Saturday, February 11, 2017

Are you subjected to the language of societal scripts when objective assessments would provide better outcomes?



"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me" was a common retort many of us made to the teasing of our playmates. Some of us then got knocked upside our block while others walked away in content self-satisfaction. However, I contend that words may hurt you or your child custody case.

The use of language in everyday communication is often done without consideration for accuracy or bias. To understand how easy it is to be subjected to this I provide an example using the Sun. Dawn and dusk are, respectively, when the Sun is exposed in the morning and is hidden in the evening as Earth rotates on its axis. Yet the expressions of the rising and setting Sun, which attribute movement to it around a stationary Earth, are nearly ubiquitous even though Copernicus developed the Heliocentric theory nearly 500 years ago. Implicit in the expressions of a rising and setting Sun are the highly improbable Geocentric view which is held by only the severely intellectually impaired or delusional.

It is not my intention in this essay to convince you to modify your speaking to make it scientifically correct but, rather, to help you learn how to shed the presumptions that limit your options and may impair your desired outcomes while enslaving you to adverse habits or presumptions.

Explicit and implicit biases appear throughout the use of language often to the benefit of those from whom the words originate and to the detriment of those receiving them. Language that contains bias is said to be slanted. In rhetoric, loaded language is wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes. Marketers may use persuasive techniques to convince you that some outcomes are not your responsibility nor are they within the domain of your influence or control.

Societal scripting results when ideas are implanted, first, through introduction by the proprietor of the scripting and, second, through reinforcement by being repeated by society at-large. They become habitual and passed on to subsequent generations. Failure to recognize societal scripting that diverts or diffuses accountability can be costly to you in numerous ways including impeding your parent-child relationship and custody case.

For years I have been counseling parents for the purpose of modifying their behaviour to be more consistent with that which benefits their children and is desirable by the courts. At the root of this is personal accountability and an understanding of the vast influence that we have over our outcomes. This directly contradicts societal norms which I here seek to dispel in part.

Someone who is at fault for an adversity may claim it to be an accident. Few incidents occur by chance though. An example of an accident is damage as a result of a meteorite strike. We may hear the mindless tripe spewing forth from talking heads on television news programs claiming a spate of automobile accidents due to challenging weather conditions such as a snow storm. Yet these claims are as judgmental as claiming negligence or fault attributed to drivers which we won't hear. The claim of weather causing an accident means that if every driver was put through the same conditions that the same result would happen or that every vehicle of the same model/year as the first to wreck would also wreck under the same conditions. I explain that in greater detail here. The objective description is that there were vehicular wrecks or collisions.

It is of particular importance to take responsibility for your actions rather than attributing them to chance. This is not solely for the purpose of holding you accountable for mistakes. Taking responsibility for your actions also means that you take credit for your successes. Life is not filled with lucky and unlucky moments nor is it fated. Success is the result of numerous factors which may include the willingness to take risks, making investments, self-confidence, perseverance, delayed gratification, and more. As you assess your outcomes as being your successes or failures you are more likely to attempt to build upon your successes and correct your mistakes rather that sit idly awaiting the next fated outcome.

Insurance companies are enriched by society's perception that the great hand of fate may strike individuals with some type of calamity at any moment. Yet these very companies have tables used to assess risk using a rubric that contains numerous factors from individual's demographic, personality, and behavioural traits. Clearly they know we are not struck purely by chance. I don't use insurance opting instead to accept responsibility myself. I don't expose myself to the radiation emanating from smoke detectors thereby reducing the probability of bodily cellular damage resulting in a need for medical care. I exercise vigorously daily. I consume a vegan diet of food. While driving I am hyper-aware of all threats imposed by other drivers, road conditions, and additional foreseeable threats such as those from animals or aircraft. Similarly, I am acutely aware of potential threats to my home. The difference between the manner in which I and a neighbor manage electricity illustrate this.

