Okay, quick quiz. Are the following statements facts or opinions?
Something is wrong. It's all my fault. That person is bad. I don't deserve it. It shouldn't be this way. It's going to fail. They should have ______. You have to ____. There was no choice.
Opinions, all of them: judgments, predictions, evaluations, "shoulds."
Distinguishing facts from opinions is an important basic lesson, taught all through school, to help kids make sense of what they read and hear, and sort out truth from assertion.
As far as I know, though, the standard curriculum doesn't ever invite kids to apply that same distinction to their own internal commentaries about life. I think it is a huge missed opportunity.
I'm thinking about this today because of an ongoing fight I've been having with my 2nd grader over homework. He doesn't want to do it, I tell him he has to, and lots of angry drama ensues.
Last night it came to yet another head, and at some point during the evening I realized I just didn't want to fight any more. The whole thing just felt so wrong. I went into another room and just sat with it all, hoping for some clarity about what was actually happening and what to do about it.
Sitting and breathing, I noticed thoughts popping up left and right, frantically defending my actions, my point of view, and my overall anger, frustration, fear and shame.
He has to get his homework done. I should be able to help him. He should be nice to me, and listen to me. He is lazy. He is stubborn. He has to learn how to calm down and deal with his anger. If he doesn't figure this out now, it will only get worse. This stinks!
They were all just opinions, but they didn't feel like opinions at the time. They felt like facts. And treating them like facts made me miserable.
What eventually got me out of my funk was that I started pushing back.
"Says who?" I began to ask.
Who says getting his homework done is so important? Who says he's not supposed to get angry about being told what to do? Who says this situation means I'm failing as a parent, or that there's something wrong with him as a child? Who says this situation means anything about any of us?
Faced with a question like that, the opinions lost their grip. They slipped away, and suddenly there was space for some new possibilities:
You teach about emotions, Anne. What would happen if you listened to his anger, the way you guide your students to do, rather than treating it like it's a problem?
You teach about motivation, Anne. What if you started tuning in to what actually makes him happy, the way you invite your students to do, rather than raising another human being whose life is dominated by other people's "should's?"
In hindsight, these are head-smackingly obvious insights: Practice what you preach! Apply what you already know! But I couldn't even look for these solutions when my opinions were shouting their "truth" in my ears.
To be honest, I still don't know exactly what the right thing is to do with homework, but this shift in perspective toward curiosity, openness and humility is huge. And I'm excited to bring more of what I teach out in the world into the walls of my home, where we need it just as much as anyone else.
How does all of this land for you? Can you think of a frustrating person or situation in your life and recognize any opinions masquerading as facts? What other approaches do you use when you find yourself trapped in drama that you no longer want? I'd love to hear.