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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. ~ Katherine Paterson

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nothing Is Bad?

Elsewhere on this blog I have pointed out how nearly-identical stories can arise in separate corners of the world. For example, I've offered the Judgement of Solomon paired with a Birbal story from Moghul India; I've shown the connection between Chicken Little and one of the Jataka tales of Buddha. Whenever I find stories that have a separated-at-birth twin story elsewhere in the world, I sit up and take notice: there is something powerful to be learned here, something that may be universal to human nature. I remind myself to listen well!

Here are two such stories, both with something to say about being too quick to judge - or maybe about judging in the first place.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hurricane is Coming!

Hurricane Irene headed my family’s way recently.  Were we scared?  No.  Did we decide to cut short our RV vacation by one night in order to avoid being pushed around by Irene on the I-87 battling her high winds and rain?  Yes.  Were my children anxious about the storm brewing down south heading our direction?  No.  Why not?  Well, as a family we decided to opt for courage instead of fear in this case.  We made sure to get all the information first, and then we made a couple sound decisions.  We checked we had a flashlight or two, some water and extra provisions, and we charged our cellular phones.  We also decided to still use our tickets for a five-minute hot air balloon ride we'd purchased before we hit the road home, before the winds started to blow.  Granted, we were not in the eye of the storm and many folks on the East Coast needed to be much braver than us.  That said, I decided to reframe this whole experience as an adventure.  Having kids in your life will help you develop this healthy habit! 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Here is a social courage challenge especially for Westerners (tweens through adults), for whom physical affection between friends tends to be somewhat reserved.  Next time you are in public with your closest friend, link arms, hold hands, or walk with arms across one another's shoulders.  Do you feel self-conscious?  Are there places or situations where you feel less comfortable doing this than in others?  What a great opportunity for you and your friend to have a conversation about how others see you and your friendship, and how you yourselves see it.  We too often forget that in many parts of the world, this is perfectly standard practice between men and men, and between women and women.  And no-one assumes they're gay!

Other ways to test the limits of "personal space" and social courage is to stand close to the only other person on the elevator instead of retreating to the opposite side, or taking a seat near the only other occupant of a bus, movie theater, park bench or restaurant.  You might get some dirty looks! Go ahead, test yourself.  What sorts of feelings does it bring up for you?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children, Courage, and Adaptive Capacity

The committee defined an earthquake-resilient nation as "one in which its communities, through mitigation and predisaster preparation, develop the adaptive capacity to maintain important community functions and recover quickly when major disasters occur." - National Institute of Standards and Technology, New Study Maps Out Steps to Strengthen U.S. Resilience to Earthquakes

The adaptation projects made possible by the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund will increase the adaptive capacity of wildlife and their habitats to new conditions precipitated by climatic changes. - Wildlife Conservation Society, press release
But the one competence that I now realize is absolutely essential for leaders - the key competence - is adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is what allows leaders to adapt quickly and intelligently to relentless change. - Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leade
One of the assumptions that underpins Lion's Whiskers is the assumption of a changing world. We all know change is inevitable; what we don't know is what form that change will take, or what the magnitude of it will be. Climate scientists are trying to piece together what they know and predict the effects on the ecosystem; economists and business leaders are studying world markets and trying to extrapolate what will create tomorrow's prosperity; social and political scientists are looking at trends in human behavior and trying to imagine where those trajectories will take our society.

Adaptive capacity is an idea that applies to ecological and human systems, and refers to the ability of that system to manage change while maintaining integrity or without losing function. (Species extinction is one way to manage change - but it doesn't maintain integrity for the species!) How great the adaptive capacity of a system is determines how well it can manage change.

How does this apply to parenting, and to children, and courage? The most fundamental human system is the individual. A person who is rigid physically, emotionally, intellectually - an inflexible person - is not going to adapt well to change. For many people, change is an alarming prospect; yet we know change will come no matter what. Strengthening our courage and our children's courage may be a useful way to develop adaptive capacity. It's also possible that it goes the other way - developing our adaptive capacity may strengthen our courage! Maybe it goes both ways at the same time. Maybe they are the same thing!

