Catch ’em being good

I used to have the worst children in the world. Truly, I did. And I knew that they were the worst children in the world because the evidence came out of my own mouth. I had to criticize them constantly because of the way they ignored instructions, the way they broke rules, and the way they fought with each other. I knew in my mind that I loved them — they were, after all, my children — but my heart had doubts, because they were so very difficult.

I was complaining about them one day to a wise man and he stopped me in my tracks by asking, “Do you ever catch them being good?” My instantaneous response: “Huh?” He explained to me that most people have a bit of a problem with giving praise because good behavior is considered normative and that it therefore slips past them, unnoticed. We see when our children hit each other, but we take as ordinary, and unworthy of comment, the fact that they had spent the previous half hour playing peacefully together. He told me that a good rule of thumb with children — indeed, with anyone — is that for every negative thing that comes out of your mouth, at least four positive things should also come out of your mouth. As to the latter, you shouldn’t lie or make up things, but you shouldn’t let the ordinary dissuade you from making a positive comment.

For the first week, it was I bit of struggle. “Oh, Little Bookworm, I’m so proud of you. I know you wanted to, but you didn’t hit your brother.” (Normally, I would simply have commented on the yelling that took place.) “Look at you, Little Bookworm. You’ve eaten much more neatly than you did yesterday.” (Previously, I would have pointed out the mess on the floor.) By the end of this week of mental effort, I discovered something wonderful: I actually had — and continue to have — great children.

Now, many years later, my heart and my head are in synch — I love my kids, because they are lovable. Sure, they can be naughty, but isn’t that true for everybody? And yes, when I’m in a bad mood, the criticisms definitely amp up, and I have to remind myself, still, to catch ’em being good. But after so many years, catching them being good is mostly automatic, with manifest benefits for us all.

Believe it or not, this bit of parenting advice (and it’s the best advice any parent will ever get), has a political purpose, but I’m taking my time getting there. Part two of this story is the conversation I had the other day with my sister, who was reminiscencing about the fact that she always found my Mom rather frightening. She acknowledged that Mom was constantly professing her love for us but, when it came to my sister, every “I love you” was followed by a criticism. “I love you. Your room is a mess.” “I love you. Stop slouching.” “I love you. Why aren’t you doing better in school?” As an adult, my sister knows that my Mom truly adored her, and felt that the best thing she could do for my sister was to improve her with a constant, bracing storm of criticism. As a child, though, my sister came to a different conclusion: Either my mother was a fool, for how could anyone but a fool profess love for a creature as imperfect as my sister obviously was, or my mother was a liar, and did not love her at all.

(Incidentally, I had a different experience. Since I was the younger child watching these “loving” harangues, I made sure to clean my room, stand up straight and do well in school. Mom happily praised me for doing well in these areas, in contrast to my sister. It speaks well for the enormity of my sister’s goodness that she loved me then and loves me now.)

And now I’ll get to the political point:  Don’t the ordinary Progressives, not the dyed-in-the-wool Marxists masquerading as Progressives, but the ordinary, man-in-the-street Progressives, remind you of the parenting style that professes love but only voices criticism?  Though they claim to be patriotic Americans, everything they say about America is critical:  America is too racist, too classist, too rich, too greedy, too abusive of the environment, too religious, too conservative, too xenophobic, and on and on.   Never, never, do the Progressives catch America being good.  So perhaps, the ordinary person, the one who is not politically engaged, might be excused for thinking that Progressives are either fools, for how could anyone but a fool claim to love such a dreadful society, or they’re liars, and don’t really love America at all.


18 Responses

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  2. I have nothing to argue with, only an addition…..the “four good things for every word of criticism” only works if kids are actually held accountable for their bad actions. Parents who use this technique to avoid making their kids upset with them, by insisting on decent behavior, end up “raising a stick to beat themselves with” as a friend in Venezuela once put it.

  3. Hello Bookworm,

    I like the analogy you’ve drawn here; it’s clear and provides insight into the logical dilemmas that liberals have placed themselves in vis-a-vie in the eyes of the ordinary man.

    However, I think the comparison breaks down once you zoom back and view things on the macro/ national level.

    In a family environment, a mother criticizing a child repeatedly to straighten up and fly right could conceivably still love the child immensely. By doing his/her homework, doing the daily pieties and duties of life molds one into a mature adult. Doing those things your mother coaxes and criticizes you into are in and of themselves good things. But I don’t think the same could be said on a larger political macro level.

    On the macro level, when you have a particular political group whose every policy proposal would bring the nation to ruin, you are moving beyond mere criticism. Our liberal/ Leftist ideology has consistently proposed policies that would leave America in ruins for 50 years. It is one thing to say that America should straighten up and behave more morally. It is quite another to request its suicide in order to become moral.

    In the sixties and seventies, our liberals advocated unilateral disarmament in the face of the Soviet Union. They directed the country to lynch a sitting President for winning the war in Vietnam (note the Vietnamese reaction after Nixon ordered “Linebacker 1” and “Linebacker 2”. They, the North Vietnamese, was suing for terms until Watergate struck.).

