Last week, I was in an interview where I had a chance to recount one of my favorite stories, “The Stone Soup.” It was fun for me because I rarely get a chance to tell a story in a job interview because they so rarely seem to fit the question asked. When I had to chance to pass along this cool story from my in-laws, I could not resist.
It seems there was an old beggar whose sole possession outside of the clothes on his back was a large pot. He went from town to town, village to village with the story of how his restaurant had burned down to the ground leaving him with only this pot. He insisted cooking was his love and joy, and he could make the best soup anyone had ever tasted with his special ingredient and his pot. He would bet anyone in the town willing to take him up on the bet, and when he had enough participants in his wager he would begin using whatever stove, oven or fire they provided.
He would start with water in the pot and add his special ingredient hidden from the betters into the pot. Then people would come offering him spices, vegetables and even some meat. When he served the soup, people were amazed how good their ordinary fare tasted when combined with his special ingredient.
As a result, he became somewhat of a welcome guest traveling from town. When he was old and could no longer travel from house to house, much less town to town, he made a deal with a large family who agreed to let him stay with them if he would tell them his secret ingredient. He told them the secret was just a rock he found on the road to wherever he headed next. The reason everyone loved the soup was their part in its making. Often what is needed can be found at hand, and even if he did not like the taste, he never starved.
As for what question in interview this story fits, they asked me, “What do you do when you are instructed to do something for which you do not have the resources, and the requester isn’t giving them to you?”
“Have you ever heard the story of ‘Stone Soup’?” I add what I can to the pot, and thus far, I have not starved.
For me, the story has always been symbolic of our family. We all bring something to this soup we call a home, and we cherish it because of what we have invested of ourselves into it. We value it not because of what it costs in dollars. We value it mostly because of what it means for us, and the comfort and nurturing we find there. When we foster other kids into our home, they add another ingredient into the soup that I still find the best I have tasted.
When it comes to perspective, I am not sure there is a single perspective more powerful than how we ourselves. However if there is one, I bet it is how we think others see us. Do they see all of our failings or our strengths? Do they see us as worthy of love?
Over the weekend, J and I took a hit in the how we think we are viewed by our kids. Our son,O, ran away. It started off as his usual morning defiance, riling up his younger sister and refusing to do the normal morning routine. He thought we would chase him down and force him to do it. So when I told him I had our foster baby in my arms because I was feeding him and there would be consequences if I had to go get him, he said “Make me.” After another minute of him dancing around, I put down R, and I went to go get him. He was waiting by the door which he opened with a smile towards me when he knew I could see him. He ran out into a down poor of rain. I texted J, and we thought his attempt to get attention shouldn’t work. He would come right back. After all, he wasn’t even wearing shoes.
He did not come back. He ran and 20 minutes later while J was out looking for him, he got into a stranger’s car. He told them he did not want to come home because his mom “mistreats him.” He was so lucky, because the older couple took him to the police station. The woman fell carrying our shoeless son into the police station treating him like the brave abused boy he was portraying himself. The cops heard he was “mistreated at home” and there were two other girls and a foster baby in the home. The cops took him to the hospital for an exam and to take photo’s of the bruises on his body as evidence of his abuse.
Of course by this time, I have called the police department giving his name and description trying to get their help to find him. After we had heard nothing for another 30 minutes, I called them back. They said a car was in route to my house. Two cops came in and asked if they could search the house. I replied, “Sure, I have looked everywhere in case he snuck back in somehow, and we have had a neighbor who does searches for the police over to look already, but the more eyes the better.” At this point, we have most of our street looking for him with phone calls out to all of the friends we could think he might try to reach. When they called back in, they said another cop was on the way to our house, their commander. When he got there is when I got the phone call saying O was safe at the precinct, but he was on the way to the hospital for an exam. We were relieved, and J wanted to go be with him, but we were asked to stay at home for questioning.
They took pictures of his bruises, none of which were from us. Wrestling on a trampoline with a kid who outweighs you by 30% will do that as will falling from the lip of a bathtub he was dancing on for his sister’s giggles. As I spoke with the ER doctor, I felt his hostility towards me grow steadily less when I explained his diagnoses and medications. Even though the doctor and Child Protective Services agent believed me, we still had to wait for him to come home and find out if there will be an investigation effectively ending our ability to foster children.
Now O had no idea the ramifications of what he was doing. He started off afraid of being yelled at again for misbehaving. Then it was a fear of being yelled at for running outside, and when I didn’t chase him he worried more. Fear drove him to act and then exaggerate. When the cops said they were going to go get the other kids in his house, he was happy. It never occurred to him that did not mean they would be with him in a new home. He just did not want to be yelled at again. When we questioned him about the ordeal that night, we had to be extremely careful with the wording of questions, because he was searching to say only what he thought we wanted to hear. He was still scared to the point he would have agreed to leave our house because he felt scared there.
I know his very early childhood before us was hard, but will he always be this scared? Will he always act impulsively to better his immediate situation without understanding how others perceive his actions and the motivation for them?
If one reads the Atlantic this month, it would seem likely. The article, There’s No Such Thing as Free Will, argues our thought process is predetermined by chemicals in our brains and the neural paths signals can take. Science seems to be arguing the nature side of the nature vs. nurture is the better bet for predicting and explaining actions. I buy the science behind the article, but I think it is too static. Sure we can predict/explain a behavior or action by looking at the brains pathways, but over time are we explaining the actions or the predispositions to certain actions?
Can we change the brain process over time? Is this self determinism or free will changing the determinism?
Having seen Ericksonian hypnotherapy work, I also question how fixed these predetermined thoughts, reactions and emotions are to given stimuli. Can we not change how our brains work? If we can decide to change these paths, then the predictive value of the determinist model would seem to fall apart. Granted, one may say the decision to change was predictable, but were the situations to allow us to do so also predictable?
Raising kids who have gone through trauma but still have highly malleable brains, I have to hope the nurture model can help. Maybe I am but a part of the masses needing to be gullible, but I tend to think the brain was wired to make this choice and do this action is believable only in a specific static scenario. My brain, as it is right now, will always decide A if given a choice between A and B. However, I might train to look at both choices and sometimes choose B based on a different decision model. My thought processes are not carved in stone, and I hope my neuro paths are not either…though a bit more resistance to cuts of those paths would be nice (Sorry, bad MS joke since Multple sclerosis, which I have, means many cuts).
Could we not plausibly argue the brain paths simply predispose us to a course of action or thought at a given time under given circumstances? Can we then work to narrow the range of circumstances prompting the bad reactions and broaden the number of paths to the preferred outcome? If not, then why bother with parenting?
Side note: The highlight of my week came when I heard O tried to calm a girl in his class using what I had taught him. I have been working with him to be the candle giving a soft glow rather than an inferno burning everything to ash. It was all based on a nintendo Wii game where you have to sit perfectly still. We started saying to each other, “Be the candle, not an inferno.” Of course for me, the candle is my grandfather’s torch of my dreams.