Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Michael A. Brown, author of What I Tell Myself FIRST: Children's Real-World Affirmations of Self Esteem.
FQ: What was the impetus for writing What I Tell Myself FIRST? Why this book/this topic?
BROWN: I am not an author by trade. I became one by trauma. I am the product of child abuse. The reasons? I still couldn’t tell you what I had done to earn physical chastisement. Usually, children remember some of the things they did to earn punishment. I don’t. I then began to hate my mother. I never understood, as most children don’t, why a mother who is supposed to be your guardian would physically chastise me like she did. I then began to run away into the arms of my grandmother.
Growing up, I would move between my mother’s and grandmother’s homes from time to time. In both homes, my brother, sister, uncle, and I went to various churches. As time passed, my mother inherited property as a result of my great-grandmother’s death. My mother appeared to have been fascinated with the church, as is the tradition among African Americans to have either been born into Christianity and attend church or seek Christianity, its assistance, and fellowship in a time of need. A building plan was finalized and donations were being solicited from the church members to erect it.
My mother, believing bigger giving equaled bigger and faster lottery-like blessings, refinanced her inherited property, being our residence. She then donated over 85% (approximately $30,000) of the finances from the loan to the church. The building would never be built. Her donation and neglect of the duties for which the funds were acquired resulted in foreclosure of the property and us being in a homeless state, with mother never to question the disposition of the donation or demand its return. Why did a mother with children do such a thing? The need for assistance and association in time of need, I would later learn, is the doorway by which some self-proclaimed pastors capitalize on those in said state to acquire, among other things, monetary donations while delivering spiritual stimulation as the payback. Mother gave all selflessly for the promise of earthly riches that would never come. She passed in 2018.
Fast-forwarding to late 2019, I was helping an anger management client with issues related to her anger. In doing so, I learned that a great percentage of anger happens when childhood voids, created by broken parents, are imparted in children thereby continuing to reside in now-anatomically/statutorily mature adults. These voids are the motivations for the often ill-prepared or toxic choices we make as adults. This would be the revelation I would learn in the wake of mother’s passing: those who seek to use you will spot your voids and capitalize on them for their own gain. I then could not continue to hate my mother for the pain she caused, for I now knew the motivation which influenced her choices. She was broken. As a result, I became broken. I then loved her again. I understood her. I then set out to find solutions to change what parents don’t do and what children don’t know: how to address the real world and prepare for the inevitable to achieve self-actualization. I always heard of affirmations. Plenty of books have them, usually filled with “I am” this and that. But they leave out the real-world attacks that parents know are coming. They hide the truth from our children.
FQ: You’re obviously a very devoted father (a quick look at your website makes that very obvious). Were you/are you worried about what your children were being exposed to in the “real world”?
BROWN: Worried is the reason I am undertaking this task, not just for my children, but for the world’s children with whom my children may contact. When we try to save face to our children, they often repeat what they see us do. In an attempt to remain their friend, some, if not most, parents do not discipline (mentally) their children, for their children are their security blanket to fill the Security and Love/Belonging stages of Maslow. Exposing our past mistakes and our motives, along with verbalizing and applying the principles taught in What I Tell Myself FIRST will assist in saving our children from a past.
FQ: You have done school readings of your book and judging by the pictures, the kids are really enthused about your book/your energy. How fun is it to share your message with schoolchildren?
BROWN: Where do I begin? Absolutely fun and sad with different locations. I am and will likely be overjoyed with well over 97% of the places I have and will have visited. The children's curiosity is great for, according to Arnold Edinborough, "Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly." One should be noble in their quest for knowledge. I am a rather animated teacher. So, we are all having fun when I present. I love reaching their hearts and minds. Some of them bring me to tears, happily. Their responses and truth are so refreshing. This is actually therapeutic for me. However, you can actually tell the children who are suffering from pain at home. They don’t participate. No poker faces. They don’t believe what is being said. Children have yet to develop filters. It is rather easy to see their non-participation as a likely indicator. It is furthermore sad to say that some daycares are NOT teaching the children anything. They are just babysitters being taught by televisions. In some, the discipline is lacking for story time.
FQ: You base your book on “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Would you tell our readers a bit about Maslow and his beliefs?
BROWN: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory of motivation created by psychologist Abraham Maslow that itemizes the needs that we, as humans, need in order to self-actualize into our best self. There are five levels. Physiological (Breathing, Food, Water, Excretion, Homeostasis, Procreative Sex), Safety (of Body, of Resources, of Money, of Family, of Employment), Love/Belonging (Family, Friendship, Sexual Intimacy), Esteem (Confidence, Respect for Self/Others), and Self-Actualization (Creativity, Lack of Prejudice, Acceptance of Facts, Morality, Spontaneity). The principal theory is diagrammed in a pyramid with the most important needs (Physiological) being placed at the bottom. If the need is not met, we become fixed at that need until the need is met. This fixation in the stage of need creates the motivation for fulfillment. The duration of the void and the importance of fulfillment becomes the exigency toward the void that either the void or we, because of the void, create. How we fulfill that void depends on how we have learned to care for oneself. Thus, the toxic decision-making is the result of never having been taught to positively survive and deal with negativity. Toxic decisions are then made for the actor is likely unaware that the decision is in fact toxic.
FQ: Lots of children’s books focus on building self-esteem but I don’t see many that also teach self-reliance and self-responsibility. Indeed, in today’s culture, it seems to be the “in thing” to blame others for your problems. What would you tell people who blame their parents, teachers, strangers, etc. for their problems?
