Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Leader of the Pack

How does our birth order influence our lives, our relationships, our personality, our parenting, our future?  I am the first born child, with two younger siblings.  My mother was an only child, and my father was the youngest of five.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about birth order mainly because my parents made a point of impressing upon me the responsibility to take care of my sister and brother.  “Friends will come and go,” my mom would tell me, “but your siblings are forever.”  “Make sure you take your sister with you.”  “Hold your brother’s hand when you cross the street.”  “Always look out for your sister and brother.”  You get the picture. 

I have no recollection of the 18 months of my life before my sister was born, but I’m told my parents had a pretty good time with me.  So good, in fact, that they couldn’t wait to have another baby.  That was always their story and they stuck to it.  The new baby girl arrived, followed two years later by, “the boy.”  I do remember my parents bringing him home from the hospital all swaddled up.  “Watch the soft spot,” was the refrain for months as I awkwardly tried to sit with him on my tiny lap. 

I guess you could say I am a classic big sister.  Caregiving, bossy, driven, organized, high achieving.  I organized parades where I would sit in my brother’s red wagon, draped in a boa, tiara on my head, my brother gamely pulling me as I waved to the neighborhood.  I choreographed ballets for my sister and I to entertain our parents, clad in my mom’s old nightgowns.  And when my brother would get sick, I was obsessed with taking his temperature, bringing him toast and reading to him in bed. 

As the oldest, my developmental milestones and achievements were always the first for my parents.  And attention-loving drama queen that I am, I generally liked it.  I loved feeling grown up and couldn’t wait to, “get there.”  By the time I was 17, I’d graduated from high school, left for college and rarely looked back.  My summers were spent involved in theater companies, part time jobs, hanging at the beach with friends.  I got married right after college and never lived with my family again.  I guess you could say my early years were pretty standard for an L.A. girl growing up in the 1970s. 

This all sounds charming, right?  But underneath all that grooviness lurks a dark secret.  You see, I did enjoy being the oldest for all of the above reasons.  But I also hated it.  I hated the burden dumped on a little girl to always look out for the younger ones.  I hated not having any cover for my mistakes, so I just worked to avoid them.  I hated the assumption that my hard fought victories were preordained because I was the golden one.  I hated there not being much room for me, so growing up fast and leaving was the best option.  Most of all I hated not being allowed to rebel and act out like a normal kid.  “You’re older, you should know better.”  It’s all so exhausting. 

One time I asked my mom if my dad was happy his first born was a girl rather than a boy.  Her answer, “He was thrilled!  Big sisters are better at keeping the family together,” meant to be reassuring sounded to me like another assignment.  I spent years studying my mother’s techniques for entertaining and preparing holiday dinners.  I listened in on her conversations with my dad’s three older sisters for clues on how, exactly, I was supposed to keep us all together.  And when I became a mom to three children, I vowed not to put the same burden on my first born, also a girl.  Karma, right?

So here we are, all three of us in late middle age, our parents alive only in our memories.  I guess you could say I have lived up to my birthright.  I continue to try and keep the family together, to look out for my sister and brother.  We have aged, live in different parts of the country and each of us has been knocked around by life.  For one of us, life in general is a battle and the other two of us do our best to keep moving forward.  A very good therapist once told me it was time to fire myself from the job of being the Big Sister.  It’s hard to break the old patterns and often when I try, one of the two resists my effort to change, but I continue to work on that.  And while I now have a loving husband, amazing grown children and a circle of close friends, sometimes that little girl inside me just wants someone to take care of her. 

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 .

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So, What’s The Deal?

Gas is going up, up, and up, so what’s the deal???

From the Associated Press’ Darcie Loreno:

The price at the pump has climbed 46 cents since Nov. 20. The highest average price in the nation is $3.57 a gallon in the San Francisco Bay Area. The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline jumped 14 cents a gallon over the past two weeks to $2.64.

According to AAA, the country is seeing some of the most expensive prices in over a year. AAA says with the forced shutdown of the Gulf Coast and some Mid-West refineries due to last week’s winter weather, gas stocks and prices have skyrocketed…66 percent of state averages spiked by double digits.

“When close to 40% of U.S. crude production is offline because refineries are closed, there is going to be pain at the pump until operations resume,’ Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson, said in a release. “The good news is the nearly two dozen impacted refiners are expected to restart operations this week, if they haven’t already. That means regular gasoline deliveries will resume and impacted stations will be re-fueled.”

