“THE SCHOOL OF RESPONSE/ABILITY”
By Dr. Ed Hollenberg – Father of six and GRANDfather of 19
For many years I’ve had a love affair with words, especially words that are difficult to define. During my medical school days we developed the discipline of defining almost everything in the human body. Difficult? Yes, but not so daunting as defining human behavior and character. Frank Fory M.D, my medical school professor of pathology wrote on the blackboard a quote from Sir Stanley Baldwin. I copied it and became devoted to it, “No small part of education lies in learning the right use of words, in tracing their birth, behavior and fitting them close to the facts and ideas.”
The word responsibility is just one example of a word very hard to define. It is used often and bandied about so frequently we somehow get the gist. However, if one Googles responsibility, a huge choice will be found in differing contexts and situations. For many years I have sought a simple way to define it. And then I discovered that simple way in one of Coach John Wooden’s books that I relish. He wrote (as he lived and taught it) “We do what we can do and should do.” I found out later it was actually used by Abraham Lincoln. Politicians and business men are masters at using this word, but often don’t live it, “doing what they should do”.
When we think about it, most of us don’t do what we should do at times. The mark of maturity and integrity is in the person who really does what can be and should be done. So, why is it human beings do some really stupid things that they know they shouldn’t? Why does a child get caught in the cookie jar, knowing he was not given permission? Why do people drink too much and drive under the influence, knowing they shouldn’t? Why do people overeat, become obese, even when they know it is healthier to be lean? Why do teenagers have promiscuous sex, knowing it is high risk behavior? Why do we get angry and react sometimes when this behavior makes the situation worse?
Over the past 25 years I have sought the words to clear the answers to these questions. Our efforts to change people’s behavior by admonitions of what they should do, doesn’t work very well. Extolling the virtue of responsibility is not as effective as the more powerful word, RESPONSE/ABILITY. That is simply defined as: the ability to respond, not react to situations and stimuli.
Now then, we need to distinguish, at least in my view, the difference between react and respond. Most people use them interchangeably, but there is a powerful difference. Animals react and human beings have a choice to either respond or react in any situation. One of the chief differences between animal and human behavior is in our capacity to choose. That is one of the biggest marks of adulthood and maturity, to make wise, response/able choices.
So, here is a comparison of the two words:
|*Fight or flight||Respond|
|*High emotion uncontrolled||Low emotion, controlled|
For the past several years I have taught classes to prisoners and persons on probation in the SCHOOL OF RESPONSE/ABILITY (SOR). I coach these highly reactive persons how to respond, become more response/able. Here is an example of a reactive teenager. Bart had taken a picture of my friend Grady, while I was visiting him in Pendleton State Prison. Bart seemed friendly, highly tattooed, a man about 35 years of age. He is a “lifer”, a murderer, incarcerated since age 15. Grady told his story….at age 15 Bart was a skilled judo fighter. When two thugs came into his house and raped his 11 year old sister, he attacked and subdued both. His anger was so intense that he proceeded to dismember their arms legs and heads to assuage his anger. He then called the police, knowing he had done what he shouldn’t have done. Perhaps he was unaware of the consequences, but thought justice was achieved by his own hands. This is an extreme example, of course, but the jails are full of persons who do not think before acting, they react.
We are all “soft-wired” with reactive attitudes and habits, usually learned very early in life. It is a matter of how much reactive behavior we learned. Most people in prison have not learned to make response/able choices, so they have an opportunity to learn to respond in the SOR. They can change their attitudes and maladaptive, reactive behavior. This education in prisons could save our governmental bodies many millions of dollars.
Most of our failures in life and in interpersonal relationships are due to inappropriate reactive behaviors. So, the curriculum in the SOR is built around 13C processes. I teach about how we grow and mature to become more RESPONSE/ABLE and RESPONSIBLE persons. These 13 processes are not taught adequately in any school I ever attended in my 83 years of education. Here are the 13Cs:
1. CREATIVITY: how to work, play and produce something useful or beautiful…to grow into our full potential.
2. COMMUNICATION: how to really connect with others with response/able words…listening and speaking.
3. CONFLICT RESOLUTION: how to make peace, to have a good clean, response/able fight.
4. CONFIDENCE: how to build trust, respect, hope, courage and dignity in self and others.
5. COMPASSION: how to find meaning in our suffering, heal hurts and reach out to others who are in pain, sorrow, stress, sickness and brokenness.
6. CAREFULNESS: how to take smart risks, not stupid ones.
7. CONCERN: how to respond to needs of others, ourselves and community.
8. CHOICE: how to make response/able choices, develop a healthy conscience and value systems.
9. CHANGE: how to become change masters in attitudes and habits.
10. CONTROL OVER STRESS: how to manage stress and overcome any adversity or circumstance.
11. CONTROL OVER MONEY: how to manage money, spend and save wisely.
12. CONTROL IN FAMILY: how to discover peace, unity, harmony, interdependence and true intimacy.
13. COMMITMENT: the attitude and actions which sustain steadfast loyalty to persons, ideas, ideals, principles or things.
These are lifelong challenges which empower persons and families to success and happiness. The key to success and learning these powerful processes is changing our attitudes and habits. The process of changing attitudes is a 12-step process. It isn’t easy but can be taught and learned with time. Here is a very brief description of the process ….12 steps must be taken in order, beginning with:
1. Increasing our AWARENESS…the knowledge of our environment, our outer world, but also, knowledge of what is in our brain, our minds…discovering new words, insights, knowing ourselves and the natural world.
2. Discover the power of INNER FREEDOM to respond rather than react—to forgive past mistakes and begin anew each day.
3. Discover the freedom and power to CHOOSE POSITIVE THOUGHTS and eliminate negative thinking.
4. Discover the freedom and power in choosing and CONTROLLING OUR EMOTIONS.
5. Discover the power and freedom of our IMAGINATION, dreams and aspirations.
6. Discover the freedom and power to choose our PURPOSES, plans and goals.
7. Discover the freedom and power to choose our VALUE SYSTEMS, principles of living, priorities and build a clear conscience.
8. Discover the freedom and power of RESPONSE/ABLE CHOICE.
9. ACT response/ably.
10. PERSEVERE response/ably.
11. BECOME MORE RESPONSE/ABLE.
12. CHANGE OUR ATTITUDES AND HABITS.
This is the highway to success and happiness in relationships. When we stop changing, we stop growing. That is our challenge.
There you have it, my perception of two of the most powerful motivating words….RESPONSE/ABILITY (THE HABITUDE) AND RESPONSIBILITY (THE VIRTUE). Most of my students have given me very gratifying interest, attention and respect for this new approach to their lives and education. I hope that it could be offered in all prisons and schools. You may be pleasantly surprised how effective this short lesson can change the family dynamics positively—-husband-wife, or parent-child relationships. Anywhere two or more people are in close relationship these words can work miracles….depends on the very necessary and powerful word COMMITMENT.
About the author:
Ed Hollenberg, M.D. is a family physician who lives with his wife, Jean, in Winamac, IN. He was born in India, the son of missionaries, Rev. Fred and Nora Hollenberg. Dr. Hollenberg had been in private practice since 1955, including five years on the teaching staff at the University of Illinois School of Medicine Family Practice Residency program in Peoria, IL. He is a Diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Practice.
He is author of the new book Family Power…Managing the Challenges (available on Amazon.com and authorhouse.com: (https://www.authorhouse.co.uk/Bookstore/ItemDetail.aspx?bookid=58558).