Disability and how it affects the family

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Disability comes with many names – autism, Asperger’s, muscular dystrophy, bipolar, Downs – basically any condition that interferes with day-to-day functioning. People with a disability are usually reduced to a bunch of letters and labels – ADD, ADHD, MS, DS, CP, and so on. Disability can be physical, developmental, or both and can vary in degree (mild, moderate, severe). But disability evokes ONE single emotion in the minds of every family hit by it. Fear.

Fear is what you first feel when your child has been diagnosed with something. Fear of what lies ahead. You feel the ground under your feet slipping away.

The general stages that many families go through are Fear, Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, and Positive Acceptance. They may not happen neatly(one at a time) and in any particular order. Just when you think you’ve gotten past the stages and progressed to Positive Acceptance, a challenging phase can trigger one of the earlier stages.

Each family must traverse it’s own individual journey. No two disabilities are alike, no two people affected are like. And no two families are alike. My younger son, 12, has autism. (I also have an older, typically developing son, who’s 16.) I do not have knowledge of disabilities other than autism and I will use that heavily in this post, in terms of examples. I will also write this from a parent- young child perspective (please translate the situation appropriately to other disabilities and other relationships such as caring for a sibling or a parent).

What I hope to share here are some thoughts, experiences, and strategies that may be helpful to all families with disabilities, regardless of the individual diagnoses or differences in the challenges they are facing.

Practical Considerations

1. Get a Comprehensive Evaluation

A thorough evaluation by a professional is not only important to understand your child’s diagnosis, it also becomes the basis for appropriate services.  Do some research and find a professional (such a psychologist, physician, developmental pediatrician, or other expert) that you feel comfortable with in terms of both knowledge and manner.

In the early days, my son’s evaluation gave me the first piece of clarity in all of the chaos – it not only captured his diagnosis accurately, it also summarized his strengths and developmental challenges, and recommended a list of therapies, tools, and services that would help address his challenges. Having something concrete in my hands was a lifesaver. I had a purpose. A sense of direction.  I needed to help him. Therefore I needed to be okay.

2. Research interventions related to the condition.

Beside’s the doctor’s or psychologist’s recommendations, do your own research on what is out there helping those in the same situation. Look for therapies, tools and technology that will help your child learn, communicate, and grow. Get trained in these interventions.

For my son, a host of therapies have been effective – Communicating Partners, Floortime, Applied behavioral Analysis, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Relationship Development Intervention. There are literally 1000s of apps on the iPad to choose from – I use the ones suitable to his needs. I also attend workshops, read books, and get trained on how to use specific techniques to help him learn and grow.  It also helped to teach my older son some play-based strategies so he could find ways to connect with his brother.

3. Start a Journal

Make observations about your child.  Keep track of missed developmental milestones. Also make note of your child’s unique traits, preferences, dislikes, and fears.  What motivates him?  What gets him too excited?  What calms him down?  How does he communicate?  How does his responsiveness vary, based on the environment?  How does he relate to various members in the family?

One of my journal entries from many years ago reads “he likes spinning balls”. Over the years, he was taught many things using various balls (some shiny, some springy, some squishy) as rewards. Now he has graduated to playing basketball with his brother and at school. The next step is to teach him to play basketball in the community (like a neighborhood league).  It all started with a spinning ball.

4. Do some research on funding.

In the US, insurance companies cover some therapies and services, while the government covers others. While at least half the services we use are covered, the other half have been out of pocket – because what is covered can often be inadequate/minimal or have many conditions attached or may not be appropriate for the child in question. Therefore, you might also want to set aside a separate fund for educational tools, supports, and medical appointments. There may be specific government grants and scholarships, educational savings accounts and living trusts, specific to each country. Yes, a disability can be a huge financial drain and requires smart financial planning both for the short and the long term.

5. Read up on Disability Law

There is generally a body of law governing the education of people with special needs. For instance, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law in the US that ensures that every disabled person has a right to an appropriate education, which must be provided by the schools. However, what’s ’appropriate’ can be wishy-washy. Therefore knowledge of the law is crucial.

One day, I was in a meeting with 8 other professionals whose jobs depended on denying as much funding as possible (a psychologist, a behaviorist, a lawyer who was mediating on behalf of the funding agency, my case manager, etc.). I felt so alone. They were all disagreeing with me, denying my son services that were helping him make progress. But I had done my homework and come prepared. I quoted cases, laws, precedents that were relevant. I also had detailed reports and records, videos and proof of his progress. The data spoke the truth. I got the services he needed.

Of course, I would never let them know that there was moment in the meeting when I came close to crying. We seldom realize how strong we are – until we are forced to be.  That was the day I realized – when you understand your rights, knowledge is truly power. You can advocate for a range of services that will help you child achieve his full potential and live as independently and productively as possible.

6. Make a plan for sharing responsibilities. 

Make a list of your new responsibilities and things that need to be done. Discuss with your spouse or other family member how you will share responsibilities and juggle your respective tasks.  Your workload practically triples when your child is diagnosed with special needs.  All of a sudden, you will find yourself becoming a teacher, advocate, therapist, behaviorist, and counselor (besides being a parent).  You will be making multiple appointments, doing a lot of paperwork, and driving a lot more – to therapies, playgroups, support groups, workshops, etc.

Planning, being organized, and sharing responsibilities is the only way to fit in everything and ensure all the important areas are being addressed.

Emotional Well-being

1. Allow yourself to Grieve

I researched interventions, recorded behaviors in journals, built spreadsheets for tracking goals and flowcharts to design his programs. What I couldn’t do easily was grieve.

I felt grieving was an act of betrayal toward my son. If I sit down and cry (even in private), will he sense it on some level? Will it sadden him? Which child would want to feel responsible for making his parents sad?

My husband, like many men, was also uncomfortable with talking about our son’s autism outside of problem solving.

It was finally on our first visit back home, (2 years after diagnosis) in India, in my childhood room that it happened. We were talking about his autism and my husband broke down. I was caught by surprise. I had never seen him cry. I too cried about it, for the very first time.

I realized I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t disloyal. I wasn’t weak. I just needed to cry. It was intensely cathartic.

The crying did not change our love or commitment to him one bit. It opened the floodgates for us. We’ve had many discussions since then about things we were uncomfortable broaching. About our fears. About his future. Giving words to the unknown makes it known. And the known is easier to deal with.

2. Start Building Supports and Networks

Recognize that you are in crisis mode, at least in the first 2 years, until you’ve figured out supports and services. Look to your family and friends for supportive people who are willing to help and can take on tasks for which you simply do not have the time or energy.  Sometimes having a cup of coffee with a friend can go a long way in relieving some of the stress. Form a support group with other like-minded parents in the same situation.

3. Don’t forget your child is a child first. His condition is secondary.

Your child still needs to be loved and cared for. He needs to play and have fun. For that, he needs a relaxed parent.

It was hard for me to be relaxed in the beginning because I had so much on my plate. But playing with my son and letting him be a child magically reduced my stress levels. If he does something annoying, I try to remember he could be doing it because he’s a child and not necessarily because of his condition. I try to refrain from looking at every action of his through the autism lens.

4. Build independence and pride for your child.

I also have been working on making him as independent as possible. We don’t have a handicapped-parking permit because I taught my son to walk safely in the parking lot, so others who truly need it may avail of it. We don’t use special passes at amusement parks because we have managed to teach our son to wait in line (again so these can be used by people who genuinely need them). I want him to know he will be given help and support but he does not need crutches. My son needs to help out with chores like everyone else in the family. I will not do anything for him that he is capable of doing himself. He has developed a sense of pride in himself. He will struggle with something for the longest time and do it himself rather than take help, in many instances.

5. Figure out ways to support the needs of other members in the family.

Siblings get the hardest hit. Make sure you dedicate one on one time with your other child/children. Be involved with them, partake in their activities, and be supportive and understanding of their own struggles. If they have negative feelings toward their sibling with special needs, you need to listen, validate, and teach them practical ways to deal with everyday problems arising out of their sibling’s condition.

Siblings of children with special needs can go in two very different directions. They can take on a lot of stress and break down under it and really “act out”. Or they can learn to deal with the challenges positively – in the latter case, they tend to become mature beyond their years.

Reading, running, and chess are three activities I share with my older son. When we discuss books or play chess, we are being friends and equals. When we run, he beats me every single time! The rest of the time, I have to be a parent to him, an adult, of course. But when we do something we both enjoy, we are building an easy bond that sort of helps us tide over tensions during other times.

6. Humor can be survival.

Humor is the best medicine, yes. In the absence of a cure, it’s the only one. Don’t forget to kid around. In my family, we all poke good-natured fun at each other. It’s our most cherished tradition.

7. Don’t get exhausted. Take breaks.

I religiously go for my Sunday morning hike with my friends. I also go to my monthly book club. My husband and I go out for Friday lunch dates, every other week. My husband likes to go to Fry’s Electronics to browse or watch the local baseball matches with his buddies. We stick to these activities no matter what. Taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of our children. Also the latter is ineffective without the former. (Remember the flight attendant’s safety mask announcement.)

