Seeds of Greatness: Roots & Wings
Course 5 – Non-Situational Integrity – Positive Self-Honesty
Please listen to the audio file first in each section as it contains greater detail than the written text. Then follow the instructions, if any, at then end of each lesson.
Lesson 1: Honesty Begins at Home
Integrity, a standard of personal morality and ethics, is not relative to the situation you happen to find yourself in and doesn’t sell out to expediency. Its short supply is getting even shorter—but without it, leadership is a facade.
Learning to see through exteriors is a critical development in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Sadly, most people continue to be taken in by big talk and media popularity, flashy or bizarre looks, and expensive possessions. They move through most of their years convinced that the externals are what count, and are thus doomed to live shallow lives. Men and women who rely on their looks or status to feel good about themselves inevitably do everything they can to enhance the impression they make—and do correspondingly little to develop their inner value and personal growth. The paradox is that the people who try hardest to impress are often the least impressive. Devotion to image is often for the money it can reap. Puffing to appear powerful is an attempt to hide insecurity. If only we could see many of our celebrities when their guard and pretenses were down!
The myth that all that counts is bottom-line success often leads to fleeting stardom and ultimate defeat. Ask a thousand has-beens. There are no degrees of integrity. You have it or you don’t, just as you’re pregnant or you’re not. And the learning of ethical standards begins at home. Children’s first tendencies toward a sense of right and wrong come in the subtle, almost imperceptible signals they receive while they are very young, long before they reach the age of rational thought about moral- ity. The single most powerful teaching tool is parental example. The old cliché, “Do as I say, not as I do!” is testimony to the prevalent problem of parental behavior not matching parental preaching. Values are often caught, by observing, rather than taught by lecturing.
Integrity that strengthens an inner value system is the real human bottom line. Commitment to a life of integrity in every situation demonstrates that your word is more valuable than a surety bond. It means you don’t base your decisions on being politically correct. You do what’s right, not what’s fashionable. You know that truth is absolute, not a device for manipulating others. And you win in the long run, when the stakes are highest.
Your children will do what they see you do. Your challenge as a leader is enormous, but so are the rewards. A life of principle—of not succumbing to the temptations of easy morality—will always win in the end, leading you to the real wealth of a clear conscience and not having to constantly check the rear-view mirror as you move forward.
The following anecdote—extracted from an article appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times—illustrates graphically what we are talking about. It’s powerful stuff and it’s titled:
“It’s O.K. Son, Everybody Does It.”
When Johnny was six years old, he was with his father riding in his car and his father was pulled over for speeding. His father handed the officer a volunteer-sheriff’s badge, and a $100 bill for a donation, along with his driver’s license. As they drove off without a citation, the father told him: “It’s OK, son, everybody does it.”
When he was eight, he was at a family meeting presided over by Uncle George, on the surest means to shave points off your income tax return. “It’s OK, kid,” his uncle said. “Everybody does it.” When he was nine, his mother took him to his first theater production. The person in the box office couldn’t find decent seats until his mother discovered an extra twenty dollars in her purse. “It’s OK, son,” she said, “Everybody does it.
When he was eleven, his aunt helped him get an additional “free” pair of prescription eyeglasses by filing an insurance claim that his first pair had been lost or stolen. “It’s OK, Johnny” his aunt said. “Everybody does it.”
When he was fifteen, he made first string right guard on the high school football team. His coach showed him how to block and, at the same time, grab the opposing end by the jersey so the officials couldn’t see it. “It’s OK, kid,” the coach said. “Everybody does it.”
When he was sixteen, he took his first summer job at the supermarket. His assignment was to put the overripe strawberries in the bottom of the boxes and the good ones on top where they would show. “It’s OK, kid” the manager said, “Everybody does it.” When he was eighteen, Johnny and a friend applied for a college scholarship. Johnny was a marginal student. His buddy was in the upper three percent of his class, but he couldn’t play right guard. Johnny got the scholarship. “It’s OK son” his par- ents assured him. “Everybody does it.”
