October 2010


I’ve been in Boston this week at the International Leadership Association Conference.   I am always open to the unexpected when I travel, but I received an unexpected gift at this conference.

The ILA incorporates many ways of thinking about and practicing leadership.  One of the sessions I attended explored Leadership and the Language of Poetry. All the participants at the well attended session were invited to take 15 minutes to silently tour a display of 145 poems that had been printed out on individual sheets of paper, and make note of those that ‘spoke’ to us and our leadership journey.

Several resonated with various areas of my professional leadership journey.  Many of them moved me deeply.  I wasn’t the only one who was soon shedding tears as we quietly knelt on the floor before sheets of paper, or stood side by side at tables neatly laid out with pages and pages of poetry.

We were then invited to choose one.  Only one.

One poem touched me deeply, resonating with my journey of being parented, becoming a parent and my thoughts about parenting as a leadership journey.

We broke into small groups and were asked to read our chosen poem aloud to the others.  I found myself gasping for breath and reaching for more tissues to dry the tears that were now flowing freely.

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm

my father recited a story in a low voice.

I watched his lovely face and not the blade.

Before the story ended, he’d removed

The iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,

but hear his voice still, a well

of dark water, a prayer.

And I recall his hands,

two measures of tenderness

he laid against my face,

the flames of discipline

he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon

you would have thought you saw a man

planting something in a boy’s palm,

a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy

you would have arrived here,

where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down

so carefully she feels no pain.

Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father

took my hand like this,

and I did not hold that shard

between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

Christen it Little Assasin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does

when he’s given something to keep.

I kissed my father.

~ Li-Young Lee

Perhaps there was something particularly poignant about sharing a space of appreciating poetry in such an unexpected way that cracked something open in me.

What I love about poetry is that another’s experience or story gifts us with an opportunity to connect with our own experience or story and to feel something, perhaps in an entirely new way.

My own story is about my father leaving my family when I was seven, about me choosing to leave the father of my child when our son was seven.  My story has been about a longing for such tenderness from ‘father’ at the age of seven, both for that little girl who still lives inside of my adult body, and also for my teenage son.

I also volunteer with several social profit projects that provide leadership opportunities to marginalized women and children who have either been abused by parents, or tragically lost their parents.

My own story has been re-written many times since I was seven years old, and since my son was seven.  I’ve come to realize that what may originally appear to be losses, are often unexpected gifts.

I’ve witnessed remarkable growth in those who have found tenderness from people other than their absent or abusive parents, who have become nurturers and shared that tenderness openly.

If this poem speaks to you, or if you have a poem that speaks to your journey as a parent, please share your comments, reflections, wisdom.

If you would like to know more about weaving music, art and poetry into leadership, visit:

http://www.pianoscapes.com/

www.davidmarkwardt.com

 

Emotional Intelligence For Dummies

It’s often said that we teach what we need to learn.

Professionally, I facilitate emotional intelligence sessions in the workplace, non-profit sector and in community groups.  Opportunities for me to learn about my own emotional intelligence have been presenting themselves quite frequently lately.  I don’t know about you, but when I find myself in those kind of experiential learning opportunities it’s usually because I’m not doing something as well as I think I should be.  Or sometimes, someone else isn’t doing something as well as I think they should be.

You know, those FGO’s?  ….uhm….Fabulous Growth Opportunities?  Yep, a lot of those FGO’s showing up lately.  For me and for my teenage son.  Because of course I’m trying to raise my son’s EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) as part of my parenting journey.

Lately I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on empathy, which is a key component of emotional intelligence.

My 15 yr. old son has strep throat this week.  I can assure you that NO ONE ON THE PLANET has experienced the level of pain that he was experiencing yesterday.  Well, except perhaps me, because I was right there sharing his pain.

But seriously, I was really empathetic to his genuine suffering.

For the first day.

By day two, after the visit to the doctor, but before the antibiotics started to do their job and fix the problem things started getting kind of ugly.  Apparently I wasn’t being ‘nice’ enough anymore.

When a 15 yr. old is sick with an extreme pain inducing illness is hardly the time to expect THEM to be empathetic, but I found myself questioning just how ‘nice’ I was to be in the face of the escalating demands and accusations that I’d obviously bought the wrong antibiotic, the liquid would have worked much faster than these stupid pills, that it was unfair that I wouldn’t go RIGHT NOW to buy him udon noodles from the local Japanese restaurant….well, you get the picture.  That was all just before he collapsed to the ground from lack of food.

And I started to find myself feeling less and less empathetic to his suffering and he became increasingly unaware of the remarkable sacrifices I’d made on his behalf.  I mean hadn’t I got up through the night to talk him down from his feverish hallucinations, skipped my yoga class to take him to the doctor, and missed a meeting with a colleague that I had eagerly anticipated to nurse him back to health?  Hadn’t I given up my abdominal ‘six-pack’ to even give him life?!

But that’s what moms do, so we don’t get many points or much empathy from our kids for what we give up to mother our kids.

