Uncommon Common Sense
Monday May 2nd 2016

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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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