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Monday, November 28, 2011

A few quotations on the power of stories

Whether you tell traditional stories, share your childhood escapades with your kids, narrate the day's events or make up stories on the spot - grab the power of storytelling for your parenting toolkit!

Here's a little bit of food for thought:

"Great stories teach you something. That's one reason I haven't slipped into some kind of retirement: I always feel like I'm learning something new." ~ Clint Eastwood

"The process of putting your life into order with a beginning, middle, and end forces you to see cause and effect." Cahtherine Burns, artistic director, The Moth

"Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best - and change - from hearing stories that strike a chord within us... Those in leadership positions who do not grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves." ~ John Kotter, Harvard Business School

“The Conceptual Age can remind us what has always been true but has rarely been acted upon – that we must listen to each other’s stories and that we are each the authors of our own lives… we are our stories.“ Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind

Monday, November 21, 2011

About Stories

"The protagonist of folk tale is always, and intensely, a young person moving through ordeals into adult life. When adult state and a suitable partner is achieved the tale is over. Adults as such are of no interest - they exist only as helpers, enemies, or rivals of the protagonist. And this is why there are no wicked stepchildren in the tales. Stepmothers' feelings and problems are of no account - they are grown-ups and can work it out for themselves."

~ Jill Paton Walsh

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Black Belt Wall

Lisa's son competing in board breaking in November, 2011 as a "Recommended Black Belt"
Jennifer and my children are testing for their Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do (TKD) this weekend.  It’s kind of a big deal.  This test, six and a half hours in total, is the culmination of four years of study.  They have each hit their own personal Black Belt walls and wanted to quit.  As I wrote about in Quitters, Campers, and Quitters:  Which One Are You?, what matters is that they didn’t quit and, as their parents, we didn’t quit on them. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Here at Lion's Whiskers we are hoping to collect kids' definitions for some of the values most commonly associated with moral courage

We would appreciate your help! 

Could you ask your children to define, in their own words, one or more of the following?  Please send us their age, first name (if you are comfortable), country, and what they understand these words to mean.   

  • Loyalty
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Impartiality
  • Justice
You may be impressed, surprised, or even shocked by what your child has already learned, or not, about what these powerful words mean to them in their life.  We hope the discussion prompts new insights and hope you will share with us your learning!  Thanks for your help!  Send your responses to: lisa@drlisaparentcoaching.com

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surviving the Lion AND the Fox!

Travellers' Decorated CaravanI found a very interesting story the other day that highlights moral courage in an unusual way. Animal fables typically offer the lion and the fox as examples of physical courage and intellectual courage, brawn vs. brains. Here we have a story from the very old Gypsy tradition, a story which demonstrates a different way an outcast group manages to survive. I found The Lion, the Fox, and the Bird in The Fish Bride and Other Gypsy Tales, retold by Jean Russel Larson. This is book well worth reading if you can find it. I'll just summarize this story briefly.

In this story, a new bird arrives in a part of the forest that is home to a lion and a fox. Not being a fast flyer, the bird is warned by everyone to leave. "I'll have to get the lion and the fox to leave," the bird replies. "It's really too dangerous to have them here." While the lion and the fox are both contemplating the nice meal they'll make of the bird, the bird turns the tables on them both by appealing for help. The bird asks the lion to perform an act of physical strength (moving some fallen trees to reveal the berry bushes) and the fox to figure out how to get reeds from the pond for building a nest (he tells the herons that the fishing will be better if they pull out the reeds). Both lion and fox are stymied by this appeal to their generosity, as they cannot eat someone they've helped, and they must help when someone weaker asks for assistance. Once they have taken responsibility for the bird by helping, they must do the right thing and leave it be. Hungry, and rather baffled at having chosen not to eat the bird, the lion and the fox leave that part of the forest and search for somebody else to eat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

"Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. Whereas the former—the youngest or despised child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers—prevails over his personal oppressors, the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a whole."
~ Joseph Campbell: The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Reflecting on the above distinction, have you found yourself or your kids more drawn to fairy tales or to myths?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jean Labadie's Big Black Dog and Shivering in the Bath

Here is an old Quebecois story I ran across recently in Kevin Crossley Holland's The Young Oxford Book of Folk Tales. It's an easy story to tell with your own details, and it is just begging for exaggeration.   This is my retelling, but you can easily put it into your own words.

