lives.

Prosperity

Today, we expect that we’ll be prosperous. This is a new expectation. It’s not one that the greatest generation held. They couldn’t imagine real prosperity. Having come through the Great Depression, they had seen suffering and want. They didn’t believe that they could avoid it. They worked hard to make sure that their basic needs were met.

Imagine choosing your career not because you liked it or it was interesting, but instead because it gave you an opportunity to help support the family. Retrospectively becoming a nurse may look like a conscious choice to be compassionate to the common man, but in the moment – at least in some cases – it was an opportunity to make much needed money for the family. We expect that employment is an option to us, but those who lived through the Great Depression were grateful for any work that they could get.

Segregation

One of the darkest hours in the history of this great nation was when Executive Order 9066 was signed. It stole Japanese-Americans from their homes and interned them in camps. Families who were appalled by the Japanese government’s attack on Pearl Harbor were uprooted from their communities. This was a time of deep divides in American consciousness. In the South, African Americans were treated like second class citizens – but at least they weren’t interned in camps far away from their lives.

However, across the ocean, men fought together as men rather than against each other over their ancestry. No matter what your race or social group, when someone shoots at you, you’re all American. Such is the functioning of the human heart. When the bonds forged in the fires of war came back to the states, they weren’t enough to completely thaw the hearts of those who thought they were superior to others; but the seeds of equality may have been sown on those fields so far away.

Changing Moral Values

Perhaps the most challenging issue faced by returning veterans wasn’t readjusting to a normal life. By all accounts, the men (and women) who came back from the war became the leaders that our communities needed. They became businessmen, community leaders, fathers, and friends. Many wouldn’t trade the lessons learned in war – nor would they give you anything to do it again.

The real challenge was when the morals of the country became more divided. Divorce became more common – and they didn’t know how to cope with it. They supported the services, but struggled with the war in Vietnam. They struggle at the lack of discipline with children these days.

The Atomic Bomb

There’s no way to talk about World War II without talking about the impact of the atomic bomb. One might wonder how a moral and ethical generation would process the use of two atomic bombs. The answer is surprisingly straightforward. They simply consider how many lives were saved – instead of the tragedy of the lives that were lost. That’s a fitting response from The Greatest Generation.

How Do You See God?

Kin-to-Kid Connection: How Do You See God?

Parents of teens often don’t see how their faith or lack of faith shapes what their children see.  Nor do they recognize some of the hidden messages they picked up as children.  How you see God can shape how you and your children interact. In this talk, “How Do You See God?”, we take a look at the biblical definitions of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, so you can see God for what he is.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

 

Responsive or Responsible

Kin-to-Kid Connection: Responsive or Responsible

This is the first of the parent training sessions we did for the teen care program.  The teens got a similar message but shaped so that they could hear it.  The teen messages weren’t recorded.  We recorded the parent messages as a part of our preparation.  The first one helps with the biggest challenge that parents face with their children.

The choices and behavior of our children can make us feel like we’re responsible, and it can be difficult to deal with feelings of shame and guilt when they don’t always act the way we want. As parents, we need to understand when to be responsible and when to be responsive. In “Responsive or Responsible,” we discuss the ways that we should be responsible for our children and the importance of being responsive to our children, even if we aren’t responsible for their behavior.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

How to Not Get Sucked In

Kin-to-Kid Connection: How to Not Get Sucked In

Last week, we posted the first leader training for a program working with teens.  Everything You Know Might Be Wrong was designed to shake the volunteer’s beliefs that they know the truth to open them up to their need to not get sucked into the story. In ministry, volunteer work, corporate work, and life, it’s too easy to get sucked into a cause and lose yourself. In this video, I’ll talk about compassion, altruism, and boundaries and how they fit together to keep you from getting sucked in.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

No Two Alike

Book Review-No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality

“Why am I me?” is an important – and unanswered – question that George Dyson asked his father, Freeman Dyson, at age 8. It’s at the heart of Judith Rich Harris’ work in No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality. It’s the essence of the tension between our desire to be like others and our need to have status amongst our peers. I’ve read and reviewed Harris’ previous work, The Nurture Assumption (written in 1998), so in many ways her work here builds on her theories, which I’ve previously studied. No Two Alike is a dozen years old as I write this, having been published in 2006. However, many of the observations that she makes and the research she cites still isn’t widely known by parents.

The Consistency Fallacy

We believe that human behavior is a fixed constant. We believe after meeting a person that their behavior is the same whether hanging out with their friends on a Saturday night or in the second row at church on Sunday morning. However, nothing could be further from the truth. (See How to Be Yourself for more on this example.) Kurt Lewin said that behavior is a function of both person and environment. (See more in my review of Moral Disengagement.) In The Lucifer Effect, we learned, through the Stanford prison experiment, just how powerful the effect of environment can be. We learned how people can behave one way in one environment and completely differently in another.

