Monthly Archives: November 2011

A few quotations on the power of stories

Whether you tell traditional stories, share your childhood escapades with your kids, narrate the day’s events or make up stories on the spot – grab the power of storytelling for your parenting toolkit!

Here’s a little bit of food for thought:

“Great stories teach you something. That’s one reason I haven’t slipped into some kind of retirement: I always feel like I’m learning something new.” ~ Clint Eastwood

“The process of putting your life into order with a beginning, middle, and end forces you to see cause and effect.” Cahtherine Burns, artistic director, The Moth

“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us… Those in leadership positions who do not grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves.” ~ John Kotter, Harvard Business School

“The Conceptual Age can remind us what has always been true but has rarely been acted upon – that we must listen to each other’s stories and that we are each the authors of our own lives… we are our stories.“ Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind

About Stories

“The protagonist of folk tale is always, and intensely, a young person moving through ordeals into adult life. When adult state and a suitable partner is achieved the tale is over. Adults as such are of no interest – they exist only as helpers, enemies, or rivals of the protagonist. And this is why there are no wicked stepchildren in the tales. Stepmothers’ feelings and problems are of no account – they are grown-ups and can work it out for themselves.”

~ Jill Paton Walsh

The Black Belt Wall

Lisa’s son competing in board breaking in November, 2011 as a “Recommended Black Belt”
Jennifer and my children are testing for their Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do (TKD) this weekend.  It’s kind of a big deal.  This test, six and a half hours in total, is the culmination of four years of study.  They have each hit their own personal Black Belt walls and wanted to quit.  As I wrote about in Quitters, Campers, and Quitters:  Which One Are You?, what matters is that they didn’t quit and, as their parents, we didn’t quit on them. 

Our kids starting out on their TKD Journey four years ago as “White Belts”
Our kids started to study TKD within one month of one another. Jennifer’s daughter led the pack.  She had just arrived from Ethiopia, and my kids had just moved with my husband and I from Canada to the U.S.  Our kids have become good friends while logging a lot hours of study and commuting together to weekly classes over the years.  Keep in mind that TKD is not a seasonal sport, this is a 50 or-so week a year commitment! As my matter-of-fact husband pointed out, when I asked him what he thinks it takes to be the parent of a kid who completes their Black Belt, “You need to be prepared to drive a lot.”  My son’s response to the same question: “Be there.” 
I’ll be honest, I was reticent about my kids studying a martial art.  Before signing my kids up, I met with and basically drilled Master Miller, the owner of the school Jennifer had found, about his approach to teaching TKD—which was code for “Are you going to teach my kids to be more fearful and aggressive in this world?”  That was my big fear.  I didn’t want them to learn to be looking over their shoulders for potential apprehenders or attackers.  I’m not trying to raise my kids in a bubble, but I am pretty clear on the importance of not marinating them in fear. Master Miller was tolerant of my over-the-top questioning, and stated simply, “Well, Mrs. Dungate, we are a school that teaches a self-defense martial art.”  Duh!  I also figured that since my husband has a Black Belt in Aikido, and he’s the kindest, most peaceful man I know, our kids should be okay.  It helped to reflect on the times that contrary to my fear, knowing some basic self-defense had made me more confident—even courageous—to fend off a groper on a subway in Japan, avoid being robbed on a bridge in Rome, and navigate dark alleys around the world.
Turns out the risk I took in trusting Master Miller with my kids has been one of the all-time best decisions I’ve made as a parent.  You couldn’t find a more skilled, intelligent, generous, funny, or all-around inspiring mentor for kids than this man.  He is, to my mind, integrity personified.  One of the things I’ve learned as a parent:  sharing the responsibility of educating our children with other inspiring teachers is a good thing to do.  And you can’t argue with the inspiring core values that are the cornerstones of his mat chats and the words that line his school walls: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit.  It’s inspiring to witness to the transformation of some of the off-the wall, disrespectful, temper-tantruming kids that come in the doors of his school, and the upstanding citizens who walk out.

