Archives for posts with tag: communication

What are you doing today?

Is it worth remembering?

It’s up to you and only you. Enjoy the power.

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©2015 JFries/Rise Like Air

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Mother's First Bouquet Photo Credit: J Fries

Mother’s First Bouquet
Photo Credit: J Fries

To all a happy Mother’s Day
And this a mother’s first bouquet
Clutched in a small and grubby  fist
Accompanied by a sloppy kiss
Nothing brings a quicker smile
Than a child awed by nature for a while
Sharing their love in this simple way
To wish you a Happy Mother’s Day
And if this time for you is past
Wishing you memories that forever last.

 – J Fries

©2015 JFries/Rise Like Air

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Bullying and the potentially horrific results from it, have played out across media graphically. It’s a subject most of us are aware of, but few of us truly feel comfortable or capable of adequately addressing the issue that has plagued us, probably in one form or another, since the beginning of time. The Huffington Post recently ran the piece I Was The Maid Of Honor For The Girl I Bullied Mercilessly For Years.  Author xoJane admits to being bullied and then becoming a bully herself, something that’s not that uncommon.

So it was pretty great for me when Flick showed up in school. Finally, I wasn’t the biggest weirdo in town. I was pretty relieved everyone seemed to be bored of picking on me, and had moved on to something else.

And, as is unfortunately the case in too many schools,

In my school, tormenting others was the top social currency. I soon realized that not only did I need Flick to distract people from my own inadequacies, but if I joined in with everyone else, maybe I’d finally be accepted.

And while wounds may heal, as my mother loved to remind me, the scars may not fade away.

Years later and eating dinner at Flick’s house, her kid sister burst out, “Didn’t you used to bully Flick?” As I sat, frozen in shame, Flick replied, “Yeah… how embarrassing for her!” She winked at me, a familiar expression. That night, I gave her a long-overdue apology. “When it happened to me, I wanted to die sometimes,” I said. “Yeah,” she replied. “I know what you mean.”

It reminded me how complicated reality can be, victim, perpetrator, the lines can easily become blurred. Stress, fear and trauma can do strange things to very ordinary people. At least for these two best friends, past transgressions didn’t stop a true friendship from blossoming.  It was refreshing to read such a candid and honest experience that resulted in a very happy ending.

Not long after reading that piece, some friends and I were discussing a video  shared with us on Facebook. While bullying is a tough subject to deal with death is one a great many of us try to avoid or dance around completely. Suicide is even harder to face. This senior project created by Kenzie Marcigan riveted us to the screen while shredding our hearts. We each related to this video for our own reasons.

I’ll warn you up front that it is rather raw and heart wrenching. It brought every parent’s fear to the surface; the possibility of losing a child because they’ve given up on themselves, believed the lies other people have tormented them with, or maybe that they’ve tormented themselves with.

One of my friends shared an insight and it kept running through my mind for the rest of the day so I thought it was worthy to share.  The emphasis in the following quote is mine.

So very sad. I was bullied in Middle and High school. I was just the new kid who moved there, but I never fit in with those who grew up together. I had abuse at home and at school. And I too tried to kill myself more than once.

I’m so very glad I was never successful because I would have missed so many wonderful things that came after those terrible school years.

But kids need to be held responsible for their actions and have severe punishment for what they say and do. I was mean to one girl in collegeeven knowing how awful I felt when others were mean to me – and 30 years later I still feel bad about it, but she is no longer here to apologize to. So I strive to do better every day. ~ name withheld by request

Bullied, just the new kid, never fit in, abused at home and at school all becoming too much and creating the sole desire to make it all go away for ever.  But when it gets overwhelming and you can’t find a way to cope, or to make it go away, you decide there is one thing that you can make go away.  Yourself.

Experience doesn’t necessarily develop empathy or compassion. We know that the abused can become abusers.  For many of us who have been bullied though, eventually, even if we’ve bullied someone else, the seeds of empathy and compassion often slowly sprout and we grow from our experience, but live with the regret of our actions.

As for our friend, I have to say I’m so very glad too. Words of truth, “so many wonderful things that came after those terrible school years.” There are a lot of us who value this person, I’d hate to think that those horrid times in middle and high school may have robbed us of an opportunity to call them friend.

