Thursday, April 11, 2019


NPR is celebrating poetry month by seeking poems of tweet size, 140 characters. So I wrote one.

I like it here
Over the hill
Green meadow
Good company
Nice view
I can reach down
Guide others up
Maybe take on nearby trails
Or just admire the sky.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


  Survivor Guilt to Survivor Gratitude

         I didn’t dodge a bullet in a shooting. I wasn’t one of the lone people who lived after a plane or car crash. But I do have a sort of survivor guilt. That’s because I see the rest of the world better than ever before. I see that compared to so many, I am a survivor in this travel through life.
Unlike many of the circumstances media allows us to see, I have been given the resources to survive. I grew up with enough food, shelter, love, education and health care. 
I know I’m not alone in the emotion that comes from increasing awareness of the great disparities and inequities in the world. Our parents reminded us of our bounty by telling us about the poor starving children in China. That was the group in the fifties simply because we weren’t aware of the many other places where children were starving. Sadly, they still are.
The dilemma is, how do we live with this awareness and teach our children to approach this world in a balanced way. I want mine to be joyful, contributing, compassionate and aware. I don’t want them so paralyzed by the troubles in the world that they wallow in the face of impossible challenges.  I want them to enjoy life and to make the enjoyment of life possible for more people in this world.
Gratitude has two faces, I think. As I step into my warm bed I say a prayer of gratitude for how special that is. I can’t help but think about the lack of this in so many lives. That awareness doesn't need to be a cloud that hangs over every pleasure and benefit in life. Instead it can be a reminder of the need to live a life of balance. To have a good life that includes the practice of bringing good into the lives of others.
         I am bothered when I read of people who buy their dogs designer outfits, when so many children don’t even have basic clothing. I enjoy the home renovation shows, but I sort of want to punch the entitled little twits who walk into a beautiful home and complain that there are not two sinks on the bathroom vanity.
How do we enjoy what we have and live out the responsibility to acknowledge the needs of other humans? I can’t say that I have found the perfect balance. It’s a work in progress. To let ourselves be joyful, can perhaps helps us have the spirit and energy to go forward and contribute. There are some who need handbags that cost 1,000 dollars or 50 pairs of shoes before they think they are in a position or with the energy to give. I don’t like them!
Yes, it’s their money, they can do what they want with it. But I honestly believe that there is more joy in buying that 51st pair of shoes for a homeless kid than for one’s own closet.
Among my own efforts at balance, is the habit of small donations. There are two charities who deal with the most desperate in the world and have excellent ratings. When my family is facing a challenge where I feel powerless, I go on line and make a small donation. When something wonderful happens that enriches my life, I go on line and make a small donation.
One year my son had a “difficult” teacher. All my efforts at cooperation and communication did not help, so one charity and the people they helped benefitted significantly. At the end of the year the charity sent a statement for tax purposes. When I saw all the donations of that year, I just sat down and cried over how hard the year had been. But I was comforted that someone else did benefit.

My friend calls it, “Let’s make a deal” with God. Yes, I must admit, I have hoped there might be some Karmic exchange for my efforts. Perhaps what I have received is a sense of peace in being able to do something in the face of difficulty and to feel less powerless. It’s all part of the emerging process -- to feel joy and gratitude and to express that through what I can do to make a small difference in lives where mere survival is a struggle. I don’t see my survivor guilt as a kind of burden. I think instead survivor gratitude, not a burden but a consistent and powerful motivator in the face of so many challenges.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


