What you say, your attitude (Story/ Sean)

Here’s a story I wrote some time ago. It keeps popping up in my head. I think there are good lessons to be learned. So I’ll share it and some comments.

He was pushing Sean in the baby swing, while Patrick was climbing on a dome type structure a little ways off. Suddenly Patrick yelled for help. Steve gave Sean a good push and walked over. “Help, I stuck.” Steve looked carefully, he was not stuck, per se. He was at a point about 3’ off the ground, clutching the struts tightly, afraid to move. Steve was real big on letting the kids figure things out themselves, encouraging independence. He asked “What can you do to get yourself unstuck?”

“I dunno. Help! I fall!” Steve looked pointedly at him, then at the ground. He said, “And what happens if you fall?” Patrick said, “Owie!” Steve asked, “Big owie?” Patrick shook his head no. Steve continued, “So, if you fall, you fall. No big deal.”

“Is there maybe something you can do with your hands or feet to get yourself unstuck?”

Patrick looked at where his hands and feet were, and then slowly, carefully, moved his feet and inched his way down. All Steve said was, “You saw what you needed to do to get down, then you did that. You moved your feet and hands so you could climb down. You figured it out.”

Steve always tried to describe what he saw, instead of outright tell them something was good or bad. If they could learn to see things, they could provide their own judgment and learn not to rely on others for what they thought. By describing what had happened, Steve was letting Patrick form his own unconscious judgment. Hey, I DID figure it out, and I DID get down. I can do things. I am capable.

Steve thought this was much better than him saying something like, “Good job.” He also let his boys know that there was nothing wrong in failing, in falling. That was okay. It meant you were trying. As long as you got back up, didn’t let the failure defeat you, it made no difference. It was just a learning experience. In his opinion, way too many people were afraid of doing things for fear of failure. He didn’t want his sons to be afraid of failing.

Steve went back to pushing Sean. Patrick played a while round the base of the dome. Steve watched out of the corner of his eye. He climbed back up a little ways, maybe 2 ½’. And fell. Steve said nothing, pretended he didn’t see it. Patrick looked his way, rubbed his knee, sat a few seconds on the ground, looking at the dome. Then headed back onto it, climbing- cautiously- about 3 ½’ this time, up and down successfully. When he finally got back down, you could almost feel the satisfaction he had, the confidence in having accomplished something hard. Steve smiled.

A woman walked over to him who had been sitting and playing with her young (maybe 1 year old) daughter in the sand box. “Hi, I’m Melanie. That was really interesting.”

He extended his hand, “I’m Steve. What was interesting?”

“The way you handled that with your son. Most parents would first of all have said, ‘BE CAREFUL! DON’T FALL!’ And then they would have plucked him off when he asked for help instead of letting him figure it out. Are you a child psychiatrist or something?”

Steve laughed heartily, “No! I just think it’s better to let them work things out on their own, as long as they’re not in any serious danger.”

I think the way this was handled is good for us to do as parents, as friends, and even with ourselves. (It really does become second nature when you do it enough.) Also note that Steve didn’t solve the problem for the boy, nor tell him what to do. When he was stuck, he merely offered a little guidance.

(I posted this originally for my writing group/ course, so the following example pertains to that, but could apply anywhere in life.) So why has this been on my mind all day? I think it might be helpful for us to consider how this might work with the little voices (liars) we have in our heads and our writing.

Example: a person thinks they aren’t a writer (or a good writer). If they stop a minute and think about – and describe- certain scenes, they might come up with something like this: the other day when I was telling my friends that story about ____ they were really interested. They paid attention and listened. What I had to say was worthy of their time and attention. And they laughed at the funny parts.

So your own judgment could be something like: I can tell stories well, hold people’s attention. What I have to say is valuable. I speak coherently in front of small groups of friends. (Try to use words more specific that “good”.)

Relating this to writing, you might ask yourself how you can transform those positive traits into print.

So, the process is describe, then form your own judgment.

Note: if need be, a description may not necessarily be positive. Sometimes we need to face things we aren’t good at and deal with that. I prefer to focus on the good, the positive as much as possible.

I was thinking more about this last night. What the common response might have been: “Be careful, you’ll fall.” That reply really is rather negative when you think about it.

First off, simply saying. “Be careful,” implies you’re not being. Chances are good most of the time we ARE careful about our actions (certainly we are likely to be careful if climbing on a jungle gym, I’d think). So you are in a one sense belittling the person (or YOURSELF) that they don’t know enough to be careful.

Second, “You’ll fall!” Well, one of two things here (or both). You’re projecting your fear of his falling onto them, planting that idea into their heads. And you’re again assuming they are not capable of doing the task. Negative thinking all around. It even presents the (erroneous, I think) idea that falling is bad. So they fall, big deal. Most of the time, for most of us, our falls are small ones. Small falls, before we get in too deep can serve to teach us things, and not be permanently damaging. The kid who falls a few times off a 3’ jungle gym will figure out how to do it so he doesn’t fall. And then go to 6’ and higher. Or if he is truly not the athletic type, and can’t get it, possibly abandon jungle gym climbing and move to swings. Or wait until he is older, more coordinated. Or have someone show him how (or watch the other kids).

I used a story to illustrate this, but really, how often do we do this? It’s the little liar (voice) at work. This may show a way to treat our kids and others, but also ourselves. Maybe as a challenge today try to pay close attention to what you say to yourself. Are there any phrases like:

I can’t do this/that.
____ won’t like it.
That won’t work, no way to do it.
It won’t be right.
He/she can do it better than me.
I’ll “fall”. (This can be said in MANY ways.)

(Think about what you say to yourself as well as what you say to others.)

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