“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet
“Enya had repeated visits to the principal’s office…”
Enya’s father, Elijah, called and came to see me first. Enya, aged eleven, has been diagnosed with ADHD the previous year, and was struggling in school both socially and academically. Elijah was a supervisor of sales representatives in a large, local call centre.
Elijah himself was a high energy, fast talking organized person who was probably very quick in his workplace because of his urgent efficiency. I suspected, as well, he was a highly valued employee. He confirmed that later in our meeting.
Elijah told me Enya, his only child from his first marriage, found school boring and had been punished repeatedly by teachers for her angry outbursts when challenged to follow the rules of the classroom. Enya had repeated visits to the principal’s office and the school counsellor’s office.
He also told me he used to be very close to his daughter and wanted the best for her. He said she is very articulate and can be quite verbose with adults who challenged her in any way, including him. She had been raised mostly by him. And, her mother was not in the picture presently as she was on an extended world tour with her current partner.
“I wanna get my teacher to stop picking on me!”
Elijah and his second wife, Erin, have a five year old and a new baby of just four months. He noted he is so busy with work and his newest family, he often guilts himself for his lack of time for Enya.
Elijah told me he wanted his daughter to learn to get along with others and to follow the rules in school, even, he said with a hint of impatience, if they seemed silly or unfair at times. He said Enya was quite prepared to meet with me because she told her father she was tired of getting ‘picked on’ by teachers.
I met with Enya the following Monday. She was a dark haired, quick talking, cute 11 year old wearing the latest styles and that fragile ‘arrogance attitude’ some kids use to protect themselves from authority figures.
Once we got acquainted and discussed what I did, confidentiality and the like, I asked her what her most important goal was for our work together. She paused for a moment…seemingly in deep thought. But then, she blurted out while her eyes watered,
“I wanna get my teacher to stop picking on me!”
Tell me what happened the last time you thought your teacher was picking on you, Enya?” I asked, realizing she carried deep, probably unspoken, hurt.
“… went right to bed without even remembering he had promised me…”
“It was just the other day. She was asking us to pass in our assignment and she was hassling us about this being the third, and last, call for them, and there would be no excuses for not having them done.” she replied, her hurt even more evident now.
“What happened then, Enya?”
“My Dad was supposed to help me with an important part of it…related to the translation of it into French which she had demanded we do. But, the night before, my Dad was extra late getting home from work. When he arrived home, he was exhausted and went right to bed without even remembering he had promised me we would finish it up.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I was just playing my video games, so I just kept doing it until my bedtime. So, when I tried to explain this to my teacher, she just cut me off! She said it was my responsibility, not my Dad’s, and sent me to the principle’s office. How’s that for unfair, eh?” she replied with indignation.
“Enya, you said you wanted to get your teacher to stop picking on you, right?” I asked.
“I sure do!”
“Well, you already know how to do it…you already told me you did it with your Dad.”
“I don’t know what you mean!” she said, a confused look spreading all over her young face.
“We’re taught to be ashamed of confusion, anger, fear and sadness, and to me they’re of equal value to happiness, excitement and inspiration.”- Alanis Morissette, musician
“Only if you want her to stop picking on you.”
“You said a minute ago, when your Dad came home exhausted from work, you respected his need to rest, one of his values, and let him go to bed, without mentioning he had agreed to help you with your schoolwork, correct?” I said.
“Yeah, I did! But, he was really exhausted, Ken!” she said, emphasizing the righteousness of her decision.
“I don’t doubt that at all. But, what you were really doing was showing respect for one of your Dad’s highest values, his health or physical well being. Can you see that, Enya?”
“I suppose….” she replied cautiously, not knowing where I was heading with this idea.
“The same applies to your teacher or anyone else you want to have a relationship with or to stop picking on you.” I said.
“Are you saying I have to show respect for my teacher’s values…whatever they are?” she said holding onto her attitude of indignation a little longer.
“Only if you want her to stop picking on you.” I answered.
“But, what does that mean…respect her values?” Enya asked, cautiously.
“… telling you their values all the time by everything they say and do.”
“It means knowing her highest values and displaying real respect for them…even if you don’t like them.”
“Are you saying I don’t have to like her values, only show respect for them?”
“Yes, I am! You did this with your Dad and you can learn to do it with anyone if you work at it consciously.”
“But, how am I supposed to find out her values, she never talked about her values to us kids, Ken.” she said exasperation in her voice.
“People are telling you their values all the time by everything they say and do. Can I give you an example.”
“OK!” she replied.
