From: Cle S. Estrera
November 24, 2004
Here is the subject of this message:
One of the most emotionally difficult situations to deal with as parents is when your kids call you to tell you that they are having a hard time in college, they did not do well in the previous exam and are now worried about the coming exam. They sound depressed and discouraged. With such unpleasant news, it’s hard to stay calm and not to react, and to simply listen and not to make judgment. There is always the urge to sermonize, and it’s often easy to get carried away to admonish or blame the kids for not studying hard enough, pointing to their future or their ambition that depends on how well they do now at school. All too often many of us fail to recognize that our kids are already hurting, and our sermons, blames and admonitions would only hurt them even more, if not make them upset and angry at us.
There are two reasons why kids come to you or call you on the phone regarding their problems. One, they trust you because you are eager to listen, understand and help them. They get comfort from your empathic and compassionate attitude. Two, they are afraid of you because you are the authority, and they are worried about your potential reaction. They might as well let you know and get it over with. Otherwise they would avoid you and keep their problems to themselves.
When kids come or approach us to talk about their problems or predicaments, they don’t need our brain; they need our heart - our love, compassion and understanding. Our heart is where our higher power resides, and our mind is where our logic resides. Love is the most powerful of all emotions; it softens animosities into friendliness, it replaces fear with confidence, it softens us and heals our hidden wounds. And those who received our love are softened and healed too. But instead of love, many of us use logic even if we had used it many times before and failed, even if we know that it often unnecessarily complicates the situation, creating conflicts that would only drain ourselves and our kids emotionally and spiritually. Who’s right, or who’s in charge becomes a routine struggle that only makes us brittle.
Yet listening to our kids with their problems is not easy without us making judgment, and once we make judgment, it would be almost impossible to resist giving sermon, advice or opinion. It’s hard not to make judgment when we stick with our own standard for our kids to follow, and our own expectations for them to meet. I had to learn to lower my standard and expectations for my kids before I began to understand that sermons, advice or opinions are the last things they would care to hear. What they would rather care and need is for you to recognize they are hurting or they are emotionally troubled with their predicament, and that their trouble is real and not to be taken for granted in order to help them acknowledge it. Once you recognize that they are already hurting, you’d learn to offer them kind words - to offer them love, empathy and understanding. In other words, you’d learn to give them reassurance that it’s okay to get hurt, and that it’s easy to feel depressed and discouraged in the unpleasant situation they are in. Your reassurance would give them courage to think for themselves, to realize that getting hurt is a proof that they’re not perfect, that they are human like everyone else.
When my older daughter went to college, being competitive, she was very hard on herself. She would call me often, telling me her worries about her scholastic standing. Her worries were also making me worried not about her scholastic situation but about her health, and I was having a hard time keeping my cool to keep me from saying inappropriate words. What I had often told her was that when she starts being overwhelmed by worry, it’s time to go see a movie, or go shopping, or have a good time with friends, and I would then offer extra money to deposit in her checking account. After the first semester, she found her rhythm and became more relaxed and confident. In the medical school, she had adopted the philosophy – what do you call a medical student that graduated last in their class? – A doctor. She was no longer under pressure, she enjoyed her time, led a jazz group, and she was satisfied with whatever grades she got which were surprisingly a whole lot better than she thought she would have gotten. She understood that she could achieve better grades if she doesn’t get worried or afraid of getting bad ones.
My younger daughter was different. She never called unless she wanted more money. She never worried about her grades as long as they were not F’s. My wife was constantly worried about her, but I constantly reminded my wife that the two of us need to keep our cool, to avoid crossing our daughter and to remind her every chance we’ve got that our home is always there for her to come home to in case she is having a hard time in life. I never expected our younger daughter to be anything than a perpetual parents’ scholar. She went from pre-med to music to psychology, then back to music and then to pre-med, and finally to nursing. Her marriage must have matured her because when she started the nursing accelerated program at the Massachusetts General Hospital, she began calling us regularly, telling us how she is enjoying it and that nursing is really the right profession for her, and at the end of every call or every e-mail message, she would say; “I love you Mom or Dad.” She just passed the RN board and is now studying to become a nurse practitioner.
