Archive for April, 2012

So last night I’m getting ready to take the kids off to the ex’s as I prepare to head out of town to my best friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.  As I’m backing out of the driveway I’m going through the mental checklist.  Lawn mowed.  Check.  Kid’s off to ex and explained that they will not see me tomorrow after they get off the bus but before mom picks them up.  Check.  EZPass in the car. Check.   Dog…  oh crap, THE DOG!!!

In a panic, I realize that I had completely forgotten about what to do with the dog while I am out of town.   Now to make myself not appear like a total doofus here, I do have a few things on my mind.  I’m getting married in about three weeks and I’ve been working on getting a couple bunk beds ordered from different stores this week as well as doing my job, preparing for the honeymoon by calling some vendors out where we are going and a myriad of other things.  Look.  I’m really sorry I forgot about the dog.  I’m only human.

Normally my ex takes him as she feels a sense of obligation to step in since we have the dog mainly because of her.  This weekend however, the kids have told me they are going to be at a hotel because she is redoing her kitchen.   She doesn’t have money to pay for her taxes, but she’s redoing her kitchen?   Stop.  Focus man, focus.  You need to figure out what to do with the dog.  I call her, and sure enough after I explain how I was not even sure I told her I would be out of town this weekend, she tells me that they will not be home so she can’t watch the dog.  That option has now vaporized for certain, if there was any possibility of it being real anyway.

My fiancée calls her normal person who watches her pets and children.  She works night shift so we may not hear from her for a while.  I contact the vet.  No we do not board.  Here is the number of a pet sitter we know maybe she can help.  Call her.  Leave message.   Started looking up boarding places that might not require an extensive pre-evaluation that I now do not have time for.  Thank goodness the dog is current on shots and other things.  Left some messages.  Pet sitter calls back.  She is booked.  Another option into the vapor.  Called my friend and talked to him about the possibility of the dog thwarting all our plans.  He suggests the vet.  Already done.  He suggests kennels.  I explain the evaluation process.  He goes on about how they normally just segregate them for an hour.  I explain I have done that before but, I guess in an attempt to appear more upscale, everywhere in my state requires background checks, gun permits, and DNA analysis before they will take your dog.  Sometimes they even need to take a paternity test to make sure that your dog has not fathered some cross breed with a cat or something.  If dog kennels ran Homeland Security we’d have no terrorist problems, I promise.

I talked to my parents.  I know they were trying to be helpful.  They suggested dropping him at my soon-to-be-in-laws.  I informed them they were two hours away.  I also mentioned that they do not have a dog.  They have a cat.  Who has not met my dog.  In fact my dog has not met any cats.  Probably a bad idea to have the first meeting of a new species be in a rush when heading out of town.  It works for drunk businessmen in Vegas, but probably not a good call for this situation.  There are other things I did not mention to my parents, such as not imposing on people who have plenty of other items going on, like their business and such.  We talked about the same things I talked to my friend about.   My parents do not have pets mind you, so the questions are a little weird.  Don’t they have places you can take dogs, like hotels?  Yes, kennels.  Called a few, all closed, have to wait until morning.  What about the doctor thing?   The vet?  Yes tried them.  Can you ask a neighbor?  Sadly, I am about as close to my neighbors as the rest of us.  I stand next to them with my child at the bus stop and say good morning.  I do know their names which puts me ahead of 90% of the population, but I’m still not comfortable enough with them to go knock on their door at 9 PM and ask them to watch my dog for the weekend.  My mom tells me that this is why she does not have pets.  I explain that is good, but not helpful right now.

At this point, I’m seriously contemplating taking the dog with us and sleeping with him in the car in the hotel parking lot.  That way I can avoid him taking a dump in the car.  And the probable citation or arrest for animal cruelty.  Not very helpful to drive across states to attend an event and find myself in jail for something.  If I was a Kardashian maybe that would work as a new publicity stunt, but I actually have to hold down a real job.  My friend thinks I’m nuts.  At this point I agree.

