Monday, October 8, 2018

Hanlon's Razor

Occam's Razor: The simplest explanation is usually the right one. (Not exactly how it was written down by William of Occam in the Middle Ages, but close enough for our purposes.)

I've heard of Occam's razor as long as I can remember, but I had never heard of Hanlon's Razor until a recent episode of Jeopardy! brought it to my attention.

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

While Occam's Razor has its roots in ancient philosophy, Hanlon's Razor is much more recent (1980?), possibly inspired by Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.").

Hearing about Hanlon's razor made me wonder how many times in my life I have assumed someone has intended by their actions (or inactions) to hurt me, when in reality they were not motivated by malice at all, but by a lack of attention or understanding or even indifference - I won’t say “stupidity”.

I would guess that I am not the only person who has occasionally noticed that conversation ceased when I entered a room and was struck by the thought that the people inside must have been talking (unfavorably) about me before I came in. In all probability, the lull in the conversation just happened to coincide with my entrance, and the people involved in the discussion were not thinking of me at all.

I'm probably also not the only person who has become frustrated at hitting red light after red light on a drive (especially when I'm in a hurry) and then decided that the universe is out to get me. "Why is this happening to me?????", I might scream internally (or externally). In reality, the timing of the traffic lights has absolutely nothing to do with me. The computer that controls all that business doesn't even know who I am.

I suspect many of us have had thoughts that our spouse (or child or parent or friend or whatever) does things (or does not do things) just to spite us. "Why does he leave the toilet seat up? He knows that drives me crazy!" "Why does she run the vacuum cleaner right in the middle of my favorite show? She could do that later, but she is purposely doing it now to aggravate me!" "Why did someone drink all of the milk except one tiny sip, and put the carton back in the refrigerator? Everyone knows I need milk for my breakfast cereal! They are trying to drive me batty!"

In reality, probably none of these actions (or inactions) are due to malice, just thoughtlessness, a lack of attention, being wrapped up in our own selves. Next time we feel that others are acting with malice toward us, maybe we should give them some grace and then resolve to be more aware of others when we are moving through our daily lives.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Speak Life by Andrea

The words we speak (or type) have power.  There have been volumes enough to fill the world’s bookshelves regarding how much our words matter. Do a simple Google search, and you’ll be enlightened.  What we think, say, and even post matters for us individually- how we perceive ourselves, the realities we create for ourselves physically, relationally, psychologically.  The language we use reflects the ways in which we think about other people, too!  How often though do we stop to reflect on proverbs like this one. 

Do we believe that our words hold the power of life and death?
I think if we did, we would be far more careful.  We would more readily heed the advice to think before we speak.  In recent years, many teachers have posted in their classrooms colorful posters with a series of questions to help students think about the words they might say.

This is such a simple yet powerful way to put our words to the test.  We teach our students that if they can answer yes to every question, then the words they plan to speak will more than likely be worth sharing.  If they get even one no, then they need to keep their comments to themselves.  

This is not easy. I will be the first to admit it.  But it is absolutely necessary in EVERY SINGLE interaction we have with other human beings.  I dare anyone to name an instance where this would not hold up.  Even when we have to say hard things, like confronting someone on bad behavior, each of these statements can be true.  It is an act of love (i.e., kindness in action) to confront each other for our good, to educate and to influence one another to be better versions of ourselves.  Each of us has the “right” to refuse help, but offering it is still true and necessary.  It inspires those around us to stand up for others and ourselves.  It takes practice, wisdom and self-control to know when to speak and when to refrain.  It is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to be high-functioning and ever-evolving.

Words have literally destroyed individuals, communities and nations.  And words have literally created something from nothing, started movements which changed the course of history.  
Before posting, commenting and even accepting a thought running through our heads, I implore us all to ask ourselves if the words we are about to roll out onto the world will lift up or tear down? I am always reminding myself that what I say will make a mark, so I ask myself “What kind of mark do you want to leave?” I strive to be a person who speaks good things over and about others and myself.  I miss the mark too often, but I never change the goal.  Even when there are egregious events happening in the world-at- large or closer to home that I feel compelled to comment on, I try to force myself to quickly reflect on the THINK questions above.  I try to run my words through a test of time by asking if my words will add value to someone else’s thoughts and life today and always.  Is what I am saying going to bring people together or divide them?  Will it bring out the best in someone else?  Will it help me to connect to others or will it alienate them without cause?  I cannot control other people’s response to what I say, but I can be intentional and thoughtful about the words I speak.  I believe we ALL have a responsibility to be careful, that is, full of care about the words we say.  Care for ourselves and care for our hearers. 

