Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More than motivation

Ok, I found another philosophical stumbling block on my way to Unconditional Parenting . . .

p. 14 “Perhaps you’ve met parents who force their children to apologize after
doing something hurtful or mean. (“Can you say you’re sorry?”) Now, what’s going
on here? Do the parents assume that making children speak this sentence will
magically produce in them the feeling of being sorry, despite all evidence to
the contrary?”

Well, actually . . . yes, I do expect the speaking of the words to have an effect on the child’s state of being. Kohn’s critique of raw behaviorism – the idea that only behavior matters and internal states are irrelevant – is merited, and needed . . . but that doesn’t mean that you can discount the fact that actions can and do have an effect on internal feelings. The arrows go both ways: feelings generate actions, and actions also generate feelings. I agree that ideally we want to inculcate in children the thoughts and feelings that lead to right action. I also believe there is some merit in going the other way: using habitual rote action to train feelings. Augie has often said that it was “easier to act your way into feeling than to feel your way into acting.” There is a Chinese saying: “When you’re angry with someone, give them a gift.” Meaning: it is impossible to stay angry with someone when you do something good for them.

In sports, everyone recognizes the importance of strategy – choosing the right plays, understanding your opponent, anticipating the strengths and weaknesses of your players. There is also an equal appreciation of “the fundamentals” – that is, technical execution. This has nothing to do with strategy, and often nothing to do with thinking at all. And the way you improve execution is to drill. The whole idea of drilling is to make the appropriate action so natural, so automatic and ingrained that it becomes unconscious, spontaneous, and effortless. There are some aspects of behavior – courtesy, attention, bearing – which I would like to be unconscious, spontaneous, and effortless. And just as with football players, those skills are learned by drilling: by practicing, again and again, consistently, the right behavior.

Do we expect football players to be able to snap the football merely with their good intentions and empathy for their fellow players? No . . . we understand that it takes practice and drill. So why do we expect that our children to master technically demanding maneuvers like cleaning their rooms or apologizing for mistakes without practice? I have no doubt that Aidan would never learn to say "Please" and "Thank you" if we didn't insist, again and again and again, that he do so.

Ok, I don’t want to go off the deep end here. (I can feel audience eyeballs rolling at the mere mention of football.) I still like Kohn’s basic thesis. I’m not going to start acting like a drill sergeant with my kids. But I do believe there are times to force your kids to do things, whether they feel like doing it or not . . . maybe even because they don’t feel like it.


Blogger Bill S. said...

Yes - and apparently there's been research to show that the physical act of smiling (no matter what your internal state) triggers the release of chemicals that, surprise, make you feel happy.

Oh, and I don't mind the football reference - though I'm not sure snapping the ball was the best example. ;-)

3:39 PM  

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