Neveretheless, teaching my teen about emotional intelligence, empathy and when to be aware of the importance of being empathetic are all part of this parenting journey.

I recently spoke with Alyson Jones about empathy and kids and this is what she had to say….

L:  What age does empathy begin to show up in children?

A:  The capacity for empathy begins when a child develops awareness of their own emotions.  This can start at a young age, about age four.

L:  How can parents nurture empathy in their children?

A:  It’s important for parents to understand that the concept of empathy is not external to the child, it begins internally.  You can’t really teach empathy, it really is about raising your child’s awareness of their own feelings and connecting it to what another child might feel.

So, an example might be, if my brother hurts me, that makes me hurt inside they might be more aware of what happens to another through their actions.

L.  How does a healthy sense of empathy help us in our lives?

A.  It can help with our relationships with other people, it helps us connect with others, it helps us share and have compassion with each other.  We can share our problems.  It helps with individuals and with groups.  And then this can extend into our community and even globally.  At it’s worst, empathy can create pain and anxiety.  This is the other piece of it.  How can we develop empathy and connect with others, but how do we also know how to take care of ourselves?  Unfortunately anxiety is the number one mental health issue with children these days.

L.  That raises the issue of the barrage of information that is coming at our kids.  They can be ‘hit’ with pieces of information that can be quite jarring.   Even  gaming and horror movies can be so graphic, are we de-sensitizing our children?

A.   Absolutely, it can.  That desensitization can couple in at least a couple of ways:  the way you’re mentioning, but also just as awareness increases about the pain and suffering in the world.  As parents we have to help our children process some of the information that’s coming at them, talking with them, helping them understand.  It’s also important to help them understand the collective power of compassion too.   In the end what really can help is for each individual to understand that they can make a difference, they can be of assistance, can even in some small way touch the lives of someone else.

It’s when we feel hopeless and helpless that we want to de-sensitize or not care.  The route back to ‘healthy’ empathy is knowing how and where we can make a difference.  It always comes back to yourself.  We have to have a strong sense of self, and of purpose to develop a strong sense of empathy.

One of the things we did in our own family was instilling the action of ‘making it right’ if they had done something to hurt another.

**************************************

Fortunately it didn’t take long for the antibiotics to kick in.  Throat pain eased, some food consumed, sense of humour regained, my son had the good graces to sheepishly admit that his high drama was just a wee bit over the top.  And was empathetic enough to ask if there was anything he could do for me.

Now that’s an intelligent boy.

I am SO tired this morning.

Last week I was inwardly bemoaning that I kinda miss the bedtime routine I used to have with my boy.  Now that he’s fifteen, bedtime usually consists of me saying “would you shut down that bloody computer, turn off your cell phone, turn off the t.v. and get some sleep!”.    Actually, I’ve been trying to instill a 10 p.m. no-electronics curfew, but that gets to be quite the battle sometimes.

Anyway, the boy is sick.  Again.  He’s been sick a lot since school started and it’s a bit of a worry.

Last night I had an opportunity to revisit our old bedtime routine with a back-rub, ‘third-eye’ massage, essential oils and all those things I used to do when he was younger and couldn’t get to sleep.

And when the fever woke him up at 2 a.m., I talked him down from his delirium until the ibuprofen did it’s job and knocked the fever back down again.

This morning I’m remembering what it was like to be a sleep-deprived mom.   I’m slightly delirious myself this morning.

But I’m feeling really grateful that we have an emotional ‘touchstone’ that can soothe even a grumpy, sick teen.  He’ll likely bounce back from this bug relatively quickly, and our bedtime routine will likely revert to one more typical for this stage of our parent/teen relationship.

It’s an interesting stage we’re both in, this mom-I-need-you / ya-ya-go-away push/pull stage.

Not sure if I’m making much sense in this post and am starting to wonder why I’m even sharing these somewhat delirious ramblings.

But I have the sense that a few other parents out there relate.

I guess one of the things I’m learning in life is that even in the painful, uncomfortable moments of life there are unexpected gifts.

And that at this stage of my life, I really need a good night’s sleep.

Thanksgiving, for the past 15 years, has been a particularly poignant holiday for me.  I remember, with deep gratitude, bringing home my healthy baby boy from London Ontario’s Children’s Hospital, following two surgeries that saved his life.

My son was born with Hirschprung’s Disease, a congenital colon disorder that affects 1/5000 births.  Many doctors can go through an entire practice without seeing a case, and so it took several weeks for us to obtain a diagosis.   I returned again and again to my doctor and to the local hospital pleading with them to acknowledge that ‘something’ was wrong with my baby.   Eventually we presented with a baby that had an abdomen so swollen he looked like a Thanksgiving turkey.

It was a frightening time for me, as a new mom, and even though the diagnostic process took longer than it could have, I remain exceptionally grateful for the amazing medical system we have in Canada.  A couple of weeks later, I took home a healthy baby boy.

