Archive for May, 2017

May 31, 2017

Powerful memory 

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Thursday 

I was once in London in my very late teens and was taken to a fine restaurant. When the food was served and I unwrapped the baked potato from the foil and the rottenness and blackness of the potato became obvious to me. I covered it with other foods so no one else could see the rotten baked potato and then bit-by-bit and bite-by-bite I ate the entire thing to avoid drawing attention to the food or to myself. 

I was violently ill the next day.

Shame consumed me in that restaurant. 

Shame hid the rotten potato. 

Self-blame silenced me.

I could no more draw attention to the potato than I could have walked on water. I embodied shame for something that happened to me and something I had nothing to do with producing.

The baked rotten potato was not, in my mind, an oversight from a busy kitchen or the result of a lack of attention from a distracted chef. I was getting what I deserved. In polite but pained silence and with the subtlety of a teenage boy hiding an immoral act I hid it all.

Thank God things have changed….

May 30, 2017

Breaking up is hard to do……

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Wednesday 

Why is breaking up so hard to do?

It’s not difficult for people who take relationships lightly, who hop and skip from one relationship to another, who regard others as dispensable, and who use others for their own purposes. Their connections are easily formed and breaking up appears to be, at least on the surface, to involve little more than a trifle inconvenience. 

Breaking up is exceedingly difficult when there’s been a head and heart physical commitment and connection, when there has been trust and shared space both physical and emotionally, and when resources have been pooled in trust and in good faith. It’s difficult when families have met and formed a profound connection. It’s difficult when there are children involved, when children’s lives are disrupted because the adults whom they love and trust are no longer able to love and trust each other.

Breaking up is hard to do when there is denial, deceit, and cheating and when one of the parties is played along and continues to trust while the other is living or developing a duplicitous life.

Breaking up is hard to do when questions are unanswered and  anger becomes the glue that keeps people together while they are trying so desperately to find the resolve to establish life apart.    

May 29, 2017

Grace upon grace…..

by Rod Smith

Tuesday / The Mercury 

By the power of undeserved grace – given that we each live in a different country – every few years my sister and my brother and I meet.

Sometimes it is for a few days or a few weeks. It’s happened in my brother’s home in Melbourne Australia and it occurred once for a week in Switzerland.

Now we are together again in my home in Indianapolis. My brother came in for two weeks and my Durbanite sister is here for three months.

The occasion?

On Friday my youngest son graduated from primary school or grade 8 as it is here in the USA!

Yes. The boy walked down the church aisle to get his diploma when his name was called and his uncle and aunt were there, with his brother and me, to witness this pivotal event.

I could barely contain my emotions.

No one watching could have known that fifteen years ago, to the very day, I had gone to the large public hospital, legal papers in hand, and met the baby who’d by legal decree had already become my son and eased his tiny frame from the pediatric intensive care crib into the car seat I had purchased on my way to the hospital and brought him home.

Once again, the power of undeserved grace.    

May 27, 2017


by Rod Smith

Bullying wears primary and subtle colors.

The overt bully is easy to spot. He uses physical intimidation, strikes out at younger or smaller children, and has been around for generations. 

We all know him. 

It’s the more devious forms that often escape the attention. 

It’s the child who bullies with her eyes. It’s she who can bully with a smile or by withholding one. She can inflict intimidation, floor her target, in the presence of other children and adults AND not be detected – except by her victim. 

She’s a skilled communicator. She sends words like missiles, usually at one who aches for her acceptance.

Adult platitudes like “keep away” or “tell an adult” or “she’s just jealous, honey” fall on deaf ears while the victim herself cannot separate the tactic, source, and target.

Helping all children find backbone and a voice is where the real cure begins.  

Before I am deluged with boys-do-it-too emails let me say that the subtle forms of bullying are far more prevalent with girls among the girls and the boys I have known for the past 14 years.

I ache to facilitate helpful conversations about bullying with faculty and students all over KwaZulu-Natal during July and August, 2018. Drop me an email if interested. 

PLEASE SHARE – especially if you are in South Africa

May 22, 2017

I remind myself….

by Rod Smith

Things I remind myself about my children – please join me in my journey:

• Their lives are larger at their ages than mine was at their ages. Of course, they’re starting later and the world is a very different place. Their platforms are more complex, and more dynamic than mine was and, I admit, I am somewhat limited in my ability to identify with it. This means I should not be taken aback when I am blinded to possibilities and experiences they see and want to embrace. Rejecting an idea or a possibility simply because I couldn’t envision it is a good way to widen a gap that is mine, and not theirs, to bridge.