Jennifer’s daughter a few years ago practicing in class as a “Green Belt”
My son recently commented how much he appreciates that I’m not a “Tiger Mother.”  He’s too busy to have read Amy Chua’s bestseller extolling the value of that particular parenting style.  I had to ask him what he meant.  His reply, “Like one of those moms who screams from the sidelines, demanding that their kid do better, kick higher, punch harder, and generally needs to be on the mats herself.”  I laughed.  It turns out that my somewhat laid back approach to TKD (as it isn’t my passion) seems to have actually paid off in my kids’ case.  I can’t be bossy or controlling in this area of their life.  Which is probably a huge relief for them, I’m sure.  It has also required some letting go.  Accepting that they are growing up, making friends, finding mentors, and learning cool stuff in life that I have absolutely nothing to do with. 
While they study I often go for a run, which is my passion.  At least I’m not a total hypocrite extolling the virtues of physical fitness, insisting that they attend classes when they are too tired, while being a total couch potato myself.  Unlike my husband I don’t possess a Black Belt—except for the super cute skinny one I just picked up on sale at Banana Republic.  But I digress. 

Lisa’s daughter and son practicing their “High Blue Belt” form in tandem
 a couple of years ago

In my kids’ darkest moments during the past four years, I’ve shared my experiences hitting half and full-marathon walls.  But most of all, Jennifer, my husband, and I just kept cheering our kids on, urging them forward (even refusing for them to quit at times), paying their school fees, and filling up our gas tanks.  The most important lessons I think we’ve all learned relate to the value of sticking with something we said we would, respect for the master-student relationship and the process involved with learning something challenging (especially in our age of instant gratification), and enjoying the learning as much as the final result.  The skill, courage, confidence, and sense of accomplishment our kids have gained?  Priceless.
I asked Master Miller recently what he thought it took for the approximately 10% of children who actually complete their Black Belt from amongst the 90% of children that quit before finishing?  What separates the wheat from chaff, so to speak?  The two factors he identified as the source of Black Belt success are well worth considering as valuable insight about what it takes to raise a courageous kid:
“For most children, this is the first long term goal the will have achieved in their entire lives. The first factor is the student themselves. Everyone starts martial arts with a different level of skill, athleticism, motivation, discipline and spirit. It is always dependent on what a student is willing to put in, that translates to what they are willing to get back. This is why each new black belt we have slightly redefines what it means to be a ‘Black Belt.’ Just like no two people are the same, no two black belts’ experiences are the same. Each student has their own struggles, difficulties, and challenges, but they also have rewarding, and joyous experiences. The key is about perseverance: Keeping your eyes on your goals and not allowing the other challenges that you face to diminish the strength of your resolve. If you focus on your difficulties, they will appear to grow in strength, but if you focus on your goals, the challenges seem to diminish.

The second main factor would have to be a support system around them that is encouraging and supportive. Everyone has feelings of wanting to give up along the path of anything you can consider calling a ‘journey’. Unfortunately, there are too many families who have clearly learned about the huge benefits that martial arts have to offer, but are not willing to say it is not okay to quit and take the necessary steps to inspire, mentor and guide a child on the right path. Sometimes, all it would have taken was a nudge in the right direction to help steer someone on a better path. Sometimes, we hand over the rudder of the boat to a child before they are ready to handle the responsibility and the repercussions of their decisions. There are some black belts who never needed to hear a single thing from their parents; for the other 99%, each one speaks in their essays about how grateful they were to their parents for the guidance and added motivation that it took to assist them in reaching their goal.”

Special thanks, and tons of gratitude, to Master Miller for tolerating my initial interrogation, and to his parents and team of instructors (especially Mr. Gray) for believing in our children, and being such inspiring mentors for all our children!  Click here to learn more about Cutting Edge Martial Arts.
Dear Reader, care to share your or your child’s learning about completing a long-term goal? Post a comment.  We’d LOVE to hear from you, too!

Courage Question of the Day

Here at Lion’s Whiskers we are hoping to collect kids’ definitions for some of the values most commonly associated with moral courage

We would appreciate your help! 

Could you ask your children to define, in their own words, one or more of the following?  Please send us their age, first name (if you are comfortable), country, and what they understand these words to mean.   

  • Loyalty
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Impartiality
  • Justice
You may be impressed, surprised, or even shocked by what your child has already learned, or not, about what these powerful words mean to them in their life.  We hope the discussion prompts new insights and hope you will share with us your learning!  Thanks for your help!  Send your responses to:

Surviving the Lion AND the Fox!

