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Children learn civility through example set by adults


QUESTION: Can boys and girls be taught to treat each other with respect? That seems like a tough assignment.

DR. DOBSON: They certainly can! Young people are naturally more sensitive and empathetic than adults. Their viciousness is a learned response, resulting from the highly competitive and hostile world in which they live – a world we have allowed to develop. They are destructive to the weak and lowly because we adults haven’t bothered to teach them to “feel” for one another.

One of the values children cherish most is justice. They are, on the other hand, uneasy in a world of injustice and abuse. Therefore, when we teach children respect for others by insisting on civility in our classrooms, we’re laying a foundation for human kindness in the world of adulthood to come. It is a fundamental attitude that should be taught in every classroom and every home.

QUESTION: Do you feel that there is a kind of “blindness” that can occur when a victim of an affair denies the truth? I seemed to experience this when my husband was fooling around with my best friend. The affair went on for two years before I could acknowledge it to myself. But why would I deny the truth? Why do victims “choose” to be blind?

DR. DOBSON: That psychological process is called denial, and it is designed to protect the mind from an unacceptable thought or reality. Once a person admits to himself or herself that a beloved spouse has been unfaithful, then he or she is obligated to deal with that circumstance. The extremely painful experiences of grief, anxiety and insomnia become inevitable once the truth has been faced. Furthermore, the injured person fears that a confrontation with the unfaithful partner might drive the spouse into the arms of the new lover.

Given these concerns, the person consciously or unconsciously chooses not to notice the affair in the hope that it will blow over and be forgotten. Obviously, there is ample motivation for a vulnerable person to deny what the eyes are seeing.

When the evidence of unfaithfulness becomes overwhelming, a man or woman will sometimes “ask” the guilty spouse to assist with the denial. This is done by making accusations in the hope of being proven wrong. For example, a wife will say, “Are you and Donna seeing each other?”

“No, I’ve told you a thousand times that nothing is going on,” he lies.

“But where were you until 2 o’clock this morning?”

“I had car trouble. Now will you get off my back?”

This wife knows her husband’s story is phony, but she continually asks him to lie to her. And interestingly, she does not feel obligated to “blow the whistle” on him until he admits his involvement ... which may never happen. These tacit agreements help her maintain the illusion that all is well, and provides a permissive environment in which the husband can play around.

Denial has many applications and uses in human experience. It will permit a woman to ignore a suspicious lump in her breast, or the drugs in her son’s bedroom, or the debt that the family is accumulating. Through this process the mind is protected for a time, but it often permits even greater disasters to gain a foothold in our lives.

QUESTION: Is depression more common among men or women?

DR. DOBSON: Depression occurs in both sexes but is less frequent in men. It is also more crisis-oriented. In other words, men get depressed over specific problems, such as a business setback or an illness. Typically, however, they are less likely to experience the vague, generalized, almost indefinable feeling of discouragement that some women encounter on a regular basis. Even a cloudy day may be enough to bring on a physical and emotional slowdown, known as the blahs, for those who are particularly vulnerable to depression. That kind of emotional fluctuation is more common in women.

Send your questions to Dr. Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. These questions and answers are excerpted from books authored by Dr. James Dobson and published by Tyndale House Publishers. Dr. Dobson is the chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Copyright 2004 James Dobson Inc.