Tag Archives: child advocacy

Perception, Reality, Empathy


I had a meeting with an administrator at school the other day. She said, “Perception is reality,” when we were speaking about my son and his experiences of late. She followed that up with, “which means to me that we have to reframe the way we think regarding him, and allow for him to have that reality.”

I said, “Ok, good! It’s heartening to hear you say that, because all along in this situation, he’s been made to feel as though he’s off-base and yet he has said to me, quite clearly and consistently, ‘this is how it feels to me…’ and so while I’m thrilled to hear him stand up for himself, I’ve secretly feared that The Big School Machine would see it differently… that he’d be compelled to fight for his perception. But your stance is quite empathetic, isn’t it? That is progress.”

She smiled. She got it. We were on the same track.

I smiled, inside and outside. Her actions, she assures me, are reflective of her appreciation of my son’s appeals.

I’ve been raising my boys to be candid, speak up for themselves, be real, be fair, be kind, but above all, to be strong. As like me, they are imperfect. We screw up, sometimes in an epic fashion. But we amend. We own it.

I’ve told them that not everyone, in fact most people, will be unwilling to agree with their perceptions, and that they also will likely not always agree with other peoples’ perceptions. That disagreement, however, needn’t look like war. That disagreement, is often a bridge to greater understanding and allowing of The Other, so long as we are willing to get out of our own way.

I have a yoga student who amazes me. She’s started a blog, at my suggestion, because she has a very clear voice and she is super energetic. She, like you and I and the guy down the street, is a unique individual. She has an amazing and humbling story, which she has cast aside as something she doesn’t want to focus on, but I see it differently. I’ve absolutely allowed her her own opinion, but her survival of a catastrophic car wreck and subsequent traumatic brain injury and recovery and now being a yoga devotee, has leveled me flat.

She has this thing though, as we all do, about aging and perfection and reality… and then the at-times Oprah-imposed thrust of gratitude for our ever-present abundance. She wrote about it here, “The Art of Perfectionism.” I read that post and as much as I wanted to say, “you’re awesome! let it go! don’t you see how incredible you are?!” I had to sit back, take a few breaths and say… “Ok.”

Enter: empathy. “Feeling with people.”

I’ve read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I did a 30 Days of Brené Brown blog challenge. I’ve learned a lot about myself through that and other challenges, actual, life challenges.

Empathy, as Brown explains it, assures that we not necessarily have a personal first-hand experience with the situation. That’s impossible, anyway, as we are all wired differently and also have entirely discrete appreciations (i.e., “How do I know the blue you see is the same blue I see, man?”) which have shaped our perceptions.

Brené says quite clearly, “rarely can a response make something better; what can make something better, is a connection.”

What empathy does require, is the simple awareness that someone else is going through Something and that our appreciation of that other person’s Something is shared. Then, due to that awareness, right there!: a connection, no matter how ephemeral or even shallow, is made.

The Something needn’t be a “bad” Something! It can be an engagement or a divorce, a new job or a firing, or a lottery winning or a bankruptcy, or a book deal or a scandal.

Our appreciation can appear as simple as “Wow! That’s some news. I have no personal experience with that, but I can appreciate that it’s a lot to take in…”

And you’re DONE. Empathy accomplished. The other person is heard and their Something is Acknowledged — NOT EVEN VALIDATED, just acknowledged. Y’dig? (And if they need more from you on the matter, that’s on them… you don’t have to give more.)

That empathetic moment is quite simple — yet it’s one of the hardest things to perform.

Why? Why is it so hard? WHYYYYYY???

Because we have to get in the way.

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.

-Zig Ziegler

We have to be right.

We have to compare.

We have to fix.

We have to feel small inside.

We have to fight.

We have to prove otherwise.

We have to feel less-than or more-than.

