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Stereotypes and assumptions… from being offended to teachable moments

On my way from a meeting in Pennsylvania, I sat in my seat and took out the book I have started to read not long ago. The book is called Willpower by John Tierney. As I am reading the first paragraph that talks about conscious mind and unconscious mind relationship, I realize that my unconscious mind is interfering with my reading so much that I read the same small paragraph three times. As I try to quiet my unconscious mind , I realize that it is telling me to do something about a thought that has been bothering me greatly.
As part of what I do in my profession and in my personal life, I think about events, conversations a lot and reflect on them. I reflect on myself and challenge myself to be objective no matter how hard it is and how unpleasant the outcome may be. Am I being judgmental? Is this person stereotyping? Am I biased right now? Since last night, I have been unease with a simple dialogue with one of my colleagues whom I respect.
We went to dinner with a group of colleagues. I ordered a vegetarian dish with no particular reason. It sounded healthy and fresh! I guess we can say that was the reason. Here is the dialogue:
Colleague: Are you a vegetarian?
Me: No, in fact I love meat. I just wanted to have more veggies this time.
Colleague: Oh, ok. What kind of meat do you eat? Lamb?
Me: I like lamb. But I like meat in general.
I believe I said a few more things but it was all a blur because my mind was struggling to quiet down the real voice that wanted to say: “ Why lamb? Is it because I grew up in Turkey? Are you stereotyping? Unconsciously maybe but it sounds like you are stereotyping…No matter how well I know that this person would not mean to be offensive, I was offended and too shocked and unprepared to tell him how I felt. Well, earlier during the week we were talking about racism and how we all need to confront ourselves and be open to the question and lean in, and this simple question hit me. The other colleague whom I met for the first time asked me where I am from. I replied as I always do: I was born and raised in Turkey. Just as I thought, the second question followed: Oh, how long have you been living here? Later during the conversation someone asked if I went to public or private school. The moment I said “private school from 6th grade and on” she asked in awe: Are there private schools in Turkey? Deep breath… “yes, in fact it is very competitive”. Was this also a stereotyping issue? Why can’t we have private schools in Turkey? Why is it so surprising? It is not a communist country and there sure is not only one type of school or anything else for that matter.
So… no we do not just eat lamb and no we all do not go to public schools in Turkey. No we are not Arabs and we do not speak Arabic. Not all of us are wearing headscarves and covering ourselves from head to toe. It is time to enlighten others who are not familiar with our culture and our wonderful country. Yes, we have moving parts just like any other place around the world. This does not make us worse or better.
Another incident took place last week. I pick up my son from extended day. He comes crying and when I ask what happened he answers “ he called me a white boy and I told him I am NOT WHITE!”. You did not need to be a psychologist or a mind reader to see how angry and upset he was as he was trying his hardest to control his feelings. I asked to speak with the counselor who called him “white boy”. The counselor started to explain what happened. There was a problem. He was speaking Spanish under the assumption that I am Latina. Deep breath…I asked him to speak English as I do not speak Spanish. Then he continued saying that he called my son’s name but my son did not hear him and since everyone else was black and my son was the only white student he wanted to get his attention by calling him a white boy. Taaa daaa!!! Another deep breath and my hand goes up to stop him. I broke it down to him with a calm and soft tone that we refer to people by their name and not by their race adding that it is highly inappropriate to assume that someone belongs to a certain race because of his or her looks. I explained that my son is biracial and it is how he identifies himself respecting both of his parents and being proud of his identity. At that point, the counselor was almost in tears and said that he never had a bad intention. He was remorseful and apologized to me and to my son. Well, at least he took responsibility and I had the chance to take advantage of a teachable moment. After all, teachable moments are not only for children.
What now? Life goes on and I am sure this will not be the only time we will face with stereotyping and assumptions as it was not the first time. No, we cannot get mad, angry and upset each time something like this happens. We need to communicate, share and educate one another. Ask uncomfortable questions and confront the most difficult. Only then we will see a glimpse of change.

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Is discipline the best way to change behavior?

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Children are people like the rest of us. They happen to be small. They deserve the same respect we expect for and from adults. Part of being a child is not having the answers to many things we may have as adults. Children need positive role models, healthy environment, right amount of challenge, plenty of time and opportunity to grow, gain knowledge and develop skills. These are all parts of becoming mature and articulate adults.

