November 1, 2017

I met a retired headmaster

by Rod Smith

I sat and chatted at a Halloween function with a retired headmaster from a prestigious school in Indianapolis. He’s a loved neighbor to close friends but not someone I had previously met. His answers to my questions took me by surprise.

“After 20 years as head of one of our leading public schools what was your proudest accomplishment?” I asked. I really expected him to say the new basketball gym or the football stadium.

“The traditional five-paragraph essay,” he said without a momentary pause.

“Every graduate of our school knew about the structure of the five-paragraph essay and I believe that was one of the best things I introduced.”

I told him that I found his answer refreshing and that I was surprised his answer had no reference to sport or buildings.

“Oh, we did all that! Stadiums, trophies, bands, and so forth – but I most proud that all of our students could represent themselves well on paper.”

“What makes an exceptional teacher?” I asked.

“Well, of course knowledge and love of the subject is essential,” he said, “but when hiring a teacher I looked for the candidate who loved people at least as much as the subject. That’s what I always looked for.”

October 29, 2017

Absence makes the heart grow fonder…..?

by Rod Smith

Last week I divulged to the treasured audience of this column how close my brother and sister and I are despite the fact that we each live on a different continent.

A reader suggested we perfectly display the axiom “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” He said his four adult siblings all live within “striking distance of each other” but do not socialize. He said they hadn’t all had a meal together in 15 years!

Perhaps there’s an element of truth to his observation about my brother and sister, but I really think it’s minuscule. Despite the distance we’re in each other’s lives quite a lot! My brother and I talk a lot on the phone, sometimes daily, depending on the magnitude of what either of us may be facing. Then, he visits sometimes twice a year – especially if there’s a significant event in my sons’ lives. My sister and I exchange greetings and check in with each other so much it’s hard to even imagine there’s a vast ocean between us. She’s visited here with such investment that I have friends who think she lives here!

Maybe it’s absence that makes the effort to connect more focused.

I’ll close with a challenge to that reader and others of similar experience – make it happen…. call your extended family and enjoy the rewards of deeper and determined connection.

October 26, 2017

Reasons to love yourself….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday

Top ten reasons to love yourself…

1. It’s your longest relationship. You might as well enjoy it.

2. It makes it easier for others to love you. It offers others a fighting chance if you lead the way.

3. You really are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and if you take a closer look you’ll see you really are beautifully complex, vastly capable. What’s NOT to love?

4. It will help you see others more clearly, especially your children, parents, and siblings.

5. Your family traits will become clearer and you will want to embrace them, not fight them off or reject them.

6. Rejecting yourself takes so much work. it’s so draining. It naturally results in rejecting others, which is even more draining. Love rejuvenates.

7. It makes you nicer, easier to be with. It is so much more fun to be around a self-assured, self-aware person.

8. It makes you safe. Self-loathing people are short fused. Anything can set them off, especially when they are around acceptance and love.

9. It shifts how you see and treat everything and everyone. “Inner conditions” spill like oil leaks or spills. If you’re unkind to yourself, if you loathe or hate yourself, others tend to keep their distance.

10. It’s a prerequisite for loving anyone and anything.

October 25, 2017

Double whammy…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Wednesday

Over the almost-30 years I have lived in the USA I still miss KwaZulu-Natal.

When the snow is deep at my front door I miss your weather. I miss watching rugby but only when Glenwood is playing College. When I am in some Midwest Indian restaurant I crave a bunny on the beachfront.

I always want to be there when there’s a significant family event.

This week I’m facing a double whammy.

My Australian brother is visiting Durban for the first time in many years and he’s there to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday.

As a child I could never have predicated or imagined the gift that my siblings are to me. Individually and together, they are among the most generous, kind, entertaining, and friendly people I have ever met. I am frequently stopped in my tracks when I witness and experience their enormous love and commitment to character, honesty, and generosity.

Sometime I will write about their generous ways, but for today, I will leave it at welcoming dear brother to Durban and hoping that Jennifer Joy Arthur has a splendid 70th birthday.

Just so you are all fully aware, we’re expecting our first snow this weekend.

October 24, 2017

People do what they want to do

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday

A few things I have observed over the years:

• People do what they are ready to do. No matter how skilled a counselor may be or how dire a situation may be, people determine their own pace and do what they are ready to do. The same is true for grief. People grieve at their own pace and you cannot move it along in the hopes of getting it done any sooner. For most, deep grief is never done. It moves, it shifts, but some grief is never fully over. It may heal, but there is no scar remover for some losses.

