Even in the darkest of times, you can find pinpricks of light. Here are a few from this week.

Sometimes the world can seem so dark.

Between despicable acts of terror like the one in Manchester, despicable acts of fake terror created by the Trump administration like the ones in Bowling Green, Sweden, and Atlanta, and a Republican Congress seeking to take healthcare away from 23 million Americans while simultaneously giving enormous tax cuts to the wealthy, the world can seem like a dark place. 

In these times, we need to look for the light. Even when it's a little silly, possibly trite, and fairly ineffectual.

Here's some light from this week:

Ben and Jerry's has announced it won’t serve “same scoop” orders in Australia in protest of Australia’s Marriage Act, which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

“We are banning two scoops of the same flavor and encouraging our fans to contact their MPs to tell them that the time has come — make same sex marriage legal!”

Clever and daring, Ben and Jerry's.

Michael Jordan once said that Republicans buy shoes, too, indicating his purposeful, financially driven, apolitical stance. 

Ben and Jerry's has a different approach to politics. They stand on the side of decency and righteousness, and I suspect that they will be rewarded for it in the long run. 

Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and exceptionally wealthy neurosurgeon, said that poverty is a “state of mind.”

Dictionary.com, who along with Merriam-Webster has been like word-nerd superheroes ever since Trump took office, trolling his administration every time they poorly define or attempt to redefine a term, swept in with this tweet:

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Fox News host and Donald Trump propagandist Sean Hannity, who has been promoting a heinous and false conspiratorial account of the slaying of a former Democratic National Committee staffer, began to lose advertisers yesterday in response to his ridiculous and offensive claims. 

Even Fox New staffers have expressed disdain and discomfort over Hannity's conspiracy theory. 

Perhaps he'll go the way of Bill O'Reilly...

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Then there was this photo of the Trump family and the Pope. 

It's often said that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and this picture says at least that. The facial expression. The subtle distance between the Pope and Trump. I know it doesn't change anything in terms of policy or politics, but for a man who is obsessed with appearance and pomp, these little moments of embarrassment and resistance begin to add up.

 Well played, your Excellency. 

Speaking of appearances, I'll end with this:

Regardless of your feelings about Melania Trump, you have to love the public embarrassment that she bestowed upon her husband after slapping his hand away upon arriving in Saudia Arabia and then executing a similar move one day later in Rome.

Anytime Trump's brand or image is tarnished, I rejoice.

Until I can cast another vote in favor of his opponent, I will continue to call my Representatives and Senators, support my friends who feel forgotten or attacked by this administration, attend rallies and protests, and take great pleasure in these little moments of resistance, whatever the source. 

Seven and counting...

One of our Speak Up storytelling shows earlier in the year featured four former storytelling workshop students who have gone on to tell stories at Moth StorySLAMs in New York, Boston, and Burlington, VT. 

 In fact, two of them competed in the same StorySLAM in December of last year in New York, unbeknownst to them.

I don't have the actual count of former workshop students who have gone on to perform for The Moth, but the number easily exceeds two dozen. 

Even more thrilling, six of my former workshop students have gone on to win Moth StorySLAMs. If I include a rabbi from a recent retreat where I taught, the number is now seven. 

One of them has even won a GrandSLAM.

The fact that almost all of these people live in Connecticut makes this number even more surprising. Moth StorySLAMs are held on week nights, meaning these folks committed significant time and resources in order to travel to Boston or New York on a work night to compete in a Moth StorySLAM and arrive back home well after midnight. 

I've also had many of my friends - more than a dozen - go to The Moth and tell stories. Friends who have seen me brave the New York or Boston stage and then followed in my footsteps.

One of my former fifth grade students has gone to The Moth with me and told a story. 

Many, many more friends and workshop students have also told stories on Speak Up stages. 

All of this thrills me. I like to think back to that July evening in 2011 when I stepped into the Nuyorican's Poets Cafe in New York City to tell my first (and what I thought would be my last) story for The Moth. It was a hinge upon which my life has turned forever. It was a moment that ultimately enriched my life and Elysha's life in ways we could never have predicted. It has introduced us to so many remarkable people. Made us so many new friends. Brought me to stages around the country and the world. Launched a business that has us producing shows throughout the state and beyond and has me teaching storytelling to individuals, schools, universities, corporations, and more.

