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Showing posts with label locus of control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label locus of control. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The God (or mom) From the Machine

In my 25 years of writing books for children and teens, I've had my share of plot problems.   Often, when a writer finds she has written her characters into a situation she can't quite get them out of, she is tempted by (but must resist!)  the deus ex machina solution.  This literary term (literally "the god from the machine") comes to us from ancient Greek drama, and refers to the device of lowering a statue of a god onto the stage to resolve a crisis.  Evidently this was perfectly satisfactory to the ancient Greeks, but it is far from satisfactory for us today.  When the hero or heroine of a drama gets bailed out of a tricky situation by some unforeseen and improbable stroke of luck, the reader is left feeling cheated.  There was no clever resourcefulness, physical skill or moral courage at work to save the day,  just a lousy old deus ex machina. "Oh come on, really?" the reader asks.  "How convenient."

When writing for children, with children as protagonists, this is especially difficult to work around.  In real life, children aren't usually left to their own devices to track down jewelry thieves, mediate social conflicts, run their own businesses or invent extraordinary robots that have the Pentagon calling.  No.  All too often, there is an adult keeping watch (or guard, depending on your view) and managing everything from on high: the Mom from the Machine. (Yes, sometimes it is the Dad from the Machine, but more often the mom.)  So when writing children's fiction there is a delicate balance between plausibility and good plotting.

As Lisa has written previously on her posts on internal v. external locus of control, children must develop confidence in their own agency, their own ability to solve problems, make choices and be responsible for the outcome.  The more often the mom ex machina swoops in to take over, the less likely the child is to develop a strong internal locus of control.    And just as the deus ex machina solution in a story leaves us feeling rooked, so does the mom ex machina solution in our children's lives leave a feeling of inadequacy in its wake.  So often we relish the role of superhero, enjoying the warm glow of gratitude and appreciation and admiration from the ones we've "saved" from a big problem.   But unless you are prepared to be lowered from a machine onto your child's stage in perpetuity, you might consider letting your child learn to be the hero of his own story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Focus Locus Hocus Pocus!

As a parent, I find that the more widely I read on subjects not related to parenting, the more I find ideas that give me a new way to think about my parenting decisions. While reading articles on business and marketing, I came across the subject of Regulatory Focus Theory.

This theory, formulated by Professor E. Tory Higgins at Columbia University, proposes that there are two categories of people when it comes to goals. There are the people who have a Promotion Focus, and people who have a Prevention Focus. Promotion Focus is what motivates a person to move toward an aspirational goal, working actively to achieve something that counts as an advantage. The Higgins lab puts it this way: "A promotion focus emphasizes hopes, accomplishments, and advancement needs." The Prevention Focus creates more cautious behavior, motivated by preventing loss, and is guided by obligation, duty, and rules. As the Higgins Lab says, "A prevention focus emphasizes safety, responsibility, and security needs." A person's regulatory focus can either be chronic or momentary, i.e. normal state or induced by a given situation.  Promotion-focused individuals may speak of their goals using language such as "I could" "I want to" "I plan to" "I hope to," while prevention-focused individuals may use language such as "I should" "I have to" "I'm supposed to" while discussing goals.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Courage Book Review - The Wanderer

Last week I reviewed two illustrated versions of the Iliad.  Today, we take up the tale with adaptations for kids of the Odyssey.  Although with the earlier epic highlighted the control of the gods, the takeaway for this week is self-control.  Once again, we explore internal vs. external locus of control.


The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of the Odyssey [WANDERINGS OF ODYSSEUS -OS]Again, we have the masterful Rosemary Sutcliff at work with The Wanderings of Odysseus.  As many adapters of the story do, she rearranges the events into a chronological narrative.  (The original is full of flashbacks and intercut with "meanwhile, in Ithaca" scenes.)  Sutcliff moves Odysseus briskly from the smoldering ruins of Troy to the island of the Cyclops, where they are captured by the bloodthirsty Polyphemus.   From the extreme external locus of control found in the Iliad, we now have an interior locus of control.  "The Greeks were near despair.  But there was a plan forming in Odysseus' head, by which he might save at least some of them."   In Homer (I have the Fitzgerald translation) Odysseus says, "And now I pondered how to hurt him worst, if but Athena granted what I prayed for.  Here are the means I thought would serve my turn."  Odysseus gets credit now for the plan; you may recall Athena was responsible for putting the thought of the Trojan Horse into his mind.  So we have moved to an interior locus of control in this narrative - and it will be much to the regret of Odysseus, for as they escape from the blinded Cyclops, the cunning man gloats and mocks: "If anyone asks who blinded you, tell them it was Odysseus, son of Laertes and Lord of Ithaca, Odysseus the Sacker of Cities!"  It is this moment of foolish braggadocio that costs Odysseus so dearly, for Polyphemus cries out to his father, Poseidon, god of the sea, to take revenge.  Oops.