8. Be an Effective Parent

Remember that no professional can know and understand a child to the degree of intimacy that a parent can.  It is only possible for a parent to deeply know his/her child due to the constant proximity and the very nature of the parent-child relationship.  However, many parents may be so distressed by the diagnosis that they may lose sight of this important fact – a knowledgeable parent can be an indispensable and powerful member of the child’s intervention team.  You truly have the power to help your child be the best that he can be.  You will not be able to do it alone – you will need help from professionals, family, and friends – but it all begins with you.  When you are able to set aside the ‘Why Me?’ question, when you are able to overcome your grief, you will start seeing how beautiful and unique your child is – you will then be a powerful force in aiding his development and shaping his success.

DEALING WITH STIGMA

I’m lucky to live in the US. My neighbors know my son and his issues but they don’t let it bother them. They find ways to connect with him (by casually asking, “Hey Ryan, wanna help me out here with this lawn mower?”) and if he’s not there, always check in on me and ask me how I’m doing and if they could help with anything. Same thing happens at our neighborhood cafes and restaurants. They know what his usual order is.  They don’t freak out if my son does something weird. I have been reduced to tears (in the beginning) at the absolute kindness and helpfulness of random strangers. The public spaces in this country are tremendously accepting of people with disabilities.

When I visit my family in India, I do sense a lot of stigma and silence on the issue, although I also sense it is slowly getting better. Still, some mean people ask rude questions or call him rude things. Once I was on a local flight with both my sons and the family behind us kept making rude comments about my younger son.

I put up with it until I heard, “If he’s mad, he should be in an institution, not on a plane.”

I finally stood up, turned around and told them “My son has autism. I have the right to inhabit this space as much as you do. He is not being disruptive. He is intelligent with a high IQ, sensitive, and a really nice human being, but I don’t expect you to understand that, not in a million years. He has the right to travel without discrimination. Please refrain from making rude remarks. If you continue to do so, I will not hesitate to complain to the authorities.”

I highly doubted that “the authorities” cared, but singling the offensive people out put the focus back on their behavior. It was sufficient in getting them to leave us alone for the rest of the flight (during which they maintained a deathly silence). While my boys and I calmly carried on with playing magnetic Scrabble.

The key is confidence. Do NOT be apologetic. It is NEVER the child’s fault. EXPECT adults to behave courteously and if they don’t, then DEMAND courtesy. I’m a veteran now at handling ignorant remarks about my son.  In the early years, my eyes would sting with unshed tears, my throat would catch, but I would gulp it down and pretend I was fine.  But ignoring comments is losing an opportunity to take a stand.  Remember Rosa Parks. Refuse to give up your seat on the bus.

And that’s how you deal with mean people, but what about good people?

Good people in India tend to avoid the subject altogether. Although this is well intentioned (they don’t want to hurt you), I feel this is not acknowledging the elephant in the room. Their being careful comes off as indifference. I start talking about my son’s autism. Once I share willingly and enthusiastically, they begin to relax and ask me more and try to understand more. It’s okay to ask. It’s better than being indifferent. The more we talk about this, the more we break the silence and the stigma around it.

The good news – autism schools and services are burgeoning in every Indian city and from what I hear, the quality is top notch, and the professionals are empathetic and dedicated.

IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS FACED WITH DISABILITY

If a friend or a cousin or a co-worker you are close to is battling a disability, you may wonder how you can be of help. Here are some ways to be helpful:

1. Ask how you can be of help.

When I was a student in Canada, one of my fellow students lived in the same building. He was in a wheelchair but incredibly independent. He drove a specialized car and worked a part time job to pay his way through school. We would sometimes run into each other in the parking lot when we returned home at the same time. We would be talking while walking, he wheeling next to me walking. When we reached the building’s entry door, I would always wonder if I should run ahead and get the door for him or not. What if he reaches a step ahead of me? Would it be rude if I insisted on getting the door? Does he see that as ‘forced dependence’? So, one day, I just asked him what he preferred. He told me he’d appreciate it if I got the door for him. Problem solved! I happily got the door for him every time after that. I also told him since I lived in the same building to please ask me if he needs help with anything else. He did ask for help with unloading groceries, so every Sunday, I would get them from his car to the elevator. Then elevator to his door. Such a small thing for me. But every little thing counts, when you are faced with something big.

2. Understand and read up on the challenges.

When I saw my cousin suffering emotional abuse, it bothered me quite a bit. Here was a guy who had followed me around like a little brother when we were both kids. Here was an aunt who had been kind to me in my early years in the US. What has happened to this family, I wondered. They are all good people, yet they are suffering. I found myself reading everything I could find on the subject, so I could start pointing him in the right direction.

One of my close friends (who has typical kids) began reading up on autism after she met my son for the first time. I was surprised and touched. She said she wanted to understand him better. Learning about something that doesn’t affect us, is, I think, an act of love.

3. Let them know you are there.

Don’t offer sympathy. Most families affected by disability are like any other family. They have their own challenges. They will find ways to deal with them. Challenges make people stronger, more capable, and more empathetic. Rest assured they will find ways to be happy and enjoy life. But letting them know you are there – to listen or to help – is meaningful and genuinely supportive.

4. Know that different doesn’t mean inferior.

Know that someone who may act strangely on the outside may be very intelligent on the inside. The intelligence is trapped in a body that is difficult to control. There may be great ideas inside the brain, but to be expressed, neurons must carry them from point A to point B, then to C, then to D. If the neurons misfire, the idea is trapped inside. It can only be brought out by providing supports (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.) And this is now being done through the use of various technologies (devices, apps and various software programs).

If I tested you in Mandarin today, you’d fail miserably. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. It just means I need to find the right language to test you in –one you are fluent in. With autistic people this “right language” is technology. Give them a multi-media way of learning and expressing and you will see that many of them are incredibly gifted. The giftedness is a result of overdevelopment in certain parts of the brain that seems to be a way of coping with deficits (neural connectivity) in other areas. Those autistic individuals who’ve had everything fall in place for them (a complex combination of supports, people, technologies and figuring out the blocks) show giftedness in math, programming, music, and poetry.  Notice how all four areas require excellent pattern recognition – little surprise since many autistic minds are obsessed with patterns.

Those whose ‘puzzles’ haven’t been solved, whose systems haven’t been ‘configured’, who are constantly battling sensory overload – although just as intelligent as those described above – continue to be trapped in their prisons – unable to demonstrate how much they know and understand.  It’s a little like suffering stroke.  You see a pen.  You know it’s s pen.  You just can’t get your mouth to say the damn word.  You are immediately labelled “not smart”.

You’d think most people instinctively understand that jokes about disabled people are in poor taste. You’d be surprised. President Obama himself made a derogatory joke about the Special Olympics. In case, you’re still using words like “retard” please wake up and step into the 21st century and refrain from using words that demonstrate ignorance.

Please, no matter what you do or don’t, DO NOT feel sorry for disabled people.  They don’t need your pity, they need your respect, and if possible, your help.

You can help disabled people in the following ways:

  • allow them to live with dignity and autonomy
  • ask them how you can be of help
  • give them ways to become independent and productive
  • give them ways to talk about their condition without secrecy or shame
  • accept them as human beings with human weaknesses, strengths and dreams

Related Articles:

Building Trust Non-verbally – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/building-trust-non-verbally/

The Stories We Choose To Tell –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/the-stories-we-choose-to-tell/

Holding it in Letting Go –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/holding-it-in-letting-go/

Starting on Green – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/starting-on-green/

The Road Taken – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/the-road-taken/

A Day in the Life of a Family with Autism –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-family-with-autism/

Life with These Boys – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/life-with-these-boys/

The Art of Asking for Help – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/the-art-of-asking-for-help/

Light It Up Blue –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/light-it-blue/

Autism and Bullying

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/autistic-teenager-beaten-up-by-bullies-makes-them-watch-20minute-video-about-autism-10368201.html

 

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Letting Go of Past Wrongs

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

A couple of weeks back, I received an email from J1289 that described some of her difficult /abusive childhood experiences. As a child, she was constantly blamed for things she had no control over. She was belittled, compared to others unfavorably, manipulated and controlled in ways that were a clear abuse of parental authority. She went out into the world, began to question and re-think many childhood misconceptions, and began to form a different (more coherent) view of the world and herself. Despite the abuse, she re-built her self-esteem, a remarkable feet considering many adults (who haven’t suffered abuse) may go through their entire lives without a clear sense of who they are and what they want.

But, how does one forgive those that let us down? How do we forget their meanness, their ignorance, and their selfishness? These lines from her email really stood out for me –

I do admit I have those horrid memories I have suffered in the past come back and it’s hard because you feel so alone in your thoughts, and think it’s only you.  It fills me with disgust, anger and hatred towards my family members and want to cut of relations with them. Sometimes it gets to me so bad that I have no idea how I can keep it in since I cannot vent it to anyone.

Experiencing abuse can leave scars that are difficult to erase.

Not everyone undergoes abuse – but many people face difficult, painful situations at some point in their lives, when they have been wronged in some way. We may have been betrayed by a close friend. We may have felt abandoned by a loving family member, when they failed to stand by us in a crisis. Someone we looked up to may have let us down, disappointed us. Such experiences can be unsettling and hold us back from seizing happiness.