Travellers' Decorated CaravanI found a very interesting story the other day that highlights moral courage in an unusual way. Animal fables typically offer the lion and the fox as examples of physical courage and intellectual courage, brawn vs. brains. Here we have a story from the very old Gypsy tradition, a story which demonstrates a different way an outcast group manages to survive. I found The Lion, the Fox, and the Bird in The Fish Bride and Other Gypsy Tales, retold by Jean Russel Larson. This is book well worth reading if you can find it. I’ll just summarize this story briefly.
In this story, a new bird arrives in a part of the forest that is home to a lion and a fox. Not being a fast flyer, the bird is warned by everyone to leave. “I’ll have to get the lion and the fox to leave,” the bird replies. “It’s really too dangerous to have them here.” While the lion and the fox are both contemplating the nice meal they’ll make of the bird, the bird turns the tables on them both by appealing for help. The bird asks the lion to perform an act of physical strength (moving some fallen trees to reveal the berry bushes) and the fox to figure out how to get reeds from the pond for building a nest (he tells the herons that the fishing will be better if they pull out the reeds). Both lion and fox are stymied by this appeal to their generosity, as they cannot eat someone they’ve helped, and they must help when someone weaker asks for assistance. Once they have taken responsibility for the bird by helping, they must do the right thing and leave it be. Hungry, and rather baffled at having chosen not to eat the bird, the lion and the fox leave that part of the forest and search for somebody else to eat.

I find this fable fascinating for its insight into the tenuous social status of the nomadic Gypsies, or Rom, as they call themselves.  Always being an outsider who is greeted with suspicion means that they must get others to do the right thing themselves, rather than trick them (like a fox) or overpower them (like a lion).  Next time the Rom pass this way they don’t want to find revenge or bitterness waiting for them.  If instead they find people who have already chosen not to hurt them, that’s the best outcome!
Moral courage, as we have said on Lion’s Whiskers, entails discerning and doing the right thing. It speaks to the character traits of responsibility, accountability, and integrity, among others.  Sometimes doing the right thing means finding a way to encourage others to do the right thing, especially when their own moral courage is on the wane.  People who hold power  (bosses, political leaders, corporate stakeholders, etc.)  are likely to bristle when we hold them accountable for the things they are busy rationalizing or justifying; and when our children hold us accountable we may feel that bristling in ourselves.  I know I do!  Integrity and accountability aren’t always very comfortable in the moment,  but they usually result in a better night’s sleep.

Courage Question of the Day

“Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. Whereas the former—the youngest or despised child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers—prevails over his personal oppressors, the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a whole.”

~ Joseph Campbell: The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Reflecting on the above distinction, have you found yourself or your kids more drawn to fairy tales or to myths?

