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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Debbie Brown’

Communicating Effectively (Part III)

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Rapport: Establishing And Maintaining It

Recently, I asked a family friend, a financial advisor, to share with me his perspective on the importance of rapport in the world of sales. In a general way, I knew that successful salespeople maintain good rapport with their clients. And so I was curious. Was the need for developing rapport in business any different than doing so in a parent-child relationship? To that end, I posed the following questions: “How do you establish rapport with a new client? And what do you believe is a key issue to creating rapport?

Interestingly, the information he shared was no different than that which is taught in NLP [Note: As a reminder, NLP is a set of principles and strategies that focuses on the detail of how we communicate (externally and internally); how we process, store and recall this communication; and how we can change and empower this communication to achieve the results and goals we want]. His response matched mine – creating rapport revolves around trust in a relationship. As he put it, “The way I gain trust is by putting down my pen and listening attentively to my clients’ needs. I want them to walk away knowing that I understand what they are saying and that I care.”

Rapport is defined as a relationship of mutual understanding or trust and agreement between people when they are at ease with one another and where communication is occurring easily. It is marked by harmony, a bond, connection or affinity, and it is found within the realm of alignment, likeness or similarity.

There are relationships where we automatically experience rapport, such as with close friends or in the company of those with whom we share an intense common interest. Then there are relationships — within the family setting and in the outside world — where rapport must be established, developed and honed. Since rapport is a skill that can be learned, it can be used to facilitate a relationship with anybody — in any setting — even with those with whom we profoundly disagree or of whose behaviors we may disapprove.

How exactly does one create rapport?

While NLP offers several effective ways, two common techniques key to establishing rapport are matching and developing a genuine interest in the other person and in his/her model of the world.

Matching is the process of becoming more like the other person by assuming his/her behaviors (i.e., body language, voice, words, etc.). It is a powerful way of getting an appreciation of how the other person is seeing or experiencing the world. And yet, it is not to be viewed as mimicking or copying. As a matter of fact, matching is meant to be done on an unconscious level which means using subtlety in one’s behavior.

Now here is something interesting to consider. When matching, focus first on body language (i.e., posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact), then voice (i.e., tonality, speed, volume, rhythm) and finally the person’s words (i.e., visual, auditory and kinesthetic). The reason, noted by Mehrabian and Ferris (“Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels”, Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol. 31, 1967, pp. 248-52), is research showing that 55 percent of the impact of a presentation is determined by one’s body language, 38 percent by one’s voice and only 7 percent by the content or words that one uses.

On an interesting note, matching is not always an intentional action. There are some surprising ways many of us “naturally” engage in matching without necessarily recognizing we are in that process. And ironically, that “natural” outcome is exactly what we are meant to work toward when we practice the skill of matching.

Think about a time when you approached a rather young baby. What type of voice did you use when you communicated with the child? Chances are, your pitch became elevated a few decibels and the pace of your voice matched the pace of the baby’s cooing. Or perhaps you noticed an adult addressing a small child. Often, the adult will crouch or lean down to the child’s height and talk more slowly and excitedly. The adult will also become involved totally in the child’s world. As to the child’s response, well, what could be more validating than an adult meeting her at her own level!

When it comes to an adolescent, while crouching down might not be necessarily a suitable position, still, you want to send the message that you wish to relate to him by moving completely onto his plain. That can be accomplished by taking a position where you will be eye to eye. Whether it means sitting at the table, leaning on a fence, sitting on steps or a bed, the idea is to match them on a physical level.

Speaking of adolescents, let’s be honest. It is definitely easy to have a rapport when you like your teen. However, what happens when your teenager is difficult and you find it hard to like him; how do you establish rapport? Then again, liking your child is not a prerequisite for rapport (keep in mind that “liking” a child is not to be confused with “loving.” We love our children even if we make not “like” their behaviors or them). And yet, finding something likable about your teen is a necessity.

While meeting a teen on a physical plain is a contributing factor to creating rapport, making a connection with your teen is best achieved by looking for something you can appreciate about your child and sharing it in a genuine way. Whether you validate a physical characteristic (i.e. “You have such a bright smile”), praise a character trait (i.e., “You’re very courageous”) or admire a talent (i.e., “I can’t get over how you calculate figures in your head so quickly”), a child will feel valued and worthy when you acknowledge his qualities and appreciate his contributions. Focusing on a positive aspect of your teen can, therefore, potentially help build a connection and prepare you to interact (i.e., communicate further) in a calmer way.

There are several other ways parents can connect with their teen:

1. Become a good listener. That means listening:

without being attached to your point of view

without interrupting or being distracted

without being defensive

without judging or criticizing

without preaching

2. Empathize/Step into your teen’s shoes. That means:

learn how she perceives her situation

hear what he is truly saying

sincerely seek to understand what and how she is feeling

3. Validate. That means acknowledging your teen’s:

thoughts…feelings…quandaries…difficulties…etc.

