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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Golden ZigZag


I learned many things when I studied law, but I want to talk about two things today, because I think they might help parents reach some insight about problems in the parent-child relationship and how to create positive, effective solutions. One item is the directed verdict. The other is the golden zig zag.

When one side in a trial finishes presenting its case, the other side may ask for a directed verdict. This is a request that the judge take the case away from the jury, basically saying that the first party did not prove one or more crucial elements of its case. When we learned about this concept in school, we likened it to looking at one side of your hand. When you look at one side of your hand, you are unable to see the other side, and vice versa when you turn your hand over to see the other side. Asking for a directed verdict means that you think you can tell everything there is to know about how to decide a case just by looking at one side of the hand.

Our perspective is like a directed verdict sometimes. We only see one side and do not have the richness of considering the other side to fill out the complete picture. Intelligent folk strive to be open-minded, considerate, and aware of many perspectives, but let us face the fact that we are not that successful at it when our emotions are at stake. When a parent and child are at odds with each other, it is so easy for the parent to reach conclusions as to the reasons why a child is behaving a particular way. The danger is that the parent is not giving enough reflection to the situation to consider what other perspective might explain what is happening.

Those of us who studied Aristotle and his philosophy in school may recall his golden mean, that moral behavior is the desirable middle or mean between two extreme points: one of excess and one of deficiency. I studied under a wonderful professor, Dean J. Spader, and he wrote an article entitled “Individual rights vs. social utility: The search for the golden zigzag between conflicting fundamental values.” You can find this article in the Journal of Criminal Justice, 1987, vol. 15, issue 2, pages 121-136, if you would like to read the entire article. I am only going to reference one tiny part of the article that caught my interest many years ago and which has stuck with me as a decision-making tool for many years. If you are a fan of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, then you will be familiar with the four quadrants that Covey uses to determine what is important and urgent. Other authors have suggested a similar quadrant box for decision-making. Here is an example of the quadrant box:

Quadrant Box

The quadrant box basically sets out two positives in box one (upper left) and two negatives in box 4 opposite it (bottom right). There are two other combinations of boxes one and four that appear in boxes two and three. Covey used the box to make lists of things along with their importance and urgency factors. Box one was “important and urgent,” box four was “not important and not urgent,” and you can figure out how boxes two and three were completed.

In Spader’s article, he wrote about the struggle to balance social versus individual rights. While it was clear to Spock in Star Trek parlance — “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” — in reality our social and governmental structures struggle daily with this issue. In essence, rather than search for the mean point between two extremes, Spader showed how we made “zigzags” among the boxes as different needs and rights came to the forefront related to different situations.

OK, you are thinking, this is interesting, but where are you going with this? Where is the usual Monday Morning Check In discussion about life and improving our habits and character? I am getting to that. I just wanted to be sure you had the same tools at your disposal that I want to use: the directed verdict hand and the golden zigzag.

Last week was an interesting week for me as a teacher observer. Some of my best studio moms were struggling mightily with child behavior issues. Now there are many possible reasons for the behaviors we saw: school is out, vacation bible school or summer day camps have started, routines are altered, etc. Kids and their parents are just starting to figure out what the schedule is going to be for the summer. As I watched though, I saw how easy it was for my best studio parents to fall into the trap of the directed verdict – seeing just one side of the hand. I understand the reason for this, because a lot of emotion is attached to any part of the parent-child relationship.

I call these my best studio parents because they are open to discussing the problems with me and reflecting on possible solutions. They are also open to hearing any possible observations I have about what might be going on. And I admit, I can be pretty frank about what I see. I am in a unique position as a teacher observer who sees the parent and child maybe once or twice a week. I am not easily inured by the day to day grind, so I can sometimes see quite easily what might be going on. I also have the advantage of watching a pattern unfold from week to week.

I will not relate the personal stories of my studio families from last week. Suffice it to say that we had lovely conversations about what could be going on. I offered up the observation that things were not quite so one-sided if we were to take a step back from the directed verdict and look for the golden zigzag. There are many perspectives and each has its own possibility for directing us to a particular verdict. The truly reflective teacher and parent will instead search to follow the golden zigzag, which will consider and balance all the possibilities.

I will leave you with one personal story that a parent volunteered to share. In this case the parent and child had struggled last week because the parent’s work routine had changed once school let out. That meant that the child’s practice routine changed, and the parent had not been able to work out a great solution yet. This week the parent still had not worked out a good solution, but she had found a way to resolve most of the practicing drama issues.

Mom said she spent time reflecting on what she wanted rather than what she did not want. In this case, she wanted to get back into a practice routine that centered on practice rather than drama issues, despite her summer work schedule changes. This week she resolved her previous week's problems by doing these things:
  • Mom worked to change her attitude and make practicing more fun again, instead of a chore.
  • Mom still had not figured out a great schedule, but she did put practice sessions before something else that the child would want to do, such as playtime.
  • Mom kept it simple and fun.
  • Mom used grandma and the child’s younger cousin to re-inspire the child to play by having grandma and cousin serve as an audience.
  • Mom worked to see more good things in the child’s playing rather than things that needed to be corrected.

Bravo, mom! Rather than facing the situation as “this is the way things are, and you just have to get over it,” mom looked for the golden zigzag. Judging by the success mom reported to me at the end of the week, I would say that mom had found it.

Happy zigzagging!

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