Jean Labadie’s Big Black Dog and Shivering in the Bath

Here is an old Quebecois story I ran across recently in Kevin Crossley Holland’s The Young Oxford Book of Folk Tales. It’s an easy story to tell with your own details, and it is just begging for exaggeration.   This is my retelling, but you can easily put it into your own words.
            So, this farmer, Jean Labadie, he had his suspicions about his neighbor, Pierre Martin. Yes, two weeks running Jean was missing chickens, and he was pretty sure Pierre was stealing them. Weasels would have left a path of destruction, but no, this was just one chicken at a time. But he could not bring himself to say, “Hey Pierre Martin are you stealing my chickens one by one?” With this on his mind he was helping Pierre Martin pull some stumps and he said, “Something has been stealing my chickens, sure, so I went to the Huron village and got me a big black dog. See him? – there he is at just over there.”
            Pierre Martin squinted up his eyes to look across the field. “Where?”
            “That big black dog, with his red tongue dripping, and those big black paws, you see him there?”
            “Oh!” Pierre Martin went back to work.
            Sure enough, no more chickens went missing from Jean’s yard. But one day he ran into Pierre Martin in town. “Hey, Jean, you should chain up your big black dog, he chased me down the road,” said Pierre.
            “No, he’s at my farm guarding the chickens,” Jean replied, very surprised.
            “Looked like the same dog,” Pierre said. “Big black paws, red dripping tongue. Keep him on a chain.”
             A few days later, Jean again met Pierre in the town, and this time Madame Sasson was with him. “Was that your big black dog chasing my sheep?” she demanded to know. “That dog is dangerous.”
            Jean Labadie raised both hands. This was getting complicated. “No, no, my dog is chained up in my yard. That is a different dog chasing your sheep.”
            “No, your dog broke the chain,” Pierre Martin said.  “You should take him back to the Huron village.  That’s a mean dog.”
            Well, for sure this was getting to be ridiculous, but the next day Jean Labadie hitched up his wagon and drove past Pierre Martin’s house, shouting, “I’m taking this dog back!”  And he made a pretense of patting something down inside the wagon until he was out of sight.  He spent the day with his Huron friends, and then came home.
             Pierre Martin was waiting for him.  “Your crazy dog came back!  Chased some children and scared them right into church.  You can’t keep a dangerous dog like that!  You should shoot him!”
             Now what could Jean Labadie do?  He could not at this point admit he had made up the dog, and although he was sure Pierre Martin was raking him over the coals, he was sure stuck.  “I’ll shoot him,” Jean Labadie replied.  “Satisfied?”
             There was a little small smile on Pierre Martin’s face when he said, “Oh, I suppose I am.”
             At home, Jean Labadie got out shotgun and whistled loud.  “Here you, dog!” he shouted.  Then he fired into the ground, and then dug a grave and filled it back in.  And he hoped that would be last he heard about his big black dog.
             I don’t know about you, but usually when I’ve been afraid to ask a question, say what I think, or speak up, the problem only gets worse.  I have a personal story that I’ve told many times to the Lovely K. with much laughter.  This story features me in the bathtub while answering a phone call from a new business acquaintance.  There was a moment at the start of the call that would have been the appropriate time to say, “This is not a good time to speak – I know it’s 11 a.m. on a business day but I was thrown from a horse this morning and now I’m soaking in the tub, so can I call you later?”  That moment slipped by, and I found myself trying to avoid any splishy, splashy, watery sounds that would give me away (So unprofessional! I was very concerned at that stage of my career about seeming very very professional!) The call went on and on much longer than I expected, while the water cooled and I began to shiver.  Somehow I couldn’t summon the social courage to say, “You know, all this time we’ve been talking I’ve been in the bath.”  And when this editor began giving me information to write down (clearly assuming I was sitting fully dressed at a desk) I pretended to write, making suitable “mmhmms” to indicate I was ready for the next bit of dictation.  My daughter howls at this last bit as I pantomime writing with a wet finger on the rim on the bathtub, nodding and shivering, wondering how I would explain this to my agent.
            Now, at the age of 50, I have long since let go (I think) a majority of the social fears that kept me quiet.  I don’t like shivering in the tub, and I don’t want to shoot any imaginary dogs. 

Quitters, Campers, and Climbers—Which One Are You?

I would have thought that one of the side effects of writing a blog about courage would be an increase in my own courage quotient. In fact, over these past months researching, discussing with Jennifer, and writing about how to nurture courage in kids, I’ve noticed more moments when I’ve wanted to quit than climb.  Granted I’ve recently taken on several new projects and a new job, my kids started new schools, and my husband started a new business in one of the toughest economic climates since the 1930’s.  My learning curve is steep and the challenges real.  But as someone who’s prided herself on being what Dr. Paul Stoltz (1997) defines as a “climber” in life, noticing that my inner “quitter” is alive and well is, well, humbling. 

In his book The Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, Dr. Stoltz outlines three types of approaches that people take in life, using mountain climbing as a metaphor.  Listed below are his definitions, excerpted from the introduction of his book (1997) :

“Quitters simply give up on the ascent—the pursuit of an enriching life—and as a result are often embittered.  Quitters tend to blame others, become overwhelmed, and allow adversity to endure longer than necessary (5-20% of folks, according to a poll that Dr. Stoltz and his team of experts took of 150,000 leaders across all industries worldwide).

Campers generally work hard, apply themselves, pay their dues, and do what it takes to reach a certain level.  Then they plant their tent stakes and settle down at their current elevation. Campers tend to let adversity wear them down, resort to blame when tense or tired, and/or lose hope and faith when adversity is high (65-90% of folks).