We have to somehow, even though it’s a direct violation of empathy, find some form or relevance of that information, that Something, to fit into OUR LIVES or we risk feeling…


Which we are… at that moment, because The Something isn’t about us. It seldom is and it likely won’t ever be about us, THANKFULLY (for we have enough going on in our lives, right? but we don’t want to think about our lives… we want to think about other peoples’ lives so we don’t have to think about our lives… i do it all the time…)!

It’s about the Owner of The Something.

All this act of … sharing requires is that We Hear and See The Other. That’s all. And maaaaaaybe… just maybe we can see ourselves –identify the need within ourselves to have Our Own Thing– in that other person? Just a smidge? Eeency weeny itty bitty bit? And what’s more: let them have Their Own Thing? That’s a connection right there. 

"we're all a little crazy," -my sage brother

“we’re all a little crazy,” -my sage brother.

I’m not asking you to see yourself in others; I’m asking you to see Others in yourself — let it be about them, not you, allow yourself to open…

So I was thrilled when the administrator said, “his perception is reality and we have to take that into consideration; just because we don’t have that experience, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t…”

And my heart sang. LA LA LA LA LAAAAAAAAA! Your blue might not be the same blue as my blue, but I trust that you know I have my own blue and I trust that your blue is great for you!

So remember: when The Other shares Something, you don’t have to go digging into your data vault of relevance to see if you’ve got something better, or similar, or worse or bigger or smaller.

You can just sit there and say, “Wow. That’s some news. I have no personal appreciation of that [BECAUSE I AM NOT YOU AND THAT NOT BEING YOU REQUIRES THAT I GET OUT OF MY OWN WAY TO SEE THAT YOU ARE SEPARATE, a’hem] but I can appreciate that it might [NOT “will”] take some time to adjust to that…”

Try it. And here’s a great thing: just being empathetic with that person doesn’t mean you’re on their bus. It doesn’t mean you’ve attached yourself or that you’ve taken a blood oath of permanence. It just means — AT THAT MOMENT — that you’re appreciating their situation.

So can you do that? Can you just… allow someone else to have Their Own Something?

Here’s the best video I’ve ever seen about this.

Thank you.


30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 25: #guts #character #advocacy #vainglory


Welcome to Day 25 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” I am feeling sheepish today because I learned last night from a wonderful friend and cousin-in-law, the Amazing Kat Hurley who’s just published her own very memoir, i think i’ll make it, that Oprah Winfrey and Brené Brown have been doing some awesomeness class together and I had no clue.

I’ll tell you what: I’m not trying to co-opt on that action. I hope I’ve not made too much of a dent in their endeavor’s success. My apologies if I have stolen any of their thunder. I have to admit this: I really want to like Oprah. I can’t. She never returns my calls. That’s not friendship.

Moving on.

Today’s quote is …

If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal! (p 272)
― Brené BrownI Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame

I’ve actually almost gotten in a cat fight over this very behavior. I saw a mother treat her toddler daughter horribly in a Red Robin restaurant. I wrote about it here in my Jung series.

Ok. So I still think about that moment and I wonder, “Was I being cruel? Was I not seeing that woman in her pain and could I have been kinder to her? Could I have been softer to her?”

I think at that point, I was so ramped up that it was almost impossible for me to be OK with it. That little girl needed an advocate and I happened to be there.

I think this all the time when I see public displays of assholicry: if this is how you are, out in the open with seemingly NO self-awareness, how bad must it be at your home?

As I look back on that quote, I can’t help but think of Kat, my cousin-in-law and her memoir. She has worked hard, insanely hard to confront her demons and trudge on, “I fight fear every day!” she said with her megawatt smile at an annual Christmas party.

At a tender age, Kat indeed saw cruelty and (let me know if I’m overstepping here, Kat) took it all in and then had to do what no one should ever have to do. What she did and what she endured, scoped out her life and her missteps and victories in a way that makes me personally jump for joy every time I see her.

Kat has taken that “we are here for a reason” thing and let it drive the beat of her heart and power the pumping of her blood.

I won’t give away her story. She is still living her story; we all are.

