Play it Again, Sam

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Conceptual classroom series
Conceptual classroom series

by David Hafter

Sometimes, the best (non-academic) teaching is just a matter reminding someone of what they already know. They have either forgotten to employ current knowledge or it did not occur to them to use it from one situation to another. This has come up in my work with youth when they have gotten into various kinds of trouble. Rather than ‘teaching’ them how to use proper language in class, for example, which assumes they don’t know how to act, I have asked, “Do you speak differently to your friends than you do to your grandparents?”

They look at me quizzically. “Of course,” they reply. Expecting that answer, I come back with, “How so, and why?” They go on to explain that they cuss around their friends and talk about all sorts of things they would not bring up in front of their grandparents. The answer to ‘why’ of it is also simple. “Out of respect for my grandparents.”

Perfect. Exactly. Knowing this, I would be wasting my time (and boring them) to launch into a well-meaning curriculum module designed to teach them how to behave. They already know; what is useful is helping them to see the value in employing the skills in the classroom with the teacher that they already use at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. This is not always a simple task, but it is the right one and is most respectful to the youth who, in his or her mind, has valid reasons for behaving disrespectfully to their teacher.

In the wonderful film, Play it Again, Sam, Woody Allen’s character is wracked with anxiety when it comes to interacting with women, leading to constant failures. He has a rich fantasy world, so much so that he mentally animates his hero, Humphrey Bogart, who interacts with Allen in the guise of his cool character, Rick, from the even more wonderful film, Casablanca. Allen’s character receives on-target advice from ‘Bogart’ – just what he needs to hear given his socially crippling situation – but his usual response begins with a “yes, but you’re Bogart.”

Yes, but… always means, yes, I already know that, but actually doing it is hard.

Fair enough. No one ever said change was easy. In the case of working with youth, often in a group format, my pointing out their existing skill sets and strengths is a much more positive place to start than assuming they have deficits I must somehow fix. What I can do, however, is help them to find their values and then commit to living according to them.

Values must be owned by the youth in order for them to be helpful in guiding their thoughts, feelings and finally, actions; I am clear with them about this. Well-meaning parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, clergy and others may have golden nuggets for them to absorb, but only those values which are owned by the youth will make any difference. We start with a definition of values and go from there.

There are many different types and approaches of counseling, and most of them are quite valid. As you would imagine or assume, what works for one person does not necessarily fit well with another. People sometimes blanch at the thought of counseling, not wanting to ‘dig up’ all the negatives from their past in order to work through issues to feel better.

I get that and this reluctance is one reason I tend to work, when appropriate to do so, from the perspective of identifying where the person is now (point A) and also where s/he wants/needs to be (point B) and then taking that journey with them, clear goals in mind. Whatever is discussed along the way needs to be in support of furthering that process toward point B. Sometimes it is a short trip; at other times, longer. My trust is that whatever unresolved issues are interfering with that trip to point B will come up for our attention. In this model, ‘yes, but…’ is not resistance to the process but a chance to see and work with whatever is in the way of progress.

‘Bogart’s’ role in Play it Again, Sam, is to be the reminder of what Allen’s character already knows but is having difficulty putting to good use. In counseling, I use this hero model as a tool, part of the process – not the whole thing – with youth. I get an example of a difficult situation s/he regularly faces and then ask, ”Is there someone you know, either in real life or even perhaps a character from a book, movie, TV show or video game, who would know exactly how to handle the situation in a successful way?”

(My definition of successful, by the way, is usually encapsulated by the three values of “safe, healthy and out of trouble.” I am always up front about these three being my personal bias for them values-wise; I don’t expect them to own them just because they are my values for them, but I offer them up as a well-reasoned option for them to consider. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with safe, healthy and out of trouble. Even the youth in juvenile hall don’t balk at them.)

