September 21, 2017

Trade me in….

by Rod Smith

“I have been in a relationship for three years. I heard that my partner would trade me in like he did with girls before. It has made me half the person I use to be. Today he left me and I behaved so badly. How do I become a better person for someone to love? I am tired of the rejection. I am tired of being told I am like a stuck record. I am irritating. I am tired of being told I use my kids to blackmail him.”

You’ve revealed much in your short appeal. Sounds like you give a disrespectful man more power than any man should want and no man deserves. If his reputation includes trading in women then I’d question why you are willing to stay at all.

A man who loves you will inspire you to become twice the person you are. He will derive no joy from diminishing you.

If your partner left you and as a result you behaved poorly then you are hardly accurate if you are blaming him. You behavior is your responsibility just as his behavior is his.

I’d suggest you move on before the humiliating act of “trading you in” occurs.

September 20, 2017


by Rod Smith

My teachers have never left me. They hover in my awareness and continue their work despite the decades that separate me from their classrooms, lecture theaters, labs, fields, gyms, and studies. Almost all were highly motivated and loved their jobs and regarded it as a calling and I can still hear them calling me to adopt high standards for others and for myself.

The few who didn’t love their jobs, those who landed in the classroom somehow against their will or to test the waters of education, also hover. Their obvious boredom, anger, or their cynicism, were in themselves powerful lessons.

I find it incredible that the teacher with the parrot (Mrs. Bradman) who dogged my third or fourth year of school and the psychology professor who was so self-absorbed more than a decade later and my family therapy professors a lifetime later and nations apart and Mr. Morey, Mr. Graham, Mrs. Hornsby, and Miss Chadwick (I could go on) do the cancan in my frontal lobe at the oddest moments.

I know, I know, someone is going to write and tell me there is medication for my condition – but I think not.

I think it’s a testimony to the power afforded men and women who are teachers.

September 18, 2017

Love doesn’t dress as anything but love…..

by Rod Smith

Love can be expressed in a vast variety of ways but it never hides behind some things:

Jealousy. Some think authentic love naturally involves elements of jealousy. Quite the contrary. Love celebrates freedom and encourages the loved to explore and enjoy many and diverse relationships.

Control. Perhaps this is Jealousy’s first cousin. Love and control cannot live within the same relationship and it is never an indication of love. Some claim they control others for their own good. This is nonsense. Healthy adults exercise no control over other healthy adults and when they do it is no indication of love.

Swearing, cruelty, and temper tantrums. These are never an indication of love. Some say screaming and the harshness show how much a person cares. Nonsense. Love always behaves like love.

Manipulation, domination, and intimidation. A loving person will not resort to these measures and will certainly stop them in their tracks once they begin to reveal their devious ways. Pushing and pulling others with a hidden agenda reeks of the antithesis of love.

September 17, 2017

It’s not where……

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

Thank you for reading my work. Really. I appreciate it.

Allow me to let you in a little.

I live in the USA, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to be precise. If you are reading this in a real newspaper you are probably somewhere in KwaZulu-Natal. I was born and reared in Red Hill, Durban.

If you are reading online you could be in any one of the 180-plus nations where people read this column.

Before you are overly impressed, in several of the 180-plus nations my readership totals 2 or 5 or even 8 people.

I am writing this particular column on the Saturday before you will read it on Monday. I am in a busy coffee shop on the very affluent side of our city. I drive here. We don’t live in this neighborhood. But, where we live is hardly poor. By American standards my sons and I are well off.

There are many days I want to be where you are. I miss the beaches, the weather, your naturally hospitable ways. I miss extended family.

I am sure there are times you’d like to be in the USA.

I’ve had this consistent thought since moving to the USA: It’s not where, but how you live that makes the difference.

September 14, 2017

Gifts we can each offer…..

by Rod Smith

Gifts we can offer those we love that cost everything and nothing all at the same time

• Listening – the willingness to listen without waiting to speak and without formulating a response or without re-arranging what we hear into something we may prefer to hear.

• Time – the willingness to schedule uninterrupted time together.

• Freedom – the willingness to resist taking or assuming control.

• Room for change – the willingness to allow those whom we love the freedom to change, the freedom to make errors, the freedom to be growing in ways we might not predict or expect.

• Thinking out loud – the willingness to allow those whom we love to speak things out as an exercise in exploring and planning.

• The possibility of failure – to be willing to encourage those whom we love to express new ideas and try new experiences with the understanding that they may not work.

• Room to apologize and to make things right – to offer those whom we love the space to express regret without recrimination or an attitude that says “I told you so.”

• Room even to “grow away” – some things the people whom we most love have to learn things alone and without us.

September 11, 2017

To anyone, especially the very young, tempted to self-harm…..*

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday

Please, do not make such a drastic and permanent decision in your attempt to solve the problems you face or to alleviate the doom you feel.