Brown’s quote raises for me my own involvement in a very difficult proposition: if you see someone being cruel to someone else, and you take it personally, is that all there is? Are you done? Are you off the hook? Of course you could take it personally — and you might. Doing that, just taking it personally, is empathy. You have been there yourself; you have felt the humiliation that the target of the cruelty feels… of course you have.

So, if, you were like me, how do you let that be the end of it? How do you defend the oppressed while not being terse or cruel to the offender? How do we keep it in check? How do we know the context? How do we?! What if the person who is now the target was actually the antagonist a moment before we witnessed anything? It’s SO HARD to know when what is going on is enough context.

In the case of that little girl and her frustrated mother in the Red Robin, it’s easy to see who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. In Kat’s story, it’s quite clear who was being cruel and who wasn’t.

BUT… what if you’ve got a situation of some really screwed up, entrenched dynamics of the Baby Jane and Blanche Hudson variety?

Where the where do you begin to undo THAT web?? Who do we defend? Those two women were simply fantastic and CRAZY.

I think Brown’s quote presumes that there is a good guy and a bad guy; or maybe it’s not that simple: everyone’s feeling wronged. So how to call attention and then work to end the cycle?

I guess we just do what we can to stay present and not see the cruelty as a truly personal act. To take some of that truly personally edges too closely for my comfort to psychosis and it can create unhealthy ownership of all the cruelty in the world, of which there is plenty… but there is also plenty of good too.

I remember when I first started therapy, I was encouraged to look outside myself to see that my story is universal: that everyone suffers from time to time and that anger, while powerful and motivating, needn’t be the force that got me up every morning.

So then I did my best to actively look at life that way; that I’m not so alone. There is injustice and pain everywhere. Everyone needs a shoulder. That shoulder can be me. But my shoulders are already heavy and then there’s so much sadness and everyone should have a reason to be angry and then they are angry and then I should be ok with their being angry or else I would be fearful and then judgmental and then that just makes more targets and more meanies and then everyone is sad and then I get sad and I want to be happy I mean that’s why I’m in therapy anyway right so am I selfish for not wanting to be sad when there is so much sadness everywhere?

Then what? Y’dig?

So, yeah… I guess: take it personally, but then try to work it out. It’s not personal. It’s just a bummer. We can all become cruelty vigilantes and that would be good… but then there would be the vainglorious among us…

This is starting to feel like an Escher nightmare.



I didn’t like this quote so much. Her energy is right, the intention is there, but I feel like there is a lot missing which could explain what she’s really trying to get into.

In the meantime, go check out Kat’s book. She’s great.

Thank you



When you return a gift, it doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of it in the first place. It just might not be right.

I’m not rationalizing, but I am coming to terms with the past 2 weeks. The last 7 days in particular.

So I wrote last week about someone who wrote me a check for $3,500 to pursue yoga training after I volunteered my time for the benefit of Survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

I am registered. I am committed and I’m all in. Every dime of that check (and beyond some) will be spent on this endeavor, not to mention a total dietary turnaround. I will be participating in a mostly vegan (including dairy, so it’s still technically vegetarian) diet for 16 days. I’m not psyched about that; we humans have fangs for a reason. But I will submit because it’s part of the philosophy of this training regimen: compassion for all living creatures, and so I’m in.

Here’s what’s new: I returned the funds.

I am going to do this on my own steam.

I began to feel some really uncool familiar feelings in the midst of all this (that’s a good post if you’re at all wondering about why you have psychic vampires or codependent issues that you can’t seem to shake or resolve). My feelings don’t mean any of it is true, universally, but they do mean they’re true for me.

I am a studious person. I sat with those feelings, let them process, gave them a chair, a napkin and a cup of Earl Gray.

They did not really go away.

The feeling: chaos. That I was not in control of my own … hmm … my own person. That despite any statements to the contrary by any parties involved: I would owe someone something; I would be beholden. I could’ve signed a contract: “Molly will never owe me one thing ever, not ever, not even a smile or a good thought, if she takes this Gift and uses it to improve the lives of other people, including herself,” and it wouldn’t have been enough. In my paranoid, damaged and experienced brain: everything comes with a price, there is NO such thing as a free lunch, and any gift, especially a monetary one, comes with expectations, or it would be anonymous which would then create more chaos because I’d have to find the person to thank them and then feel beholden to.