But some suggest the quick and extreme rise in fuel prices is because President Biden put the brakes on the Keystone XL Pipeline. I followed that line of reasoning and it led me to an article from Jacksonville, Florida’s First Coast News:

Experts said the move did little to harm the number of permanent jobs coming from the pipeline.

Tom Tunstall, research director for the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development, has conducted extensive research on oil and gas in his nearly 10 years with the university. He said while prices at the gas pump are climbing, it’s independent of Biden’s decision.

“If oil prices go to $4 a gallon, it will be for other reasons than the fact that the keystone isn’t under construction,” Tunstall explained. 

He said the reason is due to other nations curtailing their own production, along with other market forces causing U.S. producers to cut back on the country’s own production of oil.

As far as jobs go, Tunstall said the move did little to harm permanent jobs.

“It’s important to note that the jobs associated with pipeline construction are exactly that—they’re construction jobs,” he said. “And so, by definition, they’re temporary. Once the construction is complete, then the jobs basically go away … There may be several thousand jobs associated with the construction, (but) I think it may only take 35 people to operate the pipeline once it’s done.”

So what exactly is causing the spike in fuel prices at the pump? Experts say it boils down to two things: winter weather, and supply and demand.

According to GasBuddy, the price of gas has already been impacted as millions of barrels of refining capacity have gone offline due to the extreme cold in the South.

First Coast News (Video)

So, it seems it’s all about that “supply and demand” thing again. Folks are beginning to get out and about in spite of the pandemic because they’re going a little stir crazy, and because the vaccine’s instilling some confidence. Between these factors and the extreme weather that shut down oil production out west for a bit, the demand is higher and production is slightly off. What do the oil companies do? Raise their prices, of course. Capitalize. It seems it’s, as always, about money and maximum profit for the oil companies rather than looking out for us Americans, many, MANY of whom are struggling just to survive.

I fear it is also ‘fueled’ by the new president’s push for electric vehicles and the many new electric vehicle options available and coming available. Big Oil wants to get it’s licks in and profits up while they can. I’m sorry, but this mentality really and radically gets under my skin.

My next car WILL be electric!!!

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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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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It’s Been a Year…

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

February, 2021!  It’s so hard to believe almost a year has passed since the pandemic changed the world forever.  A year of worry.  A year of frustration.  A year of separation from my son and other cherished friends and family.  A year watching out my window.  A year adapting.  A year waiting.  A year hoping.  A year learning. 

I still wait for my turn to be vaccinated. I still worry about getting sick. I’m still frustrated about so much lost time. I still wait for the next visit with my son. I still look out my window at the changing seasons. I’m still adapting, learning, hoping, trying to look forward.

To say I am not a patient person is REALLY an understatement. From my earliest memories I recall barreling into life at full speed, always in a hurry to get to the next thing. This past year has felt like I ran smack into a wall. I know I’m not alone in this, so I’m not complaining, per se.  I’m just reflecting. Is there a deeper lesson to be learned?  The obvious is what I hear most folks are trying to do: live in the moment, be grateful, savor a slower pace.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…whatever.

Here’s what I’m learning: I am not a slowdown type of person. Yes, I am savoring the time I get to spend with my husband who is working from home and my son who is attending graduate school from home.  But most days I just want to get back out there, in it. While I have managed to continue my work and to stay in touch with many of my friends, I can’t help but grieve for all the lost time.  The days, weeks, months and now, a year, just marking time. I can’t shake the feeling that, at my age, there’s no time to waste. I still have plans, goals and things to get on with. Grateful?  Of course I am!  I’m also very aware of how fortunate I am to have a job, a comfortable home in which to stay safe with people I love and who love me.  Yes, life is good.

Now there seems to be, maybe, a speck of daylight at the end of this very long tunnel. And…I’m off!  Planning a fall vacation with friends. Thinking about dinners out, live music, sporting events and having people over. Every day is a roller coaster as I swing from despair to hope and back again. Read the news. Don’t read the news. By bedtime I am exhausted, that is until my head hits the pillow. Then as my body relaxes my mind revs up and I lay awake, sometimes for hours, until I can calm it down.

This year has shined a light on the differences between me and my husband. Where I am an extrovert, he is content to be alone. Where I experience life at full speed, he is happy with the slow and steady approach. While I rage against the frustration, his patience is both infuriating and a gift. And while I toss and turn all night, he sleeps soundly. All these differences, which used to drive me crazy, have now become my salvation. To know that in spite of it all, or maybe because of it, we continue on. I can depend on his patience, his ability to compartmentalize the pain and focus on what is in front of him. I am comforted by his strength and by his steady breathing at night. 