BROWN: I understand the subjective necessity to blame others. It’s a defense mechanism and a deflection. I’m not easily moved by it. Getting tied down with debating the blame-shift take time that is precious and can’t be returned. I move past it and urge they do the same. I’m a military veteran. I was also in high school Army JROTC. I didn’t tolerate excuses as a teen commander of cadets. If they want to get out of the mess they are in, they will show me by action and a willingness to commit to the principles of self-esteem establishment. Everything in one’s life rises and falls on the leader’s leadership, especially of the self. As leadership guru, John C. Maxwell says, “...lead yourself exceptionally well.” Leadership by action. I usually have them point the finger outward toward the thing to be blamed. Then, have then focus on the three fingers curled inward toward the pointer. Then, I ask them to give me three solutions to their own problems.
FQ: In your book, you tell readers that “It is NO ONE’S job to Make Me/Heal Me/Protect Me from anything. That is my job.” I love this message but I suspect some people (those of the blame others culture) might disapprove. Have you gotten any pushback from such people? If so, what do you tell them?
BROWN: Funny that I answer this question in the wake of my Kirkus Review (Dec. 2019) of What I Tell Myself FIRST that actually said “... some of its statements are questionable, such as “It is NO ONE’s job to ‘Protect Me’ from anything. That is my job.” Many would say that adults should, for example, respond to bullying.” Talk about pushback, right? Nevertheless, it is evermore imperative that readers understand, and most such as yourself do, that I am not negating parental responsibility to address bullying.
But, to that pushback, which I not too often get, I would dispatch the often-deflective pushback with the question, “If parents had been addressing the issue, what became the need to make October National Bullying Prevention Month in 2006 and as such, extended in 2010?” They usually have no answer. The lack of prevention is the impetus. Bullying is the likely result of children shadowing their pain through various outwardly-displayed verbal, psychological, and physical methods toward targeted persons displaying outward defensive weaknesses.
The bully, like the bullied, is likely suffering some similar or worse problems at the mecca: the home. Broken parents are more likely too busy operating in reverse working to create the finances they should have had prior to child acquisition, likened to hiring employees without funds for payroll. Doing this while continuously residing in the void that spawned their current status, they haven't the time to teach their offspring/employees/children how to protect themselves. The parent often can't protect themselves or stay away from that which is harming them because of the void. One way to break away is for the parent to eliminate excuses and begin empowering their children to do for self early on by reading to them What I Tell Myself FIRST daily. Its real-world affirmations highlight the various abilities and attributes of the reader while exposing readers to realistic possibilities of rejection of difference in various forms. What I Tell Myself FIRST enables readers to form mental frameworks to surmount those forms of rejection and achieve positive self-actualization.
FQ: You’ve served in the military and as a police officer (thank you for your service!). How has your time in these professions changed how you view what’s going on in today’s world?
BROWN: I greatly thank you for your compliments and support of the forces which guard our freedom and way of life. The lack of discipline is present in our nation. I have seen a lot of ugly in both professions. Conflict and the worst of the worst are what we are trained to address. I miss the pledge of allegiance. I miss when being American was cool and it has changed how we approach the future. We’ve let the kids take the house in the names of varying agendas.
FQ: As a police officer, did you see kids get into trouble where self-esteem was a definite issue/cause of their problems?
BROWN: Yes. Kids with behavioral and self-esteem issues can typically be the display of the pain embedded into them by their broken parents, knowingly and unknowingly, who either hide the truth of the reason for the child’s existence (saving a failing relationship, monetary reasons, seeking a Maslowean friend/security blanket, etc.). The lack of self-esteem is the result. The behavior is the display. The cause is typically the parent. I am a detective by training and profession. When I dig, I usually discover that.
FQ: You mention in your note at the end of the book that you’ve learned a great many lessons throughout your life and your various careers. Is there a lesson that you couldn’t fit into the book that you’d like to share with our readers now?
BROWN: Sure. Parents, don’t lie to your child. Parents who do this are concerned with how they look in the eyes of their child. The lying parent sees the child as their friend, not their child. You can’t protect your child from a void you haven’t protected yourself from. Your experience is the master class. You are the master teacher. Expose your past to save them from a past and yourself from a future occurrence. Ask any doctor. There must be some infliction of pain in medical operations to cause healing. Not every pain can be numbed. Even numbed, when you wake up in recovery, you will feel it. Pain precedes most healings and recoveries. What you reveal may hurt your children. But the lessons you will have taught them from the revelation, likened to the rung bell that can be un-rang, will be etched in their mind when you are no longer around and that lesson appears at their feet. They can’t dodge the bullet you neither told them was coming, nor bulletproofed their mind towards repellency and rebounding.
FQ: With the success of your first book, have you decided to undertake another writing project? If so, would you give our readers a peek at what you’re working on/will be working on in the near future?
BROWN: Oh, yes. What I Tell Myself is a series. FIRST is the foundation upon which the other books will be written. I will keep expounding on Maslow, for educators know all too well, “In teaching, you can’t do the Bloom (Bloom’s Taxonomy) stuff until they do the Maslow stuff.” - Alan E. Beck. Individual characters have names and adventures that will be Maslow-focused. I have already penned two books currently in editing and illustration. The titles are What I Tell Myself: About Self-Protection and What I Tell Myself: About Talent.
What I Tell Myself: About Self-Protection gives children various options for protecting themselves. It is powerful. I read it and feel empowered! I raise my children not to be victims. I want my readers, both parent and child(ren), to avoid victimization. I like active books that give solutions. I want my books to be roadmaps for action. In life, actions get things going. Let’s cry silently along the way. But, get off the “X”. I guess that is the military/police officer in me.
What I Tell Myself: About Talent explores the inquisitive mind of a child who wants to be everything and anything at the same time. Keeping with the page in What I Tell Myself FIRST, “I am great at some things...” a child told me he didn’t know what he liked to do. Lightbulb. Stay tuned.