It is common to harbor feelings of resentment, perhaps even hate, against those who were supposed to love us and be there for us. Over time, these feelings begin to take a toll on us. Negative thoughts can eat into a big part of our day. Our experiences begin to influence how we interact with others. We may find it hard to trust other people long after these harsh experiences. We may be wary in relationships, fear emotional intimacy and have difficulty forming deep friendships.

So, how do we get past our past? Simplistic advice such as ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘the past is past’ is not very helpful. Other nice sounding but unhelpful advice includes –

  • “forgiving is a choice”
  • “don’t cling to negative feelings”
  • “you can’t change the things that happened to you”
  • “it’s not worth it”
  • “you need to move on”
  • “put your energy into something that helps you”
  • “anger and resentment are unhealthy”
  • “start on a clean slate”
  • “focus on the present”
  • “change the things you can”

Let’s think for a minute about why this is not helpful. ‘The past is past’ sounds hollow because the opposite is true for the one who suffered in the past. For this person, the past IS the present. The past continues to haunt. It has shaped who he is today. It continues to shape current interactions and relationships.

‘Forgive and forget’ doesn’t make much sense either. How can we simply forget? We can’t just erase certain memories from our minds. They’re still there, whether we like them or not. How can we just forgive? Someone did something wrong. If you examine their actions today, they are still wrong.

And yet we know, all of us, that it is not healthy to constantly harbor negative feelings, to let past wrongs have a hold on us.

So, how do we free ourselves from this pain? How do we lighten our burden?

There are several things we could do to help ourselves –

Understand the past

Yes, this requires us to remember the past rather than forget it. Understand what exactly happened. Was it emotional abuse? Was it abandonment? Betrayal? Humiliation? Disappointment? What exactly happened and who is responsible for what? What was the other’s role in it? What was your role in it? If you were a child, you did not have any control over the situation. If you were an adult, you did have a role. This is not victim blaming, it’s trying to understand how you came to be victimized.

Acknowledge the past

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the past, acknowledge it. Burying it does not help. Acknowledge the fact that you were wronged. Remember how you felt – fear, shame, sadness, anger, pain, guilt – we try hard to bury these feelings, but the minute you acknowledge and accept them, they begin to become less burdensome.

Forgive yourself

Although it is irrational, we tend to blame ourselves (on some level) for the bad things that people do to us. Children often think it is their fault, when they are abused. They must be “difficult” or “bad”, and they deserve to suffer. There is no such thing as a “bad” child. Here, the responsibility rests with the adult, never with the child.

If you were abused/wronged as an adult, forgive yourself because you did what you could, given what you’ve been given. Not everyone is born assertive or spirited. Many of us learn assertiveness through experiences. Very few of us are lucky enough to have strong and supportive role models. Abusers also know how to tap into people’s vulnerabilities and cut off their support systems. So, give yourself a break.

Don’t erase pain

Pain is undesirable and we would not wish it on anyone. However pain has a role to play in our lives. Just as physical pain acts as the body’s warning system and protects us, emotional pain, when handled with the right perspective, helps us grow. It makes us stronger. Pain makes us understand what is really important. It simplifies things. Pain reminds us of the things we love and value. If you have gone through a lot of pain in the past, it may always be there inside you. You can never erase it completely. Therefore it is important that you use it to become stronger and more connected with yourself and others.

Separating your current self from your old self

A curious thing begins to happen if you have taken an honest look at your past, acknowledged it, and forgiven yourself. You begin to feel a separation. You begin to observe yourself objectively, like an outsider. You are able to finally separate the past from the present. That was you then and this is you now. This separation creates distance. You still remember the past events but the feelings associated with those events are less intense.

Let’s take a detour here and consider the example of an ordinary setback, removed from abuse, betrayal, or anything deeply traumatic. You are 5 years old and you just broke up with your best friend. You came home and cried as if your heart would break. For the next few days, you did not play with anyone at school. You stayed in your corner and sulked. By the end of the week, you were neither sad nor happy; you just went about your day in a cynical way. By the following week, you even laughed at something goofy someone did. By the end of the following week, you probably made a new friend. The anger and hurt may still be there. But alongside some positive feelings (new hopes, possibilities) crept in unnoticed and pushed the hurt into the background. Years later, you may even recall the good times you had with this friend you broke up with.

Our minds are interesting – they are geared to both remember endlessly and forget quickly. What we remember and forget depends on a complicated set of parameters such as our own nature, our perception of the event, our age, the context, the people involved, our feelings towards them, and our state of mind. What we remember also depends on what our conscious mind chooses to suppress in attempting to protect us.

Applying the ordinary setback and separation you experienced at age 5 to a more traumatic incident -as you begin ‘separating’, you will be able to recollect the incident without the same intensity, without the gut wrenching pain that you felt during the event or for many years following the event.

Being able to recollect a painful experience without the same intensity of pain is the first sign of freedom from the past.

Change in perspective

Separation leads us to start seeing ourselves differently (we are no longer victims, we feel more in control) and therefore we begin experiencing things differently. We now know what to look for in people. We are more trusting because we are more confident of protecting ourselves in relationships. We get better at drawing boundaries but we also get better at breaking through constraints and self-imposed limits.

Seek positive, affirming people

It is helpful to surround ourselves throughout these stages with strong, positive, supportive people. People who themselves have struggled with something but have come out strong make the most valuable friends. Avoid people who are insecure or tend to be dismissive of your struggles. Love (from a close friend or family member) can be a powerful healer.

Embrace nature

We use the expression “natural” to describe a picture of someone being unselfconscious or just being in the moment. A lot of our stress comes from being disconnected from nature, and therefore from ourselves. Pain has always been a part of the human experience but nature was a refuge, a haven of solitude that healed us, one which we are getting farther away from.

Nature can be your best friend. Take a walk in the woods. Spend time gardening. Hike up the hills and watch the world below. Nature is both calming and invigorating. Observe a tree. Notice how the branches are asymmetrical. The texture varies dramatically from the rough bark to the smooth leaves. Nature is imperfectly beautiful. Nature reminds us of our humanity and helps us accept our weaknesses.

Nature changes so imperceptibly that it is impossible to just sit there and watch the leaves turn red in fall. It is impossible to find the exact moment when the sky begins to lighten (just like one’s healing). Yet, you know these things will happen, with time. Thus, nature imbues us with patience and the confidence that time heals.

Seek new experiences

As you begin to trust people more and as you begin to enjoy your own solitude more, seek out new experiences. Travel if you can. Experience different cultures. Try something you’ve always feared. If you are uncoordinated like me, try a salsa class. If you are uncomfortable in water, take a basic life skills swimming class. New experiences challenge us to keep growing and evolving – and when we keep evolving – are we not moving ahead, are we thus not separating ourselves more and more from our painful past?

Forgive those who wronged you

Ah … the final step to freedom! Forgiveness is supposed to be one of the hardest things to do. Especially when the person who has wronged you does not realize it or admit it. But if you have gone through all of the above stages, forgiving someone is a natural progression. The stages may take months or years depending on the intensity of the pain inflicted, your vulnerability at the time, as well as your perception of the incident/phase. But once you’ve understood the past, achieved separation, undergone a change in perspective, and opened yourself up to new experiences and people with trust and confidence, you’ve gone a long way in healing yourself.

You are now strong enough to forgive. You begin to see the person who wronged you as being human rather than evil, as ignorant rather than malicious, as limited rather than insidious.

Remember, we are not forgetting our past, but we are finally able to look at it with different eyes, more perceptive eyes. It is no longer a raw, painful wound, but a scar that will always remind us of how far we’ve come. A scar that affirms our strength, so we can continue to go places.

Please share your struggles and experiences with letting go of past wrongs, disappointments, failures, disillusionment, and other painful experiences.

Changing Someone (or oneself)

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a kid, I remember watching movies where a woman changes her irresponsible or alcoholic husband to become her dream life partner. She accomplishes this through forbearance, persistence, and faith, qualities that tended to glorify her and epitomized womanhood. Movies are just a reflection of prevailing social attitudes. Since our culture expects women to adjust and make marriages work at any cost, it follows that a woman trying to mold her husband is/was seen as a positive and proactive way to finding happiness.

In real life, however, is it possible to change someone? Is it even fair to attempt to change someone? What are some situations where we might wish to change our loved ones?

  • We might want them to be fairer (sharing house work and parenting for instance), more responsible, or more committed to the relationship. These are reasonable expectations.  Let’s call this the reasonable zone.
  • We might want them to exercise, eat better, and relax more, out of concern for their health. Although this is reasonable, we are now entering the sensitive zone of personal choices.  What if someone’s personal choices impact our happiness?  What if your spouse is overworked and constantly irritable?  On the one hand, a healthier, happier spouse does have a positive impact on our own happiness and the health of our relationship.  Yet, where do you draw the line here?  What if someone is happy with their excess weight or their no-so-great eating habits?  Do we worry about the future impact of their habits on their health (and consequently our happiness)?  Or do we let them be because it’s their choice?
  • Some of us may even be occasionally tempted to change their tastes and preferences, and may go so far as to tell them to change their feelings about something.  This is a clear cut ‘wrong zone‘.

Expecting one’s partner to be more responsible, fair, and committed is completely reasonable. Wanting them to modify their lifestyle or character (become more disciplined, more relaxed, or more diligent) is going to be somewhat problematic, even if it is well intentioned.

