Monday, May 25, 2015

You Have Power, Are You Abusing It?

Power!  Realize it or not, recognize it or not, you have power and you use it daily.

For example, if you are a parent, you exercise power.  If you have responsibility at the workplace affecting others under you, you have power.  It is obvious that some have more power than others and that there is a clear structural hierarchy of power in any society.  What may not be so obvious is that we all exercise power over someone at various times and circumstances in our lives, and we all have a certain amount of personal power, wherever we may find ourselves in the social hierarchy of power.

And that’s why we get into power struggles.  What’s a “power struggle”?  It’s a battle of the wills.  It’s a stand-off as to who is going to get his/her way.  It might play out in direct defiance to authority or passive resistance to outside pressure.  It can be direct or indirect, aggressive or passive, militant or peaceful.  But it is still a question of who is going to have the last word, the final say, or determine the end result.

When we want our way badly enough we’re often tempted to use sheer force, if we can get away with it.  For, resorting to naked power is the easiest way to get something done, that is, to get someone to do something we want them to do.  Demand, order, command, and make it so!  Ordering someone to do something gets the deed done, quickly, effectively, and efficiently—that’s why the military, for example, is run by strict lines of command.  This kind of use of power, however, seldom serves the interpersonal relationship well.  (For example, consider the parent/child relationship—especially when the kids become teens.)

Of course there are places and times in which simple military type commands and demands are in order and are expected and required, whether at work or at play: “Take care of that.  See that this gets done.  Fix it.  Do this, get that.”  Simple commands, no questions asked, no explanation required.  Follow instructions and do as you’re told.  That’s how it works in a chain of command situation at work, at home, or on the playing field.  And that’s why power is structured and well-marked in most social circumstances: titles and uniforms, badges of authority, authorized positions, and other signifiers of power.

But as we all know, power can be abused and anyone with power tends to do so.  It seems to be human nature to move in the direction of abusing power.  Consider our most recent concern over police power and their quick use of firearm against inner-city black youth.  Hence, there is a reason why our governmental system is one of “Checks and Balances”!

I think it is safe to say that people who are given much power over others need to be regularly “checked” (thinking of “checks and balances”) in order to avoid the abuse of that power.  Furthermore, we should not only monitor the obvious offices and positions that use power to get their work done, such as police, politicians, and military personnel, but those who have and wield the more subtle power of monetary influence, including huge financial institutions, that directly or indirectly affect our nation’s economic health and well being. 

Power is both authorized and assumed.  Authorized power comes from taking on certain roles or positions.  Police officers have authorized power.  Assumed power comes from one’s own inner strength, will, and charisma.  There is usually a constant interplay of mutual reinforcement between the two sources of power within any given individual.  Individuals that fail to recognize acknowledge or own their power are most apt to unintentionally side-step appropriate lines of accountability and thus tend to abuse their unacknowledged power.  Individuals who do acknowledge and recognize their power while deliberately avoiding open lines of accountability for its use are surely abusing it.  In either case, the result is the lack of true accountability of power and the inevitable abuse of that power.  Individuals in positions of power not only need to recognize and own the power that they have, they also need to accept avenues of accountability for its use.

Power has purpose.  There is always intention behind one’s use of power.  To what end should human personal and/or political (social) power be used?  Answer: personal and social (positional) power should be used for the good—to benefit those directly and indirectly affected by one’s use of power, including one’s self.  This is in contrast to power that is used for selfish, self-serving, egotistical, and egocentric purposes and ends.  Thus, when one is in a professional position of power, one must exercise that power for professional purposes—for the good of society, his or her community—and seldom, if ever, use it for personal gain or personal satisfaction.

Thus, the good exercise of power does not seek to merely control others.  Rather, it seeks to enhance and empower others to be better and do better, to become more empowered to excel and do well and to positively contribute to the collective good—at work, at play, or at home.