When I hear someone refer to a child as “bad” or uttering the words “you are being bad” I cringe. The child is not being bad, it is the behavior that is not desirable or acceptable. It is because the child has limited language and cognitive ability to express emotions and thoughts. It is the process to learn to make a good decision. How can he replace the undesirable behavior with an acceptable one? By discipline and consequence or by understanding the behavior, finding the source of it and building a relationship with the child to gain trust to provide support? I go with the latter. Here is why…

Discipline in traditional meaning and consequence are like band-aide. You put it on the wound and stop the bleeding for a while. Because the wound is not properly treated, the band-aid can stop the bleeding only for a short time period and it cannot prevent a possible infection. Lack of treatment  may prolong the healing time as well. This happens all because the wound is not treated well. Undesirable behavior is the same as the improperly treated wound. We need to take the time to understand why the child is presenting the behavior. We need to observe and try to find if there is a pattern and or a trigger. What is the source of the behavior? How can we find all these answers? We need to build a relationship with the child to be able to connect and to have open conversations. This happens only if we gain the child’s trust. I admit that this takes time but the best doctors pay attention to every detail, assess the patient very carefully and take all necessary measures while treating the patient.

Correcting a child’s behavior requires the teacher and other partners ,including the parents, to work together. Observation, assessment, planning, addressing the behavior, assessing and planning again. The cycle continues until the desired outcome is accomplished. Discipline, consequence or punishment, no matter how we slice it or dice it, often times back fires. How? The most common result I have seen over and over again is the repeat of the same behavior or worse, bullying others, being unable to control anger, developing negative thoughts and feelings about school, class or the teacher. The cycle continues… more consequence, more aggressive behavior, defiance, loss of respect, lack of self confidence, blaming self, disconnect from the rest of the world, feeling of pressure and failure. The older the child is, the stronger the feelings grow and the more problematic the outcomes are.

We need to give children a good road map to follow, the tools they need to scaffold and build. They are tomorrow’s adult citizens and what we do or do not for them today greatly matters.

 

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Human lives matter…

 

If you are as disheartened as I am, you definitely understand the tornado of feelings in my mind. Is it disappointment? Is it sadness? Shock? Frustration? Anger? Maybe all of them at once.

Depending on my personal experiences, I can easily say that the picture of our country from a far is very different than the one we are living in. I always believed that this country is a safe haven for many of us. Human rights, freedom of speech,  freedom of expression and so on so forth. Melting pot, a place where people from around the world live together. Families, friends, neighbors, co-workers… how rich and how wonderful!

Well… lately I am having difficulty to comprehend the reality. Reality that is so uncomfortable, annoying, upsetting and unsettling. On TV, in newspapers, social media and on the street there is this picture of fear, anxiety and worry with all the “what if? how? why? really?” We all have different opinions as to why people have become so violent, cruel, uncaring, hurtful, and self centered. What I am trying to understand is “when” did this happen?

A child remarked at the news as they were showing the horrific things that were happening in Virginia last weekend: ” I thought this was happening in the very very old days. Like… REALLY old days!” ” These people may need to go to the doctor. They may be ill and that is why they are hurting people around them.” I took the opportunity to talk about the things we must do. It was a short list but it was a thoughtful conversation.

  • Respect every human being.
  • Explain your point of view without disrespecting theirs.
  • Do not respond hurtful acts with hurtful acts. Two wrongs do not make a right.
  • We all are different. Accept differences and learn to work with them.
  • Your freedom ends when the other person’s freedom starts.
  • You do not have the right to hurt another being just because you disagree with him or her. Speak! This separates humans from other living things. We can think and communicate.
  • Your goodness is in your heart and your mind. You are judged by your actions, not by the color of your skin, the language you speak, the religion you practice, your gender or the way you look on the outside. If you are, speak up.
  • Ignorance does not help anyone.
  • Human lives matter.

Appreciation

You wake up every morning, go to work, complete your tasks and probably start new ones… Is it all for money? Can money be the full satisfaction? My answer is a definite no. I work because I like the feeling of being productive. Helping people, making a change in their lives and being a cause for many to steer the wheel towards a better path. The taste of achievement and success is priceless. Noone can pay me enough for that. But I would never turn away a thank you. After all, this is the best way of someone appreciating my work.  

Flip the coin. You wake up evey morning, go to work, complete tasks and start new ones so and so forth. You get paid a lot of money to do your job. But you are criticised often, people around you think they can do a better job and they have no problem treating you in any which way they are pleased to. Sometimes out of the professional frame work. You tirelessly continue to work thinking that you are going to make a change and your work will be appreciated by your superiors and even the clients. Until you realize that it is a brick wall you are hitting and there is not even a crack. Well, this is when you decide to change gears and your path. In the end, you need the feeling of accomplishment and appreciation. Though it comes a little late and you are even offered more money as if IT is the problem, you make a decision to change the gear. Because money cannot fill in the gap and it sure cannot buy respect and trust.

