I've actually come to a place now where I don't believe in evil. I don't believe in original sin, never have, actually. I don't even see a point in getting angry at people much anymore. I've come to a place where I can look at people who commit crimes at large, or who merely do something that might offend me and immediately note that such people do not have the skills or the motivation, or both, to do better.
I have no need to offend anyone. I have no need to personally criticize anyone, either (I reserve the balance of my criticism for politics, but I'm even beginning to question that). In lieu of constructive criticism, I'm willing to help. It is refreshing to know that I no longer have to play the game anymore.
How did I get into this place? I just finished reading a fantastic book, The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross W. Greene, PhD. The subtitle? A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. So what is this new approach? It's called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this a political blog? It still is. Fear not dear reader, for I will get to that part later. Please, read on.
The theme of Dr. Greene's book is simple: kids do well if they can. I didn't believe that at all for much of my life. I was convinced that at some point kids needed someone to show them who is boss. I believed in "tough love". I believed in punishment and reward, you know, like Pavlov's Dogs. I believed much of that until I noticed that such beliefs go against everything that I had ever read about psychology and self improvement. And now I'm a parent of two great kids.
A couple of years ago, I found this website, www.liesaboutparenting.com, a website dedicated to compassionate parenting and being positive and fun with kids. I also found that this site is not your typical parenting site. It's not even a traditional, "kids should be seen and not heard" parenting site. No, Lies About Parenting is, in many ways, about "lazy parenting". I was so inspired by that website, that I even wrote this article about parenting (with some help from the site owner, Ashley Trexler).
My journey to that place I talked about earlier really accelerated when I found this site, Lives In The Balance. Here, I found articles and videos to learn about how kids behave when they have unsolved problems and lack the skills to solve them. I got my first introduction to the concepts taught by Dr. Greene at that site, too. I took the tour. I started watching the videos on the site (he's got a channel on YouTube - very highly recommended). Then I bought a couple of his books. The Explosive Child is one of them. Raising Human Beings is another one and I'm reading that one now.
The Explosive Child is written for parents of what we might call "difficult kids". The other book, Raising Human Beings, is about "normal" or "typical" kids. Both books have something in common: Plans A, B, and C. These are plans for dealing with the problems that kids need to solve while growing up, problems we might also know as "growing pains". Here are the plans:
- Plan A - Adult imposition of adult will (unilaterally formulated "solutions") upon the child.
- Plan B - Work collaboratively with kids to discover lagging skills and unsolved problems.
- Plan C - Prioritize problems and/or set aside expectations, allow for kids to solve on their own.
Most of us know about Plan A. As kids, when we ran into a problem we couldn't solve (we called it, "getting into trouble"), our parents conjured up a solution and imposed it upon us without our input. Often that solution was "a lesson", a punishment or a reward for meeting expectations. Many of us grew up to be parents that did the same thing to our children. If you want to teach your kids blind adherence to authority, this is the plan for you. If you don't like it when your kids question you or defy you, just impose more of your will on them. That'll set them straight, right?
Plan B is very different from what most parents are taught to do. With plan B we are proactive, we listen to our kids, we talk to them and ask questions about problems we observe and write them down. We identify unsolved problems by noting the difficulties kids might have, like "Difficulty with getting to sleep at night" or, "Difficulty turning off the TV". We make no judgments as to character or motive. The reason for this is simple, but not so easily discerned in a culture where Plan A is so popular: when kids have difficulty, most often it is not for want of motivation. Most kids are motivated to do well. The difficulty comes from lack of or lagging skills. In Plan B, we collaborate with our kids to create durable solutions that work for both the kids and the parents. In the process we teach our kids the life skills they will need when we're not around to help them.
Plan C is setting aside expectations for our kids for some problems while focusing on more pressing concerns. Plan C may also be as simple as letting the kid solve it on his own and providing assurance that if help is needed, to come on by for help. I do a lot of plan C. Often I set up a task as a challenge and see if my daughters can solve it themselves. Many times I've seen them push my hand away when I offer help. Why? Because they want to do it themselves. When they say, "I can do it myself, Dad", that is music to my ears.
To summarize, Plan A is the imposition of adult will on the child as a unilateral solution to an unsolved problem. Plan B is working collaboratively to solve problems with the child. Plan C is to set aside a problem or let the kid work it out himself.