And so, for example, on a personal level, when we want someone to do something for us or with us, we would seldom say that we want them to do so out of a motivation of fear or guilt or shame or mere obligation to us.  This is what the bad exercise of force leads to, when used to control others.  It may get the effect one wants—the desired “obedience,” but the so-called obedience or compliance then comes with anger and resentment in the person so controlled.  This kind of use of power is self-defeating and is often eventually challenged.  It damages the true cohesiveness of society and community.  The use of naked power to control others never builds a healthy community.  On the other hand, the wise use of power, in a context of open and reciprocated accountability, invites others to self-empowerment to freely choose that which is productive, good, and constructive.  That is personal power well used for the collective good.  This is what all politicians, financial money barons, and military/police force types should never forget.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How Are You Changed?

People change.  That’s good—if it’s for the better.  Hopefully it is, though not always. 

We may think that we do not like change, especially as we get older.  Indeed, the older I get the more I like routine and predictability.  It makes negotiating through life much easier.  Yet, change is constant.  It should also be so with us.

Change is the norm for the young and so they adapt easily enough.  The older have a harder time of it.  And that’s why they resist it.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a study somewhere that shows that the elderly do much better (emotionally, psychologically, physically) when they embrace and “go with the flow” of change rather than fight and resist it.

What we elderly types need to realize is that even though we’re older, we still need to develop, change, and grow—internally.  We can always be better people, become wiser, kinder, more patient, or whatever.  When an older person gets to the point where he or she thinks: “I’ve arrived.  I no longer need to learn.  I no longer need to question my assumptions or test my conclusions; I know what I know and that’s final,” he or she is in trouble and/or will cause a lot of trouble.

It’s funny; many teenagers think the same way (I know what I know…).  Is it possible that the elderly can enter into a second teen life mentally and attitudinally—as in for example: “The world should revolve around me, I know (it all), don’t tell me what to do; it’s my life!”  I suppose it is.  Or perhaps it’s that some of us never grow out of that stage in life.

The fact is that over the years I have met some very wise, malleable and mature teens in my life.  I say “malleable” because they grow and develop by remaining flexible and adaptable, adjusting their perceptions and conclusions as they learn, remaining open to new insights and perspectives.  Wise and mature adults, no matter how old they get, never lose this trait.  This is the kind of change that one should always welcome and embrace in one’s self.

It is not accepting change for the sake of change itself.  It is learning to adjust to a changing world, an ability to adapt to changing circumstances, a willingness to accept new information and insight and to embrace their consequences with the necessary alterations to one’s mental habits and predilections—which is not easily done the older we get, but still necessary if we are to continue on the pathway of growth and maturity.

In our youth oriented society, though, the real challenge is learning how to keep the generations connected with each other so that we journey life together, as opposed to one generation dismissing the other as irrelevant and unnecessary to its own age group.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why It’s Better Being a Grandparent

I am immensely enjoying being a grandparent, much more than being a parent.  Why?  Well, it’s more fun and less stressful.  But most of all, I am older and wiser and therefore much more patient and understanding.  I now have the luxury of truly being focused on the child.

Okay, I don’t have the kids 24/7.  That takes away much of the stress right there.  And even when our grandchild does come over for the day, the caretaking is shared with my wife—who carries the larger share of the childcare burden.  So, I’ve got it pretty nice.  That means that most of the time I spend with my granddaughter is free time, fun time, relational time, which means quality time.  And that’s what makes it nice.

I recently took my two year old granddaughter to McDonalds.  It’s been a while since I’ve been there.  I discovered that they still sell “Happy Meals.”  (Apparently they’re supposed to be more nutritious nowadays.)  It was our first McDonalds trip together, just me and my granddaughter.

We sat.  We ate.  She had chicken nuggets with sweet & sour sauce, apple juice, and fries.  She willingly sat in the high chair, took a few bites of the nuggets, first carefully dipping it in the sauce, and drank some of her juice.  Then she looked around and noticed the indoor playground.  The meal was over.  We were in the enclosed play area with an indoor jungle gym with two huge tubular slides.  The minute she took this in and realized what it was, she was clearly done eating.  She wanted to play.  And that was fine by me.  That’s why I took her there in the first place.

