HOW’S THAT WORKIN FOR YA?
LUCKY DUCKS is a film about family, connection, bridging gaps, asking questions and searching for answers.But the underlying theme always comes back to behavior – patterns of behavior that for the most part end up shooting us in the foot.
As I told you the other day it all started with me asking the question why are today’s teens (primarily those of privilege) suffering from so many issues? Most of them fall under the heading of behavior problems and unhappiness.
So it would make sense that much of what we ended up learning though out the process was ways to look at our behavior and hopefully change it. When you read that, the our is important. Because for one person to change in a relationship or family structure the others have to change with them.
Patterns get formed and everyone plays their role; thus when one character changes the others have to make adjustments to fit the new personality. It doesn’t always work; certain people may not vote for change. Many people are comfortable with status quo even if status quo is quite uncomfortable.
But it’s been proven, especially with kids who go away to special schools and are then brought back into the home, that if the family dynamic doesn’t transform itself to fit the new persona things will most likely revert back to the way they were. In most, if not all the schools, the ones in Utah, Idaho and Arizona where the kids are in a version of lockdown because their behavior is so out of control, the parents are required to come in and take weekend long seminars in an attempt to teach them how to amend their own patterns of dysfunctional behavior.
It really does take two to six to make a difference.
I used to always hear if one person changes the other has no choice but to change. However in my experience this has not proven to be true. Many people refuse to change, which means the changed one has one of two choices: either to remain changed and have to put up with the other or walk away. I suppose there is a middle ground, but middle ground is a place I am not so good at settling on.
We didn’t have the kind of drastic issues I’m referring to here, but our journey led us to people who did and those who worked with them.
Our last stop on the Seeking The Answers Express was Trout Creek, Montana where I found a guy called The Teen Whisperer. He is a big ole cowboy who has spent much of his career working in the rehabilitative schools. His name is Mike Linderman. While I grew in many ways to dislike and distrust him, that came much later, and had to do with business not so much his work. He had a certain down home wisdom that one could not ignore.
In the beginning he sucks you in with his country charm, old fashioned common sense and no bullshit approach to kids, parents and their problems. He also uses some very concrete techniques like drawing up family contracts that outline the codes of behavior that are acceptable and those that are not. And then there is a list of consequences that are enforced when the rules are broken.
One of the BIGGEST problems and every expert reiterated this is that parents, moi included, do not follow through with consequences. One of the key issues with this generation (Gen Y? Z? I forget what letter they have been awarded) is parents have zero follow through in the consequence department, starting at a very young age. And this opens the proverbial floodgates for kids to have no idea where the boundaries are, so they end up spending their time knocking them down right and left in a feeble, yet often aggressive attempt at having someone put some in place, mainly their parents.
But the best thing we got out of Cowboy Mike was his phrase “How’s that workin for ya?” It not only became a statement we used for getting to the bottom of behavior issues, it became the group response for almost everything.
Film crews are little families, with their inside jokes and banter. And from the moment we all heard “How’s that workin for ya?” we never stopped saying it. We plugged it into most any situation that arose, be it serious or comical. George Nicholas, our very funny sound and light guy, took that ball and ran with it, and to this day when we all see each other, inevitably something happens and one of us will turn to the other and say, “How’s that workin for ya?”
If my beloved DP Gabriel Judet –Weinshel would find himself fighting with broken a fire wire cable, in battle he was sure to lose, somebody would chime in “How’s that workin for ya Gabe?”
One day in Trout Creek, where they literally still have a movie tape rental store, I tried to convince the waitress at one of the only two places in town that they had to have green tea. I might as well have been asking for white truffles to be shaved over my burger. But I refused to accept no for an answer. How could they not have green tea? This town barely had a gas station. Finally she just shook her head and stomped away, probably muttering “crazy city folk” under her breath. The entire group turned to me in unison and said “How’s that working for ya?” Now you kind of had to be there to get how funny it was and why we laughed about it for hours. And they all still remind me of it to this day. But when used properly the phrase is very muscular.
