"The concept of Dharma speaks to the essential function or natural order of things. It is a concept imbued with a sense of moral duty. Commitment. Balance. Continuity. Looked at through this frame, I cannot help but see the Barakat’s choice as an inspiring entry into the Dharma of family life. "
by Andrew Groeschel, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
Supervised by Stuart Sovatsky MFT #19173
Whether one is trained as a life coach, a social worker or a marriage family therapist, a common skill applied across the helping professions is that of the “reframe.” Reframing is the process whereby space is opened to reinterpret a challenging, problematic situation in a different, more redemptive light. The aim of reframing is to shift the meaning of situations so as to influence behaviors that reinforce the new interpretation.
Maybe a family seeks help to “solve” their child’s “problem” behavior. A therapist can gently and incrementally reframe that problem as a longing for connection or a cry for help from the child. In turn, the parents can shift their relationship to what they previously pictured as a discrete problem to seeing a situation in which they actively partner with their child. Likewise, the therapist can invite the child to reframe her perception of an overbearing parental gaze to a felt sense of admiration toward her parents’ genuine caring and love. Collectively they can co-create a more whole and enriching family existence. A different set of possibilities can be imagined. A new life can be experienced by entering the altered space of the “reframe.”
A particular challenge of reframing is the degree to which we direct our lens toward the macro issues we face as cultures and societies while simultaneously navigating the micro impact of these broader issues directly in the lives of our clients and ourselves. This telescoping from the wide lens of a panoramic view to the granular sharpness of an up close portrait compels us to dance across disciplines from counseling psychology to sociology; from history to neuroscience. It calls us to sit with the spiritual qualities of life’s living mystery. It pushes us to attune to our client’s hopes and aspirations while also tuning into the news and media landscape, and the constant proliferation of popular culture – the ever shifting sea of information in which we all swim.
What does all this have to do with Dharma and chicken sandwiches? As an Oakland resident, I enjoy the chicken sandwiches served by local institution, BakeSale Betty. In my work, I am always looking for stories that can inspire and deepen connection between the couples and families I see and by extension the communities which we share. These two worlds intersected when I recently read an article about Bakesale Betty published by Theresa Adams on northoakland.net. I was struck by the opportunity her story and the reader comments that followed presented to reframe a contentious situation.
Since starting in 2002, owner Alison “Betty” Barakat and her husband have run Bakesale Betty. In the process they have made it a lunchtime hotspot. Zagats. Yelp. The Huffington Post. MSNBC. San Francisco Chronicle. Their coverage has added to the lore of Bakesale Betty. So explosive was the popularity of the Barakat’s Temescal District storefront that in 2010, they opened a second location in the burgeoning food oasis of Uptown Oakland. The crowds came unabated. Then, almost abruptly, the Uptown location shuttered. For months I wondered why. Had taxes or rent forced them to close? Business was obviously good given the endless lines. It made no sense, until I stumbled across the northoakland.net article.
It seems that “growing the business” had overwhelmed their ability to care for their family. As Betty stated in her interview with Adams, “We are not the same people we were when we opened the first shop...It’s not always about sales or money. It’s about quality of life. We have three kids and we are not going to be young for long and we will never get these years back.” Being here now for her family, for a lifetime took precedence over increasing her business bottom-line.
What followed in the article’s comment section was a wave of voices criticizing Barakat’s “sentimental” choice of family over hiring “a freaking manager.” One commenter even labeled her “borderline sociopathic” for making people wait in line so she can spend more time with her family. Another seemed peeved at the Barakat family’s “audacity” to spend more time with their children while “99.9% of other business owners (and other working parents) cannot afford that luxury.” I was struck.
How might we reframe the sentiments that would ding a business owner for entering more fully into the truly profound community-building project of lifelong family? The word Dharma percolated in me as I read the article.
The concept of Dharma speaks to the essential function or natural order of things. It is a concept imbued with a sense of moral duty. Commitment. Balance. Continuity. Looked at through this frame, I cannot help but see the Barakat’s choice as an inspiring entry into the Dharma of family life. Research tells us that stable families enable children to thrive. Stable families shore up communities and make us all safer, happier, and more productive. Could we then reframe their choice to “downsize” their business as, in fact, a profound long-term investment in the “growth” of their community? What wonderful “bake sales” might their children contribute to our collective welfare as they grow older?
If we enter into this reframe, we can begin to see waiting in the long line at Bake Sale Betty’s as a meditation on family life and the spirituality of home building that is good for us all. Like baking it takes time. Betty is raising a family so that her young children may be more equipped to bake their own contribution to our collective future. By cutting back on business growth might Bakesale Betty actually be deepening the collective web of our community – Being here now for a life time - as it were? Rather than begrudge her we can draw inspiration from Betty’s choice. Unfortunately, it is a choice that not many have the luxury to make. This is true.
The couples, families, and individuals I see face the sometimes harrowing challenges of this reality daily. But what is out of balance? Is it Bakesale Betty's “poor” business and “management” sense? Is it our insistence on “immediate returns on investment” – I want my chicken sandwich now!? Is it Betty’s “sentimental” focus on family… Or is it our culture’s slow drift toward limiting to a select few the choice that she was able to make?
Might such a reframe of Betty’s admirable bakesale adventures in family life ever so slightly restore a sense of balance thrown off kilter in our increasingly fragmented zeitgeist? I believe so. Just as a photojournalist can, with a supple twist of his wrist, adjust a camera lens to create a vastly different picture frame, so too can we all, with practice, artistically reframe our life situations. Being here now for a lifetime. One frame at a time. One chicken sandwich at a time. One stable family at a time.
Andrew Groeschel, MFT Intern (Supervised by Stuart Sovatsky MFT #19173) currently has an office in Oakland where he applies his uniquely strength based, aspiration focused, and spiritually nourishing approach to counseling with couples, families, and individuals. You can read more about him here and he can be contacted by phone (510.606.9981) or by e-mail (email@example.com).