Uncommon Common Sense
Saturday December 20th 2014

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Making a Judgment and Being Judgmental

Before order­ing, I made a sim­ple judg­ment.  I asked for a de-caf non-fat, no-whip mocha and felt really good about it because I had suc­cess­fully reduced my fat intake to next to noth­ing.  I judged that it would taste as good with­out the fat, although that’s not quite true, but it was close enough to war­rant cut­ting out those extra calo­ries.  Besides, it didn’t really affect the taste of cof­fee and choco­late.  I admit I was pleased with myself because I had made what I con­sid­ered to be a good judgment.

Then I sat down.  Not four feet away, on an adjoin­ing table, stood a venti mocha with a pile of whipped cream that made my mouth water over its caloric obscen­ity.  It was like a Siren’s song, lur­ing cof­fee drinkers to imbibe things that quickly turn  into large curd cot­tage cheese before mak­ing a home on the thighs.  But I sup­pose that’s beside the point.

My point is, with­out real­iz­ing it, the minute I clapped eyes on all of that deca­dence I mor­phed from a per­son of sane judg­ment to a judg­men­tal holier-than-thou.  Hence the dif­fer­ence between mak­ing a judg­ment and being judg­men­tal — with a cap­i­tal “J.”

I’m doing bet­ter than he is,” I told myself, as I sipped my mocha and long­ingly watched him take a huge draw on his straw.

The truth is, it’s none of my busi­ness if he drinks three of those things before break­fast, and I’m not in a posi­tion to judge him if he does.  All I can do is make my own choices, for my own rea­sons, which amounts to mak­ing a judg­ment.  I become judg­men­tal when I look down my nose at some­one else for what they are doing.

A Probation Officer’s Four Suggestions Regarding Misbehaving Stepchildren

The Ques­tion:

My step­son is becom­ing very dis­obe­di­ent to his mother and me, espe­cially me, and I don’t know what to do.  His father left them when he was still in dia­pers, so he never knew him, but he tells me I’m not really his dad and that I can’t tell him what to do.  I mar­ried his mother about a year ago.  He’s 14 now and we think he needs a firm hand before he gets into seri­ous trou­ble.  Can you give us any advice?

The Answer:

This is a com­mon prob­lem.  You mar­ried his mother after he became a teenager and it is obvi­ous he sees you as an inter­loper.  It takes time to adjust to being a step-anything, be it par­ent or child, and the issue is com­pli­cated by the fact that he is at an age when he is just becom­ing a man, him­self.  Unless she had other rela­tion­ships in the interim, I assume he had most of his mother’s atten­tion until you came along. Read the rest of this entry »

Five Suggested Rules for an 18 year old Living at Home

Eco­nom­ics are mak­ing it nec­es­sary for many adult chil­dren to return home to live.  Add to that the fact that legal eman­ci­pa­tion has been low­ered to an age when many young adults are still liv­ing at home, depen­dent upon their par­ents, and roles and rules can get pretty con­fus­ing.  More than one eighteen-year-old has said to his or her par­ents, “I’m an adult now and it is up to me how I live my life.”  That’s true, but only to a point, when you’re still sleep­ing in your child­hood bed.

In order to avoid con­fu­sion after they move back in, you may want to state the fol­low­ing before they unpack, or even at 12:01 AM on their 18th birth­day, if you sense impend­ing problems:

1.  It is our  house.  We bought it, we paid for it, we keep it up and pay the bills.  We are in charge.  You are wel­come here, as part of the fam­ily, not as a boarder who has no con­nec­tion with us.  We are still your par­ents.  If it appears that you are not try­ing to make it on your own, we may set a time limit for your stay here. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Things To Do If Your Child is Arrested

It could be a triffic cita­tion, or a felony, but you may be look­ing at charges against your child. The legal sys­tem can be con­fus­ing and intim­i­dat­ing, espe­cially when you are in shock, and pos­si­bly even embarrassed.

It’s nat­ural to feel alien­ated from the process since you don’t speak the legal lan­guage and pro­fes­sion­als can appear to be cold and mechan­i­cal. Still, there are ways to deal with these real­i­ties, and turn the sit­u­a­tion into a more pos­i­tive and valu­able learn­ing expe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly for your child. Here are some sug­ges­tions from a pro­ba­tion officer:

1. Don’t panic or over­re­act. If you do, you prob­a­bly won’t get all of the facts, nor will they be straight. It’s easy enough to shut down com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a teenager, and right now you need to know what hap­pened. Your child is most likely upset, either because he/she has been wrongly accused, or because they know they have done some­thing wrong and have to face it. You will find out more if you con­trol your reac­tions long enough to hear your child’s story, and it may take some gen­tle and patient prodding.

2. Address the issue of guilt or inno­cence.  The bot­tom line for your child is, “Did you do it?”  Don’t bad­ger, but ask clear, con­cise and rel­e­vant ques­tions.  After you have the facts, decide if your child is admit­ting or deny­ing the charge, then approach the mat­ter from that stance.  Nat­u­rally you should admit the truth, but not every­one who is accused is guilty.

It is not a good idea to deny charges that are true.  Not only will it drag things out, doing so will sug­gest to your child that hon­esty is not the best pol­icy and that the sys­tem is a game to be played and won, regard­less of the moral­ity involved.  It is absolutely the wrong mes­sage to give a teenager. Read the rest of this entry »

Just a Thought …

Peo­ple who are brought up to believe they are the cen­ter of the uni­verse seem to have a hard time find­ing their place in the world.