• People do what they want to do. They may do a lot of finger pointing and find a lot of reasons why something can or cannot be done when it comes to things they do not really want. But, when a person wants to do something he or she will find a way. I’ve seen mountains move under the feet of someone who really wants something.

• People can, and often do, learn from their errors and when people do, it changes just about everything about their lives. They start to take more and more personal responsibility and the success breeds more and more success. Their lives spiral up. When people refuse to learn from their errors and repeat the same things time after time, their lives spiral down.

October 22, 2017

Monday confessions

by Rod Smith

Of course I cannot do all of the following – but reading them through each day helps set my daily trajectory, especially on a Monday. My ardent hope is that reading this list will do the same for you:

  • I will be proud of my behavior when I review it at the end of the day.
  • I will take full responsibility for my actions while anticipating that others might not do the same.
  • I will pay my way, live within my means, and seek and act on opportunities for generosity.
  • I will be kind no matter what.
  • I will seek to be as low maintenance as possible.
  • I will try to know the difference between what are my responsibilities and what are not, with the understanding that some things are everybody’s responsibility.
  • I will give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • I will allow people to escape their reputations even if their reputations are well earned.
  • I will speak up about what I want or don’t want so that others, even those very close to me, will not have to spend any energy guessing or interpreting my behavior.
  • I will remain out of control and unpredictable; I will break my own rules and habits without hurting anyone and without damaging any treasured relationship.
October 20, 2017

Letters I love to receive…..

by Rod Smith

(Permission granted)

Dear Mr Rod Smith

My name is TW. I am an 18 year old girl and I live in Durban, SA. (Your hometown, as I am told.)

My mother has been a fan of your column for about as long as I can remember. I only remember this because she regularly cuts out your column from the newspaper and pops it on our fridge so that our family can read it. I must admit however, I seldom do sit down and read your column with the focus and intent that my sweet momma wishes me to. Which is why I feel prompted to send you this email.

I arrived home this afternoon, after a rather draining day at school, and I saw that there was a small newspaper clipping stuck onto my bedroom mirror. I pulled it off, and found that it was your column, “To the girls I know and to the billions I don’t”. My initial reaction was to “read it later”, with no real intention of really reading it at all. But I read it – then and there, standing in front of my mirror.

I am so glad I did.

It is hard to explain how meaningful and powerful words can be when they arrive at the perfect time, and yours certainly did. It is not that I don’t know that I am valued and loved and beautiful – but I find that I forget. Fairly often too – most particularly when I am stressed, or busy, or uncertain. (Which is most of the time.)

It’s a funny thing, reaching the end of your high school career. I’ve found myself thinking back on who I was, and who I have become. More recently however, I’ve been caught up on the thought as to why I haven’t really had a proper relationship before, like most other matric girl. (It’s a silly thought, I know. I am only 18 – but it niggles none the less.) Am I not beautiful? Am I annoying? Am I plain? I don’t know. I haven’t really been able to put my finger on it until I read your column. (Like 6 times.)

I am single for a reason. Not because I am not beautiful, or because everyone else if better than me – I am single because I refuse to settle. I will not settle for a boy who does not see and love me as the raw, essential version of myself. I will not settle for a boy who is only interested in the superficial, and I will not settle for a boy who loves me more than he loves Jesus.

Your column made me realise that this IS okay.

That I am worth more than settling.

I felt so encouraged by the affirmation that “Talent, power and bravery are divinely endowed. They are yours. They are in your bones, your soul; in the depths of your spirit and your being.”

I am talented.

I am powerful.

I am brave.

I am happy to be where I am, and where I am going as me.

My future is full to the brim with possibility and adventure, and I am excited to dive into it as a “gifted, talented, uniquely curious” young woman.

I will not be delicate, I will be vast and brilliant – simply because I am.

With Love and Grace

TW

October 19, 2017

My most “traveled” article…….

by Rod Smith

Differentiation of self

Self-Differentiation (a term coined by family therapy pioneer, Murray Bowen) is a progressive, internal interplay between autonomy (separation) and connection (togetherness) while progressing toward developing and known goals.

Being an authentic adult is hard work and a never completed task. The pathway is paved with difficulty and challenge.

To become an adult, every person faces the task of the differentiation of self.