Climbers are the rare breed to who continue to learn, grow, strive, and improve until their final breath, who look back at life and say, “I gave it my all.” Climbers tend to be resilient and tenacious.  They focus on solutions versus blame, and they are trusting and agile (the rare few).

The adversity continuum ranges from: “avoiding, surviving, coping, managing, to harnessing adversity.” (This brief summary is taken from The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness by Erik Weihenmayer, Paul Stoltz, and Stephen R. Covey, 2006).

Here’s an example of how I was humbled recently by my inner quitter.  We had relatives visiting from the West Coast who wanted to see the place where our ancestors had fought as United Empire British Loyalists during the Battle of Saratoga.  We lost that battle, which provides some nice foreshadowing to what happened next. 
Despite now living in the historic town of Saratoga Springs for over four years (not knowing before I moved here that my ancestors were born in Saratoga many generations before), I hadn’t yet climbed the Saratoga Monument erected in memory of this famous battle.  I’ve wanted to. But our timing was always off given the limited hours this monument is open.  The Battle of Saratoga was a turning point in the American War of Independence from Great Britain.  On the 100th Anniversary of the victory, a rock-faced granite obelisk that stands 154 1/2 feet (49 meters) was erected in memory of this battle. 
The Saratoga Monument is a Gothic-inspired tower which doesn’t appear to be all that imposing to climb.  In fact, it wasn’t until the interpretive guide said “You’d be surprised how many people I have to rescue each year and pry off the spiral staircase close to the top of the tower!” that it first occurred to me that I should be scared to climb.  Fear can be a teacher.  It can alert us to danger.  It can also get in the way of climbing. 
My son, true to his personality, general enthusiasm and love of life, raced up to the pinnacle of the tower in no time at all.  No need for courage coaching from me.  His voice soon echoed down to me, my uncle, and my daughter, “Keep climbing, it is SO COOL when you get to the top!”  My uncle kept stopping to take photos at different points along the climb up the cast iron stairway of 184 steps.  He wasn’t entertaining any fearful thoughts.  He just wanted to savor the journey up a little more.  While my daughter and I, on the other hand, plodded very slowly up the tower, fear beginning to catch us in its grip with each step we took.  It took my breath away, literally, how quickly my fearful thoughts trumped any initial enthusiasm about the climb.  I’m not prone to a fear of heights, so my sudden trepidation about climbing came as a surprise. 
My daughter has a healthy caution in her approach to life.  She prefers to look first before leaping.  Her brother just leaps.  There is a balance in life, I’m sure.  But each of them seems to have adapted nicely to their unique approaches to life challenges, and it’s working for them.  As I’ve written about previously in my post Discourage/Encourage: What’s a Parent to Do?, knowing when to push and when to pull back with our kids as they face challenges in life takes some learning to adapt to, respect, and understand their unique personality styles and areas of strength/weakness.  With my own kids these days, it’s usually more a matter of getting my own neuroses out of their way! 
Midway up the tower, the climb shifted to the steeper, narrower, less welcoming kind.  I noticed a few “campers” at this level.  We’d left the “quitters” at the bottom before even starting our climb.  I chatted with one other “camper” parent enjoying the view mid-way up of Schuylerville, the farm fields and cemetery surrounding the tower, and the views of the Vermont Mountains in the distance.  The view was pretty good, but my son kept enticing me to higher, better vistas.  The “camper” parent and I chatted about how when we were younger we didn’t really give much thought to climbing to the top of such towers or even rock climbing.  But now, as parents, we’d become much more fearful and measured in our risk-taking.  It may be an unconscious cautiousness (reptilian brain) that develops when we have children to take care of and need to survive for?  It may also be related to the development of our executive functioning (higher brain) as adults? Unlike children and most teens, whose brains are still developing, generally we now have the cognitive capacity to weigh our choices, imagine possible future scenarios, and/or can perseverate on fearful thoughts. 
My daughter looked to me, I noticed, to gauge how “we” were doing on the climb.  She was waiting for me to stop chatting and climb onwards.  But she was starting to feel afraid, too.  My pasty-white skin (and this was not just because of my British ancestry) was likely the first clue that I was starting to lose my nerve as a climber.  The parent camped out mid-way up the tower, before the spiral staircase bit started and no more windows allowed a peak out until the top, seemed happy enough with where he’d climbed to.  He soon headed back down, wishing us luck, and reassuring me that it was probably best just to stop and camp.  It is always possible to find support for whatever approach we take in life, a cheering squad of fellow quitters, campers, or climbers are always at the ready. 
As my daughter and I made a first attempt to climb the spiral staircase that grows increasingly narrow culminating in a pointy tippy-top, my uncle surpassed us.  The promise of a stupendous view from the pinnacle had less and less appeal the more I wavered at my various camping points.  I even climbed back down twice to the mid-level encampment.  My daughter joined me once, then got wise and asked for a more inspiring climbing partner.  My uncle climbed back down and promised to stay close behind her while she took the lead to the top.  Just like me, her legs were shaking and fear had taken root.   But my daughter’s competitive spirit trumps any fear she has.  She wasn’t going to let her brother win!  She made it to the top in no time.  Now I had three cheery voices beckoning me to the tippy-top of this god-forsaken tower. 
Just like I coach parents to do with their children, I gave myself the freedom to choose.  I yelled back to my kids “Don’t push me.  I need to do this on my own without any added pressure, thanks! Just give me a minute to regroup. I’m not sure I really want to do this yet?”  I weighed my personal pros and cons for completing the climb.  I asked myself what I was really afraid of and how realistic it was that the tower would completely collapse at the very moment I was climbing the final ascent—after more than 100+ years standing!  I wasn’t THAT special nor my karma THAT bad.  I engaged in some positive self-talk, like “I can do this.  My kids will be proud of me.  I will get to see the majestic view.  I will have done my ‘something that scares me’ thing today.  I can cross this climb of my list of things to do in life.” Basically, I needed to outwit, out think, my fear.