Every few years I pull all plugs from outlets. Then I watch the meter for awhile to see if there is any measure of conversion occurring. I also pull and clean all breakers. I am careful not to overload breakers/lines and run new lines as needed. Conversely, I have a neighbor who takes a different approach. While visiting one time I noticed a vast web of cords plugged into a series of outlet splitters culminating into one outlet. I mentioned to her that having about 15 cords plugged into one outlet is a presumptive danger and that she may want to consider moving some or doing a maximum load assessment. Her reply was that she prays to god everyday that he protect her house from fire, flood, and etcetera but that if he decides that it will catch on fire there is nothing she can do about it.

Her type of thinking is costly. Not just financially but physically and emotionally. As I said, "having about 15 cords plugged into one outlet is presumptive danger" is just what a CPS worker or CASA [likely not adept at electrical wiring] would note even if the load was well under the breaker/wiring limit.

As parents it is ultimately our responsibility to provide for the well-being of our children. During custody battles this obligation is more acute and parents must increase their vigilance to ensure it is fulfilled. The health of children during times of parental conflict or family upheaval may be at greater jeopardy from the level of stress imposed upon them. A subgroup of the greater Christian cult has abdicated their responsibility in this domain by instead relying upon imaginary outside agency. Members of the Christian Scientists have been prosecuted for their deliberate neglect of their children through rejecting medical intervention. Yet, to a large extent, Americans adhere to this principle on a lesser degree. I have a cousin who is one such person.

A few years ago when she was around my age now [50 years] she was found to have cancer. Regular updates were posted on Facebook as were the requests for continued prayers. She was in the hospital for quite some time so clearly she did avail herself of modern medical procedures. But, she still did not take responsibility for her condition or, in the alternative, seek to prevent it from recurring. She relied upon outside agency being the medical care providers and the imaginary intercessory god. This was clearly illuminated when she said that upon leaving the hospital the first thing she did was go to McDonald's for a hamburger.

The Western medical community is beginning to correctly attribute the cause of cancer but has not fully accounted for it as Eastern providers have done. Likely, your Western medical provider will admit that about 80% of cancers are self-imposed but will still hold a bias that it is a societal imposition rather than being deliberate on a personal level. Eastern providers are more likely to place the rate of attribution at about 95% with a bias being much heavier toward personal responsibility.

So much of the actions of the members of society and rote, habitual performances based upon common procedure or belief. Likely you engage in such and it may be detrimental to you or your family. If this essay has encouraged you to think deeper about why you take actions [not doing something is also taking an action] and if you can have greater control in doing so then I have achieved my objective. As I depart in words I leave you with an additional thought about titles and the attached presumptions.

If you need work done on the plumbing in your home who do you seek to do that? Your first thought may have been "a plumber". I contend that there is a better option - a person competent in plumbing. That person may be you.

Indiana law provides that, "in order to safeguard the life, health, and public welfare of its citizens," [IC 25-28.5-1-1] a person who is not a licensed plumber may not advertise that he provides the services of a plumber. However, a person is allowed to do plumbing work for hire if he is a building maintenance person and doing the work at his place of employment or may do so otherwise if he is not paid. Also, a building/dwelling owner may do plumbing work on his building/dwelling if it is designed for occupancy as eight or less residential units. [IC 25-28.5-1-32]

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos should not be confirmed

Recently Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos has been in the news for her use of a particular sentence. She was quoted as saying, “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow” in a written response to a question about LGBT rights submitted by Democrats in Congress. [emphasis added] However, that response may not be an original thought.

The Washington Post first noted that this response was substantially similar to that of Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, who said in a May press release, “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive, and grow.” [emphasis added] The controversy over attribution as to the origins of the sentence appears to me to miss a more substantial point which all involved have demonstrated their deficiencies by not raising.

Pronoun agreement requires that the antecedent and its following pronoun be equal - either plural or singular. Words such as each and every are singular while all is plural. Thus each and every are followed by a singular noun such as child, mouse, or thought while all would be followed by the plurals of those nouns, being children, mice, or thoughts. The pronoun to follow child is singular. The singular pronouns of child are he and she. The plural pronoun is they.