We have talked from the beginning about strengthening all six types of courage by trying new things. It may be that the process of trying new things - any new things - counts more than what the things are. Our willingness to experiment, break old habits, question our paradigms, risk making mistakes and greet change as a friend rather than an enemy may help us live longer and happier lives.

This is not about being changed by exterior forces, but changing from within as circumstances (our environment, our social relationships, our knowledge) changes. Nourishing our children's adaptive capacity may be as important as nourishing their growing bodies. Adaptive capacity is now a buzzword in longevity research, sustainability, leadership studies and business. Let's make it a buzzword for parenting, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
                                                     - William James

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Belling the Cat

A fable from Aesop, in which we see a lack of both moral courage and physical courage...

A large community of mice had been comfortable in the barn for many generations. Then, like a bolt of lightning, a cat appeared out of nowhere, picking them off without regard for age or prestige - a patriarch yesterday, a nursing mother today - even the bold buck mice were keeping in their holes.

"Council! Call a council!" the mice began to squeal.

Under the floorboards, the mice congregated in a great huddle. Over their heads was the soft pad-pad-pad of the hunting cat.

"We've got to do something," the head mouse said. "Who has an idea?"

They all looked at each other, but hesitated to make eye contact. Finally, one young mouse piped up. "If we had a warning system, and could hear him coming, we'd have a better chance of escaping."

"See! See!" his friends squealed. "Great idea!"

Even the big mice were impressed, and they all put their heads together to figure out what kind of warning system would work. There was much chitting and chatting about systems and techniques and devices. At last a big gray mouse stamped his foot. "I've got it! A bell! If that cat had a bell hung around his neck, we'd hear him wherever he went!"

The mice crowd erupted in wild cheers. Friends clapped the genius on the back and congratulated him, and he looked pleased and proud. There was some talk of replacing the head mouse with this fellow, and some of the young mice started planning a party to celebrate. At last the clapping died down. An uneasy silence descended, and again the footsteps of the cat could be heard overhead.

"So," said a granny mouse looking around. "Who's going to put the bell on that cat?"

Not a peep.

Monday, August 22, 2011

About Stories

"[Stories] serve as mirrors in which a group of people can see themselves. More specifically and more often, they are like those mirrors in which we apply make up or even disguises, designing images of who we think we are, how we believe we should appear to the world, and how we think we should perform in it."

David Leeming and Jake Page, Myths, Legends and Folktales of America

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"You take your life in your own hands, and what happens?  A terrible thing: no one to blame."
~ Erica Jong

Friday, August 19, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Do nothing!   Set a timer for five minutes, and then sit quietly doing nothing other than breathing, and letting your thoughts pass across your mind without judgment like clouds passing across the sky.  Try not to check the timer.  Don't make plans for what you'll do when the five minutes are up.   Try this challenge with your kids.  Next time you're considering giving your child a time-out, give both of you the time-in together for five minutes of silence.  Will you need courage to set aside the busy-ness of your life for five minutes?  Sometimes, when we don't build time into our lives for quiet contemplation we become reactive instead of mindfully responding in line with our life-affirming values.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Hansel and Gretel Moment

When I was just entering 1st grade, my father’s job took him to Switzerland. We would all live in Zurich for a year, and my sister and I would go to school there. The company had found us an apartment, but it wasn’t yet ready for us when we arrived, and we spent a week or two living in a hill-top hotel while my father began work. The school I was to attend was just for grades one and two; my sister, in third grade, was going somewhere else.

Before my first day of class, the headmaster came to our hotel and walked us to my school. Our route followed sidewalks and sets of stairs down the hill toward the shore of Lake Zurich, and my school turned out to be a beautiful old house across from a park. It all seemed very delightful. I was well satisfied.