In the morning, I still have the same set of options.  No pet sitter.  No kennel.  No possibility of my homeless dog in a car.  I start calling kennels as they open and pleading my case, explaining that my normal option fell through and now I am having to find a place on short notice.  If you recall from earlier posts, I strive not to lie.  Ever.  It was tough finding a way to spin this one as I’m walking that borderline of lying by omission here.  With my friends I was brutally honest.  Yes, I’m a moron who has been planning to go out of town for over a month and just happened to overlook the dog situation.  With a business that I’m trying to take a dog they don’t know from a person they don’t know, I feel showing myself as a disorganized idiot who also shows now as a borderline degenerate pet owner does not play into my favor to find our puppy a temporary home for three nights.  So I tow the line of my ethics and working in doggie-kennel/border patrol/Homeland Security/cavity-searches-for-mouthing-off land and leave off the details.

I get one to possibly be interested.  Another is going to have to call the owner.  At this time my fiancée calls back.  Her friend will do it.  She’ll be here in an hour.  The weekend should be saved.   Unless I suddenly forget how to drive a car.  Hey anything’s possible.  After all I did forget I had a dog.

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To function as adults in a confident and conducive way, we need to learn to work through doubt.  At a minimum we have a pretty good laboratory to hone our skills in:  school.  Friends and enemies alike constantly tell us how stupid we look, how stupid we are, what we are incapable of doing, what we should be doing (usually not a good list when provided by someone negatively).   People who are supposed to help do not always do so.  Too many teachers are not there to teach, but to do a job and ignore the kids.  They take little interest in our issues and help as little as they can or not at all.  They criticize and offer little help, just suggesting we suck it up.  We’ve all had those experiences, some more than others, and at time more frequent.  Sadly, many people reach adulthood and still let the doubts reign.  They never got past the low self-esteem self-doubt can cause.  They never learned how to press through an unknown situation against the doubt that the result would be good or even necessary.

As our families come together, an additional set of sources is piled onto our new family.  Luckily I do not see any serious issues with either of the adults in the mix, but we have children who are not old enough in some case, or just not as fully equipped as we are.  The single source is the blending of the family, but the originations of these doubts are many and varied.

The internal fear of the unknown is a big one.  What will it mean to share a room with someone?  I already do it at mom’s and I hate it and now I need to do it with someone I’m not even related to.  I will have no privacy.  Why do we need a TV in our room, it will just distract from being a quiet place?  Why do the boys get a bunk bed and we do not?  After all my room’s not that much bigger than theirs.  These are just some of the questions fueled by doubt caused by the unknown.  As they see the day of reckoning coming the questions are becoming more rapid fire.  This is what I am dealing with.  My fiancée is dealing with questions of her own.  Why do we have to move to their house?  What will the new school be like?  I’m sure I’ll hate it.  What will it mean to share a room with someone?

My process of dealing with this is no different than I do at work.  When people do not have information, they create it.  My worldview is not theirs.  I need to address both simultaneously if possible.  If sales are down, doubt about the long term viability of the business creeps in.  As management we can have all the plans in the world to make changes, but if they are not communicated, people create their own scenarios, and they are usually ugly.  For some reason, God wired us to dread.  I guess we know the world is troubled, and so expecting trouble to follow flows most easily. 

With the kids the process is to focus on first teaching them to think constructively.  With the amount of rooms in the house, sharing them is not really an option.  They are not the only people in the world to have shared space, and they may also be doing it when they leave the house, in college, with roommates because they can’t afford rent on their own, etc.  I also can empathize that while I am also sharing a room, the situation is very different.  I can’t use that chain of logic with them as the worldview is different.  I am sharing a room with my wife.  They are sharing rooms with “strangers” or with their siblings, neither of which they have the same relationship with that I do with my wife.  I could argue that they should suck it up, and that works about as well in a family as it does in a workplace.  Also, since a family loves each other, we should be supportive where possible and not just nasty about it.  There is a loving way to coach them rather than the easy way of “that’s the way it is” and let them make the best of it.  So I look for teachable moments to explain.  I understand it is a challenge and I can appreciate that they feel weird about it.  We watch shows like “The Middle” where kids share a room.  I explain that when the one brother needs some time he lets the other person know to stay out of the room for a while.  Fear of the unknown is causing the doubt.  I had this argument with my ex all the time.  We cannot expect kids to learn by osmosis or cosmic energy.  If they have not dealt with a situation, they do not always have the capacity to see that there is a way to get there without a fight.  When it comes down to it, must arguments are based on differing viewpoints, and a lot of those can be quickly resolved by filling in the missing information.  As I explained this option to the doubt about privacy, I could see the wheels turning.  Sometimes it’s easy.  Sometimes it’s not. 

