Category Archives: Self Savvy

No License Needed

On June 2, 2021, Governor Lee signed a bill into law that allows people to buy guns without a license or safety training (“permitless carry”). The law goes into effect on July 1, 2021. That means in Tennessee and 11 other states (so far) with similar laws…

I need a driver’s license to drive a car.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you.

I need a license to be a mental health counselor to counsel you to not kill yourself.

But I don’t need a license or a psych evaluation to own the gun that kills you.

I need a license to cut your hair.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that parts your hair with a bullet and kills you.

I need a license to own a bakery to bake your birthday cake.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you before you celebrate your next birthday.

I need a license to build a house.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you, destroying your home and family.

I need a license to be a medical doctor who saves lives.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that can rip your body to shreds and kill you.

I need a license to be a schoolteacher.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills school children.

I need a license to own a funeral home that will prepare you for burial.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you and puts you in a coffin.

How many people die each year in the U.S. from gun violence?  There is no accurate body count because the NRA and its cynical enablers in Congress and in state legislatures passed laws prohibiting government agencies from gathering that information. Congress once threatened to defund the CDC if it didn’t stop tracking statistics on gun violence.  (The CDC had noticed that gun violence spreads much the same as infectious diseases.)  

There is also no agreed definition of “mass shooting” for the same reason. We’ve had either 225 or 232 mass shootings during the 150 days from January 1 – May 31, 2021.  That’s a mass shooting every 0.6 day in 2021. 

Can any of the politicians supporting these “constitutional carry” laws honestly say with a straight face to the police who must assume for their own safety that every encounter is a deadly-force situation, or to the battered women who know their batterers now have even easier access to guns with which to violate orders of protection, or to the parents afraid that their child will die in the next school shooting that looser gun laws make our society safer?  Honestly and sincerely?

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses to create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Story of Easter, And the Girl Who Loved Her

I love horses.  No, I mean, I REALLY, REALLY LOVE horses.  So, when I came upon the Canadian television series, Heartland, which actually began in 2007, I was instantly hooked.  I found it on Netflix, and, at this writing, I just finished the 6th of the total 13 seasons.  Tears here.

Based on Lauren Brooke’s +/- 26-novel series begun in 2000 (20 series and 5 extra special editions, according to equipepper.com), the story of Amy Fleming and an assortment of characters, especially family members, is based in Virginia, where she, her family, and friends, heal and help abused, mistreated, or “difficult” horses.  At Heartland, “They attempt to help the abused horses by using psychologically based therapies instead of more traditional training methods.”  Perhaps you’ve seen or read the series, as I’m a bit late in catching on.

I allow myself to watch one or two episodes in a sitting.  Sometime I can’t help getting carried away and watching more because the focus on the horses brings me close to my dear, sweet pony (just barely big enough to be a horse), Easter.

Our meeting and ensuing relationship was quite magical, so much like some of those in the series.  If you’ve never had the extraordinary experience of mutual love with a horse, let me assure you, there is no experience in the world like it.  You see, meeting my Easter came from a situation much like many of the equine characters in the series.  She was quite misunderstood and so was shuffled from rider to rider, getting them off her back in one way or another, until she was just locked away in a stall and ignored.  One day, we met.  We connected.  I asked about her and was told “the story.”  It was about to change.

It was at a summer camp in the mountains of Georgia where I had been a camper for a couple of years and then became a counselor.  We were able to spend the rest of the summer together on trail rides.  Of course, no one could believe I was riding Easter, as her reputation was far from stellar.  But there we were, a team.  Unfortunately, summers come to an end.  I had to leave my beloved pony and return home.  It was off to college and over two years before Easter was back in my life.  One birthday morning, after a pretty wild night of partying with friends, I woke to a commotion outside the mobile home on the little farm my partner and I lived on.  I staggered, literally, to the back door and a startled pony with a wide-eyed, shocked look on her face, which I know mirrored mine, was standing in front of me.  No lie.  Neither of us was believing it, but there we were.  My partner had convinced the unfeeling woman who owned the camp, and refused to sell her to me two years earlier, to sell her, and had her shipped down for my birthday.  Talk about magical.  I won’t talk about the end.  Just know we were together for many, many good years.

