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The Power of Partnership

Skype Meeting with Congressman Kendrick Meek

Saylen, David, Xavier Moore Jr. and Seth Eisenberg applaud for Congressman Kendrick Meek during Miami meeting with the Congressman via Skype.

Shortly after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I messaged U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek via Facebook with information about a PAIRS class we were teaching in the heart of Miami’s Little Haiti community to help formerly homeless residents of a Carrfour Supportive Housing Community develop stronger relationships with their neighbors and loved ones. Almost instantly the Congressman personally responded via Facebook, directing me to his Miami District Director, Joyce Postell, with a request that I call her with information about the event. When we began the class several days later — sharing exercises to help the participants understand and express emotions, confide with loved ones, and work through conflicts in ways that deepen their closest relationships — Congressman Meek’s Director was there on his behalf.

I was immediately impressed with Congressman Meek’s responsiveness and technical savvy, his genuine concern for the residents of his District, and tangible desire to learn about innovative approaches to improving the lives of the most vulnerable citizens in our community.

We followed up with the Congressman Meek’s staff to schedule a personal meeting with him in Miami to give us a chance to share more with him about our work in his district and nationwide, hear from him directly about his longstanding efforts to support legislation and initiatives to improve the lives of his constituents, and talk about his campaign to become Florida’s next U.S. Senator.

We particularly wanted Congressman Meek to meet Xavier and Saylen Moore and their two young children, third grader David and first grader Xavier Junior. The Moore Family lives in Liberty City, one of America’s most distressed neighborhoods just miles from downtown Miami where drugs, crime, and deadly violence is part of the daily life of children and adults in the community. We met the Moore Family in February during a PAIRS’ training for parents of children at Liberty City Elementary School. The two of them represent only a small number of residents in Liberty City who are married. Recent statistics revealed that just one in ten Liberty City households include married couples. Their ability to navigate the challenges of their relationship has enabled them to actively support their children’s academic success and their own. Saylen Moore is just weeks away from completing her graduate degree in Social Work. Xavier Moore is Vice President of Liberty City Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association and, for the past six years, has been able to stay out of the crime and violence that is often the foundation of the lives and struggles of Liberty City’s residents, most of whom live in poverty.

Xavier Moore and Saylen Moore Meet with Congresman Kendrick Meek via Skype.

Xavier and Saylen Moore listen to Congressman Kendrick Meek via Skype meeting.

At the beginning of March, as Xavier was preparing to follow-up on his experience in the PAIRS class by attending a four-day intensive program to deepen his skills and learn to help others in his community, his 19-year-old brother, Zachary, was shot to death walking home from a club. I called him after learning of the shooting, listening to his heartache over the loss of a brother he helped raise, and encouraging him to come to the training. He said he was coming for his brother, committed to learning and working in his memory to help create a different future for his family and others.

During his days in the training, other young people in Liberty City lost their lives to violence in the streets of the community. While Xavier used the tools he learned in PAIRS to release the intense emotions of his grief within the class, others were continuing to kill each other.

Xavier and Saylen Moore, along with Seth Eisenberg, respond to Congressman Kendrick Meek during meeting via Skype.

Xavier and Saylen Moore, along with Seth Eisenberg, respond to Congressman Kendrick Meek during meeting via Skype.

Saturday morning, as we were making final preparations for our meeting with Congressman Meek in Miami, his staff let us know that he had been held in Washington by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who had scheduled a historic vote on landmark healthcare legislation for Sunday. They said that Congressman Meek would attend via Skype so he could talk to the Moore Family and others and that his wife, Leslie Meek, had flown in from Washington to be with us in person.

Once again, the power of partnership became powerfully apparent. The Congressman’s partnership with his devoted wife allowed him to keep his commitment to our group through her presence. She listened and spoke on his behalf while Congressman Meek followed along via Skype and also offered words of comfort and encouragement to the Moore Family.

PAIRS Group with Leslie Meek

Judge Leslie Meek, wife of U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek, with PAIRS group following meeting in Miami Beach.

I cannot imagine a more tangible example of a dedicated public servant demonstrating his commitment to using every available tool to connect to his constituents. From Facebook and Skype to the meaningful message Leslie Meek’s support showed for empowering her husband’s passions and promises, the experience left each of us impressed, touched, inspired and hopeful.


Jerry Seinfeld’s The Marriage Ref Normalizes Relationship Differences

The Marriage Ref

Tom Papa is the Marriage Ref in Jerry Seinfeld's new comedy on the challenges of love and marriage.

Jerry Seinfeld’s The Marriage Ref premiered on NBC last night with an intimate peak into the lives of two couples navigating the unique challenges of their relationships.

While the particular issues highlighted in this first episode were unusual – a husband wanting to keep his deceased dog’s stuffed body in the family room and another eager to install a stripper’s poll in the bedroom – differences in every human relationship, especially between intimates, are not.