So that addresses the doubt from within.  The land we inhabit has these creatures called exes, and the kids do have friends and other smaller humans who hang out with them that are acquaintances, enemies, or as an adult faced with the barrage of “knowledge” these teens and pre-teens impart, “opportunities for teachable moments”.  On my bad days I have nasty names for them, but I try to keep those to a minimum.  On the ex front, I do struggle with if this is a good thing or not, since I’ve heard the stories of many other divorces.  After all, without the involvement of exes we would not get time without the children without paying another adult to be with them, which certainly is nice and cost effective.  However, we would also not have one of the biggest sources of doubt from without.  After all, I find it is easier to discredit the advice of another youngster, but the other parent carries magical value.  You see our children still live in the land of their youth where just being their parent somehow makes you the smartest person in the world.  I hold a little bit of happiness in the fact that I know when they become teenagers; they back up the U-Haul and move to the land of their parents are the dumbest people they, their friends, strangers and everyone on earth know.  The problem is they will feel that way about me and my wife at the same time they feel it about our exes, but there is still going to be relief of a sort.

My approach?  Similar to addressing the doubt within, but a lot more calculated.  The within points are more manageable because they do not talk back.  The pesky exes have a habit of answering questions when they are asked, especially when they know they can provide an answer that can cause discord.  Tell dad you’re worried about moving into the new house, and you can tell a grade schooler all kinds of things to freak them out.   They already think you are the smartest person in the world.  Tell mom you hate sharing a room and she can promise you can live all by yourself in the basement when you’re 18 whether she plans to do it or not.  Even when your sister is saying that mom always promises things and that’s still years away so it will change, you cling to the hope and let the doubt fester and seethe.  After all, if at 18, maybe she’ll fight for it sooner if you grumble to her enough.  It’s worked before.  When kids have a parent they can manipulate, it adds a whole new level of fun.

So the process does become like psychological warfare.  The problem is it’s a lot like trying to convince your horny teenage son that the “high class” hooker can still give him an STD.  Things can be pretty enticing even if you’re being told a completely truthful and well thought out alternative.  In our current situation, my fiancée’s ex is the bigger doubt planter, as that is his life.  The difference however, is I have nothing to lose with him.  I’m not looking to be his buddy or maintain a relationship nor do I have any history of a relationship with him.  Just as my relationship with my ex places blinders on me to certain options that others see, I feel the same happens with my fiancée.  I do not see how it could not, after all, we are the sum of our experiences.  I know the lines to not cross, like telling his kids their dad is an idiot, or in some way directly undermining him so he could try to convince an impartial third party (a judge) that the household is talking negatively about him, but I’m really, really good at getting the same points across with fact and examples.  I’m not trying to convince the kids to become criminals, or take up some other bad habits; I’m setting examples on how life should be lived and how choices should be made.  At some point they will be old enough to understand that living with multiple women is not a marriage or a family. Having friends “give” you free stuff all the time is going to come out as not the norm.  Answering questions to a doctor incorrectly showing total lack of caring about your child’s lifelong medical condition will eventually be understood for what it is, a narcissistic focus on caring only for himself and having little regard for the actual well being of the child.  I see it is my kids already.  They know mom lies, fails to keep promises and lets them down in myriad ways.  They knew that when we were married.  In my exes situation, they were too young when the divorce happened to have developed any real understanding of their dad.  Everything was created in the play land of shared parenting, when you have time in between to exercise your deviant tendencies and prepare a place for your visiting guests and stage the environment.  The downside of divorce when parents like this are involved, is that the kids get much less exposure to a 24/7/365 environment that a family would have and it provides the manipulative parent ample opportunity to window dress.  They can tell the kids about conversations that were never had, events that never happened, people that don’t exist that corroborate stories all under the guise of them happening “while you were at moms”.  This is where is becomes psychological warfare and I think only by approaching it this way do we have any real hope of guiding these kids to a really solid outcome.  Allowing things to play out and “hoping” they figure it out is fine if this was all going on when they were in their late teens and equipped to judge our exes for what they really are.  Doing that with grade and middle schoolers is naïve.

