Quickie Post — What does being a full professor really mean?

Acropolis South View

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece — it’s a zoo, but such a lovely zoo.  October, 2018

This little piece of v-Meme conflict popped up in my news feed today — titled

For Some Scholars, a Full Professorship Calls for ‘a Lot of Paperwork’ That ‘Doesn’t Mean Anything’

it comes on the heels of Donna Strickland’s being one of the awardees of the Nobel Prize for Physics.

For those not “in the know” regarding academic ranking, the typical academic hierarchy consists of assistant, associate and full professor.  Assistant professor is a provisional rank, usually for five or six years, when a decision is made whether to give tenure, which is one of those things that sounds like lifetime employment, but is actually a mixed bag.  Associate is what one becomes after one is tenured.  Full professorship is supposed to be similar to making Senior Partner in a law firm, but that’s kind of an anachronistic definition.  In today’s world of academia, it doesn’t mean much.  Prof. Strickland is only an Associate Professor.  From the article:

“Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, told the Waterloo Region Record that climbing the career ladder didn’t seem worth the effort when her job wasn’t at stake and a pay raise wasn’t a given.

“It’s all on me. I think people are thinking it’s because I’m a woman, I’m being held back,” said Strickland, who has been an associate professor at Waterloo since 2002, according to the Optical Society website. “I’m just a lazy person. I do what I want to do, and that wasn’t worth doing.”

That’s about as good an example of Performance-based v-Meme thinking (no money, so why bother?), likely coupled with a little good old-fashioned egocentric Authoritarian following-her-own-muse thinking as possible.  Mix in some Second Tier reflection and you end up with her situation!

The rest of the article profiles the increase in service work that often accompanies being a full professor.  Relatively true.  Needless to say, if Prof. Strickland wants to seek a full professorship elsewhere, she’s unlikely to have much difficulty finding one!

Social Coherence and V-Memes

Kitty Hoodoos large view

The first middle-age Taiwanese psychologist to see the Kelly Creek Hoodoos, Clearwater NF, Idaho, August, 2018

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is empathy, its various stages, and larger social coherence.  It’s easy to state something like “empathy is the key thing that creates social coherence.”  But the truth is more complex, and in the end, the connecting dynamic of empathy and how it actually manifests is really just what it is — an understructure for assuming that everyone in the larger collective is operating on the same v-Meme page.  Societies are like any other living thing.  They attempt to maintain homeostasis through the various means, memes and dynamics available to them.  Low empathy societies can have broad scale social coherence — there’s something like 1.2 billion people in China, and few would argue that it is still, after 2000 years of change and progression, an Authoritarian culture, with Legalistic intentions.

Yet Chinese people get things done in groups.  One of my favorite stories from the ’90s, before the incredible technical/social surge in China, came from a friend of mine who was, at the time, working for a large petrochemical concern in northwest Washington State.  A process engineer, he was tasked with going to China to figure out a deal between his company and the Chinese state for them to co-own and supervise that oil refinery.

The first thing that hit him was the total employment at the refinery — around 15,000 people.  This for a refinery that produced about half the output (I think — memory fades here a bit) of their super-connected facility stateside.  What did all those people do?  If you needed a big hole dug, the supervisor would issue the order — to 1000 people with shovels.  They would run over to the place where the hole needed to be dug, and people would start digging.

For such a hole to be dug stateside, my friend would schedule one of the front end loaders on the sheet, the operator would go out there perhaps with a surveyor and a supervisor, and the hole would be dug.  When he asked his plant engineer cohort why they hadn’t bought a large piece of earthmoving equipment (this is the 1990s, not the 1890s!) he said “well, what would all those people do if they couldn’t dig that hole?”  My friend’s company did not end up buying the refinery.

Needless to say, there is large-scale social coherence needed to have 1000 people dig a hole at once, and perhaps there are lessons to be learned as well.  How can we understand this?  Societies are seldom static, and at some level, many of the cultures that exist in the world today have lots of stuff to teach any person.  But at the same time, the information must be contextualized in order to be understood.  Do we really need to understand how to get 1000 people to dig a hole in this day and age?