In order for you to accept the help of a “hero on your shoulder”, whispering good advice, you have to first find a hero who shares the same values as you and has the skills you may have difficulty employing to resolve the difficult situation. An adult woman may identify Katherine Hepburn’s character from The Philadelphia Story as her hero who could handle a difficult situation. (Boy, am I dating myself, or what?) A fourteen year old girl or boy would clearly make a different choice but the process is the same. The fictional hero is of your own creation; their words of advice are actually yours. If the youth chooses a real life person to whom s/he has access, perhaps a helpful conversation between them will ensue. Either way, positive values- based choices become available and that’s really what we want.

David N Hafter, MFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist living in Davis.

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27 thoughts on “Play it Again, Sam”

  1. Tia Will

    David

    Thanks for yet another insightful article. What this reminded me of, somewhat obliquely, was another bit of advice that may ( or may not) have come from you. The “consultant” that I have come to rely upon is not a fictional creation, but rather my future self. Of the decisions that I now have before me, which is my self of 5 years from now going to thank me for ? This strategy has not failed me yet and can in retrospect serve as an exercise in gratitude as my present self thanks my past self for having made the decisions that created my present.

  2. Frankly

    Great article.

    I think the point about values is spot on.  And within that consideration it is the slow disappearance of the traditional social norms and pressures to move people to not demonstrate unseemly behavior that is at the root of the challenge.

    The Merriam-Webster definition of unseemly is:

    a :  not according with established standards of good form or taste <unseemly bickering

    b :  not suitable for time or place :  inappropriate, unseasonable

    Unseemly is Al Gore pushing his Global Warming alarms flying from place to place in his carbon-spewing private jet after leaving his 20-room Tennessee mansion that used 221,000 kwh of electricity in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kwh.

    Unseemly is a sitting US President stating a baldfaced lie on TV saying that “he did not have sex with that woman” and then later admitting he had… thereby telegraphing a mindset that getting caught telling a lie is the only reason to tell the truth.

    Unseemly is Aaron Spelling building a French chateau-style mansion with 123 rooms and 56,000 square feet for $12 million in 1988 ($45 million in 2016 dollars).

    Unseemly is ghetto urban talk and wearing baggy pants below the arse.

    Unseemly is taking handouts when capable of working.

    Unseemly is taking large compensation without using it to significantly improve the human condition.

    Unseemly is pursing and protecting individual material wants at the expense of others.

    Unseemly is every kicking the financial can down the road to future generations.

    Unseemly is fathering and mothering children out of wedlock without having the resources to care for them.

    Unseemly is opposing restrictions to late term abortions over “women’s rights”

    Unseemly is opposing proposed assault rifle registration rules over “gun rights”

    Basically, unseemly is any demonstration of the degradation of strong moral character.

    And the behavior of children is only a reflection of what they are seeing in the adults they look up to as role models.

  3. Tia Will

    Frankly

    You do of course realize that my construct of a list of “unseemly” actions varies wildly from yours despite some overlaps . So please tell me which of us gets to impose our values on the other….and why ?

  4. Don Shor

    Great article as usual, with lots to think about. Not sure why some commenters always feel it’s necessary to turn everything into an ideological debate. I see nothing in David Hafter’s article that merits that. There were a couple of people to whom I was going to forward this link, but now I don’t think I’ll do that; I’ll just copy and paste instead.

    1. hpierce

      Don… think I might be getting a handle about my own tendencies to respond to certain posts…

      There are those who have opinions, and those who have progressed to ‘opinionated’, which may lead to becoming a zealot and/or an ideologue… just make sure we don’t vote for the latter, lest we are lead by a demagogue.  I guess the “gateway drug” is having strong opinions/beliefs… yet, with self control, and intervention if necessary, having opinions/beliefs doesn’t have to lead to destruction.  If used recreationally, or as is medically necessary.

      Don… you posed a great litmus test… would I share certain posts, and my/other reactions, with people I care about… it may take me some time to become ‘recovering’, but will endeavor.