    And now, the liberals have undermined this war from the beginning; a war that if we lost would usher in a new dark age for Mankind the likes of which we cannot possibly fathom.

    The Progressives every national proposal would castrate our country and strip it of its sovereignty. Unlike their Republican counterparts, they have been very consistent.

    One cannot proclaim one’s undying love for a Coca Cola and attempt to flush it down the toilet every chance one has. The nefarious lie that some parents tell their children as they beat them is that they are doing so because they love them. I think this is so of the Leftists; not all but enough to matter significantly. But of course not all Leftist are like this and believe this. There’s always a sprinkling of a minority in any group, but there is usually a dominating ethic the governs its course.

    With all this said, I don’t think the conservatives are sweetness and light either; you know, sugar and spice. I have severe problems with both parties at the moment, and at times I think they’re one company on many different issues despite their public facades. But that topic is for another time.

    America is hitting rough white water rapids right about now… but this comment is probably too long already, so I’ll end it here.

  4. I guess, Thomas, that I’m trying to give the criticizers the benefit of the doubt. As I said, I’m not talking about the hardcore Marxists who genuinely hate America. I’m talking about the people like me, as I used to be, before I became a Neocon — ordinary liberals (or, as they say now, Progressives), who have had the usual progressive pieties pounded into them so that they repeat them endlessly, without thinking. People like me as I used to be do love their country, they’ve just had sucked out of them the ability to express that love and, often, the ability even to see any more what they love. They’re the ones who need to be taught (or re-taught) to catch America being good.

  5. Sensational post, Book.

    Akin to Synvoa, I am astounded to witness such wisdom.

  6. Liberalism, progressivism, social democracy, call it what you will, is a symptom of emotional retardation — an unwillingness to accept that the laws of the Universe cannot be modified to suit one’s demands. The tantrums typical among left-of-center activists when they lose an election or fail to get their way legislatively or in the courts are the best possible confirmation.

    There are more and less virulent strains of this malady, but their nature is common.

  7. Francis,

    Did you catch Tom Friedman’s column last week on geration Q? He was decrying today’s young people for concentrating on the studies and doing various types of volunteer work. According to Tom, this is not enough. The young must protest and speak truth to power. In other words, they should throw tantrums. And isn’t this exactly what Gore is doing too? Instead of encouraging young people to learn so they can tackle problems, he wants them to clutch their stuffed polar bears and scream.

  8. During a seven-year stint as a high school Math teacher, I learned the same thing: I was constantly critical, never approving. I had a BIG problem with praise. I was unable to offer praise to the students in the same way I was willing to offer criticism.

    It took a lot of “reprogramming” for me to change that. I did eventually change, I think. And I agree, this is not about false praise, this is about two other things: recognizing genuine opportunities for praise, and then being able to voice the praise. IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT TO DO!

    So I think you’re on to something, Book. As with any other aspect of a human psychological shortcoming, however, the super-critical leftists will need to recognize their own problem before they can ever change it.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  9. Expat,
    I think you’re absolutely right. Part of their problem, as well, is that your approach would require rigorous analysis instead of merely FEELING STRONGLY. They are much more concerned with feeling strongly about something and basing all their arguments and actions upon those feelings.

  10. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article Progressives, Marxists, America    Sphere: Related Content | Trackback URL […]

  11. Hello Bookworm,

    Yes, Mrs. Bookworm, once again I believe you are right and I wrong on this. 🙂 You are quite right in that we should give our countrymen the benefit of the doubt.

    I was also at one point a liberal, almost bordering on leftist/socialist who repeated those “progressive pieties” mindlessly. Did I hate America then? I don’t really know, not even from hindsight. Can we be separated from our actions? I dunno that either.

    In any case, it would be better if we erred on the side of providing liberals the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think the run of the mill “progressive” really hates America. It is possible for someone to review the facts at hand and come to a different conclusion about the world they live in.

  12. This is a very thought-provoking post, Book. I would like to suggest that something additional may be at work as well: when parents criticize their children, they are also (re)asserting their authority and moral high ground over their children.

    I believe that this is also at work with your average, narcissistic,self-inflated Liberal-Progressive (as distinguished from the rabid totalitarian haters of the Left, that is). By criticizing their country, these LPs put hoist themselves onto a moral balcony over the rest of us riff-raff. That must be a very satisfying and self-affirming experience for them. It certainly lets them wash their hands of all of our very human imperfections.

  13. If you cannot jointor create the greatest nation in the world, Danny, at least you can tear it down and claim your just deserved glory in that fashion.

  14. You nailed it, YM. Many of them have very deep esteem problems. I think that many Lefties are incubated in abusive homes, be it abuse by violence (Hilary), neglect or over-indulgence.

  15. […] Bookworm Room, “Catch ‘Em Being Good” […]

  16. Hitler also called his party “progressive”. They also were socialist, and many other things. Bla’ze.

  17. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see
    if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be
    a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
    I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with

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