Not germane to the particular sentence at bar but worth noting is that multiple singular antecedents are followed by a plural pronoun. The dog and cat went into their yard. They acted together and became a plural. Each and every create a special circumstance though. The use of these qualifiers produce a singular antecedent which is to be followed by a singular pronoun. Each car and truck was parked in its own space. The cars and trucks all acted individually and are therefore singular.

To correct the sentence in question the pronoun could be revised to give us “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where he or she can learn, thrive, and grow.” While technically correct this is stylistically awkward. A revision that sound more appealing to the ear may be “All children deserve to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow”

This is elementary grammar. Yet, someone who is a candidate to be the Secretary of the US Department of Education failed to adhere to simple grammatical construction in a written response. That in itself demonstrates grounds for disqualification to hold that position. Don't count on it being used for that purpose though because those who are set to decide whether to confirm her aren't interested in such issues as proper grammar usage. Is it any wonder that students in the United States continue to perform lower compared to a growing amount of students from other countries when the leaders of our country don't care?

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

University of Oklahoma action against Joe Mixon degrades women

In December of 2016 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered that the videotape of the attack on Oklahoma University gridiron player Joe Mixon by Amelia Molitor be released to the public no later than 26 December 2016. Although the attack occurred in 2014 the tape had been withheld from the public by the Norman Police Department until a lawsuit by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters resulted in its release.

Oklahoma University decided to suspend Mr. Mixon for his role in defending himself against the assault. In punctilious fashion Mr. Mixon made the expected and obligatory apology consistent with being a person of notoriety. However, there appeared to me to be a greater bias underlying the university's actions. Before I explain this I provide to you the text of a letter I sent to the university's board of regents following the release of the tape.

It is with great distress that in this current age we are again faced with psychological manipulation cultivated to maintain an entrenched gender hierarchy. This time coming from an academic institution which should be fertile ground for liberally expanding human knowledge and thought by supporting progressive ideals such as gender equity. But instead, you have chosen to support gender stereotypes which perpetuate an outdated masculine dominant model.

Your deliberate punitive action against Mr. Mixon, a male, who defended himself against an unprovoked physical assault and strangulation attempt by a female, is highly suspect as gender motivated. It presumes that women universally suffer from the psychological condition of uncontrollable hysteria which then mitigates their culpability in adverse actions. Had the attack been upon a female athlete who defended herself against a male your response would likely have been in sharp contrast to that which you took against the male athlete. In making that decision you have perpetuated a gender stereotype that insists that females are incapable of controlling their actions and cannot be held accountable. Observers are therefore subconsciously conditioned to believe that women should not rise to higher levels of authority in politics, business, and academia because the corresponding responsibility has been deferred.

Your deplorable action is an affront to the longstanding efforts by so many to bring about gender equity and is nothing more than an attempt to undermine those actions and stifle the progress that women are making toward gender equity. Shame on you!


As of the date of this post I have not received a response.

The action by the university against Mr. Mixon and similar outcomes in other incidents exposes a deeply rooted cultural bias. In law, and less formally in lay situations, punishments are generally implemented upon consideration of mitigating - those which excuse or provide justification - and aggravating - those which tend to make the offense more reprehensible - factors. A bright line mitigating factor in criminal cases is the age of the defendant. Juveniles are not to be held as responsible for their actions as adults whose brains have fully developed and presumably have more ability to inhibit impulsive responses and make rational decisions. Similarly, an aggravating circumstance may be that the victim was mentally incapacitated and unable to counter the coercive actions of the defendant such as in sexual assault cases.

In typical assault cases such as an argument escalating into a physical attack the person who threw the first punch is considered the attacker and the target of that blow is excused for his or her subsequent response regardless of who is the ultimate victor. This considers the participants to be on a level playing field - of equal mental competence. If the first to throw a punch was a child who was developmentally disabled and the target was a middle aged body builder who beat the child to a pulp then that adult would rightfully be charged with a crime and the age and mental capacity of the child would mitigate the child's responsibility and aggravate the adult's response.