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher.  She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations.  She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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Support the Gig Economy

We’re in a time warp on employment law.  The economy has shifted toward a gig economy model, but the Biden administration seems to be stuck in the 1930’s factory model. 

Start with the gig economy.  The shift began in the 1980’s when business schools preached the benefits of “shareholder” value to the exclusion of all other considerations.  The bean counters scrutinized each company’s expenses in slash and burn operations. First to go was in-house training of workers.

Second to go was entire swathes of workers.  The downsized workers were often hired back as independent contractors to do their old jobs.  The “savings” on not paying employee benefits to them created “shareholder” value.  Senior management promptly rewarded themselves with bigger pay packets and stock options while shoveling a few dollars more to their shareholders as dividends.

(Business leaders now moan about their inability to find workers with the appropriate skills but are still unwilling to invest in their workers.  In an article a few years ago in The Wall Street Journal business leaders admitted they would not invest in training their workers because they didn’t want to lose their investment when the employees left. The irony of demanding loyalty from workers while offering nothing in return is apparently lost of these overpaid masters of the universe.)

By the 2000’s, the internet had lowered the cost of starting a business.  The switch to a gig economy accelerated during last year’s covid.  Many workers pushed into unemployment during the past year have decided to bet on themselves by starting their own businesses.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to be stuck in the past. Don’t get me wrong. Biden’s boffos are a distinct relief after Trump’s minions tried to resurrect the 1980’s by dismembering every law that might protect workers.

But the Biden administration’s approach will undermine the gig economy, the most dynamic part of our economy now that most big businesses are monopolies dominating their industries.  Recent Department of Labor guidance makes it more difficult to classify workers as independent contractors.  The rationale is that too many companies deliberately misclassify workers as independent contractors in order to save on payroll taxes and employee benefits.  That is true.

However, that’s no reason to rip the heart out of the gig economy.   Instead of rolling back the economic clock, it’s time to change how employee benefits are offered.  Employee benefits like health care, fair wages and overtime pay were forced on employers in the 1930’s in a clever maneuver to bust the unions; and indirectly to fight communism since most Americans believed that all union organizers were commies.

That was then. Now we need to free up workers to use their skills and interests to the best of their abilities. Instead of looking backward, the Biden administration should imagine how the future of work could look.

It’s time to create individual health accounts, just as there are individual retirement accounts.  Allow gig workers to top up their IRA’s with amounts equivalent to an employer’s 401(k) match.  Give gig workers a tax credit to cover a set number of vacation and sick days each year.

Some people prefer traditional employment. Some people are suited to be gig workers.  The benefit of encouraging a hybrid economic model, part traditional and part gig, will unleash the creative abilities of our country. 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. We also integrate HR compliance into the company-wide compliance program through internal controls and advising on how to mitigate risks with insurance. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com). For my musings on history, visit History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts here on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – The Weight of Grief

Grief Image

I am not unfamiliar with grieving, and yet each time Life requires that I encounter it, I am yet again surprised by its strength.  I know from past encounters that the intensity will pass – there will come a time that I am not aware almost every waking moment of the depth of this loss.  But that time has not yet arrived.

My husband and I both lost beloved brothers – barely two weeks apart – to metastatic cancer.  Both men lived wonderful lives – one a world traveller and humanitarian, the other a brilliant scientist and sharer of knowledge and kindness. Their accomplishments were many, but it is their connections to their families and communities that live on in my memory.

Grief is heavy.  Grief is physical.  I am sleeping but wake up exhausted nonetheless.  Moments of unexpected sadness come at random moments – just now, thinking about Glenn, wishing I could tell him about a new find in our family tree, wishing I could ask him a computer question.  Little things.

I am grateful that I was able to spend time with him in person.  My daughter and I went to California – the vaccine finally giving us the opportunity to go – we would have gone long since but the pandemic stopped us.  We were able to be with him – to say we loved each other – to essentially say goodbye.  We hoped it was not the last time – but it turned out that way.

