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HomeLife In the BerkshiresCONNECTIONS: The way...

CONNECTIONS: The way it used to be

Perhaps we could gain a better understanding of the Trump White House and the characters therein by imagining them as 5 year olds.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

It was a summer afternoon in a sun-drenched living room. Located in a house on a hill in Stockbridge, the room was wrapped in a panoramic view.

She waved her hand at the lush surroundings, “Oh this,” she said and dismissed it as the detritus of wealth. “I was talking about real money.”

The lady was well-connected, well-educated, but no longer well-heeled. I was interviewing for a book. At another point in the conversation, she said, “Sanford White was a friend, and FDR was a cousin, as was Henry James on the enatic side.”

The original house burned to the ground and with it family treasures. “The paintings and all our books burned,” she said. “Every book that Henry James wrote, he sent immediately the first edition of it to my mother with a long inscription in it describing – I mean, it wasn’t just an inscription – it was describing what he was trying to say.”

I wanted to know what Henry James was trying to say. I read reviews: “Henry James’ novels are character-driven unlike Nathaniel Hawthorne’s which were plot-driven;” “In ‘Daisy Miller’ and ‘The Turn of the Screw,’ James attempts to draw the difference between evil and innocence…to understand a James’ novel understand character.” Probably true and insightful, but I wanted to know what James himself said about his work. She did not remember.

“I liked Henry James. I think he was a better depicter than Edith Wharton. I think Edith Wharton was angry somehow and Henry James was more like a mirror.”

Silently I agreed, at least, that Wharton was critical of that which she depicted whereas James appeared to observe and record, but I wanted James’ specific thoughts about one of his books. Could she remember any?

Book cover of Henry James' 'Daisy Miller,' written in 1879
Book cover of Henry James’ ‘Daisy Miller,’ written in 1879

She tried. “I remember part of what he inscribed on one of the leaves of ‘Daisy Miller.’ He said he was describing little girls, these horrid little girls he’d seen in his childhood. It always stayed with him…”

He drew his adult characters by imagining them as children.

She went on, “And he could recognize them as young ladies when he met them – not the same people, but the type of nasty little conniving girls, you know? And that’s what he was trying to say [in ‘Daisy Miller’]…in any case, I knew what a nasty, little, conniving girl was, all right. I remember reading the book when I was very young and thinking how wonderful it was…I think he was a very great observer of detail.”

So I was thinking: If it is good enough for Henry James, might it be good enough for us? That is: If he could better understand and draw a character by imagining a complex adult as a small child, then why couldn’t we? Perhaps, in that way, we could gain a better understanding of the seemingly unintelligible – gain a better understanding of the Trump White House and the characters therein – by imagining them as 5 year olds.

So who do we have in the playgroup? Until yesterday, there was “the Mooch,” but Kellyanne, and “the Donald” still remain. There were also Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, but they were made to go home.

Now, no one seems to be getting along and everyone claims it is everyone else’s fault. It has been difficult: bad language and shoving and accusations and name calling; general behaving badly and difficult to get anything done. So if this were a preschool playgroup, what could we do?

Online there are a plethora of sites that assert you can help young ones develop self-awareness, mental focus and inner calm in from 30 seconds to three minutes. Calm Classroom believes that children cannot foster healthy relationships with others or make responsible decisions without self awareness and the ability to manage their own emotions and behaviors. Three-minute scripted mindfulness techniques help students and teachers develop self awareness, mental focus and emotional calm throughout the school day. “Click here to find out how.”

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning's five-pronged approach to social-emotional learning.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s five-pronged approach to social-emotional learning.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning offers one answer: Integrate social-emotional learning strategies into classrooms. According to CASEL, social-emotional learning is a process through which “children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

How? Well, according to CASEL, there is a five-pronged approach: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. All can be taught from pre-K to high school by incorporating the lessons into normal classroom instruction. The students learn:

  • Self-management — that is, managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals;
  • Self-awareness — recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and challenges;
  • Social awareness — showing understanding and empathy to others;
  • Relationship skills — forming positive relationships working in teams dealing effectively with conflict; and
  • Responsible decision-making — ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behavior.

Wow! All those little ones learning to sit still and concentrate, be kind and constructive, and do their jobs in a cooperative manner reminds me of something. Oh, I know: The way it used to be.

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