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Showing posts with label internal vs. external locus of control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internal vs. external locus of control. Show all posts

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Death of Edith Cavell

A number of years ago I encountered the story of Edith Cavell for the first time and was strongly tempted to write a book about her.  The book plan got sidelined, but the story has stayed with me.  Edith Cavell was an English nurse at the turn of the 20th century.  Professional nursing was still relatively new, and trained nurses and nursing schools were few and far between.  Because Cavell had spent time in Belgium in her younger days, she was invited to go there to help start that country's first professional nursing school.

It was while she was engaged in this project that World War I began, and it wasn't long before her nursing school was recruited as a full-fledged hospital for Allied soldiers.  Belgium, sitting between Germany and France, was the scene of heavy fighting as the German army advanced.  Cavell's hospital was soon filled with wounded English soldiers, and when they recovered sufficiently, Cavell smuggled them to neutral Netherlands so they could return safely to their units, or to England.  Over 200 soldiers evaded capture by the German army through her efforts.

For this "crime," Cavell was eventually arrested by the Germans and tried for treason - and executed by firing squad, despite frantic, international, diplomatic efforts to prevent her sentence from being carried out.

Before facing the firing squad, Cavell famously said, "Patriotism is not enough.  I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." 

Looking back through 100 years, we can speculate about the types of courage that may have motivated Nurse Cavell in her choices.  Becoming a nurse at all in that day was a risky move - it wasn't something "nice girls" did.  But she did.   Then simultaneously running a hospital and a smuggling operation would have required a degree of fortitude and executive management that somewhat boggles the mind.  Intellectual courage would have enabled focus and adaptability.  We know that she was a devout member of the Anglican church, and it seems fair to say that spiritual courage - that which fortifies us with a sense of purpose and meaning and makes forgiveness possible - was a significant part of her makeup.  (She was the daughter of a vicar, and raised with an ethic of sharing). Moral courage was clearly there, as well as the physical courage that nursing requires, especially wartime nursing.  She must also have had a very strong internal locus of control to believe that she was capable of effecting change amid the chaos of war, and to act so purposefully in on that conviction.

Much beyond that is difficult to surmise.  She was known as a private woman, reserved and formal toward her students and patients.  During her court-martial she made no attempt to disavow her activities, and she reportedly went to the firing squad with composure.  She was clearly a woman of great courage.

It is important to us on Lion's Whiskers, however, to make it clear that courageous action is not limited to life-and-death risks such as the ones Edith Cavell took.  We have every reason to admire her courage, but we can't let it convince us that because we haven't done anything like this and faced a firing squad, we have not shown courage.  We are all capable of courage, because the risks we face are proportionate to our capacities and our circumstances.   If a teen speaks out against a popular bully and risks ostracism, it is no less courageous because there's no firing squad in the offing.  A social "firing squad" can be devastating, and the number of teens who commit suicide because of it are tragic evidence.  

So let Edith Cavell inspire, but not intimidate. 

You can read more about Edith Cavell here on the website dedicated to her memory.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Frogs' Legs: Two Tales

Two very short stories that illustrate internal vs. external locus of control, or Are you and Inny or an Outy?

Two frogs decided to go on a journey and see something of the world. Eventually they came to a farmyard, and while they were hopping across it, the farmer happened to set down a pail of new cream in their path. As they were both in mid-leap, they could not help but splash down into the bucket.
“Oh, help!” cried the first one, flapping at the slippery inside of the pail. “Oh, help, we can’t reach the top! What shall we do!? We shall surely die!”
The second one was busy kicking, although with nothing to push against but cream he could not leap up and out. He kept trying, however, while his partner wailed and moaned and flapped at the high smooth walls.
“We’ll never make it out of here,” moaned the first frog, and in despair, sank to the bottom of the bucket and drowned.
But the second frog didn’t stop kicking, kicking, kicking, and before long he had churned that cream into butter. Soon enough it was so hard that he could jump out of the pail and hop back to his pond.

Two old frogs were on their way to the swamp on the other side of the forest, when they fell into a very deep hole. A large group of tree toads happened to witness the accident, and they all gathered around the rim of the hole. “Oh dear, they’ll never get out,” one of them said. “It’s just way too high to jump,” and they began to repeat that over and over, as tree toads do. “They’ll never get out. They’ll never get out.”
Down in the hole, one of the frogs heard that and despaired, but the other frog kept jumping, and falling back, and jumping, and falling back, and jumping until finally he managed to grab the rim of the hole and scramble out.
“Wow, that was amazing,” the tree toads trilled as the frog began hopping away.
“Eh?” he said, looking around. “Whatcha say?”
“That was amazing!” the tree toads chorused again.
The frog shrugged. “Sorry, can’t hear you. I’m hard o’hearing.” And away he hopped.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Go Climb a Tree!

One of my son’s favorite activities as a child was to climb trees.  Any tree would do: spindly little Charlie Brown Christmas-type trees, grand dame oaks, distinguished firs, sticky pines, scratchy cedars, or the budding cherry blossom—his all-time favorite.  At around age three, he began his tree-climbing pursuit in earnest.  He started developing his physical courage muscles on the trees in our yard.  It didn’t take long for him to master the first few limbs on his favorite tree and, like Jack and his beanstalk, want to spend everyday climbing higher and higher and higher.  It was those first few attempts at getting higher that our coaching as his parents became really important! 