The next day, my sister was given instructions to make sure I got on the bus back to the hotel at the end of the school day; our school bus would be stopping first at her school, and then coming to get the smallest kids. At the end of school, I waited out front, watching the buses come and go, and all the children departing. If my sister was waving frantically from a bus window I never saw her. When it was clear there were no more buses, I decided as only a 7-year-old can, well, I walked here yesterday, I’ll just walk back.

I set out confidently, marching up any set up stairs I came to, striding along the sidewalks, zig-zagging my way in an uphill direction. I have no idea how long it was before I realized that I really had no clue which sidewalks and which stairs to take. It finally dawned on me that I was completely lost. In a foreign country. And I was seven.

That was when I got scared.

Most of the fairy tales I’d heard so far were more or less localized to this place – if this wasn’t the Black Forest of Germany, Switzerland nevertheless had children named Hansel and Gretel. When I realized I would have to knock on somebody’s door and ask for help, the quiet and orderly Swiss neighborhood took on a terrifying hue. In my memory, that moment featured sunshine suddenly blotted out by dark clouds. Before me was a house, selected at random to be the site of my ordeal. What witch might open the door I dreaded to discover.

The terror of that moment is clear to me by the fact that I remember nothing after bursting into tears as the door opened, and I sobbed, “Hotel Sonnenberg! Hotel Sonnenberg!” My next clear memory is saying good-bye to the white-haired old lady (good witch) who had answered the door. She had given me an apple and put me in a taxi, sending me to the hotel and my frantic mother.

All told, I hadn’t been missing for very long. By the time the Jennifer-less bus had arrived I was already well on my journey, and the minutes were short between my mother’s first frightened knowledge that I was lost, and the phone call from the good witch.

I don’t know if the experience would have been more or less scary if my imagination hadn’t been fully stoked with fairy tales already. But it seemed to me at the time that this was the stuff of story, that indeed this was exactly what happened to little children in stories; if I was the hero of my own story then I must do the difficult thing, and do my best to face whatever witch, giant or ogre I found behind the door. I had to muster my emotional courage and raise my hand to knock.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

Don't try to be different. Just be good. To be good is different enough. ~Arthur Freed

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hansel and Gretel

A number of years ago I was teaching a writing workshop in an elementary school. I thought it would be instructive and interesting and fun to have all the kids write their own version of a well-known tale. This, I figured, would eliminate the very large problem of the children needing to invent plots, and allow them to focus on writing description and dialog. We'd all tell our own version of Hansel and Gretel, one of the most iconic of the Grimms' tales.

Sorry to say, this plan fell apart at the start, because so many of the kids did not know the story! I was flabbergasted. I can understand not having an intimate acquaintance with Fenrir the Wolf or the Birbal stories, but Hansel and Gretel? If you are one of those students, grown up and with kids of your own, here it is:

Hansel and Gretel, by the Brother's Grimm

or you may prefer a plot summary 

There has been much fascinating (and some wacky) scholarship and analysis about this story over the years - Freudian, Jungian, Marxist, Feminist, Historical, Modernist - you name it.  But I suspect most children take it at face value, as I did: two little children learn that because there is not enough food, their parents are going to abandon them, and they must summon the courage and resourcefulness to survive on their own and defeat a cannibal witch.  There probably aren't a whole lot of things more frightening to kids than being abandoned by their own parents.  I even suspect that for some kids, the witch is less frightening than the initial betrayal and abandonment.  By taking this story to heart, perhaps children have a chance to imagine what that might feel like, and to follow Hansel and Gretel courageously through the forest to a sweet victory.

Monday, August 15, 2011

About Stories

"[The] prevalent parental belief is that a child must be diverted from what troubles him most, his formless, nameless anxieties, and his chaotic, angry, and even violent fantasies. Many parents believe that only conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to the child - that he should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. But such one-sided fare nourishes the mind only in a one-sided way, and real life is not all sunny."