It does not mean you are agreeing with your child.

In conclusion, rapport is about establishing and maintaining an environment of trust, understanding and safety, which gives a person the freedom to fully express his/her ideas and concerns and to know that s/he will be respected by the other person. Rapport creates the space for the person to feel listened to and heard and respected for his/her model of the world. In rapport, the common ground or similarities are emphasized and the differences are minimized. And when we focus on commonalities, there is a greater probability for resistance and antagonism to disappear and cooperation to improve. In essence, rapport facilitates effective communication.

In our next segment the focus will be Upgrading our Language. We will be differentiating between weak words and powerful ones, and discovering how potent words can help us maintain effective communication.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com. If you would like to read Debbie’s archived articles, log on to www.jewishpress.com and, in the search box on the home page, type in Debbie Brown.

Communicating Effectively (Part II)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

You Cannot Not Communicate

A political figure refuses to comment on a current news story in which he is involved.. In the hope of avoiding a scuffle with her parents, a teenager, who has broken curfew, quietly opens up the front door. As she makes a mad dash to her room, she tries to avoid being noticed and questioned. In both situations, a lack of communication may be perceived as failure on the part of the individual to take responsibility for his/her actions, and/or an admission of guilt. In such cases when the person does not say yes, the message being conveyed to others can be perceived as noby default, and vice versa.

While we may not necessarily think about it or believe it to be true, we are “always” communicating. When we do not reply to a question, when we refuse to take part in a discussion, when we remove ourselves physically from an interaction or when we slam a door behind us, we are still communicating a message as our body language, sounds and behaviors do the “speaking.” This is what is meant by the NLP presupposition, you cannot not communicate.

Consider what happens when a communicator does not speak words to us, nor do we have any clarity of the experience or his/her behavior. Still, we do receive a message based on “our” observation of the experience or the behavior. What a powerful, yet inaccurate means of acquiring information. Now, as the observer, we are headed into a task. We will access a host of resources in order to help us develop a conclusion, including looking to our own thoughts, feelings, judgments, biases and life experiences, and utilizing them to provide us with a meaning to our observation. While these interpretations are, in fact, our reality, they can easily lead us to create beliefs which are not necessarily rooted in any truth. In the final analysis, such beliefs potentially can lead us to behaviors that fuel negativity and conflict while also hindering relationships in our lives.

In fact, for those who relate better to processing visually, the above idea can be viewed in terms of the following equation:

lack of verbal communication/clarity + observation + interpretation + belief =

negative outcome

As a way to bring more depth and understanding to this point, let us look to our ancestors in Bereishis (Genesis) and take note of their experiences in three different instances.

Picture the first scenario: Abraham has just expelled Yishmael and Hagar from his home at a point, according to the medrash, when Yishmael was weak with a high fever.  Rashi comments that Abraham provided them with minimal provisions (i.e., no gold or silver; only bread and water). And his reasoning was spiritual: he did not wish to enable Yishmael to continue living a life of tarbus ra-ah (evil behavior).

Moving forward…When, in the wilderness, their supplies ran out, Hagar threw her son under a tree and left him there to die of thirst. Her reckoning was rooted in a belief, a belief which was based on a recent experience to which she had ascribed meaning: “If Abraham expelled Yishmael from his home with limited provisions, ‘it must mean’ he hates his son. Why else would a father do such a despicable act? And if his father does not care about him, then why should I? Let Abraham take care of him!” At that point, Hagar’s intention was to abandon her son and look for another husband. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayera 21:15-16.)

The outcome was negative, and Hagar was admonished by the Torah for displaying a poor character trait.

In a second illustration, a youthful Joseph noticed specific behaviors associated with his brothers. He saw them eating that which he considered aiver min hachai (flesh from a living animal). He also saw them fraternizing with the local girls. Giving his own interpretation to these observations, he brought back accusations about his brothers to his father.

Of course having the advantage of reading the medrash, we are provided with logical and solid reasons to help explain the behaviors of the brothers. On the other hand, Joseph was not privy to that information. He lacked clarity as to the status of his brothers. Were they considered Bnei Yisrael and therefore obligated to observe the Torah’s Laws? Or were they viewed as Bnei Noach (Noahide) and therefore bound exclusively to the Seven Noahide Laws? As to the second observation, of fraternizing with the local girls, yes, the brothers were speaking to the womenfolk. However, it was within the context of a business relationship; they were buying and selling goods. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayeshev 37:2.)

Once again, the outcome in both these observations was negative. As we know from the medrash, the reports that Joseph presented to his father were a contributing factor to the ensuing jealousy and hatred the brothers felt toward him.