Most bosses and or employers think that money solves all the problems. On the contrary, it is the approach and appreciation that is verbalized before the train leaves the station that makes the difference. Working with people face to face, expecting quality work, dedication and building trust is not about money but it is about relationships. Life is about relatioships no matter what role you have in any given setting. 

There are values in life and these are gained in time with mutual respect, recognizing one’s authority, work and product.It is the best thing to objectively assess where you are within this relationship. Professional and personal ones. I made it an intentional process to observe myself and others. I thrive to take the time to verbally appreciate the good and even the effort no matter what the outcome is. I know that noone and nothing is perfect and we all are in the process of achieving better outcomes and reaching higher levels. A little appreciation goes a long way before the opportunity is missed.   

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Integrity, Honesty, and Principles…

Values are building blocks of an individual. One exists with his own values that he forms as he continues his journey in life. This is why we teach our children to make good choices and to differentiate right from wrong.

First we teach them to be honest even during the toughest times. We instill in them the importance of integrity and working hard.

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  • Do your best and stand by what you do.
  • Stand up for justice and advocate for the less fortunate and underprivileged.
  • Be a leader and do not follow the wrong doers.
  •  Lift up others around you and appreciate them with all the differences and the similarities you have.
  • Hold on to your principles and defend what you believe in.

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  • Choose being kind.
  • Do your best to see the good in everyone because no one is all bad. There is light in everyone, try to see that.
  • Share what you have and what you know. Keeping it to yourself does not do any good.
  • Cherish what and who you have in your life and let them know.
  • Be bold enough to share your feelings and to show your emotions. Remember, emotions make you human.
  • Take responsibility and own your mistakes. Know that it is part of life to make mistakes. Learn from them.
  • Keep in mind that every situation, no matter how positive or negative it is, is an opportunity to learn and grow as long as you open up your mind to it.
  •  Communicate, do not assume.
  • It is easy to find mistakes, faults, flaws. No one and nothing is perfect. Instead, choose to focus on the highs, the good and success and try harder to improve the ones you can. Just make sure you give your all.

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  • Accept the fact that you cannot make everyone happy at once. Needs, wants, ideas, opinions are different. But make sure everyone gets the chance to taste happiness at some point.
  • You will not get what you want when you want all the time. Be conscientious of this. This is part of growing, understanding life and growing.
  • Be mindful that no one is above or below you. Treat everyone with dignity regardless of their age, role, title or status.
  • Do your job right from the beginning, not because someone is watching you but because you have self respect.
  • Do not try to prove yourself to anyone but you. Others will naturally see what you are about.
  • No quitting until you try every single way to reach your goal. Accept failure and use it as a stool to move you up one more step.

Do all of this, only then you will be a good person and true happiness and success will come to you. Only then you will become a strong adult and goodness will surround you.

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TEAM WORK

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We talk about team work and how important it is in our personal and professional lives but not all of us know the true meaning of “team”. In other words, we talk the talk but have hard time when it is time to walk the walk.

After many days of planning the field trip and a picnic, they were cancelled on the morning of due to rain. Children were disappointed, parents who planned to volunteer were frustrated and some of the teachers were upset because of this cancellation. I was confused as to why everyone showed such negative reaction. We cannot control the weather and we must keep children’s safety and well being at the top of everything else. Should we have taken the children out in the rain? Should we have allowed them to sit on the wet grass? What would be better than cancelling the events?

You hear a teacher saying to a parent “Oh well, they just cancelled the trip on us!”. What do you think? How does it make you feel?

  1. Is this teacher being a team player?
  2. Is the teacher blaming the decision maker for making this call to keep children safe and healthy?
  3. How could the teacher share the not so happy news with the parent?
  4. Does the teacher prefer children getting wet and catching a cold in a 42 degree day?

It is important to think before saying things in any situation but it is a must especially when people are frustrated and or disappointed. It is crucial to know what to say and how to say it so that you are being a team player. Let’s rewind the video:

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“After many days of planning the field trip and a picnic, they were cancelled on the morning of due to rain. Children were disappointed, parents who planned to volunteer were frustrated and some of the teachers were upset because of this cancellation.” The teacher approaches the parent who is frustrated and says “I know it is disappointing but WE had to cancel it due to rain. WE will come up with a future date and let you know. WE are sad as well”.