He would require two more corrective surgeries in the months to come, but would live to become the healthy, vibrant teenager he is today.  So, this time of year always reminds me of just how fortunate I am.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with the mom of one of my son’s friends who is originally from Nepal.  When she was living in the village of her birth, at the age of 11 she witnessed the death of a young mom and her baby when they couldn’t get to medical care quickly enough.  It’s something that happens all over the world, every day.  Where Kamala grew up, it’s a bumpy full day busride to get to Katmandu, where the nearest hospital is.

I’m currently consulting with Kamala to assist her in creating a strategic plan to realize her dream of creating a medical centre in her village of Hiley Chaubas in the Kabre Palanchouk District of Nepal.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this bare piece of land that she now owns:

….give birth to a full fledged hospital?

You’ll likely hear more about this vision as I work with Kamala to develop a plan to realize her dream.

My dream is that my healthy son and I continue to join together to give back to those who haven’t been as blessed as we are in this amazing country we live in.  Whether it’s serving up potatoes on Vancouver’s DTES at the monthly SPUD gathering, or fundraising for global projects, this is my hope and my dream for part of my leadership journey with my son.

A good friend of mine reminded me this week, when she posted this thought to her Facebook status, that a we transition from the season of bbq’s and sangria, we enter the season of Thanks and Caring and Giving.  That deeply resonates with me.

I have much to give thanks for:  a healthy family (my mom too, has benefited from our somewhat flawed, but still functioning medical system the past couple years as she overcame a significant kidney ailment and breast cancer), an amazing husband, engaging work, a lovely home, a yacht (that takes us to some of the most beautiful places on the planet), an opportunity to provide my son with incredible educational options, my own educational journey, a wide circle of inspiring and caring friends, a really cool dog.  My list goes on and on for what I am grateful for and giving thanks for this Thanksgiving weekend.

And as we enter what I often feel is the ‘silly season’ with the lure of excessive consumption pulling at us from every direction, my reminder to myself is to Give.  Give generously and often and wisely, for there are just about as many opportunities to Give these days as there are to consume.

I’d love to know – where are you Giving, and Why?

In my relationship with my teen it’s often very clear to me that I’m the one learning, not leading.

This week, my son and I went for a walk in the park with our dog after having a goal-setting meeting with his teachers.  It was agreed in our meeting that the academic goals my son is setting for himself this year are ambitious.  The adults in room were expressing cautious optimism as to whether or not he’ll achieve them, but they’re his goals.  We’re here to support him.

The dog park I regularly walk in has an aging exercise circuit.  As we passed each station, my energetic teen ran the hurdles, and deep knee lunged under the hoops designed for that purpose.   Then we walked past a climbing wall.  Not one of the funky new ones you see at recently installed kid parks – this one was a wooden wall with a cable on either side.  Looked to me like the district’s insurance companies had somehow missed assessing it when they updated the Park and Rec. policy.  One of those ‘accidents-waiting-to-happen’ kind of pieces of equipment.

Well, my boy became determined he was going to get up and over that bloody thing.  He tried one side, he tried the other side.  He slid down the cable, and yelped with pain as his hands began to flush with the abrasion of repeated attempts.  He managed to swing one leg over the top, and dangled precariously from the top, head towards the ground, while I held my breath, checking to make sure my cell phone was handy for an emergency call.

Eventually I tried to discourage him.  I mean, he’d tried about a dozen times, he was tiring, his hands were hurting and I was becoming impatient to carry on with our walk.   So was our dog.

He almost snarled at me, “I’m going over this thing”.

And on his next attempt – he scaled it.

He sat, catching his breath, at the top of this thing, and looked down at me.

“Mom, sometimes life is like a wall’.

Like I said, sometimes I’m the one learning.

That’s a rather provocative statement.  Let me explain.

I’ve really tried to get along with him since we chose to go our separate ways about eight years ago.  I’ve aspired to be that ‘idyllic’ ex-wife, able to co-parent cooperatively, to empathize with his struggles and celebrate all the goodness that comes into his life.

But it doesn’t always seem to work out that way.  Life, and our human foibles get in the way.  The stress of trying to balance new career opportunities and going back to school (both of us are in this situation), old patterns, new challenges – whatever the reason (or excuse), communication these days is NOT going well.

And I’ve (temporarily, I hope) lost my ability to be empathetic to his struggles and challenges.  I just, very simply, don’t like him very much today.

But I still have to figure out how to navigate the places where his involvement with our son, and my relationship and responsibilities with our son intersect.

And to try to guide my son through some of the bumpy bits that are arising these days.

I’ve been working on a blog post re: empathy the past week, but it’s not the leading issue or emotion for me right now.  I need to get past my frustration, my anger and try to find my way back to something more supportive to my son’s needs.

I’m going to take this situation into a therapeutic setting, because I recognize I need some help with this.  And I will share my journey with you, because I figure I’m not the only one struggling with this, but in the meantime, any advice you have regarding how you’ve navigated communication challenges with your ex’s is appreciated.

Back in the early days of being newly separated, two books I found particularly helpful were Debbie Ford’s Spiritual Divorce, and Colin Tipping’s Radical Forgiveness.

I could use an update to my reading list, so book suggestions are also appreciated.