Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Family Stories

Have you ever thought about the power of your family stories? Can you remember how they shaped your thoughts and feelings about yourself as a child? Every family has its stories. They end up becoming a big part of how we understand ourselves in the world. We use them to make sense out of confusion and to ground ourselves in our values and in our love and trust for one another. Stories help us grasp how our experiences fit into our world. They can convey and keep us mindful of many qualities such as love, heroism, sacrifice, humility, or safety. They provide a context and grounding for family values and strengths. They let people know that we see and value them.

Assembling and telling a story is a great way to help a child, or anyone else for that matter, understand, remember, and place in context his or her heritage and experiences.

Fortunately for us, telling a meaningful story is not difficult. Here are a few practical ideas:
*Keep it simple! One idea or concept is enough for a story
*Think short. If you try to write a novel, you might not write anything
*It doesn’t have to be dramatic
*It doesn’t even have to be written
*It can be a series of pictures with captions, or a paragraph here and there
*A funny song, or poem written for the child about a particular event is something they can keep with pride
*Take turns on the drive home making the day’s activity into a story. Have fun with it
*Alternatively, use times in the car or in other situations where things are quiet to tell a story about one of your parents, grandparents or friends
*A scrap book page done for a child after a fun day at the beach keeps the memory alive
*A series of simple drawings and a few captions on a page after a hard day can reflect a return to comfort and a good ending for a child
*A story with pictures, hand drawn, cut out, or photographs, about a happy experience with a loved one who is gone keeps good memories in the forefront
*A page with a picture of a grandparent and a short story about their love, helpfulness, strength, courage, skill, or sacrifice is wonderfully grounding
*A cook book page with the recipe for one of the child’s favorite foods and pictures of the child helping or of the finished product makes helping fun
* A short, 3 minute “Movie Maker” movie that includes a favorite song, pictures of a fun activity, and some captions or narration is a great option. This simple movie making software comes in the operating system package on many computers
* Your story can be messy
*It can be imperfect

If your story conveys your love, caring, acknowledgment or respect, the recipient of any age will appreciate and value it as well as carrying into their future its message of grounding and certainty of place in the world

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Have You Thought About Everyday Heroes?

When we think about heroism, we almost always think of some courageous person saving others through dramatic, physically dangerous acts. Heroes are celebrated with parades and medals, speeches and awards. They are someone other than us.
It is very true that these celebrated individuals are heroes and deserving of our recognition, admiration, and respect. It is also true that limiting our definition in this way narrows our ability to see and appreciate other heroic people. Worse yet it can cloud our vision for the fact that heroism can be a part of everyone’s life and that it is our option, even our responsibility to become “hero ready.” By that I mean ready to take a stand, to affirm another person’s value and dignity, or to uphold a value even if it means paying a cost. The world needs everyday heroes to stand in opposition to cruelty and dehumanization, to question the legitimacy of and sometimes to defy mistaken or wrong thinking authority, to work toward life affirming goals, and to think about and take responsibility for the outcome of their actions.
Charles A. Smith, Ph.D. from Kansas State University developed a program designed to celebrate everyday heroes. The program teaches children the characteristics of heroism and helps them recognize the potential for heroism within themselves.
Smith lists five conditions for heroism. They are:
Real heroes realize the risk or sacrifice they are taking.
They value all life without reservation
They manage fear
They make smart decisions
They commit themselves fully to a noble goal.
The program encourages participants to look around, identify, label, and celebrate the everyday heroes in their lives. They are then asked to apply the same standards to themselves identifying their own heroic behavior. What they find out is that heroic behavior often begins by just not running away in fear or pain.
Most people do not intentionally put themselves in situations where they are called upon to be heroic. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon in the course of a lifetime for a person to be faced with a situation that calls for heroism. These opportunities come and go without fanfare or warning and the choices made are both powerful and irrevocable.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Things Change - It's Our Job to Go On

When we stop and think about it, we know that life means constant change. It happens all of the time and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. People we know and love grow old and frail. At some point they come to the end of their lives. Our children grow up and make more and more independent decisions about how they will live their lives. Change happens in our jobs, with our friends, in our communities. It happens everywhere.

There are changes that give us joy. Welcoming new babies, getting settled in a good job, and finding a secure relationship are all things that might leave us feeling happy. When change brings loss, though, we can end up suffering, even arguing with ourselves or others that the situation couldn't or shouldn't be what it is. More often than not, we turn our entire focus to trying to make the pain go away.

Our whole culture admires a person who can "take control." The unfortunate thing is that in many cases, this just doesn't work. Then, to compound our sense of failure and our pain we are left with blaming ourselves or someone else for things not going well. It becomes a spiral of pain and unhappiness that is hard to leave behind.

There are a few simple things you can try that might help.
  • Ask yourself if you have this problem, or if it has you. Can you separate it from the rest of your experience?
  • Remind yourself that change, including loss, is a normal part of life and is most manageable when it is accepted
  • Practice seeing the problem as being only one part of your life
  • Think about what other things are important to you, what you want your focus and purpose to be
  • Commit to taking at least one step, however small, that will bring you closer to your purpose

There are times in all of our lives where we feel overwhelmed by change and loss. What we always have, though, somewhere inside of us are our hopes and aspirations for our lives. There is no better time to remind ourselves of what we want to be and to make sure we're moving, however slowly, in that direction.