It is unlikely that you have studied the cause of death in murders, or attempts, and victim responses as I have done. Nevertheless, you can likely intuit that in attempting to kill another human the most dangerous method for the assailant is strangulation. This is not only due to proximity but also because the restriction of the airway produces a visceral response to that immediate threat to life. The intended victim, at that moment, receives a burst of the neurotransmitter/hormone epinephrine which is said to produce “superhuman strength” although there is a clear scientific reason which I won't explain here.

Thus, Mr. Mixon, when he struck back in defense of what his regulating physiological self - the subconscious - perceived as an immediate threat to life, was operating on auto-pilot. Yet, the university which was fully aware of this circumstance took punitive action against Mr. Mixon. It's the equivalent of you driving into an intersection and slamming into the side of vehicle whose driver failed to yield and you being held responsible for “hitting” the other car. In such a case it must be presumed that you had greater mental acuity and control which the other driver lacked. Applied to the assault on Mr. Mixon the university has declared that he possessed greater ability to suppress biological responses and that Amelia Molitor's actions are mitigated because she lacks the necessary mental capacity to control her emotional urges.

In short the University of Oklahoma has implicitly declared that men have greater mental faculties than women who are hysterical beings that can't control their actions. That is an affront to all the women who have demonstrated superb judgment and leadership in positions of politics, business, and - yes - academia.

At this point I have only made a reasoned conclusion that the university holds a bias against women in this regard by making logical connections between the circumstances of the event, axioms of law, and their response. The University's bias was made clear in a press statement issued after the video was made publicly available. I found it after seeing the video and concluding that the university's decision was likely motivated by bias.

The release states that, “[u]niversity officials were made aware of the content of the video prior to taking action with respect to Joe Mixon. [. . . ] It was made clear to Mr. Mixon at the time of his suspension that violence against women will not go unpunished at the university.” [emphasis added]

When a descriptive modifier is included in a statement as this it operates to the exclusions of others. That is, the affirmative is balanced by its negative or inverse. This can be demonstrated mathematically. The group of people (women + men + children) represented in the last sentence of the quote [It was made clear to Mr. Mixon at the time of his suspension that violence against women will not go unpunished at the university.] can be represented as follows:
1] (women + men + children) - (men + children) = those against whom violence will not(-) be tolerated [women]
To get the inverse the value of the equation is first reversed and becomes:
2] (women + men + children) + (men + children) = those against whom violence will(+) be tolerated [-(women)]
It is then divided by -(women + men + children) which results in;
3] men + children = those against whom violence will be tolerated [men + children]

This can be applied to any exclusive group. If one says “Black lives matter” one is also saying “The lives of non-blacks do not matter.” Whether it is gender, race, cult membership, education level, career or food preference exclusion operates to negate the expressed quality. The action by the University of Oklahoma in choosing to use “against women” instead of the all encompassing “against others including women” was deliberate. It serves to imply that one is not allowed to defend against an attack by a woman because women are incapable of controlling themselves. More insidious though is that apparently the University of Oklahoma condones violence against men and children.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

What will you give to a father on Father’s Day?

Like so many days sets aside as honour to someone, business interests have commercialized Father’s Day. Thankfully it seems limited more toward male attire and accoutrements while mattress sellers have avoided the temptation to sabotage this day also. Nevertheless commercials promote the concept that due regard to fathers should be expressed through the purchase of merchandise. However, I contend, with a sound basis that it is not merchandise that most fathers seek.

First, as an avid patron of yard sales while endeavoring to build my movie collection, I get to see the unused specially packaged gift sets for sale that are offered during the Father’s Day period. Second, as an advisor to litigants in contested child custody cases I hear first hand what parents most want -- additional time with their children. Admittedly, in these custody cases not all are seeking this additional time for the benefit of the child. I use a vetting process that keeps those who are motivated by a desire to deprive the other parent from wasting any more of my time. What remains though is a significant portion who honestly desire to provide more support to and be a greater influence in the lives of their children. They do so without expectation of recompense or notoriety. To them Father’s Day, or respectively Mother’s Day, is an opportunity to enjoy a day with their children set aside specifically for them as recognized by the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines or those of other states.