However, asking them to change their tastes and preferences is completely unfair. Expecting them to change their feelings about something is not only unreasonable, it’s downright impossible. People have no control over their feelings; they only have control over their actions. They may despise someone. They can choose not to yell at this person and they can certainly choose to not hit the person. But they can’t change how they feel (intense dislike/hate).

When attempting to change someone close to you, ask yourself, ‘whose problem is it?’ If your husband likes to get up late on Sundays, take a late shower, go unshaven all day, dress sloppily, then that’s what he likes to do. It is not your problem to own. Let him be. If your wife likes to watch a certain show that drives you nuts, leave the room. Let her be. In both cases, don’t attempt to change the other’s tastes or preferences.

So, let’s assume that we remain in the reasonable zone or venture into the sensitive zone – we want someone to change because it makes them healthier, happier, less frustrated, it makes our life better, and it makes our relationship better. Even this is extremely difficult to do. Many people resist change for many different reasons. It is therefore crucial to understand the factors that constitute change, before we attempt to change someone or ourselves.

Factors that Influence Changing Oneself or the Other

1. Self awareness

Change begins with self-awareness. The first step is for the person himself to feel the need for change. When I feel tired because I’m overworked and realize it, I’m aware that I need to take breaks. When I feel emotionally distanced from my loved ones and realize it, I’m aware that I’ve been spending less time with them and paying the price for it. Awareness is therefore an important prerequisite for change. If you want your partner to change, help him/her become more and more aware of the problem. When discussing this very sensitive topic, try to be helpful rather than judgmental. Focus on how a certain behavior or habit is impacting him or those around him. Stay away from offering solutions, because interfering with the process of self awareness and self-motivation to change can be counter productive. You can’t really GET someone to change, but you can help them LET themselves change.

2. Desire and Commitment

Awareness leads to desire (to change) and desire leads to commitment. In the desire stage, we start thinking about what we want. If only I could find time to go for a walk. If only I could enroll in that programming class so I can feel more adept at my work. If only I could practice my violin. Visualizing what we would like to do can be extremely motivating. As a partner, help the other visualize what he/she would like to achieve. Of course, dreaming can only take us so far. A practical plan is necessary to execute. Strategize on what can be done to make the change happen – what are some obstacles, what are some possibilities, is there a Plan B when Plan A fails, would intermediate goals and rewards help. Review the plan daily, acknowledge successes and don’t let your partner be intimidated by setbacks along the way.

3. Be the person/change you want to see

Gandhi was right. Modeling change can be powerful. If you want your children to read more and watch less television, ask yourself how much you are reading. Children who see their parents reading a lot also tend to become avid readers. If you want your partner/spouse to exercise more, offer to go for a walk with him. If he prefers to go to the gym, offer to go to the gym with him (at least initially, to get him motivated).

4. Environmental modification ( for children)

Removing temptations from the environment works wonders, especially with children. In our kitchen, we don’t stock junk food because we want everyone to eat healthy. There are tons of fruit in the fridge if someone wants to grab a snack between meals. We made a conscious choice not to have cable. We do have our DVD player to watch movies because it is so much easier to control movie watching than cable television with its constant transmission. (We get the news on our car radios on our way to work.)

Just as negative elements and distractions can be removed from the environment, positive elements can be added to it. When my kids were very little, they had 2 choices for their free time – they could stay in and read or do art or they could go outside and play. Our home has always been stocked with lots of children’s books and there are plenty of art supplies and a whole play area where they can really get messy with finger paint and other art materials. I took them on lots of outings – walks, parks, museums, aquariums, and read lots of books to them. As they got older, they willingly enrolled in team sports like basketball, soccer and cross country, which keep them pretty occupied. They’re not addicted to screens because they got so used to healthier ways to entertain themselves.

Please note that environmental modification can be used as a positive parenting tool, not a controlling tool.  It is not just about ‘removing’ things from the environment but also about giving children lots and lots of choices (positive ones).

The above are some straightforward ways to bring about positive change. But what do we do when change is hard to actualize? What if the person is resistant to change?

Some factors that create resistance to change

1. The underlying self-image and correcting it

Sometimes people are a certain way because that’s how they see themselves. We all carry these self-images of ourselves at an unconscious level. Sheela may see herself as inept at her work and feel like she’s getting by without really being productive. If she is offered a promotion (because her boss genuinely appreciates her diligence), she may see this as further confirmation of her fakeness. Ravi may see himself as an uninteresting person. If his friends ask him to go on a trip with them, he may see this as their attempt to rescue him from his boring life, as an act of sympathy. Children who are controlled a lot and have to fight for every little thing may soon get labeled as obstinate, difficult, or rebellious. Soon, they come to believe these labels, and may continue to rebel throughout their adult lives, even when it’s unnecessary. We hold on to our self-images (even when they are negative) because they are familiar and grounding.

As adults, it is therefore important to change our self-image if we want to change ourselves. Or help the people we love or work with change their self-image. If you want your co-worker to be more precise with numbers, praise her in the instances when she does demonstrate precision. If you want your son to be more considerate, notice and comment when he helps you clean up after dinner. If you want your friend to be more committed to your friendship, draw attention to the wonderful time you had together when she did make it. Complaining about what’s not happening confirms people’s negative self-images. Offering genuine praise challenges people to question their negative self-images. When you start noticing and drawing attention to their good side, they will begin to accept the idea that developing their good side is actually possible and doable.

2. Difficulty with taking input and being a ‘doer’

Some people are somewhat resistant to taking input. They feel cornered when you just “tell” them that something makes sense. Even a gentle suggestion may seem very forceful to them. Such people tend to be ‘doers’, that is they like figuring out things for themselves. It is much better to ask such people what they would like to do. Chances are they will choose the sensible path, once they are free of having a “solution” thrust upon them.

My older son is one of these people. He would typically waste a lot of time after he came home from school, then had to stay up really late to finish all his work. High school syllabus along with extra curricular activities demanded much more speed and efficiency from him, which he did not possess. As a result, he was sleep deprived and tired all day. To me, the most obvious thing to do was to start work early so he could get a good night’s sleep. But can I suggest something simple like this? Not with him (I now know that from many years of experience with him:-). Instead, I tried to nudge him toward finding his own solution. Our conversation went like this –

When he complained about being tired at school, I said, “Yeah I can imagine. You were up so late last night.”

He said, “These stupid projects and assignments! What are these teachers thinking?? How the heck can I get so much done in one evening??”

Me: “It’s certainly a ton of work!”

Him: “Yeah. It does require a lot of time.”

Me: “Uhuh.”

Him: “Maybe if I could start in the afternoon ….”

Me: “Hmm…”

Him: “I could eat my lunch quickly, then get started. Let me try that today and see how it goes.”

And it did go very well. He went to bed at a decent time that day and felt better the next day at school. He started doing that everyday and began managing the work load better. There would be days here and there where he would slip into the old habit of wasting time. But, once again, I simply acted as his sounding board. He would then self-correct himself and get back to a more efficient routine. I needed to accept that it’s simply his nature to be independent in the extreme, try out everything, and decide for himself what works and what doesn’t.

3. Simple for one is hard for another – being aware of differences in learning/abilities

Remember that what is simple for us can be hard for another. And vice versa. Being organized is easy for me but incredibly hard for my son. Making small talk and pretending to be interested in and managing large social groups is easy for my sister, but hard for me. Show understanding when the other struggles with change. Work with them. Help them find ways to problem solve. Don’t let them get discouraged when they fail. Keep reminding them that change is a process.

When my younger son wanted to play on the soccer team, it was incredibly hard for him to focus on his teammates directions and the ball simultaneously. His autism made it hard to separate or tune out the other team’s instructions to each other. Since he has autism, everyone around him is understanding and supportive of this. We solved this problem by assigning him a ‘buddy’ on the team who gives him instructions. The buddy works (practices soccer) with my son one on one before the game. This makes my son more attuned to his friend’s voice. During the game, he is better able to attune his attention to this single source of auditory input.

But how understanding and supportive are we of each other’s struggles when we don’t carry labels? We may be neurologically typical and yet, most people tend to struggle with certain skills. Being aware of this simple fact helps us persist with our goals without giving up and finding the right supports to facilitate the process.

4. Model willingness to change

If you want your partner or friend to change in one area, pick another area that is difficult for you to change. I wanted my friend to read more fiction and poetry (because that’s what I love discussing) and not just non-fiction (which she tends to enjoy). So, I began signing up for hiking up the hills more (I tended to prefer flat trails) because she loves making it all the way to the peaks (of some smaller, local hills). Once she started seeing me do things that did not come easily and naturally, she became more willing to step out of her comfort zone as well. Willingness to change ourselves motivates those around us to change. It also builds empathy in us for other’s struggles.

5. Assign responsibilities according to strengths/talents/interests

In my MBA class, we were part of team of 4 that worked together for the entire 2 year period. In my team, we had the analyzer, the (detail oriented) fact checker, the (big picture) strategic planner, and the writer/presenter/charmer/people person. Each of us excelled at our roles and tried to learn from the strengths of the others. Work environments frequently categorize people in teams along similar lines/strengths. At home, I hate doing dishes but I’m the better cook. When we share household tasks, I do more of the cooking while my husband does more of the dishes and laundry.   Many parents also divide child rearing duties to match their strengths – one parent may be involved with studies while the other manages sports and other interests/classes. Here, there is no necessity to change one’s style, and different styles can be complementary.

