Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Positive Choices

"Who created the automatic heart valve? An engineer. Who created the gas chambers at Aushwitch? An engineer." So says Dr. Robert Kearns as he introduces a university class to his Applied Engineering course. This scene sets the stage as Kearns, in Flash of Genius, fights against The #1 Auto Company when they stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper. Kearns, church goer, devoted husband and father of six loses much as he goes toe to toe with Ford. His job is lost, his wife leaves him, the attorney quites in his quest for justice. The movie was less than satisfying. In the end, Kearns wins almost $30 million and the recognition that corporate giants do wrong things, thus opening the door for others who had been stolen from to garner justice. But in the end, Kearns is till alone. His wife leaves when he refuses to take a buy-off (one of the many offered) from Ford and the lawyer "committed to justice" (aptly played by Alan Alda), quits ("justice is found in the form of a check"). Kearns has a difficult choice to make- take the buy-off and keep his wife and family intact-or live according to the principals his committed himself to- integrity and justice.

I woke up this morning thinking about Jonah and the Whale, sadistically wondering what it would have been like to be trapped inside the belly of one. In the late 1800's James Bartley  was rescued after being swallowed by an 80' sperm whale, his hair and skin bleached  pure white from the adventure (or not) .I would imagine that living inside of a live creature would be a horrible, time stopping, claustrophobic event. Kind of like being confronted with a bad choice or a no-win situation. Like Kearns. Trapped by something bigger than himself, left feeling impotent and ripped off.
Danny Silk has created a parenting program that talks a lot about re-framing situations for our kids so that they feel empowered to do "the right thing." I like Danny Silk and much of what he has to say, as long as it is taken in the context of a whole repertoire of parenting tools, the main one being relational. In other words, it's our job as parents to build a relationship with our kids,starting when they are minutes old, by mirroring them, investing as they grow by seeing and listening to them, creating an environment of trust and respect. Advocates of Silk's program focus too much, I think,  on the technique of 2 positive choices. Silk is using semantics to get the kid to obey but I don't hear a deep understanding among his proponents of his use of re-frame, just "2 positive choices" and I believe that this is a disservice to the kids. Life isn't always about 2 positives and when we create a false reality that it is we don't allow our kids character to fully develop. Sometimes life is simply about ugly, hard, immovable choices; obedience or getting swallowed up by something big and grotesque. Giving up one thing for something better. And when we are confronted by 2 bads, that's when we rely and count on character or crump if we have none.

I've concluded that character is formed, in great part, by the relationships we have. My character has been fundamentally shaped and changed by the significant people in my life. I am a diligent, hard working, studious and faithful person because of the relationship I had with my parents. I am willing to take risks and try things that don't seem obvious because of the relationship I have with my in-laws (can anyone say drywalling?), my character has been shaped and transformed by my husband in so many ways I can't even count them. Marriage is a crucible after all and those that survive it have managed something great. Those who have a marriage that thrives have, undoubtedly, been altered to the very core of their being. And finally, those committed to a faith system are changed. Sometimes superficially if we keep it at a religious level. But when we enter into a relationship with the One True Living God we are transformed by Grace and Truth, oftentimes despite ourselves.

Sometimes "choices," when we don't have options, become a matter of character. Like the difference between Elie Wiesel and Corrie Ten Boom. Both confronted with horror and despair in the depths of hell- the concentration camps of WWII. No positive choice. Wiesel chose despair. Ten Boom chose hope. (Again, I am not judging Wiesel, merely describing something he himself admits. And, I believe, Ten Boom chose hope because of the transformative relationships she had with Jesus, her family and, in the end,  Betsy). Ten Boom gives the remainder of her life to sharing the transformative, character developing relationship she had with Jesus Christ. Wiesel writes about bitterness and despair. 

Jonah, too, was given a choice. Go to the aggressive, belligerent, proud, arrogant and fierce capital of the Assyrian Empire (the Ninevites) or be entrapped in a dark and slimy tomb.  Positive choice? I don't see one. When we come in contact with the Master of the Universe he's not so concerned with if "we're brilliant."  He is concerned with obedience. And often times obedience is dictated by our relationship with him- truly trusting Him to have plans for us that are good, not evil. Plans that ensure our future, not destroy it. I like positive choices. Really. But I've had enough no-wins in my own life to realize that I can't count on them. That, at times, they are the exception rather than the rule. That I need to trust in something, or someOne bigger than what I want. And so do our kids. Positive choices are good. But along with that our kids need to know that sometimes they'll just be required to do what they're told- no explanations, no choice. And in order to  expect that to happen we're going to have to invest ourselves in them, building respect and trust, regardless of the important things we have to do like work, ministry, making money, having time and space for ourselves, etc. They are going to have to know that they can rely on our character and integrity. I'm not railing so much against Danny Silk (really, I like his stuff) as much as the entitlement that seems to be so pervasive among kids these days. When our kids demand an explanation, or expect choices, each and every time we ask something of them, when we use techniques, instead of investing in who they are, realizing that we are raising eternal beings not just "responsible adults", we are creating attitudes and beliefs that will, in the end, not take them as far as they will, undoubtedly, be required to go.
Like I said, the Flash of Genius was not a satisfying movie. Partly, I'm sure, because it tapped too much into my own middle-aged no wins. The main character sacrificed his personal life for principal, much like Hosea in the Old Testament. Kearns was committed to the principal of integrity and honesty more than the money, like Hosea was committed to God more than his personal life, and was willing to have his heart broken by the relationship and process. Maybe like we'll be required to. Maybe like will be demanded from our kids by politics, or God or circumstances beyond their control. Along with positive choices, I want to give my kids a bedrock of character, developed in part, through my committed and intentional relationship with them, along with someOne bigger than us both.


Stephanie said...

Your influence extends even beyond your family but to your friend on the WTM. I, for one, value your input immensely each and every time you share. Thank you for that.

I am passing on the Stylish Blogger Award. You can pick it up along with the rules at my blog, if you'd like. http://daisiesanddominos.blogspot.com/2010/11/stylish-blogger-award.html

LaughingLioness said...

Stephanie, Thank-you!!

Tina said...

Amen. You speak to the one part I did not add to my "personal choices" soap box...obedience to God. That choice alone makes all the difference in Any world.

As always, I bow to acknowledge your wisdom. Amen, again!

Deanna said...

"Sometimes "choices," when we don't have options, become a matter of character."

Therein lies great wisdom.
Excellent post LL.

Jennifer said...

I'm copying Stephanie and passing along the Stylish Blogger too because of how inspirational I find your blog. Your Grace just flows out from your posts.

You can read the 7 things about me and read about the other 14 folks to whom I'm passing this on at http://jennwinsocal.blogspot.com/2010/11/stylish-blogger.html