My son started college more like his older sister. Having gotten used to having straight A’s and good grades in high school, he was having a hard time during his first year college last year. I guess part of the reason is because he also had to maintain good grades to keep his 50% scholarship. He called me almost twice week to talk about his difficulties, worried that he may not be able to make the grades to keep his scholarship, as if he was losing his confidence. I had to say to him: – “Fuck the scholarship! Elc. I can always work extra and retire in my 70’s or 80’s just to see you through. That much I love you. Just enjoy your time. Go out with girls and perhaps you’d learn more than the school is teaching you.” He must have listened to me because he changed girlfriend every semester and he ended up in the Dean’s list last year.
Since high school, I started encouraging my children to express themselves as individuals but that should come with personal responsibility and independence, and to risk mistakes or failures. I often even suggested not to study in order to flunk an exam or two just to know how it really feels to fail, but they thought such suggestion coming from a father is weird. To me, children need to make mistakes and discover that it’s not the end of the world. That’s how they gain the confidence to try new things in life. Unwittingly, many parents expect their children to respond with a degree of maturity that can come only from life experiences that are inaccessible to them. They prevent and discourage their children from having such experiences.
Many adult children of perfectionist parents, or parents who cannot tolerate mistakes or failures, have taken one of two paths. They’ve either driven themselves relentlessly to win parental love and approval and also the approval of others, or they’ve rebelled to the point where they develop a fear of success, and so, live a life of failure, for being successful would mean capitulating to their parents’ demand. Many of the driven ones behave as if someone is always keeping score. They are constantly dissatisfied. The house is not clean enough, and their nose is so sensitive that they often smell something unpleasant. They cannot experience pleasure in an accomplishment because they are convinced that they could have done it better. They readily panic if they make the slightest mistake. They are unhappy with what they have because they believe that they could have more. They have a hard time dealing with a loss.
Many of these adult children struggle and fail far too often to learn to love themselves. Still bound by shame, guilt, or insecurity, they often find hatred, anger and fear much easier to have. Many of them have been angry, fearful and hateful for so long, and these feelings become so familiar that they’ve gotten stuck with them. They have a difficult time with their anger because their perfectionist parents had also discouraged emotional expression. Anger in their family was something only parents had the privilege of displaying and thus these adult children learned to repress anger, rather than express it. But nothing is more draining than repressed anger.
When my daughters were still teenagers in high school, they fought like cats and dogs, and it took me constant focus and determination to ignore them or keep out of them, and never to take sides. Their constant banging of doors as the expression of their anger, made long cracks in the ceiling of their rooms. Fortunately, during that time, I enjoyed fixing things in the house and the cracks were something I could fix and enjoy. Slowly, they realized what they’d done and started closing the door softly when they were angry and were fighting each other.
Anger is an emotion just as joy and fear are. Anger is neither right nor wrong – it just is. It can belong to anyone of us; a part of what makes us human. But it is also a signal, telling us something important. Anger always means that something needs to change. Anger can be used as an energy source for self-definition. It can help us learn a great deal about what we are. It can help us define our limits and our boundaries. But it is essential to our well-being to learn to deal with anger effectively to keep us from staying angry all the time or from being angry all too often. People who stay angry all the time are those who won’t admit or acknowledge their anger, and those who use anger to gain power by intimidating others. But anger kills, as the title of a book says. So why not deal with the killer effectively?
Suffice it to say, the gift that God offers every one of us that overshadows others is the capacity to give and receive love. There is no other gift we truly need. Having it, we may not be able to persuade friends, colleagues or classmates to cooperate with us and help us achieve something together, or to offer friends gems of wisdom, but we can recognize when someone is hurting or in distress and offer a kind word; we can recognize others’ hardships and help make things a little easier for them.
Religion constantly tells us that God always loves us no matter what. Thus no condition is attached to that love because that’s what true love is – unconditional. I guess it’s the reason we are given free will. And many of us had taken our free will and run too far with it. God never imposes or forces His will on us. He always gives us as much rope as we wish, and we make the choice to trip ourselves, hang ourselves, or maybe just tie ourselves in knots. Now what’s it going to be for you? No matter what, God will always love you. So why can’t we give the same rope to our children, and still love them no matter what they do with it?