6. Ignore weaknesses by remembering strengths

There are some things that are either impossible to change in ourselves or are so difficult to change that it’s not worth the effort. It’s best to ignore certain weaknesses if they do not interfere with our lives or our loved one’s lives in a major way. My co-worker’s husband tends to be very fact oriented in his conversations. She wished more than anything to be able to have more fulfilling conversations with him at a deeper level. For him, her getting promoted would be just that, a simple fact that deserved to be celebrated. For her, it would lead to a discussion of the effort that went into it, a proper evaluation of the outcome, the dynamics of a motivating work environment, future career options, and change management. After several failed attempts at trying to change this aspect of him, and a lot of frustration for both of them, she stopped trying to change how he converses. She is now content that they do have a very loving relationship. He is always there for her and supports her in every way, in her career, in her personal life, in her interests. She has joined a book club to get those deep conversations that she enjoys (and while she is busy with her deep discussions, he gets happily busy restoring his 1960s Thunderbird in the garageJ).

Non-negotiable Situations – when trying to change someone is futile (Black and white areas)

It is important to note situations where we cannot change the other and the healthy/sane option is to leave the relationship:

  • in all cases of abuse, emotional or physical, it is best to leave – counseling can help in a few cases, but as soon as one realizes that counseling is not helping, it is best to leave
  • when you find out your husband is gay and you happen to be straight (No, you cannot change someone’s orientation, it is like left or right handedness. Your husband may have gotten married out of parental pressure; he may be fearful or in denial or selfish or good hearted or all of the above – it does not matter, just leave)
  • when your spouse is alcoholic (he needs counseling/help, and again in some cases, this actually helps, and when it doesn’t, you need to leave)
  • when your spouse is selfish, mean, is aware of this and is unwilling to change because it suits him – patience, understanding, and supportiveness have no place here. He is the way he is because it’s convenient. By staying, you are rewarding him for his selfishness. Nothing you do is ever going to make a difference because there is no desire or commitment to change.
  • finally trying to change someone’s tastes, preferences, feelings, opinions, and personal choices that have no impact on others’ lives is wrong, unfair, and when done with persistence, can constitute as abuse.

Most relationships may not be those non-negotiable black and white situations. They may fall in the grey area – where your spouse, friends, parents, children, or co-workers are not really selfish and have good intentions but may be making choices that either impact them or both of you in a harmful/negative way. In these situations, understanding what factors constitute change, being empathetic to the challenges in engendering real change, and knowing what expectations of change are fair versus unfair can go a long way in shaping our relationships to fulfill our needs.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with trying to change some part of yourself or someone you love or care for.

Related Posts:

I hope the following links drive home the point that change cannot be used to gain approval/validation, to alter one’s personality/preferences nor can it be used to make a failed/abusive relationship work.  Change is pertinent in primarily 2 broad situations – (1) when we ourselves are unhappy with the existing state and wish to change – and (2) when our behavior directly impinges on another’s rights.

Can a woman marry and change an uninterested man into a loving and responsible husband?

Taking responsibility for improving (?) men’s sex lives empowers women?

Does loving someone mean we should improve them?

How do we go about accepting ourselves just the way we are?

“I think most problems in life are when we look for approval and validation outside of ourselves.”

“10 years ago, the girl would have been counselled on how to change her dress sense for the boy, how to do as he says.”

Who would you never ask for advice?

What are you criticised the most for?

Is Goodness Perceived as Weakness?

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

Is goodness seen as weakness in our culture?

What are some ways in which ‘goodness’ is displayed in our culture?

A woman is ‘good’ when she

  • seldom disagrees
  • fits in with society’s norms
  • respects the wishes of those who feel they know better than her, what is good for her (parents, in-laws, husband)
  • keeps the peace, maintains the status quo rather than tell others they are wrong

In all of the above, ‘goodness’ is seen as meekness and compliance. There is nothing surprising about this interpretation of goodness in women, as our culture (like many other cultures around the world) tends to be sexist.

But, when we look at goodness in men (since they are more free of sexist expectations), it becomes more interesting.

How is goodness perceived in men? Who qualifies as a “good man” and is goodness a quality that is admired in men?

Indian men who are considered good tend to

  • be honest in their dealings, especially at work/business
  • not bribe people, lie or cheat
  • remain unassertive in their personal lives and cannot say ‘no’ to domineering parents
  • feel genuinely pained by their wives’ suffering in joint families but are helpless and cannot stand up for them
  • behave with kindness and understanding toward their children
  • in some cases, allow their grown children to take advantage of their meekness
  • be passed over for promotions, in favor of other ‘aggressive’ men who are willing to lie, cheat, or at least fudge the numbers
  • may passively watch wrong and unfair behavior among their families and in public spaces without objecting

In other words, our culture seems to define goodness as meekness, regardless of gender. There are very few examples of strong and good people that we see or hear about, be it politics, business, or popular media.

When I was 16 and about to take my driving test, my uncle suggested to my father that he could get me a driver’s license without going to the test. All my father had to do was pay a certain amount of money to someone my uncle knew.

My father got upset with him and said, “Aren’t you ashamed of flaunting your dishonesty in front of a child?”

To which, my uncle responded, “We can’t all be Gandhi – or we’ll starve like him.”

Lying, cheating, bribing, cutting in line, indiscriminate rule breaking, and cutting corners are seen as strengths and the qualities of the capable male. And the alternative is presented as meekness and the willingness to be a doormat.

Goodness, kindness, honesty, and compassion seem to be associated with unassertiveness, personal unhappiness, and professional failure.

Taking a step back, let’s look at the misconceptions embedded in my uncle’s Gandhi reference. We may not agree with everything Gandhi did. Some of his decisions can be called into question. He was not without flaws. But here was a man who was anything BUT meek.

Gandhi’s strength came from his conviction. He had an unwavering set of values that served as his internal compass. He stubbornly persisted with his goals. For a physically diminutive man, he demonstrated immense mental courage and grit in the face of the mighty British Empire. He presented supreme confidence in the face of their condescension. Here was a display of a strong kind of goodness.

People who’ve made me understand this

Some good and strong people I’ve known in my own life –

  • My father who fought against my entire extended family for my aunt’s right to wear all colors (after she lost her husband), to get back to school, get an education, a job, and the right to get remarried. Which pretty much brought an end to the tradition of “widows in white” who remained marginalized all their lives, within my extended family.
  • My son’s kindergarten teacher, a small, kind woman who fought with the school authorities to keep ADHD and ASD children in her classroom. She fought for their right to be educated in a regular classroom with supports and not be isolated and “written off” as failures.
  • My grandmother, married at 12, sent to her in-laws at 15, fought for her daughters’ right to be educated. In a generation when most daughters were barely allowed to graduate from high school, she fought with her entire joint family to make sure her daughters (my mother and aunt) graduated from college, went to work, and married the men of their choice.

Some public figures whom I admire for this combination of goodness and strength –

  • Aung San Suu Kyi who continues to fight for the slim chance of a democracy in Burma.
  • Carl Sagan who forewent a lot of research funding when he took a stand against Reagan’s Space Defense Initiative, and shoved the “climate issue” into policy makers’ faces.
  • Bill and Melissa Gates who could remain content leading a privileged life, but choose instead to be involved with solving global challenges that affect us all.

I especially admire privileged people who could easily spend all their lives unaffected by unfairness, poverty, and illness, but CHOOSE not to. They choose goodness. It is an active, conscious choice.

This is why I like re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird because Atticus Finch chose not to sit back and enjoy his white male privilege. This is why I keep going back to A Separate Peace. Because Finny gets it and Gene doesn’t, not until the very end. Not until it’s too late. Both Finch and Finny chose goodness and fairness. It takes discipline and strength to hold on to a value system that demands nothing less than generosity, compassion, and fairness.

The Connection

The connection between goodness and strength is really quite simple. Goodness requires you to abide by a value system. Adhering to a value system requires self-discipline and active vocalization of our beliefs. Self-discipline imbues us with quiet inner strength. Vocalization of our beliefs in the face of opposition, disapproval, and possibly even hate builds an extra layer of strength, a protective armor, if you will.

The other way to look at it – Strong people take control of their lives. Control over one’s own life gives one the luxury of being in a position to help others. Strong people are secure enough to acknowledge their own weaknesses. This allows them to be empathetic to other’s flaws. Strong people persist in overcoming their challenges. This gives them the know-how to mentor others. Thus strength also leads to goodness.

Strength and goodness can thus feed off of each other and become inseparable.

Misconceptions

Goodness is not meekness. Strength is not meanness. It is much harder to remain honest and true to oneself than it is to “go with the flow” and lose our identities. It is much harder to remain fair even to our enemies than it is to paint them in an unflattering light. It is much harder to fight for the underprivileged than to ignore or pretend away their plight with cynicism. It is much harder to forgive those who act in ignorance than to take revenge on them. It is much harder to give a voice to those who lack one than to remain silently sympathetic.

