In spite of your best efforts, you’ll have to deal with other people who may be shortsighted, irrational or acting in their own self interest. So how do you deal with this? This is something I have to deal with on a daily basis. For example, yesterday my son ran away from home. I realize this is something every parent has to deal with but as ever, conditions vary. In my son’s case, conditions could have made the situation quite critical. My son has autism. He is largely incapable of discerning a threat to his safety; he’s a sitting duck for predation. Worse, he is schizophrenic; the half life of his twice daily medication renders him susceptible to following the dictates of his inner demons who are decidedly irrational. Still worse, due to a medical condition in early childhood that was ignored by physicians until it became critical (we didn’t have health insurance), his IQ and reasoning abilities are permanently impaired. In short, I’m dealing with someone who’s cognitive processing is often irrational, impaired and limited. Although I can’t have the confidence he’ll act in his own best interest, I have to fight my mothering instinct to protect him, to allow him to stretch to his greatest potentiality of independence.
So, I let him run away from home. Part of me said why not? He’s 18, legally an adult. Rather than forcing a confrontation, methodically and dispassionately, I lent him my suitcase. Got his extra pants out of the dryer. Packed his toothbrush and gave him two extra pairs of socks. Made certain he didn’t pack his sony playstation. He wouldn’t take his wallet but got him to take his ID. He wasn’t carrying my phone number which he can never remember but he did have 4 quarters for bus fare and the telephone. I could only hope for the best, we’d been practicing the spelling of my name and the memorization of his social security number. Then I drove him down to the Gospel Mission homeless center, the first leg of his journey to Las Vegas -the latter being the source of his most recent perseveration. I could only hope for the best. All this inspired by his desire to cease taking his medication.
Preparation for his departure necessarily included calls to our health insurance provider. What would be the protocol for when he’d be picked up, presumably irrational, frightened and out of control? We called the hospital in anticipation for his assumed admission, two or three days hence and gave them the heads up. We were given a referral to make an appointment with a local psychiatrist (we’ve only recently moved here). I made mental plans for a reduced workload this week in order to manage the outcome of the impending crisis. My husband and I could only hope the police who’d be called to collect him would be compassionate and aware enough not to place him in a holding cell with predators; my son looks perfectly normal. Being highly verbal, his deficits aren’t evident at first glance. He’s old enough to get into trouble but not mature enough to understand what’s happening to him. My greatest fear was predation. It is well known that autistic people have been beaten to death without having lifted a hand in their own defense.
Back to making decisions when you’re dependent on the actions and behaviors of other people who can be -in a manner of speaking- holding you hostage. How can you negotiate for a win-win situation for everyone? I started re-reading a book that provides useful tools. It’s called Decision Traps: The ten barriers to brilliant decision making and how to overcome them. The authors Russo and Shoemaker, stress the first step is framing. You have to analyze the frame of how you perceive the problem and then, re-frame it in terms of the opposing party. Here are some of the questions you must ask yourself:
* The issue or issues the frame addresses:
* What boundaries do I (we, they) put to the question? In other words, what aspects of the situation do I (we, they) leave out of consideration?
* What yardsticks do I (we, they) use to measure success?
* What reference points do I (we, they) use to measure success?
* Why do I (we, they) think about this question the way I (we, they) do?
In this case, I could sum up the conflict as my son’s desire for independence and self-reliance. How could I resolve this conflict in such a way as to ensure my son’s safety yet encourage his need to be independent? Ultimately, the crisis resolved itself and I can only hope that the way my husband and I managed the conflict contributed. We didn’t fight him, we helped him with the mechanics of the process. We dispassionately discussed the consequences of his cessation of medication and planned for it in advance. Because we didn’t force a heated confrontation, he returned home three hours later. Still, because I’d gone through the frame analysis process, I knew I had to provide a mechanism whereby my son could “save face”. I stressed that this wasn’t something he had to do or decide right now. Perhaps sometime this summer. At the same time, I admitted that I need to find ways I can let go and let him make decisions and mistakes to encourage his burgeoning need for independence. Thus peaceably resolved, he did the dishes and asked for a ride to go visit some friends for a couple of days.
Returning to the frame analysis above, just as important to the process are the limitations of your own thinking. Here are some factors you cannot ignore:
* The power of frames in decision making
* Knowing what you don’t know -how can you know what you don’t know?
* How to systematically gather intelligence
* Why people -including you- fail to learn and what to do about it.
* How to improve feedback
* How to change how you make decisions.
The book is a gem. Here’s to my hope we can all grow through analytical decision making in the new year.