            So, this farmer, Jean Labadie, he had his suspicions about his neighbor, Pierre Martin. Yes, two weeks running Jean was missing chickens, and he was pretty sure Pierre was stealing them. Weasels would have left a path of destruction, but no, this was just one chicken at a time. But he could not bring himself to say, "Hey Pierre Martin are you stealing my chickens one by one?" With this on his mind he was helping Pierre Martin pull some stumps and he said, "Something has been stealing my chickens, sure, so I went to the Huron village and got me a big black dog. See him? - there he is at just over there."
            Pierre Martin squinted up his eyes to look across the field. "Where?"
            "That big black dog, with his red tongue dripping, and those big black paws, you see him there?"
            "Oh!" Pierre Martin went back to work.
            Sure enough, no more chickens went missing from Jean's yard. But one day he ran into Pierre Martin in town. "Hey, Jean, you should chain up your big black dog, he chased me down the road," said Pierre.
            "No, he's at my farm guarding the chickens," Jean replied, very surprised.
            "Looked like the same dog," Pierre said. "Big black paws, red dripping tongue. Keep him on a chain."
             A few days later, Jean again met Pierre in the town, and this time Madame Sasson was with him. "Was that your big black dog chasing my sheep?" she demanded to know. "That dog is dangerous."
            Jean Labadie raised both hands. This was getting complicated. "No, no, my dog is chained up in my yard. That is a different dog chasing your sheep."
            "No, your dog broke the chain," Pierre Martin said.  "You should take him back to the Huron village.  That's a mean dog."
            Well, for sure this was getting to be ridiculous, but the next day Jean Labadie hitched up his wagon and drove past Pierre Martin's house, shouting, "I'm taking this dog back!"  And he made a pretense of patting something down inside the wagon until he was out of sight.  He spent the day with his Huron friends, and then came home.
             Pierre Martin was waiting for him.  "Your crazy dog came back!  Chased some children and scared them right into church.  You can't keep a dangerous dog like that!  You should shoot him!"
             Now what could Jean Labadie do?  He could not at this point admit he had made up the dog, and although he was sure Pierre Martin was raking him over the coals, he was sure stuck.  "I'll shoot him," Jean Labadie replied.  "Satisfied?"
             There was a little small smile on Pierre Martin's face when he said, "Oh, I suppose I am."
             At home, Jean Labadie got out shotgun and whistled loud.  "Here you, dog!" he shouted.  Then he fired into the ground, and then dug a grave and filled it back in.  And he hoped that would be last he heard about his big black dog.

             I don't know about you, but usually when I've been afraid to ask a question, say what I think, or speak up, the problem only gets worse.  I have a personal story that I've told many times to the Lovely K. with much laughter.  This story features me in the bathtub while answering a phone call from a new business acquaintance.  There was a moment at the start of the call that would have been the appropriate time to say, "This is not a good time to speak - I know it's 11 a.m. on a business day but I was thrown from a horse this morning and now I'm soaking in the tub, so can I call you later?"  That moment slipped by, and I found myself trying to avoid any splishy, splashy, watery sounds that would give me away (So unprofessional! I was very concerned at that stage of my career about seeming very very professional!) The call went on and on much longer than I expected, while the water cooled and I began to shiver.  Somehow I couldn't summon the social courage to say, "You know, all this time we've been talking I've been in the bath."  And when this editor began giving me information to write down (clearly assuming I was sitting fully dressed at a desk) I pretended to write, making suitable "mmhmms" to indicate I was ready for the next bit of dictation.  My daughter howls at this last bit as I pantomime writing with a wet finger on the rim on the bathtub, nodding and shivering, wondering how I would explain this to my agent.
            Now, at the age of 50, I have long since let go (I think) a majority of the social fears that kept me quiet.  I don't like shivering in the tub, and I don't want to shoot any imaginary dogs. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.  "
To learn more about what we mean by "Moral Courage", click here!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Quitters, Campers, and Climbers—Which One Are You?