No one looking in cannot view this as hard.  In this land of doubt I see two clear, opposing options.  We can leave things to chance and stay out of the way and not be responsible, loving, involved parents and get the result we see all over society of kids who have poor morals, decision making skills and ability to function in the world, or we can approach this with the intensity it requires and be ever vigilant on assaults on our kids with doubt which leads to unwarranted worry and fear.  Information obviously needs to be kept age appropriate, but we have no toddlers running around the house anymore.  We have maturing girls and boys who sadly have been provided one stable parent each.  For quite some time they will live in the world that the unstable parent somehow is stable, either because that parent is a master manipulator and uses everything he can to make is seem so, or because they desperately want her to be regardless of the evidence they see repeatedly to the contrary and that tears their little hearts apart every time they experience it.  It is my job as a father to equip my children, all of them, with what they need to be successful.  That includes the ability to see through the smoke screen on the one hand and to provide guidance at another disappointment on the other.  Providing a loving and consistent household will handle the doubts from within, but only aggressive action will handle the doubts from without.  I see it as a form of martial arts, responding with a like amount of force to the aggressor.  My ex is not very direct or manipulative and as I already relayed, my kids have a healthy understanding of what the reality is though they are still kids and want to believe it might change.  Her ex is a conniving, crafty, take-every-advantage-in-anything waste of space whose seeds of doubt need to be met with equally strong seeds of encouragement until the kids get to the point that they have enough life experience to understand the strange things their dad does in how he lives his life.  It will be tough.  He has a stage to perform on and he enjoys it and he’s good at it.  God will show us the way.  As I explained in my post about lying, the liar needs to keep all the threads of their lies tied together and that takes more and more of a toll on them over time.  The truth teller does not bear that burden.  Because we are the truth tellers we will prevail.  It is just a matter of time.  I am savvy enough to understand I walk a fine line.  I am the “new guy” that he can use to inject doubt, and anything I do to play into that will be something he can use. But I’m also not stupid and I understand that and can play that game, so it will take hard work and effort on my part.  The same lack of understanding they have of their dad, is the same lack they have with me.  If he’s as good as my fiancée claims he is (and I still am withholding judgment because I have not seen one inkling of brilliance) he will use the same argument with his kids that I put forth as his modus operandi.  He will be telling them I seem nice and wonderful and kind because they only see me every other weekend usually and I can “play for the cameras” but my true self will come out when they live with me.  He will be planting the seeds of doubt to make them on guard.  I see possible indicators of it already with how the kids are still not reaching out to engage as mine are to my fiancée.  They do not start conversations with me or ask to do things, they hold back and wait for me to initiate and even then there is awkwardness.  It can be the difference in the kids temperament, but I do not think that is all of it.  If this guy is the master manipulator he is using his power of all-knowing and fully trusted dad to worry the kids sick about what living with me will really be like. 

The fight against doubt, especially in our family’s case, is warfare.  Like it or not succeeding in business is similar, and I’ve done a pretty good job on that front, so I’ve got a good track record against manipulators.  It is therefore completely apropos to close with two very great practitioners of what we need here, Machiavelli and Sun-Tzu.  I fully understand Machiavelli’s concept of keeping “my enemies closer”.  More importantly I understand and know how to act out the scenarios from Sun-Tzu to “know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious”.  I’d like to add a third truth I know, and that is from the greatest teacher of all, God, of whom it is written in Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

If I take out my crystal ball, I think a lot of the doubt within will be gone shortly after the houses are combined as long as we talk a LOT and provide the information and tools our kids may not yet be aware of and do not leave it to chance.  You should have a clear picture of what I see about the doubt without.