I’m not right in the head. I know this. I hate blaming my childhood, but another inconvenient truth is this: 95% of any action we conduct is rooted in our experiences as children before the age of 5. IT JUST IS. So we must pay attention.

So if you’re normal and weren’t raised by wolves (whom I’ve come to discover are actually quite kind to their young), you would take this gift and be totalllllllly okay with it. But what if you’re me? You’re hosed. You need to change.

How do we change? We pay attention. So I dissected and gleaned and examined this whole thing, how it went down, what else was going on in the community when it happened, any commonalities and changes in our shared recent social experiences and I came up with more than a handful of subtle yet significant items.

Giving back the funds was only part of the equation. I wanted to understand two things: why I took them in the first place, and why I wanted to give them back.

I took the funds because it was a fantastic gesture and I’m not at all good about taking extravagant gifts from people.

I gave them back because I realized a couple things: what I really needed was the shot in the arm, the kick in the touchas, the cheer from the sidelines, that the funds represented, from an uninterested party (i.e., not my parents and not my spouse).

Keeping the funds, to me, meant a forced allegiance, a false loyalty, worse: a sense of obligation … and no one wants that. Especially with me. I would’ve second-guessed everything: from any enjoyment in the course “is this happy enough? Am I grateful enough?!” (I told you I’m damaged) to any fears or regrets, “gah! If I don’t like it I’m not fulfilling my end of the deal! If I am afraid I can’t do it, I’m not worthy of the endorsement!” All the way down to a sense of unending and misappropriated gratitude: that I would have to be forever grateful for the gift.

No, this had to be all me. This sponsor did not want my anxieties and potential resentment on top of any sense of obligation. I did that person a favor…

So how do I model healthy detachment for my children? I take the gift, I say thank you for the gift, I deposit the gift, I follow through on the commitment the gift is supporting and then I return the gift and do it on my own. Wanna take it one step better? How do I model health self-esteem for my kids? I do it on my own from the start. I just say, “Honey, I shrank the kids I am going to be certified to teach yoga” and as long as it’s a healthy decision, then we’re good to go.

So I dropped off the check this morning and we are taking care of this training on our own steam, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Thank you.

Parenting: The Dangers and Influence of Elitism


I read an article, “The Master” by Marc Fisher about 2 weeks ago in The New Yorker magazine about an English teacher at the renowned Horace Mann high school in the Bronx.

The teacher’s name was Robert Berman, and the article was ostensively about sex abuse by Berman toward his male students during the 1970s. Accusations included all manner of abuse from emotional and psychological to physical and rape of these young men. Some of these students were so heavily influenced by Berman that they bought him a townhouse on Manhattan’s west side years after graduating from the school.

Since the allegations were made several years ago, Facebook groups have formed and legal suits against the school have been filed. Berman has maintained his innocence, and true to his reportedly elitist and highly eccentric personality (according to Fisher, Berman encouraged his students “to subvert standardized tests by answering every question with the word ‘five'”), Berman has remained a mystery and largely silent, requesting his privacy, insisting that he is an old man who wants to live out his final fragile years with dignity and solitude. He “speaks” through seeming disciples and communicates via hand-written letters delivered by the postal service or hand courier.

Part of the draw of people like Berman is their charisma and their personality; they create a mystique and an almost cult-like fascination for students who hang their achievement on their every word and preference. Many former students cited his strangeness but also considered him genius and a driving force in their successful careers as writers, artists, and musicians. This is all well and fine, for those who got away.