“… notice people’s values…especially those who you want to get along with.”
“Look around my office and given what I have said to you today and what you see in my personal space, what would you guess are some of my higher values?” I asked her.
She stared carefully around my office.
“You have lots of certificates and family pictures here and I noticed books, paintings and old furniture in your waiting room…so I guess you value your family, learning stuff and you’re artsy.” she said.
“Very perceptive, Enya! The only thing you may not have noticed is the herbal teas I drink because I’m also very health conscious.”
“I saw that piece of string hanging out of your coffee mug, but didn’t try to figure it out.”
“You did very well for a first go at it. What I’m challenging you to start doing is notice people’s values…especially those who you want to get along with. It will enable you to deal with them much more effectively.”
“If you so choose, even the unexpected setbacks can bring new and positive possibilities.
If you so choose, you can find value and fulfillment in every circumstance.” – Ralph Marston, writer
“Yeah! That’s exactly why!”
“But Ken, how does this relate to my teacher picking on me?” she asked.
“People only take offence if they perceive you are disrespecting their values…because they feel disrespected themselves. That’s why you didn’t remind your Dad about his promise…you knew intuitively he would probably not take it in the way you intended.”
“You’re saying my Dad might have got pissed off, and I kinda suspected that, and so I didn’t bring it up to him?” she said.
“What do you think, looking back now, Enya?”
“Yeah! That’s exactly why!”
“That means to get your teacher to stop picking on you requires you to display respect for her values in the classroom. Do you want to learn how to do that?”
“Anything to get her off my back!” she replied.
“How long have you had this teacher?” I asked.
“Since the start of the year…must be six months or more.”
“So, you have been observing her as she conducts her classes. Think about those times, about the class topics, how she conducts the class, how she speaks, how she dresses, and so on. You have a lot of information at your disposal.”
“What would you say is number one?”
Enya was thoughtful for a few moments before starting with,
“Well, she is very proud of her Francophone heritage, she also speaks Spanish, so I think she likes languages or maybe different cultures. She is a stickler that her students be, what she calls, ‘responsible.’ She talks about it a lot. And, I can tell she wants everyone to enjoy her class, even though she gives us a lot of work to do.”
“Wow! You have lots of information on her values. You don’t miss much, do you?” I said, as a way of complementing her insight.
“Well, I’ve been watching her five days a week for quite a while…I guess.”
“Enya, what would you say is her highest value in her role with you as a teacher?”
“That’s a tough question because I am seeing a bunch of stuff being important to her”
“What sticks out for you? What would you say is number one?” I asked.
She paused again.
“…that I would plan better for the next assignment…”
“She has this way of talking about the French culture with such awe, such specialness…it makes me want to learn more about it.”
“That sounds like it is important and of high value to her. Did you ever wonder if perhaps, she saw you as not respecting the French culture, one of her highest values, when you didn’t pass in your assignment?”
“I never thought of it that way. I suppose it could be, eh?” Enya replied, thoughtfully.
“Now that you have this information, if you wanted to show respect for her value for the French culture but also deal with your situation, would there be another way you could have handled it?” I asked wondering if she was starting to integrate what she was learning.
She paused briefly then said,
“I think I would have said things differently. I would have started off with that I liked studying French, because I do…but that my Dad has been really overwhelmed lately and really moody, so I didn’t want to push him too hard that night…but that I would have it for her the next day. And, then I’d say it’s OK if she took off marks for my being late…and that I would plan better for the next assignment…or something like that.”
“I think that approach would certainly display respect for her higher values, Enya!”
Then, I continued,
“And, I suspect you might get a different result because you showed awareness of what is important to her and then explained what happened. It doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have been upset necessarily. But, at least you would have been displaying respect for her, her job, the assignment and her value for the French culture. Can you see that, Enya?”
“Yes, I can now! Why didn’t I think of that before, Ken?”
“Because before you had a different level of awareness. Now you know! And now, you know you know! No mistakes, only learning opportunities! I think you have learned important stuff for your future.”
“You know what? So do I, Ken!
“Every negative event has a positive impact because we have learned to survive it, so become wiser and stronger.”
– King Ayles, writer
Until Next time…
Now you know, you can connect with anyone if you show respect for their values while respecting your own. It is a consciously developed skill at first. But, it soon becomes an unconscious habit with a little practice. That’s why we talk first about the weather in Canada. It is something we all value because it is so changeable and can impact our survival so quickly. So, know your own highest values and those of everyone important to you, so you can build, and maintain, strong bonds with them.
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