       

    2. Frankly

      Well according to Dictionary.com “ideology” is:

      “the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.”

      My point was/is that our migration away from strong traditional values and morality to a more any-thing-goes style of living has made it more difficult for educators.

        1. Frankly

          Yes it does because these are national leaders that set the standards for moral behavior.  These are leading adults that young people look up to and when they say one thing and do another, or when they lie, it tells young people that it is okay to do the same.

          How can you effectively teach morality and selflessness when our national leaders are demonstrating a disregard for the truth to serve their own self-interests?

          My list contained a range of contributing factors.

        2. hpierce

          Ok… so among the “liars” … the second Bush, who insisted that Iraq had WMD’s… Nixon, who denied the administration had anything to to do with the Watergate break-in or the “missing tapes”… Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge (who presided over the Great Depression…

          But, in their defense, it was a Democrat conspiracy to “set them up”, and make it appear that they were  “liars”… they all were truly noble patriots, protecting Republican “values”, and the American people…

          Yeah, right (wing)…

        3. Frankly

          Nixon… look what happened to him.  Both the Clintons are guilty of far worse.  Obama for the IRS scandal which was far worse.

          Bush #2 had plenty of international support for the concern that WMDs existed.  In fact they did as per the definition that includes chemical weapons.

          It is in fact ANOTHER Democrat political lie that “Bush Lied and People Died.”

          In fact, why not focus on what is going on in Libya these days?  Want to talk about chaos from the mishandling of the US military and state department… you should be going there.  Libya is Clinton and Obama’s war, but the liberal media will not go there.

          Let’s not go back too far as we will just play tit-for-tat with dishonest and misbehaving Presidents.   Let’s just stop at Kennedy.

        4. hpierce

          Oh, and there is Ben Carson, who I was inclined to consider, before he said that the pyramids were granaries, designed by Joseph.  Yeah, right (wing)…

        5. hpierce

          Frankly, I, as a student of history, don’t understand why we should limit comparisons to the Kennedy administration as an “end-point”… Oh, except I do… going back further would defeat your argument(s).. big time… whatever…  and, to be fair, we should also ignore a certain administration’s effort to protect their daughters from prosecution (ineptly, but that fits)… it’s only their children, after all.  That shouldn’t affect a determination of ‘leadership’…

  5. Tia Will

    Choosing one’s heroes is indeed a tricky business. Do we chose as our advising “hero” a fictional character which allows us the advantage of not having to look at their potential flaws, and are free from any messy consideration of “what did they know and when”. Or do we choose a real life hero knowing that there will inevitably be that messy business of perhaps being very strong in some areas of their life and societal contribution while manifesting significant weaknesses in others.

    “the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.””

    Interesting that this definition of “ideology” falls very close to this definition of religion from Merriam-Webstr

     an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.”

    In this country, we have adhered to our belief in the importance of the freedom of religion and/or freedom from religion if we so choose. This becomes important in the context of this article, because our founding tradition was not one of the supremacy of any particular religion ( or one class of heros or counselors), but rather the right of the individual to choose their own belief system, not to be forced into accepting the belief system of others because the majority found it “traditional” or even preferable.Thus each individual has the ultimate freedom of choosing their own values and the ultimate responsibility for where those beliefs lead in the realm of actions. I am unaware of any set of beliefs that is completely free of any adverse consequences in the real world. But I do believe that our right to choose for ourselves should supersede the right of others to impose any set of beliefs, regardless of the strength of their own belief on those who would choose a different system.

     

    1. Frankly

      First let me say good stuff Tia.

      but rather the right of the individual to choose their own belief system, not to be forced into accepting the belief system of others because the majority found it “traditional” or even preferable.

      Nor the right of a powerful minority to force their belief system on others.

      In my view we are too often throwing the baby out with the bath water.  When we advocate for holding on to moral tradition there is nothing that should be considered intolerant, racist or xenophobic.  Those are not the things we are talking about… but they are the things that keep getting thrown in our face.