When you are part of a team, you need to be in it all the way. Highs, lows, in between. Success, mistake, failure. Easy and difficult no matter what the situation is, you stand by your team. If not, you are not part of the team and no one in the team can and will trust you. When you work as a team as in “one band, one sound” the taste of success is sweeter, the experience is richer and the benefits are greater.

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Another analogy I like is the “puzzle”. Think about the puzzles in your classroom or your home. If one piece out of 20, 100 or 500 piece puzzle is missing you cannot complete the picture. Most likely, you need to throw it away because it no longer makes sense to keep it. It is the same with the team. All members need to work together and complete each other. It is not about the individual pieces but about the big picture each piece creates by connecting with another.

If you have a team member who is having hard time understanding the team concept, reach out to them. Model and explain how it really works. Focus on their positive sides and pull them in and up. This is also an example of team work.

Learning from experience…

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I picked up my son from school yesterday and rushed to the grocery store for a couple of quick items that I forgot to purchase over the weekend. Knowing that snow was on the way I was trying to be proactive by not waiting for the last minute. Almost every parking space was taken yet I did not allow it to discourage me. As I picked up my items in less than 10 minutes, my son asked for seltzer water. Normally I never allow him to carry anything in glass container but I was so determined and focused to get out of the store and head home before snow started coming down hard, I allowed him to carry the bottle. He knelt down all tired after a long day at school and “BOOM!!” went the bottle. Apparently he was walking and shaking it not realizing it is fizzy and the pressure would cause it to burst into pieces.

There I was… scared, frazzled and checking his face and hands praying that he did not get hurt. I notified the store right away, paid for the items and left the store. As we got on the elevator he started crying. I then realized how scared he was. We rushed into the car and I tried to calm him down. The bottle shattered into pieces so close up to his face and he was not expecting that to happen that his pupils were dilated in fear. He did not understand why it happened.

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After he was calm and no longer crying, I asked him if he remembered me telling him to be careful with fizzy drinks because I knew he loved bubbles. I explained to him many times how dangerous pressure can be and to let the bottle, plastic or glass, rest a bit before trying to open it. He said he remembered it but he did not know it could be this dangerous. I asked him if this experience was enough for him to learn and remember for the next time and his answer was a quick “YES”. I comforted him saying “your Guardian Angels were watching over you. You could have gotten seriously injured. Let’s be happy that you are fine”. After a nice hug and a couple of kisses we headed home.

I have done it, you have done it, we all have done it at some point of our lives. Our parents, friends or people we work with said things, warned us, shared their life lessons and we still wanted to live through it. Unfortunately, we learned the “hard way”. But I guess, it is just how life is.

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I have heard many things about myself from people who know me. Realistic, protective, perfectionist, serious, responsible, emotional, organized… One thing I can add to this list is “proactive”. I am a firm believer when it comes to learning from mistakes and or experiences. I do not believe in making the same mistake twice. I like to take advantage of what I learned and implement it into my life, both personal and professional. Why go through the same pain twice when I can avoid it in the first place? Why not share my experience with others to help them out? Though I realize you cannot force anyone to learn from someone else’s experience I still cannot give up trying.

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Life is about experiences. Good ones create good things and bad ones make us stronger and wiser. I hope we never encounter situations that we cannot recover from. This is all I can hope for all the people I care about and the ones I have not even yet met.

Do you believe in experiences? Have you ever encountered a situation that was a learning experience for you?

 

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Our Imperfections

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What I love the most about our country is the diversity. I remember my childhood as I watched movies and read books saying ” Wow, it must be great to have people from all around the world in one place. A melting pot. Can you imagine the food, clothes and languages? So rich and fun”  As I grew up I figured out that diversity is not limited to food, clothes and languages. It is much deeper than that. It is also about living in peace with all of our differences and imperfections. It is about respecting these differences and about accepting one another the way we are. It is about setting limits for our wants as to not invade the place of others and to forgo our needs so that we can compromise and live happily.

Is it wrong to be a perfectionist? Depending on the situation and the level of “perfectionism” it may be. Are you perfect? Is there a perfect person? Not really. We all have our strengths but we still are not perfect. What IS perfect? Let’s think about some situations:

A perfect spouse, a perfect child, a perfect dish, a perfect house, a perfect book, a perfect movie, a perfect car…

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Perfection is subjective and therefore it depends on the person who is judging what ever subject we are talking about. In my opinion a perfect house may have a large yard with fruit trees, five bedrooms, a spacious basement for my exercise equipment and a three car garage. Think about a person who does not exercise, who does not drive and is allergic to trees. Would this house be perfect for that person? In your opinion a perfect child may be the one who always listens instructions, does not question adult authority, cleans his room everyday and is an all A student. What if you have a child who possesses all these qualities except cleaning the room everyday or he has 6 A’s and one B. Does it mean he missed the chance to fit in your “perfect child” definition?