My son, E., age 8

He’d hang from his arms on the lowest limb, gaining an appreciation for gravity and the feel of his feet off the ground.  He wasn’t fearless to begin with. And neither were my husband and I.  Heights are one of my husband’s few dislikes; though he has gained mastery over this particular fear by continuing to place himself in situations that test it.  We are both mindful not to pass along our fears to our kids—as much as possible!  We also wanted to coach our kids to gain what social psychologists term an ‘internal locus of control’.  The natural evolution for a child is to move from more of an external locus of control (relying on his/her parents, fate, luck, or other external circumstances to guide decision-making and behavior) to an internal locus of control (whereby a child is more self-motivated, self-disciplined, and believes his/her behavior is guided by personal decisions and/or efforts).  Securely attached kids, it turns out, also show a higher degree of internal locus of control. 

To learn more about how I coached my son to develop physical courage, READ ON!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Cheese Stands Alone

I hit a parenting low point the other day.  I drove a piece of cheese to my son’s middle school.  Just the cheese and I, buckled in safely, driving together across town to attend my son’s French 8 Mardi Gras party.  I wasn’t invited, just the cheese.

The cheese was my cross to bear after being interviewed recently for a parenting magazine about when it is okay to rescue our kids, and deliver the cheese when they forget it, and when it’s not okay.  I’d shared with the magazine writer that I’m coaching my kids to be courageous in life primarily through encouraging an internal locus of control.  For example, I discuss with my kids at the beginning of each year what their responsibilities are and what mine are.  I also offer one free rescue per year.  This year both my kids used their freebie in the first few weeks of school.  I was able to do them that favor. Heck, I was even happy to help.  But I was clear that I would not be doing it again.  Since then, I’ve received no calls from my daughter and three more phone calls from my son begging me, in a pleading tone coupled with long awkward pauses.  “I don’t have any lunch money!” “I forgot to get you to sign my assignment, I'm gonna' lose 15 points if you don't sign my assignment today.” “I need my rowing gear.”  I problem-solved with him by phone and got him to identify a few possible solutions, but I didn’t rescue him. I know, I sound hard-core right?  Well, that's the thing about coaching courageous kids who have a belief and expectancy that they are the masters of their own destiny, as their parent you sometimes have to be hard-core.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Are You Raising an Outy?

What does internal vs. external locus of control have to do with coaching courage in my child? 

Firstly, the cool thing about locus of control is that it is one of those few areas where parenting really matters!  It seems that locus of control is not a genetically-driven trait, but more a nurtured and learned personality adaptation.  The goal in parenting is for children to develop an increasingly internal locus of control over time, combined with a flexibility to move along the continuum depending on life circumstances. 

Given that a child’s sense of diminished control over his/her environment is associated with psychological vulnerability to anxiety in particular, it is imperative that parents coach their kids to really listen to their own inner thoughts, values, feelings, and body.  The more children believe that they are active agents in the successes or failures of their lives—the more likely they are to take responsibility for their actions and develop the six types of courage.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Courage Book Review - the Black Ships

Yesterday Lisa talked about internal vs. external locus of control.  Today I want to talk about extreme-external locus of control!  I want to talk about Helen of the Fair Cheeks and the death of Achilles.  Yes, the Trojan War.

Offering the Trojan War (and its backstories) to kids 11 years old and up is a fascinating and dramatic way to explore the concept of personal responsibility.  The gods are the ultimate puppeteers here:  Thetis dips Achilles into the River Styx to make him invulnerable; Aphrodite sends Paris to go fall in love with (already married) Helen; Apollo sends disease to the Greeks to punish Agamemnon for kidnapping Chriseis;  Athena, Zeus, Hera -- these gods can't mind their own business for a moment!  They send dreams, they appear in disguise as trusted friends giving counsel, they produce obscuring clouds of mist at crucial moments of battle.  The mortals themselves accept this meddling as natural, if often inconvenient - like weather.

What is so fascinating about all this, aside from the great story-telling of it, is that consciousness itself may have been quite different at the time of these events.  People may not have recognized that their  thoughts, emotions and feelings arose within themselves.  (For a review of the difference between emotions and feelings, please revisit "What is Emotional Courage.") Ascribing  insight, anger, jealousy or passionate love to an external force may have been all the Ancients could do.  And yet we see glimmers of personal responsibility and internal locus of control shining through chinks in the armor.  Behold the 11 year old child!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Are You an Inny or an Outy?

Do you believe that you control your fate or that outside circumstances beyond your control do?  In 1966, psychologist Julian Rotter was busy trying to answer this question and bridge traditional psychoanalytic thought and behaviorism (the zeitgeist at the time) into what is now termed social learning theory.  One aspect of Rotter’s social learning theory, that is particularly relevant to the way we can parent a child to develop courage, is called Locus of Control of Reinforcement.  Locus of control is related to individual difference in the way we generalize our expectancies (i.e. what we think will happen to us in the future). If you want to help your child develop courage, teaching him/her to develop an internal locus of control is important.