From: Cle S. Estrera
November 14, 2004
Here are the subjects of this message:
Hurtful comments, criticisms and put-downs are something many of us had gone through and put up with when we were growing up. I know I had. They came to us like they were parts of our lives, of our growth and development, of our society, and of our culture. Yet they hurt, and because they hurt, they make us angry and defensive, or fearful, anxious and insecure. Those who were not strong enough withdrew, and the angry ones fought back, slinging criticisms back like squeezing the trigger of an AK 47. Their emotions dictate their reaction; they talk and yell without thinking.
What makes these criticisms even worse is when they are being justified – "They are not intended to hurt your feelings, but to toughen you up and build your character. Why should it make you upset when it’s true that you’re a shit head? Why can’t you just accept it and do better next time? You're not that ambitious and focus, anyway. So, chill!"
Criticisms can destroy the self-esteem and self-confidence of young kids or children in particular especially if the critics are their own parents or siblings. Children’s world is very narrow, and no matter how critical and abusive, the parents still represent the only available source of emotional nourishments; of love and comfort. Children have the right to be nurtured emotionally, to have their feelings respected, and to be treated in ways that allow them to develop a sense of self-worth. Hurtful criticisms are not one of these ways; they are not emotional nourishments; they are emotional toxins. Cruel words are as powerful as kind words. Cruel words have the power to destroy just as kind words have the power to build.
Of course, children need to be guided by appropriate parental limits on their behavior and to be disciplined, but without being physically, verbally or emotionally abused, for if they are, then the rest of their lives could be ruined forever. If they’re being criticized for their mistakes and failures rather than encouraged them to try, to explore, to master, and to risk mistakes and failures, they’d end up feeling helpless and inadequate; fearful and insecure.
Even in adults, hurtful criticisms can destroy our self-confidence too if we let them. Fear of criticisms paralyzes many of us, or makes us defensive. Unless we understand and try to control and master fear, fear of any kind - fear of our secrets being revealed, fear of ill health, loss of love one, and the ultimate fear of death – has a way of controlling us. Fear steals our willpower; it diminishes our strength and immobilizes our defenses. But as adults, we should not be defensive toward every criticism. There are constructive criticisms that motivate us to do better, and many criticisms at least make us think despite our upset and disappointment. When we are defensive, we don’t trust ourselves enough to examine criticism, sorting it out, keeping what is useful and tossing the rest.
Criticizing can be seductive because it holds little risk and we feel safe doing it. Being a critic is a profession that allows a person a certain license to be vicious outside the bounds of normal civilized behavior. Every one of us has a license on this profession, but the use of such license rarely results in improvement; it often results in animosity, anger and distrust, it breeds personal discontent, and it leaves a trail of bitterness and pain.
Being highly critical or being frequently criticized can lead to 3 P’s – Perfectionism, Procrastination, and Paralysis. When you are frequently criticized, you tend to avoid making decision for fear of making the wrong decision. Or when you are highly critical, you feel the need to be perfect because you are worried and afraid of being criticized yourself - Perfectionism. Because of the fear of failing to do things perfectly, you tend to put things off or postpone doing them – Procrastination. But the more you put things off, the more they’d overwhelm you, and your snowballing fears eventually would prevent you from doing anything at all – Paralysis.
When we are being critical, we are giving our energy to opposition and resistance of what we dislike rather than putting our energy into what we seek and admire. We become judgmental and would readily jump on someone’s flaws and criticize someone’s faults. We feel good temporarily after castigating someone with our criticisms, but we also feel fearful and vulnerable to being criticized ourselves.
Being critical reminds me of the story I’ve read that I like so much. It’s about the two taxidermists who stopped to look at an owl on display in a window. They immediately started criticizing. The owl’s eyes are not natural; the wings are not in proportion to its head; the feathers are not properly arranged; the claws don’t look like they’re that of the owl. Then just as they started to walk away – the owl turned its head and winked at them.
So before you criticize, ask yourselves these questions:
Have I waited long enough to have all the facts? Are there things I do not know yet?