So when I ask What will you give to a father on Father’s Day? I am addressing not only the children but also the mothers of the children. Certainly some token memento of the day is appropriate from children to fathers as a keepsake for fathers to be reminded of the adoration of their children. That is so long as those are given with sincere appreciation and not out of perfunctory duty or perceived obligation.

So to the mothers I ask what will you give to the father of your children in common? For some it will be more than he is willing or they can persuade him to take. They wish they had one of my litigious fathers seeking more parenting time as the father of their children. Yet others will proclaim to give nothing more than the law allows, or less, and do so only under protest. It is these mothers whom I most want to hear me. [In about 10 months the counterpart fathers are going to get the same lecture]

In cognitive behavioural therapy the goal is to change the actions or reactions that one performs. This is done by altering the cognition -- how one perceives and processes the sensory input received from his or her environment.

Upon understanding the truism that we are where are actions put us the parent who denigrates the other is a bit of an enigma. They certainly don’t like it when other people put them down or denigrate them but they do it to themselves. I hear or read the rants of this type of mother berating the father of her children and calling him every foul name she can extract from the recesses of her mind. I ask, “Why are you so down on yourself. Why do you think you are such a loser?” The quick retort is something to the effect of she is not the loser but he is. This demonstrates a cognitive fallacy.

A cockroach is a cockroach and does what a cockroach does. So when the cockroach gets invited into the home, gets declared the pinnacle of civility, and then doesn’t perform as desired who is to blame? Certainly not the cockroach who was just being himself. If you thought that a cockroach was going to be a great housemate and table guest but then realized such wasn’t so you should just learn from that experience. If you blame the cockroach for the sanitary issues in your home then you are experiencing a cognitive fallacy. The fault is your own but you should not beat yourself up over it for years to come. Oddly enough though parents will do this in regards to the other parent after a relationship dissolves.

Selecting a mate with whom one will bear children is the most important contemplative decision one can ever make. That decision, whether spontaneous or after lengthy consideration, does not come without exhaustive deliberation. For some people that deliberation is nearly totally a process of the subconscious based upon a lifetime of experiences -- intuitive. Others may take a more mindful approach through the use of pros and cons lists, discussion with friends, or discussion with the potential mate. Either way the selection of the person with whom each of us has bore children was a deliberate process that represents the best judgment and decision making skills we possessed at the time.

By denigrating the object of that careful selection process through and ongoing and vociferous process is to challenge one’s own judgment skills. Selecting that parenting partner can be analogous to selecting house paint. This could include going to a paint store, choosing numerous swatches, looking at them on the side of the house during different lighting conditions, and finally selecting one. Once applied to the house if the colour choice doesn’t appear as appealing as had been envisioned it cannot be healthy for one to constantly tell himself or herself what a horrible colour it is. To do so is to say I made a horrible decision, I suck at choosing paint colours, I am a complete moron. The parent who denigrates the other parent is simply reminding himself or herself that he or she is an idiot with a cranial-rectal impaction.

So maybe what you should give to a father this year is a new lens for yourself by which you will view him. One that is more reflective of the positive aspects upon which you had decided he was the best of all. When you do this let the actions from this new cognition and attitude flow. Then you will feel better about yourself, benefit from his reciprocal behaviour and be a better parent for your children.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

The soft insult and reducing marital or relationship conflict

My experience in contested child custody litigation has provided great insight into the root causes of marital conflict. For over 10 years I have viewed marriages from the dysfunction perspective and helped at least one side in each relationship to mitigate the causes of the contentiousness of the post-marital relationship. In this rationation I will attempt to provide to you some strategies for recognizing and understanding insults that you may be delivering and how to modify your delivery so as to not have your audience perceive your utterances as demeaning.