The words of a poem by Steven Spender have meant a lot to me in these last days – in particular the last several lines. 

I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great

“Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields 
See how these names are feted by the waving grass 
And by the streamers of white cloud 
And whispers of wind in the listening sky. 
The names of those who in their lives fought for life 
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center. 
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun, 
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

My brother touched many lives – and for me, that is the measure of greatness. Love to you, Glenn, and Godspeed. 

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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Sourdough, Gardening, Life

One of my early loaves made for Valentine’s Day

This year we are planning a landscaping project and deck remodel, so I have decided not to plant my spring/summer garden. I really wrestled with what to do because I just love getting out into the dirt, tending to the vegetables and watching them grow. I also love preparing and eating the fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other assorted crops throughout the Summer and into the Fall. I’m still considering a small container garden.

I have decided to continue my Winter project: sourdough baking. During the cold, dark months my son and I began cultivating a couple of starters. If you’ve been following me on Instagram @barbdab58 you’ve seen some of my efforts. It has been a lot of fun watching this little science experiment literally come alive in front of our eyes! Mix water and flour, let it sit on the counter and lo and behold, it bubbles, ferments and develops a pungent, delicious fragrance! Then we combine it with more flour, water and salt and it bakes into a bubbly, poofy, crusty loaf.

Over the last few months, we’ve experimented with different types of flour starters. We have one made from regular all-purpose flour and one from whole wheat flour. Each has its own unique fragrance, taste and personality. In fact, tradition dictates that we might name our starters and so we have introduced Rob and Laura Petrie, named after the main characters on my favorite TV show, The Dick Van Dyke Show. Rob is the lively, bubbly all-purpose starter and Laura is the more exotic, complicated, delicate whole wheat. We’ve also tried a few different flavors in our bread. We’ve used oats and maple syrup, garlic, onions and one that substitutes beer for the water. We’ve had successes and failures. This past weekend, we had a huge success with our original, classic sourdough. Previously we failed with an oatmeal loaf that was too wet, a whole wheat/regular blend that did not rise enough and a garlic loaf that was too garlicky. Early on, we had some failed starters, as well.

In sourdough, as in life, success depends on planning, patience, experience and that extra something intangible. Maybe it’s luck. But I also think it’s the love and attention paid and the focus and will to succeed. Last week I made my oatmeal/maple syrup loaf by myself. My son was busy and unable to participate. The loaf was tasty, with nice crumb and a toasty crust. But it was somewhat lackluster and rather flat. So this week I decided to go back to the basics, together with my son, and make the classic version. We took the starter out of the fridge, fed it, waited for the perfect timing when it was active and bubbly, and then began our process of mixing the dough, letting it rest, stretching and folding before letting it ferment overnight. In the morning, the dough was fluffy and shiny, with little bubbles just beneath the surface, and it smelled fantastic! After shaping and proofing, my son worked his magic scoring the loaf and into the oven it went. The result was a nearly perfect, golden loaf with a slightly charred crust and inside it was moist and tangy. As we reflected on how this loaf was different, better, my son declared that it was because we made it together, with love, as we’d planned, each contributing to the end result in our own way.

Last year’s garden

My sourdough journey has mirrored my gardening process, too. Nurturing something from the beginning stages, developing patience through trial and error and adding in lots and lots of love. This year has presented all of us with unforeseen challenges and the need to pivot and adapt to an ever changing set of circumstances. We’ve had to take the long view as we navigate our way out of this pandemic. There have been failures and successes and as we begin to emerge from our isolation, it is clear life is different, most likely permanently changed. But hopefully what appears is beautiful, the result of hard work, planning, patience and love. A beautiful juicy red tomato, a fragrant crusty sourdough, a meaningful vibrant life.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58

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Time for a Change

Recently the English Premier League announced they are considering a ban on all social media platforms effective May 1st.   The ban is being considered to protect footballers (soccer players) from racial and homophobic abuse.  Most footballers are teenagers or 20-something’s.  

