November 21, 2005
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend, 

      Are we having fun yet? That one-liner is a recently-birthed cultural code phrase for "this is a real bummer." Wish I'd had it in my word arsenal in our early years of marriage...
      Cheri and I started this "'til death do us part" journey nearly 35 years ago; we didn't have the lifetime road map for the entire epic, starting out. Good thing: she has enough sense to have said "sayonara!" while there was still time. We were both in the dark about putting two lives together with Super Glue; if she'd only known what followed, she would have explored her options.
      Within months of marriage, our first big "test" was scheduled. They held the exam on a holiday; it coincided with the fourth Thursday of November, 1971...
      Most newlywed couples spend their early year holidays doing the Mashed Potato Marathon, driving from extended-family compound to extended-family compound on the holiday, loading the freeways with "what are we doing here" traffic. We did: no turkey ever cooked in our apartment kitchen; we joined "the families" - separately - for the "event."
      Talk about contrasts: heaven and hell, on the same day. Two studies in family dynamics, fit for a research project, but experienced real-time, by people who were "lifers" at each table. Her brood was huggin' and kissin' all year long, so the Thanksgiving feast just changed the menu in the middle. My tribe had internal conflict brewing 24/7/365; a tense "truce" brought the parties to the table long enough to clear the candied yams and pass the potatoes... before resuming the sniper fire and auditing the body counts. I remember the first time I brought my bride into that battlefield; wish I'd known the question-of-the-day: Are we having fun yet?
      Somewhere along the line, we changed the game plan. We're no longer the vagabond Gypsies, pulled down the interstate with the promise of a "free" meal. Today, we're the hosts. Kids and grandkids come to us. Still invited to some of the extended venues (on her side, not mine); they're good offers, but the best offer is the one with our own progeny. What's different?
      If they rebuild New Orleans, it won't be the way it was. The chaos that resulted from the earlier design criterion (Below sea level? Weak levees? Are you nuts?) will be avoided by new standards. We've changed the dynamics around our family table... by building a family using a blueprint that looks more like her childhood model than mine. What's different?       Relationships are conversations, interrupted. When you're speaking, the relationship is either getting better or worse (depending on what's being said!). When the conversation stops, the relationship is on hold... until resumed. You build your human connections, using words as your construction materials.
      For the next few weeks, it's the Relationship Play-Offs. From T'giving 'til Super Bowl, you'll be parked around tables with your significant others, and it will be heaven or hell for you, too. How can you put paradise on the playbill for those encounters?
      Here are three bundles of words that could change the score in your relational contests:
      Please, and Thank You: Not just when you pass the gravy, but in conjunction with every request. It's easy to make demands; it's different when you operate without a sense of entitlement. Ask, don't tell.
      I'm Sorry, and Forgive Me: when you get big-people together, you bring out boundary issues. When you step over the line and get the flag, don't dispute the call: say you're sorry and ask forgiveness. Repent.
      I Love You: those are the extra-point words that add the game-winning margin. You don't start with the kick, you finish with it. Leave Please/Thank You/I'm Sorry/Forgive Me out, and I Love You will be a joke. Prove it first... then, declare it. It will be believable and it will be transforming. You wouldn't believe how many people live parched lives, longing to be loved... and never hearing what they need to hear.
      Most people will be preoccupied with the turkey on the table. Take some time to consider the turkeys around the table... and transform your Thanksgiving kick-off to the year-end season...

Bob Shank

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