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As more bombs descend on Afghanistan, it's tough not to think of the messages we (as part of the Western civilization) are sending and of what those messages might be training the recipients of those messages.

There's a story I use in management skills and conflict resolution skills training. I don't know where the story comes from but it's an effective illustration of the point that we get what we train, not necessarily what we want. The story goes like this:

"A couple was house-training their new puppy not to go to the bathroom in the house. Each time the puppy made a puddle, they stuck the puppy's nose in the puddle and threw the puppy out the window into the back yard (this was a one-storey home, not something that would harm the puppy physically). They didn't pro-actively take the puppy outside and praise it when it relieved itself there. The "nose in the puddle and out the window" pattern repeated itself until, one day, one of the owners noticed the puppy in the middle of the living room, just in the act. The puppy noticed the owner's look, their eyes locked for a few seconds, and then - the puppy stuck its nose in the puddle and jumped out of the window."

The moral of the story is that the puppy was conditioned to mentally link its behaviour (the puddle) with the consequences of the behaviour. When we punish but don't show and reward the "right way", we actually reinforce the negative behaviour. In the case of Afghanistan, the wide-spread bombs are more likely to train defiance and further retaliation than apologies. At best, people learn to suppress or hide the behaviour while we are "in the room" but there is no change as soon as we leave the room. Think about underground liberation movements or teenagers hiding their drug or alcohol usage - that is when punishment exists but no preferred method for wanted behaviour. Think about speeding when you drive - the laws and consequences of breaking them do more to teach people how to buck the system with radars and such than it does to teach them to drive safely. Why is there no positive reinforcement in place? It is "inconvenient" and costly to do so, the rulemakers would say. It is cheaper and quicker to focus on punishment, at least so it seems from a short-term perspective.

It may seem more "convenient" now to bomb Afghanistan. Much of such an attack may in fact be necessary as a way of drawing a boundary to unacceptable behaviour - doing nothing would be saying "go ahead, walk into our country and kill, we're OK with that". But my question is this: How do we train people for co-operation and peace, rather than just punish violence? I believe that this is only possible to do by taking the time to do what is time- consuming and "inconvenient" - looking for common ground, giving appreciation for similarities as well as differences, reinforcing with praise and thanks what is good, taking the time to understand the other party and what their needs and wants are. And, above all, helping a country with no purpose beyond war to find a purpose that doesn't include war.

Does it take time and effort? Yes, absolutely. If, however, lasting peace in our own lives and in the world is what we truly want, let's take the time and effort to do this. As always, we can start where we live - with our spouses, parents, children, neighbours, coworkers, clients. The better we get at understanding each other and getting what we want through taking actions that train what we really want to see, the more we can hope for peace around the world and our own lives.

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"In order to keep a true perspective of one's importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him."
Dereke Bruce =======================================================


Here is a real ad that caught my eye a while back at the Law Courts. It was an ad advertising the sale of a piece of a lawyer's gown, the black-and-white kind worn by lawyers to court:

"I have a Matt & Wozny vest for sale, size 38. It's "Rarely Been Used" - I kept losing in court and so I became a solicitor. No reflection on the vest, it deserves another chance."

And the writer deserves a hearty slap on the back for honesty, ability to laugh at himself, and ability to let go of something he no longer needs. How many of us have old "vests" lying around - things that we bought but rarely used? Or, worse yet, the six-loot-long and five-foot-wide awful painting that auntie Mary left to us in her will but that we took only not to offend uncle Harry whose heart would be broken if we said we didn't want the painting. We take great pains to hide the hideous thing in the garage and hope that a fire will selectively and mysteriously catch it, or that some paint-loving insects will eat it beyond recognition so that we can regretfully inform uncle Harry that a natural disaster disposed of the thing.

Well, you get the picture and perhaps you can even relate to some of those old things with dust bunnies all over them. So how about letting go in a funny celebration like the lawyer in the ad did? We may have outgrown the use for some trinkets, clothes, furniture, equipment, art, even some habits and attitudes. They no longer fit us and who we have become, but they may be a welcome addition by someone who can use them and get far more use and joy out of them than we can.

People, such as bosses or constantly-negative friends, can also often be picked up by someone who'll enjoy them a lot more. They also "deserve another chance" so give it to them. You will be happier, they will be happier, and the new person will be happier when a better fit is found. What you see as negative may be met with excitement by someone else. I haven't quite figured out how to implement this with 2-year-olds and teenagers, but maybe Grandma's house and sleep-overs at a friend's are a start.

So here's to an afternoon finding those old vests to pass on to someone else!

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"Humor is the absence of terror, and terror the absence of humor."
Lord Richard Buckley =======================================================


One of my all-time favorite quotes is "Today's crisis is tomorrow's joke." And yet, the events of September 11th have given even the funny folks like David Letterman enough of a jolt that nothing seemed too funny for quite a while. At this point, some people are laughing and some people are still having a tough time with it. So here's my own case for humor in times of tragedy.

In communist Czechoslovakia, as I was growing up, humor was what got us through. When we escaped, the only actual possession I brought with me was a humorous book in Czech. We only had $100 in real cash, but the book was far more valuable in its help with our ability to cope. Mom read it to me as we were in an Austrian jail. At first, I wanted to flung it across at her. As I started to listen, after a while I forgot where we were and I began to laugh. That was precious and that book, and trying to see humor in the smallest things helped us cope.

Similar stories are heard from Vietnam veterans or survivors of any other horrors - including simple ones like being kept up at night by babies or dealing with a less-than-pleasant boss. Humor is a coping strategy in its attempt to explain the unexplainable. It helps us find our voice, our expression, our creativity - and perhaps most importantly, it gives us a sense of being in control. Even where it is an illusion of being in control, the emotional and mental benefits are enormous. So - send in the clowns...

"Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality."
Jules de Gaultier =======================================================


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"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life."
Arthur Ashe






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