So I got up, took her out of her high chair and set her down on the floor and let her go at it.  Of course, I followed her.  At two years, she was a bit too small for the big tubular slides, but she was big enough to get up on the lower base level, which she promptly did.  I watched as she watched the other kids go up and down and climb around.  She was delighted.  She also enjoyed climbing up onto the stationary swivel chairs that were permanently attached to the eating tables.  She tried several that were at various empty tables.

I just watched.  And that’s the thing.  I just watched.  I was focused on enjoying her enjoying herself.  I was delighted by her delight.  As I mentioned there were other kids there too, with their parents.  I especially noticed this one couple with their two boys.  All the parents there were keeping watch over their children, including this couple.  But they were also multitasking, especially this one couple: on their cell phones or iPads, surfing the web, texting, dialing, communicating, taking care of business, or doing whatever while watching their kids.

In other words, the kids were in their peripheral vision, secondary, given partial attention.  I can’t and don’t blame them.  As a parent, I was the same, would be still doing the same.  But, as a grandparent, I had the privilege and the luxury of giving my granddaughter my full attention.  Yes, I had my iPhone with me.  And I did use it.  I used it to take a couple of quick photos of my granddaughter on the jungle-gym.  What freedom, what luxury!!  To be able to just enjoy the joy of my granddaughter at play without having to multitask and try getting other necessary business out of the way—that is the joy of being a grandparent.

Our American lifestyle causes many families to break up and move apart.  Grandparents live miles and miles away from their grandchildren.  Adult siblings also live miles apart from each other, cousins rarely see each other, but for the holidays.  What a shame.  I could see how my grandchild benefits greatly from living near her grandparents on both sides.  The parents have it that much easier as well: for one, there is free baby sitting available on a regular bases, or especially when there is an immediate need in a crunch.

I am now convinced more than ever of our need for extended family—it takes a village.  If one’s biological family is not nearby, there should be other connections made in one’s church or synagogue, for example, that could make up for the loss.  It seems that our society is losing the value of the extended family, beyond the nuclear family unit.  We need real community, connecting the young with the elderly, giving parents freedom to get away and be away, with confidence, from their kids, allowing for extended family relations (who do have the time) to give focused attention to their growing children.  Not all of us should be on the fast track.  Many grandparents (or other mature elderly types) have the freedom and are able to make time in a busy week to give that wonderful attention to children that they long for.  For, as the saying goes, they grow up fast, and soon enough they will neither need nor want such focused attention.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Can Pastors Predict a Bad Marriage at the Wedding?

I’ve performed more than a few weddings over the years as a pastor, and not all those that I have wedded have stayed together.  And I’m not in the least surprised.

Please note: I neither take credit for the marriages that have thrived nor do I accept blame for the marriages that have failed, of those I have wedded.  You see, an eager couple ready to be married rarely listens to a pastor’s advice anyway.  At such a time the couple is not interested in pastoral advice, and usually assumes that premarital-counseling is really unnecessary.  Love is blind, as the cliché goes, and so there is a kind of willful ignorance to any warning signs or danger signals that their marriage may be doomed from the start.  After all, love is sufficient, isn’t it?

So, what a couple really wants from the pastor is a skillful articulate officiator who will perform the wedding ceremony with expertise and finesse so that it has grace and style—at least that’s what the bride wants.  The groom, he simply wants efficiency so that he can get through it quickly enough and with the least amount of effort.

So what are some signs that a marriage is doomed to failure?  Two words sum it up: disrespect and dishonesty.  Both of these characteristics play-out very subtly, are rarely detected upfront, and are not usually consciously known, let alone owned and admitted to, by the perpetrator.

