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The Inner Genius Gives Them Power

August 05 2019/Jenni Stahlmann/

Last week we introduced you to the Inner Lawyer who lives inside of each of our kids. The inner lawyer’s only job is to protect, preserve, and get our kids out of trouble by any means necessary. The Inner Lawyer is not a team player, and that’s a problem because when our kids make a mistake, we don’t want them preserved in the mindsets that created the mistake in the first place! We want them to learn from their mistakes and to grow.

But for that, we’ll need to invite the second person to the table who lives inside of each of our kids: her Inner Genius!


The idea of “genius” came from Ancient Rome. It wasn’t an inner quality that a person possesses, as we think of it now. It wasn’t an individual’s capacity for creativity or intellect. The Romans thought of the Inner Genius as a guiding spirit -- think genie -- that inspired greatness. We firmly believe that inside every child there lives an Inner Genius. Now, we don’t believe that this is some mystical spirit. We fully believe this a part of the child, but we like the idea that this part of our kids can guide them into great wisdom.

When our child is faced with a mistake, a bad choice, or a failure, she needs her Inner Genius to come to the table and join in the process of discovering

  • what went wrong,
  • what needs she may have been trying to meet,
  • the effects her choices had on people and her environment,
  • healthier more productive ways to meet that need in the future, and
  • some ways she may be able to right her wrongs and clean up the mess she made.

When her Inner Genius is able to participate in this process, she will be empowered to grow and learn to make better choices in the future, but the only way to invite the Inner Genius to the table is to make her feel completely safe and deeply valued and trusted.

When we sit down to talk to our kids about a mistake they have made, we need to remind them of their own capacity for greatness. We also need to let them know that we are on their team, and that we believe that they can learn from this mistake and make good choices next time. Shame tells the opposite story. Shame says, “You’re bad. You’re not worthy of love. No one is on your team. You’ll never learn. You’ll always be a screw up.” And shame is a surefire way to invite the Inner Lawyer to the table.

The problem with shame

Shame makes all of us, including our kids, behave in ways that prevent us from learning and growing from our mistakes. In Brene Brown’s wildly popular TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability she identifies four ways that most people try to manage shame:

  1. Shifting blame
  2. Becoming perfectionists
  3. Pretending their actions don’t affect others
  4. Numbing it

1. Shifting Blame

We can’t learn from our mistakes and grow if we are not willing to accept responsibility for them in the first place, but sometimes the shame that comes with facing our failures is so great that we have to find a place to put the blame because we just can’t bear to shoulder it ourselves. In this case, people will point the finger at someone or something else and insist that the blame belongs there. In other cases, people deflect the situation all together.

Have you ever confronted someone about something they said or did that hurt you and had them respond with something like this: “Well, you do that to me all the time!” That’s deflecting. They can’t bear to look at how their words or actions may have hurt someone else, so they counterstrike with their own accusations.

2. Becoming Perfectionists

Some people are not willing to make the kind of mistakes it takes to really learn and master something. Instead they demand perfection of themselves (and sometimes others too). Often, these people feel like they can’t or are not willing to do the work of problem solving their mistakes because they can’t face the fact that there was a mistake in the first place. They feel defined by their actions, so every failure means they are a failure, and that’s more than their hearts can bear. So instead, they just try to be perfect. As you can guess, that doesn’t typically work out too well.

3. Pretending their actions don’t affect others

A major part of learning to face our mistakes and growing from them is recognizing how our behavior affects other people. We love the analogy that Danny Silk uses in his exceptional book A Culture of Honor: Sustaining a Supernatural Environment. He says that mistakes, bad choices, and failures are a lot like spilled paint. If you were to walk into a room and spill a big bucket of paint, it would splash on whomever and whatever was nearby. That’s how it is with our mistakes. Our bad choices don’t usually affect just us. Often they hurt innocent bystanders too.

But when shame rears up, it can cause people (and organizations and corporations) to react with ignorance. They ignore the ripple effect they caused and pretend that their actions don’t have an impact on others. Just think about the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and how the corporations involved turned a blind eye to many, many people, animals, businesses, and natural resources that were affected.

4. Numbing it

If shame becomes too big for a person to handle, they may try to numb it. Brene Brown points out a few ways people tend to do that:

  • Drinking or doing drugs
  • Being promiscuous
  • Thrill seeking
  • Shopping
  • Gambling
  • Obsessing over their image

Any of these or other numbing activities will take away a person’s power, and remember, that’s what this is really all about. In order for our kids to BECOME their best selves, they need power to fully participate in the kind of discussion and critical thinking that will help them understand their mistakes and learn to fix them.

That’s the bottom line in all of this! Our kids need POWER so they can fully participate in

  • the discussion and
  • the critical thinking.

The discussion and the critical thinking make up the very process that will help them...

  • understand their mistakes and
  • learn and grow from them.

A person’s greatest power lives inside their Inner Genius.

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