It's been a surprising and remarkable journey. 

But when I think about the multitude of ways that my life changed on that July night in 2011, I often think first about all the other people who I have brought to the stage to share their stories, open their hearts, speak their truths, and kick some Moth ass.

Watching so many people follow in my footsteps into storytelling has been one of the most rewarding parts of all. 

Be happy for rule breakers

A rule I live by:

If someone is breaking a rule, and the breaking of that rule hurts no one, always leave the rule breaker alone. Leave them be. Don't rat them out. Don't wish them ill will of any kind. 

This seems like a fairly obvious rule to follow, but when the rule breaker is enjoying a privilege that you are not or avoiding a responsibility that you still have, it seems to become exponentially more difficult for people to adhere to this basic tenet of decency.

Jealousy and a misguided need for fairness seems to permeate these situations, creating anger, jealousy, and sometimes even disclosure. 

For example, if your coworker parks his car in the conveniently located garage normally reserved for executives and is getting away with it while you continue to park in the assigned parking lot half a mile away from the building, you should be happy for your colleague. Excited, even. He's beating the system. Pulling the wool over the eyes of the executives. 

He's taking a calculated risk and may get caught someday, but you should play no role that disclosure.

His rule breaking is hurting no one. 

Reporting his violation would place you in the same category of single celled organisms:

Very small and very stupid.  

Another example:

If your job requires you to submit a complex, time consuming progress report every Friday, but your colleague doesn't submit the report and her failure to comply goes unnoticed, be happy for your colleague. Excited about her daring and successful attempt to beat the system. 

Yes, it's true. Your colleague is avoiding work that you must still complete, but she has not changed your life in any way. Your workload has not increased. Your boss's perception of you remains the same. You should not be annoyed. Her attempt to circumvent an assignment has no bearing on your life or your future. 

Unless of course you're a fairness monger. A rule following referee. A person so disappointed with your own life that you can't take pleasure in the good fortune of others.    

This is really no different than real life. My friend, for example, lives next door to his retired parents. He has never paid for a babysitter and never bought a diaper. His parents restock his diaper supply whenever needed. His mother has even been known to do the laundry while watching the kids.

My mother is dead. I've seen my father four or five times in the last ten years and barely know him. My in-laws live two hours away and still work full time. 

I have spent thousands of dollars on babysitters over the years, and I paid for every single diaper that my children wore. 

Am I angry about my friend's good fortune? Jealous?

Of course not. I'm happy for him. Just like I'm happy when one of my colleagues when they manage to avoid a needless, fruitless responsibility or break an arcane, bureaucratic rule while harming no one, even if I am still saddled with that responsibility or rule. 

 

Baseball players are damn cowards

On Wednesday night, Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flipped his bat at home plate before rounding the bases after hitting a home run. 

Flipped his bat. Tossed it into the air so that it rotated as it fell to the ground. 

On Thursday night, Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran intentionally hit Bautista in the left thigh in the top of the first inning. 

The reason?

The Braves weren't pleased by Bautista's bat flip  in Wednesday night's game. Bat flipping in Major League Baseball is considered showboating. Making the pitcher look bad. Over-celebratory. 

Please note: Had the pitcher struck out Bautista, he could've fist pumped several times while standing on the mound with no repercussions. He could've leapt into the air. Shouted a barbaric yawp.  

But flipping a bat?

No. Too much. In response to a bat flip, the perpetrating player must stand still in a box drawn in chalk while a member of the opposing team throws a 90 MPH baseball at him like a damn coward. 

I love baseball, but I hate the sensitivity of baseball players. Their endless list of unwritten rules. And I especially hate the cowardly, pathetic, shameful retaliation that happens when pitchers throw baseballs at batters because the batter did something inappropriate earlier in the game.   

If you want to retaliate with violence (which is what throwing a baseball at another human being is), do so face to face. Man to man. 