Be prepared

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Anger, Christian, Christian life, Faith, Family, God

I was never a Boy Scout so that motto was not learned there.  I did watch the “Lion King” when it came out and heard Scar sing about it, though that version of preparedness was a little more sinister than most of us delve into on a daily basis.  Between my parents and my career choice I think my desire to be ready for anything had its evolution in that combination.

When we used to live down south, we were in an area that was prone to violent storms and tornadoes during certain times of year.  Unlike the north where every village and hamlet seems to have that bullhorn on a stick known as the tornado siren, the area where we were at did not.  Having grown up with the siren, it never occurred to me that it might be different somewhere else.  That first spring was normal for the area, and one day the sky got very dark and the rain and wind and hail were pelting the house.  We had the TV on and the news broke in that there were tornado watches throughout the area and the kids were getting a little nervous as were the adults.  As this was going on it dawned on me that the familiar siren was nowhere to be heard and I realized that if we had not been watching TV we would have really not been aware of the danger other than the storm outside. 

As I went about finding a way to be prepared I found out I needed a NOAA radio.  With the hills and distance between houses, sirens were not real practical as you could not hear anything from one valley to the next so what worked in the flat as a pancake Midwest was not effective here.  Just as I had learned a buggy was really a shopping cart and “coke” could be Coca Cola or Sprite or anything else, I had to learn the new rules for things I thought I was prepared for before.  We also did not have a basement as it was not possible to build them where the ground was granite so we designated an interior closet as the “tornado closet”.  We showed the kids where the flashlights and little stash of snacks were going to be kept.  We informed them that when the radio went off we might need to round them up and they could bring one stuffed animal with them to the closet as there was not a lot of space for all of us.  The goal was to minimize fear of the unknown by making as much known as possible.  By doing this, when the radio sounded one of them would run calmly over to the bedroom it was in and check the message.  If it said tornado warning, we knew to head to the closet.  A watch was an alert but not one that demanded we sequester ourselves as they could go on for six or more hours.  We did find the warnings could last for an hour or two though as a cell went through, which was new for us, and what added the snack stash to the closet so that no one felt they could not stay but and risk leaving the safest part of the house just because we had the munchies.  By being prepared we were able to sit through these storms with a lot less worry.

Life is full of times when we need to prepare.  We study for exams and prepare for job promotions.  We prepare to go on vacation, or for retirement or for the graduation of our children.  We save money to prepare for the possibility of a break in income to give us time to find a new or better source.  As parents we need to prepare for times when our children need someone else to care for them when we are at work or unable to be with them for an extended period.

We are about a month away from the wedding day.  We have been spending a lot of time and effort preparing as have many other people.  After that comes the moving in to one house that we have been planning and preparing for over the last few months.  Some of our guests need to prepare for the travel and logistics of attending our wedding.  Some events like preparing for the weekly spelling test carry little anxiety, but larger events like the ones we are fast approaching seem to create storm clouds around them no matter how prepared we are.  There are just so many things to coordinate and keep track of that it is easy to feel like something is missed.

So as a man of faith I have asked, is it not just as important to prepare our minds and spirits for the storms of life?  As we move in together there will be arguments about things that we need to work through.  In John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  I trust that God will guide our hearts and minds in a productive way to work through our troubles.  I can prepare as much as possible in the physical sense, but only by preparing myself spiritually for the storms of life can I really be truly prepared.  Daily Bible reading and devotional study may sound simple, but they help me to understand God and his character deeply, so that when troubles surface I do not question God’s goodness or feel as if no one is in my corner.  I understand what He has taught me in how to deal with my family and even in arguments and heated emotions I can draw on that to respond with love as He would.  It keeps me from lashing out in anger and saying something rash that I will regret later.  It allows me to be a model of behavior for everyone in my family that while we disagree and may get loud and angry, we can avoid personal attacks, cursing and mean spirited comments with no other purpose than to hurt the other person or to shock them into understanding we are really upset.  Because I know God is ever-present in my troubles I can draw on His peace.