When he was nineteen, he was approached by an upperclassman who offered him the test answers for fifty dollars. “It’s OK kid. Everybody does it.” Johnny was caught and sent home in disgrace. “How could you do this to your mother and me?” his father vented. “You never learned anything like this at home.” His aunt and uncle were also shocked. If there’s one thing the adult world can’t stand, it’s a kid who cheats. That message has the same impact as Harry Chapin’s classic song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” which ends with the poignant lines: “And when I hung up the phone it occurred to me, my son was just like me. Yeah. He grew up, just like me.”
Lesson 2: Living Without Wax (sine cera)
In the Roman Empire’s final corrupt years, status was conveyed by the number of carved statues of the gods displayed in people’s courtyards. As in every business, the Roman statue industry had good and bad sculptors and merchants. As the empire became ever more greedy and narcissistic, the bad got away with as much as they could. Sculptors became so adept at using wax to hide cracks and chips in marble that most people couldn’t discern the difference in quality. Statues began to weep or melt under the scrutiny of sunlight or heat in foyers.
For statues of authentic fine quality, carved by reputable artists, people had to go to the artisan marketplace in the Roman Quad and look for booths with signs declaring sine cera (without wax). We too look for the real thing in friends, products, and services. In people, we value sincerity—from sine cera—more than almost any other virtue. We should expect it from our leaders. We must demand it of ourselves.
Lesson 3: Value Investment Portfolio
(Listen to Audio Mp3)
The dictionary defines integrity in terms of soundness of moral character, adherence to ethical principles, and being unimpaired. Its middle English root is related to integrate—to bring together into a whole—and integral—complete, whole. Another relative is the mathematical integer, a whole number, not a fraction. These references to wholeness rightly suggest that integrity affects all aspects of our lives, which is why we like to refer to it as a healthy investment portfolio filled with blue chip stocks such as honesty, fairness, loyalty, courtesy, cooperation, compassion, generosity, and kindness.
What can we do to increase the dwindling integrity in our society today? Like charity, integrity begins at home. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a strong sense of ethical and moral values. Let them accept responsibility for their own actions as early as possible. The more sense of responsibility they develop, the better they will feel about themselves.
Above all, for integrity’s sake, teach them graciousness and gratitude and how to care about the rights and welfare of others. Teach your children that their true rewards in life will depend on the quality and amount of service they render. Show them, by example, how to treat others as they would have others treat them.
If we were writing a single commandment for leadership it would be: “You shall conduct yourself in such a manner as to set an example worthy of imitation by your children and subordinates.” In simpler terms, if they shouldn’t be doing it, neither should you.
When we told our kids to clean their rooms, for example, they took a closer look at the condition of our tools and possessions in the garage. When we told them that honesty was our family’s greatest virtue, they commented on the radar detector we had installed in our car. When we told them about the vices of drinking and wild parties, they watched from the upstairs balcony the way our guests behaved at our adult functions.
Integrity is easier preached than practiced. We go along for a while setting a good example, but sometimes we tell ourselves we need a break. The trouble is, our children and subordinates get confused. First they think we are being ourselves by modeling healthy behavior. When they see the unhealthy behavior coming from their leaders, they are puzzled and hurt at first, but then they catch on. They learn to play the game of “say one thing, do another.” The old clichẻ holds true: What you are speaks so loudly no one can really hear what you say. But it is even more true that if what you are matches what you say, your life will speak forcefully indeed.
Maybe you’re asking yourself what kind of model you are for future generations, remembering that people are either honest or dishonest, that integrity is all or nothing, and that children can’t be fooled in such basic matters. They learn by example.
Lesson 4: The Integrity Triad
One of the principles of integrity is to defend your convictions in the face of great social pressure. Consider this true story about an abdominal surgery performed in a large, well-known hospital. It was the surgical nurse’s first day on the medical team. Responsible for ensuring that all instruments and materials were accounted for before completing the operation and sewing up the incision, she told the surgeon that he had removed only eleven sponges. “We used twelve and we need to find the last one,” she reported. “No, I removed them all,” the doctor declared emphatically. “We’ll close the incision now.” “No,” the rookie nurse objected, “we used twelve sponges.” “I’ll take the responsibility,” the surgeon said grimly. “Suture, please.” “You can’t do that, sir,” blazed the nurse. “Think of the patient!” The surgeon lifted his foot, revealing where he had hidden the twelfth sponge. “You’ll do just fine in this or any other hospital,” he said, smiling.