Johnathan Haidt explains how our behaviors are driven by a rider, an elephant, and a path. Our behaviors are rationally, emotionally, and environmentally based. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch.) It would seem silly to believe that people behave consistently when there are so many levels to the way that we make decisions, most of which aren’t available to our consciousness.

Maybe we’re fooled by the belief that others are consistent, because we know how hard it is to change our own behaviors. (See Change or Die and Willpower.) Whatever the reason, we believe that we’ll behave consistently across time and circumstances despite the evidence to the contrary.

Not Knowing and Not Questioning

One of the challenges of our human brains is that we stop questioning things when we forget where we learned them. One of the reasons for the extensive notes I take – and the extensive effort I put into writing these blogs – is to preserve the knowledge of where I found things. Over the years, I’ve found a few errors in citations. It was defective steel in the Brooklyn Bridge that required additional winding – not the Golden Gate Bridge, as was reported in one source. Nor does “Indiana” mean a headman and advisor to the king in Zulu – as was reported in Dialogue. (This turned out to be a simple transcription error.)

The problem is that people assumed that the environment made a difference, that parents made a difference, that bad kids were the responsibility of parents, and that they deserved some blame for their children not turning out to be model citizens. That assumption is something that Harris challenges.

More Alike

With at least 50% of the genetics between them and a home environment that is completely the same, one would expect siblings to turn out substantially more alike than they do. Anyone with two or a few children quickly realizes that they’re not the same. But the question is why? If 50% of our makeup is hereditary, then what is the other 50% made of? Surely it must be the environment – but The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike both systemically eliminate many of the theories for why people are different.

Birth order – perhaps because of the popularity of the book Born to Rebel – is given considerable time as a potential actor in the play of differing personalities, but its effects are tiny – if they exist at all. Otherwise, the environment that siblings are raised in seems to be relatively identical.

Microenvironments and Mutations

Identical twins are – at least genetically – identical at the time of their separation. It’s one egg and sperm that separates into two people. However, sometimes genetic differences – very small differences – occur due to random mutations. These random mutations can make very small changes in twins, which can sometimes drive them apart.

We know that some genes are environmentally triggered. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers speaks of Fetal Origins of Adult Disease (FOAD) – and how these aren’t generically triggered per se. Rather, they are genetic responses to environmental stressors. Two twins sitting side by side – or quite literally attached to one another, as in conjoined twins – may still experience life, just slightly differently, and those slight differences may make all the difference.

Imagine a peg board like the one in the TV show The Price is Right. The Plinko board allows for a token to be dropped at the top, and the token bounces its way down through the pegs to its final resting place. Small differences can cause a token to go left or right at each peg. This is also known as the Butterfly Effect, after the 1972 article by Edward Lorenz titled “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” The short is that, in a chaotic system like weather, we have no hope of capturing enough data to predict everything.

The same seems true of how our children’s personalities will develop. There are so many factors that we’ll never be able to accurately predict – or effectively shape – our children’s personalities. Each child lives in their own microenvironment, one unique just to them.

I vividly remember the day my son discovered that there were people who would steal. We were at the Indianapolis Zoo, and my wife and I had split up so I could look for something for my brother and his Fiancée’s wedding. She had our son and a wagon that we brought for him to ride in. She called me on the radios we bought to ask if I had taken the wagon. She had left it outside an exhibit. When she came back it was not to be found. I was already outside putting the gift in the car and began looking through the parking lot to see if I could find the person who had taken the wagon. Soon after, they joined me, and I eventually found the person who had taken the wagon and positively identified it, because my jacket was still in it. That was the day that my son learned about theft.

I couldn’t have shaped those events. I couldn’t have decided when he learned of theft. I had to respond to it when it came. The microenvironment of his life taught him a lesson that day – whether I was ready for it or not.

Academic Investigation

Rich is an interesting person, sitting outside the traditional academic world and focused on integrating disciplines instead of advancing a single discipline. Instead of being an expert in sociology or neurology, she artfully weaves the findings from each into a tapestry of ideas that point the way towards explanations for why children raised in the same household turn out so differently.

She’s like the chief detective in a murder-mystery book, who looks for the inconsistencies in one story and for other ways to understand or explain what is happening. This is exciting for me, because it resonates with my desire to connect thoughts from disparate disciplines and connect them or point out inconsistencies.

Amateurs

Often the term “amateurs” is used as a derogatory term by established elite, who believe that amateurs aren’t capable of the kind of progress that professionals – and particularly academic professionals – are. However, used as a pejorative term, it’s a weak one. Just months before this post, Smithsonian magazine posted “Will the Next Great Scientific Discovery Be Made by Amateurs?” It shares a few of the recent discoveries that amateurs participated in – and expectations that more discoveries will come from amateurs.

Amateurs hold a special place. They’re not bound by the assumptions of the profession. They don’t have to do things the same way that everyone else does them. They’re free to innovate and find their own way. (See The Medici Effect and Diffusion of Innovations.)

