All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

Weave Compassion into the Fabric of Your Family’s Lives

Compassion-1Your family life is rife with rituals that can send messages of compassion, kindness, and sharing to your children. When you sit down for a meal, you are sharing your food and each other’s company. When you hug and kiss your children good night, you are sharing your love. When you play games together, you are sharing your time. When you tell your children stories, you are sharing your knowledge and your imagination.

Our daughter Catie has a job chart on which she places little magnets signifying that she fulfilled her responsibilities that day. One of her responsibilities is to “be kind.” Every evening while completing her job chart, she has to recount to whom and how she was kind that day.

Both of our daughters have a piggy bank in which they deposit their weekly allowance. We ask them to donate 25 percent of their allowance to charity. Every few months, they take their charitable savings and donate it to a cause of their choice. In the past, they have given their money to earthquake victims in Haiti, a local non-profit organization that takes care of injured animals, and to a nearby homeless shelter. In all cases, Catie and Gracie take the money out of their piggy banks, put it in little purses, and delivers it personally to the charity.

Some friends of ours, Dirk and Emily, have a ritual with their son that involves giving away, rather than selling, his old clothes, books, and toys. They’ve told him that they choose to give away things that they could sell because there are many families that aren’t as fortunate as they and can’t afford to buy everything they need. Every time their son gets something new, he has to give away an old item (this also reduces clutter in their home).

Ron and Georgia participate in a local program called Homeward Bound in which they take turns with other families buying, packing, and delivering groceries to families living at a homeless shelter. Every other month, they and their three children complete a ritual to support Homeward Bound. The family sits down at the kitchen table and compiles a list of groceries they want to buy, paying special attention to the time of year and the upcoming holidays. The kids paint the shopping bags that will hold the food in bright colors and make cards for the family. Each of their children also selects a small toy from their room for the children of the recipient family. The entire family then goes to the supermarket and the children are responsible for finding and checking off the items on the grocery list. When they get home, the family packs the groceries and then delivers them to the family at the shelter. Ron and Georgia’s children introduce themselves to the family and hand the shopping bags full of food to them. At dinner after the delivery, everyone shares what the experience meant to them, what they learned from meeting the family, and one other thing that they might do to express their compassion.

Yes, acts of compassion can be big and noticeable. Yet, the power of compassion learned by children is best woven into the fabric of your family’s lives. Every little act of compassion that you and your children engage in or see within your circle of family, friends, and neighbors every day sends indelible messages of kindness, caring, and sharing that will be embraced and expressed by your children throughout their lives.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).

Steve Jobs was a Low-Tech Parent

downloadI was absolutely shocked when I read this article describing how the late Steve Jobs, despite being the King of 21st century technology, was a low-tech parent, meaning that he didn’t allow his children frequent access to the very devices he designed that has changed our world.

In fact, as the article also echoed, I know many tech-industry parents who, because they see the dangers, also limit their children’s use of computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Are Young People Getting a Bad Rap These Days?

teenagerYoung people in America don’t seem to be held in a very high regard these days. They’re accused of a veritable rap sheet of bad attitudes and bad behaviors. We constantly hear about the impending Armageddon when the next generations take over our country. Some of the less-than-admirable qualities that are attributed to young people these days include:

  • Narcissistic
  • Entitled
  • Indifferent
  • Lacking empathy
  • Materialistic
  • Underachieving
  • Poorly educated
  • Superficial
  • Addicted to technology

Such a litany doesn’t speak well of the future of our country. But I’m actually going to push back on this perception. I would suggest that young people these days have an image problem. The real issue is less how they are than how they are perceived. The fact is that, in our media-saturated world, good kids don’t sell. When was the last time you saw a TV show or movie that portrayed young people doing good in the world? That is so boring! Just look at reality TV and the latest young adult books and films to see where most people get their ideas about young people these days. Kids are either overly muscled and faux tanned partiers or vampires (Katniss is a rare exception, but that’s pure fantasy).

It is well-documented that people base their judgment on the most available information. And the most available information that the majority of Americans get about young people doesn’t paint a pretty picture of them. Here’s the problem though. That picture is a gross distortion of the reality of young people these days. Sure, there are plenty of kids who fit the above list to a T, but it is by no means representative of the population of young people in America today.