~ Bruno Bettelheim

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ten Tips for Talking about Tough Stuff with Kids

Every family faces difficult  discussions.  Among the most difficult:  separation and divorce, abuse, disasters, illness, death, sex, and adoption.  My training in child development, family therapy, and parent-coaching has taught me the importance of honest, informed, and proactive parent-child communication.  My trial-by-error training as a parent teaches me to be prepared for the many unscripted, sometimes uncomfortable, yet healing conversations with kids…and to trust in our ability to handle the tough topics.  Read my last post for a poignant example of how I talked about some tough stuff with my son.  
Read on to learn ten tips for talking about tough stuff with your kids...

Friday, August 12, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Stop Dominating Me!

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

It is commonly understood that habits are formed or broken in as little as thirty days.  Much of the time we are unaware of the habits that define us, instead opting to run on auto-pilot.  Today, we are suggesting that you turn off the auto-pilot.  The first step to making any kind of change is becoming conscious of how our routines, thinking and reacting to life can dominate us.  Routines can provide a great deal of comfort, but they can also box us in, particularly when they are not healthy habits.  Before your children's habits and routines become ingrained, you can set a powerful example of flexibility in thinking, feeling and behaving.

Here's a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to turn off the auto pilot.

 Grab Some Lion's Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler:   On your walk today (or drive) to a daily destination, take a different route than usual.  Announce that you'll be taking a new path and see what he or she notices.  Notice, yourself, if it seems to bring up any discomfort for your child, or if instead there's excitement for exploring new territory.
  • PreschoolerDoes your child have a security object?  Try proposing that a different teddy bear or blankie go through the day with your child. (Book recommendation: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems).  If that one is too alarming, try mixing up the bedtime routine.  Have your child "read" the bedtime story to you, or have someone else do the tucking in - or have your child tuck you in, if you're an early-to-bed sleeper.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stolen Thunder

Talking about secrets with my daughter turned out to be more complicated than I expected. A few months ago I asked her to deliver a sealed letter to one of the teachers at school whom I had been unable to reach by email. When K. asked what it was about, I said, “Well, it’s … a secret.”

“But you said you shouldn’t have secrets!”

“This is a different kind of secret,” I said. “I have to talk with her about some exciting news she has to announce, but she hasn’t done it yet, and it’s not for me to steal her thunder ."

I think of all the exciting announcements we may get to make in our lives. “We’re getting married!” or “I got the promotion!” or “His cancer is in complete remission!” I have a friend who has a habit of beating people to the punch with good news, saying things like, “So-and-So is pregnant. Act really surprised when she tells you.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk." ~ Carl Jung

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Birbal Reveals the Thief

Here we have another Birbal story. Intellectual courage allows us to try unconventional methods.  At the same time, lack of social courage may be our undoing.

At the palace of Akbar, the emperor, a robbery was discovered. One of the royal advisors was missing a valuable piece of jewelry – a thief must have broken into the palace.

Birbal, listening to the advisor’s story, spoke up. “It could not have been a thief from outside. This palace is too well guarded. No, the thief is someone who lives here. I can find who it is.”

The emperor looked at Birbal with surprise and amusement. “Are you so sure, Birbal?”

“Let a donkey be brought to the main courtyard, and have all who live within these walls come there,” Birbal said.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Courage Book Review - The Daring Book for Girls

The Daring Book for GirlsLast week I talked about The Dangerous Book for Boys. This week it's the girls' turn, with The Daring Book for Girls, a sister volume.  Using the same old-fashioned design sensibility and tone, this book offers girls their own hodgepodge handbook with  essential tools for a toolbox, how to paddle a canoe, math tricks, silly pranks to play on friends, slumber party games, cat's cradle, how to pop a wheelie on your bike, how to write a thank-you letter, flower pressing - wait, this is my own childhood! 