Even better, keep your tender emotions in check when the big, mean man flips his baseball bat into the air after hitting a home run. Muscle through the emotional assault on your fragile psyche and strike the guy out next time. 

Someone please inform baseball players that winning is the best revenge. That throwing baseballs at players who have no chance of getting out of the way is childish, pathetic, and one of the greatest acts of cowardice perpetrated on network television on a regular basis. 

The Moth: The Robbery

In March of last year, I told this story at the Brooklyn Academy of Music about an armed robbery that I experienced in 1993. It was the hardest story I've ever told but also one of the most important for me. 

Post traumatic stress disorder is a serious problem for many of our veterans returning from war and many other Americans in general.I was fortunate enough to get the help I needed but many do not. If you know someone who is struggling, please let them know that therapy works.   

I choose to remember by aunt Diane in a way I never got to see her.

My Aunt Diane passed away yesterday. A sudden and unexpected loss.

Diane - sister to my father - was one of seven children who once lived on a sprawling piece of land in Blackstone, Massachusetts. I grew up next door to that home and spent much of my childhood on the same land where she once played as a child.  

Back then, my grandparents were still alive and well. Living with them under the same roof were my great grandfather and great uncle, and for a time, my uncle Neil and my aunts Sheila and Diane, who were still young enough to be living at home. 

I like to think about the days when Diane and her siblings were children, filling the small house and scattering through the fields and forest that stretch beyond. It must have been a lovely time for my grandparents. A glorious time. Four boys and three girls, young and strong and bursting with life, filling every nook and cranny of that home. So loud and so chaotic and so full of love.  

I only caught a glimpse of that time in my aunt Sheila, who was still a teenager when I was little. I would visit with her after school, sitting on the end of her bed, listening to her tell me all about her adventures in high school. By then the rest of her siblings had moved on, but I could see the evidence of a time since past in the wrecks of cars in the back fields, the toys still lingering in corners of the house, and the constant visits from aunts and uncles who still seemed young enough to be in high school.

Young enough that a few of my high school teachers would shout, "Brian!" when angry at me for something I had done.

Apparently my uncle had left an impression on them not easily forgotten. 

Seven siblings, so young and full of potential. Kids growing up in an age before the Internet and computers, when so much of life was spent in the fields and forest, under the hoods of enormous cars in an oily garage, and under the water in swimming pools and ponds.

I wish so much that I could go back for a day and see them in their glory. One day to see them as children again, strong and together and unstoppable. 

My aunt Sheila died tragically in a doctor's office while receiving a routine allergy shot when she was still very young. My uncles Harry and Neil passed away a few years ago.

Now my aunt Diane has passed.

From seven they are now just three. My father, an aunt, and an uncle. The idea of a family so large and so full of life disappearing person by person devastates me. 

Not-so-long time ago, seven small children who would one day become my father, my aunts, and my uncles lived in the tiny town of Blackstone, Massachusetts. They ran and played and laughed and grew. They found work. They fell in love. The sun was warm on their backs and the grass was soft underfoot.

This is how I like to remember them. This is how I will remember my aunt Diane. Young and strong and infinite. I never witnessed the childhood days of those seven children, yet this is how I like to think about them. Imagine them. Remember them. So full of promise and time and life. 

The Two-Day Rule: A means by which I have become more productive and trusted.

When I'm upset - angry or enraged or disappointed or annoyed - the rule I try to live by is this: 

Stop.

It turns out that the words or actions that upset me today are often meaningless and irrelevant tomorrow. Almost nothing seems as bad the next day. So I try to say nothing whenever possible, particularly when I'm upset with someone whose relationship I value or depend upon.

I wait. Two days if possible. Two days of inaction often makes everything better. 

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This was not always the case. There was a time when my response to anger was immediate and direct. I was known for my biting, caustic, unwavering retaliation. And I was good at it. As one friend said, "You always know the worst thing to say at the best moment."

There are times when I still put this skill to use, but whenever possible, I hold back and wait. Some have said that I have "mellowed out" over the years. "Calmed down." "Chilled out."

