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Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: How Sensitive Are You?

Did you ever notice how evil fosters evil? Perhaps I put that a little too bluntly. How about this? Ever notice how bad behavior tends to encourage bad behavior? "Come on, everyone is doing it." I am sure we have all experienced this phenomenon, when someone goads us into doing something that we think we should not do. Before long we are in the middle of whatever it is we should not be doing.

Recently the parent of one of my young students complained to me about the behavior of children in a gymnastics class. The average age of the children in the class was about 4-7 years old. This parent related to me how appalling much of the children's behavior was: shouting, running around, not listening, talking to each other. The thing that bothered my parent so much was that no one seemed to be doing anything about it. The teacher did not have  control over the situation, and the parents did not step forward and claim any responsibility. This parent just itched to jump into the fray and straighten everyone out, but she resisted because her child was not the problem, and we do not correct other children's behavior but our own, right?

After a really lively discussion about the "state of affairs" of children's behavior in general in public, we threw out ideas as to why things seem to have reached this level of disorder. Why do so many children misbehave in public? Why are parents apparently so desensitized to bad public behavior?

I was reading an article by the author Rick Warren, where he said, "One of the ways . . . deviant behavior [becomes] acceptable is to get you to laugh at it. Once you've laughed, your barriers have lowered. If you [are] laughing at something that is wrong or sinful, you've already lost the battle."

That statement got me thinking. I am a big advocate about watching your thoughts and guarding what you put in your mind. It is one thing when the problem is an obvious one, such as looking at pornography or witnessing casual drug use in your presence. You know what is wrong, and you know what you should do to handle the situation. And we teach our children how to handle these things too. Obvious situations like this are fairly easy to understand and to know what is the right thing to do.

The problem is the less than obvious situations. There are a lot of sitcoms on television currently that draw their humor from situations that offer humor that comes at the expense of embarrassing someone, disrespecting someone, or behaving rudely to someone. Yes, I have laughed at many of these things myself. I loved watching "Frazier," and the bantering repartee between the two brothers and their father. They were nasty to each other, and it was hilarious. I never thought there was anything wrong at the time I watched the show, probably because the humor was so outrageous that the viewer knew it could never be part of true life.

However, in retrospect, there are many who view these things and do not recognize the difference between reality and fiction. I recall meeting a lady in the supermarket checkout line and listening to her lament about some ridiculous claim on the cover of one of the gossip magazines. "Do you believe that's true?" I asked. The claim was really silly and patently constructed to fit the tenor of the magazine. "Of course!" the lady told me. "It's printed in the magazine." Huh.

But that is what many folks think. If it is printed in the newspaper or magazine or shown on television or in the movies, then it must be the way of things. Look around you. Do you see that bad behavior over there with that little child in the office supply store? The child (probably about three or four years old) is pitching a fit that should raise the dead on aisle three. What would you do as a parent?

Many parents would placate the child with candy or giving into whatever whim the child seeks to indulge with the tantrum. In this real life scenario, I watched closely to see what mom would do. She had the right instincts: walk away as if you did not even notice the fit. It does not affect you. This is tough today, because we do not live in a safe world. Still, I watched mom take a few steps away. I signaled to her that I would also keep an eye on the child. The screaming child had an older sister, however, who did not understand what was the correct thing to do. She kept trying to get the little one to stop screaming. I finally told her to just walk away and go to her mother.

What happened next was hilarious. I wish I had had the foresight to film it. Mom and sister walked out of the little hellion's sight. The child screamed about three seconds more, then stopped, got up and walked to the aisle where mom and sister were. The child threw herself to the ground again and began pitching the fit anew. Mom took sister by the hand and moved to another aisle. I hovered nearby, watching. The child stopped screaming, walked to the new aisle, and began the fit again. It took about 10 minutes. This was a very determined child. I was proud of this particular mother, because she did exactly what I would have advised, and she lasted out the entire episode longer than the  child did.

The child's purpose in pitching a fit was to gain attention in some way. The mom refused to give in. The lesson that the child learned that day was that temper tantrums do not gain the objective. The parent (and older sister) did not pay attention to the child's fit. The child accomplished nothing with this bad behavior.

Have we become desensitized to bad behavior? Is it so common place now that we do not even recognize it? I hope not. When I see bad behavior on a television show, I consider whether this bad behavior is a regular part of the show's presentation. If that is the case, then I am careful about my viewing habits of this show. I enjoy a good show, but I frequently remind myself about the difference between comedy in La-La Land (television) and reality, at least the reality as I would like it to be.

So what is my Monday morning message? Guard what you put in your mind! Are you desensitizing yourself to something that should be unacceptable? Are you clear about your own code of acceptable behavior, as it applies to you or your children?

A few years back I reached a milestone birthday that encouraged me to be a bit more blunt about my opinions and observations (I think I am old enough to wear purple and do all the things that the poem entails; click here for the poem). If I see something that should be addressed, I ask questions about it. I have stopped being intimidated about things or people. I speak up. I ask why things happen in the way that they do, and I frequently ask about bad behavior. I ask why parents or children or co-workers or friends or even enemies behave badly. And more importantly, I ask why the rest of us allow this bad behavior to prevail.

If I do not ask, how can I live with myself when things go awry? I cannot stand by and allow children (and their parents) to behave badly. I will not permit the entertainment industry to try and coax me into believing that bad behavior is funny and acceptable. If I do watch such a show, I will do so with my eyes open and my reality antennae working overtime. I will not allow myself to be desensitized into accepting bad behavior because I have been made to laugh about it.

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