Racial and homophobic abuse has always been a feature of sports from a segment of “fans”.  It’s on a par with the jerks who post revenge porn against their exes when they realize those women won’t put up with the selfish, spoiled brat behavior that mommy indulged all those years ago.  

When racial or homophobic abuse happens on the field, the footballing authorities can investigate, identify and ban the moronic player spewing hate.  When “fans” scream filth, the home team can investigate, identify and ban the jerks for life from attending games.

Social media abusers can hide behind avatars and fake identities. In some cases, abusers are based outside the country of their victims.  In other situations, the abusers deliberately, with malice aforethought, route their internet connections through countries that can’t or won’t prosecute the abusers.  

It’s time to stop social media abusers from using their cyberspace anonymity to avoid the consequences of their hateful, malicious actions.   The first step is to require all social media companies to authenticate the identity of each account holder just as banks are required to “know your customer” by authenticating the identity of new bank account holders.  Social media companies should also continue shutting down the fake accounts they find littering their platforms.

The second step is to enact laws that require social media companies to provide the identity of the abuser to the victim.  This process should be quick and easy and low cost. There are limited (at best) privacy concerns for the abuser because no one has a First Amendment right to spew hate and the threat of violence.  Foot-dragging on ID’ing the abuser is tantamount to enabling and condoning the abuse.

The victim can then decide whether to file a criminal complaint or to sue for civil rights violations or defamation.  That brings us to the third step. The civil and criminal penalties for engaging in hate speech and revenge porn on social media should be much more severe.  At a minimum, abusers should be banned from social media platforms until they can demonstrate they deserve the privilege of having an account.

Abusers who spew hate on social media are usually feeling insecure and afraid of social and cultural changes that they view as a loss of power and control.  Their fears make them lash out to try to regain control.  They’re counting on us being so scared of drawing their abuse or violating their free speech rights, or of secretly sympathizing with their racist, sexist, xenophobic comments, or so uncaring that we do nothing.  It’s time for that to change. 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Vaccinated!

Today I received my covid-19 vaccination as part of the mass vaccination event at the Titans Stadium.   During an approximately 12-hour period on March 20th, Metro Nashville scheduled 10,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine.  I was thrilled to be one of the lucky 10,000 with an appointment.

I was more nervous about a potential traffic jam getting into the site than getting the vaccine. But when I arrived around 1:00 pm, there were no delays. Only one point of entry was open into the vaccination site.  Cars wended their way between traffic cones back and forth across the parking lot on their way to the tents where the vaccinations were administered. It was like playing bumper cars without the bumping.

National Guardsmen and volunteers directed cars around the corners and through the traffic cones. A live band entertained us as we crept along.  A short 10 – 15 minute slalom through the traffic cones brought me to a point where I was directed into a line to approach one of the tents. 

After completing a consent form, it was my turn.  I handed over the clipboard with the consent form, got a quick jab and a postcard-sized certificate saying I’d been vaccinated.  From there I drove to the recovery area.  After a 15-minute wait for adverse side effects, I was able to leave.

The exit point was the only poorly designed part of the entire process. Cars from all the recovery areas tried to simultaneously enter Interstate Drive heading for the Shelby Avenue traffic light.  Most of the cars tried to squeeze into the lane accessing the I-24 entrance ramp.  But even with these delays, the whole process took about 45 minutes from the time I arrived.  

Kudos to the engineer who designed the traffic cone system for moving so many cars through the site. Kudos also to the volunteers, Guardsmen, and police officers who made the whole process work.  This mass vaccination event moves us closer to the tipping point of immunization when Nashville can return to normal (whatever the new normal looks like).

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – Lessons from a Pandemic

The landscape outside my window is bound by the rectangles of the windowpanes on either side and the windowsill below and blinds above.  Just below the sill are holly bushes, still with bright red berries, a little further on is a brick border, then a grassy verge, then a sidewalk that passes in front of an old oak tree.  A large shrub whose name I do not know creates a boundary on the other side.  Farther away steps lead to another level of the condominiums.

Centered in the midst of this view is an iron post with an arm that swings out over the grass; hanging from that arm is a cylindrical bird feeder with four perches.  This object is fought over, jumped on, blown about, surrounded by so many birds – and by the occasional squirrel.