I see friends and family who do not have that same relationship with God as they go through trouble and realize that their physical preparedness provided them some comfort, but without spiritual preparedness they still struggle and react more poorly than they could.  I still struggle myself at times due to the volume or magnitude of the trouble and just having human emotions that I may lose control of.  I try to learn from those times and use them to be more prepared in the future.  Just as we had to weather that first major storm and then find we needed a NOAA radio and some supplies in our place of shelter, I prepare better each time by having love for those around me as the basis for my preparing.  God loves us all and He calls us to love each other, whether co-worker, stranger, friend or family.  If you find yourself struggling through life, maybe you need to examine how you prepare, and do not neglect preparation of the spirit.

Managed fear

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Lessons, Parenting, Philosophy, Tools

Today is one of those days.  Those days when paraskevidekatriaphobics (those who fear Friday the 13th) allow their lives to be controlled by something unreal and self made rather than managing their fear and living the lives they want or are meant to live.  I found out last night that there are three of them this year, and thank goodness for the paraskevidekatriaphobics, after today only one is left in July.

Just as with any fear I’m sure there are some paraskevidekatriaphobics who, at the start of the year, look at their calendars and find all the Friday’s that have that evil number 13 on them and plan their lives to avoid doing anything significant, and yes I’m sure in some cases ANYTHING, on those days.  Then there are others who might just shake a bit when they wake up or the day approaches, but have learned in some way to not have their fear define them.  The goal of course, should be for anyone to back away from fears like this, that others without the fear would look at as inconsequential.

There are certainly legitimate fears.  There are things that have a good chance of killing us.  I have a fear of falling, or as I like to jokingly call it in my attempt at management it’s actually a fear of landing AFTER falling, due to the injuries or possible death that can result from a fall of sufficient height and landing on certain surface types (I think medium sized jagged rocks from any height for example are a really unforgiving landing platform).  Fear of being struck by a moving train is probably a good one to live your life by.  Also fear of impalement on pikes. 

The absurd point I am trying to make is there are things that 99% of the population can probably agree on as being good things to avoid, but when we really analyze it that list is very short.  As humans we tend to make it very long.  Only through long internal therapy have I gotten from my original fear, the more common fear of heights, to what I view as a frivolous and funny fear of landing after falling.  Yet, making this change, and most importantly getting my brain to internalize this change, is a big part of my managing it.  As a child I was not willing to climb to high on the money bars (beyond one foot off the ground), roller coasters were a demonic device conjured up my maniacal scientists just to torture me and make me think about my fear, and tall buildings with glass walls were tough.

By understanding that I needed to manage by fear and not let it manage me, I have gotten much better and a big part is that I really am more limited to getting caught by this fear when I really can fall and die, which I think everyone would agree is much more reasonable.  I love roller coasters now, I can get into elevators and not immediately have the thought of them falling down the shaft even enter my head, and as my fiancée can attest even though I’m not perfect, I can go up in the Willis Tower SkyDeck and walk into the hanging see through ledges to some degree.  Sure I had to slowly shimmy out and then I did not exactly want to linger, but I was able to do it without a lot of effort and hand wringing because I understood that while it was just an engineered box hanging off a building like a wart in a windy, cold and wet city so that the girders COULD have rusted to the point that they could not support my overweight body and we could plunge to our deaths (I was very certain landing after falling 110 stories was going to be deadly), I could also manage the fear to understand that was very unlikely.  However, walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon to the very edge, that will not happen.  I understand the fact that rocks can be loose and they are not always visible and there is very little extra value to seeing the Grand Canyon with 3 inches of rock between your feet and the mile long fall or 3 feet.