Don’t back down when you know you’re right.
A second key integrity principle is always to give others the credit that’s rightfully theirs, never fearing anyone who has a better idea or is smarter than you.
David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy and Mather, made this point to newly appointed office heads by sending them a babushka, which is a painted Russian doll with five progressively smaller dolls nestled inside. His message to his new executives was in the smallest doll: “If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we’ll become a company of dwarves. But if each of us hires people bigger than we are, we’ll become a company of giants.” And that is precisely what Ogilvy and Mather became, one of the world’s largest and most respected advertising firms.
Look up to those beneath you.
Our third integrity principle is to be honest and open about who you really are. Be yourself. Don’t exaggerate your achievements. Don’t get trapped in a cover-up of past mistakes, even of personal traits that dissatisfy or displease you. When the going is tough, be tough by facing reality with adult responses. Use the good and the bad as material for personal growth.
Accept responsibility for your decisions.
Can you think of a successful relationship without integrity? I doubt it. All are based on mutual trust. Break that trust and you break the relationship. Subvert it and it’s almost impossible to put together again. Creating a long-term relationship takes two or more people—whether executives, representatives of labor and management, parent and child, or husband and wife who are grounded in and operating on the same non-situational integrity. Nothing less will last.
When Fortune magazine asked the CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies what they considered the most important qualities for hiring and promoting top executives, the unanimous consensus was that integrity and trustworthiness were by far the key qualities. That survey of leading businessmen—not of preachers or motivational speakers—speaks for itself.
Here are some action ideas to help solidify your integrity:
- Justice and fair play are integrity’s core values. Go out of your way to model honesty and fairness for your family.
- Set high standards of ethics for yourself and family. Your single most powerful teaching tool is not talking about what’s right, but quietly doing it. A parent who lectures about obeying the rules, but constantly breaks them, is making an especially powerful negative statement.
- Give your best in the worst of times. Personal integrity knows no season and doesn’t hinge on the weather, the stock market report, or the leading economic indicators. You have it or you don’t.
- As our friend Dr. Ted Engstrom advises in his book Integrity, chart your course by the north star of con- science by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Charting your course by the north star means you are stable, constant, and resolute. You base your decisions on principle, on your immovable belief system.
- Teach your family to respect diversity in culture and heritage. Welcome the foreigner. Work hard at under- standing other religions, cultures, languages, and points of view.
Lesson 5: Living the Golden Rule
What would you do if you found a wallet with a great deal of money in it? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Would your answer depend on whether you were alone, when you found it? What about if one of your children or friends were with you when you found it? Would the situation make any difference?
In a workshop we give for junior high and high school students on non-situational leadership, we get the kids involved in a circular, interactive exercise. We throw a wallet in the center of the room, where we are all sitting in a circle. In the wallet, there is a driver’s license, some credit cards, photos, and eight $100 dollar bills. We ask the students one by one, what each would do if he or she found the wallet on a deserted street, where no one else was around, on the way home from school. The answers are always very revealing, although sometimes kids try to be clever or humorous in a peer group rather than be totally objective.
We all smile at each other and then a typical answer is offered by one of the kids: “Wow, that would be awesome. I’d keep the eight $100 dollar bills as my reward, and mail the wallet and the rest of the contents back to the address on the driver’s license.”
Another student said, “Well, make sure not to put your return address on the envelope, because then the person may try to track you down to ask you whether there was any money in the wallet when you found it.”
We also asked the student who said it would be tempting to keep the money, how this windfall of dollars would be explained to parents and friends. What if the word got around, and ultimately got back to the person who had lost the wallet in the first place? Would you simply say, “Losers weepers, finders keepers?”
Then we began to talk about the wallet in special situational terms. What if the driver’s license showed that the wallet belonged to a friend or acquaintance? What if, by coincidence, it belonged to your own Mother? They laughed at that thought and someone chimed in, “I’d only keep half the money as my reward, if it belonged to my Mom.”