 

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My “perfect” is to be able to live with the imperfections. To cherish the beauties, to count the blessings and being thankful for the circumstances I have. To remember that it is good to strive for the “perfect” while enjoying the imperfect things and people in my life. To value the individuality and the special things the person brings to my life. It is perfectly fine not to be perfect. I don’t live in the clouds because the sun is not shining. I would hate to miss what life has to offer when I am looking for the perfect. Now is perfect. People I have in my life are perfect. In their own ways.

How many perfect things do you have in your life? How many imperfect people do you know and you love them anyway?

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COMPARING CHILDREN TO THEIR PEERS

 

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 As parents we always want the best for our children. We do every possible thing to be good parents and caregivers. We know “every child develops at his or her own pace” because we have heard it and read it over and over again. But it still may be inevitable for some of us not to compare Johnny with the friend’s child Matthew. It can be even tricky when we look at a 14 month old toddler and compare him to the developmental milestones. It is not as easy as following three milestones and drawing a conclusion as in “Johnny is fourteen months old and he cannot say as many words as he should at this age. Red flag!!”.

Take a moment. Calm down. A child’s growth does not follow a cookie cutter timeline. Milestones guide us but they do not tell us that Johnny and Matthew will follow the same pace or pattern. If Johnny can produce 15 words or even sentences this does not mean he is smarter than Matthew. It also does not mean that Matthew is less smart. It just means that they both are following their own biological pace.

How would you feel if your boss compared you to your coworker? Susan gets the job done quicker than you do. She writes better than you do. What if your child compared you to his dad? He is more fun. He takes me to better places than you do. He gives me more money than you do. Wouldn’t you feel hurt? Frustrated? Wouldn’t you envy or even hate that coworker?

It is important to accept the individuals in our lives the way they are. It is more positive and fair. We need to celebrate the people around us. We need to embrace our children the way they are. We need to see the strengths in them before we see the weaknesses or the things that are not so inline with the norms. I have seen so many children who were late talkers, late walkers. In the end they talked and they walked. They even ran. Sometimes faster than the children who walked according to the norms.

Keep in mind that children excel in different areas. One may draw wonderful pictures while another one may write stories and another may have amazing dance moves and can follow the beats. Each one of them is worth celebrating.

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Share the Joy!

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Another year has passed. Same season, different year, same world problems… In the meantime, we are trying to enjoy this time of the year with family and friends. Children make their lists for Santa, parents rush to get things done before the holidays. Shopping malls are crowded, post office is busy, some take time off from work, some have to work and some do not have a job.

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I love this time of the year. I particularly love Christmas. Growing up, New Year’s Eve was the most joyous occasion for me. Family members would gather at my parents’ house. 23 people total, sisters, brother in-laws, nieces and nephews. When I was in college, no matter what, I would go back home to spend time with family and welcome the new year together. Well… As years passed by and I grew older and busier, I lost the joy. Partly because my extended family is almost six thousand miles away across the ocean and I am only with my son and husband, partly because I work so hard that I do not get the opportunity to slow down and take it all in. I always think about people who do not have anyone to celebrate this lovely season with. People who are out in the cold, trying to figure out how and when they will get their next meal. People who lost their loved ones and now they are lonely. What is joyful if you are alone? What is the meaning and what is to celebrate?

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How do you keep the spirit alive when you hear so many killings on the news almost everyday? Other than being thankful for another day that is given to you by God or whatever high being you believe in, what is to be happy? The only way to enjoy the holidays is to find a purpose. Make someone happy as this will bring joy to your life. It will feed your soul. Forget about spending hours and hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, to buy presents. Give your time to make someone happy. Homeless, children with no family, an elderly who is forgotten in a corner of a senior home, next door neighbor who lost his or her spouse… Find someone and do something positive for him. Take him out of the loneliness and sadness and share the joy. Find meaning in random act of kindness. Remember a friend who you have not talked to for a while and pay him a visit or make a call to say hello.

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There is always someone out there who needs a little cheering up. Be that person who puts a smile in his face and bring the goodness out. Be that person who reminds others that there is more to life than material things. There is a whole big world right outside of our door. In that big world there is someone who needs a person to reach out to them to remind that life is happening and it is worth sharing. Be the light to someone who is in darkness.

Happy holidays…