And that’s the thing, I’m willing to bet that every single person who has given up on themselves would ultimately find a loving, welcoming place, if only they could find the will to wait, to realize there is more beyond where they find themselves right in that instant, even when the instant feels like eternity.

Why do so many of us feel compelled to refer to at least a portion of our school years as “terrible” or “horrible”. Why is it still so and for how much longer must it remain so?

Close the door to your past, open the door to your future. Take a deep breath and step through to a new life.  Unknown

Close the doors that cause you pain, anger and suffering so you can open the ones that bring you love, acceptance and inner peace.  Unknown

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. Uknown

© 2015 JFries / Rise Like Air

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Change Changes Changing

6 Thurs change

Push

Force

I can’t fix it!

Why won’t they listen?

Why won’t they change?

I am no one.

I can’t do it alone.

It’s too hard.

I’ve failed.

I pause.

I look again.

I see.

Gently

Kindly

Slowly

The world changes

I change

You change

We change

©2015 Rise Like Air  J. Fries

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If you read my blogs or FB posts you probably already know that I am very big on using words wisely, because to me, words and subsequently communication is important.  This Huffington Post article by Rebecca Fuoco is straight talk about communication, in this case when we flippantly use mental illnesses as figures of speech.  I have also noticed this prevalence develop and every time I hear a someone say “That’s so OCD” or “Don’t be so schizo” I get a bit of a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I want to shout, “If you think that’s so OCD then you know NOTHING about OCD!”

Using names or acronyms of mental illnesses to hyperbolize innocuous idiosyncrasies and experiences has become pervasive in our cultural dialogue (and Twitter feeds). It is important we end this trend, not because it is my pet peeve (which it is) and not because I am the PC Police (which I am not). It is important because making these flippant references (1) trivializes how devastating the illnesses can be and (2) perpetuates myths and misunderstandings.

Ms Fuoco does an excellent job of articulating her points.  While we might think we’re just being “funny” and don’t mean any harm, our intent and the actual long term results of contributing to the trivialization of mental illnesses ends up hurting us all.  And that is not funny at all.

Now that we know better, let’s all try to do a little better too.

Unknown

via Let’s Stop Using Mental Illnesses as Figures of Speech | Rebecca Fuoco.

©2014 Rise Like Air  J. Fries

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image from sodahead.com

image from sodahead.com

Overheard in a restaurant:

Little Girl:  “I hate boys.”

Mother: “Well, boys can be fun to play with sometimes.”

Little Girl:  “No!  Well, I don’t like Jacob*.  He’s mean.”

Mother:  “He’s not mean.”

Little Girl:  “Yes, he is mean.  He is mean to me.” 

Mother:  “Jacob is a nice boy, he’s not mean.”

Little Girl:  “He’s mean.  He throws stuff.  And I don’t like it.”

Mother:  “Oh, well make sure you don’t throw stuff back ok.  Because that isn’t nice.”

And the conversation moved to another subject.  Discussion finished.  But what underlying message did mom really leave with her daughter?   “Oh my”, I thought.

All right, first I do want to say that this was not a rotten mother, I hold no ill will and am not shaming her and truthfully the interactions I witnessed between mother and daughter were loving, touching and I think she’s probably a great mom. Being a mother myself and having struggled for a lot of years trying to craft my own thoughts and messages to my daughter, this conversation struck me as a perfect example of what is missing in how we talk to our children, especially our daughters.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve never bought into the belief that girls are wired to be catty and mean any more than I believe boys are wired not to cry, or to never hit the laundry basket.  I’ve begun to wonder if it may be in part because of the mixed message we have given girls for generations.

Back to my eavesdropping.  (I’m sorry, the restaurant was really quiet, the little girl was quite loud and our elbows were almost touching… and I had nothing to distract myself with.)   Let’s dissect the conversation

Little Girl:  “I hate boys.”

Typical of children especially, it’s that all or nothing attitude.  I hate all boys.

Mother: “Well, boys can be fun to play with sometimes.”

