Sunday, April 2, 2017

#165 Good job?

Dear all,
I've been feeling the paradox:  Much is terribly wrong and all is well.  We are called to turn our lives both toward all that is wrong, grieving and finding our place in the struggle for change, and toward all that is right, taking in every bit of joy, beauty and loving connection that we can find.  I am feeling both on this very cold and clear spring morning.

Good job?

When is a compliment like an iceberg, with most of its mass and weight invisible?  When it is embedded in a power dynamic.  Though it may be meant sincerely, and may be taken that way, the position of the one who compliments cannot be wished away.

Think of that most generic of compliments, “good job”.  Consider how it is used at school.  However it has been said or meant, the reality remains: a teacher has judged your effort and rated it satisfactory.  You have passed this test and have only to be ready for the next one, and the one after that…  In the adult world, “good job” is work language, the kind you hear in performance evaluations.  When a peer notices that you’ve accomplished something well, you can take that information in with simple acknowledgment, gratitude or pride.  When a boss at work says the same thing, however, pleasure at the compliment always includes a component of relief.  Your position has just been made that much safer, your options, perhaps, expanded.

Perhaps hardest to get our minds around is the dynamic with our own children.  How could anyone have issue with a loving parent telling a child they had done a good job?  Yet even when it is said with no intent to wield power, as a simple delighted response to a beloved’s achievement, we cannot avoid that underlying dynamic.  We cannot escape our role of authority.  Our children are listening to us, counting on us for their interpretation of the world, depending on us for their well-being.  If our positive words are framed as a seal of approval, what are they learning about what is good and what is bad?  What are they learning about their own agency in evaluating their accomplishments?   

The trajectory is troubling.  If our children come to rely on external approval to keep their self-esteem intact, how will they react to situations in which it is not present, whether intentional or not?  Are our innocent “good job” compliments setting us up for the necessity of propping our children up with an unending litany of praise?

Luckily our choices are not limited to praise on the one hand and silence on the other.  There are endless ways of responding with loving feedback untinged by judgment.  The common theme involves noticing, connecting, being present in that moment:  I see you.  I see that you did that.  You were working hard on that, and look what you did!  Tell me more.  Look what you’ve figured out.  Did you notice what you can do now?  Do you remember when that was a struggle?  I love how you keep trying.  You just don’t give up!  How does it feel to have gotten so good?  Thanks for your help.  Wow—look at that!

All these variants on “I see you and I am with you” focus not on our evaluation of how “good” the job is (with the built-in assumption that it might have been worse), but on the process of mastery, and the connection we feel to the child in that process.  They nurture a strong loving connection while supporting the development of a sense of self-esteem that is firmly located within.

We don’t have to give up on one bit of our love or delight.  Our tone of voice can be equally warm.  We just need to pay a little more attention, to put in the effort to notice what it is that the child is trying and what challenges they may be working to overcome.

Challenging that easy and all-purpose compliment, “good job,” has another advantage.  It requires us to notice the weight of the iceberg, and the power dynamics that are often hidden below.  As we practice framing our responses from a sense of connection rather than rank, we may discover that we have more to say about school, about work, about all the hierarchies that inhabit and surround us, and diminish all our lives.

Line and space

I’ve come to love
the strong clean lines of winter
the structure of the trees
revealed against the sky
the interplay of light and dark
of line and space.

The color palette is so spare
it calls the eye
while at the same time resting it—
soft bluish pinkish grays
all etched in black.

Like a fine old
black and white movie
stripped to its essence
undistracted by the stimulus
of color.

I can’t begrudge the spring.
Who could?
Yet I will miss the skies of winter.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Cooperative ownership

Picture a day like this: You wake up and head to your job at a small company you own and manage together with your fellow workers, doing high-tech, advanced manufacturing that’s too specialized for bigger factories. For lunch, you swing by a restaurant owned by another worker cooperative, this one a national-scale firm that serves millions of customers each year. Back at work, you’ve got a meeting with a local agricultural co-op that’s contracted your company to help design some more efficient processing material for the food they produce and export across the world. Afterward, you meet up with your partner, who works in a social cooperative jointly owned by caregivers and the elders who live and receive care there. The two of you swing by the local grocery store—part of a national chain owned by its millions of customers—and pick up a bottle of co-op-produced wine. This is a day in the life of the cooperative economy in Northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, where about two out of every three inhabitants are co-op members and co-ops produce a third of the region’s GDP.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Georgetown, Texas, a conservative town in the heart of oil and gas country, is one of the first U.S. cities to be powered entirely by renewable energy.

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) and the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) build on a deep sense of place in Appalachia to work for  a just transition in energy and agriculture. Watch the short film here.

After a New Zealand court granted unprecedented legal status to the Whanganui River, considered an ancestor by the Whanganui tribe of the Maori, a court in northern India, citing the New Zealand example, issued a ruling declaring that the Ganges and Yumana Rivers are “legal persons/living persons.”

Greeks citizens have taken over a shuttered hotel and turned it into a self-organizing home for Syrian refugees.

Toward a Right Relationship with Finance 
Check out this new book that I co-authored on Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.

The growth economy is failing to provide equitable well-being for humanity and a life-sustaining future for Earth.  However our institutional endowments and individual retirement are dependent on that same growth economy.  This book:
    • offers background on our current economic system--how it is based on unearned income on the one hand and debt on the other, with a built-in momentum toward economy inequality and ecological overshoot;
    • frames the conversation within the context of our deepest values and beliefs;
    • suggests plausible and historically grounded alternatives to the current system, particularly with regard to financing retirement; and
    • invites everyone to imagine new forms of durable economic and social security, and to help create the relationships and institutions that will make them a reality.
With many people now counting as never before on the performance of Wall Street for retirement security, how can this system be challenged with integrity and effectiveness?  Can we break with our dependence on financial speculation and build up new structures of security in a transformed, life-centered economy?

To order the book, or read it on line, go to and scroll down.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

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