Am I relying strictly on what I’ve heard?
If mistakes have been made, do I feel that gives me the upper hand?
Am I eager to believe the best, or think of the worst?
Will my actions add to the problem or to the solution? If the situation was reversed and I was on the other end, what would I need and what would I do?
Am I magnifying something which, in a week or two, will make little or no difference but could hurt my future relationship with the person I am about to criticize?
Am I honestly trying to help? Or am I subtly putting someone down in order to boost my self-esteem?
Am I doing this simply because I don’t like the person and thus it’s my way of getting back at him?
Most if not all of us would agree that the Bible is the only book that contains lots of timeless wisdoms, more than any other book in the history of mankind. In fact, until now, the Bible remains the best-selling book in the world. Now hold on just a minute. I am not getting into religion, but because the Bible is universally respected for its wisdom, I’d like to quote one of its passages of wisdom in relation to criticism that I still remember from my younger days. It is what Jesus Christ said somewhere in Luke. I forgot the chapter and verse. I am not sure of the exact words, but it’s something like this: “Do not judge. And you will not be judged. Do not condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.”
Isn’t that the truth? Life indeed is a lot easier when we use more of our admiration and appreciation on people and things than when we are more critical of them. It’s the same wisdom you can find in the old maxim that says: “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
So, Class 1972, how about helping us put some honey in our CIM project? It’s a way of expressing our appreciation for all the good things we have in life.
Here are few of the newspapers’ and media's comments on Bush re-election:
“How can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?” -- November 4 Headline, London Daily Mirror
“How do you make a rational political pitch to people who have put that part of their brain on hold? No wonder Bush won …. Anything that shrinks the ranks of the clueless would be helpful. -- Bob Herbert, in The New York Times.
“By any objective standard, you had to be spectacularly stupid to support Bush …. If you voted for Bush, we accept that we have to share the country with you …. But don’t demand our respect.” --- Cartoonist and Columnist Ted Rall
“The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry …. Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states.” --- Novelist Jane Smiley in Slate, The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States.
Now you know what I’m talking about liberal newspapers. Liberal Democrats not just populated the media but also the Ivy League Schools. In a survey done on academia, 92-96% of the professors in the Ivy Leagues like Harvard and Yale are liberals. But they just don’t get it. They can never win politics with snobbery and arrogance. If they are smart as they think they are, they should learn to understand the way people’s mind works and respect their beliefs and thoughts rather than set a certain standard that if you don’t vote for their candidates, you are clueless, spectacularly stupid, or dumb.
But let’s consider the voters of both Bush and Kerry. Edison Media Research and Mitkofsky International did a research for news media consortium. The result of their research showed the following: High-school graduates went for Bush 52-47. Folks with some college learning went for Bush 54-46. College graduates went for Bush 52-46. Only two groups went for Kerry: Those with some post-graduate schooling most of them I believe are college professors, school teachers and journalists, 55-44; and those who did not even finish high school 50-49.
Now if those who voted for George W. Bush are dumb, stupid, or ignorant, while those who voted for John Kerry are smart, then there is definitely something wrong with the American school education in particular. But who are to blame? - Obviously, the college professors and school teachers most of whom voted for Kerry. With the liberal standard, the smart ones are mainly those who stayed out of school and don’t even have high school diploma. Weird, isn’t it? To be delinquent is to be smart, and perhaps to go to jail is even smarter. It's getting weirder and weirder all the time.
Well, here are some smart words from one of the dumb or ignoramus: "Stop whining! you snotty sore losers! We are not gay-bashers; we just don't want marriage to be re-defined just to accommodate your wish and desire. Marriage of man and woman is a tradition that has been good for children in particular. For the ignoramus like many of us who voted for Bush, the tradition is non-negotiable. So, stop being an arrogant fool. We want a leader who is not afraid to go against all political odds and is resolute in spreading freedom all over the globe because free people are happy, and happy people don't fight and kill each other. Viva President Bush!"
Further, Edward Lorenz and Chaos Theory said: "When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another..." You can interpret that from both positive and negative angles. Consider the terrorists. They had been sharpening their sabers, shaking and fluttering their fists and guns in other countries for years, far away from the U.S. Look what happened in September 11, 2001. So let the wings of freedom flutter instead.