What if you recognized the driver’s license photo as that of the elderly woman down the street who was living on her Social Security check and had to go to the clinic every week for kidney dialysis, and must have dropped her wallet getting off the bus? The students all agreed, somberly, that in each of these specific situations, it would be best to return the wallet, intact, with all the money in it.
Then we asked the class, the bottom-line question: “What if you had eight $100 bills in your wallet, which you were going to use for a summer trip to Europe on a student tour. You were in the airport ready to board and made a stop in the restroom, inadvertently leaving your wallet on the sink, while you washed your hands, and—hearing the boarding call for your flight— ran out without thinking? As you board the plane, you realize you had lost your wallet, and run out the door, explaining your dilemma to the flight attendant and gate agent. You then race with your heart pounding back to the restroom.
We asked the kids, if they were in that situation, what would they hope? They all agreed in unison. “That the wallet is on the sink where I left it!” And we ask them, “What do you hope is in the wallet?” And they all yell, “Eight one hundred dollar bills, my photo ID, and the credit card.”
And then we offer another scenario: “But suppose another student or someone else has picked up your wallet? What do you hope she or he does?”
They reply that they hope the person finding my wallet turns it in to the agent at the boarding gate or to airport security with all my money still in it. “Good,” we respond. “So how do you treat a wallet that you find on the street, or in a store, or at school, or in a restroom? And they reply, “We treat the wallet like it belongs to our best friend, or our own mother, or the elderly woman who needs the money.” And there is always the absolute correct answer to the question. “We should treat the wallet the same way we would want others to treat the wallet, if it belonged to us.”
“Congratulations,” we agreed and nodded approvingly. “Honesty and integrity are non-situational. When you have an inner standard for judging your performance or behavior, you have the foundation for true self-respect.”
Lesson 6: Your Children Are Your Most Valued Customers
Here is a list of actual complaints that were registered by children about their parents to Dr. Gary Smalley, one of our favorite counselors and authors on healthy relationships. These are from his excellent book, The Key to Your Child’s Heart. They could easily be complaints we adults encounter each day about retail sales clerks, airline employees, restaurant and hotel personnel, hospital workers, and insurance companies. But remember, these are the complaints of young children about their parents at home.
- They have little or no interest in things that really matter to me
- They break promises they make.
- The make me feel unnoticed or unappreciated, by ignoring me.
- They don’t consider me as a thinking, feeling person.
- They appear too busy to care about me and listen to me.
- They don’t spend time to understand what I am trying to say.
- They speak before thinking through how it will affect me.
- They don’t explain the reasons behind decisions involving me.
- They build me up and then let me down by not following through.
- They make me feel like they wish they had never had me in the first place.
Wow! Do you see the similarity about what these kids feel about their parents, to what you and I, as adults, run into every day in our normal business and personal transactions? The parallels are uncanny.
Now this next list of complaints, also from kids of the same ages about their parents, could also apply inside an organization as to the way management and others neglect the “internal” customers; in other words, those who report to them and support them. Think about leadership when you hear these youthful statements that kids make about their parents:
- They give me the feeling they never make mistakes.
- They are not gentle when they point out my weaknesses and shortcomings.
- They give me the feeling my opinions really don’t matter.
- They bring up old mistakes from the past to deal with present problems.
- They tell me how to do something that I was already doing on my own.
- They do the very things they tell me not to do.
- They punish me for something for which I had already been punished.
- They lecture me, when all I really need is their support.
- They take me for granted.
- They criticize me, without reminding me they still love me.
These are the simple complaints of children like ours. We, as parents, can listen and learn. We, as leaders, managers, and bosses can listen and learn. And all of must learn that everyone we meet is our customer. If we, as parents, are committed to treating our children with the same respect we are committed to treating our customers or our best friends, our families would be much healthier and stronger. Think for a moment how quickly we get angry or lose patience with our own children. But when our friends’ or neighbors’ children spill a cup of milk on our kitchen or dining room table, we shrug it off and say: “Oops, don’t worry, no big deal. Here, let’s clean it up and get you a fresh cup. Accidents happen.” And we grab some paper towels.