My belief as with the personal example I just went through is that putting things in perspective is crucial to not letting your life be controlled by worry and doubt that are not worth your time.  The concepts of not sweating the small stuff or only dealing with what you can control are good thought points to guide you.  The more you know about something the less power it has to make you afraid.  It is important though to not go too far in the opposite direction and enter denial for there are real problems there.

Denial has an interesting and insidious side effect.  For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn’t so, the fall they take when victimized is far, far greater than those who accept the possibility.  Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes constant low-grade anxiety.  Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry).  (Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear, Chapter 1)

My understanding that I will not fall out of a roller coaster just because it is high in the air, and understanding the engineered safety features as I got older helped me to learn to love them for what they were.  A way to provide a sense of excitement in a fully controlled environment, where the laws of nature work to make my primal senses feel “fear” with physical sensation.  One can certainly make the case that that’s what attracts drug addicts to their medications of choice, but some of our poorest behaviors are a result of coping with unmanaged fear and worry.  Do you know someone who is an alcoholic, drug abuser, or physical abuser?  It is amazing to see how many times the root of that behavior was a coping mechanism for some fear they had, real or unreal, that was not dealt with in a productive way, but instead they turned to a substance or action.  The bullying problem in schools has taken center stage in recent years and we have all heard how many times the act of bullying is a protection mechanism for someone who feels unsafe themselves so they choose to bully to control rather than be afraid that someone will control them.

As a parent we create “fear” not just for ourselves but for our children.  As humans we have come to be “afraid” of too many things and we come up with stupidly long words ending in phobia for them as I started this post with.  Mr. de Becker makes an excellent point when he says, “…any time your dreaded outcome cannot be reasonably linked to pain or death and it isn’t a signal in the presence of danger, then it really shouldn’t be confused with fear.  It may well be something worth trying to understand and manage, but worry will not bring solutions.” 

This is the trap we can so easily fall into, especially as parents.  We worry that our kids are not learning enough to get into the right college, we worry that our hair will make us look silly and we won’t be taken seriously, we worry that Timmy has too few friends and what does that say about him socially.  Once again some words of wisdom from de Becker.

Worry is fear we manufacture—it is not authentic.  If you choose to worry about something, have at it, but do so knowing it’s a choice.  Most often, we worry because it provides some secondary reward.  There are many variations, but a few of the most popular follow.

Worry is a way to avoid change; when we worry, we won’t do anything about the matter.

Worry is a way to avoid admitting powerlessness over something, since worry feels like we’re doing something. (Prayer also makes us feel like we’re doing something, and even the most committed agnostic will admit that prayer is more productive than worry.)

Worry is a cloying way to connect with others, the idea being that worry about someone shows love.  The other side of this is the belief that not worrying about someone means you don’t care about them.  As many worried-about people will tell you, worry is a poor substitute for love or for taking loving action.

Worry is a protection against future disappointment.  After taking an important test, for example, a student might worry about whether he failed.  If he can feel the experience of failure now, rehearse it, so to speak, by worrying about it, then failing won’t feel as bad when it happens.  But there’s an interesting trade-off: Since he can’t do anything about it at this point anyway, would he rather spend two days worrying and then learn he failed, or spend those same two days not worrying, and then learn he failed?  Perhaps most importantly, would he want to learn he had passed the test and spent two days of anxiety for nothing?

In Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman concludes that worrying is a sort of “magical amulet” which some people feel wards off danger.  They believe that worrying about something will stop it from happening.  He also correctly notes that most of what people worry about has a low probability of occurring, because we tend to take action about those things we feel are likely to occur.  This means that very often the mere fact that you are worrying about something is a predictor that it isn’t likely to happen!

Thinking back in my life I certainly see how this rings true.  I can count very few occasions when worrying has done anything productive.  Instead it causes me to focus on the thing I am worried about, which is never pleasant.  There is enough challenge in our lives, and if we can learn to manage our concerns and productively address them, it will help.

I end with the steps laid out by de Becker, which he admits are not simple, but should be our pattern.  This assumes you are really only fearful about things as defined for fear earlier:

  1. When you feel fear, listen.
  2. When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it.
  3. If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why.