In the final scenario, we fast forward to the period when Joseph is Viceroy of Egypt, and his brothers are aware of his true identity.

When Joseph and his brothers were on the way to bury their father in Canaan, Joseph had stopped off at a location near Shechem. It was the site of the pit into which Joseph had been thrown years back. Being unaware of the reason for this stopover, and without any communication on Joseph’s part, the brothers’ observation led them to interpret the experience in their own way. When the brothers noticed Joseph staring into the pit, they instinctively perceived this behavior as part of a vendetta, “believing” that he was stirring up within him hatred toward them. Perhaps he was preparing to take revenge now that their father was gone.

Again, due to a lack of communication, the brothers were unaware of Joseph’s true intentions. The reason for his stopping at the pit was in order to recite a blessing for the miracle Hashem had performed for him at this location years before (“Blessed is He who performed a miracle for me in this place”).

Ironically, that same belief manifested itself a second time.

Upon their return to Egypt, after having buried their father, the brothers noticed that Joseph’s behavior toward them had changed. He had stopped dining with them on a regular basis; however, he had not communicated his intentions. With no concrete information available, and relying exclusively on their observation, the brothers assigned meaning to Joseph’s behavior. And that interpretation stemmed from the same belief they held earlier, that Joseph might be harboring hatred toward them because of their past action, of throwing him into the pit.

Once again, there was an intention behind the behavior. The medrash (Breishis Rabbah 108) explains that Jacob’s death marked the beginning of the slavery. And Joseph was concerned that if he showed favoritism to his brothers, the Egyptian hatred would increase, thereby endangering their lives. However, Joseph did not communicate to his brothers these political considerations. Since they were not privy to the information, the brothers interpreted his apparent rebuff (rejection) as a signal that he might want to take revenge on them. (Note: For more detailed information, see Meam Loez on Vayechi 50:15.)

As these examples demonstrate, in any interaction, when there is a lack of communication and/or clarification with regard to behavior, the observer will be left with nothing more than his own devices with which to interpret the communicator’s message.

So where does that leave us?

In order to be an effective communicator, it is vital for us to take note of such instances when communication is lacking or unclear, and the part “we” take in assigning meaning to our observations and interpretations. While some schools of communication say that both parties in a communication take 50% (each) of the onus for their communication, NLP suggests that we shoot a little higher and take 100% responsibility.

In the final analysis, if we wish to upgrade our communication, it is equally important to take responsibility for that which we convey when communication is lacking as we do when we verbally communicate. If that were the case, I wonder how our lives would be different!

In the next segment on Communicating Effectively, our focus will be Rapport: Establishing and Maintaining It.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com

Choices

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

In most homes, as women prepare to join the Seder (hopefully, somewhat rested), the anticipatory anxiety associated with the “P” word (pre-Pesach angst) is no longer. The cleaning, preparations, shopping and cooking are now a thing of the past. And finally, the Hagaddah’s legacy of yetzias Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) takes front stage.

When we think about the Israelite women in Egypt, the one phrase that stands out is quoted by the Talmud: “B’schar nashim tzidkoniyos shehayu b’oso hador nigalu Yisrael m’Mitzrayim — In the merit of the righteous women who were in that generation, Israel was redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 11b).” This expression reflects their character traits, devotion and commitment to Hashem and their people. The bottom line, it is about the choices they made.

What specific choices were thrust upon these women? And in what areas did they exemplify their righteousness?

According to the commentaries, one of the ways the Egyptians attempted to control the fertility rate of the Jewish people was to remove the men from their homes and house them in the fields. Their obvious reason was a fiscally rational one: Minimize the travel time for the slaves and you’ve created a longer workday. A secondary result, however, was that husbands and wives were not spending time together. To the women this was unacceptable. So, late at night, they risked their lives to go out to the fields and be with their husbands. And when Hashem saw their good intentions, He began to help them in small ways. When they drew water from the well, Hashem caused fish to breed in the cisterns. The women brought two pots to the field, one for cooking the fish and one for washing their husbands. While tending to their husbands, they spoke gently with inspiring words and offered strength and hope: “We won’t be slaves forever; we have Hashem’s promise.” Their encouraging words were backed by a purpose of the highest caliber. They chose to build the nation at this challenging juncture, in spite of their physical fatigue and emotional despair.

Then there were Yocheved and her daughter, Miriam (heads of the midwives guild), who were instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male babies even before they were born. Not only did they disobey the command, they further risked their lives by providing care for some of the babies and their families. And although Pharaoh was enraged by their disobedience and wanted revenge, Hashem intervened and they stayed safe.

A logical question begs asking: From what source did these women draw their strength to make such choices?