Well done!  A great attempt to help her daughter open her mind and engage in discussion.  I agree that boys, in general, can sometimes be fun to play with.  The message?  Consider the bigger picture, avoid the all or nothing assumptions.  Let’s talk about this.  Sometimes is a pretty good word.

Little Girl:  “No, well I don’t like Jacob*.  He’s mean.”

The message got through, the little girl decides it’s not “boys” but one “boy” in particular.

Mother:  “He’s not mean.”

Here’s where mom got my cringe response going.  There was no open dialogue, the message I heard clearly is “you are wrong”  An open ended question like “what happened” or engaging her with “tell me more about Jacob being mean” is more likely to uncover and hidden worries or feelings that are beneath a blanket statement.

Little Girl:  “Yes, he is mean.  He is mean to me.”  

Undeterred, she was determined to make her case, be heard and listened to.  This is obviously important to her.  Bravo!

Mother:  “Jacob is a nice boy, he’s not mean.”

Mom undermines her daughter’s opinion and by doing so gives the message, “your opinion and how you feel don’t matter”.  She might have helped the conversation by affirming her feelings, “You don’t sound happy about playing with Jacob.”

Little Girl:  “He’s mean.  He throws stuff.  And I don’t like it.”

Undaunted the little girl offers her proof of why Jacob is mean and she doesn’t like him.

Mother:  “Oh, well make sure you don’t throw stuff back ok.  Because that isn’t nice.”

Mom might have had more luck in getting to the real issue by reflecting what her daughter was trying to tell her.  “So, Jacob has been throwing things.  I can see why you were annoyed.  Was Jacob angry?”  Finally she could have summarized the situation to let her daughter know she understood.  “You aren’t happy playing with Jacob when he’s throwing things.  But if he stopped throwing things, it might be fun?”  This way a child knows she’s at least heard and understood even if there isn’t a simple solution available.

Not sure what to do, I think the mother tried to brush it off, the “mean” event maybe wasn’t such a big deal really.  But it was to her daughter.  The underlying message I heard was, “People are sometimes like that, it’s just the way it is, but be nice anyway; perceptions of others are more important than how you feel and you are powerless to change it.”  I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the message mom intended to give at all.

The important thing about underlying messages is that they are never spelled out.  Sometimes they even aren’t intended, but what we say and what is heard are often different, especially by children who don’t have the wisdom and experience of adults.  Children love to tell us about their lives, they also come to us for help in learning to navigate that life.  This is the time where the real life lessons occur, helping them navigate all the interactions they will have over their lifetime.

And here is the crux of the problem in my opinion.  We are still giving girls the incomplete message of “just be nice”.

I am all for being nice.  This whole Rise Like Air thing is about finding our greatness, being kind, overcoming adversity, helping ourselves and others. 

We need to teach our children to be nice, but so much more than that. The challenge we face as parents and educators is to help children be nice, but at the same time to utilize the skills they need to be function with others in the world.  Nice is only one facet and as parents with girls we focus on it almost solely.  Somewhere deep down I think we still believe a husband or father will always be there to take care of our little girl.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, even if you’re there, they still need to be able to take care of themselves; period.  It is our job, our duty to ensure they have the skills, and we are falling short; way short.

Our children need the skills to be able to be nice without fearing being walked on and stepped over.  Remember the saying, “Nice guys finish last?”  It doesn’t need to be that way, it shouldn’t be that way. 

We need to give our children the skills then need to socialize well and we do a very poor job of it because so often when our little children come to us with problems like this our first response is “just be nice” like that will just make it go away.  We need to teach our children how to be nice while at the same time standing up for themselves and their beliefs, we need to help them learn how to be nice while still dealing with the Jacobs.  

I think girls often end up meaner and cattier because they don’t know how to do the other things while being nice.  So they ensure the perfect facade is in place; look pretty, smile, be nice, always appear innocent and then do whatever you need to do to survive in the real world, but never get caught without your facade in place.  

And you know what?  Sometimes being nice means walking away from those who aren’t, it means being true to ourselves and letting those who don’t value us go.  