Some insults jump straight out of the gate and hit you dead on. Everyone recognizes those by their content which often includes applying some diminutive term to the recipient. You have likely also experienced what I refer to as the “soft insult”. You may hear it called a back-handed compliment, indirect insult or drive-by insult.

The soft insult may require a more discerning ear to recognize. A spouse or someone of a similar relationship is best suited to both recognize and deliver these insults because they are context dependent. Motivations for the soft insult vary but I suspect that they serve the speaker’s desire to be satisfied by imparting the verbal slight without becoming engaged in a full-scale confrontation. It can provide the sense of having bested the target and also bring to a close the engagement without having to support the position.

A healthy relationship includes vigorous argument. Arguing demonstrates a sense of caring or concern. One does not argue for the sense of self satisfaction but, rather, to persuade the other party to adopt the proponent’s position or convince him or her of its efficacy for his or her benefit.

Arguments in marital relationships are more often brought to my attention in the post marital child custody litigation phase whereupon they usually are of an unhealthy nature. It is at this time when the ultimate benefactor of the debate should be the child. So it is also critical that the argument be conducted in a manner that reduces the potential for it to devolve into a fight.

The soft insult can easily take a healthy argument and turn it into a non-productive fight. The introduction of an adverb such as “finally” can change the tone of an innocuous sentence to one that is hostile. Read the following three sentences in the context of parents discussing a health issue for their son;
“I am glad to see that you have an interest in his well-being.”
“I am glad to see that you have taken an interest in his well-being.”
“I am glad to see that you have finally taken an interest in his well-being.”
Do you recognize the hostility in the third sentence? It says that your interest is long overdue. The message being conveyed is that you are selfish and haven’t been concerned about him until now, likely just to cause me grief by seeking an alternative course of care. The second sentence may not be as easy to recognize as being a soft insult but it is. It says that you have not had a prior interest. The message being conveyed is that I am assuring myself that I have been the one who has been the caretaker for our son.

That type of soft insult which attacks the efforts or motivations of someone may be more easy to recognize than this next type. From a speaker’s perspective there may be genuine concern for the well-being of the target of the next type of insult. Insulting conveyances are still just that though regardless of intent.

Intercessory prayer seeks to have an imaginary omnipresence intervene on behalf of someone, generally to bring about some perceived positive change. Prayers that the cancer invading a person’s body be eradicated are a common type of request for intercession. It is the seeking of this positive change however which may lead to the insult. By implication a positive change applies to a negative situation or state.

Of course seeking to have someone freed of cancer could hardly be perceived as insulting. Apply this same prayer model to any of a range of disagreements and the soft insult becomes more apparent.

Imagine a conversation with a friend over the issue of school choice. One of you holds the position that parents should receive vouchers to be applied to whatever school they would like for their child to attend. The other holds the position that parents should seek to improve the public school in their local district instead of abandoning the school.

After a lively debate about the pros and cons of each position as well as the obligations to one’s own children and the children of a community as a whole it becomes obvious that you are both caught in a stalemate. It is the closing of this debate upon which a remark such as, “I will pray for you” is made.

Recall that the basis of intercessory prayer is to correct an error. Thus, what is being said in that prayer statement is I know your position is incorrect, I have been unable to convince you otherwise, and I am going to seek supernatural intervention to help you pull your head out of your ass. When stated that bluntly the insult to the recipient is clearly evident and the person delivering it is quite aware that it is demeaning. It is intended to be so but delivered in a way that allows for plausible deniability.

The person with integrity will not parse words but will directly say what is intended. The “I will pray for you” quip in an argument is used euphemistically for implying that the recipient is a brainless moron and such an implication should be avoided. If such an insult is not intended then the phrase should not be used.

Monitor your language carefully when engaged in argument. If you experience the feeling that you wouldn’t make a particular quip to anyone else but that person in the spousal type relationship then you probably should avoid making it. It is these soft insults that take healthy debates and turn them into fights in which the objective changes from seeking to convince to winning the battle.

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Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

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©2008, 2016 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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