I’m not sure where I learned this lesson, so I’m afraid I do not know who to credit. Still, this is valuable wisdom that I really think they should teach in schools.

Many people desire to be more assertive, but I think that is sometimes a vague concept, which makes it hard to do. I once heard it explained in very simple, easy to understand terms that I want to share with you.

Perhaps you have heard of the term passive-aggressive, the idea that someone is nice to your face, but then hurts you when your back is turned. So, let’s imagine there is a spectrum of behavior with Aggressive on one end and Passive on the other. Assertiveness is not just a compromise of the two, it is a third option. And all of these terms can be summed up with these phrases:

Aggressive is the attitude “I matter and you don’t matter.” People are aggressive when they hurt others for their own benefit. When the mean kids in high school tore down other people to feel good about themselves, they had the attitude they mattered and their targets didn’t. Sometimes people are aggressive when they are hurt and then they feel justified hurting that person back. “Because of what they did, they no longer matter.” Violence, insults, threats, manipulation, theft, cruelty and selfishness are aggressive because the person is only concerned about getting their needs met.

Passive is the attitude “You matter and I don’t matter.” Passive people say, “Whatever you want.” Passive people apologize when they have done nothing wrong. Passive people bend over backwards to prevent conflict or upsetting others. People are passive for a variety of reasons. They often call themselves people pleasers. Perhaps it started for noble reasons because they wanted to put others before themselves, because they did not want to be selfish, or they thought loving people means making them happy. Perhaps it was a bit more survival or emotionally based with the idea that making people happy would keep them from hurting you or leaving you. Still, the more you act like only the other person matters and you do not, the more you start to believe it. Most passive people accumulate negative self-esteem because acting like you do not matter eventually makes you feel like you do not matter.

Assertiveness is the attitude “You matter and I matter.” Assertiveness is respectful. Just because someone hurt you does not mean you hurt them back. Assertiveness is solution focused and realizes that speaking up for yourself provides vital information, listening to others provides information, and then you can find solutions that take everyone’s needs into account. Assertiveness sees the big picture. Whereas passiveness feels noble, it makes the other person into the villain. Being assertive may feel like being the bad guy, but it acts on the hope that the other person might join you in a healthy relationship. Even if they don’t, it still protects you and respects them.

And even if being assertive does not always get the outcomes you want, it usually gets you closure and moving on your way towards better things, rather than stuck in the anxiety of never-ending, unhealthy relationship patterns.

I’m going to admit something today.

I don’t like blogging.

I love talking to people. I love thinking about life, relationships, wisdom, etc. And I love sharing those things.

I even like the idea of having a blog, both to inspire others and maybe one day to provide lessons to my daughter after I’m gone. I have no shortage of lessons. I have a long list of topics and think of more things often that I am eager to express.

I also recognize the need to have an internet presence for marketing purposes, and to let people know I am still actively practicing my counseling. But my frequency of posting has dropped from weekly, to biweekly and now I struggle to post monthly.

Simply put, the idea of sitting down to write seems like drudgery. It is something I want done, but not something I want to do.

And often counseling involves helping people address those sorts of struggles. We want to be better. We often know what we need to do, but we struggle with the actual doing.

I totally get that.

My one sentence definition of adulthood is: Doing things we don’t want for the things we do want.

But here I am writing this blog, so obviously something must have tipped the scales for me today, and I thought I would share what helped in case it might help others.

Most of the time when we struggle with decisions, we are struggling with short term and long term thinking. Sometimes all we have to do to change our decisions is simply go from thinking about our momentary happiness to just our daily happiness.

If I was doing what would make me happy right now, I would be taking a nap.

But I asked myself, what will make me happy at the end of the day. Having this task completed will make me happier at the end of the day than if I had taken a nap. Or, looking at it another way, I decided to make a sacrifice to benefit future me. And I’m sure future Me will be grateful. I’m kind of happy now just because I’m doing this nice thing for myself.