Today, a gray and frosty day, the feeder is surrounded by many house finches, red-headed and breasted or dove-colored depending on their sex.  A Carolina wren approaches, yellow breasted, then a black-capped chickadee.  Suddenly a flash of blue – an Eastern bluebird appears momentarily, then leaves, disappointed with the seeds available.  A mockingbird approaches – too large for this feeder.  I watch a squirrel make a determined assault on the feeder, climbing the pole, reaching out onto the swinging arm, then actually grasping the cylinder with all four feet – but this feeder closes with the weight of this determined rodent – no luck.  He retreats to the scattered seeds and shells beneath the feeder.

As all this unfolds outside, my Maine Coon cat sits inside the window, watching every move of every creature on the outside, tail switching and ears perked.  This is her daily entertainment – a bench is placed at the window level so she can enjoy the vista, even though she cannot reach the creatures she would like to hunt.  Sometimes a squirrel decides to climb onto the outside ledge – to his dismay as the cat strikes, the squirrel jumps, and is suddenly displaced from what appeared safe.

I too spend lots of time at this window.  My own life is also bounded by the rectangle of this window and the computer that sits to the right of it.  The computer allows me the opportunity to connect with family and with friends; it also allows me to continue my life’s work of serving those who are struggling with varieties of life crises and emotional distress.  COVID-19 has led to the compression of life into a computer screen in so many ways.

What is amazing to me is the persistence of life in the face of these limitations.  The birds keep on searching for food, the squirrels keep on trying for more, the cat keeps on doing what cats do, and so do we humans.  In the face of this life-changing year, we keep on.  We continue to live, in spite of the limitations.  For me the year of COVID-19 has been a distillation, a clearing, an intensification of all that matters most.  With so much gone, I have had time to learn what matters.  Not surprisingly, it turns out to be connection with family and friends.  While I miss the busy life of pre-COVID, full of many subscription series, I believe I will not return to that busy life.  COVID has taught me once again that it is necessary to choose between good and good.  I hope that as the year goes on and more safety returns I will remember that important lesson.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

He benefited from the wealth bequeathed by his father.  He inherited a politically stable country that was militarily stronger than its enemies.  His country was at the heart of a vast trading network that made it wealthy and spread its influence across the world.  Its’ fertile soil provided so much food that it exported the excess to neighboring countries. 

He set out to destroy all that.  He felt only contempt for the competent, experienced government officials he inherited and replaced them with sycophants loyal only to himself.  He built a new capital city in a remote location where he lived in an echo chamber surrounded by his supporters.  The working class that built his new city were underfed and overworked.  They died young while he lived in a palace and treated himself to the best food and wine available.

He created his own cult and demanded that everyone worship his new god.  Traditional religious leaders were unceremoniously tossed aside, and their treasures confiscated to fund the new cult.  His wife and children slavishly followed his lead.

While he was busy dismantling the existing order, his country’s enemies grew bolder.  Other great powers began expanding their territory.  His country’s allies begged for help but he ignored them.  He was too busy attacking his real and perceived enemies at home to notice or care about the threats at his own border.    

When he finally left the scene (due to his death), his country’s hegemony had faded.  Society was fractured, the economy was in decline and his country had lost about a quarter of its territory to other great powers.  His inattention ruined his country’s alliances and its allies shifted allegiance to others, including the new great powers.   

His surviving opponents moved quickly to restore order, reinstating the traditional government structure.   His cult was abandoned and replaced by the former religion.  His name was erased from the written record as was his wife’s name.   His children repudiated him and his cult in a desperate effort to salvage their own lives.

His name was…..Amenhotep IV, better known to us as Akhenaton.  He ruled Egypt at the end of the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom.  His son, Tutanhkamon, was the last of that line of pharaohs and died young.  Ancient Egypt never again attained the cultural, political, and military hegemony that Akhenaton inherited.

Today, as we debate good versus bad leadership, Akhenaton is a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – What It Costs Us

The woman was talking to her son, age seven. He was in tears. “I’m sorry, Robbie, but you’re just going to have to learn to control yourself. You can’t dissolve into tears over every little thing.”