The Me’am Loez offers this explanation: “Vatirenah hameyaldos es ha-Elokim — The midwives feared G-d (Shemos 1:17).” Yocheved and Miriam risked their lives to save the unborn children, although halacha did not obligate them to. The choice they made was l’fnim meshuras hadin (beyond the requirement of the law). And that inner strength came from emulating the actions of their ancestor, Avraham Avinu. When Hashem instructed Avraham to bring his son, Yitzchak, as a sacrifice, Avraham did not question Hashem’s command; nor did he request clarification. He carried out Hashem’s will out of love and reached the pinnacle of his spirituality. And that inner strength for self-sacrifice became embedded in our spiritual DNA as a gift and as a legacy. It is that which allowed Yocheved and Miriam to stand up to Pharaoh, and it is that which potentially strengthens us to make choices that may, at times, seem daunting.

I wonder…While Pharaoh’s approach reflected an external threat to the nation, in preparing for the Seder, maybe one of our goals is to stand up to a different type of danger. I refer to an internal threat that sometimes hinders our family relationships: the words we speak and the choices we make.

Parents, who are disappointed or frustrated with their teenager’s behavior, dress or lifestyle choices, may come to the Seder harboring ill feelings toward that particular child. And when criticism, put downs, yelling and other negative behaviors become the focus, the purpose of the night often becomes compromised and so does the relationship.

We recite a passage in the Haggadah inviting strangers who are hungry to join us in eating (“kol dichfin yesei v’yechol”). Perhaps we can extend the meaning of the paragraph by viewing the child in his current lifestyle as a “stranger” to his family’s values. We can then choose to invite him into our hearts – with love, compassion and acceptance. Perhaps then the stranger within him may diminish its hold on his neshama.

To my readership, May Hashem give strength to you where it is needed, and may you enjoy a Chag Kosher V’sameach.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com.

A Validating Experience (Part III)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

In the first two parts of this four-part series, we discussed the need to validate someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one. Utilizing a Rabbinic illustration, we presented the story of Rav Yochanan ben Zakai when he sat shivah for his son. The focus was on his receiving consolation: why he received comfort from his one student, Rav Elazer ben Aruch, and not from his other four students. Now let us move to a Biblical backdrop as we continue.

In the Book of Breishis (Genesis), validation, as a theme, surfaces several times and in different scenarios. In this segment, we will observe a perfect modeling paradigm as Hashem parents Adam, the first “child.” While the text itself does not spell out the subject, as we look to Rashi and other commentaries, it should become apparent how validation manifests itself within the following two verses: “Vayikrah ha-adam shaymos l’chol ha-b’haymah u’l’oaf ha-shamayim u’l’chol chayas hasadeh u’l’adam lo matzah aizer k’negdo. Va-yapel Hashem Elokim tardemah al ha-adam vayishun – The man gave names to every animal, to the birds of the heaven, and to every beast of the field, but the man did not find a helper for himself. And Hashem caused unconsciousness to fall upon the man and he slept (2:20-21).”

Rashi tells us that when Hashem brought all the animals to Adam to be named, He brought them in pairs, male and female of each species. Noticing their pairing, a light must have gone off in Adam’s brain, as if to say, “Wake up sleepy-head; this ‘pairing’ system sounds like a great idea! You’re lacking it right now, and it appears to be something that can work for you!” Acknowledging this need for himself, we are left wondering why did he not simply ask Hashem to fulfill this need? After all, a “program” pertaining to asking had already existed in his brain; the data had been entered prior to this point. Shouldn’t he know the ropes by now?

Note: This “asking program” mentioned in the previous paragraph is referenced by Rashi in an earlier segment. We are told (Genesis 1:12 and 2:5) that the herbal vegetation had not yet sprouted. Rashi explains that on the third day, the vegetation had not yet “protruded.” Remaining at the surface of the ground, it waited for the rain to come and complete the job. However, Hashem had not brought the rain because there was no one yet to work the soil. Nor was there anyone to appreciate the rain that would be required for the vegetation. Once man appeared (on the sixth day), and he recognized the need for vegetation as well as rain, he asked for it (read: prayed). It descended and, the trees and vegetation sprouted.

So what did Adam do once he noticed the pairing of the animals?

Based on Rashi’s clarification, Adam did not exactly speak to Hashem and “ask” in, what should be, an appropriate (read: mature) manner. Yes, Adam did speak up however it was done in a discourteous way. According to the commentary, Nachalas Yaakov, Adam had an attitude issue. Referring to a specific tone of complaint, the commentary presents Adam’s style of language as, “They each have a mate and I have no mate.” Does this tone not sound familiar?

Think about it! When a child wants or feels he needs something he notices another child possesses (especially when it’s a sibling), the child’s reaction usual reaction is, “How come s/he has it and I don’t?” As a matter of fact, children are not the only ones who convey their thoughts in such a manner; let’s take a look at some adults!