Now, admittedly, I asked myself a similar question this morning when I was going to workout, but it was raining outside. I decided going back to bed for 30 minutes while listening to the rain would be more rewarding than exercising and losing half a pound. And it was so very nice and I firmly stand by my decision.

Anyway, it’s a simple point. Don’t just do what feels good now, or avoids pain now. Start thinking, “what will bring me the most joy overall, or the least pain in the long run,” and see if that doesn’t help tip the scales when you’re struggling to get up and do that thing you know you should.

Future You will thank you.

Before I share my thoughts on the use of psychiatric medications for mood disorders, let me first clarify my lack of credentials.

Some people think the terms psychiatrist, psychologist and counselor are basically interchangeable, but there are some distinct differences. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is an expert in mental health and prescribes psychiatric medications. A psychologist is an expert in mental health with a Doctorate degree. A counselor is an expert in mental health with at least a Master’s Degree. All can provide talk therapy, but only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication and has extensive training in brain physiology, chemistry and the like.

I am a counselor.

So, when I share my opinion on psychiatric medications, it is from the perspective of someone who believes in the power of insight oriented solutions, a belief that changing circumstances and thinking is a means to make changes in a person’s mood and life. My opinions come from observations, rather than education and detailed understanding.

Many of my clients also make use of psychiatric medications, either prescribed specifically by a psychiatrist, or often by a primary care doctor. I have learned a lot from their experiences and insight, as well as by seeing the effects in their lives.

Some people are eager to find the relief they need in medication. Others are very resistant to using medication. I would say my initial attitude on medication was similar to those people who want to solve their problems on their own, by their own will power. Other people are afraid of becoming addicted, dependent or having side effects. It is an unfortunate fact that I have met some people who have ongoing suicidal thinking, depression or other lasting side effects from bad medication reactions.

But the research I have seen suggests that counseling and medication are more effective together than either one separately. I tend to simplify the matter by thinking of medication as something that can make the emotions less raw, and counseling helps people make real changes to their thinking and behavior. If you just take medication, you may feel better, but may not make any real changes. However, for some people, counseling alone is unlikely to be productive if the emotions are just too overpowering. For some people, medications may be like a scaffolding that is put in place while a structure is being built, but then can be removed when the building is complete.

However, for others, there is a legitimate ongoing chemical imbalance that needs ongoing treatment. I witnessed the reality of chemical imbalances when I saw my wife go through post-partum depression. Here was a woman just blessed with a beautiful new baby and she knew she was supposed to be happy, but every night she found herself weeping when it got dark. The doctors predicted it might happen because she had been producing chemicals for two and now suddenly she was getting all those chemicals just for one. And as the doctors also predicted, the depression went away after a few weeks. I saw the very real mood effects of a chemical imbalance. It was not due to external circumstances, my wife’s thinking or anything she had done wrong. She was aware of what was happening, but the feelings were still just as real and just as painful.

If someone had asthma, would you expect them to run a race without an inhaler? Thyroid conditions, blood pressure issues and many other medical conditions require ongoing medical treatment to manage symptoms, so should there be any shame in needing medication when there is a legitimate chemical imbalance? Do we expect people to just will power themselves through slipped discs or vertigo?

So, sometimes medications are in order for long term chemical imbalances and sometimes they are just temporary aids while people make the necessary underlying changes via counseling. Sometimes people are unsure which is the case. I usually just trust each person’s judgment. I have seen cases where people weaned off of medications as they made progress, but I always suggest this be done under advisement of a medical doctor. I have also seen some people start without medications and when they have thoroughly addressed their thinking, behavior, beliefs and circumstances and they still feel depressed or suicidal despite no discernible reason, then they usually feel satisfied that they have done their due diligence and a medical approach is in order.

At the end of the day, I just generally encourage people to stop worrying about the stigma and pressure about what others think they should do, and instead trust their own judgment about what they need.

For those who may not know, a fallacy is mistaken belief, often times based on some principle or assumption that you did not know was actually wrong. It is like when you build a house only to realize the foundation is no good and the whole thing ends up crumbling down.

