“The Tragic Necessity of Institutions”

churchI was very fortunate to have Pastor Ronald Lavin as my pastor growing up.  He was the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and became a Lutheran minister.  His theology was deep and rich.  When I expressed my own desire to enter the ministry, he immediately put me on the Evangelism Committee at church.  In Pastor Lavin’s view anyone who expressed any kind of interest in the church deserved to be called on by the church.  If we were to be disciples of Christ, we had to be Christ-like in reaching out to people, and he taught me that although this may be the most difficult work of the church, it is also the foundation of the faith that we express.  The index cards we were given only had the individual’s contact information, so I called on everyone regardless of race, gender or social-economic status.  It served me well as I learned the meaning of “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Pastor Lavin had a very charismatic personality and that alone was enough to draw many people to him.  He also was not afraid to speak his mind, so when he was asked to address the graduating class of a local college, his address was called, “The Tragic Necessity of Institutions.”  In it, he discussed how the logistics of operating schools, churches, governments and corporations often contradicts the missions they are trying to fulfill.  “When our response to a situation as a church contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are in danger of violating the principles that the organization is built on.”

Evil is resident in the world.  Because of that, many ships (institutions) get tossed over in a storm. In my line of work (I am a Certified Public Accountant), I often see those storms in terms of financial fraud that takes place.  Other moral atrocities may be allowed to storm a ship, but don’t touch the money.  The reaction to financial fraud becomes almost as rancid as the fraudulent act when I see the crew of the ship searching out a captain to flog instead of concentrating on setting the ship upright. We have a tendency in this country (or maybe as humans in general), to want to blame the victim.

In Boy Scouts, we teach that when you point a finger at someone else, you have 3 fingers pointing back at you.   That lesson could be an important one in helping institutions avoid making tragic mistakes.

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You Deserve a Good Spanking

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Changing a way of thinking is difficult, especially when it has been generally accepted over a long period of time. Beliefs about child-rearing go back hundreds if not thousands of years. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a tenant for years. Consequences for children of disobeying or misbehaving often included a hand, stick, or belt to the rear end. While this may have been an efficient means to an end (pun intended), it has only been in recent history that there was a challenge to this methodology.

By recent, I am referring to Dr. Benjamin Spock who first published Baby and Child Care in 1946. Of his book, many considered the best use for it was across the backside of a misbehaving child. It appears that children acting out either as a reaction to stress and frustration or just out of their own playfulness has been going on as long as there have been children. Dr. Spock was a pioneer in suggesting a better correction than physical punishment.

Even today, one can go to “wikihow” for fourteen suggestions on how to deliver a proper spanking. But the fact remains, if you are willing to invest the time and energy into it, there are so many better alternatives to behavior change, from distracting the child to reasoning with the child. Physical punishment is used because a) it is efficient, you let the child know in short order that their behavior displeases you, and b) as a reaction to an emotionally charged moment – you’re angry. Exactly the wrong moment to choose to be physical. And do you really want to be efficient with your children? Be efficient with things, be effective with people.

Dr. Spock felt strongly that physical punishment increased the acceptance of violence. “My other reasons for advising against physical punishment are, in brief, that it teaches children that might makes right, that it encourages some children to be bullies, and most fundamentally, that to the degree that it results in good behavior it’s because of the fear of pain. I have a strong belief that the best reason for behaving well is that you like people, want to get along with them, want them to like you.”

The alternative to physical punishment is not abstinence to discipline. There are plenty of good books already written on the subject including Boundaries With Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and Parenting the QBQ Way by John and Karen Miller. Don’t give up the fight, just the fighting.

The person you want your child to be …

I can think back on times when I exhibited really bad behavior, horrible moments of regret. Moments that I knew my children were watching me and I knew my behavior was sending the wrong message, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

It’s not so easy to think back on moments when I have really been at my best. It’s not that I haven’t had any, but my memory in those times is of the reaction of others around me … the smiles on their faces. I can remember taking great pride in other’s accomplishments more easily than my own, especially in the accomplishments of my kids.

It’s difficult when the amygdala is hijacked, and you find yourself in a fight or flight or freeze situation that you have already reacted to even before your brain could be engaged, to remember “hey, the kids are watching.”  Yet it is in those times that we leave the biggest impression. As Rudyard Kipling put it, “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …” you’re pretty darn amazing. 

So maybe I set some bad examples along the way, but I hope and pray that I set some good ones as well … like picking for your life mate a person who exhibits extraordinary good values and integrity.  Not always an easy find. My boys are still looking for a “girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad”.  I am very glad that I did not have to try to raise my boys by myself. I am proud to have always showed my devotion to their mom (even though she makes that easy).

So I can only hope that in this mix of good examples and bad examples that I demonstrated for our children, that they follow more of the good than the bad. These days I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that my kids, my wife, my coworkers, my boss, my clients, the world is watching and learning from my example. I want to leave the world a better place than it was when I came into it.

Is your family dysfunctional?

“Dysfunctional family” was popular psych talk for quite a while.  You could blame a lot of bad behavior on having come from a dysfunctional family.  Not to minimize the problems that it causes, but my friend Dave Ramsey likes to say that it probably means there are humans in it. Any family with humans in it is probably going to have some dysfunction, assuming a “functional” family is like the Huxtables of Bill Cosby fame.

Pastor Bruce Cole has on occasion referred to the Bible as God’s big book of dysfunctional families, no disrespect intended.  A man and woman wait their whole lives for a child to be born. When one finally is, God whispers in the man’s ear, “Show me you love me, sacrifice your child on the altar.”  Just as the man is about to carry through with the act, God says, “I’m just yanking your chain, here use this goat instead.”  My bad … I took a lot of dramatic license in the retelling of that story. Forgive me, Lord.  Just one example.

It’s difficult for me to write about family although I feel compelled to do it.  I am the primary perpetrator of bad behavior in my family.  I am naturally reactive (aren’t we all?), although I am a student of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and I know Habit 1 is “Be Proactive”.  My family sometimes gauges what they do and say on how they think I am going to react to it. I’ll bet you have people in your family with whom you do the same thing. Trust me, It is as difficult being that person as it is dealing with them.  You don’t want people walking on eggshells around you, so I do fight the reaction demon every day.   The good news is that most of the time I win the battle, but I do have my days. Having a problem person in the family takes patience and perseverance, but it also requires setting boundaries. Sometimes it means tough love and letting that person take the rap for their bad behavior.