Sometimes, I feel meek people inflict a lot more damage than mean people – such as  people who stare at a woman on a bus and allow her to be harassed. People who passively stand in line and allow certain people to cut in. People who don’t take bribes but watch others do. We are inflicting harm when we do not take a stand, when we don’t use our privilege to help others, when we allow crimes to happen, when we don’t fight for anything worth fighting for. There is a terrible relationship between the mean and the meek. Meek people become the enablers of those who are mean.

Goodness, in the true sense of the word, is therefore a difficult, risky, conscious, active, courageous, and powerful choice on our part, and not a meek, passive reaction to the domineering forces in our lives.

Ragging Culture

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

In the following case, do the people who ragged the student understand that what they did is inherently wrong (let alone understanding that it’s a crime)?

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/Student-Attempts-Suicide-Family-Cries-Ragging/2015/02/04/article2651563.ece

And yet another case where the parents think their son was ragged and tormented and consider his death suspicious (not an accident):

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/nujs-student-falls-to-death-parents-allege-foul-play/

In the above case, I wonder if the student shared with his parents that he was being tormented? If so, did they listen? Did they take it seriously? What specific actions were taken to curb the ragging/bullying?

Bullying is a universal problem. In the US, we deal with it in high school and the earlier part of undergraduate college. In India, we have the added problems of lack of recognition of bullying as a crime (both in homes and colleges) and improper (or lack of) law enforcement.

There is a third very important factor specific to our society – the hierarchical/power culture that pervades through many other abusive relationships (rich versus poor, elder vs younger members of family, groom’s parents vs bride’s parents in weddings and post-wedding life, upper caste vs lower caste, land owners vs farmers, upper class vs laborers, well connected vs man-on-the-street, politicians versus common man), and we can almost see this naturally extending to the campus arena – seniors versus juniors. Once again, respect is demanded for no logical reason. Respect is taken, not earned. Appeasement is seen as the only way to peace and being left alone. Fear is mistaken for respect and power drives the relationship.

I’ve known people who consider ragging as “part of life” or a “milestone in the journey to adulthood”. Some have referred to it as “character building” and a “rite of passage”; others consider it “harmless” and “fun” and for these, ragging seems to bring back nostalgic memories of their student years.

My cousin graduated from the Naval Engineering College at Lonavala about 15 years ago. The first summer he came home, he was unrecognizable. He was gaunt, bone thin, and developed a skin rash that could only be attributed to stress. During ragging he (along with others) was put through unbearable levels of physical pain and mental humiliation. He came close to quitting a few times but somehow pulled through.

But after he got married ( a few years later), when his wife asked him if the ragging at NEC was as bad as she had heard, he shrugged and replied, “It made a man out of me.”

Ragging, on the other hand, portrayed as amusing or hilarious in popular movies like 3 Idiots and Munna Bhai hasn’t helped either.

Ragging is a form of abuse, period. It can be emotional, verbal or physical. It involves repeated, possibly aggressive, humiliating, or manipulative behavior that is deliberately aimed at asserting power over another individual or group. It is harmful to the physical and emotional well being of students, something that any educational institution by its very definition, should be concerned about. In some cases, it can be violent and result in injury or death. Regardless of whether it is mild or severe, it should be treated as unacceptable.

Ragging, bullying, hazing – this destructive behavior goes by different names and takes on various forms around the world.

But it makes one wonder what goes on in these people’s minds? What are they thinking when they insult, humiliate, or harass someone? I’m on the PTA for my son’s high school and bullying is an ever-present concern at the meetings. We’ve had 2 incidents this year, one of them was milder (inappropriate language toward a gay student), but the other involved consistent, deliberate, and elaborately planned out harassment by a group of people toward one student (consistent because the victim remained silent for a longer period before complaining).

In general, education, awareness, strict law enforcement, and counseling definitely minimize/reduce the problem to some extent. There is no doubt in any student’s mind (at my son’s school) that bullying is wrong/unacceptable/illegal.

However there is another side to bullying, one that educational institutions have little control over – the student’s home environment. Despite the education and awareness that is routinely dispensed at the school in the form of talks, fliers, help lines, seminars, text alert systems, counseling, and assertiveness training, bullying still happens. Why? That’s because we don’t have complete control over the environment that creates bullies. How much of bullying happens because some children/youth grow up never learning that it is a serious crime? How many of them have heard it being referred to as something that is “part of life” or a “rite of passage”? Or things like “boys are by nature aggressive” or “boys don’t cry” or “conquer or be conquered”? How many of these children grow up being bullied by the adults who raise them?

We can only look at the behaviors of bullies and find some common underlying issues. Numerous studies indicate that most bullies tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • lacking a sense of control over their own lives
  • anger that is not dealt with constructively and often misdirected
  • low self-esteem
  • may have witnessed violence or aggression at home
  • may have seen power being used unfairly at home
  • may have been bullied by others
  • lacking in empathy
  • lacking in remorse
  • may have experienced harsh, physical punishments at home
  • possibly exposed to only win-lose situations and have seldom seen win-win relationships
  • insufficient or inappropriate socialization during childhood

And then, there are the passive bullies, the ones who don’t initiate the bullying but quickly join in when someone else gets it going. They seem to exhibit the following traits:

  • herd mentality and lack of strong opinions
  • hungry/deprived for attention
  • low self esteem
  • looking for someone ‘superior’ to latch on to
  • tendency to exhibit hero worship and unquestioning loyalty
  • lack of identity and the need to belong

There is a third group that is worth looking at – people who witness bullying. By silently watching a crime, they are knowingly or unknowingly encouraging it. A study titled “Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders” published on athealth.com concludes that “bystanders create the illusion that the bully has the support of the majority and this perception perpetuates a culture of bullying”. These people tend to –

  • not want to get involved and generally don’t take a stand on anything
  • may not connect the dots (if it’s him today, it could be me tomorrow)
  • may not see bullying as a crime and believe it is amusing
  • may be less empathetic
  • may not have been taught self-respect and individual rights in their home environment

What can colleges do to deal with ragging/bullying besides developing a strict code of law and enforcing it?

  • The first thing that comes to mind in terms of solutions is to have a zero tolerance policy or ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ against bullying behavior. But this does not necessarily solve the problem entirely. Bullies have a way of seeking out victims off campus or on social media, via smart phones or in cyber space.
  • It is therefore important for an educational institution to work on the bullying person (or persons) as an individual. Counseling may be needed for the person engaging in this behavior to see his actions as not only criminal but as genuinely wrong and hurtful to others. Counseling may also explore the underlying issues of the individual and find positive ways for him to relate to others and develop acceptable coping mechanisms for issues that cannot be easily resolved.
  • I don’t know if we have counselors at colleges and universities, or if they are trained to guide and support students in addressing their emotional health and development, but if we don’t, we should definitely work toward that goal.

A University of Albany study that examined the relationship between parental aggression toward children and the children’s behavior states that “Parents who may displace their anger, insecurity, or a persistent need to dominate and control upon their children in excessive ways have been proven to increase the likelihood that their own children will in turn become overly aggressive or controlling towards their peers.”

While we need laws against ragging/bullying and we need proper ways to enforce them, preventing bullying behavior primarily begins at home. We need to ask ourselves what we are teaching youngsters in our own homes.

On the communication front –

  • Are we using positive communication to resolve differences with our children and with each other (spouses)?
  • Is the communication style used by parents straightforward and assertive or is it manipulative/sarcastic? Words can often be used in punitive, damaging ways in the form of labeling, veiled threats, and ‘ harmless jokes’ that perpetuate stereotypes.
  • Are we listening to our children when they are angry with someone? Are we showing them ways to resolve their conflicts in acceptable, legal ways?
  • Are we able to handle our own anger at our own problems in a mature and responsible manner?
  • In conflict situations, are we addressing the problem or resorting to personal attacks?

On developing trust and self esteem –

  • Do we trust our children when they complain about abuse? Have we taught them how to stand up to any form of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual? Do we take their reports of ragging seriously?
  • Are we helping build their self-esteem by recognizing their strengths and supporting them with their challenges?
  • Are we instilling confidence in them so that they don’t feel the need for approval and/or belonging from the wrong sources?
  • Are we allowing them to develop their own identity so that they don’t feel the need to put someone down to feel superior?

On power play –

  • Are our children engaging in arguments with the sole purpose of ‘winning’ or are they engaging in discussions with the intent of learning?
  • Are we creating a democratic environment at home, with room for different ideas and viewpoints? Are children able to express disagreement without fear? Are they able to express disagreement without shouting or getting abusive with parents?
  • Are we refraining from using intimidation and aggression in the form of a loud voice, physical punishments, and threats?
  • Are we using our power as adults and parents wisely and fairly?
  • Are we showing respect to our children and earning their respect rather than expecting unquestioning obedience?

On values –

  • Are we respecting people of all cultures, communities, and backgrounds both in our words and actions? Or do we make casual racist remarks or put down people based on their caste, color, gender, orientation, or economic status? Do we subtly convey our hatred or mistrust for the ‘other’? (Children pick up on their parents’ prejudices even when they’re not overtly stated.)
  • Are we teaching them what constitutes a crime? Do our children understand that taking away someone else’s right to be educated in a safe, non-threatening environment is a crime?

The above strategies are helpful not only in preventing children from growing up to become bullies, but also in preventing them from becoming victims of bullies.