Recently, I have come to believe that there is a faulty assumption about love that almost everyone seems to build their life around, but in reality it causes an awful lot of struggle and anxiety because people don’t understand where they went wrong.

I want you to consider the true motives behind most human endeavors. I would say that most of the things we do, we do in order to be “good enough” or “desirable.” Think about people pleasing, competition, perfectionism, worry, cultivating beauty, pursuing fame, seeking popularity, protecting our pride, fighting for respect, trying to be unique, trying to fit in, being judgmental, being angry at being judged and I could go on and on…

One way or another we are constantly seeking to boost or soothe our ego. And I believe on main reason for this is that we want to feel worthy of being loved. 

“If I make them happy then they will love me.”

“If I can be the best, then they will love me.”

“If I have the most likes, then I will feel good about myself.”

“Why don’t they love me?”

Let me put it this way, we are constantly striving to figure out the puzzle of how to make people love us. And we often get frustrated when they don’t. Why do you think it bothers people so much to be judged or disrespected?

But here is the faulty foundation. Let me explain it with one of the most famous Bible verses. Even if you don’t believe in God, I hope you’ll realize the point is still valid.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV

God loved us while we were sinners. He loved us while we were unworthy. Real love is not a reactive feeling. Love is an act of will on the part of the giver, not based on the worth of the recipient.

This is pretty key, so I’m going reiterate my point. If love is given at the whim of the giver, you cannot make them do it.

One more time,

YOU CAN NOT MAKE PEOPLE LOVE YOU.

People can love others who do not deserve it.

People may not love others when they do deserve it.

If someone does not love you, that was a choice they made.

 

You can influence people. You can make them happy. You may be able to make them like you.

But love is an unconditional choice to care about another person’s well being, whether they deserve it or not.

 

Let me illustrate it with a very honest insight into one of my private moments. When my daughter was born and they put her in my arms, my immediate reaction was not exactly warm and fuzzy. My first thought was, “Who is this stranger? I have never seen her before and I am supposed to love her? I don’t know anything about her character or who she will become.”

But then I spoke to her, “I am your daddy. I will always love you and protect you no matter what.” And then the warm fuzzy feelings and the tears came.

I chose to love her. It had nothing to do with what she had done, and it will always be my choice no matter what she does.

 

So, this truth is both wonderfully freeing, and somewhat terrifying at the same time.

On one hand, you can stop striving so hard for other people’s approval. I mean, really…they are only humans. Why is their validation of you so crucial? If you only knew what skewed their perspectives, you wouldn’t worry so much. It is like looking into fun house mirrors trying to figure out what you truly look like.

But on the other hand, you have to accept that you are not in control of whether someone loves you, or continues to love you, and that truth is so scary that perhaps it explains why so many people are blind to this fact.

 

If you can accept it, the truth will set you free. Forgive the cliche, but it really fits.

And it not only frees you from such excessive striving, but it is also the key to love others better. If you do not have to worry about whether people deserve your love and respect, you can just choose to give it, making this world and, most definitely, your own life that much brighter.

 

You can’t make people love you. I encourage you to accept it and start living. Do not be afraid.

One of the many nice things about being a counselor is that I get to learn a lot from many other peoples’ experiences in addition to my own. And over my years, I have noticed that at the end of the day, many things boil down to fear. And there are a couple things I have learned about fear:

1) Fear is self-reinforcing.

This may get a little bit technical with the psychology, but the premise is fairly simple and important, so bear with me. According to Behavioral Psychology, there are two basic ways to make something happen more. Positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is the easiest to understand, as it is basically rewarding behavior with something pleasant. Give someone money, praise, candy etc. for a task and they will do it more often. It is as simple as the fact that we usually do things that give us pleasure.

Negative reinforcement has a bit of a confusing title, because it is still a way to make people do things more, but in this instance, you remove something unpleasant. Tell a teenager that they will no longer be grounded if they do an extra chore and you have rewarded the chore. Scratching a mosquito bite is negative reinforcement because it removes the itchy feeling. Basically, a behavior is reinforced if it makes something negative go away.