As I suggested in my review of the boys' book, having a wide and eclectic set of skills and knowledge may contribute to having a strong internal locus of control - the profound assurance that one is up to the challenges that life presents.  Studies on fear show that a lack of control is one of the things that contributes to stress and anxiety.  The more things you know how to control, the less you are a prey to fear.  You can't control the tides, but knowing how to read a tide chart and why the tides change at all can make a difference in a day at the beach; you can't be injury-proof, but knowing first-aid may take the edge off of panic what an accident happens.  What looks like courage is often basic competence.   Maybe you don't know how to tie a sari yourself, or how to make a peach pit ring.  But give this book to your daughter and she'll learn how.  

Just as there was little in the Dangerous Book that seemed very dangerous, there's little here that seems very daring, unless you think changing a tire or opening a lemonade stand takes daring.  Do your daughter a favor.  Dare her to read this book.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
                                                                                   ~ African proverb

Friday, August 5, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

This week was the start of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.  Consider fasting for the day, or giving up one meal.  What is important enough to you to make a sacrifice?  What sorts of feelings does it bring up to deny yourself something you enjoy?  What does the concept of "purification" mean to you?  Would you need courage?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let Me Tell You a Secret!

The other day the Lovely K. and I were having another conversation about secrets. In fifth grade, the girls spent much of their recess time (and any other time they can find) not playing, but talking, chatting, chewing the fat. They share bits and pieces of their stories and weave together a bigger story (the story of us, rather than just the story of me) out of the fragments. This is a vital social activity, one that promotes friendship, trust, and social cohesion. It’s an act of culture-building.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."~Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Brave Little Parrot

Another story about the courage to ask for help comes to us from India, and is another Jataka tale. This is a story that that acclaimed storyteller, Rafe Martin, has retold in a number of books, and it is called, The Brave Little Parrot.

In this story, a parrot sees a fire break out in the forest. She begins to fly to safety, but then realizes that the other animals will not be able to flee unless they are warned. The parrot flies around, screeching the alarm, but it’s not enough. In desperation, she flies to the river and soaks her feathers in water. Then, returning to the fire, she sprinkles water on the flames – psst psst psst – but the droplets are futile to quench this blaze. Yet again and again the parrot returns to the river, soaks her feathers, and flies back to do her best. She is choking on smoke, and her feathers are becoming singed. She cannot keep this up much longer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Courage Book Review - The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Dangerous Book for BoysWhen The Dangerous Book for Boys  came out a few years ago, it caused quite a stir, buddying up to Harry Potter on the bestseller lists.  With a deliberately old-fashioned typeface, style and layout the book evokes a time (real or imagined) when boys typically learned how to tie knots, and carried pocketknives, and spent many independent hours doing boy stuff outdoors.  It's something like the Boy Scout handbook, but with a better designer and a sense of humor.  The response from the public has been phenomenal.

What makes this book interesting from a Lion's Whiskers perspective is that it's about knowing how to do things - make marbled paper or catch and identify a fish or build a tree house or play poker.  What an eclectic suite of skills and knowledge can give to a boy (or a girl) is a stronger internal locus of control.   The more things you know how to do, the more self-reliant you become and the fewer situations provoke fear or anxiety.  The more you feel competent to control what happens to you or around you (internal locus of control) the better.   Sometimes courage is simply knowing what to do.  Sometimes social courage means being able to toss out the names of a few of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World to make an impression.  Sometimes physical courage involves knowing which common insects bite and which ones are harmless.  Sometimes moral courage gets a boost from having read the Gettysburg Address a few times.

Of the 70+ brief chapters, only a very few (how to make a bow and arrow, for example) touch on anything remotely dangerous, unless looked at by an anxious helicopter parent.  But if you are the sort of parent who thinks learning how to make a water bomb or a go-cart or how to build a battery is dangerous, then you probably aren't reading this blog.   

The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to DoWhat I suggest is that taken as a whole, this collection of skills, techniques, stories and bits of information might make the world look and feel less dangerous to a boy.  Building a strong interior locus of control - that's what this is a handbook for.  Also available: The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to Do for boys who like to keep it handy while they're up in a treehouse.