Greetings—and Happy Almost Thanksgiving!
Speaking of which, as we gather round our Thanksgiving tables in gratitude for family, food and the many bounties in our lives, some of us may feel the elephant squeezed between our conversations and joy.
You know, that gap that holds everything we’re NOT talking about. Like politics, old wounds and grudges and the things that lead our conversations to devolve instead of evolve.
But I heard a story last week that gives me great hope for our civil dialogue and future leaders. It’s the tale of two bickering 4th graders that Rebecca, their educator, shared with us last week in the EQ Academy.
Healthy Self-Regard or Low Self-Esteem?
We were in Course 2 on Self-Regard, discussing how too little self-regard negatively impacts our ability to solve problems, while conversely, too much self-regard—when we puff ourselves up to look bigger and better than we really are—is often a sign that we’re hiding behind low self-esteem.
During the Insight to Action learning section, Rebecca told us about Student A, who was constantly picking on Student B.
A seemed to have refined the art of getting his classmate’s goat, relentlessly jabbing, goading and prodding B to get a reaction. And when A succeeded, which was constantly, it only added fuel to his fire.
Now, Rebecca knew that A was building up his fragile sense of self by putting down his classmate. (And really, if we’re honest, we all are susceptible to this behavior when feeling insecure, yes?) She had tried numerous interventions, but to avail. Around and around the boys went in a one-up, one-down power struggle. But then she had an idea.
Two Cards: One Successful Solution
Rebecca was working with the two boys individually (not the entire class), so she made two identical cards with a picture of a goat and the words: Got Your Goat! She gave one to each boy, and instructed them to hand the card to one another whenever they noticed that their words had a negative impact on the other.
But, Rebecca continued, that was not where she wanted it to end. She wanted the two boys to actually feel regret for their offending behavior.
So next she created a second set of identical cards, and handed one to each of them that read: Sorry I Got Your Goat! so that they would learn to apologize for inciting bickering and fighting.
And guess what? It worked! The pattern of destructive communication ended and did not re-emerge again. And, both boys had the opportunity to constructively increase their self-regard together.
More on Cards
I had my own set of cards for this workshop. They’re called Image Metaphor Cards from the Center for Creative Leadership and contain both positive and negative images. They can be used with strangers, in board meetings or at staff meetings. While not inexpensive, they’re a fantastic communication tool and I highly recommend you check them out.
At this workshop, I asked each teacher to pick a card that captured their happy self, a part of them that they were pleased and proud of. They then divided into pairs and reflected on what they liked about their chosen cards, and also received feedback on what their partner saw in the card. It quickly built a deeper rapport and positive affirmation.
One participant observed that these cards would be great for a Thanksgiving gathering, for conversation starters and engagement. And I agreed, wholeheartedly.
A Stack of Rebecca’s Cards
But with the holidays approaching, we also need a stack of Rebecca’s Got Your Goat! and Sorry I Got Your Goat! cards, too—especially with our varying, passionate and often radically different political views.
Now more than ever, we need to be aware of the impact of our words when disagreeing.
(And really: if 4th graders can do it . . .)
So here’s a toast to hospitality and a No-Goat Thanksgiving table: To welcoming stranger (the elephant) as guest. To curiosity, to kindness and to the great goodness within each and every one of us.
Wishing you and yours a lovely holiday! Deene