Again, it would not be entirely wrong to claim that the emotional well being of children is a low priority in traditional hierarchical families and expecting our existing parenting philosophy to change drastically is wishful thinking. However, cynicism is not the answer. I think identifying and defining the problem is the first step and a prerequisite to awareness building and finding solutions.

Bullying gives people a sense of power. It’s up to us to create and promote democratic environments (both at home and educational institutions) that don’t function on the power principle, and instead operate on awareness of individual rights, mutual respect and boundaries.

Please share your experiences with ragging and ideas on how we can change the culture of ragging.

Edited to add: A Boy’s Courage in the Face of Cowardly Bullying:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/autistic-teenager-beaten-up-by-bullies-makes-them-watch-20minute-video-about-autism-10368201.html

 

A Woman Who Doesn’t Have to Fit In

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Khoobsoorat – Movie Review

(Warning – Spoilers, lots of them)

When my niece recommended I watch this film, I was skeptical. It sounded like a predictable Bollywood romance, replete with beautiful sets, fine costumes and jewelry, one dimensional characters with very little subtlety, and situations that are too easily resolved, usually through the use of lectures and bit of melodrama.

It turned out to be some of the above. But despite these predictable traits, the movie surprised me.

The Protagonist

What I liked about the film is of course the protagonist Mili (Sonam Kapoor). Or rather, I came to like her. Cautiously. Gradually.

Mili is silly, irritating, and clumsy. She puts up her feet on the dashboard, drinks from the wine bottle, and eats messy food with her hands. She takes selfies of herself everywhere. I thought, “And THIS is what they call ‘spontaneous/bubbly’?” I rolled my eyes.

But over the course of the film, Mili emerges as a woman who likes herself and is not excessively concerned whether others approve of her or not.

She is very good at what she does (physiotherapy) and she does it unconventionally and with lots of heart thrown in.

Mili has had 3 breakups so far (shown funnily in a little flashback) and even though she’s just had it with men for a while, she hasn’t had it with life. In fact, she’s enjoying life more than usual, with the complications of a relationship removed.

Mili dares to dream. She isn’t overly awed by Prince Vikram’s wealth or class. At first she’s attracted to him, and then she begins to like him when she sees his human side. As she finds herself becoming closer to him, her only worry is that he is engaged. Never once does she feel he is “unreachable”. It’s as if she’s always seen him as an equal, as another human being. She conveys an easy, natural sense of self-worth here.

Supporting Characters

Another pleasant surprise – there are two other strong female characters in the film – the Maharani, Vikram’s mother, played by Rathna Pathak, and Manju (played by Kirron Kher), Mili’s kick-ass, Punjabi mom. Both characters were portrayed reasonably well. Power does not make the Maharani evil and being middle class does not make Mili’s mom servile.

The Maharani, although strict and rule bound, never raises her voice or gets abusive as befitting her classy background. Her bossiness is restrained, her dismissals aloof, her rebuttals are often polite, and her language is impeccably clean. And there are layers to her. You can understand that she needs to be authoritarian in order to run such a large estate, several businesses, and keep an army of staff running smoothly. You also sense she is protective of the wheelchair-bound Maharaja. She will not let anyone cross the wall he has built around himself. She fears that it could be devastating to him. Gradually, their previous relationship is revealed. How they played polo and tennis together. How the Maharani had love and friendship and playfulness from her husband before one tragic incident brought their lives to a screeching halt. Theirs was (and is) an equal marriage, a rarity among older (or even younger?) Bollywood characters.

As a foil to the Maharani’s character is Manju, Mili’s mom – loud, bull dozer like, and calls a spade a spade. You can tell where Mili gets her guts and a bit of craziness from. Manju often advises her daughter to “go get “em” if she needs to and to “not take any crap from the guy’s family”. That really made me laugh with happiness!:)

And now, coming to the male lead – Prince Vikram played by Fawad Khan. The actor is smoky handsome and sexy (I can see why my niece was so hooked on this movie now:). When I say sexy, I don’t just mean his physical attributes. I think people who are good looking in an empty sort of way are seldom sexy. He has what attractive men and women have – an air of mystery, a certain aloofness, quiet confidence that doesn’t require loudness or aggression, a reluctance to easily reveal himself and yet he does so in vulnerable moments. And when he does reveal himself here and there unintentionally, you like what you see.

When Mili accuses him of not joining the party with the servants because he has to maintain his distance/status, he replies, “Yeah …. something like that.” He doesn’t deny that the class gap exists and he doesn’t have all the answers. And then adds, “or perhaps, they (servants) would prefer it that way (him not joining their fun).”

He is puzzled by Mili’s craziness. He is befuddled by her impulsiveness. He is wary of her inclination to say things without a filter. He is jolted by her tendency to act on whim, without the slightest though to consequences.

But when he watches his mother’s reaction to Mili’s wackiness, he is secretly amused. All of his emotions were subtly conveyed – a raised eyebrow, a shrug, a warning look, a little hesitation, a tensing of the shoulders, a bit of subtle sarcasm, or some delicate rephrasing of an otherwise crass situation.

There is great chemistry between the two characters. In both the kissing/hugging scenes, they are BOTH drawn to each other, the feeling is mutual, and Mili as the woman is a willing partner, and once she is also the initiator.

Vikram finds himself reluctantly but helplessly drawn to Mili, despite his rational understanding of the volcano he’s walking into. Mili, on the other hand, true to her character, courts fire, and gives no thought to the consequences.

Humor

There are several funny moments – some everyday situations, some contrived. When Mili asks people from the royal family to join her skype call with mom, her mother puts on a sweet smile, but once they leave, blasts Mili for doing this to her when “she’s cutting onions and sweating in the kitchen”.

When the kidnappers tell Mili they’re just getting started with their ransom “business” and she’s their first victim, Mili who is now high on something, says, “I get it. I remember being excited too – when I got my first client.”

Mili’s breakups are funny – one is with a clueless guy who has found his soul mate in another clueless girl. Another guy is just someone who couldn’t handle Mili’s feet on his dashboard anymore.

And Vikram’s use of “hum” (we) to refer to himself are greeted by irreverent Mili (and her mom) with a “Who the heck is We?? Hello?? I see only one person here!”

I chuckled when the Maharani (upon being confronted in the middle of the night by Manju) says with lovely poise, “I’m sorry but I need my 8 hours of sleep. Can we discuss these “interesting” theories of yours in the morning?”

Room for Improvement

I thought they could’ve balanced out Mili’s character a bit – she doesn’t ALWAYS have to be smiling or ALWAYS have to drop things – we get it – she’s a fun gal and a tad clumsy. But when Vikram tells her they cannot share a future because they are so different, Mili hardens and softens at the same time. She looks at him both angrily and sadly and says, “I agree.” This is where her character looks more complete, more multi-dimensional. I wish there were a few more of these contemplative moments for Mili.

The confrontation between the moms was unnecessary and Manju’s pettiness and arguing to the bitter end dragged down the last part of the movie a bit.

I also thought the Maharaja’s situation was resolved a bit too simplistically. While I appreciate Mili’s determination to do her job as a therapist and her efforts to bring fun back into his life because she believes it will help him recover, I wish she never explicitly TOLD him he is stuck at the time of the accident, and needs to start living again. I wish she had trusted his capacity for self-direction. And I wish he had taken that first step forward himself, with her support.

The Ending

Loved the ending though! It is the royal family that learns to relax and adapt to Mili’s crazy ways rather than Mili changing herself to fit into the clan’s honored traditions. This is not shown explicitly but implied through the Maharani’s humorous acceptance of Mili and the last credits song.

The movie is based on an older film of the same name starring Rekha. And it does have shades of the Sound of Music. I’m not sure if it passes the Bechdel test but overall, I confess I enjoyed this movie. Charming characters, three strong women, one dashing prince, a hauntingly beautiful palace, and lots of heart make this a warm, pleasant ride. Did you like it? Let me know what you think!

2011… and an unbelievable dream.

This new year is like none before. There’s still a wish that I will wake up tomorrow morning to find that the second half of the 2010 never happened. I am sure we are recovering in some ways but they say a child’s death changes you. How much have we changed? I have lost all my fears and worries. What bothers most people (and me earlier) doesn’t matter anymore. And somethings which others might find trivial have become a matter of survival.

Festivities are a painful time. A child’s birthday is now a day both cherished and dreaded. New year eve has no meaning. And one wakes up every morning hoping this day begins easier. I have learnt it helps to avoid whatever and whoever causes pain. This too has become a matter of survival.

Avoiding triggers is not always easy. The biggest trauma triggers are  claims that  another hospital, a different treatment or another set of doctors could have saved Tejaswee’s life. One near stranger asked questions and  although I knew where I was treading, I talked about the treatment and symptoms and illness. And then relived it all that evening.

A friend said that she tried but could not imagine herself in my position. She said even thinking about something happening to her child was just too horrible. Why did it hurt me? It was (and still is) unimaginable for me too. If it wasn’t I would have said goodbye to her when doctors said only a miracle could save her…

Sometimes some people are only expressing how they feel, but I am pushed into days of unbearable lows.