Not true. The fires of retaliation still burn brightly in my soul. Those worst things at the best moment still leap to my mind. The two day rule was put into place for the sake of productivity. It turns out that a reduction in conflict and drama in my life yields more time for accomplish my goals. I get more done when I'm not trying to verbally assault my offenders. My mind is clear. My thoughts are directed toward more productive matters.

Unexpectedly, this shift has also caused people to seek my counsel on a regular basis. I spend much of my week offering advice on personal and professional matters, primarily (I think) because I am seen as someone who is thoughtful, trustworthy, and grounded. Stable. No longer as reactionary or unpredictable.  

This is not as good for my productivity, but a reputation that has served me well.

The two-day rule doesn't apply, of course, to my children or my students. It is critical that inappropriate behavior be dealt with as soon as possible if you have any hope of affecting a meaningful change in a young person, so even if I'm annoyed or angry with the child for their behavior, I address the problem directly. 

It also doesn't apply to situations like my podcast, Boy vs. Girl, where verbal repartee is expected and demanded. My co-host, Rachel, and I often disagree, but that is part of the show. There are times when verbal sparring is expected, invited, and even desired. There are moments when people demand my instantaneous reaction. In these cases, I don't hold back.  

This rule also doesn't apply to encounters with strangers, since any delay in response will result in the loss of an opportunity at retribution. If I'm never going to see the person again, I may need to express my outrage or disappointment immediately before that person exits my life forever. 

Yes, it's true that a day or two later, their perceived crime against humanity might seem decidedly less egregious, but I'm not willing to take that chance. I fire away.  

But when it comes to family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else whose relationship I value, I try to exercise patience whenever possible. Wait a day or two before you open your mouth in anger or to complain and you'll find yourself almost never opening it in anger and almost never complaining.

Verbal sparring: Don't allow your opponent (Trump) prescribe beliefs to you

A bit of advice to all of the journalists and news anchors who are interviewing Donald Trump (or any other politician):

When Trump says makes a wildly false assertion and then adds, "I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it," it's perfectly acceptable and even advisable to say something like:

"Actually, Mr. President, I don't know it. And I know a lot of people who also don't know it."

Trump uses this amateurish tactic with journalists constantly, and I have yet to hear a single one challenge his assertion. I assume that it's because they don't want to derail their interview by provoking Trump to anger or placing themselves at the center of the conversation, but you can't simply allow the subject of your interview to push his beliefs onto you and then use those supposedly shared beliefs to defend himself.  

Please, journalists. Push back. Most of the time, you don't "know it." No one except Trump knows it. Don't allow him to normalize his lies by allowing him to pin them upon you as well. 

One man. Two dozen women. A bunch of interesting questions.

This summer I'll be spending a week teaching at Miss Porter's School, a boarding and day school for girls located in Farmington, CT.

This only makes sense. 

From 1996-1999, I attended an all-women's college, and ever since graduating, I have continued to live in a female world. As an elementary school teacher for almost 20 years, I am almost exclusively in the company of women. It's not uncommon for me to be the only man in a room of 20 or more people.

It just happened a couple days ago. 

In fact, NEVER in my professional life have I attended a meeting, training session, workshop, or staff breakfast where there were more men in the room than women.

As I write these words, I am sitting in a cafeteria at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. There are about 25 people in the room with me, and once again, I am the only man.  

The ratio of women to men in all of my storytelling workshops is about 10:1. 

Even publishing is dominated by women. I've worked with six different editors on my various books and five different magazine editors over the course of my publishing career. 

All women. My literary agent, my film agent, and my publicist are also all women.   

I truly live in a women'a world.

Last week I attended an orientation session at Miss Porter's. As I was shuffling through my paperwork, one of the women at the table leaned over and said, "There are 23 women in this room, and you are the only man. What is that like?"

I told her that I hadn't even noticed, which was true. She didn't believe me, not understanding that this male-female ratio was nothing new for me.