Eventually what worked was to just focus on what was immediately in front of me.  I didn’t look down, and I didn’t look up.  We tend to scare ourselves the most with thoughts of the future or regrets from the past, instead of just tackling what is right in front of us.  The old adage that I now apply to writing for this blog, especially, is to never underestimate what I can accomplish in 15 minutes of focused activity.  I may not know exactly what will come of all this research, talk, and writing about courage—and I may even have to suffer through noticing more my own cowardice than my courage in the process—but I just have to keep showing up. 

As I climbed the tower, I stared intently on the stonework in front of me, brick piled on top of brick. Picking up my feet, heavy as they were, required some effort, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  When I reached the top, after my third attempt, the view was beautiful.  My legs were still shaking.  My kids were engaged in spying local landmarks through the tiny windows at the top.  My uncle was happily taking more photos.  I’d done it!  We had all done it!  That was enough for me.  Plus, it was pretty cramped quarters at the top.  Back down I went, probably not spending long enough camped out to enjoy the view.  But I didn’t quit. 
I’m not sure if Dr. Stoltz would agree or not, but I think we are all a composite of climbing, camping, and quitting.  To align too closely with one particular approach in life, in my experience, seems to lead to stagnation.  Too much climbing and my inner camper wants a rest, my inner quitter wants to avoid and withdraw from life.  Too much camping and I lose some of my much needed and admirable drive.  Too much quitting and depression, anxiety, and other unhealthy habits could emerge.  Taking breaks, enjoying the view, asking for support, identifying meaningful goals, and taking pride in however we are able to show up each day is important.  As Woody Allen has said in the past, “80% of success is showing up.”  I showed up. I climbed. Likely with much less courage than my ancestors had to muster on those battlefields, but I climbed. These days, I am much more likely to be inspired by the courage that my children muster as fellow climbers on this journey than I think I inspire courage in them.  I climb for them, as much as to keep up with them!
The good thing about writing this blog?  It forces me to look for opportunities where I can boost my courage quotient—especially in front of my kids.  It keeps me real.  Hopefully reading our blog inspires you, too, to bring awareness to the areas where you and/or your child are social courage climbers, but perhaps more likely to quit physical courage challenges?  Perhaps you’ve camped long enough as a family in the moral courage camp, and it’s time for a spiritual courage climb?  Regardless of whether you are camping, climbing, or quitting in the various areas of your life, it takes intellectual and emotional courage to reflect on the choices we make and the ripple effects in our lives and the lives of our children. 

