Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The 5 Shadow-casting Monsters of a Leader's Inner Life

What makes someone a leader, actually?

Parker Palmer, in his fascinating book Let Your Life Speak, answers that question this way:
“A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there.”
I like this definition. It’s specific. But it busts the doors wide open on who can lead. Anyone reading this blog probably possesses the power to lead in at least one arena of life, however small.

The question then is, As leaders, will we project shadow or light onto the sphere of our influence?

Palmer suggests leaders must engage in constant, deliberate soul-searching—“inner work,” he calls it—to avoid the following five “monsters” that often cast dark shadows onto those we lead:

1)  Insecurity of identity and worth

“When we are insecure about our own identities, we create settings that deprive other people of their identities as a way of buttressing our own…Your sense of self is enhanced by leaders who know who they are.”

2)  The belief that the universe is a battleground, hostile to human interests

“Some of our best institutions…are learning that there is another way of doing business, a way that is consensual, cooperative, communal: they are…creating a different reality.”

3)  Functional atheism: The belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us

“This is the conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen…This shadow causes pathology on every level of our lives:”

·         It leads us to impose our will on others.
·         It often eventuates in burnout, depression, and despair, as we learn that the world will not bend to our will and we become embittered about that fact.
·         It drives collective frenzy.

“Ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts out there, but some of them are even better than ours! We need not carry the whole load but can share it with others, liberating and empowering them. Sometimes we are free to lay the load down altogether.”

4)  Fear, especially our fear of the natural chaos of life

“We want to organize and orchestrate things so thoroughly that messiness will never bubble up around us and threaten to overwhelm us (for ‘messiness’ read dissent, innovation, challenge, and change)…This shadow is projected as rigidity of rules and procedures, creating an ethos that is imprisoning rather than empowering. (Then, of course, the mess we must deal with is the prisoners trying to break out!)…[However,] chaos is the precondition to creativity.”

5)  The denial of death itself

“Leaders who participate in this denial often demand that the people around them keep resuscitating things that are no longer alive. Projects and programs that should have been unplugged long ago are kept on life support to accommodate the insecurity of a leader who does not want anything to die on his or her watch…Death finally comes to everything—and yet death does not have the final word. By allowing something to die when its time is due, we create the conditions under which new life can emerge.”

Do you see any of these “monsters” lurking in your leadership? Have you experienced others casting these shadows upon you? Have you thought about these things before?

Thanks to my friend Caitlyn for recommending Let Your Life Speak. It’s a thought-provoking little book. I highly recommend it to seasoned leaders who are open to introspection about and evaluation of their own leadership legacy, up to this point on their journey.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Please Stop the Re-Posting, Part 2: What Did “The Father of ADHD” Really Say?


“Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” is an article written by Marilyn Wedge, a PhD and family therapist, in which she theorizes about the statistical difference in prevalence of ADHD diagnosis between France and the U.S.


In my opinion, Wedge’s article is bad science and bad journalism. I am disappointed Psychology Today agreed to host the article on their blog—to me it seems quite irresponsible to allow their name to be associated with it.


But what’s even worse: So many people I know are re-posting it, multiplying the damage.


And today it’s same song, second verse. Now “Inventor of ADHD’s Deathbed Confession: ‘ADHD Is a Fictitious Disease’” is clogging up my Facebook and Twitter feeds.


More bad science and bad journalism.


(I started to write a long explanation of how the primary quote from the title is taken completely out of context, from an obscure, undocumented, poorly-translated—from English to German and back to English again—interview with Dr. Eisenberg. If you’re truly interested, contact me and I can break it down for you.)


But instead I’m choosing to (again) appeal to your heart: to share with you how it feels, as a mother of an ADHD kid, to see friends re-posting these kinds of articles.


If the message I heard from the “French Kids” article was: “If you were a better parent, your kids wouldn’t have ADHD,” the message I hear from the “Inventor’s Confession” article is: “If you weren’t so naive/dumb, you would see that ADHD isn’t even real, it’s just all part of a Big Pharma conspiracy.”


