Thursday, 5 April 2012

Thomas Gordon

I am sorry I have not been able to keep up to date with you. The reason is my psychologist had me read Parental Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon. Great book for explaining active listening quite thoroughly. The underlying premise that children will choose the right thing because of some inherent nobility of spirit seems false to me. It goes against Aristotle for one, and I can not have that! Can I?

Understand me correctly: there is great value in the book! It reads very slowly, due to the unsuppressible urge of Americans to give many examples and testimonials (sooo tiresome!). There are many meaningful concepts, one of them even completely new to me:

  1. Giving feedback
  2. Conflict resolution
  3. Active listening
  4. Conflict resolution procedure, which was new to me

I already knew most concepts, but I must say I do not practise them sufficiently. Being an introvert makes it difficult for me to express myself. Having ADD and being Gifted makes me insecure sometimes about the rules of the game. I tend to over think and I am shy about saying the wrong thing. Especially active listening, as promoted here, gives me some trouble both conceptually/ aesthetically and in practise.
First I must remark that paying explicit attention to the underlying emotions involved in communication is helpful. Mostly I presume I understand the feelings since they are pretty obvious and it makes me sloppy, especially about my own feelings. I scored 100% on recognising emotions in the test at the end of the book. So I should be able to do it. What helps is expressing my own emotions out loud. What also helps is correcting others in interpreting feelings. They often misinterpret each other making for tedious, unnecessary conflict.
What does not help in my view is the thought that you should accept differences in personal values too easily. Rousseau tried the live and let live approach, having a romantic notion that children would naturally grow out to be all they can be when given the proper chance. I have seen other parents do it: to my mind it does not work. Which is indeed why Lord of the Flies was written. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is a hierarchy in real life and to my mind it is the responsibility of the parents to teach it to their children.
So, when do you just listen and when do you act? I think it depends on the expected outcome. As a parent you should act for the best of your children. You need to take into account the consequences of the child's behaviour as well as the reaction the child will have on your own behaviour. If you can not exert much influence you may adopt the soft approach of mr Gordon. Maria Montessori achieved good progress with children of the poor. Gordon himself experienced good results with problematic youths. In those situations the purely stimulating approach will be the most appropriate.
But what if there are real life rules and consequences of negative behaviour?  There is an undeniable God given right to a freedom of choice for any man, this is my fundamental belief. However, according to Aristotle, there is a hierarchy of smaller and bigger goods. Right and wrong exist, and there is a hierarchy to it. To me that implies that the Parents must in some cases take charge given the consequences of the situation. The only relevant prescript I can see is that they act with the well being of the child in mind: if the child had the same knowledge and experience as the parent, they would choose the same.

What you can, and can not do depends not on the absolute freedom of others but on your own perception of the consequences of your (in)action. What needs to be considered is the child's disposition, the consequences of its behaviour and the future situation it will find itself in that will allow it to appreciate its parents behaviour after the fact. Do not get me wrong! I have been patronised by a grumpy stepfather because he was miserable he had to raise me in stead of being able to raise his own sons. He used the excuse that that I would thank him when I grew up. I never did forgive him for being patronising! I am however very grateful to him for teaching me a good work ethic and a hands-on outlook on life. He did it by standing by his personal values. Not by being extremely smart but by being extremely real and true to himself.

Here is where being Gifted and having a rich imagination becomes troublesome. The number of possible outcomes are larger the more imagination and power of thought you have. So there needs to be a procedure to simplify matters. (Thanks Gordon, for the idea!) Normally you should conform to the superficial methods as proposed by Gordon. If there are conflicting values, as described by Gordon, a moral dilemma arises:  if it is in the best interest of the child you should try and change the paradigms it embraces (as long as you think it has incomplete information or is in some other way suffering from impaired judgement). This is exceedingly difficult: you need to free yourself of bias, it should be something you thoroughly believe in yourself and you need to be able to communicate about it passionately. In other words: you need to know your own feelings intimately so you can communicate them at every opportunity.

What goes for Child rearing goes for grown-up communication to the same extent. In my work I focus on the long term organisational development that will allow the people in it to blossom and the organisation to profit. When communicating with people you need to go for all the active listening and level III conflict resolution you can. If some fundamental problem persists you need to ask yourself:

  • what is the mental disposition of the person you are interacting with
  • what they are trying to achieve and how will that impact the organisations future
  • is it likely the person is biased or has an impaired judgement
  • how can the person you are communicating with be a part of the organisation you envision and will he be grateful that you cross or oppose him or her at some future point in time
  • to what extent are you yourself liable to make an error in judgement due to personal bias

Obviously that takes a lot of thought so you need to have a mental blog examining your own thoughts and feelings, that of others, your vision of the future and the road to get there. It also means that you should engage in discussions on values and norms if need be, and that you should do so with feeling!

What I still have not found out is how to set my personal boundaries in such a way that I can both continue to act in a morally acceptable way and remain sane at the same time. Oh well, perhaps some other day. As noted earlier, my wife does not seem to have the same problem!


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