Let’s start with one of my favorite pictures — the Evolution vs. Sophistication map, that shows a 2-d landscape for understanding complexity of knowledge.  See below:

Evolution vs Sophistication

Something like the 1000 people digging a hole at once requires a fair amount of sophistication, but assumes lots of homogeneity in the folks digging the hole.  China is one of the least diverse countries, considering its gross population, on the planet — some 95% of the population is Han Chinese.  So we can assume that there is very little differentiation among the individual workers digging the hole.  They need short spatial scales, and short temporal scales in order to coordinate the digging.  All you really need to know is the direction you’re supposed to be going, and how to dig so you don’t hit your neighbor’s shovel.  Not a lot of agency is required, and in fact, would be punished.  Someone doing something radically different would likely mess up the larger group coordination.

Energetics of individual nodes/workers are pretty much the same.  There might be a couple of high-flyers out there digging ahead of the rest of the crew, but they’re fed the same egg-and-rice caloric input everyone else is fed.  You’re supposed to watch the leader (who, being Han Chinese as well) looks like you, and in case you, dear reader, have never dug a ditch, trust me that there’s not a lot of brain power required.  But in a world of work scarcity, everyone is assured their place.  They’re out of the Survival v-Meme.

If you had to locate the whole operation on the graph above, you’d map out from the Authoritarian v-Meme (workers are told where to dig) about 25%.  It’s a simple task, and the knowledge structures are authority-driven fragments (Dig here!  Start digging!  Stop digging!  Time for lunch!) There is likely higher level coordination up a couple of levels.  Someone has to decide that the hole needs to be dug.  But even that position has to be relatively low empathy.  You can’t really be worried about 1000 workers with shovels, other than to make sure they’re directed, and fed.

As we’ve discussed earlier in this blog, just because a society is low-empathy doesn’t mean it doesn’t continue to aggregate knowledge in the knowledge structures that are available to it.  The Chinese have been doing this for literally thousands of years, and in many ways, when it comes to sophistication of managing social coherence, are way ahead of us.  I’ve written here about The 36 Stratagems, which are how one deals with one’s competitors, as well as here about Chengyu, which are often ways one deals with the empathy-disordered in the midst.  Over a couple thousand years, it does no good to deny that there are psychopaths in your midst.  If you want larger social coherence, you have to provide mechanisms for people to acknowledge the validity of one’s authority.  And it has to be in the knowledge structure that people can use.  Hence, the 4 and 8 character chengyu, narrative tags for larger stories, that number in the thousands and pull deeper Tribal v-Meme knowledge up that allow people to accept the reality of living with various, controlling assholes and not losing their minds.  If one were to plot that on the graph above, I think it’s safe to say we’re out around 95% from the Authoritarian v-Meme.  Considering the difficulty we’re having in dealing with the empathy-disordered, or even acknowledging their existence, across politics, corporate leadership, or even in our own backyard, we sure could use some social coherence learned from the Chinese about now.

It’s fun to talk about the lower v-Memes with regards to social coherence, because the short timescales are something we can relate to.  In fully Tribal v-Meme societies, the way social coherence is maintained is, too often, killing someone who’s causing problems, or coming up with an appropriate compensation strategy for the victim.  Jared Diamond talks extensively about this in Guns, Germs and Steel.  When someone is giving you a hard time you didn’t deserve at work, certain brief strategies have to cross your mind!

As one moves up the Evolution axis, it simply makes sense that as agency increases, developed empathy has to also increase.  We’ve got to consider someone’s emotions, as well as outcomes they might want to achieve, in order to reach social coherence.  For the Legalistic v-Meme, this gets embodied in everyone following the same regulations, or even standards and codes, if you want to think like an engineer.  When you screw a nut onto a bolt, you expect it to be manufactured within a specification so you can spin it tight.

But all this requires more information, structured appropriately.  A general use bolt comes with implied characteristics, and maybe the only thing that matters is the thread size, bolt length, and such.  But move out much of the Sophistication axis, for varying applications (like high temperature, corrosive environments, etc.) and you’re into some serious algorithmic process restriction.

