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December 2017

Parenting

The Perils of Praise

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What’s your reaction if I tell you that you are the sweetest, finest, brightest, most talented and beautiful person I have ever known?

You will probably have several reactions:

1. It’s nice to be appreciated. It feels good.

2. I’m not sure you know me very well. Or you don’t know the real me. I have lots of faults and limitations.

3. I’ll be a little anxious when I’m around you for fear you will find evidence that your high appraisal of me was mistaken. Or I will choose easy tasks so I can appear to be successful.

This last reaction is just what Carol Dweck found in her research with children. When we tell kids how amazing they are, we make them uncomfortable. They don’t want to appear as failures so, in the future, they choose easier tasks. Praise can be disabling.

This discovery fits well with the gospel. When Jesus commanded us not to judge, He did not say, “Do not judge negatively.” He said, “Do not judge.” Apparently it can be damaging to hang heavy labels on people—either positive or negative ones.

But here is the key point: Positivity is extremely important! It is vital for feeling valued. It is wonderfully encouraging and motivating. But we can encourage people without hanging heavy labels on them. What should we do instead of praising and judging them?

1. We can describe our reaction to them. “I love your laughter.” “I am amazed at the way you concentrate.” “It is a joy to be with you.”

2. We can describe our reaction to their doings. “Your picture made me feel the warmth of the sun.” “Your story made your characters so real!” “I can’t believe that you could get your room so organized!”

As the brilliant psychologist Haim Ginott observed, our words should “deal only with children’s efforts and accomplishments, not with their character and personality” (2003, p. 32).

I want to be balanced in discussing the problems of praise. Every child will survive an enthusiastic aunt or grandpa gushing: “You are the sweetest thing on the planet! You are the best!” In fact we are all glad for such an explosion of appreciation from people in our lives. Positivity is absolutely vital for all of us. It is only as we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations that positivity becomes immobilizing. It is better to appreciate effort than evaluate character.

So show appreciation and affection to the children in your life. Children need a steady stream of encouragement. But try to describe your reaction to their efforts rather than hang a heavy label on them.

Invitation:
For most of us the challenge is that we correct our children too much. We may not be consistently positive and encouraging. Watch your children—especially the child who is difficult—and look for opportunities to be more positive. Make special efforts to notice and appreciate their efforts.

Recommendations:
Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child is the classic parenting book. [Disclosure: I helped revise the original book to create the new edition.] Many agree; this is one of the most important books ever written on understanding the emotional world of children. I think it is the best parenting book in print.
If you want to know more about Carol Dweck’s research, her book, Mindset, is a readable and sensible book.

Self Development

Who Deserves Our Compassion?

A good friend called to talk about a difficult uncle. He is distant and prickly. She is tired of trying to be nice to him when he shows only rudeness to her. I suggested that she try to understand his struggles and pains. She commented that he doesn’t deserve her compassion.

Deserve her compassion? It struck me instinctively that the proper question is never one of deservingness. None of us deserves compassion. We are all narrow and selfish. We all deserve condemnation.

Yet “if we demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will all soon be blind and toothless” (variously attributed).

We humans expect mercy and compassion for our misdeeds while offering justice and retribution to others for their misdeeds. We cluck at those who text while driving. But, when we text (or check movie schedules, or read emails) while driving, it is only for truly vital matters.

We resent any snubs from the people around us. Yet we ourselves sniff at or ignore unnumbered people every day.

We all know this is wrong but it is so common that our offences become like Muzak at the mall; we hardly notice. We become Pharisees humming Come, Come Ye Saints.

Occasionally our consciences tweak us. We feel the discomfort of acting at odds with our values. And we make a choice. We set aside conscience or we embrace it.

Let’s imagine we embrace conscience. For the woman dealing with a difficult uncle, it may be impossible to go directly from pain to compassion. She may need first to feel God’s compassion for her. He grieves at her suffering. He feels her pain personally and profoundly. When we allow ourselves to be filled with His compassion, it becomes possible for us to show compassion. When we have a vibrant, loving relationship with Him, it becomes possible to be His messengers.

How do we get there? What if we feel like spiritual failures? What if we can’t seem to find His love despite a lifetime of trying?

I don’t have any easy answer to those questions. In my case, Heavenly Father tricked me. He showed me how much He loved His most broken and desperate children. As I witnessed His love for them, I finally stopped resisting His love for me. I finally sang the song of redeeming love in a personal way.

I don’t know how He will reach you. But I am sure it is always good for us to drop our defenses against Him. It is good to beg for an outpouring of His love. I cannot say what your path will be but I know that He is anxious to fill you, to bless you, to love you, to heal you, and to partner with you.

If God weeps with the suffering of His wicked children (Moses 7), He certainly grieves over our struggles. Feeling His compassion and devotion prepares us to act like Him—offering compassion to our fellow travelers.