She pressed. "Even if you didn't noticed, what is it like? You're the only guy here. You stick out like a sore thumb. What's that like? I mean, everyone knows you're the only guy here. It's one of the first things you notice. One guy. Isn't that strange? "

I wanted to tell her that I had felt perfectly comfortable with the situation until she implied that perhaps I shouldn't be, but even that wasn't true. I told her, with all honesty, that I feel at home in situations like this, and that over the years, I have learned to function quite well in large groups of women, despite my occasionally aggressive and possibly impolite nature in other contexts.

I live by my personal mantra: Speak less and speak least. 

I'm not sure she believed me. Who could blame her? Had the tables been turned and she was the only woman in a room of 23 men, she would likely feel very different. 

Later, we were asked to engage in the team building activity that required us to build the tallest tower with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows. I had our team simply lift the table when the time came to measure the height of each structure.

When a young woman complained that she would need to mail a form home for her mother's signature, I suggested she simply sign her mother's name, explaining that no one cares what the paperwork looks like as long as it's complete.

For years, I have been filling in the "Position" line on paperwork as "Upright" and no one has said a word. 

When another woman complained that she didn't have a professional reference to include on a form, I offer her my name.

"But you don't know me," she said.

"I do now," I replied. "Problem solved."  

I continued to suggest similar nefarious and corner-cutting strategies to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. At last one of the women leaned across the table and asked, "So how long have you been a grifter?"

I thought it was an amusing comment. Not entirely true, but perhaps a hint of truth. 

The first woman then leaned over to me and whispered, "So that's how you do it. You teach women to break rules."

Also not true, though in my experience, I have found that women are far more likely to follow rules and procedures than men, even when those rules and procedures make little sense. 

I'm sure there was a time when I felt odd or out of place in a room of women, but somewhere along the way, probably in college or perhaps in those first couple years of teaching, it stopped being a thing for me. 

I barely notice anymore.

But I'm left wondering: Though I may not notice that I am the only man in a room filled with women, how often do the women in the room notice that I am the only man, and what are they thinking?

Shorter is almost always better

I am and will always be an admirer for anyone who understands that the shorter sermon, the shorter meeting, the shorter training session, and the shorter story are almost always the best versions of those things. 

Time is our most precious commodity. In truth, it's our only precious commodity. Honor it as such. When standing before a group of people, I have an obligation - a duty - to be relevant, engaging, entertaining, and concise.

Every single time. 

If my meeting is scheduled to last an hour, and it lasts exactly one hour, I have failed. The goal should not to fill the hour but to accomplish my goals in less than the allotted time.

This is what is known as being efficient. The definition of this word is one of the most beautiful collection of words in the English language:

Efficient: achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.

Strive to be efficient in all things, including meetings. These ministers get it.

Best tweet ever

I've been using Twitter since 2008. My handle is @MatthewDicks. Jump on a platform early enough and your name is always available. 

I receive much of my news via links provided by the people and news organizations I follow on Twitter.

I communicate with friends, acquaintances, and business associates via tweets.

I tweet at Donald Trump - not because I think he'll ever read my tweets - but because it makes me feel good. 

Of the tens of thousands (and maybe more) tweets I've ever read, this is my favorite. It was sent from a woman who identifies herself as Jar and uses the Twitter handle @jell_zebra.

In order to understand the tweet, you need to know that it reads in reverse order. The top tweet was sent on April 22 of 2017. The tweet below it, which she attached to the new tweet, was originally sent on December 20, 2013. 

So many layers of complexity, amusement, and joy in this single tweet. It is truly a peek into a person's soul. 

Incompetent, racist, or both?

I just don't get it. 

Last summer, it was Paul Ryan taking a selfie with a sea of white Republican interns.

Last November it was Mike Pence taking a selfie with a sea of white Republican Senators and Congresspeople.

Last week it was Donald Trump announcing the passing of House's healthcare bill in the Rose Garden with a seas of white, almost exclusively male Congressmen standing behind him. 

Then there was this:

The new header on Donald Trump's Twitter feed, which featured a sea of white faces standing behind him (and the most oddly placed, overly defensive message in the history of Twitter embedded within).

This header was so viciously mocked on Twitter that it came down hours after being posted. 