My sister says sometimes I look and sound so ‘normal‘ that it is difficult to remember how fragile the normalcy is. She says it is difficult to know what the right thing to say is. (The answer to this is, when in doubt, just be a good listener and give no unasked for advice. This requires another post.). She remembered how she had called me this September and upon hearing my “Hello” burst into tears saying the emptiness in my voice reminded her of a friend who had lost her daughter five years ago. She said death of a child did that to mothers. I didn’t want to live for five years if what she said was true.

I had reminded her (and myself) that I hoped to remember my daughter with a smile and although I am learning this is not always easy, I am still working on it. Our life has changed and happiness, as we saw it earlier, is no longer a part of this new life.

And yet something happened that brought peaceful joy and happy-sad tears at the same time.

At around 5 am on 3rd Jan, I dreamt of my daughter. She wore her gray sweater and she was smiling. I saw myself holding her close and telling her I had missed her so much because I never got to tell her how much I loved her (and hear the same from her) one last time before she died. No hugs. No reassurances. No idea how she was feeling or if she was feeling anything at all.  No idea, even that we were not going to be walking out together from that ICU. And she smiled with sweet (no other word describes it) understanding, held my face and said she loved us very much and I hugged  her tight and we sat and talked and I think (this bit is hazy) took photographs together.

It was a long dreamlike dream. I told her, after this time spent with her, I could now live with her dying and going away forever. And she smiled sweetly, half teasingly, at my comfortable mention of her death. (I didn’t discuss their death with my kids, fearing, sort of, that talking about death might make it happen. She always thought it was okay to talk about our loved ones dying.) As it happens in dreams, I could hear her thoughts, and she thought (conveyed) she was going nowhere. And I knew in this dream that she had died. And yet the feeling of peace stayed.

I woke up and fearing I might forget parts of this precious dream, shared every detail with my husband. He still relives her time in the ICU when trying to sleep, but for two nights after this dream, he has slept peacefully.

This is another way in which we have changed, …or maybe not changed. Her smile, even in a dream, doesn’t fail to provide hope and strength.  And a reason to remember her always with a proud, loving smile.

Imperfect lives.

On March 7th 1964, Dr Henry delivers his twins, and while his wife is under sedation, decides to give away the ‘imperfect‘ twin, born with Down’s Syndrome.

Phoebe, the twin with Down’s Syndrome is sent to an institution. Here’s what the institution was like.

Dr Henry tells his wife they had a still born daughter and a healthy son. She wanted to hold the baby once, visit the grave and hold a Memorial Service…  She was advised to ‘move on’, and to focus on the child she had.

‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter’ by  Kim Edwards touched a chord. 

Most of us have clear guidelines laid out for exactly what can make us happy. Who we marry, who we divorce, who we raise, who we abandon, what careers we choose, who we respect and whose opinions, feelings or wishes we can’t be expected to take seriously (like a child with Down’s syndrome)…

I liked this scene.

We expect happiness to come from success in career, being married at the right time, to a conventionally suitable partner and raising perfectly formed, class toppers and merit listed kids. Anything less could only mean disappointments and frustration?

Watch the trailer. (I hope the movie is as good as the book). Read the book. And think again.


The book is about women, men, children and families who fit, and those who don’t fit, into the ‘fit-to-be-happy‘ mold.

The book is also about some of us controlling the lives of some others amongst us. Phoebe’s mother longs for another baby but once again has no say in the matter. All with best of intentions to protect her from any further unhappiness (i.e. another imperfect child). For her own good. Her sister’s life shows how life is still a choice each one of us makes.

The book is also about women’s changing lives as they learn to break the norms and take control of their own lives.

And about how little (or how much) our happiness depends on how conventionally perfect our lives are.

 

Irresponsible girls who throw away their lives while in throes of lust for the completely wrong person…

In response to “Don’t let me down dear daughter!”, a comment expressed this opinion.

“In defense of parents – and while absolutely hating my parents for their emotional blackmail – I do see where they might come from. I have seen innumerable girls (and sadly this still applies to girls in our society) throw away their lives while in throes of lust for the completely wrong person.

These girls typically run away with the first guy who gathers enough courage to ask them out the first time. Typically this guy does not have a great value system, any sense of responsibility, any education,ambition, willingness to improve their lot in life, respect for women and so on and on. As a result, the said girl either lives her life in grief or returns to her parents home where none of guys among us will marry her anymore.
I have seen way too many examples of such irresponsible behaviour and so do not have any hopes of parents granting girls “freedom” within bounds.

As they say, it is the limitation that defines any freedom.”


I was going to delete this but further comments indicated that this was written in all seriousness.

My response:

I wonder why don’t we consider guiding these daughters instead of locking them up. That’s a more reliable ‘protection’. But is it really about protecting the girl from unhappiness? I don’t think so, because we don’t kill to protect.

Also…

Strangely, this  protection is only from falling in love (etc.) – not from violence, being burnt alive, abuse, murder or rape in their marital homes, even if this home is chosen by the parents.

Can an intelligent adult be expected to blindly trust such hypocrisy?

If the arguments given are honest and logical. If caste, community and the neighbour’s father in laws’ third cousin’s  opinion are not the reason given for rejection of a partner a daughter (so lustfully!) chooses.  Then the opinion of the elders would be considered worth taking. The parents have to earn this trust.

Sometimes girls are pushed into running away to escape forced-marriages or other problems at home. If the family accepts and supports their choices, girls won’t be forced to run away, they will see their home as their sanctuary and support system – as the place one always wants to come back to.

Assuming they do choose badly, could it be because they were not allowed to form independent opinions or choices?  While anybody can make a mistake  (including the parents) – some basic guidelines could make choosing easier for the daughters, but parents don’t want to hear of girls choosing their own partners.  They would rather kill them. One Khap supporter claimed only prostitutes choose their own partners.

When the parents arrange a marriage, do they always choose well?

Giribala said, ‘Freedom to obey’ is not ‘freedom.’ And when the obedient girl marries the person of her parents’ choice, she gets the ‘freedom to obey’ for the rest of her life!’

Freedom to obey also means, they can’t come back home.  Sometimes they must adjust till they die. Sometimes they kill themselves, sometimes they  are burnt to death, sometimes they are sixty before they realize they can’t go on. They are told their happiness depends on their luck. Does this make a daughter see the parents as her genuine well wishers?  Think about it, would you trust someone who says it’s your Destiny to live an unhappy life and your Duty to serve those who make life unlivable for you?

Social conditioning has such powers – some girls do.

Some rebel.

They can see that if they are old enough to get married then they are also old enough to choose their partners. Nobody has more right to decide who they marry than the girls themselves…

Sounds like common sense? But we tend to put custom (i.e. old habits ) over common sense.

There are some with unlimited freedom to control other citizen’s lives . It seems Gujarat  government has forgotten that these citizens are voters too.

GANDHINAGAR/SURAT: The Gujarat government has asked courts not to register marriages unless there’s parental consent in writing. (Click to read – Thanks for this link Desi Girl)

Don’t let me down dear daughter!

Or else…

A friend once said she was very liberal and gave her daughter plenty of freedom, with a reminder, that she trusted her and did not expect the child to ‘let her down’.

Terms like ‘trust’, ‘freedom’ and ‘letting down’ made it sound like a warning  Guidance and support towards self reliance, encouragement and acceptance would have been more appropriate, I feel.

How does  a child tell such parents that she disagrees? What if she does not succeed is being obedient? And, if she does make a bad choice? It looked more like the parents were letting down the child.

‘Freedom to obey’ is not ‘freedom’.

The children are  reminded that if they take decisions on their own – like a daughter marrying a person of her choice, she mustn’t come back home if there is a problem. (Another threat.)

And if she marries someone they choose and there is abuse? Can she come back home then? We know she can’t.

How do their ‘trust’  and their expectations help the child lead a better life? Or were they not really thinking of the child’s happiness – in which case should the child trust them?

Trust.

Sangeeta from Gurjjar community, knew her family would not allow her to marry Ravinder Kataria, a Jaatav boy, she  had met in her Computer classes.

This February they married in court and also  in an Arya Samaj Temple.

‘They decided not to declare their marriage until they succeeded in convincing their families to approve it‘ and ‘continued to stay at their respective houses’.

When her family members started looking for a groom for her, Sangeeta had to tell them about her marriage.

It is easy to imagine the reactions… Such boldness must have been seen as a bad  example for other girls in the family. The news mentions many uncles, a brother, father and mother.

She managed to go to her husband’s home, but her family persuaded her to come back with them to return on 18th July after a grand wedding to save their name (honor). The couple wanted their blessings so they must have been relieved.

Ravindra lost all contact with his wife after that. Suspecting foul play, on July 13th he lodged a complaint with the police.

The Noida police launched an investigation and recovered the skeletal remains of the girl from the fields and arrested four persons, including her brother and father. The accused have confessed to the killing, police said.

In a post about a Delhi girl who died in suspicious circumstances, a commenter had said the girl betrayed her parents’ trust, she was sent to study, not to choose a life partner. Does it sound like we are talking about an adult citizen living in a  Democratic nation? Indian parents need to learn that they do not own their children, they do not ‘give them freedom’ – and they have no right to take it away.

(Details of the news from [Link 1 ],  [Link 2] ,[Link 3], [Link 4 ]& [Link 5])

Related post: Perfect parenting in 55 words