Together with panelists Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa, and Seinfeld himself, host Tom Papa navigated the very real issue of relationship differences with lighthearted humor that is too often missing when couples find themselves at odds with each other.

With weekly episodes beginning this Thursday in Jay Leno’s previous 10:00pm time slot, celebrity panelists such as Madonna, Tina Fey, Eva Longoria Parker, and Larry David are sure to bring a valuable message to millions of couples: differences are a normal part of every relationship. Learning to deal with them with humor, empathy, respect and structure is a message that can make a difference for countless marriages.

Ultimately, few couples will bring the challenges of their lives to the show’s panel of comedic commentators and analysts. In the process, however, many more will find new perspective, strategies and opportunities to become their own marriage refs. As those insights help couples reach out to each other with love, levity, empathy and respect, Jerry Seinfeld’s journey through the absurdities and inanities of modern life has the potential to be a brilliant success.

If Only Tiger Would

Eleven years ago, a national reporter called with questions about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, looking for insight into how one of the most popular, powerful men in the world could have risked so much by becoming involved with a 22-year-old White House intern.

Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.

Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren share a precious moment.

I thought about that conversation recently as much of the world gathered around televisions and tabloids to perform another collective colonoscopy, this time on the marriage of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.

Professional experience with thousands of men and women in marriage education classes over the past 15 years, personal memories from my earliest years of my mother’s frequently vented anger over the infidelities she regularly alleged led to the end of her 17-year marriage to a powerful Capitol Hill lawyer, insights from my own psychological exploration, and earlier work in the political arena that included close contact with some of the world’s most influential leaders leaves me surprised that so many people are surprised when such accomplished people make awful decisions about sex in particular.

While few beyond Tiger Woods and his wife likely will (or should) ever know the full truth to the claims now widely circulated in both the tabloid and popular press, it’s all too understandable how public icons can be led horribly astray, apparently blinding themselves in the process to the eventual price they’ll almost certainly pay. From my perspective, for those who are most accomplished and recognized, it’s often much more about a hunger for validation than a yearning for sex.

It’s important to realize that most people do not rise to the top of their professions. Those who do, whether eventually becoming a leader of the free world, record breaking athlete, world renowned performer, or captain of industry are commonly driven by an insatiable need for validation in a personal search for answers to questions such as, “Am I good enough? Am I loveable?

Thousands upon thousands of hours are invested in the quest for affirming answers, in many cases leading to contributions, accomplishments, and successes that forever touch the world. Yet hidden in the shadows of those successes is often a very different side visible only to the closest of intimates.

For those seeking external validation for personal insecurities, the affirmations and glory – no matter how significant – are likely fleeting at best.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell writes that mastery requires an enormous investment of time developing exceptional competency. Few of those who reach the top of their professions, he writes, arrive by accident or luck alone. While timing and luck may be factors, both come after a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice, exploration, and experience.

Ten thousand hours.

Few mothers and fathers actively involved in raising their children have 10,000 hours to devote to developing such extraordinary abilities; few husbands or wives regularly invested in nurturing their relationships and families have 10,000 hours either. It takes individuals almost fanatically focused on achieving a particular goal, commonly fueled by insecurities from their own earliest life experiences. Understanding that helps explain how those same people can make such horrible decisions in other areas of their lives.

Frequently those most well known in their communities – locally, nationally or globally — are least able to privately access supportive services that could bring the awareness, understanding and skills that could help them avoid the decisions that lead to public humiliation, loss of enormous resources, and, most of all, the pain caused to themselves and those they love.

Relationship skills education
founded on emotional literacy is an important solution. Classes are educational, not counseling or therapy. The skills help graduates succeed both within their families and professions. And the understandings include profound insights into the importance of creating couple relationships built on regularly meeting each other’s needs for bonding (emotional openness and physical closeness), recognizing the logic of love and emotions, learning behaviors that make it safe to confide, knowing that being “good enough” and “loveable” comes from being born – not from our accomplishments, and practical tools for navigating differences that may be particularly acute in relationships in which one or both partners are significantly focused on achieving remarkable individual goals.

Graduates discover opportunities to create and sustain relationships that are an ongoing source of love, pleasure, happiness and fulfillment – powerful protection against the temptations to seek validation through risky behaviors for which the price can far outweigh the incredibly temporary illusion of reward.

As adults, actively seeking out educational opportunities to learn skills to strengthen our cherished relationships is one of the most important decisions of our lives. As parents, raising our sons and daughters to know through our active involvement in their lives that they are loved and valued for being born offers our children the greatest opportunity to grow up knowing in the depths of their souls that they are good enough and lovable and avoiding the temptation to spend much of their lives dangerously seeking fleeting validation from others.