How many of us use similar language and tone when we “perceive” certain circumstances are unfair or unjust? How many of us look at what others have and wish we had the same, such as, a better job, more financial security, a nicer home, or a less stressful family relationship. However, due to our sophistication and polish, the words we choose to use may not necessarily duplicate the language used by our children. Nor might we think of adopting Adam’s language as suggested by the Nachalas Yaakov. That would be too child-like, right! And yet, how many of us, in fact, are “thinking” just those words?

Getting back to our storyline here is the interesting part. Considering Adam’s ungracious, rather direct style of communication, as suggested by the Nachalas Yaakov, Hashem did not rebuke, criticize or lecture him for his (immature) tone and attitude. Rather, as the next verse states,Hashem put Adam to sleep and created a mate for him.

I wonder how many of us might be thinking, what is the sense in this strategy?

According to Rashi, once Adam recognized a need to have a mate, he shared his thoughts with Hashem (his Father), albeit through a childish inflection. Based on Hashem’s response, it would seem Hashem listenedvery intently and deeply to Adam’s words, or shall we say, “complaint.” And that might include any possible emotions lurking behind his words (i.e., feelings of loneliness). We might also assume that Hashem understoodAdam’s situation, that there may, yet, exist some degree of immaturity about him. And finally, having this understanding and empathy, it is possible to conclude that Hashem validated Adam’s predicament and need at a profound level. Not only did Hashem ignore Adam’s intonation, immature attitude and language, He also took Adam’s complaint into, what seems to be, immediate consideration. In the final analysis, Hashem took care of Adam’s most imminent need: that of providing him with a mate.

So what compelling parenting lesson can we extrapolate from this segment?

When it comes to a child’s complaints, most parents do not take well to being on the receiving end. In the case of an adolescent, when a teen’s complaint intensifies, as does the accompanying language, parents may react by pulling rank. Do these statements (and threats), spoken with a harsh tone, sound familiar? “How dare you speak to your mother in that tone of voice!” or “Don’t you dare talk to your father that way or else I’ll____!” or “I don’t like your tone of voice/attitude; you better change it or else_____!”

In many cases, such interactions often end up with a fight or flight outcome. Either a power struggle will ensue (with enraged voices) or one of the parties will run out on the other, often harboring ill feelings; and then what?

Perhaps this illustration can move us toward a healthy perspective when it comes to complaints. Yes, we must always take the time to listen carefully to a child and to try to understand any underlying feelings and issues that are present in the child’s life. And sometimes, it would be more beneficial for the child and to the relationship to disregard a child’s attitude, tone of voice, language – and possibly even behavior – and first and foremost to take the child’s need/s into consideration. Attitude, language and behavior can be addressed after the child’s needs, predicament and/or feelings have been validated, and both parties reach once a calmer state.

In Part Four, we will look to the patriarchal relationship of Abraham and Sarah as we continue discussing this topic. We will give some due space to comparing and contrasting thoughts on validation and invalidation.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com.

A Validating Experience (Part II)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

How does one comfort an individual mourning the loss of a loved one? What does one say so that the grieving person will feel consoled?

In Part One of this series on validation, the above questions were presented. To illustrate the vital points of the mitzvah to comfort the bereaved, we referred to the story in Maseches Avos D’Rabi Noson (14:6). In this segment, we will further explore these questions using some of the details in the story.

When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai sat shiva for his son, several of his students tried comforting him. Yet, only one accomplished that goal. The first disciple referred to Adam as an illustration of one who had suffered a loss and was consoled. The student concluded, “You also should accept consolation.” Reb Yochanan responded: “Not only do I have my personal suffering, but now you remind me of Adam’s suffering, too.”

The second student presented Iyov (Job), one who had suffered the loss of his entire family in one day, and had also been consoled. The student then added the same concluding comment, as the first student. And in a similar vein, the Rebbe responded as he did earlier.

The third disciple mentioned Aaron and his loss of two sons (both in the same day), indicating that Aaron was consoled. The same concluding statements followed, both by the student and the Rebbe. And finally, the fourth student pointed to King David as one who had suffered a loss and noted that he, too, was consoled. Again, the student concluded with the same statement to his Rebbe as did the disciples before him, as was the Rebbe’s response. It would only be with the fifth student that Reb Yochanan would be consoled.

The question, therefore, begs asking: Why did Reb Yochanan not accept consolation from his four students? Was there something in their content, style of communication, language, attitude, disposition, or perhaps something else that precluded their achieving their goal? And on the other side of the pole, why was RebYochanan comforted by his disciple, Rabbi Elazer ben Aruch? How was his approach or communication different from that of the other students?