Take disrespect.  Here’s an example: Sometimes a bride will be warned, “You know that your fiancée is known for being a… (Insert a bad character-trait here)?”  And her response goes something like this: “I know.  But I’m going to change that.  I’ll change him.”  She is obviously assuming that she has the power to change the man.  She is wrong.  She doesn’t.  And, she’ll find out the hard way.  Ironically what’s at the bottom of her assumption is disrespect for his person—believing that she can, should, and does have the power to change who he is.  Only he can change who he is; it must come from the inside out, not forced from the outside in.  Hence, if either bride or groom goes into a marriage with this kind of attitude toward the other, it is a sure bet that their marriage won’t last.

The same is true when a groom believes he has the right to dominate and control his wife, as in “I expect her to be a submissive and obedient wife!”  This attitude is rarely stated so blatantly and openly, but the tell-tail signals are there from the get-go.  This too is a matter of disrespect, because no one has the right to control anyone—not even within a marriage, or especially within a marriage; not even the so-called “man of the house.”  Yet, there are many grooms who harbor exactly that kind of attitude over their brides: “Once we’re married, you will do what I say.”  This marriage is also heading for failure.

Now take dishonesty.  Of course, a couple need not tell each other’s most hidden and deepest of their life’s secrets in order to have a successful marriage—especially if such a secret is something of the past that has been adequately addressed and dealt with.  In that case, the past is the past and it is water under the bridge.  Leave it be.  However, present issues and realities in one’s life that one hides from one’s fiancée; that’s a different story altogether!  If bride or groom is fearful of how the other might react to knowing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about him or her self, then the relationship is already unstable to begin with.  The marriage is sure to fail because the truth/secret will inevitably be discovered and known.  For, to hide vital or crucial information that may have major consequences to the relationship is no different than telling an outright lie.

Then there is also dishonesty of intention.  Example: A bride may be a devout follower of her faith.  The groom knows this.  While dating, the man seems to embrace her faith, to accept, believe, and practice it as she does.  He knows he wouldn’t get very far with her otherwise.  So, he plays along.  He tries.  He goes to church with her and makes an effort at showing good faith, conforming to her religious practices—until they are married!  Then it stops.  Sometimes it is a sudden and abrupt stop, surprising everyone.  But most of the time it is a slow and steady exit, a missed service here, a lack of interest there, and finally a total lack of participation in anything to do with the faith and its practices.  Thus, in terms of religious faith, he is right back where he may have been when the couple first met—unbelieving and uninterested in the things of faith or religion—passive resistant at best, aggressively offensive at worse.  The marriage is heading for hard times.

Dishonesty and disrespect plays out in many different forms and runs down various avenues.  This can especially be true in the way a couple deals with the question of money and finances.  Finances and household management are foundational to a couple’s stable home life.  Who is to control money-spending decisions and manage the budget?  How is the use and handling of money to be accounted for?

Another area where dishonesty and disrespect may play itself out cruelly is in the couple’s hidden assumptions and expectations as to how children are to be raised and treated.  What is the role and status of children in a household (e.g., are children to be “seen and not heard” or are they to play the central role in family focus at all times)?  How shall the children be disciplined?  Who serves whom (parent or child) when pursuing competing goals and dreams as to family resources, time and profession, career and calling, and personal growth?

There are other issues that need fleshing out and common understanding.  The question of finances and children are the most obvious and critical.  And so the real issue is whether or not a couple respects each other well enough to be able to address these issues openly, honestly, and straightforwardly from the start and are able to have fruitful and productive discussion on these topics without a fall out.  Nevertheless, better to have  a “fall-out” before marriage than after.

Generally speaking, we’ve been at a kind of 50/50 ratio.  This is not exact but its close to it.  That is to say that roughly only half of all marriages actually last a lifetime.  We could do better than that.  We want to do better than that.  Some decide to put-off marriage, live together first and than marry later in life, as if that will guarantee a lasting marriage.  It doesn’t.  What does make a difference is real honesty, healthy self-knowledge, and true mutual respect.

For those of you, who are tying the knot this wedding season of 2015, I pray that you truly enjoy your wedding day and that your marriage will be a truly happy one.