Now Republican Senators have begun drafting their version of the healthcare bill. The Republican's working group:

13 white men. No women. No person of color.

One of two things is happening:

  1. The Republican leadership is completely blind to the optics of these photos and are clueless when it comes to the image they are presenting. 
  2. These photos are serving as dog whistles to those conservative voters who don't want their President to be black ever again.

So incompetent or racist. Or possibly both. 

I don't like teachers who act like jerks

Q. My third grade son recently came home in tears saying he didn’t want to go to school anymore because he was punished for talking during silent reading. The teacher kept him in from recess. I think this is horrible. It isn’t a teacher’s job to destroy a child’s love for school. Instead of constant punishment for every little infraction, what about using positive reinforcement?

I was asked by a friend to offer an answer to this question. I have a few thoughts:

1. A good teacher will acknowledge and honor the feelings of the parent in this case. As a parent myself, I would also be saddened and concerned if my child came home from school in tears declaring he didn't want to school anymore. This is not something that we should want for any child, and I would likely be just as upset as this parent.

2. We must also acknowledge that this was not the teacher's desired outcome. To think otherwise makes no sense. So yes, the parent is correct when she says that it isn't a teacher's job to destroy a child's love for school, but the teacher knows this already. It wasn't her intention. Assuming otherwise is an emotional response and not useful to solving this problem.

Stating the obvious is never a reasonable argument. 

We must also acknowledge that children say things during emotionally charged moments that they don't necessarily mean, and they often cry in response to varying levels of disappointment. This child's declaration that he doesn't want to return to school is a common refrain made by many kids over the course of their academic career. The child may believe this in the moment but will not feel this way in the long run. When a child says, "I hate you!" to a parent, we know that this is likely a statement made in anger with no real meaning. A similar dynamic may be playing out here.

I taught third grade for ten years. A third grader's statements are not exactly measured and considered.  

3. The parent is also correct that "constant punishment for every little infraction" is not appropriate. But I have no evidence of that here. She is pointing to a single infraction and a single punishment. So I'm hesitant to assume how often infractions are being punished in this classroom.

4. The parent is also correct that positive reinforcement is also effective, but she also is not clear about the amount of positive reinforcement being used in the classroom. Am I to think that this teacher uses no positive reinforcement (which is very unlikely)? Or is the parent proposing that in this particular instance, positive reinforcement would have been more effective than a punishment? 

I can't tell. 

5. Parents must also acknowledge that children are not reliable witnesses to the actions taking place in a classroom. They lack objectivity, perspective, and the background knowledge needed to accurate report events and glean nuance. I used to work with a kindergarten teacher who would tell parents, "I'll only believe half of what they tell me about you if you agree to only believe half of what they tell you about me." The statement is made with some jest, but there is truth in those words, too. 

This is why open channels of communication between parents and teachers are essential. 

6. I always think that a phone call to a teacher is always better than a letter to some arbitrary expert. If a parent wants to affect immediate change for their child, a conversation with the teacher is the best route to take.    

As for the response made by Stallings to this question (and my own advice), here is what I think:

Positive reinforcement is an excellent way of promoting positive behavior, but Stallings' description of positive reinforcement as "little trinkets, tchotchkes, gewgaws, kickshaws, and surees" is either a misunderstanding or a mischaracterization of the many ways that positive reinforcement can operate.

Positive reinforcement - absent any extrinsic, physical rewards - is extremely effective when the teacher-student relationship is strong. When my students know that I love them and want nothing but the best for them, a positive word of encouragement can mean the world to them. When students want to please or impress their teacher, positive reinforcements in the form of verbal recognition for a job well done are incredibly powerful at any age.

But we all know this. When your spouse tells an audience that she is proud of you, or your best friend says that he respects the hell out of you, or a colleague tells you that your support has changed her life, these words stay with us forever. Similarly, when I tell a student that I am proud of they way she persisted through a math problem or impressed with the way he compromised with a classmate, those positive words increase the likelihood that those behaviors will be repeated again. 

This is what effective positive reinforcement looks like, but it begins with the teacher-student relationship. If a teacher has not taken the time to forge a bond with the child, positive reinforcement is decidedly less effective. 