Every mother-of-a-special-needs-kid I know spends HOURS, DAYS, WEEKS, YEARS researching: talking to specialists, talking to fellow parents, reading books, combing the Web. Trying to learn everything they can.


So when we see a link on Twitter to an article like “French Kids,” we immediately click on it, to see if new research has been conducted, if doctors have made some kind of breakthrough. (Personally, I was hoping scientists discovered that a family diet high in cheese would strike a blow to the root of my son’s disorder!) Seriously though, it’s so discouraging to find out that no, this is just one more article telling me I need to grow up and be a real parent, not someone who relies on drugs to raise my kids.


Every special needs parent I know has tried everything else before they try meds for their kids. We would do anything to “solve the problem” instead of “masking the symptoms.” (So would our kids, by the way.) But there is no cure, no one-size-fits-all solution for ADHD.


And we get it: Often a conflict of interest exists between medical practitioners and pharmaceutical suppliers. But there has been a wealth of research conducted about ADHD that was not funded by drug companies.


I’m not asking that you not read articles like “ADHD Inventor’s Confession.” Chances are you know, or even love, someone with ADHD, and you would want to learn about any big news that has come out on the subject.


What I’m asking is, after you’ve read the article, please use discernment about the legitimacy of the content, and think twice before you re-post something that could be hurtful to so many.


When you do come across information you think would be helpful for us—such as a new tool/method/diet/research/etc that has been helpful to others—by all means share it with us.


But know that if an article is sensationalistic (“deathbed confession!”) or offers an over-simplified solution (“all you have to do is X!”), it will most likely not be helpful at all. Please take consideration before passing it on or re-posting it.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read another post from me on this topic!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why I'm Begging You Not to Re-post "Why French Kids Don't Have ADHD"

To my friends and acquaintances who are re-posting the article, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD”:

I want to ask a favor: Please don’t.

For those of us who have kids with ADHD (my middle child does), it feels like one more judgment on top of the heap of judgment we already feel from so many others...judgments that in essence say, "If you were better parents, your kids wouldn't have ADHD."

My middle son (age 9) has always been on a schedule, with established routines. He's had firm, consistent boundaries. He's always eaten healthy (low sugar, avoiding preservatives/artificial colors, plenty of veggies and protein, etc.)

Just like our other 2 kids, who don't have ADHD.

We didn't relish the idea of putting our son on meds, but 2 years ago we tried them. And the meds made a miraculous difference. Not just for us as parents (containment!), but also for our son: He likes himself better on the meds. They help him control his body and focus his mind and tighten his grip on his pencil and regulate his emotions and make better decisions overall. So we give them to him every day.

Wedge's article is irresponsible at best and damaging at worst. She shows absolutely no cause and effect relationship between parenting techniques and prevalence of ADHD. She makes broad, sweeping evaluations of how the French parent, verses how Americans parent. It just “all makes sense” to her.

Those of us who parent special needs kids are already exhausted. From the nights we've stayed up late researching on the Internet. From worrying about how we’re going to pay for the specialists and the testing. From the extra time we’ve put into therapy, to learn how to parent our kids differently from typical kids. From fighting for our kids to get specialized education plans at school.

When we see articles like the one Wedge wrote, with her dismissive tone and "simple" answers, it just beats us down even further.

Are American kids over-diagnosed and over-medicated? Perhaps.

But for those of us in the midst of the battle on behalf of our ADHD kids, this is real. And there are no easy answers.

We don’t need someone from the outside throwing “easy” answers at us. Please, no more, “If you just did X, your son wouldn’t have ADHD.”

We need people to join us in our struggle. To pray for us. To listen to us. To believe the best in us. To not assume that because the way you raised your kids “worked” for you, it would work for us.

You know the old saying, “Until you walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins…” We’re not asking you to do that. You can’t, really.

But you could walk a mile alongside of us. Keep us company for one leg of our tiring journey.

Just don’t tell us, “You know, if you only wore sandals instead of moccasins…”

[Editor’s note: I’ve now added another post to the discussion! For more thoughts on this topic, you can read, “Please Stop the Re-Posting, Part 2: What Did the ‘Father of ADHD’ Really Say?”]