In fact, I would suggest that there are a lot of good kids (I can say that now that I have children) out there and I think that America will do just fine in their hands. But to find these decent young people, you have to look away from your television and computer and actually watch and talk to real kids.

I travel around the U.S. meeting, speaking to, and working with young people of diverse backgrounds in many settings. And my over-all impressions are positive. What I see are young people who are:

  • Respectful
  • Caring of others
  • Wanting to make a positive difference
  • Hard working
  • Value driven
  • Deep in feeling and thought
  • Pretty addicted to technology, but they’ll get a handle on that as they mature

I for one have a great deal of empathy for the next few generations. They are faced with and will be confronted by challenges that previous generations just didn’t have. Consider how the economic, geopolitical, cultural, educational, and technological landscapes have changed over the last 30 years. What was once stable and predictable is no longer. What was once certain is now anything but. Imagine what it’s like for young people who have to make it in a world that is in a regular state of flux, a constant moving target. Unsettling? Yes. Stressful? For sure. Scary? Definitely! And because of these dramatic changes, many don’t feel they can readily turn to parents, teachers, and others who can relate to their predicament and offer credible encouragement and advice.

I think we need to cut young people a little slack. It’s easy to be a Chicken Little (“the sky is falling!”) and expect the worst from recent generations especially when you get to be of a certain age. How can they possibly compete against “the best and the brightest” and the Greatest Generation?

But doesn’t every generation carry the burden of high expectation and low opinion by their supposedly wise elders? Didn’t we, in retrospect, seem pretty self-absorbed, unmotivated, and too cool for our own good? I don’t think that many of our generation were looking like the leaders of tomorrow when we were in our teens and twenties. But somehow, a bunch of us stepped up, took the reins, and seemed to keep our country moving forward (with plenty of fits and starts, to be sure, but that’s another blog post).

My suggestion is that next time you get the chance, instead of jumping to conclusions and dissing the younger generations, give them your support and guidance and, even go a step further, give them your respect and appreciation.

Are You Drowning in Email?

emailsA great New York Times article describing the “tyranny” of email and how some countries and companies are attempting to staunch the tsunami of email during non-work hours.

Anyone who feels overwhelmed when faced with checking their email or anyone who feels pressure to respond to work email on night and weekends will appreciate this article.

And anyone who runs a company will want to pay attention to the findings discussed in the article and consider an email strategy that will benefit their employees and offer long-term benefits to the health of the company.

Is Emotional Openness the Key to Healthy Relationships?

Have you ever been at a social event, whether a hosted dinner, picnic, party, what-have-you, and you meet someone who is obviously intelligent, well educated, and successful? You fully expect an interesting conversation, yet it stumbles from the start. The conversation stays at a superficial level and, within a short time, you are actually struggling to think of even the most mundane things to say to them. You quickly find an excuse to break off the conversation—“I’m going to freshen up my drink. Nice talking to you”—and put the encounter out of its misery.

Or, have you ever been at a social event and you meet someone who is as capable as the above person, yet something is different. Within minutes, ideas are flowing in both directions unfiltered and unabated. There is a comfort and ease that is surprising given the short duration of the conversation. Before you know it, both of you are engaging in serious self-disclosure and you feel as if you’ve known that person for years.

What explains this vastly different social experience? I have come to the conclusion that it has nothing to do with intellect, education, status, or shared values or experience. Instead, I believe it is due to the emotional openness of the two parties involved.

What do I mean by emotional openness? It is really about the ability to share your emotional life with others. Emotional openness, of course, comes with risks that involve making yourself vulnerable and not knowing whether this emotional exposure will be accepted and reciprocated or rejected and deflected. Perhaps the ultimate example of taking the risk of emotional openness is telling someone you love them.

It isn’t a conscious decision whether to take the emotional plunge or not. Rather, it is a spontaneous feeling thing. For some deep and unclear reason, perhaps pheromones, chemistry, vibe, or knowing someone from a previous life (I’m being facetious about that last one), the emotional flood gates open up and a connection is made in both directions. Or, the gates to the castle clang shut.

Referring back to two examples. In the first case, I feel like there is a wall or a suit of armor that is preventing me from reaching the person emotionally. Or, I feel nothing from them, so I don’t let them feel anything from me. In the second case, I feel as if there is this open space between us that allows emotions to flow freely back and forth.

