Column: Families can share a common vocabulary reminding us to think higher, behave better

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 7, 2006

By Maryanne Law, executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin

QUESTION:

Is it possible to decrease the gossiping my teens are doing?

ANSWER:&160;Conversation is a learned skill.&160; There is normal progression development in the kind of conversations shared among teens and adults.&160; After an initial greeting, we often comment on the weather; then comes the conversations about something of common interest, like football or clothes. Next comes conversations about other people.&160; Unfortunately, many of those conversations center on one person, someone we know or someone we know about, and all the things we either do know or we think we know about that person.&160; There is a sense of personal survival in these conversations, whether we are conscious of it or not.&160; When we are able to focus on someone else, we at least know we are not the current target.&160; It is a ritual that strengthens social bonds, although it is often at someone else’s expense. Deeper conversations include an exchange of personal opinions and feelings about issues and ideas, with attempts to clarify and understand.

Responsible adults will help kids understand that we never have 100 percent of the facts when we share information. That’s the basis for the counsel to not judge others until we have walked a mile in their shoes.&160;

There is a Jewish folktale that illustrates the difficulty of undoing the damage often done by gossip.&160; For months, a man slandered the village rabbi. When the High Holy Days approached, the man realized the enormous evil he had committed and, overcome with remorse, sought out the rabbi and begged for forgiveness. The rabbi told the man he would forgive him on one condition.&160; He needed to go back to his house, cut up a feather pillow, scatter the feathers to the wind and return. The man hurried home, followed the rabbi’s directions and returned to the rabbi’s home.&160;

&8220;Am I forgiven now?&8221; he asked.&160;

&8220;There’s one more thing,&8221; the rabbi said.&160; &8220;Now I want you to go out and gather up all the feathers.&8221;

&8220;But that’s impossible,&8221; the man said.

&8220;They’re scattered.&8221;

&8220;Exactly,&8221; the rabbi said. &8220;And although you truly wish to correct the wrong you have done, it is

as impossible to repair the damage caused by your words as it is to recover the feathers.&8221;

Sometimes in our families we can share a common vocabulary that serves to remind us that we can think higher and behave better.&160; &8220;Scattering feathers&8221; could become the verbal cue that our conversations are sinking into the lower levels of communication.

If you would like to talk about the challenges of raising children, call the toll-free Parent

WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/L nea de Apoyo at 877-434-0528.&160; For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.&160; Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org.

Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.