Interestingly, there seem to be several common threads present in the scenarios of the first four students. Firstly, theindividuals who had been identified as “also” having gone through their personal experiences of grief – as did Rabbi Yochanan – were four great Torah personalities. Secondly, the responses given by each of the four disciples was that of the same nature: of comparison. Thirdly, the comparisons could be perceived as containing within them a component of judgment – as if to say – “If this great person was able to take comfort during his time of grief, then you, too, should do the same.” Then again, sometimes (and for some people), utilizing comparisons potentially can offer chizuk (inspiration). Referring to a righteous person as a source of inspiration can motivate a person to feasibly achieve that which the great personality has accomplished.

However, when comparisons are used as a paradigm, it is possible that such an approach can negate an individual’s feelings. One can, therefore, wonder If the students were implying how their Rebbe “should” feel, is it possible their words might be invalidating how, in fact, their Rebbe might be feeling?

Enter Rabbi Elazer ben Arech, a student whose words took his Rebbe on a different path. He did not refer to anyone else’s loss; he made no comparisons. Instead, he used an allegory as his style of communication; and it worked (parenthetically, there are instances in both Midrashic and Talmudic stories where allegories are used as a means to convey lessons). He “reached” his Rebbe, something which was not attained by the other disciples.

Based on the responses Reb Yochanan gave, it would appear that he possessed a profound depth of empathy for others who had experienced personal loss. Additionally, being so sensitized to their anguish, it would seem that he also internalized their pain and grief on top of his own. One can only imagine: feeling a double degree of grief certainly would not be conducive for a mourner to receive comfort and consolation.

Reb Elazer had to have understood his Rebbe and that which he required most. He also had to have recognized the values which Reb Yochanan honored and held dear to him. In his case, it was helping him reflect on the true meaning of parenting. As the allegory suggested, Reb Yochanan’s role was to be the keeper, charged with maintaining the precious object lent to him, and returning it to The King undamaged, unsoiled and in a perfect state. To that end, Rabbi Elazer reviewed with his Rebbe that which his son accomplished in his lifetime. As a Torah scholar who had studied all of Torah (the oral as well as written), his son left the world without sin.

One can assume that Reb Yochanan did not require people to sit with him and empathize with him for his loss. Obviously, Reb Yochanan’s greatest consolation came from tuning in to that which he felt in his heart and soul – the fulfillment of his role as a parent.And while we are not on the level of Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai, it behooves those who offer words of consolation, to remember one of the most important aspects of the approach used by Rabi Elazer ben Arech: We are all different and everyone requires something different in order to feel comforted and consoled. Tune in to the needs of the bereaved and be sensitized to their needs before you say anything. If one’s words will not be received as consolation, are they appropriate altogether?

The subject of validation continues in Part Three as we move to a different landscape.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com.

A Validating Experience (Part I)

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Her tone of voice was no different than usual: demure; calm; in-control. And then she shared with me a couple of ill-conceived statement expressed to her by some “loving” individuals: “Don’t think of her suffering as something bad.” If she suffers now then at least she won’t suffer in The Next World.” And the next one, well, that just went over the top (mind you, this communication took place a couple of months after the High Holidays): “It looks like you didn’t daven too well this past Yom Kippur.”

With that concluding sentence, her pitch changed drastically as she began to recount all that had been transpiring in her life during these past few weeks. I could sense an intense energy-surge leaping through the air, emoting frustration, resentment and anger seeking a safe haven for her pained heart searching for that something she had been unable to secure up until now.

The moment of truth had arrived and I seemed to have been in that moment. To be honest, I do not recall speaking any pearls of wisdom. I offered no answers or solutions. My words were minimal, yet honest and from the heart. With the statements I uttered, and with the tone in my voice, I validated her pain. I simply acknowledged her feelings and situation by trying to stand in her shoes. I tried to imagine what it must be like for her; to watch a parent suffer and to be limited in one’s ability to help. It was obvious; my presence was exactly that which her soul had been aching to experience – warmth, empathy and compassion – a comforting feeling that would fill her void.

By now I was unsure whether or not our phone connection had been severed. What an amazing experience: when silence overcomes passion, it can be deafening! I waited a moment or two. And then it burst forth, a familiar sound – that of weeping – a means to help her express grief, and to echo a sense of relief and gratitude.

The source of her hurt, as benign as it was, had emanated from “well-meaning” friends and family. Theirs were “honest intentions,” meant to help her get through some of her rough times. And that is why she tried to be understanding and fair: “I know they mean no malice; I understand that; but still ” [Interesting word - but - it is such a dead giveaway; you just know the other shoe is about to drop]. These final two words clued me in as to the depth of her anguish; it was a “double whammy!”