When our own children spill their milk, sometimes we’re not as considerate, especially if we have had a hard day at the office or other place of business, or if our children had also tested our patience earlier in the day. Anger is something we deal with every day. The subject could be addressed in any of our course modules. It certainly involves our self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-determination, and requires our self-discipline, which is the subject of the next major course module. We believe it belongs in the roots section of our program and we’re including it in this module on self-honesty, because the secret to dealing with anger is in being totally honest with ourselves and why we react to our children the way we do.
Lesson 7: Dealing With Anger
No matter what your parenting style, you can sabotage it—and your relationship with your youngster—by how you act when you get angry. Sure, it’s easy to become angered. Spilled milk is not a real issue. There are many situations much more likely to provoke feelings of frustration and anger in you as a parent. Your child purposely disobeys…or doesn’t think about the consequences of what he or she is doing…or is rude and disrespectful…or, well, the possibilities are endless! And probably inevitable. But what’s not inevitable is how you respond when irritating behavior occurs. You can easily cause more anger in you and in your child depending on how you react.
There are three important questions you need to be able to answer if you are to deal with your own anger: When is it valid? When is it needless? When does it become a problem? When is it valid? It’s always valid. Anger is an emotion, a feeling. When your son’s inattentiveness results in a crumpling of the fender of the family car, you have a right to feel anger. Acknowledge that. Rather than feeling guilty about being angry, you should acknowledge that anger is occurring, then try to get to the bot- tom of it, which leads to the second question.
When is it needless? Anger is needless when it doesn’t do any good and it makes matters worse by upsetting you, your child, and those around you, too. If you yell and scream at your son that’s he “an idiot” for denting the car, does that make the fender whole? No. Does it make him a better driver? Probably not. Does it help improve this situation? Again, probably not. Does it worsen the whole situation. You bet!
If it doesn’t help, it’s needless anger. But anger often becomes needless because of the way you use it. If you think clearly and act accordingly, you may be able to transform needless anger into what’s called adaptive anger. Name-calling and cursing about the dented fender is needless. But if you can use your anger to finally get motivated to get the kid long-delayed driving les- sons, that’s something else. Or to talk to him about the high cost of car insurance and how he needs to contribute to paying the increase that’ll be levied because of this mishap. Anger, thus, can be a source of energy.
Becoming more familiar with both the positive and negative functions of anger will help you know when your anger is need- less. What’s positive about anger? Well, for one thing, it energizes you. The body girds for self-defense. Blood pressure rises, adrenaline flows, breathing becomes more rapid, stamina grows, and in general, the body prepares for a fight. That doesn’t mean you have to fight. Rather, it means you’re stronger, more physically capable.
Second, anger is a release. It’s a way of venting tension and communicating our negative feelings to others. How we do that communicating is the key.
Third, anger imparts information about people and situations. It yields a clue that there’s something worrisome or threatening going on. It signals to us a problem that needs to be dealt with. But on the flip side, anger has lots of negatives. It can confuse our thinking and cause us to act impulsively, without considering the consequences. It can put us in a defensive posture in which we seek to protect our pride at all costs. Perhaps most importantly, anger can prompt aggression as we try to take it out on something or someone.
You can seek to reduce needless anger by minimizing anger’s negative function but using its positive ones. When you feel your- self getting angry, ask yourself:
Am I using my anger as a release and a source of energy to defend myself against being abused or treated unfairly? Am I finding out important information about a problem I need to deal with? If so, that’s adaptive.
Lesson 8: Effective Anger Management
Even the most calm among us experiences needless anger at some point. Don’t beat yourself up for that. But do be alert to whether it happens too often. Try to make a distinction between the times when anger is useful and when it’s harmful. It’s harmful when it happens too often. It’s harmful when it’s too severe, too intense and wildly disproportionate to the cause. It’s harmful when it lasts too long; a long-lasting anger keeps the body in an abnormal state and, more important, may get in the way of a resolution of the conflict.