One Talk Won’t Do It

A radio ad tells par­ents how impor­tant it is to talk to their chil­dren about drugs.  In the con­ver­sa­tion, a father tim­o­rously approaches his son, to have “the big drug talk,” only to find that the boy already knows all about them.  The father’s attempt is obvi­ously too late.

When Dad asks how the boy knows so much about drugs, he replies, non­cha­lantly, that he learned every­thing from his friends.  The mes­sage of the ad is, of course, that he would have been bet­ter off hear­ing it from his dad, had Dad made the effort and done so in time.  Through­out the dia­logue between the two, it is obvi­ous the son knows a whole lot more than Dad about drugs, and the impli­ca­tion is that it is prob­a­bly knowl­edge born of expe­ri­ence or, at least, from direct observation.

It is true that the issues of sub­stance abuse and moral­ity in gen­eral should be adressed by par­ents, but they are not top­ics that can be cov­ered in one well-timed chat.  A par­ent can­not sim­ply call Junior into the den, have a timid ten-minute con­ver­sa­tion  and expect it to pre­pare him for today’s world. Read the rest of this entry »

12 Step Forgiveness

Sev­eral years ago a man came to the pro­ba­tion office to see me.  He was in a twelve-step recov­ery pro­gram for sub­stance abuse, and said we had some unfin­ished busi­ness from when he was on my case­load, three years earlier. 

He apol­o­gized for how badly he had behaved and admit­ted that, at the time, he would go to any extremes to use alco­hol and drugs and couldn’t have cared less about how he treated peo­ple, espe­cially me, his pro­ba­tion offi­cer.  He wanted to beg my par­don and make right the wrongs he had done.  He added that I was only one of many peo­ple he had to face.  He also made it clear that his suc­cess in com­ing to grips with his past did not lie with my will­ing­ness to receive his apol­ogy, although that would be nice.  The impor­tant thing in his recov­ery was to make the effort.

The fact is, I didn’t remem­ber how he had behaved toward me.  Oh, cer­tainly I accepted his apol­ogy and was thrilled to praise him for his cur­rent efforts, but he was only one of an entire case­load, many of whom had been rude, had con­sis­tently lied to me or been manip­u­la­tive. Pro­ba­tion offi­cers even­tu­ally come to grips with the fact that it isn’t our fault and we try not to take it per­son­ally. Read the rest of this entry »

Can You Pledge to be Compassionate?

Accord­ing to a “Mail Online” arti­cle of March 6, 2010, an 11 year old boy died of dehy­dra­tion in a South Lon­don hos­pi­tal due to neglect by hos­pi­tal staff.  The arti­cle states that, at one point, the boy was “so des­per­ate for a drink that he rang police to beg for their help.”   When the police responded, they were told the boy was fine.

The arti­cle ends with, “This week a task force called on nurses to sign a pub­lic pledge that they will treat every­one with com­pas­sion and dig­nity.”  I find that inter­est­ing and, frankly, it makes me shake my head in won­der.  Do they really think that will take care of any problems?

Among other things, it is pos­si­ble that the staff is over­worked or that there are severe admin­is­tra­tive prob­lems, in which case a pledge won’t address the real issues.   But, more impor­tantly, if any of those staff mem­bers don’t have a true enough grasp of com­pas­sion — enough that it demands expres­sion in their behav­ior with­out a pledge - sign­ing their names won’t accom­plish any­thing.  That’s because the ideas them­selves may have no intrin­sic mean­ing.  How can you pledge to do some­thing you don’t truly “get”?

On the other hand, those who do have a gen­uine grasp of com­pas­sion, and who sin­cerely respect the dig­nity of oth­ers, don’t need to sign a pledge.  They will  nat­u­rally demon­strate such virtues because they are essen­tial to their character.

Donut Dollies Re-Unite

scan0001-3Surely it hasn’t been almost 40 years since I returned from Viet­nam.  Surely the inter­ven­ing years didn’t dis­ap­pear like smoke from a sum­mer camp­fire.  Surely the very real events of my youth haven’t already been rel­e­gated to the unre­al­ity of his­tory.  Surely not, yet I have in my hands a piece of paper that sug­gests oth­er­wise.   This week I received an invi­ta­tion to another Red Cross Donut Dolly reunion. 

The term “re-union” is par­tic­u­larly appro­pri­ate in this case because, as Red Cross recre­ation work­ers in a war zone, we were very much united in spirit and in pur­pose.  We were a team.  We were there for each other.  We cared and we were welded together by a once-in-a-lifetime expe­ri­ence that could never be for­got­ten.  Read the rest of this entry »

Those Inner Conflicts

bud-esther-abt 1940-coat & hatI think I was in col­lege when I real­ized that some of my inner con­flicts — you know, those lit­tle argu­ments we carry on within our­selves — were the con­flicts my par­ents had with each other. 

The Bud half of me would do some­thing to embar­rass or annoy the Esther half, and vice-versa, leav­ing me  feel­ing I was wrong, no mat­ter which “side” I chose.  My par­ents’ dis­agree­ments had some­how been fused into one per­son­al­ity trait that was now mine, too.  I was  able to carry on the dis­cord, all by myself.  By default it had become nec­es­sary for me to try to solve their issues.

Maybe this is just another way to “inherit” fam­ily traits.   Talk about genetic warfare …

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