It is not easy, but it is also not impossible.  Our words do matter.  They create our realities.  Speak not for the world we have, but for the one we want.  Speak life.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Hair by Susan

I stopped coloring my hair a couple of years ago. I got a lot of compliments from friends and co-workers.But consistently I got very strong negative reactions from Persian women of my own age or older. None hid their shock and dismay when they saw me after a long absence.  None held back from letting me know exactly what they thought. It ranged from you are too young to let your hair go gray (I am 55, I got my first gray hair at 21) to why would you want to let the whole world know that you have all this gray hair.  Politely, I responded that I have never been good at keeping up with coloring my hair and who am I trying to kid any way? This is me, the real me.

It seems like everyone has something to say about women’s hair. If it’s too long or too short, if it’s natural or colored, straightened or left curly.  Even my husband who is usually clueless about women’s physical appearance, has expressed a preference for longer, darker hair.  When our second daughter was being born, his first comment was:  “She has brown hair!”

Women’s hair can also be political.  In early twentieth century, Reza Shah banned women from covering their hair in an attempt to modernize Iran.  In the twenty first century, Iranian women are forced to cover their hair to show modesty and uphold morality.In 1978 women willingly put on scarves and covered their hair in Iran as a protest against the Shah. Today, after 40 years of the Islamic Republic, they are taking their scarves off and standing in public to protest that regime’s repression. 

Women of African descent are criticized if they wear their hair natural or relaxed, if they put it in braids or choose to shave it off.

Hair is precious! No wonder globally we spent 85 billion dollars on hair in 2017. It‘s amazing when you learn that hair is dead once it leaves your scalp.  It’s protein and it’s dead.  But isn’t it beautiful?  Hasn’t God given us this wonderful gift, this crown for our heads to adorn our faces? Isn’t it amazing - all the different colors and textures? And isn't it a blessing and a privilege to be able to wear this crown however you want it?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Green Thumb

I do not have a green thumb. I tend to over water my plants. Either that or I forget about watering them completely for a few days and then I have to go back and try to make up for the damage. My mother however, all of her fingers are green, not just her thumb. She can make a car grow in the ground by planting a tire. I asked her recently what her secret was. And you will never guess what she said?  She talks to them. She says nice things to them, praises their beauty and how much they have grown. She uses a tender tone, and I am sure I have heard her sing a lyric or two. My son believes that scientifically this makes sense. He says that the carbon dioxide you breathe out of your body and onto the plant while talking or signing to it helps it grow. Ummmm ok. I knew that. (Absolutely did not even think of it.) Although it probably is the more logical reason, I want to believe that these plants are a lot like us.  We need the oxygen, and sunshine, and food to survive, but kind words to grow. Positive affirmations to help us reach our highest potential.
Having the privilege to be inside the elementary school classroom, I have seen the power of kind words in action.  I have seen students who are struggling with a math problem or having difficulty answering a question about a book we just read, shrink in front of my eyes.  And I have seen these same students, rise to the challenge with a simple, “You’ve got this. Let’s figure it out together. I’m here with you.” They sit up a little taller, and believe they can try. Even if they get the answer wrong, their thinking has shifted from, “I can never do this”!  to “next time I will get it right.” What’s even more amazing, is that these kids who once held their heads down, began to pass on the seeds of kind words. They encouraged each other, and began to build each other up, not because I told them to but because they wanted to.

It’s okay if you do not have a green thumb either friends.  You can still grow a garden full of smiles, and kindness which leads to a lasting feeling of self-worth that will spread far beyond the comfort of your fence.  Wow, what a sight that will be to behold!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Age Perception by Carolyn

Today is my sister’s birthday. I will not say how old she is, but
I will say that she is older than I am. I am younger than she is.

I was talking about her upcoming birthday with my father the other
day. (He always seems surprised to hear how old we are turning.
I think he considers us still kids - of course that makes him much
younger, too.) I mentioned to him that she used to be happy to be
older than me. Now not so much.

When we were children and teenagers, she lorded it over me, rubbing
it in my face that she was older and I was younger. She had a later
bedtime and more freedom. She never let me forget it. She did everything
first. She went to school, learned to read, went on sleepovers, wore makeup,
shaved her legs, went to the mall with friends, dated, drove a car -
everything first!

When you are young, being older seems to be something to wish for -
we wish to be old enough to spend the night with a friend, or go to camp,
or start school, or date, or drive, or . . . whatever. So much of childhood is
filled with wanting to “bigger” so you can hit the next milestone, kind of like
going to Disneyland and not being quite tall enough on the chart that tells
you, “You must be this tall to ride.”

Things kind of even out in the middle of your life. It doesn’t really matter
who is older and who is younger. You all get to do the adult things you
have yearned to do since you were a kid. You find out adulting is not quite
as much fun as you expected it to be, or maybe just in a different way. You
have all of the perks and the responsibilities of being grown up. Your exact
age isn’t really that important for a few decades. (Although I will admit that
I have never passed up a chance to tell people that my sister is older than
I am since I was out of my 20s!)

Then, at some point, age differences become important again, but differently.
Nowadays, my sister is not so happy to be the older sister. I, however, am
pretty excited about being the younger sister. I take every opportunity to
mention it. I even tell waiters, store clerks, and complete strangers. It is part
of my spiel when I introduce her to people I know. I work it into conversations
in social settings. What goes around comes around.