From: Cle S. Estrera
November 7, 2004 (Sunday)
Subject: CIM project, politics and the question: What do I want in life?
Hello! Class 1972,
One of the unsolicited advices that many of us must have given especially to our children is this: You’ve got to know what you want in life in order to have something to focus on and achieve. Definitely, it’s a great advice. But have you ever asked yourselves seriously: What do I want in my life? I have to admit that I myself never really asked or even thought about such question seriously – a question that has to do with our deepest feelings.
When my daughters went to college and they could not decide what they wanted to become even after their first year, unlike my wife who insisted on telling them that they should know what they want because when she was their age…., I kept my mouth shut, because if I’d ask myself what I want in my life, in all honesty, I really don’t know. There are so many choices and I’d only end up making wishes rather than thinking of what I really want. And if I think of one thing, various other things would readily push their way into the center of my attention. Think about it. What do you really want in life?
Oftentimes we do ignore the question because it’s a question that threatens to expose us – to lay bare our vulnerable selves. Because once we acknowledge that we want something, we risk not getting it. So we remain deaf to such question in order to protect our vulnerability. The other side of that, of course, is that we’ll never get what we want until we acknowledge that question. Notice that if you really want something bad, you’d move heaven and hell to get it.
It’s not unusual for many if not all of us to want an easier life, a life free of turmoil, struggle, pain and sorrow. We’d rather not know that life with no bumps and bruises falls short of the fulfillment we desire. But it does. We need struggles to stretch our capabilities. We need hardships to understand what it takes to achieve. We need sorrow to appreciate the laughter. We need boredom to discover joy in small blessings. We need pain to make us feel proud and grateful of the little triumphs and accomplishments that we’d otherwise take for granted. Suffice it to say, fulfillment in life often depends on our attitude toward its bumps and bruises that come along the way.
Indeed there is no easy way through this life. There are days that are devoid of struggle, but there are also days that are fraught with it. Opportunities for growth are generally accompanied by the pinch of difficult decision or the push of unwelcome thought. Struggles and frustrations sometimes dominate our attention and pollute our every emotion that if left unchecked, would foster negative thoughts that can ruin our talent and ability or starve our spirituality, and thus would decide our destiny.
But now let’s get back to our CIM project. I hate to do this but I want to express my doubt about our project, whether there are many of us of the Class 1972 that are excited enough to see our project succeed and thus are willing to cooperate and contribute. I guess I just never had a positive experience in this kind of situation and thus made me doubtful. Somehow in the few organizations that I had helped with in the past, the goals we’ve set up had always fallen short of the organization’s realistic expectations. It often makes me wonder whether I’ve got what it takes to help coordinate, persuade and gain the majority’s cooperation.
I had always found it a struggle in the past to persuade and convince even the few, let alone the many to do something in the name of cooperation especially something that provides absolutely nothing tangible in return. It’s hard to find the right words to say that could make something like our project look appealing and desirable to every one, for the bottom line is - what can we really get from it? In our race through life, it’s the least of our priorities.
Expressing my doubts doesn’t mean I am being pessimistic. Experiences simply remind me every so often to be practical and realistic. And the reality is - it’s hard to persuade, let alone convince anyone to give something if there is nothing one can get back in return. I just don’t want anyone of us to comply out of a desire to cooperate, because there is a big difference. Compliance means refusing to exercise our own power to choose; cooperation means using our power together with others to achieve more than any of us can alone. If we choose to cooperate, it’s because we feel strongly that our cooperation could make a difference. We want to be a part of something we feel strongly for, something we believe in, something that probes and touches the depth of our hearts.
That’s why I want us all to see this project in a way that if we choose to contribute or give in order for it to succeed, our gift should come from our heart, not just from our wallet. We should have the feeling that we are giving thoughts to the reality of others’ hardships. Having gone through such hardships during our days, we know that things would have been easier with a little help from others. Our help therefore would make us feel like we are having a room in our spirits to provide others shelter. It would make us feel like one of those builders of spiritual houses where others can find safety and security on a cold bitter night.