So, consider fear of the dark. Does the dark hurt you at all? No. But if you are afraid of it, that fear is an unpleasant feeling. And if you experience that feeling and run away, you feel relief. The avoidance is reinforced, even though there was not actually anything physically harming you.

Thus, one of the reasons fear is so pervasive and detrimental is that everytime you give in and avoid fear, you feel better and are more likely to avoid it faster next time. Each time you avoid fear, your mind reinforces the idea that the thing you feared really was nasty and aren’t you glad you didn’t deal with it. Every time this happens, you get weaker and the fear gets stronger.

That is why fear starts out small, but ends big. Perhaps you start with something as simple as embarrassment of going to school with a bad haircut. But then, if you just stay home from school, you feel relieved. But next time you feel anxious, you avoid again since you did it before. Before long, you avoid parties and people. Then you avoid grocery stores and restaurants. Then you avoid work and other responsibilities. This is the process that ends up with people not able to leave their home.

Fear could be social anxiety, the fear of failure, the fear of conflict, the fear of losing control and so on and so forth. It all follows the same process. And the efforts to protect yourself just cause your world and your ability to function in a healthy way to shrink as time goes on.

2) Acting in fear often causes what you fear to happen.

This is another one of those things that I have recognized from many repeated observations. I think it is best illustrated by examples.

Consider the scene in Jurassic Park where they are told the dinosaur sees movement so they need to stand still. The person who is so afraid of getting eaten panics and runs. Guess who gets eaten.

I’ve been told that those red buoys that lifeguards carry are specially designed to move through water to knock people unconscious. This is because when someone is so afraid of drowning that they cannot think straight, they will wrap up the lifeguard and drown both of them.

What about people who are afraid in relationships? Afraid that their significant other will leave them, or cheat on them, or betray them. The fear of losing the other person often leads people to become clingy, irritable, untrusting, needy or even self-sabotaging. All things that will make the other person likely to leave.

If you are so afraid of failure and disappointment that you do not even try, then you just guaranteed that you will never succeed.

I could go on and on, but hopefully that is enough to illustrate the premise. 

 

I think I have said it elsewhere on my blog, but I’ll say it again. The opposite of fear is love. A fantastic way to break out of the mindset of fear is to ask when you have a dilemma, which action is based in fear and which one is based in love? If you are afraid to stand up for yourself because the other person may get mad or leave, love focuses on what leads to healthier relationships, while fear focuses on how to prevent pain.

And perhaps that helps make sense of other fear. Do you love yourself and believe in yourself enough to risk some pain because you know it is good for you, or do you just do what avoids pain today, even though you know it keeps on hurting you in the long run.

I don’t think I’m alone when I suggest, you need to love yourself.

 

 

I remember watching the original Star Trek when I was a child and taking note of how often Spock and Kirk would debate logic versus emotions. In retrospect, I think they did a good job of valuing both. Inspired by those debates, the young counselor in me came up with this theory.

 

What if emotions are like a super fast computer that quickly evaluates a situation based on past experience and generalizations to warn us of danger or problems?

 

Have you ever felt angry before you even knew why you were angry, only later to process that someone had violated your boundaries or undermined your security? Have you ever felt uneasy or anxious about a situation only later to recognize all the clues and warning signs?

Anger, fear, frustration, worry, etc. come on quickly and the unpleasantness motivates us to change our behavior. They can serve as excellent warning signs and indicators that we need to take a situation seriously.

 

The problem is, because this survival mechanism needs to process things so quickly, our emotions are based on generalizations, assumptions and past experiences, which are prone to error. For example, when you have all those odd physical reactions to public speaking, it is because your body reacts to the anxiety of being judged, the same way it would react to prepare to run from a lion. It is a protective mechanism that we regard new situations and people with hesitation and care, but to the extreme this becomes racism and seclusion.

And while our logic is certainly still prone to errors, given more time we can usually discern better what is right and true and what was just a false alarm or poor judgment.