Wait for it… Wait for it!

Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount. ~ Clare Booth Luce

For nearly a year now we’ve been talking about the nature of courage and courage development in children, and talking about courage as the mechanism for activating other values or qualities (some might like the word “virtues.”) Today, here are my thoughts about one of those values, qualities or virtues: patience.

Patience can be activated by physical courage if it requires sitting still or restraining an impulse; it might be supported by emotional courage if it requires a belief in a loved one’s ability to fulfill a promise; it might be activated by spiritual courage if it requires willingness to live in uncertainty about purpose or meaning during chaotic times. I’m sure by now our faithful readers can extrapolate their own examples for the six types of courage as they relate to patience.

We know that fear is inspired by uncertainty and lack of control. While we are waiting for something we are uncertain: will it happen at all? will I like it? will it be what I imagine? will I get a piece with blue frosting or yellow frosting? On top of that is the uncertainty of how we will manage our disappointment if IT doesn’t fulfill our expectations. While we are waiting for something we usually have no control, since we can’t speed up time or manipulate events. Thus, the ability to tolerate this uncertainty and lack of control requires courage, which then allows for patience.

I’ve been noticing recently how waiting has changed since my own childhood. The Wizard of Oz was broadcast on television once a year, and missing it meant having to wait another year. Likewise for The Sound of Music, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and countless other “big” or seasonal movies. In just the four years since my daughter arrived here from Ethiopia at the age of eight, we’ve gone from being able to buy a movie on DVD to watch anytime, to being able to download or stream movies instantly to laptop, tablet or t.v. You don’t even have to go to the store to buy the DVD (or to the library to borrow it). No waiting required. Same with music, many television shows, and books. Instantly has become the one of the dominant motifs of our children’s growing-up years.

As I see it, we seek to quell the fear inspired by uncertainty through instant gratification.  The insidious problem with that is that it’s never enough; there will always be something else just one step ahead of us in the future, creating uncertainty.  On top of that, the false promise of instant gratification obscures the fact that some things can never be instant – skill does not come instantly, for example, but must be developed through hours, weeks or years of steady practice.  Without patience we quit early, grumpy and disenchanted by the tedious slowness of it all.

This is not a rant about how much better things were when I was a kid, or how much worse they are now (they weren’t and they aren’t). I’m just saying that they are different as it relates to organic opportunities for learning the skill of waiting. We are swimming in instant: instant foods, instant entertainment, instant messages, instant downloads, instant photos, instant feedback, etc.. Because of this, I find I have been looking for opportunities to teach this skill of waiting to my daughter. In my post “I Can’t Do It. Yet.” I wrote about the word “Yet” as a great tool for coaching patience – as in, “it’s true you can’t do it yet, but keep trying and eventually you will.”

Very young children live in the present, so for them, waiting for anything is a baffling torment of “why? why? why?” Sometimes the only thing that a parent can do is distract, as in this story from India, Birbal Shortens the Road.  But as children get older and the concept of time becomes more concrete, cause and effect begin to make sense. At twelve, my daughter is young enough to be highly reactive and suggestible (Mom, can I get this song on my iPod right now?) but old enough to recognize that Mom doesn’t play that tune, if you know what I mean. To help her with learning patience, I try to take some of the sting out of the uncertainty of waiting: I am boringly predictable and consistent with routines (dinner at six, regular bedtime, daily chores, etc.) I make sure she understands what she has to do to earn the next download to her iPod. I try to be clear about when things will happen in the future, such as when she will achieve the sparkling dream of cell phone ownership. I tell her what new privileges and opportunities she can look forward to next year or the years after that, and involve her in planning future events or activities.

At the same time, I point out that although I have expectations about the future, I can’t control it. I expect it will take about twenty more minutes to get home from this BORING car trip, but we could run into traffic, or we might see an awesome tag sale going on, or something unforeseen may occur. I tell her that I acknowledge my uncertainty and my lack of control over the future, and demonstrate by my own patience that it’s possible to survive both. (By the way, I’m talking about best-case scenarios, not the ones where I lose my temper and my patience!)

In the end, patience may simply be a matter of accepting reality. No amount of fretting and agitation in the present can alter the space-time continuum to make time speed up, so just let it go.  Just wait.