Anger is harmful when it interferes with your doing a good job or being generally liked by people. And, of course, it’s harmful when it leads to aggression. Both verbal aggression, such as calling someone a name, or physical aggression are signs that your anger has become a major problem. If it’s any or all of these, you probably need to seek professional help, such as a therapist. Your anger threatens to ruin your relationship with your children and probably with others as well. But even if your anger is not a “problem,” you ought to be aware of how you deal with it. There are three basic kinds or styles of anger management. Usually we learn to use one of these styles as youngsters by the way our parents dealt with anger or the way they handled ours.
Stufﬁng is when you avoid the person or situation that is provoking the anger and “stuff ” it inside by denying it exists. But, of course, it does exist; you are just hiding it. Maybe you hide it because your parents made it clear that expressing anger was a no-no. Or maybe you fear hurting the other person, or you fear rejection, or aren’t confident you’ll be able to deal with the emotional upset of a conflict. So you walk away even when you’re boiling inside. Stuffing is not a good anger-management style because, for one thing, stuffed anger is inevitably expressed in some other form. It might be migraine headaches, ulcers, depression, sleeplessness, or obesity, but it’s expressed nonetheless.
Secondly, whatever provoked your anger is unchanged. You haven’t confronted the person or the issue. So the provocation continues as does the stuffing and its harmful effects. Denying you are angry and withdrawing is not compatible with a good relationship with your child (or anyone else). You don’t take the opportunity to work out the problem. Instead, tension rises until, eventually, there is an explosion. Then you hear: “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
Escalating is another way of handling anger, and it’s at least equally bad. The “escalator” gives free rein to the instinctual fight response by returning fire. Each purported attack is countered with an equal or more vicious response: “You think I’m a nincompoop? Well, you’re a _ .” Or you ask accusatory questions: “How do you dare think that?” or “Who gave you a right to say that?” Or you blame: “It’s all your fault, you _ !” Or try to shame: “How could you say that to your dear mother who bore you and raised you and scraped and scratched and did without nice things in order to get you through school?”
Again, this is a counterproductive style because through your ranting and raving, you’re seeking to control the situation by making things worse. The result: Nothing gets solved. Even if your opponent is intimidated into backing off temporarily, the problem is heightened, and you can literally kill yourself with a heart attack if you do this a lot.
Constant escalating is a terrible habit that destroys relationships and often brings violence with it.
Directing is a more productive anger style. A director tells his opponent clearly and appropriately why he is angered. He makes eye contact, keeps his voice level in check, and says something like, “I am angry because you deceived me” or “I want you to tell me the whole truth.” People who express anger directly get their message across without belittling the other person, with- out bottling up the anger inside of themselves, and without, in effect, throwing gasoline on the flames. They don’t call their antagonist a nasty name, and they don’t try to accuse, shame, or blame. Instead, they state how the other person’s words or actions affect them. (“When you do that, I feel like _ .” Or, “It makes me when you say those things. Can you under- stand why I would feel that way?”)
Being a director isn’t easy, especially if you grew up in a household of stuffers or escalators. But it’s a powerful technique and worth practicing. Directing your anger, however, isn’t a panacea. Your child may slough off your attempts at anger management by either ignoring your message or by getting defensive. This can lead to frustration, further anger of your own, and, at worse, escalation.
Let’s say you try to talk to him about the dented fender: “Son, we need to talk about that trouble with the car.”
”Whatever,” he says blankly, looking away or walking from the room.
Or worse, he responds defiantly, “Sue me. I don’t care.”
Or worse yet, “What a joke! You’re the world’s worst driver. And you taught me to drive—if you can call that ‘teaching’—so how can you be such a hypocrite and criticize me when you’re such a complete idiot behind the wheel? Everybody thinks so. Even my friends laugh at the totally dumb way you drive.” He may throw in a swear word or two, just to try to rattle you.
He’s playing defense, trying to knock you off balance and block your attempt at communication. That’s what some people do to avoid confronting anger or dealing with distress. How do you respond? Well, your job just got harder, but you need to stick with your plan of directing your anger, not stuffing or escalating it. Don’t yield to the temptation to reply in kind.