So what exactly does it mean aside from the obvious? It means exactly what it sounds like; but how it works is, it leads up to a place of real honesty after one is posed with a difficult question or group of questions they would rather avoid, that demand an answer in the form of a simple yes or no. Yes or no is a real response that then makes way for deeper discussions that hopefully lead to a version of the truth and some sort of acknowledgement of one’s participation in one’s life story.
This works with kids and adults as once one is forced to verbalize what exactly their behavior is and all the ways it’s not “workin” for them it’s out there. It doesn’t always mean it will change, or it many take months or years, but it’s a start.
The way Mike would use it is, say he has a kid who is flunking out of school, stoned most of the day, fighting with his parents, angry, not paying any attention to authority and in general just plain screwing up his life and torturing everyone around him.
Mike, who wastes no time says, “What’s going on with you?”
Those of you who have raised teen, are in the process of raising teens or remember your own teenage years know that coming clean and being honest is not usually part of the program, so the response of choice to most any question from “how’s school?” to “what’s that in your pocket?” results in “Nothing.” This response usually causes the parents to get frustrated and often times yell, as getting no response day in day out tends to drive you mad and that only causes the teen to further retreat into the land of “Nothing” and whatever poor behavior he/she has been exhibiting usually gets ratcheted up.
So Mike, who doesn’t take “Nothing” for an answer starts asking a series of questions. But what I learned from him and from others is if you want to get a real answer from a reluctant subject don’t give them a lot of choices. There should only be two choices: yes or no.
If you ask someone a question where this is built in- and you can plug this into all relationships that are not working for ya – you do get an answer. It may not be the one you want but you get one.
So we continue with our fictive kid here (and this kid is indeed totally fictive). After the “Nothing” Mike would say “Are you doing well in school?”
Pause. And the pause can be for days. Mike will wait. He has that ability. Eventually the response is “No.”
If the kid says “Yes” Mike will lead him down the road to where the no’s or yeses spell out that he’s lying and not doing well in school. Though the kids know going in that Mike already knows the answer otherwise the kid wouldn’t be sitting opposite him. So lying proves to be a waste of time. Not that it isn’t tried.
“You showing up for all your classes?”
Again, it’s a yes or no. “Sometimes” doesn’t cut it. ALL your classes -”No.”
So he takes them through a series of these questions about their lives that while eliciting a simple yes or no might not be spilling the beans, but they lead to other yeses or no’s and it does end up being, if not particularly articulate, at least a type of confessional.
The kid ultimately verbalizes that things are not going well. This is something not just kids but most people hate to do.
How are things at home? This is not the right way to pose the question, and Mike would not ask it, certainly not in the beginning; it leaves too much room for improvisation and side-stepping.
He would say, “Are you getting along with your parents?” Again – yes or no?
He would not follow that with “Why not?”
The kid at that stage would not answer or he would say “They suck.”
Mike would say, “Is there a lot of yelling and fighting?”
“Yes” would probably be the answer.
He would not ask what are the rules of the house you are not following? Again, an easy one to avert.
Are you following the rules of the house? It’s simple: either you are or you’re not.
“You smoking a lot of weed?”
Now the kid could say no, but again he knows that Mike knows the response. So eventually, and again it may take awhile the kid will have to say yes or no.
Mike will not take “sometimes.” “Sometimes I smoke” to Mike translates into “you smoke.”
And this whole trend of questioning that results in a long list of concrete yeses and no’s take Mike to place where he can say, “And how’s that working for ya?”
And the answer is inevitably “It’s not.”
Of course the story doesn’t end there, these are the very first baby steps in getting someone to say, I’m screwing up. My life is a mess and I’m the captain of the sinking ship. That is Mike’s big thing; we are all the captains of our own ships – teens included.
He did this with me, and I’m someone very adept at verbal gymnastics. But he wouldn’t let me get away with it. I tried. He asked me-
“When you punish or consequence for poor behavior to do you always follow through?” Again, read the always.
“No.” I’m terrible at it. I used to be worse (see me trying to justify) but I’m still not great.
“When you get upset do you yell?”
Sometimes, doesn’t cut it here either; I know because I tried using it.
“Are there set rules and chores in place in your house for the kids and do you consistently enforce them?”
Again, no wiggle room. “No.”
