Saturday, May 18, 2013

Learning to Appreciate What Is Difficult To Appreciate

Photo courtesy of Christopher Chan
I've always promoted a strength-based approach to the development of any learner, and it is ABSOLUTELY ideal when working with a child. Focus on developing their strengths and go from good to great....from great to extraordinary! In contrast, if all you do is work on your weaknesses, you are basically shooting for mediocre. That is just not my style, and when it comes to learning it shouldn't be yours. It is flat out inefficient. You put a heck of a lot of effort into very poor results that way.

I came across something very similar recently when reading a short article on how to "like" the "hard to like" kids in your classroom. I was kind of wary when reading the title. I've often seen this scenario play out in real life and it breaks my heart, so I was very curious regarding the advice this article would give teachers. Imagine my delight to see that they were simply promoting identifying the strengths of the individual. I've always felt that we should focus on what is right rather than focus on everything that is wrong. It just makes sense.

We all come across some unsavory types that are really hard to like. It is kinda unavoidable really...just part of life. It is something we all deal with. We are all emotional creatures and some people really make it hard to get along. Think about it. Have you gotten along with every single person you've ever come across? Yet as adults, we can always fall back on our choice to disassociate. If you're not a very nice person, don't expect a card from me during the fact I'll probably avoid you at ALL cost. Easy right?

We do this all the time in real life and we REALLY do it in regards to social media (I was unfriended?...wait...what?). But what if this ray o'sunshine in your life has you cornered? What if you are a captive audience? GASP!!! Maybe it is someone at work, or other location, and you see them day in AND day out. Maybe it's a relative. I personally love my mother-in-law, but in-laws in general sure do have a reputation. So what do you do? You just grin and bear it...and move along (preferrably away). But wait...what if it is a kid? What if it is a teacher's student? Even worse, what about those brief moments with your OWN children? There is no walking away from that situation. Think about this one for a while.......

Do you need more time to think?

I love my kids...hugs and kisses can be very endearing, but there have been moments....oh boy, have there have been MOMENTS! Love is hard work. It's not always unicorns and rainbows. In my lifetime, I've seen a wide array of destructive and dangerous behavior from children, both willful and impulsive, for a multitude of reasons. I've seen kids hit, bite, scream, smash, swear, run, and shut name it. Imagine a child defiantly playing with matches and setting their house on fire (this tragically happened to folks in our neighborhood). As a foster parent, we cared for children that wanted to test our limits over and over again. Thinking about this really sent my head spinning into the myriad of possibilities. It can be truly difficult to just like someone...much less love those that NEED it most.

So let me dial back the scale a bit. Not every case is this extreme, but the basic foundation is the same. How do we appreciate ANYTHING that is hard to appreciate? If you focus only on what is wrong, every negative feeling will be reinforced. The answer to this problem is simple. Focus on what is right! Get the OTHER person to also focus on what is right. Don't fake the feeling...appreciate everything there actually IS to truly appreciate! You should literally count every quality and list them one by one. You might think this is easier said than done. "Oh, so all I gotta do is look at what is good and ignore everything making my hair either turn gray or turn loose? Sure buddy! That is impossible!" My answer to you is just do it...why not? 

Don't think it is possible? Then consider this extreme example...junk food. Junk food tastes great. It tastes that way for a reason and that is why we eat it. Much of it is engineered to draw you in at a neurological level. Certain foods are literally designed to addict! Yet if you even begin to consider what you are eating (take a look at that ingredient list), you quickly realize it isn't really food. Dig deeper and you'll find compelling evidence linking it to a laundry list of physical, mental, and behavioral ailments/illnesses (many deadly). 

Those purrrty colors you find in drinks and snacks ("Yellow No. 5," "Red 40," etc.), are made from petroleum. Yes, you are not just consuming a petroleum are licking it off your fingers! This is an example of being manipulated to ignore the negative and hypnotized to focus only on the positive, but this can be a choice for you...a positive choice on your part if we look at true strengths. When it comes to food, the main focus for our family now is nutrition, after many years of doing just the opposite. We decided to focus on what was truly good for us (and it tastes pretty awesome to boot).

So whether its people, places, or things (basically all nouns), focus on what is right. Focus on strengths! You can do this, and it will allow you to appreciate so much more. Discover your own strengths and discover those of the people engage with. It will make it a great deal easier to genuinely appreciate everyone and everything around you. And if that doesn't work, just sprinkle some petroleum on them and try again.

In line with talking about strengths, I've been inspired to talk a bit about the VIA® Classification of Character Strengths. Just as with the Jung Personality Types I discussed in a previous post, I think this will  be helpful in regards to helping us discover and appreciate the strengths of the learners we deeply love and care for...stay tuned!