Up the Spiral, to Performance v-Meme behavior, shared goals, scaffolded from below, provide coherence.  On up into Communitarian v-Meme behavior, the example that comes to mind that sounds trivial, but in reality is quite complex, might be the ritual of the Potluck dinner.  Everyone in the community has to have data on each other’s masterful dish, and when those independent nodes communicate, the group can show up in one place with a memorable feast.  Trust and empathy naturally come into it — one has very little leverage except the value of the independently generated relationship.  And you’ve got to know if Susie or Hans is lying about buying that new super-duper deep fat fryer.  The proof will be in the fried chicken.  Imagine an Authoritarian potluck, with no sophistication.  One person tells all the members what to bring, regardless of their capability.  Feedback comes back only after the experience itself.  Not so great for everyone having a savory time.

In the end, social coherence, or the homeostasis that marks its existence, is maintained in any social circumstance through that integral feedback loop of knowledge structure, social structure, empathetic development, and independent agency.  It’s an interminable chicken-and-egg process. Change one, and it does feed back to the others — but not necessarily the way one thinks.  Give complex, sequenced commands to a bunch of Authoritarians, through yelling at them (or standing up in front of a classroom) well, don’t expect too much. If the chaos is high enough, and the social coherence a priori is weak, you can expect a little Tribal v-Meme In-group/Out-group dynamic.  Don’t be surprised when you’re the one driven into the wilderness.

But once you understand its need, the one thing that almost always will yield positive benefits is growing your people empathetically.  It’s always easy to reach down and get in the ditch.  Not so easy to reach upward in an immediate circumstance.


Quickie Post — the Lighter Side of Authoritarianism, demonstrated by Goby Fish

Conor Williams Peak Summit

Conor, in the Clearwater backcountry, July, 2018

Frans de Waal, the empathy pioneer who studies mostly animal empathy, posts interesting animal behavior from time to time on his FB page.  I thought this particular video captured better than anything the pointlessness of arguing with a true, egocentric Authoritarian.

As I’ve noted in the past, different v-Memes are equipped with different conflict resolution modes.  Authoritarians, with chronic dichotomous thinking, always boil everything down to three modes — I win, you lose/You win, I lose/We both fall away exhausted.

Thanks for the fish teaching us this important v-Meme lesson!

Quickie Post — the Not-so-Hidden Cost of the Empathy-Disordered in Social Networks

Conor Kelly Creek Hoodoos

Dunedain training, Clearwater backcountry, north-central Idaho  August 2018 — in case you’re wondering what we emphasize, it’s cheerily stoic, steadfast performance, coupled with calm, relentless awareness.

Fellow chronic co-conspirator Ryan Martens sent a link regarding corporate gaslighting from a former colleague of his at Rally Software, Shannon Mason.  Shannon is the VP of Product Management at the recently absorbed Rally after it was bought by Computer Associates.  Addressing the issue of ‘gaslighting‘ in corporate environments, Shannon points out a mix of the personal effects of gaslighting on the individual — increased hypervigilance and workplace instability, as well as the broader systemic effects rippling across the system, where individuals check and re-check work because of the fear of being caught off-guard, with career-limiting consequences.  One of the great things about this piece is Shannon is one of the only people I’ve ever seen address some of the things I discuss in my work on the empathy-disordered, which is the system-level disruption that happens when the empathy-disordered work on relational disruption inside social networks.

I had never seriously contemplated Shannon’s ‘wasted energy’ argument.  It was revelatory for me. But it shows, once again, how you can run, but you can’t hide from the empathetic development, and its subsequent timescales it allows and encourages in your organization.  If you’ve got someone who’s using psychological distortion to manipulate the environment for their own, selfish gain, far too much energy is going to get dumped into short timescale thinking.

The implications are straightforward.  You’re so busy watching the fly on the end of your nose, you and your employees miss the large market changes that really determine the fate of your company.  And, of course, there’s also the very real consequence of talent flight that will occur if you allow this kind of behavior to continue.  Labor mobility of top talent is real.  And healthy, evolving people expect to come to work to do work — not play some weird game of gotcha.

Here’s a background post written by myself that gives more richness to this problem.