One thing I do know is that if you continually undermine a child’s opinion long enough, eventually they will either stop sharing it with you or they will begin to believe they are wrong, their feelings don’t count and that they are unable to change their circumstances.  We wonder why children stop talking to us.  To a degree it’s a natural step in the gaining independence process, but it can also be an indicator that communication has gone awry.

 I have found girls and women who have high self esteem tend to be nice, strong, confident and very successful at navigating life and relationships without meanness or cattiness.  The girls and women who tend to be catty and mean may appear to be the nicest of the nice on the surface and have the world by the tail, but behind the facade you will often find a woman who is terrified of making a wrong move and feels like a victim of her own life.

Ultimately I think a parent wants their children, regardless of gender, to grow up to possess many positive traits including but not limited to:

  • kindness
  • joyfulness in life
  • resilience
  • self-discipline
  • honesty
  • bravery
  • confidence

Developing those traits starts early and it starts with the messages we give both with what we say and what we don’t say.

Here’s some tips on actively listening to your children (and even adults!) from Alberta Health Services

  1. Ask open ended questions
  2. Use reflective listening
  3. Affirm your child’s feelings
  4. Summarize what you’ve heard

* Names have been changed to protect their identity. (Truth be told I missed the boy’s name so who knows if I’m right or wrong.)

Further reading:

Huffington Post: by Hilary Wilce  6 Qualities Kids Need To Succeed and One They Don’t

How To Listen Actively To Your Children from Alberta Heath Services

How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk

©2014 Rise Like Air  J. Fries

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There was a very interesting article in June 26th 2013 Globe and Mail, entitled “Cursive Is Dying, KIds Can’t Sign Their Own Names And That’s A Huge Problem”

The article reminds us that

A signature is something that is uniquely ours. It is something we have created, that no one else can replicate (nefarious motives aside) in true likeness. An Internet password is none of those things.”

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It also points out that in society today, our signature is still the accepted form of proof of identity when filling out forms.  The article refers to another piece in the Toronto Star where a 14 year old boy is quoted.

I do a lot of stuff on the computer,” Lukas, 14, told the Star. “But I guess it’s weird (not to learn any cursive), because it turns out I have to sign my name on some things.”

How did we, as parents, educators and mentors, manage to miss that little fact?  It’s really quite obvious, but it’s not the only reason either.  I have been championing the need to keep cursive writing in the curriculum for a number of years now.  I regularly asked that neat cursive writing (not printing) be included in my children’s goals at school.  Only one teacher in our school really saw it as important a skill as I did.  In Grade 3, my children both had beautiful cursive handwriting, already becoming unique to themselves.  That was the last year it was a priority, and the resulting handwriting and spelling was proof of how priorities were changing.

I have another reason beyond the aspect of a legal signature.  Because a person’s signature is unique to themselves, it’s like they’ve taken a piece of themselves and offered it to you.  A note on email is sweet, but anyone could type it, sign it and send it if they could access you email account.  It’s much more troublesome and difficult to forge a handwritten note.  When I receive a handwritten note from someone, I know they’ve taken time to “put pen to paper”.  It immediately identifies them, like a familiar face in the crowd. Seeing the handwriting of someone special on a note, or on the envelope in the mailbox is enough to evoke feeling of happiness and anticipation.

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Handwriting can also be an absolute work of art.  I know many people whose handwriting has developed into something not only unique, but beautiful.  When I was about 9 I was collecting autographs and asked a family friend to sign my book.  He wrote a beautiful little verse and I’ve treasured it ever since. The verse was cute, but what really struck me was his penmanship.  It was flowing, delicate yet strong; a work of art.  The last time I took a look at it, his handwriting was just as striking.  No matter what font you choose to use, it’s someone else’s art, not yours.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to reject a compliment because it’s typed, I’m not going to ignore a person because they can’t write neatly or prefer to print or type.  However, pretty fonts, text messages or emails just don’t give that personal feeling; there’s an intimacy that is missing.  While I’m an avid fan of typing and the “new tech” that makes our life “easier”, I never did understand why embracing the new ever meant that we had to throw out the old.  I prefer to find a way to embrace both of them and let them intertwine to enable us to communicate in the most meaningful, enjoyable, and richly beautiful ways.

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