"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
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
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
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.
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).
Labels: Andrew Groeschel, Bakesale Betty, Dharma, family life, Reframe