How Health Care Deprivation and the Consequences of Poor Diet is Feeding Contemporary Authoritarianism – The Trump ACA Debacle

Lochsa Amazement Chuck

Yours Truly, charging — uh, kinda.  Grim Reaper Rapid, Lochsa River, ID   Mike Beiser photo

One of the most distressing things occurring in the Trump administration is its destructive focus on dismantling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, arguably the largest legacy of the Obama administration.  To start, this post is not about how wonderful the ACA is.  I’m not interested in that, otherwise known as Obamacare, because for one thing, I think it’s deeply flawed.  We should have a single payer insurance plan, like every other civilized country.   People regularly, across the world, pay about half what is paid in the U.S. for equivalent services.  (One of the perverse ancillary benefits, however, is that in the long run, what might get most Americans out of the country and perforate our continental bubble is health care tourism.  I already have had multiple friends travel to Mexico for dental care. But I digress.)

We have to have some modern health care safety net if we want to have a modern economy.  You simply can’t have the personal agency needed to drive job creation, as well as social mobility, without it.

There’s also a series of wicked feedback loops that are manifesting in contemporary healthcare that really didn’t even exist 20 years ago.  When you couple the skyrocketing cost of health care, with the absolute necessity of having health insurance, add in a population basically collapsing from metabolic syndrome, mix in the ability of companies to perform debt collection, and then add an increasingly authoritarian government into the mix, you have a recipe for societal control and real collapse — not just creative collapse.  Here’s a great piece with lots of numbers and little politics to give you perspective.  In 1960, 5% of our GDP was health care.  Now it’s almost 18%.

The upshot of those kinds of numbers is that you reach a nonlinear point where people can’t afford to not have a job, because the buried wage paid through employment with a large employing institution, once externalized, crosses the survival threshold for rent, food, and such.  And then an individual can’t move from their current position.  When you add to this increasing obesity, cancer, and general ill health from metabolic syndrome, as well as the slow creep of more catastrophic illnesses earlier in people’s lives (and away from the age-based safety net of Medicare) the chances of something bad happening increase — and people won’t take the risk.  Just how lucky do you feel, punk?

All this, viewed from a v-Meme lens, is terrifying.   As well as putting a damper on entrepreneurship.  You want to start a company?  You want to risk personal medical bankruptcy? Here’s a pretty good dissection of the possibilities on Snopes.

Into all this walks our current President, whom I’ve written about earlier regarding his predilections.  It’s easy to focus on Trump and his disordered empathy perspective, but the problem is larger.  He requires the submission of agencies under his control, as well as many other elected representatives, to derail that signature accomplishment of the Obama administration.  And since he is a chronic relational disruptor, part of the strategy is sowing fragmentation in the connected community, which interestingly enough involves the insurance companies.

It’s easy to argue that the insurance companies are a bunch of pirates, and if we didn’t have their influence in the electoral process through subversions of the public will like the Citizens United decision, we’d be far better off.  But interestingly, what really comes through in this piece on NPR in the conflict described here  is v-Meme conflict.  The insurance business is highly regulated, and pretty much a guaranteed profit business.  Insurance pricing runs heavily on data, which is combined into actuarial tables.  Companies then take those projected costs, add a fixed percentage as granted by law, and rake in the dough.  Naturally, they work hard to undermine the system through denying claims and such.  If you think the game is rigged in their favor for them (as long as they’re not cut out of the game, especially with health care) well, it is.

Why this is interesting is it means that the insurance companies are fundamentally solid Legalistic v-Meme occupiers.  They have a whole business built on stasis, and played by certain rules that guarantee profits.  They don’t like any change, of course, but they can tolerate change if it can be quantified in rules, with data, that allows them to continue to rake in the dough.

But the Trump administration doesn’t like Obamacare, whatever the rules are.  And it’s Trump’s authority uber alles.  He’s the Truth Decider.