This is not to say that there is no role for consequences. I am considered the master of consequences in many teaching circles, often finding punishments that are specific, appropriate, and astonishing to students. Teachers come to me looking for consequence suggestions. Recently a student who did not complete her homework was required to write a list of 50 complimentary statements about her sister (who she claims to despise) in cursive. This consequence accomplished several goals:

  • It forced the student to spend time that should have been spent on homework.
  • It re-established equity between the student and her classmates, who had taken the time to complete their assignment. 
  • It gave the student the opportunity to practice her cursive writing and grammar.
  • It demanded a certain level of creativity.
  • It hurt. She hated writing the list, though when she was done at the end of the week, she laughed with her friends about the list.
  • Her parents approved of the consequence. They thought it was both amusing and appropriately time consuming.

For this particular student, writing about the intelligence and beauty of her sister in cursive was an excellent consequence. 

For another student, taking away a recess might be appropriate. While I use this particular consequence extremely rarely, it can be highly effective in changing the behavior of specific students. 

Regardless of my consequence choice, it is always attached to a conversation about the rationale behind my decision and strategies for avoiding the situation in the future.

This doesn't mean that a student won't cry when assigned a consequence. When my daughter received her first "ticket" from a teacher in kindergarten, she had tears in her eyes when she presented it to us. While the tears broke my heart, she also knew exactly what she did wrong and how to correct it next time. 

The teacher had done his job well. Sometimes kids cry. Sometimes adults cry. It's a simple fact of life. I hugged her, kissed her, and we moved on.

What I didn't like about Stalling's response was the first few sentences of his answer:

He was in tears for having to miss recess? Ah, sweet innocence of youth. Let’s hope he never gets a really tough consequence. Or a boss. Or a job.

I don’t see what the teacher did as either horrible or tear-inducing. My advice would be to have a conversation with your third-grader on the topic of “coping skills.” Because if being kept out of recess has destroyed his love for school, I shudder to think what’s in store when he gets to algebra.

While his advice is solid if grossly incomplete (talk to the child about coping skills), the cavalier attitude toward an emotionally charged situation between a parent and a child serves no purpose here and fails to acknowledge the reality of childhood:

To an eight year-old child, the loss of a recess might be a really tough consequence. It might be the toughest consequence that this child has ever received. While it might still be an appropriate consequence (I don' know enough about the child's history to determine this), we can't simply dismiss the child's feelings as silly or inconsequential. "I shudder to think what's in store when he gets to algebra" is a lousy thing to say to a parent who is worried about her child and a lousy thing to think about a child who has just experienced something frightening and unprecedented, albeit perhaps deserved.

As a student, being sent to the principal's office was not a big deal for me. There were times when I looked forward to the verbal exchange that I was going to have with my principal.

But I know I had classmates who viewed a trip to the principal's office as the worst thing that could possible happen to them, and this was a perfectly valid feeling given their history and disposition.   

Human beings react to the same circumstances in wildly different ways depending on their previous experiences and a variety of other factors. To think that an eight year-old should have a stiff upper lip when faced with a punishment lacks empathy and decency.

I would tell the parent who asked this question to speak to the teacher. I would advise that she approach the conversation as a partner in the education of her child with the assumption that the teacher wants nothing but the best for her son. In 99% of the cases this will be true.

A less combative approach is the best way to proceed and will likely produce the best result possible. 

I made an old lady cry. I asked if I was wrong. Readers responded.

After an avalanche of responses to the post about the incident in which I made an old woman cry in a McDonald's, I have some thoughts if you're interested:

1. The thoughtful, respectful nature of the responses was remarkable, especially considering they were so heavily skewed against me and my decision. While most people thought that some response to the woman was in order, most also thought that my response was not the right one. Still, very few of the responses were rude, antagonistic, or caustic. It warmed my heart to read such reasoned discourse.

2. The suggestions that I should've moderated my comments based upon the woman's age still struck me as agism. While the woman was certainly much older than me and was walking with a cane, she also struck me as mentally acute and perfectly capable of handling herself. She fired off insults at those employees with ease and rapidity.