Not to differentiate is to fuse (the failure to become a separate person) with others and to place responsibility on others (or on situations, predicaments, and hurdles) for the way in which our lives develop. To differentiate is to provide a platform for maximum growth and personal development for everyone in your circle of influence.

Differentiation is described in many ways in the following points:

1. Growing in the ability to see where and how I fit into my family, the position I hold and the power that is and is not given to that position.

2. Growing in the ability to be fully responsible for my own life while being committed to growing closer to those I love.

3. Intentionally developing, at the same time, autonomy and intimacy. In developing autonomy I set myself towards achieving my dreams and ambitions. In developing intimacy, I allow those close to me to see and know me as I really am.

4. Being willing to say clearly who I am and who I want to be while others are trying to tell me who I am and who I should be.

5. Staying in touch with others (co-workers, family members, neighbors) while, and even though, there is tension and disagreement. (This does not include a former spouse or former in-laws or any situation regarding a romance gone sour.)

6. Being able to declare clearly what I need and requesting help from others without imposing my needs upon them.

7. Being able to understand what needs I can and cannot meet in my own life and in the lives of others.

8. Understanding that I am called to be distinct (separate) from others, without being distant from others.

9. Understanding that I am responsible to others but not responsible for others.

10. Growing in the ability to live from the sane, thinking and creative person I am, who can perceive possibilities and chase dreams and ambitions without hurting people in the process.

11. Growing in the ability to detect where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed my life, then, opting for better and more purposeful growth born of creative thinking.

12. Deciding never to use another person for my own ends and to be honest with myself about this when I see myself falling into such patterns.

13. Seeing my life as a whole, a complete unit, and not as compartmentalized, unrelated segments.

14. Making no heroes; taking no victims.

15. Giving up the search for the arrival of a Knight in Shining Armour who will save me from the beautiful struggles and possibilities presented in everyday living.

16. Paying the price for building, and living within community. I am not suggesting some form of communal or shared living. I am suggesting the differentiated person finds a place with others while also being separate from others.

17. Moving beyond “instant” to process when it comes to love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things in life.

18. Enjoying the water (rather than praying for it to be wine), learning to swim (rather than trying to walk on water).

(Please PRINT this page and STUDY it. Spread it around your office and among your friends. Read more writers about this concept. The ONLY thing I ask in return is that you let me know you printed it – by leaving a comment – and you SPREAD the word to others.)

October 18, 2017

You day will follow your mind…..

by Rod Smith

Your day will run much like your mind runs – positively or negatively

Versions of the following have occurred this week with clients:

Jane unexpectedly sees a friend, Sally, at a distance. Sally appears to ignore Jane. Jane ruminates deeply about this.

  • Jane feels rejected and wonders for hours, or even days, what she did to offend Sally. Jane can’t let it go.
  • Jane assumes Sally simply did not see her, or, if she did, Sally was too busy to talk.

Francis hears about close friends who had lunch together without her.

  • Francis is immediately debilitated. She feels betrayed. Francis knows they were talking about her and she is sure she was the reason they met.
  • Francis tells herself her friends are as free to meet and exclude her, as they are free to meet and to include her.
  • Francis assumes her friends are planning a wonderful surprise party for her.

I’d suggest that hidden within each of us is a healthy self. It’s a self that can be pushed and pulled to run with the negative or to run with what’s healthy and positive. It’s the often-miniscule inner choices that make all the difference to the shape of your day (week, month, and year).

October 18, 2017

Healthy retorts

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Monday / Healthy Retorts…..

Healthy retorts to unhealthy prompts. These are not direct quotations. They encapsulate what I have heard from healthy people:

– No, I do not feel as anxious as you do about this – it’s not helpful if we are both immobilized. (Wife to husband over a business failure.)

– This is a conversation it seems you need to have without me – your adult sons and daughters want time alone with you. I understand completely. (Man to his wife in a second marriage.)

– Your accomplishments at school are yours. When you are doing well I will not take the credit. When you are doing poorly I will not feel as if I am to blame. You already have everything you need (from me) to be a superior student. What do you need to change about your work habits? Start there. No, I will not speak to your teacher. You are perfectly capable of doing that for yourself. Your teacher is not responsible for your performance – you are. (Parent to son of 15.)

– I am very uncomfortable speaking about people who are not present unless you are full of praise for them. Gossip is not at all good for friendships. (Friend to friend.)