So, I am learning to use tools. My sister who studies monkeys-and-stuff tells me that the ability to use tools is a key marker of intelligence. She also says a lot about opposable thumbs. So does Gary. He says something along the lines of how people often lose them by not being careful with power tools.
I lack natural talent when it comes to carpentry. Ten years or so ago, when we bought all of our furniture for the current house, I had to pay David to put it together.
"The screws hold it together perfectly." he observed, "so do I also have to do the glue-and-dowel thing?"
"Naw," I answered, "it looks pretty stable without."
Which it was, until about a year and a half ago, when virtually every piece of furniture in our house simultaneously collapsed. One piece had Anthony on it at the time. Anthony leapt clear as it started to come apart, landed on his feet, and rolled to absorb the impact. He lay there for a moment, dazed, before his lip started to tremble. I reached to comfort him, but before I could, Troy's voice declared:
"Wow, what a ninja you are!"
Suddenly, the story-about-how-Anthony-got-hurt became the story-about-what-a-ninja-Anthony-is. Involving several re-enactments (by him), and increasingly exaggerated story telling (by me).
Half of any story happens when the events unfold. The other half happens when we decide what they mean.
Rev Davidson Loehr tells the story of Rachel Naomi Remen:
In her 60s now, she has suffered from Crohn's Disease since her teen years, and has been through over a dozen surgeries for it. As you'd expect, it can be a severely depressing disease. She tells of the time when, in her 50s, she was feeling beaten down by the disease - like a victim - and sought advice from one of the world's leading experts in Crohn's Disease.
It took her an hour to tell her story. He listened closely and with great sympathy for her. After she finished he was filled with pity for her, and asked if she was still able to practice at least a little (Remen is also a physician). Shocked, she reminded him that her schedule was as busy as his. Then she reflected:
But his remark had reawakened a deep sense of doubt. Many years ago, other doctors had told me that I would be dead long before now. On the strength of their authority I had decided not to marry or become a parent... The power of the expert is very great and the way in which an expert sees you may easily become the way in which you see yourself.
In the weeks that followed, she worried more about her physical problems. Finally, one of her physician friends asked her why she seemed to be having such a hard time. Remen writes:
Almost in tears, I told him what had happened. "May I hear the story too?" he asked, and so I told it again. Like Dr. Z., my friend listened thoughtfully, without interrupting, but he heard something very different. When I had finished he looked at me for a long time. "God, Rachel, I had no idea. You are a warrior!" he said, and healed me.
The "healing" came through leaving her dignity, integrity and power intact, rather than transforming them into pity (which takes your power and gives it to the person who has presumed to pity you). Defining someone as a victim is one of the most brutal and demeaning things we can do to them.
Someone who has survived an ordeal is a survivor. And describing them as a survivor leaves their integrity intact, and leaves power with them. Someone who has survived with verve and determination is more than a survivor; they're a kind of warrior. And that word even feels strong, passionate, and capable. How we define someone shows where we want to locate the power and dignity: with them, or with us.
Of course, Loehr is talking about people who have faced harder things than falling off of a piece of furniture. But I believe that how we treat our kids in these little moments frames how they will think about the struggles they face later in life. And the words we say to ourselves, too, can change how we feel about our own story.
"What a ninja I am!" is a silly sounding sentence, but it does a lot more good to one's spirit than "Why me?" or "This is so unfair."
It's worth trying. I suggest trying it quietly in your head. If you declare your ninja-hood out loud, as an adult, people start to get really edgy about letting you use power tools...