Whatever joy I derive from being younger than my older sister must be
tempered by the knowledge that we are both getting older and less spry.
We have made a pact to take care of each other as we age. We will take turns
helping each other recover from various surgeries and illnesses. She will help
me put my compression stockings on (a job I happen to know she really enjoys!);
I will help her get up out of the recliner. She will help me find my dentures; I will
help her brush her hair. The infirmities of aging come to all of those who remain
alive. I am heartened by the idea that I will be facing that phase of our lives with
my dear older sister.

Whatever our ages, I am so thankful to have her in my life!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Teach Them Well by Andrea

Being a noticer is a key role of every adult involved in the life of a child.  To aid them in growing into the people they were created to be, we have to become students of our children.  We must really see them.  We have to pay attention to their feelings, actions, what they say and don’t say.  We have to watch their facial expressions and body language when they are with us and as they interact with the world around them.  We need to look for patterns that reveal their joys and strengths, the situations that bring out caution and full-fledged fear, how they interact with loved ones, friends and strangers.  What makes them angry and what makes them sad.  We must do this because they are new on this planet.  They have never grown up before.  How do they know how to be people who make the world more interesting, safe and good. They are learning as they go, and it is our responsibility to teach them how we want them to be (at least until they are able to take responsibility for themselves).  Though they are sentient beings with inherent temperaments, personalities and predispositions, children show up in the world influenced by who we have shown them to be, both directly and indirectly.  We have to know them to help them begin to know themselves.

When we adults in charge of nurturing kids do not study their God-given qualities and guide them toward self-awareness and participation in the moral, social, and familial structures and value-systems of their communities, we forfeit the right to lament and woe about their attitudes, actions and moods.

Recently, I heard a parent remark that her young child is mean. I asked if she was okay with that.  When she answered no, I offered that it was not a given that any child has to be mean.  Her parents can teach her to think and act more kindly now than they will be able to in about 10 more years.  This does not dishonor the child’s natural temperament.  Maybe she is more serious, less gregarious, than some other kids.  She can still be kind.  Maybe she is shy around people she doesn’t know well, and it manifests itself as aggression.  She can still learn to manage anxiety and treat others the way she might expect to be treated. All of these are things the adults in her life are responsible for showing her.  They can’t make her be kind, but they can surely teach it, model it and expect it.  Children are human beings just like us, never perfect, sometimes given to negative actions, attitudes and moods.  That’s not a reason to leave them unto themselves to learn how to be human.  And most children come around eventually if we are consistent about teaching them how to be rather than simply how to behave.

So rather than judging and labeling their behavior, let’s cultivate more curiosity about what we see by asking better questions. For example, when we ask “Why is this child so mean?”, our brains will automatically come up with answers that make sense- answers which justifies the question.  Her mom is mean, too. She has always been this way. She is allowed to do and say whatever she wants.  Her parents never tell her no so she is entitled. Notice, however, none of these offer any help in improving the circumstances.  If instead we ask,  “How can I help this child learn to speak more respectfully?”, your brain will automatically move into problem-solving mode.  This unlocks the wisdom you have about the child and how you want the child’s life to work.  (The chart below gives more examples of questions that might better serve our children.)

As we strive to lead future generations of people who will make our world a better place, let's be visionaries who are intentional, empathic and curious.  
See the good in the people we're raising as we aim to raise good people!


The questions on the right side of the table are closed and have an inherent negative belief woven into them. Our brains will automatically go to work looking for the answers which prove the belief to be true.  Asking the questions on the left side instead is inherently more empowering and promotes possibilities for growth and change. 
The better the question, the better the answer.  

Ask This...
Not That...
How can I help her learn XYZ?
Why can’t she learn XYZ?
What could I do to help/ to teach him be more or less ______?
Why is this child like this?
What do I know about this child?
What are her strengths, and how can I promote those?
Why isn’t she like So and So?
What can I teach this child to help him learn more self-control/ self-management?
Why is this child out-of-control?  Why does this child act like this?
What does this child need right now?  How can I help her to be successful in this moment? The next time ____ happens?
What is wrong with this child?  
She can do __________, so how can I help her learn to do _________?
She can’t do ____________.
What have I noticed bringing this child joy? (peace, pride, success etc.)
Why is this child so angry? (melancholy, anxious etc.)
What will help this child be able to ______? (take turns, make friends, be kind, work hard, stay focused etc.)
Why is this child having such a hard time ______? (taking turns, making friends, being kind, working hard, staying focused etc.)
What am I doing for this child to help him or her to be/ to do ________?
Am I doing the right thing for this child?
How can I provide what the child needs and still keep his and the family’s name and dignity in tact?
Why does this child not have _______? (possession or resource)
What am I teaching this child?
What is this child being taught by So & So, at home, at school etc?
Why does this child not know ___?