            By nature and experience I am not a gambler. My first lesson was when I was 8 or 9 and was the treasurer of my classroom library fund. I was the trusted holder of about $3.00. That is the same $3.00 that I lost in a poker game with my older brothers and their friends. My tears were enough to get my mother to make the boys give me back the money, but the lesson still held. So when our state started the lottery I wasn’t immediately interested. I also believed as I heard from a comedian that our chances of winning are about the same whether we buy a ticket or not. But in spite of this history I became a regular lottery ticket buyer. With the purchase of every lottery ticket, I won something.  Even before the drawing I had a benefit that was more valuable than the potential winnings.
            It all began when my teenage daughter started talking about the car she would love to have and would buy if we won the lottery.  Since we never played the lottery the chances of that were pretty slim .
 She was at that stage where we didn't always have the most pleasant conversations, if any at all. So her animated, cheerful musings were a nice diversion.  We talked about the model, the color of the car and the various safety features and add-ons.
            Then I started talking about what I would do if I won.   What material things I'd like, what trips I'd take, different favors I wanted to do for people and causes I wanted to support.  It was such a nice interchange that I decided there might be some potential in getting a ticket each week.
The result was quite surprising.  No matter what teenage funk my daughter was in at the time, I could almost always engage her in a conversation about whether we should do a quick pick or choose our own numbers or some new thing I'd thought of doing with millions of dollar.
            We even had conversations about whether we would move into a fancier house. I was pleased to hear that she would not want to.  We had a nice enough home, and I admired her sensible nature and sentimental feeling in making that decision.
            Her younger brother couldn't figure out why we didn't just buy one of those "scratch-off things".  He clearly didn't understand the point of the lottery, or the point of the lottery for us.  I usually bought the ticket on Thursday so that we could have maximum time to share our musings about spending huge amounts of money.
             As a psychologist, I used to do workshops on values, and on living in a way that is consistent with those values.  Having people talk about what they would do with lots of money is a wonderful way to explore and clarify those values.  While my daughter and I visited about our millions we did just that, and I got the opportunity to reinforce values I hoped I had already instilled.  We talked about the things we would do for others and of being a responsible and charitable citizen of this world.   She had thoughtful ideas about providing for little children and of donating to animal shelters.

            Lottery tickets were the price of admission to many pleasant conversations with my sometimes-distant teenager.  For that, they were a bargain. Moreover, the conversations were sometimes about the fact that, in the eyes of most of the people in the world, we had already won the lottery.  We didn't need to wait for the Saturday drawings to do good works with the resources we already had.  An unexpected benefit was that some of our lottery-inspired conversations inspired real charitable actions that recognized this reality.   

Monday, May 14, 2018


During my years as a school psychologist I’ve worked with thousands of families. I often counseled the children who had some kind of problem or who had made some kind of mistake. Many wise parents cooperated with the school and supported the consequences, sometimes with reservations about the seriousness of the situation and sometimes with reservations about the consequences. But they did not rob the child of the experience of accepting responsibility for a bad choice. They allowed the child to incorporate into their thinking the wonderful deterrent value of consequences
I’ve also observed kids who had a very hard time admitting their mistakes. The pressures in society seem to have increased this pattern. Often the parents of these children also had elaborate excuses for why the child was not responsible -- It was the other child’s idea, they thought they were doing right, the teacher is biased, they hadn’t eaten breakfast. The list was long and varied, but what was consistent was the need for the child to be perfect or the need for the parent to have them be seen as faultless. In some cases, the parent had their own experience of feeling that they had been treated unfairly and this added to the dynamic.
In one situation I recounted to a teacher the immediate confession of a fifth grade girl who had only been partly involved in some mischief. The teacher’s response, “She must really trust the world.” It made me think about this child and others who are able to acknowledge their errors and be honest. This girl has had her share of trips to the principal’s office, but she has generally been quite honest. Moreover, her parents have supported the school and backed up the consequences. Usually these are fairly mild ones -- missing recess, writing sorry notes or little essays about why their infraction was a bad idea. The teacher’s comment was profound. Not only did she trust the world, she trusted the unconditional love of her parents, annoyed and upset as they might be.
I worry about children who have had the opposite experience. In the principal’s office, they were the ones who came up with excuses or stories that minimized their role in a situation. And when the parents got the note that their daughter or son would miss a few days of recess or would need to do the “better judgment” essay, the phone would ring and the excuses and qualifications would start again.
For those children I have wondered, “Is being imperfect so forbidden? Is being seen as having done something dumb or naughty so difficult to accept?” My worries for those children are two fold. One is that they will be able, with the help of parents, to wriggle out of the consequences and be robbed of that valuable deterrent potential of those consequences. They will always get away with it and will thus take bigger risks and make bigger mistakes. My other worry is that unlike the girl earlier described, they do not trust the world. Or they do not trust the acceptance they will find in their own homes if they tell the truth and accept responsibility. A sadder worry I believe.
We all want our children to be treated fairly, so the instinct to be their defense attorney can be powerful. But children are impulsive and egocentric little creature and even wonderful kids can do dumb things. We do them no service to defend against being ac- countable.
So let your child be wrong, even if it was “the other child’s idea” or if “they only did it once and the others did it twice.” Help them understand that con- sequences also apply for following a bad idea or for doing even part of it.

It’s a gift to a child to disapprove of what they have done and to still love them. It’s important to separate approval and love and to never make them think they must be perfect to earn the latter.