• While the world is a very different place than it was in my formative years, some things remain unchanged. Good manners, using please and thank you, looking people in the eyes, standing up for adults, dealing honestly with money and time, working hard, and displaying empathy in the face of those who are suffering – are values that cannot be discarded just because the world is faster paced than it once was. One of my jobs as a parent is to encourage, even enforce, some of these things if necessary.

• I am enough for my sons and the only dad they will ever need. 

May 15, 2017

Looking for a leader….

by Rod Smith

Choose the person who has a track record of adventure. 

Look for a “yes” mindset. 

Avoid attitudes of excessive caution. 

Look for a person who does not seem invested in who gets the credit when work is well done. 

Find the natural connector, the networker, the one who sees possibilities when others see problems. He or she will have a natural propensity to “see beyond” to find resources, to discover solutions in places no one else thought of looking. 

Find the listener, who, after listening, still makes up his or her own mind.  

Look for the person who collaborates with others, who is able to collaborate even with those who have little or no authority, and yet, is not stumped when collaboration becomes impossible. 

Find a person with natural empathy and yet one who at the same time understands how the overly empathic can be crippled by it. 

Avoid the controller, the nitpicker, the one who wants to peer over everyone’s shoulder, the one who carries the weight as if it cannot be shared.

Find the one who has demonstrated the ability to delegate, to follow, to inspire, and to step out ahead, all at the same time.

May 14, 2017

The challenge of Leadership 

by Rod Smith
  • Maintaining the capacity to remain above the fray that exists in every dynamic (changing, growing, “alive”) organization without being disconnected from it. Some leaders are so immersed in the day-to-day fray of their enterprises that it sucks them in and drains them of the capacity to lead. Others are so above the fray that their apparent aloofness reduces their credibility among those whom they lead.
  • Maintaining the capacity to understand that it is next to impossible to separate home and work and work from home. The unresolved issues and conflicts existing in each will drive or shape both worlds weather the leader likes it or not. To understand this means to acknowledge it rather than to deny it. What leaders deny and hide will show up in unexpected and usually unhelpful ways.
  • Maintaining the capacity to live in the present and influence the future while being influenced or even, in some cases, haunted by the past. Family-of-origin issues, childhood issues, traumas or loss or unresolved grief never fully depart anyone. Their volume and power to influence is increased when an adult is given authority and responsibility. The authoritarian leader, the avoidant leader, the arrogant leader has these characteristics lurking within long before adulthood.    
May 10, 2017

Control and its counter…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Wednesday 
Subtle (and gross) but very common attempts at control…

• Backseat driving – my way is the best way, no one knows the city like I do and you’re not as safe a driver as I am.

• Reframing reality – you don’t really feel lonely, you are not unhappy, you’re not hungry since you have just eaten.

• Withholding attention or affection – I am going to wait and see how you respond or how long it takes for you to beg for my attention.

• You MUST understand my point of view – I will not tolerate disagreement and we cannot be in a relationship unless we are of one (my) mind.

The counter offer of freedom and respect:

• As the passenger on your car I trust you completely – there are many ways to reach a destination

• Affirming your reality – I understand that we are completely separate people with unique experiences and interpretations of almost everything.

• Offering support and affection appropriate to the relationship – I am here when you need me; my attention and affection is what I freely offer.

• Your point of view may be different from mine – there is enough room in the world for us to think and believe differently, and remain friends.

May 3, 2017

Spoiling a child

by Rod Smith

“Spoiling a child” is more than giving him whatever he wants and creating unreasonable expectation of how the rest of life works. 
Such children often grow up to be self-centered, demanding adults, but humans, even those who have not been “spoiled” seem endowed with a natural propensity toward this anyway.

The real terror of spoiling a child is that he grows up without having had to develop innate skills and abilities to cope with adversity, because one or both parents (or teachers and coaches) refuse to allow natural consequences following the child’s choices to occur. 

Such parents (and others) constantly interject themselves as buffers between the child and what the world will naturally deliver. 

“They (indulgent parents) spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to separate cause and effect, behavior and consequence,” a high school football coach observed recently.

Pain is a wonderful teacher and motivator. It develops character and promotes the development of crucial survival skills. While no loving parent wants his or her child to be deliberately subjected to pain, there are enough natural moments in any childhood where “clean” pain comes to teach, and the wise parent gets out of the way and allows it to do its necessary work.