What causes an immediate and strong connection between two people? I have a few theories. First, both people are just emotionally open; that’s simply the way they operate. So, when they meet someone with a similar emotional style, connection is inevitable and quick. Second, I have also found that I tend to connect with people with whom I share values and interests. For example, I generally connect more deeply with people who work in the helping professions or the non-profit world than those from the financial industry. And I definitely feel more of an affinity for those with similar political and religious views as I have. Third, mutual interests are a nexus through which I often connect. For instance, I do a lot of skiing, running, and bicycling and have made several good friends through these common interests. Not surprisingly, some of our best and open conversations occur while engaging in these sports.

A question I have asked myself, but still haven’t come up with a definitive answer is this: Is the other person just closed emotionally in general or is there just a lack of emotional chemistry between the two of us? Perhaps the other person is emotionally open with others, just not me. I tend to lean toward the former explanation because I’m pretty good at feeling whether people are emotionally available. In addition, I often see people with others and in different situations that confirm my impressions.

At the same time, I want to be fair and not assume that just because someone is emotionally closed with me that they are that way with everyone. The reality is that people have different emotional “wiring”, different levels of comfort with vulnerability, different timing for being emotionally open, and different ways they express their emotions. It may be that my style, which tends to be immediate, direct, and unfiltered, doesn’t jibe well with someone else’s that may be more cautious or require more time and trust.

I also wonder how predictive that initial emotional interaction is of long-term relationships. Does an immediate connection always mean a lasting connection? And does an emotionally awkward first meeting portend long-term doom for a relationship? It’s difficult to say because you’re more likely to want to see someone again after an emotionally rewarding experience and less motivated to want to build on an emotionally unsatisfying first encounter.

Different people also have different expectations when it comes to initial meetings. I’m going to guess that most people don’t set the bar very high in terms of emotional content when they first meet people, so don’t expect emotional fireworks (or even a few sparks).

I, for one, tend to place considerable weight on that original impression and assume that what I see (and feel) emotionally is what I will get in the future. I then determine from that first interaction whether I want to see that person again.

There are trade-offs with both approaches. With the lower bar, you’re less likely to miss out on someone who just takes time to warm up to you. The downside is the opportunity costs you incur when you could be spending time with others whom you will develop meaningful relationships.

With the higher bar, you don’t waste time with people with whom you will never have a meaningful relationship. The risk is that you may lose out on what might have turned out to be a great friend or even the person you marry.

Finally, one area I struggle with is what to do in those situations in which there is an emotional disconnect between me and someone I meet. Should I continue to engage with the other person because it is the polite thing to do? Or, do I “check out” because time is a nonrenewable resource and I’m wasting it interacting with people with whom I feel no rapport, even if my withdrawal may be interpreted as judgmental, snobbish, or just plain rude? The socially acceptable thing would probably be to stick with it until there is a well-mannered way to exit the interaction. My impulse is to bail as quickly as possible regardless of how I am perceived. What would you do?

Are Young People Losing Their Ability to Read Emotions?

An interesting new study was just published that suggests that children who have little or no screen time are able to read the emotions of others better than those who spend considerable time in front of a screen.

Though the sample for the study was small, its implications are disturbing, namely, that the decline in face-to-face interaction caused by the rise in the use of technology may inhibit the development of children’s ability to identify, interpret, and react to the emotions of others.

Given that considerable research has shown that ‘emotional intelligence’ is vital to success in school, career, and relationships, this finding should be troubling to parents who give their children unfettered use of smartphones, tablets, and computers, and to educators who believe that technology is the panacea to all of our country’s educational woes.

From Disabled to Super-Abled: Redefining Being Physically Challenged and Human

I recently was invited by the Huffington Post (for whom I blog weekly) to write a post about a TED talk by Aimee Mullins, a double-amputee who has received world-wide acclaim as an athlete, actress, model, inspirational speaker, and an innovator for the physically challenged. How we look at so-called disabled people is certainly changing these days and I was inspired to offer my perspective. Not long ago, I wrote another post in response to another TED talk by another physically challenge person and the focus of that post was on how disabled people are much more like us “normal” folk than we realize. But this post has a decidedly different tack to it.

In past generations, when we looked at someone with a physical disability, we felt many different emotions including sympathy, revulsion, fear, embarrassment, or “there but by the grace of God go I.” The old reaction of seeing disabled people participate in sports included “Good for them!” and “They’re not letting a little thing like a missing limb squash their dreams.”