Because we are in a fallen world, we are all injured, broken, damaged, and fragmented. Rather than scoff at each other’s injuries, we can be kind; After all, “everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We can offer a crust of bread and a kind word to every person we meet. We can work to notice each person God places in our paths.

When we are filled with the love of God, we can turn toward people with warm and loving curiosity: What unique gift has God given this person? What can I learn from this child of God? What might God call me to do for this person?

The surest way to draw heaven into our lives is to show compassion—undeserved compassion. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

I love Joni Hilton’s invitation: “Next time you’re in line at the market, or pumping gas, or in the workplace, notice the people around you and the quick conclusions you’re tempted to draw. Catch yourself judging unfairly and rewind the tape. Instead, see this person as a child of God who is loved and hoped for. Know that a Patriarchal Blessing awaits this person. Realize they cheered in the Pre-mortal World when they heard the Plan of Happiness. Ask a silent prayer to see if your path was meant to cross theirs today, to help them and bring them the truth” (Joni Hilton, Meridian Magazine, Are You More Judgmental than You Think? http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/12281)

It feels good to show love.

Invitation:

Ask Heavenly Father for the gift to really see people—especially to see them as He sees them. Pause to offer compassion, to pray for them, to appreciate them. If appropriate, ask them about themselves. Enter their worlds with interest and compassion. Express appreciation. Pray for them.

Recommendations:

I recommend that everyone read Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ.

Uncategorized

Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships Making Each Other Crazy

Top view of different tapas food recipes. Delicious table of foods.

People are as different as foods on a buffet. For example, I am an extrovert. I do my thinking on the outside. I think out loud. Nancy is an introvert. She likes to think before she talks (in spite of my consistent example to the contrary).

Sometimes it makes me crazy when I ask Nancy a question and she goes into a trance. I want to know what she’s thinking; I want to participate in the process. She, however, likes to mull ideas over before she offers a considered opinion—after several minutes. In the meantime, I tap my toe impatiently.

Of course, I have a talent for making her crazy (thankfully she is amazingly patient and forgiving!). When I am playing with an idea, I talk about it from different angles. Each time I talk about it, I make small refinements. But, to the untrained ear, it sounds like I’m saying the same thing over and over. It could make anyone crazy!

That is an enduring difference between us. Unfortunately there have been times when I have gotten impatient and pushed her to talk. I’m sure there are times when she wondered if I would quit talking.

Differences can irritate and grow. They can become defining issues. After all, the natural man is an enemy to his spouse. And always has been. And always will be.

There simply is no hope we will get along unless we can change the way we feel about our differences—“unless [we] yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). Even then we will still be different. But the differences won’t bother us like they do when our fallenness is talking.

Daniel B. Wile, the insightful marriage therapist, observed:

There is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years. (p. 13, After the Honeymoon)

Wile notes that we can get disgusted and leave our marriages. We can find new partners. And it will take a few years before we discover our unresolvable differences with our new partners. At that point we can leave those marriages and find new partners again. And thus we have the great American marriage pattern, serial monogamy. We stay frustrated and keep looking for the partner who is the perfect match, the one who completes us.

Or we can subscribe to God’s purposes in marriage. We can turn our discontents into humility and openness. We can try to understand and appreciate someone else’s perspective. We can seek to learn from each other.

If you have been paying attention, you have discovered the unresolvable differences in your relationship. You may have also discovered that they are not resolved as the result of candid discussion. Nope. Often they get worse. We get entrenched in our way of thinking and feeling.

There really is only one solution: heart-changing humility. When we become truly humble, we seek to understand our partners. We appreciate their uniqueness. We adapt to their ways. We even learn to appreciate them.

After all, God does not intend that we spend our lives coasting along in easy happiness. He intends to provoke us toward charity. Sure, God intends that we have times of peace and contentment. He also intends that we ascend the mountains of godliness. That will require real climbing—spiritual transformation. We “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love . . . that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:47).

Of course we must cooperate with God. When we feel ourselves getting irritated we must do more than wait for Him to patch our souls. We must actively call on Him as Alma did: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”

Will the differences go away? Nope. God wants us to get disgusted enough with our grumbling and complaining that we beg Him for the mighty change that brings us charity.

The leading relationship scholar, John Gottman, has recommended that we start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. Whether our differences are about relatives, money, sexuality, housework, or parenting, we can set aside our demands and seek to truly understand what matters to our partners.

We can stop thinking of differences as problems to be fixed and embrace them as opportunities for appreciation. We can stop holding up our own preferences as the standard of rightness. We can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

As we learn to appreciate our differences, we become more like our perfect Father.

Invitation:

Think about the things that irritate you most often in your marriage. How would you feel about those things if/when you were filled with the Spirit of God? How can you turn irritations into appreciations?

Recommendations:

For more about coping with our differences, read Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

For more about cultivating charity in marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.