In recent blogs posts I have been discussing five levels of responding to criticism (see May 13th post and May 27th post). Over the years most of my students have been largely supportive of its framework, but naturally there has been some criticism. A mother, for example, told me that although she agreed with the five levels framework when adults are responding to criticism from other adults, there are times when there is nothing wrong with a parent shouting, or even whacking their children if they dare criticize them. And then there is the case of a boy we will call Rob…
The Case of Rob
A few years ago, I was working in a juvenile correction facility that had some female cottages and some male ones. One day, while I was having lunch with the residents of one of the female cottages, two 15-year old girls sitting beside me began to chat…
Both of these girls had eyes that began to glow as they discussed the bloody outcome.
I asked the girls if they really respected the way Rob had handled the conflict, and they said they did.
“Powerful people have the skill to get what they want,” I said. “Do you girls think that Rob wants to spend a year locked up in this place?”
“No,” said Jill, “but when he gets out people are gonna know you can’t mess with him. He’ll be able to walk in the neighborhood with his head high.”
Shortly afterwards, I got to meet Rob. I asked him why he got locked up in the facility…
Rod went on from there to say, “And so, Al, he says, ‘People may act like they respect you when you’re around because they’re afraid, but as soon as you walk away they spit on your souls.’ Well, I couldn’t let him get away with that! How would that look?”
“The thing is, Rob,” I replied, “power is the skill to get what you want. Do you want to be locked up in here?”
“Tonight, what would you like to be doing?”
“Be out on a date with a girl I like.”
“You can’t do that here.”
“No. But I couldn’t let that Al get away with what he said.”
“When Al said that stuff about people spitting on your souls behind your backs, what do you think would have happened if you said, ‘I’m sure there are some who feel that way’”?
“My guys wouldn’t have liked that.”
“How come most people have no trouble staying out of fights and avoiding getting locked up?”
“They don’t hang out with the guys in my neighborhood.”
“Some guys in your neighborhood look up to people who act violently toward criticism. Still, most people in your neighborhood don’t act violently or get arrested. How come?”
I asked Rob what he liked to do. Among the things he mentioned was singing. Since I play the guitar, I formed a singing trio with Rob and two other singers and we put on a show every now and then for the other teenagers. In the beginning, during rehearsals, because of the arguments that occurred whenever criticism occurred, we often made little progress. But, through some counseling with Rob, he came to understand that higher levels of responding to criticism would help the group to accomplish our musical goals. With less shouting and people storming away, and with less of a need to have security intervene as two combatants were preparing to go at one another, we spent far more time on music.
Rob came to agree that dealing with criticism at higher levels was better in general, but he continued to believe his gang back in his neighborhood would think less of him if he didn’t act tough.
“Maybe it would be better for you to find a new bunch of friends, friends that you don’t have to get locked up for, or killed for, just so that they will like you.”
“With the gang, I know they already accept me for what I am. With new people, well I don’t know.”
“It’s a bit scary starting over with new people.”
“Scarier than getting arrested or killed?”
“In a strange way, yeah.”
People like Rob have a tougher time than most of us when deciding on the wisest course of action in the face of criticism.
In your life, you will have to decide if violence is right for you. To help to further clarify these issues, I have written a coming of age trilogy about a young boy, Steve Marino, who repeatedly contends with his violent father. As Steve begins to mature, he struggles with how to get by on the gritty streets of Brooklyn; should he follow in his father’s violent footsteps, or his Uncle Rickey’s, a guy who is just as big and strong as Steve’s dad, but with a knack for avoiding violence and developing a friendly loyalty by participating in fun activities? The first of these three novels, A Hero Grows In Brooklyn, is available for free by clicking here.
Well, that’s my post for this week. I hope to see you all right back here real soon at From Insults to Respect .
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.