I would have thought that one of the side effects of writing a blog about courage would be an increase in my own courage quotient. In fact, over these past months researching, discussing with Jennifer, and writing about how to nurture courage in kids, I’ve noticed more moments when I’ve wanted to quit than climb.  Granted I’ve recently taken on several new projects and a new job, my kids started new schools, and my husband started a new business in one of the toughest economic climates since the 1930's.  My learning curve is steep and the challenges real.  But as someone who’s prided herself on being what Dr. Paul Stoltz (1997) defines as a “climber” in life, noticing that my inner “quitter” is alive and well is, well, humbling. 

In his book The Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, Dr. Stoltz outlines three types of approaches that people take in life, using mountain climbing as a metaphor.  Listed below are his definitions, excerpted from the introduction of his book (1997) :

"Quitters simply give up on the ascent—the pursuit of an enriching life—and as a result are often embittered.  Quitters tend to blame others, become overwhelmed, and allow adversity to endure longer than necessary (5-20% of folks, according to a poll that Dr. Stoltz and his team of experts took of 150,000 leaders across all industries worldwide).

Campers generally work hard, apply themselves, pay their dues, and do what it takes to reach a certain level.  Then they plant their tent stakes and settle down at their current elevation. Campers tend to let adversity wear them down, resort to blame when tense or tired, and/or lose hope and faith when adversity is high (65-90% of folks).

Climbers are the rare breed to who continue to learn, grow, strive, and improve until their final breath, who look back at life and say, “I gave it my all.” Climbers tend to be resilient and tenacious.  They focus on solutions versus blame, and they are trusting and agile (the rare few)."

The adversity continuum ranges from: "avoiding, surviving, coping, managing, to harnessing adversity." (This brief summary is taken from The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness by Erik Weihenmayer, Paul Stoltz, and Stephen R. Covey, 2006).

Here’s an example of how I was humbled recently by my inner quitter.  We had relatives visiting from the West Coast who wanted to see the place where our ancestors had fought as United Empire British Loyalists during the Battle of Saratoga.  We lost that battle, which provides some nice foreshadowing to what happened next. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wait for it... Wait for it!

Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount. ~ Clare Booth Luce

For nearly a year now we've been talking about the nature of courage and courage development in children, and talking about courage as the mechanism for activating other values or qualities (some might like the word "virtues.") Today, here are my thoughts about one of those values, qualities or virtues: patience.

Patience can be activated by physical courage if it requires sitting still or restraining an impulse; it might be supported by emotional courage if it requires a belief in a loved one's ability to fulfill a promise; it might be activated by spiritual courage if it requires willingness to live in uncertainty about purpose or meaning during chaotic times. I'm sure by now our faithful readers can extrapolate their own examples for the six types of courage as they relate to patience.

We know that fear is inspired by uncertainty and lack of control. While we are waiting for something we are uncertain: will it happen at all? will I like it? will it be what I imagine? will I get a piece with blue frosting or yellow frosting? On top of that is the uncertainty of how we will manage our disappointment if IT doesn't fulfill our expectations. While we are waiting for something we usually have no control, since we can't speed up time or manipulate events. Thus, the ability to tolerate this uncertainty and lack of control requires courage, which then allows for patience.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"We don't conquer this world's mischief and wrongdoing and malice once and for all, and then forever after enjoy the moral harvest of that victory.  Rather, we struggle along, even stumble along, from day to day, in need of taking stock yet again, with the help of a story, a movie, not to mention the experiences that, inevitably and not so rarely, come into our daily lives."
~ Robert Coles, The Moral Intelligence of Children
For more about moral courage,  click here!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Truth to Power

On this blog we've been discussing moral courage quite a lot lately.  One sign of a lack of moral courage is hypocrisy.  A story the Lovely K. has enjoyed hearing is from the Jewish tradition of midrash, or tales that fill in some of the sketched outlines of Bible stories with more detail. This is one of the more famous of the traditional midrashim, Abraham the Idol Smasher. 

In his youth, Abraham lived in Babylon, in Iraq, and his father was among the elite favored by the king.  Abraham had the habit of turning a studious gaze on power, and he had plenty of opportunity for doing just that. His father was a prominent idol merchant, who manufactured statues of this god, that god, any god his wealthy customers asked for. "How old are you?" Abraham might ask a customer, over his father's protests. "Sixty," might be the reply. "Strange, how a man of sixty will bow before a stone statue carved yesterday," Abraham would point out. (This was not so good for business!) One day, Abraham's father reluctantly left his son to watch the store while he made an out-of-town delivery, and woman came in with an offering of grain to leave before one of the statues. "I'll take care of it," Abraham assured her as she left.