Feelings are just another way to get information about the world, but just like sight or hearing, they can be impaired or faulty. I like to think of feelings as warning lights on a car dashboard. They are indications that something might be wrong. They should be respected, not ignored. But there have been times that I had a low tire warning light, checked all my tires with a gauge to find they are fine and later found out that the pressure sensor was broken. It feels a bit odd to drive around with that warning light on afterward, but I know why it is on and that things are ok.

Society appears to be doing a better job lately of recognizing that feelings need to be validated. Too many people have been hurt and told they were wrong to be upset. And too many people have ignored their feelings when they shouldn’t. Furthermore, depression, anxiety and many other mental health issues are invisible illnesses where people appear to be fine from the outside, but have a very real internal experience of pain and distress. Consider that if someone has tinnitus and experiences painful ringing in their ears, but there is no external sound, their pain is still real. It is largely ineffective or counterproductive to tell someone their experiences are not real.

But, it is an opposite and equally problematic extreme to confuse validating a person’s experiences with saying that those experiences are reality. It is a delicate balance for both those experiencing painful emotions and those caring for such people. But it is good to first validate that feelings are real, and painful, and distressing, and confusing. People are not crazy for being angry, or scared, or stuck.

But then no one should stay at this point too long. Feelings are real, but not reality. Just because you feel scared does not mean you should run. Just because you feel hurt does not mean anyone did you wrong. Just because you feel hopeless, worthless or a failure does not mean you are.

When actions are based on feelings all kinds of things go wrong. Half my blogs are basically getting at this point. I plan to write Feelings Part 2 soon as an example of this. And many of my clients, especially people who struggle with bipolar disorder, are basically just trying to learn how to stop letting their emotions be in control of their lives because of the ongoing problems this causes.

On the other hand, many people have tried to be Spock and be purely logical, and that usually fails or has its own problems, because our emotions are valuable and a crucial part of our existence. Often the best parts of our existence come from emotions. When we are in touch with reality, including the painful parts, life becomes so much more vibrant and rewarding. I think the balance is to learn how to use feelings as clues to navigate our lives, but not let them be in charge of steering the ship.

And as many people say, the longest distance in the world is between the head and the heart. It is a very difficult challenge to act based on your will, rather than you feelings, but it is a challenge worth accepting. At the end of the day, it is not what you feel, but what you do that matters.

On the bright side, most people find that once they realize they do not have to act based on feelings, they start to do things differently, challenge their reality and have new experiences. And, as I said at the beginning, since feelings are largely based on experiences, new experiences are often the best way to eventually change our feelings.

I was recently given the opportunity to write an article for Arise Ministries, an organization that seeks to empower single moms. They suggested I address the following question:

How long should single divorced moms wait and get healthy before dating?

Firstly, I want to say that just asking those kind of questions is a good sign.

As far as the answer, I’m not sure I really have anything new to say. But that is perfectly ok, because I have learned that often we seek some new, life changing wisdom, when in reality we just need to do what we already know.

And chances are you have already heard this many times before:

You need to be ok alone before you can be healthy in a relationship.

So, I’m not telling you anything new, I just want to reiterate why everyone keeps saying this thing that you may so easily hear and ignore.

I believe most people have a God given desire to be in relationships. Your yearning to find someone to do life with is perfectly healthy. There are lots of benefits to being with someone and you probably think about how your kids would benefit. However, a desire can be good and healthy, but given the wrong priority it just doesn’t work. Most houses need roofs, but that doesn’t mean you build that first.

So, let’s explore why being ok alone is a necessary foundation.

If you are not ok being alone, then essentially you fear being alone. You will fear whether you can make ends meet. You will fear the pain of loneliness and the empty times where you have to face all the things you do not want to think about. You will fear the uncertainty. You will fear finding out who you really are. And so on and so forth.

Given more time, I could explain in greater detail, but just trust me on these two principles about fear:

Fear is the opposite of love.

When you act in fear, you often cause what you fear to happen.

