“…my larger concern about the implicit and explicit messages [is] in popular culture these days. I have often been concerned on the effects on children (and adults) as they are in a trance watching or acting out violence or anti social behavior in video games and popular media. It seems there are pretty strong implicit and explicit suggestions being offered by story lines where the hero is antisocial in some way. Grand Theft Auto, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and so many others. They are so well produced and engaging and at times I worry about how that effects the brain and our perceptions of the world.
Then of course we have politicians and advertising that have clearly figured out the power of the implicit message to encourage people to act against their own best interest. I am wondering if the new coping skill in our society is the ability to protect against implicit messages that do not align with our personal values. Not an easy task for a young person who is still forming their values.”
I share his concern and wonder how to utilize implicit messages in a positive way. There are millions of negative messages out there that are so subtle and quite powerful. I encourage awareness of the implicit messages that are out there, but they cannot be our primary focus. It’s very depressing to focus on them and ultimately not very helpful. So to offer a little more awareness and hope I wanted to share some metaphors that might be useful.
There's a great metaphor I have recently discovered the past couple of weeks that might help. It has to do with ocean currents and riptides. We all know what a riptide or rip current is. It can be a dangerous thing and causes many people to lose their lives every year. There are currents in life that cause many people to lose their way so much that it might lead them to severe depression, addiction etc.
There are other currents we can look at in a positive way. The Gulf Stream is an interesting case. Apparently Ponce de Leon observed it's affects when the wind was blowing one way but the ship was being pulled by a stronger current than the wind. Ben Franklin actually chartered it/mapped it out so American ships could utilize the current to get to Europe much quicker. He shared his information with the British but they chose to ignore it. It generally took them two weeks longer than the American ships in either direction if I'm not mistaken.
Here's another part of the metaphor. Icebergs are carried by currents. We sometimes use icebergs to demonstrate how emotions are hidden under the surface. In this case we can further see how underlying currents are more powerful than the surface winds. Surface winds may be outside influences that we are aware of and the underlying currents can be the ones we are less aware of. To me it's helpful to remember that our influence on our families can be stronger than surface winds. By focusing on influence, parents are more empowered to help their children as they get older and assert their agency, Parents can remember that the values they taught their kids when they were younger may stay with them as we move from control to influence. It takes the pressure off with a mindset change. Many adolescents who "stray" sometimes will grow up and begin listening to the more healthy influences in their lives.
It's a bit tricky and scary. I think the point is that it's helpful to use these metaphors to open people's eyes to the different currents or influences in their lives. Then they have more personal agency to choose what they really want. The question again is how do we use implicit messages or underlying currents to influence others in a positive way? Here are three suggestions.
1. Develop a long-term mindset. If your children are young and you have more control over certain actions and decisions remember you are also setting yourself up for long-term influence. This might affect the way you discipline and teach your children. You may even begin to focus on influence earlier than you thought..
2. Take opportunities today to demonstrate love, support and appreciation. Whether the appreciation is directed to or around your children, they will pick-up on that. If you take an extra effort to demonstrate love and support in different ways they at least have opportunity to absorb that influence.
3. Filter out criticism, as much as you can, even if you think it might be “constructive.” This takes practice and real creativity sometimes. I’m reminded of this especially in work settings and any kind of coaching.
Let me juxtapose two supervisors I had before I was licensed as a therapist to demonstrate how influence is asserted effectively. The first one I will mention, I worked for in North Hollywood at a clinic. I don’t remember her name, but maybe my great friend Rocky Lewis would. She had this neurotic habit of reviewing our therapy notes and suggested we rewrite them. Sometimes three or four times before they were approved. My frustration went so far that I took one of her own therapy notes to pattern mine and she still criticized them for rewrite. She was dumbfounded and had no response when I told her what I had done. I eventually left that job, in part because of her. Her only influence was due to the fact she had formal authority over me. I only remember her neurotic ramblings, confused look on her face and awkward presence with her employees and clients. In contrast I also had a supervisor, by the name of Larry Lewis, at a clinic, who had hired me before I was licensed in Utah. I was new to him but he had already expressed confidence in me. I met with him for supervision once a month. During my second month, a complaint was made against me from a new client. I had met with this client once. The presenting issue was pornography compulsion. I had outlined my plan for this client in the first session and expressed confidence I could help. For whatever reason this client felt I was arrogant and called my supervisor to complain about me and refused to reschedule with any other therapist in the clinic. When I met with my supervisor at the typical time. He mentioned the complaint and instead of asking how things could have been handled better, he focused entirely on his confidence in me and reassured me that he was not in the least concerned about how I acted. What a wonderful response! If I had done something wrong I would have corrected it on my own anyway. For that confidence I will always be loyal to and love that supervisor, Larry Lewis, who is retired now. My hope is that I can influence my own daughter through this kind of leadership no matter what other currents she no doubt will inevitably encounter as she grows older. I suggest that we each think of ways to develop strong influential currents in the lives of those we care for that will extend our reach beyond geographic proximity.