Two little boys were having an argument over a toy. One child hit the other one. A parent standing nearby said, “Hit him back, Johnny.”

The little boy had fallen and skinned his knee. He began to cry loudly. His peers, slightly older and already wise in the ways of the world, taunted him. “What a crybaby – he is a girl.”

The preceding stories are typical interactions that happen every day, every week, every month, every year in our society. They represent pervasive attitudes toward raising young boys to be men. The message goes something like this: “It is not good to let boys grow up to be too sensitive. They will be ridiculed: they will not have what it takes to succeed in a competitive world. It MAY be all right for them to express some feelings when they are very young, but they should not be coddled. The last thing anyone wants is a son who is a sissy.”

Sensitivity to the experience of others, the ability to feel with another person in his/her joy or pain, is often regarded as suspect when it is displayed by boys or men. This attitude presents a significant barrier to improved world community.

A central task that faces human beings is that of maintaining a balance between self and other. Human as we are, we can neither live alone nor together; we are caught in an ongoing tension between yearning for connection and affiliation and yearning for autonomy and independence. The experience of empathy – a process during which a person experiences the experience of another AS IF it were her own and AT THE SAME TIME is clearly aware of her own self – clearly mirrors that ultimate humanity.

The empathic process calls on the individual to perceive affective cues, both verbal and non-verbal, which serve as indicators of the other’s emotional state. The individual, perceiving these cues, takes the role of the other, experiencing the other’s feelings vicariously. Empathic ability is complex, requiring a clear self-concept, the ability to connect affectively, and flexible ego boundaries. Empathic ability has been posited to be a strong indicator of effective human functioning and maturity. A major component of effective parenting rests on parental ability to empathize. Inability to empathize, on the other hand, has been linked with a variety of antisocial behaviors (narcissism, in particular).

When empathy is broken down into its various components (perceptual, affective/cognitive, communicative) boys and girls do well on all aspects of tasks other than the motivation to attend or perceive. In other words, girls notice the non-verbal and verbal cues necessary to arouse empathy. They seem to be more perceptually attuned to pick up on these cues. Boys, when trained in research settings in doing this, were equally able on the other parts of the tasks. Differences in measured empathic ability diminished with direct teaching of perceptual skills to boys.

The implications of these findings are both heart-rending and hopeful. The ability to empathize is an essential human skill. Our culture encourages girls to have it because it fits with our definition of female. Boys, who need it just as much and who benefit from direct teaching of how to pick up on perceptual cues from others, are instead taught to deny their own feelings and to ignore the feelings of others.

Boys may require actual specific teaching of skills that girls acquire as part of their identity. Boys seem to be deliberately trained away from acquiring this set of skills because of well-intentioned parents’ fears for their future success in an out-of-balance society. Young boys are placed in an emotional
catch-22 by this process -subject to deep emotional arousal, yet not given the tools to understand it or to release it into altruism or prosocial behavior.

Our world is poorly served by this unfortunate situation. Something little boys and men need – full emotional, flexible responsiveness – is being withheld from them, through no fault of their own. Knowing that it can be and must be directly taught is essential information for our world’s future functioning.

Parent: “Johnny, you hit your friend. What is he doing? “
Johnny: “He is crying and holding his arm.”
Parent: “If someone hits you, how do you feel?”
Johnny: “I feel sad and mad.”
Parent: “How do you think your friend feels right now?”
Johnny: “Sad and mad.”
Parent: “What can you do to help?”
Johnny: “I can give him a hug and say I’m sorry.”
Parent: “Good job, Johnny – I am proud of you for noticing that your friend is sad and mad and needs help.”

This little scenario is an illustration of two-step perspective taking that helps a child understand the beginnings of empathic connection. It works! As we enter a New Year, as we leave behind a year fraught with pain and distress, may we all take heart from the good and decent men and women who are learning and teaching the lessons of empathy and care needed by all human beings.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com .

Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Tagged as boysempathygirlsHopemasculinitymental healthnarcissimSusan Hammonds-White

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