Here’s how you might reply to keep the dialogue on track:
You: “The ‘whatever’ is that there’s several hundred dollars damage to the car. Perhaps you and I both need to improve our driving, and we can talk about that. But, in any event, we need to figure out how to prevent this from happening again.”
If he walks away, follow him. If he won’t talk now, promise him you’ll talk later—and do so.
Him: “Sue me, I don’t care.”
You: “I think you do care. You’re a good kid, and this is not the end of the world. But we need to come up with a plan for how to avoid this kind of thing in the future. Work with me on this.”
Him: “What a joke! You’re the world’s worst driver. And you taught me to drive—if you can call that ‘teaching’—so how can you be such a hypocrite and criticize me when you’re such a complete idiot behind the wheel? Everybody thinks so. Even my friends laugh at the totally dumb way you drive.”
You: “Well, you’ve got a point there. But the more pressing point is the car outside with the banged-up fender, which you were driving at the time. How are we going to keep this from happening again?”
All three of your responses are based on the same tactic: You overcome defensiveness by not becoming defensive yourself. When you communicate non-defensively, you persist in a non-hostile way, and you limit the physical expression of anger. That makes it easier to come up with alternative ways of getting your message across.
“If you want things to be different,” said our dear friend, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, “perhaps the answer is to become different yourself.”
Is your mode of anger expression sabotaging your style? In the real world and in real life, we all get angry. Don’t be too critical of yourself for that. But do try to channel it in the most useful ways. Failure to do so just creates more anger in you and in your child. After all, you’re supposed to be the mature one. So show it by taking really strong steps toward directing, not stuffing or escalating it.
Here’s a short course on what to do the next time you feel a stab of anger:
Step 1: Breathe. (Focus on your breath if only for a moment or two. That’ll help calm you.)
Step 2: Relax. (Try to take a longer view. Whatever your child has done or said probably won’t account for much over the long term.)
Step 3: Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. (Is it to immediately resolve the issue? It probably shouldn’t be. Instead, what you should be aiming for is a dialogue with your child that will lead to a more ap- propriate response to such situations in the future.)
Step 4: Aim away. (Don’t counterpunch and escalate the argument. Focus on keeping the conversation going but directing it toward a solution devoid of blame or shame or name-calling.)
Step 5: Persist. (Don’t let the child’s defensiveness sidetrack your effort to move toward a workable solution.)
Step 6: Keep focused on the future. (Don’t belabor the past or fret about the present. Imagine the relationship you would like to have with your child a year from now, in five years, or even in 10 years. That’s what you’re working toward, not just scoring a point in this dispute.)
Lesson 9: To Thine Own Self Be True
William Shakespeare interpreted our individual differences and our responsibility for recognizing those differences when, in Hamlet, he had Polonius say; “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou can not then be false to any man or woman.” Shakespeare didn’t mean “if it feels good do it.” He really meant that “when in Rome, you don’t have to do as the Romans do!” We should live according to our deep moral convictions, our integrity, and our social conscience. This is being true to ourselves, while respecting the rights of others.
Before you decide on a course of action or response to any situation, ask yourself these three questions:
- Is this action honestly what I believe I should do?
- Does what I say agree with what I do?
- What effect will this decision have on the other people involved? In other words, will it lead to a solution or magnify a problem?
Best-selling author John Grisham has written a number of great books, some of which have been made into popular motion pictures, including The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client. He said that he refused to write anything that might embarrass his mother or his children. Our friend and journalist, Linda Ellerbee, advised doing what you believe is right. She refused to exploit victims of tragedy by interviewing them and instead found other ways to express the sadness of the situation. And, Maria Shriver, respected TV commentator and former First Lady of California, once turned down an important interview with a foreign leader because she had promised to be with her daughter on her first day of pre-school. The result? Two weeks later the interview was rescheduled, and the foreign leader’s staff all wanted to know how Shriver’s daughter was adjusting to the new school.
When you are true to yourself and your deepest moral convictions, you feel comfortable with yourself. When
you are comfortable with yourself, you can deal with the stresses of your family life and the challenges of the outside world with calm and confidence.
Seeds of Greatness: Roots (5 Courses)
Seeds of Greatness: Wings (5 Courses)