Lessons learned? My basic nature is what it always has been, and so it is for those around me. But in times of great challenge, we can lean into and on each other, for real.

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 .

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Out With The Old, In With…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is out-with-the-old.jpeg.jpg
Yes, the entire world is under siege by a deadly virus, but I still feel some degree of optimism. There’s something about Joe Biden that invites me to trust him. You may not agree, but, to me, he just seems very real. As I watched Joe giving a press briefing, I felt he spoke to the American citizens as an American citizen. No airs, no pompous attitude, nothing like his predecessor who, I felt, always came off like he thought he was a ruling monarch. It always made me nervous when he started to speak. He was just plain scary.

I was really encouraged by Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s Press Briefing on January 25th. It feels like things in this country may actually get “back to normal,” whatever normal may be these days. At least we will be heading in a positive direction:

First, as a part of this administration’s accessibility and inclusion efforts, starting today, we will have an ASL — an American Sign Language — interpreter for our daily press briefings… The President is committed to building an America that is more inclusive, more just, and more accessible for every American, including Americans with disabilities and their families.

She continued:

President Biden issued an executive order setting the policy that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the armed forces of the United States should be able to serve.  Today’s action revokes the Presidential Memorandum of March 2013 [23], 2018, and also confirms the revocation of the Presidential Memorandum of August 25th of 2017. 

Today’s action fulfills another campaign promise.  With this EO, no one will be separated or discharged from the military or denied reenlistment on the basis of gender identity.  And for those transgender service members who were discharged or separated because of their gender identity, their cases will be reexamined. 

President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service and that America’s strength is found in its diversity.  America is stronger at home and around the world when it is inclusive.

Further:

This afternoon, the President will sign an executive order that takes an important step to support American manufacturing.  With this “Buy American” executive order, the President is already making good on his commitment to building a future that is made in America by all of America’s workers.

Here’s to a safer, more inclusive, more prosperous future for the United States of America and all that it has stood for. 

LONG MAY SHE WAVE!

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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Will We Ever Be Normal Again?

As we say goodbye to the Trump years and begin the Biden presidency, some people are talking about a return to normality.  This talk is premised on the notion that the Trump years, particularly the past few months, are an anomaly.  But what exactly is normal for our country?

True, we’ve never had an armed mob storm the U.S. Capitol in a desperate attempt to block the results of an election.  But our country has always had demagogues, con artists, opportunists, and sleazy provocateurs looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.  Without wishing to diminish the magnitude of the threat the current bunch pose, it is instructive to look at what was normal in the past.  

Long before Trump’s tweets supporting white supremacists, Woodrow Wilson openly supported Jim Crow laws because he believed whites were superior to blacks.   In 1924, a purported one million Klansmen descended on the Washington, DC mall in their white robes and hoods to spout their hatred of blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants.  President Calvin Coolidge didn’t condemn them or their rhetoric. 

Before social media platforms amplified the white power movement, a Catholic priest named Father Coughlin hid behind the label of “Christian” while spewing anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi garbage. He was the country’s most popular talk radio host in the 1930’s until some of his supporters were arrested on suspicion of trying to overthrow the U.S. government.   

Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz aren’t the first politicians to endanger the country in the cynical pursuit of their personal ambitions.   John C. Calhoun announced his national ambitions by whipping up an anti-British mob that pushed the country into the War of 1812.  That’s the war we don’t talk about because the British burned down the White House.  Calhoun became a prominent pro-slavery southerner who developed the legally dubious “nullification” theory which Tennessee’s less-gifted politicians periodically drag out of the trashcan of history. 

Hawley and Cruz are also not the first politicians whose cynical ploy backfired on them.  In 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were fading into the political sunset when they decided that fighting a duel would draw attention to resurrect their careers.  Instead, Hamilton was gut-shot and died in agony days later while Burr had to go on the lam to escape a murder charge.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled to his first inauguration by train.  His travel schedule was supposed to be kept secret and security was increased due to the number of death threats he received. Several last-minute route changes ensured he arrived at the U.S. Capitol on time to be sworn in as president. 

This year, Joe Biden had planned to travel to his inauguration by train.  But last week a brief announcement said that Biden’s travel plans had changed due to the level of violent threats made against him (and V.P.-elect Kamala Harris).   Unfortunately, and depressingly, our new normal looks a lot like the old normal. 

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 – A Silver Lining

 

As sickening as the mob is that overran our Capitol building on January 6, 2021, I am oddly grateful for it.

Terrible crisis always brings with it amazing opportunity.

