Ever used a compass? It’s really cool!
No matter where you are you can open a compass and see where north is. It gives you a focus and a center so that you have information to help you decide where you are going and where you want to go.
Early in my practice I used to give out a compass to individuals who were graduating from therapy. The best lesson to gain from therapy is to have a sense of who you are, what has happened to you, what that means, and where you want to go. It gives you the tools to find your way in the world. It develops your internal compass.
I think an important part of parenting is to develop within your child an internal moral compass. A sensing system that assists an individual in determining where he is and where he wants to go, and how to get there.
An internal moral compass evolves out of one’s value system and character. It’s markers are through one’s senses, intuition, and mindfulness.
It’s the aspect within yourself that guides you in making decisions about your actions. It helps to define not to steal or cheat, but also it’s the aspect in you that says don’t say that mean thing just because you can – don’t be a bully, be strong through your internal sense of self rather than through pushing another around.
It’s the aspect that guides you to do your heart’s desire rather than the thing that might fit another’s picture of you but pulls you away from yourself.
We develop our intelligence and our picture of how to be in the world through observation and experience, mostly. That means for the most part our children’s connection to values and character come from how we act, behave, and communicate in, and about, the world.
If we say have character but we don’t actually act with character our children will learn to speak one way and behave another. We will not be passing on a sense of security and confidence but rather a dissonant insecurity.
What matters is what we do when we are in a conflict, challenged or faced with a dilemma. If our actions are not congruent with what we have been trying to teach verbally our children will incorporate the action as a way of being in the world. This means it is important to be present and act mindfully in your everyday life.
If you say don’t use curse words then of course don’t use them yourself. If you say have patience then of course have patience with your child. If you say have perseverance and don’t give up – then of course that is how you need to behave yourself. If you say don’t react to your friend’s mean statements on the playground have compassion or remove yourself from the situation then that’s what we have to do with our bosses, and colleagues, and friends too.
Children and adolescents are watching all the time, even when it looks like they are engaged in their books, TV, and music… they’re watching, observing, taking notes, and incorporating our behavior into theirs. If we drink alcohol excessively, use drugs, deny our issues, and check-out on life, lose our temper over minor things – even if we think we have good reason to do so – they will develop those behaviors.
It’s embedded in our DNA to learn in this way.
They also learn from our change in behavior and our owning up to how we make mistakes. So, if we do all of the above and then realize that wasn’t okay, talk about it, and change – really change – that gets incorporated too. Sometimes it takes time for the new data to get incorporated but if we remain consistent in the change then it will have a positive effect.
Developing a moral compass comes from using the everyday experiences in life to show the best way to be in the world. Choosing compassion over reactive anger, patience over reactive frustration, passion over apathy, belief over denial and fear, tenacity and confidence over insecurity. It’s mindfulness, and paradigm shifting, and being balanced in our responses by incorporating a fluency with figure and ground.
I came from a family where perfectionism was highly rated. The problem with this is that it is also somewhat impossible to attain, the result for me was a number of positive character traits and one negative one. Over time I had to learn that perfectionism while great as a goal, was not always feasible and when not met I had to develop a sense of realistic compassion toward myself.
It took me a long time to see that while not perfect I was strong, tenacious, ambitious, talented, and inventive, and that more than anything my anxiety about wanting to do it perfectly the first time was more debilitating than anything else. I had to learn that in some situations I simply could not control the outcome because events would occur that would interfere with my success.
I have had to develop a mindful, loving, and neutral approach to obstacles and a compassionate connection to my self.
Recently, I found myself having to deal with these issues in a very stressful situation with my beloved daughter observing. I was astounded at the immediacy in how she incorporated what she observed.
I was at the end of writing a seminar that I was going to have to facilitate in two days hence. I had been working steadily for 5 hours and had written over 50 slides. I had been saving in my program and was just about to do a save as when the computer did a glitch and all the work was lost. I didn’t panic I went to find what had been saved but all I could find was the first 19 or so of the total 65. It was my first time working in the program and hadn’t realized that it required a save as for a permanent save. All my work for the last 5 hours was gone. The slides were due the next morning.
I could feel the anger and frustration rising in my being but I realized this reaction would not really benefit me and I made a choice to just begin again. I calmly went back to the beginning and began to re-write the slides. I worked steadily using the save as, and five hours later had a great product.
A few weeks later my daughter was working on her computer making a card for her friend Jessie. She put a great deal of effort into the card creating special drawings and additions through her computer drafting. When she was ready to print she hit the wrong key and the picture was lost.
Now my daughter is somewhat sensitive and gets frustrated when things do not work out as she had planned. But to my amazement, instead of throwing a tantrum, or getting upset I watched her as she calmly went into her room and picked up a piece of paper to re-start her card for her friend. I asked her if she was disappointed about losing her work and she said. Yes, but I remembered your slides and what you did so I’m just going to start over, because I don’t have much time and I really want to give this to Jessie.
We really are models for them about how to live in the world. We can help them to thrive or we can help them to feel insecure. We can offer them the skill of patience or reactive action.
Developing our own moral compass and helping them to develop theirs is an important task in parenting. It isn’t perfect, because children come in with their own personal styles of being in the world, their own temperaments, but what we do, our actions and behavior, can either help to extinguish negative aspects or increase positive aspects of their temperament.
Developing your mindfulness and balance in the world will help you to develop your, and your child’s, moral compass. So that you, each, can feel you always have a sense of which way is north and which way you want to go on your path. Mindfulness and congruence are the keys.
See you tomorrow.