So the latest thing Trump is doing is this:  because Trump hates Obamacare, in order to establish his authority, he has to disrupt it.  He’s done lots of different things, including working to get it repealed.  That’s historic.  The latest thing involves two legal cases regarding the formula to establish ‘risk adjustment’ payments across pools.  One judge found the calculation schedule ‘arbitrary and capricious’.  Another did not.  So, in classic v-Meme borrowing form, when a player (in this case the Trump administration) is motivated to assert their v-Meme, they ‘borrow’ from a higher v-Meme (in this case, Legalistic- there were two court cases) to assert their authority, and their direction.  They select the truth to act on, and (dependent on their v-Meme) assert their values.  Which in Trump’s case, is all about controlling the truth.

What this means is Trump is now ordering his folks to simply not pay certain “risk adjustment” payments, totaling $10.4B to the insurance companies for balancing risk pools between high- and low-risk health care subscribers.  Insurance only works as a distributed pool — and by doubling down on the fragmentation card (exactly what we would expect to see in any v-Meme devolution!) he’s causing relational disruption and chaos in the industry.  You want to mess with a bunch of rule followers, which is what the insurance industry is?  Just start arbitrarily and erratically changing the rules.

Here’s a pull quote from the NPR piece:

“Insurers hate uncertainty, and when faced with it tend to raise premiums to hedge their bets,” says Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation. He says halting the risk adjustment program will disrupt the individual markets, and might even cause insurers not to participate next year.

That’s exactly what psychopaths do — create uncertainty, so others just go away.  Fewer players, communicating with each others less, allow the empathy-disordered to control the playing field.  In this case, it’s forcing the folks in the Out-group to get in an In-group where they’re controlled.  Or, essentially, die.  At some level, it’s boring, it’s so predictable.  But of course, this has a profound effect on people’s lives.

There’s a lot more to write here, but the short version as far as more generalizable insights is this:  narcissistic psychopaths will use whatever tool they can get a grip on in their toolkit to achieve their aims.  It doesn’t matter whether the behavior comes from a higher v-Meme or not.  It’s about their control.  And when it comes to the ACA, Trump won’t stop until he’s out of office.  He’s just gotta be better than Obama.  At least in his own head.

The even larger view, though, gets back to the title of the piece.  Without a large enough authority protecting you in U.S. society, in a world where everyone’s getting fatter and more unhealthy, you’re dead meat.  You don’t need a gun being held to your head to feel The Man’s boot on your neck.  You just need to eat another donut at the office.  Not very empathetic.


More Empathy and Child-Rearing, with Some Help from Franz Kafka


Conor charging, July 2018, Lochsa Falls — Mike Beiser photo

A meme came scooting across my Facebook feed the other day, about a famous (and apparently true) story about Franz Kafka and his friendship with a young girl who had lost her doll.  The meme was a little intellectually simplified (or depauperated) depending on your perspective.  But I had to find out if it was actually true, so I rooted around using The Google and found this post by Paul Auster, from his book Brooklyn Follies Auster’s a true heavy-hitter, and I’ve read several of his pieces in Granta.  If Paul’s writing about it, I’m going to guess it’s actually true.

The short version is this:  Kafka is dying of tuberculosis.  He meets a young nine-year-old girl in a park he walks in daily with his lover, Dora Diamant, who has lost her doll.  Kafka connects with the little girl, and though they hunt for the doll, they cannot find her.  So Kafka asserts that the doll has just gone on a journey to the little girl.  And then proceeds, over a number of days, to create a fictional travelogue of the doll to ease the pain of loss the little girl is feeling.  The last letter he delivers, three weeks later, has Kafka marrying off the doll and having her start a new life in another part of the world.  I highly recommend reading the story.  I’m no Paul Auster!

What’s interesting about this is that Kafka is applying the techniques I talked about in the previous post on raising children, to this little girl who is a stranger to him.  What he is doing could also be labeled gaslighting — one could argue that he’s creating a psychological distortion inside the little girl’s brain of the reality that her doll has been lost.  By creating an alternate history, he is making a choice in her development.  Spare her the trauma of loss, through an elaborate, thoughtful deception.  But also prevent her growth of learning how to grieve for things one loves.