Your actions will send your family reeling. They will be retelling of your death for decades as they attempt to piece together the mystery of why you chose to take your own life. Alternatively, your action may shock them into generations of silence, as they fail to resolve how you decided on an act so final. More important, much more important, you will miss your fabulous future and deny yourself the opportunity to enjoy all of life’s challenges and blessings.

You are loved – even though this may not be your immediate experience. And, you will be loved, even long after those you leave here will struggle to remember the sound of your voice.

There is a way through your overwhelming experience that does not involve self-harm. Always. I know it all now feels pointless. It’s not. There are adults and friends who can and will assist you. There are better days ahead for you even if everything feels impossible.

Please, make the slightest turn from the foreboding darkness desiring to envelop you. Edge toward a positive act, a miniscule movement toward a caring, trusted friend or adult. Whisper, or scream that you need help.

* There seems to be an increase in suicide among early teenage boys and girls in my city. Perhaps this will dissuade one such child in yours.

September 10, 2017

The continuum

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Thursday

Family Emotional Health is on a continuum. All families fall somewhere between remarkable wellness on one end and debilitating dysfunction on the other.

Here are few of several measures:

Healthy families talk about anything and everything: love, sex, justice, peace, pollution, religion, literature, death, dying, money, and a lot more – there are no “no-go” areas. People talk as well as listen – people get to freely agree and disagree – and everyone gets a turn at some point.

“We need to talk,” is celebrated.

Unhealthy families, if they talk, the conversation is scripted. Topics to avoid are known even though they are probably not clearly defined as “no-go” topics. People just know not to “go there.”

“We need to talk,” fills family members with apprehension and fear.

Healthy families are unpredictable – they can change directions in a minute, seize unexpected fun opportunities, and are unafraid of the unknown, the unexpected. They frequently do daring things – the things less healthy families often consider irresponsible.

The more a family leans toward dysfunction, the more it craves certainty, predictable routine, for things to be under-control, for things to go to plan. Fun is organized; it’s planned, if it is embraced at all.

Healthy families embrace non-conformity. Unhealthy families interpret it as betrayal.

September 9, 2017

Counterintuitive “realities”

by Rod Smith

People who are more defined, more separate, and who can live without each other are more likely to stay together in a long-lasting committed relationship than those who are very close and can’t live without each other. Even trees need space. So do people.

When a relationship is faltering people want to analyze it, work on it, talk about it and fix it; when relief and healing my indeed come from benignly ignoring the relationship as each participant commits to working on him or herself. Declaring personal goals and dreams that may have zero to do with the faltering relationship can go a long way toward its healing.

Childhoods are important (of course) and a happy one is what any reasonable parent strives to give a child, but, not every relationship malady or personal failing can be placed at the foot of flawed parenting or childhood trauma.

Understanding and talking about matters is not always helpful and is not always the golden key to possible solutions. Sometimes people have to simply change unhelpful habits, get off the couch and work harder and stop rehashing excuses for their behavior or searching for its source in a troubled childhood.

September 6, 2017

Young boy killed in school bus accident

by Rod Smith

When I heard the news this week that a student from a KwaZulu Natal school was killed in a bus crash my heart wanted to reach across the oceans to the boy’s family and to his peers at the school.

I am sure the impact was the same for you, no matter where you live.

I know, I know, many accidents occur daily and lives are lost daily. But, this one struck home for many reasons added to the devastating loss of a young and vibrant life.

The deceased boy sits between my sons in age. No doubt he was full of dreams and fun and had my sons’ senses of limitless possibilities. He was part of a vibrant and close community of young men who will probably struggle for years to try to make sense of something that makes no sense at all.

May Grace and Comfort fill the hearts of Themba’s family and friends and teachers and chaplains and counselors and, for what it’s worth, may that community so many miles away from my community here in the USA, know that we too, hurt with you and mourn with you.

September 5, 2017

When therapy works, and when it usually doesn’t

by Rod Smith

Therapy works:

  • When clients are highly motivated to grow
  • When clients are willing to take risks and do new things
  • When clients are willing to be vulnerable with the people with whom they share life
  • When clients are willing to face, rather than deny, necessary and inevitable loss
  • When clients establish a realistic view of what therapy can and cannot achieve and have realistic expectations of the therapist and the process.

Therapy will be an exercise in treading water and wasted expense:

  • When clients go through the motions of getting help without wanting either growth or change
  • When clients attempt to outsmart the therapist and therefore treat the process as a game
  • When clients have a distorted view of the power therapist have and an unrealistic view of what the process may deliver
  • When clients withhold pertinent information
  • When the therapist “pushes” or “pulls” clients against their will and in conflict with their abiding loyalties.