While the allegations are horrid and disturbing, the article discussed –but as far as I’m concerned largely glanced over–  a very subtle yet more sinister element in all of these troubling stories and that is the power of elitism — the severe and undue influence that any authority figure has over children (or any at-risk person), regardless of environment. The food of elitism is the subject’s desperate need for approval, acceptance, love and attention. What I’m talking about is really subtle: it’s not just that Berman did these things; but what I’m talking about is the how; the tool and the device he used to do it so insidiously.

Like the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal at Penn State, more times than not, many of these children were lured by these people because of their emotional vulnerability or a less-than ideal home-life: often they came from broken families or from families where the parents were angry, overwhelmed by their jobs, health issues or other major distractions.

Even kids from so-called good homes (both parents present, gainfully employed and stable families) were still susceptible to these types of authority figures because they were reduced by Berman. Everything they previously thought that was of value, was devalued. From music, to art; from literature to movies; from girls to sports, Berman found a way to denigrate their opinions and replace them with his. He found a way to tell them that what they loved before was worthless now because he deemed it so. By doing this with the students who were at risk, he groomed them to need his favor and his good opinion. They wanted to fit in … somewhere. This is a tool used everywhere, but it’s so subtle.

By replacing their esteem with his judgment, they gave away their power. They lost their bearings, they discarded their own benchmarks and valuations and began to engage in behaviors and studies and experiences to seek and win his approval. As time wore on, his admonitions were more severe and their appeasement became more desperate and his abuse escalated to untenable levels. Not all students were selected and preyed upon by Berman, and of those who were, not all succumbed to his advances. Some former students who stepped forward discussed their experiences with him and how they got away from him; and that once they did get away from him, that they were deemed “dead” to him. But of the others, the nightmares continue and the trauma is just beneath the surface.

Elitism’s power and the abusive influence of authority figures is not really about sex. Like all matters of abuse, it’s about power, control and the need to build a power base due to the abuser’s own issues with mortality and other screwed up reasons.

Revealed most recently: Rutgers University Basketball coach Mike Rice’s abuses. Why those huge college students put up with his crap is beyond me. But look further: these athletes are exploited plain and simple for the betterment and bank accounts of the colleges, advertising agencies and television networks. They pin their hopes on an NBA career and curry favor of the whims of insatiable coaches because of those hopes.

As parents, we need to do a better job: we need to talk to our kids about these subtleties. As a parent of three boys, all of whom are engaged in sports (two at the neighborhood club level, my oldest in a high school rowing program), my husband and I do our best to make sure the boys respect the coaches; that they listen to their opinions and practice good sportsmanship as well as work on their skills. My oldest son is just beginning this journey. Regardless of the benefits and challenges of a rigorous rowing training program, he needs to know of most of all the concept of self-respect and what that looks like not only for himself, which is paramount, but what it looks like in his teachers and coaches. A good coach will show you how it’s done and train you do to it; a bad coach will strip you of your dignity, beat the crap out of you and denigrate you and reduce you to make himself feel better and to wait for you to appease him or her. While we’re at it: there is no place for inquiries about personal preferences, and opinions of behavior.

As high schoolers, we liked teachers and coaches who were like us: who cursed, and maybe smoked or showed some rebellion. We related to that; that was cool to us. Looking back: those teachers were needy losers.

As parents, we need to hold teachers and coaches to a high level: they must behave themselves and not work so hard to earn our kids’ favor. Trust is earned when it’s proven. It’s the same as “stranger danger” — as I say to my kids and any kid or their parent who will listen: “No adult ever needs the help of a young child to do anything.” Same goes for coaches and teachers and other authority figures. They are there to teach and train, plain and simple.

The article in The New Yorker is linked above; it’s long, as many articles can be in that magazine, but it’s captivating and important to read. Elitism from our friends, our parents, our siblings, relatives, teachers, coaches, priests — anyone really — is corrosive and dangerous; its intent is to breed subservience, supplication and submission. It’s the “mean girls” of anything we do. Anyone can have their own opinions, but the moment they become empirical, black & white, or critical of yours or your child’s is the moment they can become dangerous and they create a perfect breeding ground for inadequacy issues and second-guesses.

Thank you.