First off, I must confess to having more than my healthy share of grandiose fantasies. Here are a few: parents will have a breathtaking “Aha!” moment and suddenly connect the dots on how awesomely, unbelievably powerful listening and contingent communication are to brain development, and my parenting and listening books will sell 15 million copies each; then, every member of Facebook, Groupon, Zynga, Linked-In and Twitter combined will subscribe to this blog; next, not only will I win the Megamillions Lottery once, but I’ll surpass Joan Ginther, to become the nation’s first five-time winner! And after my fifth win, I’ll bring peace to the Middle East, get a life-saving, Global tsunami early-warning direct line from Mother Nature, and discover a sister planet to earth nestled far out there in the Abell Galaxy.
And then I’ll have breakfast.
A Single Work
After breakfast I, like many parents, will spend the rest of most days sweating the small stuff. Like trying to connect up one single limbic neuron with a speech and language neuron in order to occasionally say what I’m honestly feeling, which is often something angry or tender that I’m usually too repressed or scared to say out loud. Or perhaps I’ll connect a Big Picture right brain neuron with a logical, detail-oriented left brain neuron in order to be able to see and embrace some of the world’s mystery and complexity exactly as it is, rather than how I often distort it to be. Or I’ll find myself struggling to connect up a lone mirror neuron with one of the efferent nerve bundles running down into my heart. That might allow me to extend a little care and compassion to a person who reminds me of someone I’ve been hurt by in the past. Little things like that, things that have potentially world-changing, exponential implications. And all that before lunch.
Working Through Lunch a Bunch
During and after lunch it’s time to really get down to work. A single work: restoring children’s rightful place as citizens of the world. Until we teach language to them, children make little distinction between themselves and the rest of the world’s children. They mostly act as if my favorite Sesame Street song – “My Name is You” – is true. But language begins forming the Great Divide – the separation between me and you, us and them, black/white, good/bad, the material world and other worlds. Add to that, any of the multitudes of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the chasm grows wider and deeper still. How best to do the work then, of helping to bridge this divide?
Allies in the Work
Fortunately I’m not alone in this bridging work. Dr. Bruce over at The Privilege of Parenting Blog reminded me this week of Nadine Burke who runs the Bayview Children’s Clinic in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point district. Burke recognizes that what shows up in her clinic as scabies, asthma or strep throat, more often than not, has a stress-induced neurological deficiency at its roots. That turns out to be a critical realization if you want to be an effective healthcare provider.
Burke has been powerfully influenced by The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, one of the largest investigations ever conducted “to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being.” That study, now more than 15 years old, a collaboration between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, was a landmark:
More than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) members undergoing a comprehensive physical examination chose to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.
The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. Progress in preventing and recovering from the nation’s worst health and social problems is likely to benefit from understanding that many of these problems arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.
We don’t smoke, take drugs or overeat because we have cravings. We have cravings we can’t readily control because things that happened to us in childhood disorganized the brain mechanisms that would otherwise make craving-control automatic and effortless.
And so this is the work of the world. It is an individual work: we each must do our own as parents and as people. But we needn’t do it alone. And it’s often much more fun to do it in the company of other Greatly Divided people just like us. Which is mostly everyone we meet. Which is no grandiose fantasy.