For me, I think this example shows  that one cannot truly understand superficial/surface-level actions without interpreting the fundamental connection that exists between two people at the time of the action.  You cannot completely get there without analyzing intent.  Kafka was an interesting guy — but he was no psychopath.  During the period of the letters, the evidence is pretty clear he was deeply connected to the young girl’s emotions, and was not manipulating her for his own egocentric benefit.  I’ve written about this on this blog on-and-off, but the most important idea is the not-so-simple one about Mario Kart.  With even the most simple of things, you can’t understand the game without understanding what’s under the game.  Which often looks very different from what you’re seeing on the surface.

I’ve called psychopathy ‘collapsed ego-centricism’ in the past.  All Authoritarian Red v-Meme and nothing else.  I think that definition holds up.  As parents, we are always in the business of creating alternate worlds for our children. Those worlds are necessarily not total and complete.  And they may indeed be a distortion.  But if we are connected with our kids, we can do our best to know when we can allow the fiction to roll, and when we have to tell our children that what they’re experiencing is a magic trick.  Sort of.

I’m reminded of a famous Zen saying:

“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

The real answer, as we go forward as parents, is developing and acting on our own self-awareness.  We must constantly look inward into our own hearts, while looking outward to the long-term benefit of the young people in our life.  And since this often includes managing our own fears,  it is easier said than done.  But if there is a key, it is staying connected.  Empathy is our one real hope.

PS: The Wikipedia entries for both Franz Kafka and Dora Diamant are well worth reading on their own.  I linked to the picture search for Dora because I think it’s useful to project through these pictures to what their complex lives must have been like.  

Empathy and Child-Rearing — Lessons from my life, and the movie The Incredibles

Conor Grim Reaper Lochsa

Focus — Conor at the top of Grim Reaper, a rapid on the Lochsa River, Idaho — photo Mike Beiser

Though it’s been a long road, as a predominantly single parent, I’ve managed to launch both my boys off into the world of adulthood.  My youngest son, Conor, just turned 18 a week ago.

I didn’t do it alone — I had some help along the way, from stepmother Alicia, of course, as well as a host of stand-in grandparents, and aunts and uncles.  I was never gifted with a healthy family, and have viewed myself as an orphan for most of my adult life, fairly, I think.  Let’s put it this way — I didn’t learn all the lessons I discuss on this blog by being surrounded by a welcoming sea of empathy.  It’s been an exercise in contrasts.  ‘Nuf said.

And though, like any parent, I worry about both of them, realistically both my sons are on their way to adulthood, and doing fine.  Oldest son Braden (he’s 20) is launching his own start-up company in the crypto-blockchain space.  He’s the CTO of BuyEthDomains.com, which may actually be functional here in a week or two.  He’s making his mark in the digital identity space, and I have reasonable confidence  he’ll make it.  Younger son Conor is headed off to Willamette College in the fall.  Both boys exemplify hustle, and both, on their own, are far along the way to financial independence.  Though either of them might end up back on the couch in the rec. room, I sincerely doubt it.

I have an awesome relationship with both boys.  I am truly blessed.

Since I’ve raised so many kids in my life (I was in nominally in charge of my first family at the age of 9 — I was a terrible 9-year-old parent)  — and of course, the thousands of students I’ve raised in the Industrial Design Clinic — I’ve been thinking about writing a book on parenting.  Many of the principles of sound parenting are the same as evolving a company, and  not surprisingly, follow the Spiral, and growth of agency, reflection, and personal responsibility, and both their key dynamic and their end result — empathy.

This is easier said than done.  Being a parent is the hardest job most people will ever have, and the advice out there is simply horrendous.  Most of it involves teaching, preaching, and telling.  I can tell you there are consequences — none particularly good — that come from beating stuff into people’s head, once you move past about the age of 5.  The short answer to success, however, is relatively simple.  Here it is:

Create safe environments for your children to function in, with functional adults, and don’t interfere.  You work on creating the situations.  Let the children navigate both the situations, and the individuals involved.  The independent relational generation will take care of the rest.

Back in this post, I discussed how the brain gained usable knowledge.  The short version is facts and scaffolding go in on the left, and through experience, become knit together in the hippocampus to form autobiographical experiences, laced with binding emotion, on the right.  This process, though modified and interpreted by me somewhat, (I own all errors of interpretation!) is really applying Dr. Daniel Siegel’s trauma model to the process of education.