But, thanks to incredible developments in the neurosciences and prosthetic technology, what used to mean “not able” has morphed, in many cases, into being “super able.”

Now, we’re seeing these physically challenged people as challenging not just themselves, but all of the able-bodied athletes out there. This shift seems to have reached our collective psyches with Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter who raced against able-bodied athletes and competed in the 2012 Olympics. A German long jumper, Markus Rehm, who won his nation’s able-bodied national long-jump championship, is now in the news for wanting to compete in the European Track & Field Championships, but is being denied because—yes, you hear me right!—he may have an unfair advantage being disabled.

All of a sudden, being disabled is akin to taking performance-enhancing drugs. We able-bodied people have gone from sympathetic to threatened by these supposedly less-able athletes.

Consider the possibilities. Tommy John surgery will seem so 20th century. Instead of replacing your shoulder, knee, or hip, since you’re going to be on the operating table anyway, why not just lop the whole darned thing off and get a brand-spanking-new superhuman prosthesis. And don’t even get me started when the already out of control youth-sports juggernaut and its “I’ll do anything to make my kid an Olympic champion” parenting culture meets the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (talk about visionary TV shows!).

And being disabled isn’t just about surpassing normal people athletically. We normal folk are stuck with the bodies we have. People like Aimee Mullin can design their bodies as they wish. You can decide what kind of legs you want: muscular, thin, or bow-legged? I’ve got a pair of legs for that!

If you’re a fashionista, such possibilities! You could accessorize your prosthetic limbs as Aimee Mullins does. Imagine a different set of legs or arms for casual, business, or formal events. Different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs to fit your mood or your lifestyle. You can even adjust your height (Aimee Mullins does) depending on the height of who you are dating (what would you say on those dating websites when asked for your height?).

Think of the future when many humans become some version of the the cyborgs of literature, film, and television (think Robocop, but, hopefully more huggable). Might previously labeled able-bodied humans become the physically challenged subset of our population and deserving of the sympathy of the new generations of technologically enhanced humans? Will the Olympics have two divisions: cyborgs and humans? Will the cyborgs try to cheat by saying they’re plain humans to win medals? That look into my crystal ball is a bit frightening, yet not so far fetched.

But let’s not get too carried away with the benefits of being physically challenged. This line of thinking works great if you’re just missing a limb or two. But not everyone with a disability can compete in the Olympics (or Paralympics). For many, life is a daily struggle. It’s a whole other story if you have, for example, a spinal injury causing you partial or total paralysis or you have brain damage or some other disability for which technological solutions may be in the works, but are still only a distant, science-fiction reality.

I think there’s little doubt that cyborg-like enhancements are an inevitable part of the future of humankind. Replacing body parts will become as commonplace as replacing parts on your automobile and enable us to live longer, more active lives.

Like the current communication technology upheaval, the prosthetic revolution will challenge us in so many ways. These advancements will alter the way we define what it means to be a “normal” human being and, in fact, cause us to change the way we think about what it means to be human: Is being human corporeal, intellectual, spiritual?

Though it will be an exciting time in the ongoing story of humanity, a big part of me is happy that I’ll be long dead before we have to face such complex questions. Unless, of course, science finds a way to upload my brain content to a 100% synthetic being. Will I still be human then? I just can’t go there now.

Are Youth Sports Controlling Your Family Life?

This article
 is a must-read for any parent struggling to maintain control over the runaway train known as youth sports in their family’s lives.

This is a topic that is near and dear to me because it is something that my wife and I are facing with our two daughters who are now 9 and 7.

Like so many parents, we want to our children to participate in youth sports to gain its many benefits including physical health, teamwork, and life skills. At the same time, we also want to make family time and downtime priorities in our family.

As we have researched different sports opportunities for our girls in our local community, it is clear that, unless you are willing to board that runaway train, there are few alternatives.

Plus, if our girls decide to have aspirations for playing a sport in high school or beyond, they must make an almost full-time commitment now or they will fall behind and never be able to catch up.

How is it that children are forced at a young age to make a massive commitment and specialize in a sport if they ever want to have hopes of being able to participate and be competitive when they become teenagers.

Does anyone think that this situation is unhealthy for both children and families?

Does anyone else think that this situation is insane?!?!