Now let me shift gear to politics. I know that some of you had voted for John Kerry, for even in my own family, we voted for different candidate. My two daughters voted for Senator Kerry while my son, wife and I voted for George W. Bush. When it comes to politics and religion, I rarely argue with my kids unless they start it. Fortunately, we never try to convince each other with our political and religious beliefs.
But why did I vote for George W. Bush and was almost sure he was going to win despite the fact that the media implied to the contrary? Here are my reasons why I voted for George W. Bush – leadership, character, moral and family values, and Laura Bush. It was when John Kerry started denouncing the Iraq war after he blasted Howard Dean in the primary because Dean was against the war and vehemently criticized it that I was totally convinced that Kerry doesn’t have what it takes to lead America. Kerry switched from one position to another and back, and he was willing to say anything just to get some votes. This is the kind of leadership and character, if it is a character that is unfit for a leader, let alone a leader of the most powerful country in the world. Bush, on the other hand, did not lose sight of what he believes in and he is resolute in pursuing it. He never wavers and that is what a leader with character should be.
Just like many of those who voted for Bush, I also believe that America is going on a wrong direction. Unfortunately, the pollsters thought that it’s because of Bush’s leadership. But like me, these Americans believe that America is going on a wrong moral direction and thus has nothing to do with Bush but has something to do with the liberal Democrats – marriage is being re-defined, God is being kicked out of schools and some public places, partial birth abortion is on its way for legalization that would only promote teenage pregnancies and abortions especially that parents as these liberals want don't have to be notified of their daughters’ abortion, epidemic of frivolous lawsuits is being allowed to spread their toxicity, etc. Bush’s campaign strategist Karl Rove was the only one who recognized that that’s what many of the Americans like me believed regarding the country’s wrong direction, and took advantage of it that led to Bush’s historic re-election.
Now let’s consider the wives of the candidates. From what I’ve read about Teresa Heinz, Kerry’s wife, she behaves like a dictator. When she talks, she wants every one even her husband to listen. I was very uncomfortable to imagine her as the First Lady dictating John Kerry on foreign and domestic policies. In contrast to Laura Bush, Heinz is just not fit to become the First Lady. Even just looking at her was enough to make me cringe. While Teresa Heinz radiates an air of snobbery and arrogance that seems to put a distance between the people and her, Laura Bush radiates not just decency and elegance, but empathy and reassurance, making you feel like you can approach her and she would listen to your problems. You could see that Laura Bush follows her own imposed role as a good wife in the presence of the President. She acts as the First Lady only in the absence of the President. She is a good wife first, First Lady second.
Some of us may have voted for John Kerry because of the fear of the military draft and we have teenage sons who could be drafted. It was sad because the Republicans never even talked about it even if it was Schumer, a Democrat from New York who had introduced the military draft bill in Congress that was immediately voted out. But the Republicans were forced to pick up on it because Senator Kerry kept using it to get the votes of the young voters. Indeed Kerry did get most of the votes of the young voters and that’s why the Democrats were almost sure Kerry would win the presidency. Anyway, I don’t think there will be any draft as long as Bush is the president. It’s because Bush wants to slim down the military into all volunteers, train and equip them for guerilla kind of war. There is no country in the world nowadays that believes in conventional war in the 21st century. It will be a guerilla war like that against the terrorists all the way.
If you’re one of those who voted for John Kerry, I hope you are mollified instead of being angry or devastated that Bush won. My daughters were so upset of Kerry’s lost that they did not return my call until this morning. They voted for John Kerry all because they read only liberal newspapers like New York Times and Washington Post that seemed to always imply that Bush is incompetent and doesn’t have the brains. But you cannot win two-term governor in Texas and now two-term President of the U.S. if you don’t have the brains, let alone incompetent.
But I haven’t been able to persuade my daughters to read and listen to both sides in order to make better judgment especially when it comes to politics. I've always told them that there are traditional values that should not be taken for granted. It doesn't mean that change or progress is not possible because of them. These traditional moral values should not be changed for the sake of every one's indulgence or every one's desires. Instead, these values should become the basis of change.
You all have a pleasant Sunday evening.