      Human development is the key here.  How do humans develop within a society and culture to be productive and happy members of that culture and society?  I will tell you what I know.  I know that human development is like a growing tree that requires a solid root structure of stability.  Humans have to make millions of choices as they branch out and grow.  They are both gifted with and afflicted with biological impulses, cravings and addictions – probably evolutionary-wired for prehistoric survival – that will serve to destroy them without that stability.

      And that is what is happening.  People are destroying themselves because of the neo-liberal tilt that began in the 1960s with the generation of baby boomers that, for some reason, adopted that attitude that the values of their parents were a real drag man.  And then they moved on to be the most self-destructive generation we have ever had… and they are largely assisted in this by the offspring they have corrupted the same.

      We need to constantly reinvent and improve as the natural migration of society and culture warrants… but we should NOT do this without a constant assessment of and protection of the roots that hold us firm and hold us together.  No culture or society can survive long term without a basis of traditional moral values.  Sometimes those things that are a real drag man are the good things.

      As a country we are growing more and more disconnected.   We are growing more and more disconnected because we have discounted our moral traditions that are the primary contributors to our stability and our greatness.    People are destroying themselves because we have weakened our cultural and moral constraints and norms in the name of inclusion, tolerance and multiculturalism.

      Frankly (because I am) I think neo-liberalism as practice by modern western liberals is a religion.  We can match up the hard left with the hard right and pretty much reject both as too fundamentalist to be allowed to positions of power.  Unfortunately the hard-left has managed to gain the most powerful positions in this country and we are paying a dear price… including the rise of the hard right to counter that power.

      And so our choices become continued instability and lopsided human development, or promulgation of those not-so-beneficial traditional cultural and social values that limits human development.

      Where are the real moderates?  I don’t find many on the Vanguard even though there are many that claim to be.

      1. Don Shor

        You keep using this term, but I don’t think you mean it like the actual dictionary definition of neoliberal.

        Since the 1980s, the term has been used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences[3] and critics[4] primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism.[5]
        Neoliberalism is famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.[6]
        Neoliberalism was originally an economic philosophy that emerged among European liberal scholars in the 1930s in an attempt to trace a so-called ‘Third’ or ‘Middle Way’ between the conflicting philosophies of classical liberalism and socialist planning.[17] The impetus for this development arose from a desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, which were mostly blamed on the economic policy of classical liberalism. In the decades that followed, the use of the term neoliberal tended to refer to theories at variance with the more laissez-faire doctrine of classical liberalism, and promoted instead a market economy under the guidance and rules of a strong state, a model which came to be known as the social market economy.
        When the term was reintroduced in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet’s economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted…. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.[2]

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism
        I have never heard anyone use “neoliberal” in the context that you use it here.

        Where are the real moderates? I don’t find many on the Vanguard even though there are many that claim to be.

        I think you would define any political moderate as a liberal, because of how conservative you are.

          1. Don Shor

            Really?
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleoliberalism

            Paleoliberalism is a seldom used term for extreme liberalism. A paleoliberal is “Extremely or stubbornly liberal in political matters.”[1] Because liberalism itself has several different meanings, paleoliberalism carries some ambiguity.

            A paleoliberal believes in moderate government intervention on personal matters and economic matters. They tend to be opposed to war, police powers and victimless crimes. They believe in a social safety net, but to a lesser extent than more left-wing politics. They generally believe in protecting personal liberty, both through individualism and state protection. They support self-ownership and privacy. Some paleoliberals may lean towards embracing capitalism as an economic system.

            The term is often used to refer to an extreme or “unreconstructed” exponent of modern American liberalism. For example, Brian Doherty writing in Reason in 1997 used the term to refer to Richard Gephardt in his opposition to Clinton’s free trade policies.[2][1][2]

            It can also be used to describe liberals who are more socialist in political outlook, and liberals who are opposed to neoliberalism. Paleoliberals and neoliberals are opposed to each other on many economic, social and political issues.