“How’s that working for you?”
So he takes you to this place where you have to acknowledge the areas where you are responsible for the position you are in.
I was sitting in front of him, at that point in time, because I had a teen who was acting out. But by pointing out all the places, and the list went on and on, where I had failed to fulfill my responsibilities, I was as accountable for her poor behavior as she was. I was guilty of lax parenting, which is an epidemic in today’s world, at least in this country.
The great thing about “How’s that workin for ya?” is that once you get the hang of it you can pretty much plug it into anything. Yet you must be rigorously honest with your answers.
Take it to the Office. “Are you where you want to be in your career?”
Again, not where do you want to be as that can result in a vague answer followed by a laundry list of excuses as to why you aren’t.
But are you where you want to be – simple – YES OR NO.
If it’s no. Then again, not why? But pointed questions.
Do you spend too much time a day online wasting time when you could be working?
Yes or no?
Are you putting in extra hours to prove to your boss you deserve the promotion, raise or whatever?
Are you staying out late, having too much fun and thus not on top of your game during the day?
Are you really doing what you want to be doing?
Do you have a concrete list of goals and tasks that will take you where you want to go?
Are afraid if you went after what you really wanted and failed it would be too painful so it’s easier to just slide by?
You can take it as long and deep as you want to.
But at the end you get to the same question.
How’s that workin for ya? Are your behavior and your actions getting you where you need to and want to be in life?
And he doesn’t really judge while he’s doing it. This is harder to pull off when one does it to oneself or others.
I was sitting at the airport on Saturday, doing one of my favorite things: eavesdropping, which wasn’t hard as the woman across from me was yelling into her cell phone. She was hysterical, as she had forgotten to pick up her insulin before she left for the airport.
This action immediately tells me something about the woman.
And she was asking her son in NY to call Duane Reade and see if when she got in they would give her insulin ASAP. Now what was great about this was throughout the conversation she was scarfing down a big bag of peanut M&M’s, which she followed by two bags of Lays Potato Chips. She hung up the phone, opened another bag of chips and smiled at me.
I was dying to Mike Linderman her and it would have been so easy.
“I couldn’t help overhearing– do you have diabetes?”
“It must be pretty bad if you need insulin.”
“I noticed you just ate a bag of candy and three of chips.”
“How’s that workin for ya?”
Obviously I can’t go butting my head into her business and if a diabetic forgets their insulin and proceeds to consume candy and chips at nine am who am I to stop her? But say I had wanted to butt in and said “If you’re diabetic why did you just eat all that candy and chips?”
She could have responded with, “I needed it for my blood sugar.”
Which might shut some people up, but I know the best thing to give a diabetic in that situation is orange juice. I didn’t want to get into it with her. But had I – she would have been put in a position where she had to own that her behavior had to be the contributing factor to her condition.
It’s great and I have done this probably more than I should with younger friends of mine whose marital relationships tend to derail after the birth of their kids. They complain but take never look in the mirror. It’s such an easy one to spot and you can do it so subtly.
“Since Ashley and Dylan were born have you guys taken a weekend away alone?”
“Do you make time for each other and go on a date at least one night a week without the kids?”
“Not really.” Not really counts as a no.
“Is Ashley still sleeping in your bed with you guys every night?”
“Isn’t she five?”
Now you don’t follow that with when are you planning on moving her to her own room as that is not a yes or no and allows the person to tell you what you want to hear or what they think they should say. So instead you say –
“Doesn’t your husband hate that?”
“How’s that workin for ya?”
I could write another three thousand words on this one because I love it so much. It’s one of my favorite things I took out of this film. And one of the most useful on a daily basis, you can really stop yourself at almost anything with it.
Of course I don’t want to give away the movie, as I want you to all go on Amazon and buy it. But the remember it the next time you start complaining about a situation or find yourself up some tree you don’t want to be in, or realize are unhappy with a part or parts of your life. Or even if those around you are acting wacky and you can’t figure out what to do.
Start asking the simple yet tough questions about your own participation. Questions that can only be answered with yes or no.And then once you get to a place of realization, ask yourself, “How’s this workin for me?”
PS. You can do it on anyone in your family too!