This crisis has brought into stark reality the ways in which our country has been infiltrated by anti-democratic fascism.  Thousands have been radicalized by the ongoing lies perpetrated by Trump, Trumpism, Fox News, and all the social media platforms that were allowed to run unchecked over the last four years.

Katherine Belew, author of Bring the War Home (a treatise on the reality of the white power movement that extends all the way back to the aftermath of the Viet Nam war) writes that law enforcement and media in the U.S. have looked the other way at domestic terrorism, defining violence perpetrated by angry white men as “lone wolf” types of events. She shows that these anti-democratic, pro white-power groups, essentially Nazi-like in their beliefs, are actually deeply embedded in our culture. There aim is to OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT and to create what they call a transnational white country (excluding any kind of person who is “not white”). Unsure about whether a group is patriotic or not – look for the Nazis. If there are Nazis or Nazi-like rhetoric involved, be sure the group is NOT patriotic!

The ideology of Trumpism, America First, anti-immigrant, anti-black and indigenous peoples, is not conservative. It is radical, and its aim is to de-stabilize and ultimately dismantle the institutions that have governed this country since its inception in 1776.

Why on earth, then, would I say there is silver lining to this horrific event?

The way I see it – the reality is no longer hidden. It is no longer possible to discount Trump and his extremist followers as “patriotic Americans who are exercising their free speech rights”. The President of the United States incited violence. He supported an insurrection. We saw it happen. It cannot be denied.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s powerful condemnation of Trump and of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol compares what happened to the Nazi’s Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – the ominous beginning of the rise of Hitler’s legions. His video is well worth watching. Look him up on Youtube.

Our democracy held, and swift change has followed. No more Twitter, no more Facebook, no more access to social media by President Trump. The “free-speech app” Parler was shut down when Amazon removed its access to its servers. Large corporations are informing elected officials who objected to the state’s electoral votes in the House and Senate that they would not be receiving campaign donations. The FBI began investigations into hundreds of people who appeared in video on the Capitol assault, and arrests have begun. Trump may be impeached for a second time – and this time he could be convicted.

As we enter a new year, a new administration, and new hope for a different future, I am glad that the reality of these extreme groups has been revealed. Hidden, it was hard to believe. Out in the open, we can see the reality, and we can begin to change it.

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 .

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

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Reflections on a Dirty Martini

There’s not much more to be said of the past year, and since the new one isn’t even a week old, I’d prefer not to comment too much or even try to predict any turn of events.  Life has not felt normal for a long time and frankly, I’m tired of trying to make any sense of things right now.  Instead, I just want to reflect on something small.  A martini.

My dad’s regular drink was a dirty martini.  Medium dry, Beefeater’s Gin, with a drizzle of Vermouth, a splash of olive juice and as the piece de resistance, those gorgeous, juicy, green olives with just a peek of red pimento winking at me.  He’d come home from work, call for my mom to join him upstairs while he changed clothes and they spent a few private moments together.  Then it was back down to the kitchen to mix that perfectly glamorous drink while my mom finished preparing dinner.  I’d hang around, hoping for a taste of the olive at the end.  Year after year he’d simply tell me I was too young, while I watched him sip that tantalizing concoction.  Finally, the day came when he handed over the olive.  Aaaah!  I’d finally made it!  I took the fruit from his toothpick and popped it into my mouth, sucked on it for a few minutes, then nibbled it bit by bit, savoring the tang of the gin with the saltiness of the olive. 

To this day, a dirty martini is my decadent pleasure.  Just the look of the triangle shaped glass with the olives perched on their toothpick inside the slightly cloudy drink of gin and Vermouth, makes me think of my dad driving into the garage in his Chevy Malibu, of our Delta Green shag carpet, our paneled den where I’d watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show, my mom made up, hair done, dressed for going out.  Yep, the late 1960s and early 1970s were groovy times, at least to me. 

In retrospect, though, they were also troubled years filled with social unrest, presidential scandals, assassinations, air pollution and some really groundbreaking protest songs.  As a late baby boomer, I was ill equipped to participate actively in the struggles of my older cousins to move the needle from the heady post-war (WWII) years to bridge the Generation Gap and herald the new age of technology just on the horizon.  But I watched from the sidelines as they marched, protested, chanted and sang about the wrongs they believed needed to be put right.  Those years shaped me, too, just like my dad’s dirty martini.  Part bitter, part tart, a little sweetness and at the end, an olive plucked from that marinade.  Every evening mix and repeat. 

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 .

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Be Well…

2 Comments

by | December 22, 2020 · 10:07 am

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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