Be Careful of What You Wish For


When we have a dog, we usually endeavor to train the dog to sit or stay and reward the dog for the obedience. After repetition and praise, we all are successful. (Don’t bother with cats. You are their staff.)

When we call the dog and the dog comes, we reward the dog with a treat or a loving, non-aggressive response, and the dog feels safe and sometimes this safety is enough to feel rewarded.  After repetition and praise, we are all successful.

When we do this with a horse, the horse gets a carrot or treated kindly with love.  Request, praise, repeat.

When we do this with a dolphin, the dolphin gets a mackerel.  Request, praise, repeat.

This is called conditioning. This is called training.  This is also known as positive reinforcement.

What about when we have a dog that does something we don’t like? Say your dog poops in the house.  When we discover this, usually a while after the poop deposit, many people will chastise the dog, shove the dog’s nose in the poop and think they’ve trained the dog to not poop in the house.

Not so fast.  They’ve trained the dog to stay the hell away of the person who just called the dog.  

When we do this with our children:  when we discover they made a mess hours or several moments after it happened and we call them and scream at them for messing up, we are conditioning them to fear us when we call them.  If we do this enough, those kids will be afraid to move and will think everything is their fault.  And when they get their chance: they’re vapor.

When we tell the child that their grades are unacceptable and that they are lazy, they learn that only negative behavior gets a response.  So they keep that up. 

“Leave me alone!” 

When we freak out and get upset that a child or a dog or a horse or a dolphin doesn’t stay out of our things, or doesn’t mind their own business when we are on the phone or when they take something that doesn’t belong to them, we are training that child or mammal to not only respect our @)(*%@ privacy, we are training that child or mammal to stay away.  The mammal learns fast.  The mammal learns that even the remotest bit of toe-dipping into our pool of existence becomes one of trepidation.

We are turning our intrepid, innocent, loving, wide-eyed and imaginative children, or mammals into reactive, fearful, apprehensive and unsure beings.  We want our privacy, our things, our stuff respected, our “zones” of existence to be so separate and different than theirs. We get so much privacy that they never want to come back for fear of a negative response.  

Children and dolphins and dogs and horses aren’t born afraid.  We teach them this.  

We beat them down emotionally or otherwise to a point that we get so much privacy that they condition themselves to just stay away. Mission accomplished, right? 

~ ~ ~ 

If you are an adult child of a parent who wanted, craved and demanded privacy or who abdicated their parental obligations to a nanny or other surrogate and today you have a rocky relationship with that or those parents, don’t despair.  You were trained to give space.  You were trained to defer.  You were trained to not get involved.  You were trained to stay out.  Could your reactions now as an adult be that you are riddled with guilt and sadness for how things could have been if only you’d been a better kid to be invited?  I will recommend that you let it go.  Don’t sweat it, move on.  But that’s tough too.  But if you give yourself the gift of remembering that you weren’t born to fear or resent or to feel guilt, you will remember that you were conditioned.  We are not formed in a vacuum. 

But if you are an adult who craves your privacy and your “me” time and all the rest so you can be your creative best self,  be careful of what you wish for.  You want privacy?  You want your things left alone?  If you train enough, you just might get it and you’ll be left alone.  Now no one will disturb you.  Ever.  So when you’re 85 in a rocking chair wondering why no one comes to see you, remember this post.  You created this dynamic.  And again, if you’re the kid of a parent like that: you were trained.  

The good news: this can be reversed at any age.  But we all have to be willing to allow it.  Pride screws everything up.  Get out of your own way. 

thank you. 

5 responses »

  1. Ah. Thank you for making me think. I will think twice next time I order my child to stop taking my stuff or stop interrupting me. It's interesting, this need to establish boundaries and how it works with our children's need for nurturing and love.

  2. Me too. Just seeing the pattern the past few months and then speaking more gently and patiently seems to do well. It also attends to some of my ghosts. Children are naturally curious and they should feel safe being so, especially around their parents.

  3. I don’t think I ever read this, but I’m glad I did today. My youngest child is very much like I was as a child, and my task every moment is to listen, think, “how would I have wanted my mom to react to that?” before I react, and then try to offer her love and compassion instead of criticism and sarcasm. Additionally, accompanying you on your journey is helping me to show more compassion to my own mother, who is 81, lives with me, and is still a critical, cynical, sarcastic gossip. Thank you for this today.

    • the compassion you show your mother now, is what will help you when she goes to God. if we maintain the terseness of our relationships, we are putting up fences of our love. i have come to realize there is nothing wrong with offering love that mightn’t be returned in kind. it is better to try with a pure heart and no expectations. in the end, before Mom died, i was able to do that. the retreat helped with that so much, i can’t even begin to describe it. i have tried and it’s hard, but i will endeavor soon because its concept keeps tapping me on the shoulder. i can feel it when i turn away, when i withhold myself from myself and others. it’s like a curling inside of me. a recoiling. we must be mindful of those recoils…

      you have a large task ahead of you… we all do. be as peaceful as you can and the relationships will unfold as they are meant to. it stinks: the feeling of powerlessness over another or over an outcome when all we want is just to have some peace. but the peace can be had anywhere — even in the middle of Grand Central Station. sometimes: easier said than done.

      i must stop saying “i’m tired of being humbled” … it’s a lot of humbling coming my way. i know it. bracing myself only wears me out. i just need to go with the flow. i fool myself into thinking i have. God shows me every time.


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