            I now have absolutely no idea what you mean, and I’m not sure you are really using the right terms for any of this.

      2. Tia Will

        Frankly

        Nor the right of a powerful minority to force their belief system on others.”

        Agree.

        We need to constantly reinvent and improve as the natural migration of society and culture warrants… but we should NOT do this without a constant assessment of and protection of the roots that hold us firm and hold us together.  No culture or society can survive long term without a basis of traditional moral values.  “

        Also agree, except for a major sticking point. I do not believe that those “traditional moral values” have anything at all to do with Christianity and/or Judaism. I believe that they relate to being a decent moral human being, which in my opinion does not require that one adhere to any particular religion, or even any religion at all. From the statistics on Americans belief regarding their distrust of atheists, I doubt that many of you would agree with me. However, after having raised two very decent, caring human beings without benefit of adherence to any particular religion, I believe this to be true. And I believe that there is ample historical evidence to demonstrate that there are humans of all faiths who have behaved decently towards others, and humans of all faiths who have committed moral atrocities which they have claimed were done in the service of their faith. To me, this is evidence ( albeit not proof) that humans are capable of wonders of ideal human behavior and atrocities, regardless of their claimed belief system.

        1. Frankly

          Without the basis of moral values being rooted in Judea-Christian values, you got nothin’.  It is apparent given the degradation of behavior we see today as we become more secular.  It does not work without some basis of strong moral values provided by religion.

          This does not mean that you have to adopt the extremism of Judaism and/or Christianity, just the common basis.  And that basis is also reflected in other major religious like Budism and Islam (although Islam sorely needs a reformation given the amount of scripture that conflicts directly with Judea-Christian basis of moral values… and frankly what we would recognize as common human decency.)

          Adoption of traditional Judea-Christian moral values is not for the intellectual sophisticates for the most part (although there is ample evidence that brain-power is often used to justify immoral behavior when a deeper basis is lacking); it is for those under-developed humans that don’t otherwise have strong and deep enough understanding for how to make good choices in life.

          Liberals use the facade of religious extremism… that certainly can result in real victims of emotional trauma from lack of acceptance and lack of inclusion or even physical harm if we are talking about certain religions… to reject all religious artifacts in society.  And that just leads to more real victims of human tragedy as the the basis of strong moral values is missing from their lives.

          It is really a selfish pursuit if you think about it.  Liberals as a group are more likely to be atheists and reject even the slightest inclusion of religion into public life and society in general.  But they do this at the detriment of the very people that they claim to care about and want to help.   Because they don’t provide any alternative basis of strong moral values.  All they do is blame others for the ensuing mess.

          1. Don Shor

            just the common basis. And that basis is also reflected in other major religious like Budism and Islam (although Islam sorely needs a reformation given the amount of scripture that conflicts directly with Judea-Christian basis of moral values… and frankly what we would recognize as common human decency.)

            Most secular people in the United States probably accept the same basic values shared across those religions. You know, the things you’re putting under the very broad umbrella of “common human decency.”

            Liberals as a group are more likely to be atheists

            Atheists are a very small percentage of the American public. Secular/none is a much larger category.
            Secular people do not lack morals or values. Secular people in America probably share most of your values.

        2. wdf1

          Frankly:  “…Judea-Christian values…”

          I think the standard term is “Judeo-Christian.”  Is there some other meaning conveyed in the way you spell it?

  6. Tia Will

    Frankly

    Without the basis of moral values being rooted in Judea-Christian values, you got nothin’.  It is apparent given the degradation of behavior we see today as we become more secular.  It does not work without some basis of strong moral values provided by religion.”

    Well then I guess you would agree with a poster here who once told me that I have no morals, because the basis of my very firmly held moral beliefs is not religion. But you have just said that I have nothing.

     

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