In my view, the work of Dr. Greene is laying the foundation for a quiet, peaceful revolution. He's sharing this work with schools and juvenile detention centers all over the country with very positive results. Detentions, expulsions and violent incidents have all seen declines where Collaborative and Proactive Solutions are implemented. In fact, the results are very similar to another concept called Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice allows kids in conflict to develop empathy for each other and fosters the development of life skills. Both Collaborative and Proactive Solutions and Restorative Justice teach collaboration and life skills for problem solving. Hey, there are those "skills" again, and in both programs, the focus is on teaching skills not reward and punishment.
There is something else that I've noticed about this work by Dr. Greene. Collaborative and Proactive Solutions doesn't just apply to kids. It applies to us. All of us.
When we're teaching our kids to read, do we punish them when they pronounce a word wrong? No, we pronounce it for them. We use phonetics or whatever method suits our fancy to help them learn to read. We observe, demonstrate and repeat again, without judgement, until the kids get it right. We need to take the same approach to adults, too.
In the streets of any big city you can find homeless people. Do you think that they want to be there? Do you think that if you punish them, they will be motivated to "do better"? Is it possible that the homeless simply lack the skills to make their lives better? I'd say knowing what I know now, that if the homeless lack the skills to find a home, no amount of motivation in the form of punishment is going to get them into a home. If they lack the skills, they lack the motivation because nothing they have tried before has worked. Teach them the skills they need to get a home and they will find one.
The same is true for our institutional justice system. In America we treat people in prison more like animals than people. We lock them up hoping that the experience of prison is so incredibly awful and painful that they will never want to go back again. But without the skills needed to stay outside, they come back. Our recidivism rate is 52% (one of the highest in the world), and that means we're not teaching inmates the skills they need to stay out. Compare that to Norway, which has a 20% recidivism rate and has actually had to shut down some prisons. Norway must be giving inmates the skills they need to get along with people on the outside, ya think?
Every time I see a news story about someone doing some awful, horrible thing to someone else, I see yet another person who was trying to satisfy a need, but not having the skills to meet that need without hurting someone else. They may not even be capable of naming or articulating that need. People who commit crimes tend to lack the skills they need to meet their needs in a civilized manner. In certain situations, these same people lack the skills of diplomacy, courtesy, and humility.
If a politician must use force, deceit or coercion against the people he supposedly represents, he is using Plan A against his constituents. From a political perspective, we the people have been getting Plan A for a long time. If we live in a oligarchy as this study claims, then someone else is writing the solutions and imposing them upon us without our input or consent. We've been punished by the billionaires and millionaires for not having the skills they have, yet most of us don't have the luxury of using money as a substitute for interpersonal skills that some billionaires apparently lack. Some of us would prefer to have a life rather than to line the pockets of a billionaire or to support the local dictator.
If you're an anarchist and have an anarchist vision of a completely voluntary society, Dr. Greene's work seems to align well with your vision. Anarchy is not what most of us think it is. Most of us are led to believe that an anarchy, as analogous to democracy or oligarchy, is a state of disorder. Scientists know that order can arise from disorder. Anarchy as a human society is not disorder. It is a completely voluntary society. No laws compel anyone to do anything. As far as I can tell, in an anarchy or voluntary society, compliance with social order is really based on norms and mores, coupled with a well established reputation. If you have a good reputation and work hard to maintain it, you are rewarded. But if you fail to meet the expectations you set for yourself and advertise to others, people will not trust you.
For those anarchists and voluntaryists who happen to be reading this article, I submit that the work of Dr. Greene lays the foundation for the society that you dream of. I seriously doubt I will see something like anarchy in my lifetime, but I'm not opposed to it. I believe that Dr. Greene's work marks the logical evolution of the human species, the next step we need to take if Homo Sapiens is to survive the Anthropocene epoch.
Dr. Greene's work transcends all political parties, organizations and affiliations. Corruption in politics is an equal opportunity employer, and cares not about you, but lusts for your vote. If you want to root out corruption, you have to give people the skills to meet their needs without resorting to acts of corruption. That means we have to be willing to listen to others, to collaborate with them for solutions that work for all parties concerned. We will have to give up the need to create and assert an advantage over our fellow man for personal gain.
Bernie Sanders was right. Change really does come from the bottom. That change must start with ourselves and our kids. We must be the change we want to see and pass it on.
Originally published on Friday, October 28th, 2016 on my blog at The Digital Firehose.