Consider that the research says that most therapies – whether talk-based or pharmacological – don’t work. They have marginal, if any, improvement for the patients. What does matter is a relationship – called therapeutic alliance – though it’s not clear that your bartender couldn’t give you that. (See The Heart and Soul of Change and Warning Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health.)

In fact, much of the entire field of psychology rests on pillars of salt. The psychological tests that many use have been repeatedly debunked but continue to be used in settings where their accuracy doesn’t approach any level of reliability. (See The Cult of Personality Testing.)

European Orphanages

For the most part, it seems that if you do a reasonable job with raising your children and don’t veer off course beyond the boundaries of what society expects, children are not permanently harmed by their childhoods, no matter what the psychologist of the week wants to make them believe. It’s easier to make someone believe that their unhappiness is their parents’ fault than it is to get someone to face the fact that they’re responsible for their own lives.

However, there are some cases – particularly, cases where children were deprived of stable social relationships – that do have lasting impacts. Orphanages in Eastern Europe denied children access to loving relationships and provided them with only the necessities of life. As a result, some of the adults rescued from this environment showed a host of psychological issues.

I had the opportunity to meet one such adult who had been in an orphanage in Eastern Europe. After several years with loving parents from the United States, she was overly friendly with the men she would meet – and several took advantage of that friendliness. She’s still seeking to heal the wounds left with her from her time in the orphanage. She’s still trying to learn how to be an adult and understand her intrinsic value.

Most children who are raised don’t have the social deficits that these children have and will grow up with personalities that, while not always pleasant for the parents, are in a normal range.

Children Teaching Children

Often parents today worry whether they’re spending enough time with their children. They’re concerned that they aren’t enriching their lives enough. However, Harris points out that, in most traditional societies, parents don’t interact with children much. Instead, children are raised by older children. A child is separated from their mother’s warm embrace at the time of the next child – typically after three or four years of age. After that, the older children of the group would look after the younger children.

Depending upon the size of the group, it may stay together or split along age lines, and eventually on age and gender lines. Smaller groups have one large group of children, and larger groups have age-specific groups. The self-categorization that happens in the children causes them to sort into groupings that are the most like them when the groups get large enough.

Self-Categorization

There are many words that could be used to describe me. Father. Son. Brother. Entrepreneur. Developer. Technologist. Pilot. The list goes on and on. No word fully expresses all my personality, but each can describe a facet of it. More importantly, I can switch between which facet of my personality I identify with as easy as crossing a room. All adults and children do this as well. One moment they identify with some aspect of themselves or a group to which they belong – and they can quickly change to another identification.

This is important, because each of the categorizations leads to a different set of behaviors. As a father, I take on an authoritarian (or authoritative) stance, helping my children to realize that I’m not their peer. As a son, I take an opposite attitude. The category that I leave myself in the most frequently begins to have dominance in how I behave and how others perceive me.

Bad Fit Stereotypes

Harris explains that she’s no good at fitting into stereotypes. I’m proud to say that I’m no good at it either. Use the developer stereotype, and you’ll find yourself thinking of someone who is so shy, they stare at people’s shoes when others talk to them. Use the entrepreneur stereotype, and you’ll expect me to hurl myself down mountains and surf the big waves in Hawaii. No matter what stereotype you attempt to use… I just don’t fit in.

Accepting this fact, that I don’t fit in, has taken many years. Children are – quite rightfully – disturbed by the lack of “fitting in,” which, in some sense, means fitting in with stereotypes.

Battle of Three Systems

Harris explains her theory that there are three different systems in operation in the human brain at the same time. There’s the relationship system that works to maintain favorable relationships with people. The second system is the socialization system that makes people want to fit in with a group. The third, and latest to develop system, is the status system that makes humans want to be better than one’s rivals. The status system gets much of its input from the mind reading systems in the brain – which, though functional at age four, needs some time to get good at its job. (See Mindreading.)

The personality we see from our children is the result of this epic battle. At one level, they want to make close friends, except when that means they don’t fit into a group – however they chose to define that group. More challenging, however, is how someone can be both a member of the group and above it in status at the same time.

As people move from group identification, where stereotypes live, to individual relationships, different mental processing systems are in use. As a result, Al Campanis can believe that Jackie Robinson is a great player and at the same time believe that blacks shouldn’t be managers. (See Mistakes Were Made for more on this example.)

Parental Influence

At the end of the day, do or don’t parents have impact on their children? They clearly have impact on their children, but most of it is indirect. The people that they move their child near and the groups that are formed by children dramatically influence a child’s personality and “lot in life.” Between random events and microenvironments, it’s impossible to really shape a child’s personality.

However, the good news is that this lets parents off the hook. They don’t have to be ashamed if their child doesn’t turn out perfect. They can – and should – still do what they can to support their children just like our ancestors did. However, we need not worry that we’re “doing parenting right,” because there is no one recipe when there are No Two Alike.