Voice Lessons for Parents

Nobody loves me but my mother,
And she could be jivin’ too.

–B. B. King, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother”

Seen in VOICE LESSONS FOR PARENTS — What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen by Wendy Mogel, PhD (OCLC WorldCat, Amazon). How wonderful to think that we have an ability to learn and grow in wisdom throughout our lives, even if we may regret that the lessons come after we could have used them. (Experience is a hard teacher; the test comes before the lesson.)

Our daughter grew into a beautiful person with a warm, generous spirit . . . despite my manifold mistakes as a parent. The result is a testament to the good influences of her mother, my wife. Daughter left the homestead ages ago, but seeing as how there is a child (or several) inside all of us, and as I seek to enhance my communication effectiveness — with myself, my wife, daughter, relatives, friends, partners, associates, students, and strangers — this book struck a responsive chord for me.

These are some of the lessons I took from it:

  • Always be modeling the best of what you want for the other.
  • Respect the autonomy of the other.
  • View the other as an individual, not as a representative of a class, nor as someone to compare to others.
  • Use authority to protect and to serve, not as a way to control or feel superior, nor as a way to impose your views.
  • Hold space for others, where they may express themselves. But do not demand their attention or communication.
  • Don’t take it personally. I like the advice I read ages ago when I was a software developer, about how to build robust software that plays well with other software. Be tolerant of the things you take in, and scrupulous about what you give out (Postel’s law, the robustness principle).
  • Maintain a friendly, businesslike atmosphere. Approachable, pleasant, purposeful, practical, unemotional.
  • Just as with the claims that body language can say more than our language, when communicating we want to exercise mindfulness and good intention with our tone and pitch, facial expression, tempo, timing, and setting. (Also consider Craig Ferguson’s “1) Does this need to be said? 2) Does this need to be said by me? 3) Does this need to be said by me now?”)

I learned from this book about Common Sense Media, a media review and advocady site (movies, books, TV, games, apps, and websites) dedicated to the well-being of kids of all ages. The one minute reviews are terrific, and you can search for media by age group appropriateness and by message or lessons imparted.

Whether or not you are a parent, I highly recommend Voice Lessons for Parents for its valuable communication life skills.

Recognizing right

Alexander Technique wooden block doll goes from jumbled to organized

“Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right.”
~F.M. Alexander

Often, problems we feel with a partner arise not because they (or we!) don’t know what to do, or even how to do it. They arise because we don’t know when we are doing the right thing. After lifetimes of misuse and abuse of our bodies — 20,000 hours in school desks, countless more hours sitting at a work desk or watching TV or working a computer, hunched over a smartphone, sports and other injuries — we can in many ways come to a point where what is wrong feels right, and what is right feels wrong!

In our teaching of students and in our practice with partners we can often spark quick and even profound understanding when we guide experiences that help a person discover for themselves a range of possibilities and where they want to work within that range.

Sensitivity calibration game
Using simple movements in place, such as weight change, step and return, rebound, twist to invite partner’s step, etc. Between steps, or a series of steps, the receiving partner silently chooses a “sensitivity setting” between 0 = immediate responses to no inputs, to 6 = heavy force required to move. They will move and react with what they perceive as that level. Then the sending partner will say what they think the setting was.

After a productive session of this, where you each come to understand the other, now you can turn the table and make it a …

Force calibration game, where the leader silently chooses a level of force they will use, from 0 = just thinking about moving, to 6 = Mack truck. The receiving partner guesses their partner’s setting.

Now the two of you can have a pleasant and productive talk about your preferences, and likely come to a comfortable range that suits both of you.

Discussion: If we respond too eagerly to a lead, we likely will cut off possibilities to know what our partner actually intended. We want to be aware, as well, that some partners will have more or less “noise” (unintentional, undirected, or misdirected movements) in their movement system. If we respond slowly to a lead, if it takes significant force to get us to respond, then we will feel uncomfortably heavy to our partner.

If we lead with lots of noise, it makes it harder for our partner to home in on what we really mean; they get confusing, multiple signals. If we lead with too little force we can feel tentative to our partner; too much force and we feel unpleasantly demanding.

Also, some dancers will naturally favor a light, quick, highly responsive partner; while other dancers want their partner to respond or lead in a heavier, more forceful way.

We want to mirror and accommodate our partners, while keeping sure that we are neither too sensitive, responding to things that aren’t really intended, nor too INsensitive, requiring a heavy lead.

[Previously published 2017-08-22 on Facebook.]

Acting as if

[ From a Facebook post from June 25, 2015, with an additional note about a possible solution. ]

I have begun recognizing a common debilitating – I think I’d have to call it attitude or maybe mindset that interferes enormously with that student’s ability to allow their body to simply respond in its own way “just to see what happens.” (Common, but thankfully low in numbers.) To me it seems as if they have been somewhat “crippled” kinesthetically, such that instead of seeing someone perform an action, then empathizing in their body with how that might feel, they instead try to mentally reproduce the action by moving their body to match the visual aspects that they notice. Instead of letting their body discover natural movement for a purpose, they try to mind direct it.
The problems, pretty obviously, are that the mind doesn’t and can’t act quickly enough to positionally control the body in a natural and effective way, and that they can’t even see or correctly interpret every aspect of what they take in visually.

I hallucinate that these are people who have never learned to “let go”, or perhaps more accurately, they were taught** at a young age to keep themselves under tight wraps. It’s the kind of attitude where, when someone introduces a game or exercise (in a dance or other setting), the person seems to see it, not as a fun activity to explore, but rather as some form of test.

I wonder about your experiences in this regard, and whether you’ve developed fruitful approaches to help people “forget themselves” and “let go”?

** Ah, schooling, the molder of minds and bodies. We’re taught to behave, and, “An average child who starts school at the age of five and leaves at the age of 18 will probably have sat for more than 20,000 hours during that time.” –The Alexander Technique Workbook. Hey, by that measure and Malcolm Gladwell’s criteria, they are experts twice over in sitting!

A helpful idea? We could use the NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) injunction to, “Act as if.” So we say, “Observe the teacher, or some person, or think of someone you’ve seen who does this really well. We’re not yet at a level where we can copy what they are doing, and our unconscious body can help us get better and better at this. So instead of copying that person, allow yourself to be that person with all the capabilities that this body (gesturing to their entire body) has in it. Act as if you are that person.