What does that translate to as far as your kids?   I start out with a three-step Guiding Principles ladder that I started teaching my kids at the earliest age possible.

  1. Pay Attention (age 3-7)
  2. You are (appropriately) responsible for yourself (age 4-9)
  3. You are responsible for others (age 7-adult)

Naturally, everything maps back to these guiding principles.  It never hurts to emphasize these a little early, but expecting a seven year old to do much more than hold the hand of their buddy is not particularly realistic.  ‘Pay Attention’ is the first step — being aware of the world around you.  It is the nexus of being data-driven and empathetic.

Now here is the big one, stated previously, for you as the parent.  Following the italicized paragraph above, which says that you’re responsible for creating the environment the child primarily functions in (don’t forget that part!)

DON’T TELL THEM WHAT TO DO (unless you absolutely have to — and you usually don’t absolutely have to!)

Let the sidebars and the constraints the child naturally runs into be the thing that redirects the behavior.

And here is the other big thing that you do as a parent.

DISCUSS THE CONSEQUENCES OF DIFFERENT ACTIONS WITH THEM (in the context of that safe space you’ve created.)

I spent a good hunk of my leisure time with my boys running whitewater.  Whenever we would look at a rapid, I would ask them “well, where do you think you should go?”  Inevitably (the whitewater wasn’t that hard) it would end up with ‘down the right’ or something.  If it was a reasonable option, I’d say ‘OK’.  If it wasn’t the path I’d take, I’d say “Well, I think I’m gonna go down the left.”  If they elected to go right, and they did great, I would congratulate them on a job well done.  And if they blew the line, well, the river would dole out the ass-kicking.  Not me.

Why does this matter?  Every time you correct your child, as opposed to creating a situation which delivers either correct behavior, or lessons learned from failure, you run the risk of also creating a diminution of agency, and what is called narcissistic injury.  Put simply, narcissistic injury is an Authoritarian v-Meme blow to the egocentric self.  It actually breeds more narcissism, because instead of allowing the child to appropriately aggregate their experiences, and reflect on the consequences, the child is placed into a situation where they instead focus on your control of their actions.  This insertion of your parental authority into their ego is a boundary violation and a separation of child from a natural growth path.

That doesn’t mean for a red second I haven’t told my children as I’ve raised them ‘No’. But it’s a tool to be used sparingly.  And needless to say, I would never taunt my child after a failure.  Your job is NOT to establish the authority of your knowledge.  It is to help the child understand how to make a better decision the next time around.

One of my favorite movies that shows inherently the peril of ignoring this is the first Incredibles movie.  In that movie, the antagonist, Buddy, initially admires Mr. Incredible and wants to emulate him.  It’s insinuated that Mr. Incredible has been patient with Buddy, but early in the movie (on Mr. Incredible’s wedding day to Elastigirl) Buddy, who has named himself Incrediboy, interferes with Mr. Incredible’s crime-fighting efforts, and has to be sent home in shame with the police.

Buddy is a genius, and never truly recovers from the psychic wound this trauma delivers.  The end result is that it transforms his path from being a good guy and fighting crime to being an empathy-disordered psychopath.  He turns himself into a super-villain named Syndrome, with one goal of killing off Mr. Incredible.  In the end, he is undone by a number of factors, but none more primary than his own narcissism.  Needless to say, that’s not the relationship you want to have with your kid.

Some parents might interpret this advice as creating only positive situations for children to learn with, or interfering in relationships with potentially difficult (but still safe– that matters!) adults.  I strongly believe that once an adult is inside your safe zone, you should let your children interact with them as the child sees fit.  I do make a point of advising the adult that if they spoil the child, I won’t be stepping in to deliver discipline, or otherwise interfere.  The result is that my children both have a rich set of relationships with a truly diverse network of adults. Your child is going to have to learn to deal with people who think differently from them, or even you.  So many of the ‘bubble’ problems we’re seeing in adults nowadays could be prevented if more adults adopted this attitude.

In the end, it is all about empathy development.  Remember the Guiding Principles, and create the situations.  You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is than policing.