short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Two Wolves

From the Internet -- I have heard this one before but don't think I have shared it before. So here you go, for some reading pleasure.

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

I wanted to include a beautiful image, drawn by another blogger, but I have not yet heard whether she is willing for me to put it here, so I will send you to her site and her rendition of the two wolves in story and picture.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Act on the Basis of Knowledge

All too frequently, we react, rather than act, and reacting rarely gets us what we want, let alone what we need. Doing the research, finding out what the possibilities are, listening rather than talking, learning what the other person knows--these actions provide us with the basis of acting in ways that are more likely to lead us to positive ends.

If one truly wants an upper hand, one might take a page out of the book of an American diplomat in the 1980s (a student of mine, in fact). At the negotiation table in Stockholm, formal interpretation was provided to the US and USSR negotiators by expert conference interpreters although most of the American delegation did speak Russian, including one very American-looking, young, female diplomat who Russian skills were near native, departing from the common perception of Americans as tongue-tied in foreign languages.

During one break, Samantha (not her real name for obvious reasons) remained in the room, sorting her notes. Therefore, she overheard the Soviet delegation, who thought she knew no Russian, discuss the positions to be taken, their negotiation strategies, and what they would settle for. Following the break, she was able to get the Russians to play the cards the Americans wanted because she knew what cards they held!

Fisher and Ury (Getting to Yes!) suggest that the very best way to negotiate the deal that we want is to set up a win-win situation. We get what we want, and our antagonists get what they want. However, one must first figure out what they want.

Knowing what the other person wants sometimes means understanding the other person's culture. Some cultures do not want to get right down to business but to build a relationship before conducting business. This is characteristic for Japanese, Russian, and some other cultures. In American culture, swift action is valued over relationship, and American businessmen and politicians have often failed to conclude deals simply because they failed to develop a relationship with their foreign counterparts and partners.

Other values, too, can be important. If, for example, the Western world had understood the value of "face" and "saving face" to the Soviet government, the Soviet war in Afghanistan might well have been prevented or at least shortened. When the Soviet leaders claimed that they were there just for a temporary intervention, had the Western world asked for an estimated timeline for withdrawal, the Soviet leaders might well have felt the need to give one -- and then to honor it -- in order not to lose face.

Knowing what the other person wants sometimes means understanding the other person's personality. The famous psychologist, Jung, who wrote about the concept of personality archetypes, talks in one instance about two opposing types: thinkers and feelers. As a thinker and young administrator, I once had a middle manager who worked for me call me at home to complain about the problems in her department. They were legitimate problems, and as a thinker, I am quick to try to solve problems. I gave her some off-the-top-of-my-head advice. She became angry and hung up. I did not understand why she did that, but her reaction caused me to spend some time thinking about her problems. Thus, when she called back an hour later, I had better solutions to suggest. This time, she became even angrier and hung up abruptly. When she called again later, she began by telling me what a bad boss I was. I was by then quite confused.

"What is it that you expected from me?" I asked.

"Sympathy," she answered.

As a thinker, I wanted to fix things. As a feeler, she wanted to know that people, and especially her boss, appreciated her efforts and problems and cared about her.

It was a good lesson: don't assume that we know the other person's wants and needs. Rather, know who the other person is and act accordingly.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Think Challenge, Not Impossibility

"Where there's a will, there's a way" is the line written under the picture of a mouse pulling an elephant up a hill. That picture has hung on my wall for a very long time. My friend and former roommate, Katie, gave it to me years ago because she thought it exemplified my attitude toward life. She's right. It does.

When my daughter, Noelle, was very small, she would occasionally say, "I can't." That, to me, was not the appropriate response to a difficult situation even though she was paraplegic and coping with a few other problems, such as epilepsy and hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

"No," I would tell her. "Can't is not the word you are searching for. You want the word, how, and the question, how can this be done? Think challenge, not impossibility. Where there's a will, there's a way."

As a young child, she learned this lesson very quickly, perhaps partly because it fits her own instinctive philosophy of life. Slides of preschool Noelle feeding the cows on her grandmother's farm, slopping the pigs, riding the tractor with her Uncle Will, and swinging on gliders with her very young aunts, Sharon and Victoria, were used in a multi-conference presentation by her neurosurgeon on the topic, "What Spina Bifida Children Can Do."