If you are not ok being alone, then when you are with someone, fear they will leave you will prevent you from expressing that you matter. It will keep you from setting boundaries, being assertive and requiring that the relationship be healthy. Most people will treat you how you allow them to treat you.

Furthermore, even if the relationship is good and healthy, if you do not know that being alone is an option, then will you ever really know if you are in the relationship because you want to be?

Oddly enough, it was a teenage boy who said something to me once that I feel exemplifies how everyone should treat the dating process:

“I will do everything that I am ok with to keep the relationship.”

While this may seem simple and straightforward enough, it is fear that breaks the rule and causes you to do things you are not ok with. And that is how relationships are allowed to become unhealthy.

So, to answer the original question, everyone is different. I don’t believe in any set time. And even the concept of waiting until you are ok being alone is pretty gray. As you pursue that place of personal well being you will fall down, make mistakes and uncover whole new realizations about your issues and vulnerabilities. And, even when you still have work to do, exploring the dating world is ok because the bumps and bruises that come with it will just give you more experiences and insights on where you are in the process.

But first, you have to be alone until you are not afraid of it anymore. And only you can be the judge of that.

“Get wisdom, get understanding;

do not forget my words or turn away from them.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;

love her, and she will watch over you.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.

Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

Proverbs 4:5-7 NIV

 

This blog post has been a long time coming. In some ways it is the foundation for everything else I write and do. On almost every post I make, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer, which is this:

I do not always know the sources of what I say. Sometimes it is something I heard decades ago, sometimes it is a basic idea I have expanded upon and sometimes it is all me. But the thing is, I ultimately do not feel any of what I say belongs to me.

Wisdom is wisdom. We do not create it, we only discover it and pass it on, therefore I believe no one can really claim it. 

Sure, you can copyright a quote, but a quote would be of no value if it did not highlight a truth far beyond the author.

And as the scripture above shows, people have been seeking wisdom and passing it on for thousands of years. Wisdom is different than knowledge and intelligence. Wisdom is about how to live life well. Wisdom is proven right in action. I have seen many extremely intelligent people who can accomplish great tasks and understand complex ideas, but struggle to make wise decisions or live well.

Some people would say that wisdom is the integration of intelligence and experience, but I have often seen the simple and the young able to understand a problem better than those who have a lifetime of complicated theories and baggage cluttering their minds.

 

I have been fascinated with wisdom since childhood when I read about King Solomon who, when granted one wish from God, requested wisdom to serve his people better. Pleased with the heart of the request, God gladly granted it and Solomon additionally received riches, honor and life as a result of his wisdom.

I imagine I may be a bit annoying at times when I have a saying or cliche that has been passed down for ages to apply to most any situation. But I believe those sayings have been handed down for generations because they have proven true. Often wisdom teaches lessons that are contrary to what we would expect or hard for us to accept. Some people insist on learning these lessons for themselves, but there is an enormous wealth of experience from everyone who came before us, and they usually hand it out generously only to find it rejected. I for one figured it was smart to learn from others so that I could stand on their shoulders and add to the collection.

Another key facet of wisdom is the deep understanding and acceptance of how much you do not know. The usual lack of this understanding is one of the main reasons why teenagers can be so infuriating. Children know there is a vast world of things they need to know that they do not. Adults eventually come back to this awareness. Teenagers are in a sweet spot of being exposed to vast amounts of new information, often knowing things that others do not, and mistaking this for being more enlightened than they really are.

Awareness of how much you do not know is very humbling. I would expect any purveyor of wisdom worth their salt to walk a fine line between knowing the value of the wisdom they have accumulated, while being modest about their own accomplishment.

I mentioned earlier that I often spout trite sayings to apply to various situations. Please bear in mind that I am fully aware that every situation is more complicated, real and heartfelt than some of those sayings may imply. Also, if you pay attention, almost every clever piece of wisdom has a counterpoint. 

There are sayings about persistence and sayings about knowing when to quit.

There are sayings about breaking from tradition and reasons to respect it.