When people are grieving, certain statements (as the ones above) are simply insensitive and inappropriate, even if they carry with them truth. Whether they are spoken to a spouse, a child who is caring for a suffering parent, or a parent who is contending with a suffering child, be it physically, emotionally or mentally, the impact can be devastating. Knowing what to say, how to say it, when to say it and equally as important, are you the one suitable to be saying it, must be carefully considered. The bottom line is: there is no one-size-fits-all answer that is applicable to every individual and in all situations.

The state of grief cuts across many landscapes. Of course it is most familiar and profound when the experience of loss revolves around the death of a loved one. During that period the individual requires comfort and consolation.

In the concluding segment of Chayei Sarah, the verse states: “Vayehi acharay mos Avraham vayevorech Elokim es Yitzchok b’no – And it came to pass after the death of Avraham that G-d blessed Yitzchak his son (25:11).” Blessing Yitzchak was G-d’s way of comforting him while he was mourning the death of his father, Avraham. And just as G-d comforts the bereaved, in a similar manner, we, too, are meant to emulate His actions by comforting the bereaved.

One of the most important aspects of a shiva house is for visitors to be attuned to that which the mourner requires. If the mourner wishes to remain silent, then it is incumbent upon the visitors to respect the silence and act likewise. When the mourner speaks, such is the time for visitors to respond, and to do so with care and sensitivity.

The psychology of grief was known to the Sages. Many of the laws clearly take into consideration the emotional state of the individual and his/her needs during this distressing time. The goal at the time of shiva is for the bereaved to feel comforted. And yet, that is not always accomplished. People mean well and express thoughts they perceive will be soothing. And as it turns out, not only are their words not comforting, the bereaved may, in fact, feel further distressed. Such was the case with Rabi Yochanan Ben Zakai when he sat shiva for his son.

Note: The following is a translation by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (see: Love Your Neighbor) of the original text inMaseches Avos D’Rabi Noson 14:6.

“At the time, Rabi Yochanan’s disciples came to console him. His disciple, Rabi Eliezer entered and said, ‘The first man, Adam, had a son who died, and he was consoled. You also should accept consolation.’ Rabi Yochanan’s response was, ‘Not only do I have my personal suffering, but now you remind me of Adam’s suffering, too.’”

“Then his disciple, Rabi Yehoshua, entered and said, ‘Eyov (Job) had sons and daughters and they all died, and he was consoled.’ To that Rabi Yochanan responded,

‘Not only do I have my personal suffering, but now you remind me of Eyov’s suffering,’”

“Another disciple, Rabi Yosi, entered and said, ‘Aharon the Kohein Gadol had two great sons (Nadav and Avihu), and they both died on the same day, and he was consoled. You also should accept consolation.’ Rabi Yochanan once again responded in a similar manner to the other responses, ‘Not only do I have my personal suffering, but now you remind me of Aharon’s suffering.’”

“The next disciple, Rabi Shimon, entered and spoke, ‘David, the king, had a son who died and he was consoled. You also should accept consolation.’ And again, Rabi Yochanan responded with similar words as he had done earlier, ‘Not only do I have my personal suffering, but now you remind me of David’s suffering.’”

“Rabi Elazer ben Arech entered and began to speak. ‘I will give an analogy to your situation. The king entrusted a precious object with one of his subjects. The subject was in a state of constant worry: ‘When will I be able to return the object undamaged and unsoiled to the king?’ ‘My teacher,’ said Rabi Arech, ‘You are in a similar situation. You had a son who was a Torah scholar and left this world without sin. Be consoled that you have returned him to the King in a perfect state.’”

“‘Elazer, my son, you have properly comforted me,’ said Rabi Yochanan.”

In part two we will explore why Rabi Yochanan accepted consolation from Rabi Arech and not from his other disciples.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com.

Who You Calling Lazy?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Have you ever experienced a scenario similar to the following?

“My son, Ari (fictitious name) had been making an effort to study so he could get good grades. We arranged for twice a week tutoring in the evening, and that was after a long day at school. He wants to succeed. All children want to succeed. He’d like to see comments such as “great job” at the top of his homework. He’d also prefer having test sheets with fewer red X’s and “F’s” at the top of his papers (circled for emphasis in the event the “F” goes unnoticed).

“Despite the tutoring, review work and efforts Ari had put in, his teacher’s evaluations seemed to contain comments such as: ‘He’s just lazy; if only he would try harder.’ I observed him daily. He was so down on himself and very frustrated.

“Eventually the tutoring stopped and so did Ari’s studying. Why would he want to study if his grades were so low? The kids made fun of him, and his teachers kept reminding him that he had a lazy streak. I tried so hard, praising him for his efforts; however his father echoed the same sentiments as the educators. Ari’s behavior issues began escalating and we were told to seek a new school for the next year.