When she had gone, he put the grain before one of the statues. And nothing happened. Then he put it in front of a different statue, and again, nothing happened. Certainly there was no argument from the first god who'd been offered it! Abraham then picked up a hammer and methodically smashed all the statues except one, and left the hammer in front of that idol.

Upon his return, Abraham's father was horrified to see the mess in the shop. "What in all gods' names have you done!" he cried out to his son. "Me?" said Abraham. "This idol here did it," he continued, pointing to the one unbroken statue. "What are you talking about, that stone has no power!" the father roared. Abraham nodded. "Exactly my point."

My daughter laughs at this story (okay, I use funny gestures and expressions as I tell it; it's not especially hilarious on its own). This one is always food for conversation about how often we see people say one thing but then turn around and say or do the opposite. We sometimes discuss why that might happen, and I try to keep the speculation compassionate - I don't want either of us to become sanctimonious or self-righteous about it, after all. From people with no power, saying one thing and doing another may be a matter of survival. But it is important to know what speaking truth to power requires, and it's always worth shining a spotlight of attention on doublespeak and hypocrisy from people in authority. I do include parents in that group, in the context of the family. Our children are always watching us, and noticing if our deeds and our words are in alignment. So I tell my daughter this story, and I ask myself privately, what idols am I paying lip service to that she may one day smash?

Monday, November 7, 2011

About Stories

"The true meaning of a story is not something one can extract from the story itself. The whole story -- character, setting, plot, theme, language - is the meaning.... Meaning in a story reflects our belief that there is a meaning in the universe, that no matter the disorder that frames our lives, in the center -- in the place that reveals who we are -- there is order."

~ Katherine Paterson

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Flourishing or Withering on the Vine

Lisa's recent post describing how moral courage has its roots in empathy had me thinking. What about those times when empathy is blighted or stunted? What becomes of moral courage then? We can look back into history to find periods of what we might call “low empathy” – times when public torture and execution were carnival attractions, when heavy-handed corporal punishment of children or slaves/serfs/servants was commonplace, when mockery and abuse of the disabled was the stuff of fun and games, when might made right, life was cheap, and persecution of selected out-groups was sanctioned by law. Under these conditions, how did “moral action” occur? How did the “family” of humanity uphold mostly positive behavior and tend toward care and flourishing rather than harm? In other words, how did the family make enough “right” or “good” decisions to survive in these times? We are born hard-wired for empathy, but someone has to teach us how to turn it on. As a gardener, I think of it in gardening terms, and so I see empathy as a seedling that must be nurtured and cultivated, or the flower can wither on the vine. How did this plant stay alive under some of the harsh conditions history has witnessed?

We might infer at least two things about this from a quick glance back at history. First, it is clear that there were often eras when civilizations did not flourish, but declined into darkness or anarchy. Historically, periods of chaos were often precipitated by environmental assaults (famines, plagues, extreme climate events such as prolonged droughts) or social upheavals (invasions, wars, and revolutions political, ideological, or technological). Often the social catastrophes followed hard on the heels of the environmental ones, magnifying the disruptive effect of both, and the chaos prompted by these crises sometimes took many generations to recover from. Scarcity of resources can narrow the scope of our empathy from concern for all others, to concern just for those most like us, to those closest to us, and finally, to ourselves alone.
         Secondly, we can see that extremely domineering law/justice systems (autocratic kingly dynasties, strict or wrathful theologies and political dogmas) can enforce good or "moral" behavior, or at least constrain immoral behavior, but primarily by threat of punishment (in this life or after), rather than by promoting empathy.  This suggests a tendency to rigidly adhere to the letter of the law, ignoring the spirit behind it.  Just as toddlers obey rules because they fear punishment, rather than because they have internalized the "spirit of the law" or the values behind the rules (fairness, accountability, cooperative flourishing, etc.), societies held in check by a totalitarian or despotic state or ideology can easily devolve into anarchy when that system collapses. (Remember Yugoslavia, to cite just one example from recent history?) A breakdown in empathy, or concern for others, which is prompted by disruption, upheaval and fear (on the family level or the societal level) may thus compel the parent or the state to lay down stricter and stronger rules/laws and punishments. This is a downward spiral that takes significant moral courage to reverse.