There are times to speak out and times to bite your tongue.

…And a time to every purpose under heaven. Turn, turn, turn.

Wisdom is also all about understanding balance and discernment. Because those little tidbits are often one sided, they are excellent for highlighting and simplifying the priorities for decision making, but knowing when they apply and when they don’t is a further role of wisdom.

As you can see, wisdom is complicated. I have been daunted from writing this for a while for many of the reasons above. To write about wisdom is inherently a bit arrogant. To that I say, go ahead and take my words with a grain of salt. If they are valuable it is only because they are true. Wisdom is also a multifaceted and difficult thing to express, so I’m fairly certain I will fail to fully capture all I would want to say on the subject. Oh well, wisdom has recently taught me it is often better to do something that may have flaws than to do nothing at all.

And lastly, I am sure I will not be able to fully convey just how valuable wisdom is, yet I will try.

Above all else, gain wisdom. It will guard your life. Though it may help you gain fame and fortune, it will also teach you those things are not the most important. It will allow you to find happiness and peace, yet give you courage and guidance to give up those things for even greater treasures. If you want a life worth living, my first and simplest advice to you is to seek wisdom.

I saw a meme on Facebook not long ago mocking teenagers for complaining about how hard their life is when they do not realize how hard adults work and how much adults have to put up with. This is not an uncommon sentiment, and honestly, I’ve thought something similar on occasion.

But a fairly insightful teenager recently made a very good point. It is easy for adults to look at what what a teenager has to do and mock them because adults have so much more responsibility. But the difficulty of a situation is not simply how heavy the burden is, but how heavy the burden is based on the strength that you have.

Would it make any sense for an adult to mock a toddler for struggling to carry 50 lb weight? Of course not. We know the adult is stronger and can carry more weight. That 50 lb burden weighs the same for both, but it may be a fourth of the body weight of the adult and double the body weight of the toddler. The challenge is relative to the strength.

Therefore, the insightful teen pointed out, while teenagers may struggle with the responsibilities of school and peer drama and chores, which may be easier than adult responsibilities, have you considered that they do not have all the life experiences, wisdom and skills that the adults possess which make those tasks seem easy? It is common knowledge that teen brains and bodies are developing rapidly at that age, while their emotions are running rampant and difficult to control. There are so many fundamental questions about life that they are still trying to figure out, and this means that they do not have a stable foundation to make sense of the world. Furthermore, did the previous generation have to worry about 24/7 cyber bullying or the threat of school shootings and terrorists?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means trying to make excuses for teenagers to justify not doing things. Doing hard things is crucial to their development and ability to gain those skills to rise to the challenges of adulthood. But, as I have said before, we can seek to understand people, without excusing bad behavior. Looking only at their burden and talking about how it is easy it is compared to yours only serves to puff yourself up and tear them down. But recognizing the true challenge of being a teenager will improve the ability to connect, empathize and encourage them to do those hard things. 

This week I’m going to take a back seat and point you to someone else that I think is worth hearing. Her name is Megan Phelps-Roper, and not only does she have a fascinating story of being brought up in the Westboro Baptist Church, but she has some invaluable insights in how we should talk to one another if we really care about helping each other.

In case you don’t know, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small family church of about 40 people or so that is not officially affiliated with the Baptist Convention. They have become famous for hate speech and protesting funerals. I’m most amazed that the only time I have ever seen a comment section on the internet where everyone agreed was when people were talking about how awful the Westboro Baptist Church is.

So, hearing about the experience of being raised in that environment is intriguing. But, I am linking to this video, not out of curiosity, but because this woman has some invaluable insights on how people managed to overcome a seemingly impenetrable wall of denial and opposition to get through to her. These are tools we should all learn.

While her speaking style may be a little stilted, I highly encourage you to listen to everything she has to say. One of the lessons that has most stuck with me is:

“I thought my rightness justified my rudeness”

Just imagine how much the internet, our discussions and our relationships would improve if everyone believed that our rightness does not justify our rudeness.

Here’s the link to the full video.