“Months into the new school year, Ari missed a lot of school. Getting him out of bed and out of the house was a daily ordeal. His father made sure to ‘remind’ him that he was being lazy. And Ari, well, he was simply matching the image that had been created for him.”

How many of us have heard or uttered some of the following comments:

“He’s lazy; that’s why he’s not doing anything.”

“She’s not helping me because she’s lazy.”

“S/he could do better academically but s/he’s lazy.”

“I’m too lazy to pick myself up.”

Oh, and let us not forget those descriptive expressions which, when spoken, provide us with a pre-conceived and pre-judged image and/or perception of others (or even ourselves) as in the following examples:

“He’s not working because he’s a lazy bum.”

“She’s a lazy good-for-nothing, that’s why she ____ (fill in the blank with a judgment of your choice).”

I’m curious. As you read these terms, what specific image/s do you conjure up in your mind? And even if in your mind’s eye you are not associating these comments with anyone specific, when you think of these statements, what thoughts come up for you?

Isn’t it interesting that the word, lazy, seems to be used exclusively in conjunction with negativity? And I wonder when we hear such comments as those mentioned above, or when we communicate using such language, how many of us reflect on the connotation of the word? Do we ever question those descriptive labels or do we simply take the word at face value based on a worldview perception? Well that is exactly what we will be exploring in this article: What is laziness? What lurks behind the term? And how can we avoid being judgmental of people who we perceive as lazy?

Webster’s dictionary defines lazy as resistant/not disposed to work or exertion, idleness, sluggish, slow-moving, indolence and slothful. Keep in mind that laziness is a state of being and these definitions are mere synonyms for that state. So now that we know how the dictionary explains the word, I thought it would be interesting to hear what people have to say on the matter. How does the populace perceive laziness? And for that, I requested the assistance of a few people in my community.

Five individuals were kind enough to help me explore the topic by responding to the following question: “How do you define lazy and what does laziness mean to you?” Oh, and to you, my dear readers please feel free to answer this question, too, and notice how your ideas differ from the five responses that are presented below. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. Each person has opinions and thoughts based on his/her map of the world. (On an interesting note, all of the respondents indicated that their descriptions were influenced by vivid images of individuals with whom they were acquainted.)

So How do you define lazy and what does laziness mean to you?

“Lazy is lacking motivation and good spirit, acting lethargic and getting distracted. I think people who are lazy aren’t happy. They don’t understand and embrace their sense of responsibility to themselves, their work or toward theirs role in life (i.e., family, school).” – “M”

“If you put off tomorrow what you can do today, as opposed to being diligent and getting things done, that’s called lazy. If someone can do something for me instead of me doing it – that makes me lazy.” – “E”

“Laziness is staying in bed late; not putting in a full day and making the most of your time; someone capable but not putting in the fullest of his/her potential. As far as I’m concerned, I’m usually diligent. And when I sleep till 8:30 on Shabbos morning, I refer to that (i.e., myself) as lazy.” – “N”

“Lazy is someone who is in low gear, mixed up and lacks energy. In fact, a person who is unmotivated can be perceived as lazy because he has reduced activity, is sedentary and lacks physical energy. Actually, I don’t like the word; it’s too negative.” – “S”

“I act lazy when I just don’t want to do something at all. This is not procrastination. I know it’s due to an insecurity which is higher than the drive in me to move forward (and my drive is very high). After working on this issue for several years, currently, when something threatens my sense of insecurity, I will deliberately undertake the task.” – “S”

Shifting gears, Psychology Today (March 2009) carried a brief, yet informative article. Titled The Myth of Laziness, Jenna Baddeley, in my humble opinion, spelled it out clearly and provided us with much food for thought. Here are some of her ideas on the subject of laziness:

“If laziness does exist, what are the criteria that define it? If a person with a high-powered, high-paying job comes home each day and lies on the couch for an hour or two to watch TV, is that person lazy? Or is he simply caring for himself by taking a well-deserved break? What about someone who lies on the couch all day? Is there anyone who does this out of laziness, or would we instead be concerned that such a person is clinically depressed?

“Too often, casual observers mistakenly attribute laziness to people who have mental illnesses like depression or anxiety disorders that impair their ability to work and be active. A person with compulsive hoarding, for example, is not ‘lazy’ about cleaning or organizing their home. For a person with compulsive hoarding, throwing away a paper cup may be dreadfully difficult and stressful. For such a person, throwing away five cups may require immense courage and hard work – it would certainly not be a task for the truly lazy.

“We attribute laziness to people when they have failed to do specific tasks that we value. We typically do not label people lazy when we have stopped to consider the fuller range of their activity and motivations.”

The next time you have the urge to refer to someone as “lazy,” especially if it is a struggling child, step back and consider that there is more to the subject than meets the eye.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/who-you-calling-lazy/2009/08/19/

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