        Yet it is out of scenarios such as this that great moral heroes can emerge, from some hidden garden where the seeds of empathy were kept watered and sheltered. Because the norm in these scenarios is low empathy, these moral heroes almost seem to appear by superhuman agency, giving rise to mythologies and heroic legends. Yet we all have the capacity for empathy, and thus for moral courage. When times get tough we can run for cover and let the Devil take the hindmost, or we can stand our ground and focus on raising good citizens of the world. How does your garden grow?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Four Dragons

In the West, we frequently use dragons as a metaphor for evils, wrongs, or unnamed fears that must be conquered. In China, however, dragons are benevolent. Powerful, yes, but benevolent. One beautiful legend from ancient China speaks of the Four Dragons: Black Dragon, Yellow Dragon, Long Dragon and Pearl Dragon. Here it is, as I retold it to my daughter:

A very long time ago, there were no rivers in China. No lakes, no ponds, no streams or springs or waterfalls, either. There was only the great ocean in the east. Fortunately, the land was watered by rain, sent by the Jade Emperor, who ruled in Heaven. A time came, however, when the Jade Emperor stopped paying attention to the earth, and forgot to send the rains for a very long time. The earth began to dry out, and crops withered.

One day, as the Black Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Long Dragon and the Pearl Dragon were gliding through the air, they noticed an old woman kneeling in the dust below, her face streaked with tears as she prayed. Then they noticed that the earth was cracked and brown. "Why has the Jade Emperor sent no rain?" the Pearl Dragon wondered. "Let us go to him in Heaven and ask."

When they arrived at the throne of the Jade Emperor, he was annoyed that they had come to him, pointing out his failure. "I'll send the rain, now go away," he snapped.

The dragons left, relieved that all would be well again on earth. Yet when ten days passed with no rain falling, they knew the Jade Emperor had forgotten about the people on earth again. "Let us help them," said the dragons to one another. "We can fill our bellies with water from the great ocean and spray it onto the earth, can't we?" And so this is what they did. The moment the water touched the dry soil the wilting rice and wheat stood tall again, and the people rushed to catch the water in bowls.

Up in Heaven, the Jade Emperor caught sight of what the dragons were doing, and shouted with anger that they had taken it upon themselves to help the earth. "Bring mountains!" he roared to the Mountain God. "Crush those dragons!"

Faster than wind over rice paddies, four mountains came and bore down upon the dragons, pinning them to the earth. Yet the dragons were still full of water, and continued to pour it out, even as they were crushed. And so the four great rivers of China were formed, the Yellow River, the Long River, the Black River and the Pearl River, bringing water to the people forever.

I asked my daughter how many kind of courage she thought were involved in this story. "It took courage to show the emperor he had forgotten his job," she said. "And it took courage to go ahead and do the job themselves." "Do you think it also takes courage sometimes to pray for help?" I asked. She shrugged. "Maybe."

Compare this story of self-sacrifice to the story of Fenrir the Wolf, from Viking mythology, and The Legend of the Banyan Deer, from the Buddhist tradition. In all of these stories, the powerful put themselves at risk to help the weak. Endurance, love, charity, compassion, stewardship, responsibility and leadership are values that parents can model in their own behavior toward their children as examples of all six types of courage. Of course, it's often much easier said than done!

I know that, for myself, explaining to my daughter why I'm making a sacrifice is key. The sacrifice might be giving my money, or my mental time, or my physical effort to something other than my myself and my own immediate needs. Because fear is correlated to lack of control, we can infer that the opposite is true: courage is correlated to taking control. When I see something in the world that grieves me (poverty, injustice, hunger, etc.) I could allow feelings of helplessness overwhelm me. I could begin to fear that the world is a hopeless place. On the other hand, if I take even a small step, make a small sacrifice of money or time or effort to help alleviate that problem, I gain a measure of control. As a result, my feelings of futility diminish, and my fear subsides. Dr. Lisa has explained this eloquently in her posts about an internal v. external locus of control.

When we help others, we truly help ourselves. The greater our sacrifice, the less fear we will experience. Two quotations say this better, and more succinctly, than I have:

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage." ~ Dale Carnegie.

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. ~ Napoleon Hill