Noelle was lucky. She met other people who thought challenge, not impossibility. When she wanted to learn to roller skate because her kindergarten class went roller skating once a week at the next-door roller rink, Andi Kush, her physical therapist, did not say, "Paraplegic children cannot roller skate."

She said instead, "Well, we have to figure out a way to do it safely. Crutches and roller skates are not compatible." She recommended a walker with rollers on the front and rubber tips on the back, and that worked just fine.

The guard at the roller rink also thought that a mouse could pull an elephant up a hill. When Noelle became discouraged from multiple falls, he did not say, "Roller skating with braces and a walker is probably too hard; don't worry about it."

Instead, he come up to her outside the rink and sat down beside her. "I've been watching you," he said. "If you keep up that hard work, one day you'll be a champion."

Reinvigorated, Noelle pulled herself back up from the bench. Pushing her walker ahead of her, she skated back into the rink.

Many students who might have failed have graduated from programs I have directed because teachers thought challenge, not impossibility. "Can't is a word that I don't understand," I would tell any who claimed that a student could not learn and needed to be disenrolled. "Figure out how the student learns and teach him or her that way."

Figuring out how students learn has led to drastically reduced attrition rates in my educational programs. That attitude led to the graduation of proud students who might otherwise have left or been disenrolled and demoralized. What the teachers and I learned in that process has led to articles, book chapters, and books, sharing that information with colleagues around the world. It has also led to my conducting seminars on that topic in many countries, often team-teaching with some of those teachers who made the discoveries with me years ago.

The most recent example was with Doah a decade ago. Due to his mental retardation and very low IQ, our local public schools refused to teach him to read anything but highly functional words, such as exit and toilet. Teachers and administrators told me routinely that reading was an inappropriate goal for him. After he graduated from high school, he began regular tutoring sessions with a former elementary school teacher, Julie, who had a different attitude. As a result, he began to read real books, ultimately writing one with my help that was featured by the press at the National Book Exhibit in Los Angeles in 2003, where he spent some time as an author, signing books for visitors.

"After I gave up trying to teach him the standard way and my way," Julie told me, "I paid attention to how he learns, and I began to teach him his way. That worked." Of course, it worked. It worked because she was thinking how, not can't. It worked because she was thinking challenge, not impossibility.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Make a Statement with a Question

Questions are wonderful tools. They can be used not only for gathering information but also to get what you want. They control behavior far better than do statements.

A case in point is the conversation I had with the doctor of an elderly friend. I had accompanied her to the doctor to discuss a medical condition that occurs frequently in elderly patients. Before going there with her, however, I had tracked down the latest information on my friend's condition in the library and from the Internet. It was neither a curable problem nor a life-threatening one, but there were some remedies to alleviate the worst of the symptoms.

The doctor, surprisingly, allowed me to come into the examination room with my friend. (That turned out to be his biggest mistake.) I was surprised at the manner in which he treated my friend. He acted as if she were a child. Then he told her she would just have to get used to her condition.

I was not about to accept this answer although my friend told me that this doctor's behavior was typical of others in her experience. Most of the doctors whom she had seen felt that she was so old that she should be thankful that she was alive and forget about seeking a better quality life.

This doctor sealed his own fate when he turned to me, whispering, "You know how it is with older folks," implying that my friend was imagining her problems. I knew the problems to be real.

Moreover, I wanted him to make recommendations along the lines of some of the things I had read about in the medical journals. So, I responded to his comment with a simple question, asked in a deliberately naive tone, as if I were requesting information, "Oh, does that mean that you do not wish to prescribe any of the specific remedies that other doctors are using (I mentioned a couple remedies by name) or that you are unaware of them?"

His tone changed immediately, and so did his tune. Of course, he was aware of them. He could recommend a couple as being rather effective, and he spent ten minutes or so working out the best combination of recommendations. How much information and assistance that simple question brought forth! Only it was not a question at all. It was a command: Treat my friend well.

I got what I wanted. My friend got what she wanted (respect) and needed (treatment). The doctor got a lesson about how to treat elderly patients. I hope he has since applied the lesson learned to many, many others.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.