I also have friends who are in their 70's who would never treat a person in this way, and if they did, I would have no problem with someone letting them have it, particularly if they were foolish enough to then invite a stranger in their cruelty.

More than one reader asked if I would want my elderly mother treated in this fashion. My mother passed away ten years ago, but if my mother had treated McDonald's employees poorly and then told a stranger about how stupid they were, I would understand if the stranger fired back at her. No one wants their mother treated harshly, but no one wants their mother who might be working behind the counter at a McDonald's treated harshly either.

2. Many people also suggested that I should've considered the source of her anger. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Maybe she was suffering from pain that I could not see or understand. It's possible that she just received some bad news. While all of this is true, I don't believe in giving people a pass for acting poorly.

If this were the case, I would be required to speculate about the underlying reason behind every act of cruelty or insensitivity and give everyone's bad behavior a pass. I just don't think that a bad day is an excuse for bad behavior.

Kid President disagrees with me on this one.

3. Many readers felt that an honest, direct approach with the woman was appropriate, but I could've been more compassionate and kinder with my words.  

I think this is right.

A story from a friend is a good example of this:

A few years ago, my son lost his boomerang over a fence while he was playing with it at a local school. He and my husband went to her house and knocked on the door to see if they could get it back. An older woman answered the door and refused to let them back there. She was not nice. They left and my son was upset. Later that day, I dropped a bouquet of flowers on her porch with a note and our number. She called me later and told me how afraid she had been to have strangers around her house since her husband died. She apologized for being rude to Owen and Jay, and invited is over to look. It worked out for all of us. I think you could have been a bit kinder. Not that it was okay for her to be nasty, but you just never know what is going on with people. 

4. Another friend wondered if my reaction was a response to the decade of indignities that I suffered while managing McDonald's restaurants. Was my response at least partially triggered by years of poor treatment by the large swath of customers who think that fast food employees can be treated indiscriminately because of where they work.

mcdonald's.jpeg

This feels right, too. Though people who know me well will tell you that this is not the first time I have been exceptionally direct and confrontational with a stranger in response to poor behavior, I'm sure that my years at McDonald's and the poor treatment that I routinely received influenced this reaction. 

I also think that the employees' race may have played a part. Both woman are Hispanic, and in my years of experience as a McDonald's manager, I found that black and Hispanic employees were routinely treated worse by customers, and especially white customers. As a result, I became overly protective of these employees as a manager, rushing to their defense at every slight. Watching this older, white woman treat these two Hispanic women poorly may have triggered some of those instincts in me. 

My hatred for gossip and behind-the-back cruelty certainly played a role, too. While some readers argued that behind-the-back commentary is a regular part of life, I've always considered this behavior cowardly, petty, and the choice of people who fear confrontation. And after having been attacked by an anonymous coward in an attempt to destroy my life, I am even more sensitive to this behavior. 

5. One last question:

What if the woman didn't cry? What if she fired back at me? Told me to go to hell? Verbally assaulted me in the way she had just done to those McDonald's employees?

I can't help but wonder if the reaction by readers to this incident was the result of the tears shed by the woman. Are we looking objectively at the circumstances or are we responding emotionally to the image of a crying woman?

I can't help but think that if the woman had not cried, or the woman had launched into a tirade of swears, or the woman been a man, reader reactions might have been very different.

Food for thought. 

Things I Do #7: I cut corners

In my relentless, obsessive desire to get ahead and be productive, I purposely attempt to cut every corner in every hallway in order to shorten the distance between the two points and perhaps recapture a little lost time.

This is ridiculous, of course. Unless I am walking an endless array of hallways for hours and hours, the fractional seconds that I am saving by cutting these corners will never amount to anything.

Then again, over the course of a lifetime, they will add up. These fractions of a second, when combined over years and years, will result in a significant amount of time. Unfortunately, these fractions of a second can never be added up in any practical sense and used in one large chunk,  and therefore they will always remain as tiny, useless fragments.   

Still, I do it. And it feels right. And therein lies the crazy.