Teach a Child to Work, part 2

Childrearing is a topic close to my heart. I have had great success as a classroom manager and caregiver and I have a lot to say about child development, discipline techniques, and family culture. In this post, I am continuing my train of thought from the previous post, which comments on the work ethic in our society. There are many facets to be discussed, but for today I would like to advocate that parents consider paying their children for getting good grades.

This is not something my parents did for me, nor was it ever a topic of discussion. School came easily to me and I continue to work hard for its own sake. It is only in thinking on this topic in the larger context of our culture that I see the value in this idea.

I fully believe children need to work hard and take responsibility simply because they are a part of society. These values can best be taught at home in contributing to the family home and caring for his or her own room. No adult gets paid for doing chores, but is instead required to care for his or her own space for health and practical reasons. In the same way, children can certainly clean their room, do the dishes, and help with various chores in order to learn to do work for the sake of work and maintenance.

However, when a person becomes an adult and takes on a job or profession, that person is rewarded for his or her efforts. You do the work, you get a check. A person of strong character takes pride in their work and chooses to show his or her own character by performing well, regardless of the recognition. In an ideal world, that performance is recognized and rewarded. Holding or doing a job is for the sake of a result – serving a company, furthering one’s own career, and earning a paycheck.

As a child, the counterpart of this is going to school. Yes, it is necessary and required to go to school, but holding a job is usually necessary and required as well. Earning an education and working for grades is excellent for personal development, but is generally intended to eventually help a child be interpersonally and financially successful in life. Good grades lead to good college, good college leads to good job, good job leads to financial security. Alternately, learning certain skills (such as a trade) and applying those skills comes to the same end of making a living. So doesn’t it make sense to begin instilling this understanding at a young age? If a person does good work and pushes him or herself, this usually results in greater responsibility and reward. Therefore, if a child shows dedication to school, exerts effort in study and projects, and ultimately gets good grades, it makes sense that child can learn to view their schoolwork as their profession and earn a paycheck, just as they will be doing for the rest of their lives.

Conversely, if a person simply shows up and does minimal work, they get the minimally required compensation and might possibly lose their job and references, thus damaging their ability to earn a living and have the things they want and need. Therefore, if a child simply goes to school – or sometimes chooses not to go – and does the minimal work, it makes sense the child earns the consequences of this behavior. These consequences might include more child-friendly results, such as grounding or other consequences, but practically could also include withholding less necessary novelties, such as gaming systems, name brand clothing, snacks, new items (as opposed to used) and other items that a person with a lower income would not be able to afford. The intention of this view isn’t to inflict punishment, but to instill an understanding of how life works. It should also teach the child to recognize what is necessary for life (a place to live, clothes to wear, healthy food to eat, the ability to get where you need to be, paying bills) and what things are novelties that a person only gets if they have succeeded in providing the necessities (a night out at the movies, the latest fashion, chips and candy, and various entertainment). Many financial experts also have things to say about how to teach a child to manage money, such as giving some and saving some, which are also valuable skills.

My point here is not to make a child’s life militant or all about the grades. Even as adults we need to find a work-life balance. In my own life, I am blessed to be in a place where I have minimal expenses so I only need minimal pay. This is allowing me to be available to care for and homeschool my nephew, while also teaching some dear friends. I am very busy and put in the work, but the majority of my effort is not paid. It is something I do because I love it and I see the value in the work, apart from the money. I am also protecting Saturday as my one day per week that I do not go anywhere. I currently work six days per week and I know that I need to have some alone time to preserve my ability to be kind and have a good attitude at work. Career is not a priority for me, unless you count my passion as a teacher, which I am doing mostly for free these days. Work-life balance is very important and I adamantly do not want my life to be spent on the job. Likewise, children should be given the majority of their time to play and they should be able to create memories in safe and positive ways. Parents are available to carry most of the burden in childhood, and I fully believe in letting kids be kids.

Yet they won’t always be. As children grow and move closer to adulthood, it seems wise to instill practical skills that will help them in their futures as they make the transition between childhood and adulthood. Rather than letting them live a free-for-all life as a child and then throwing them into a world where they don’t know how to care for themselves, be responsible, manage their money, and improve their status, we can give them the principles along the way to help them as they grow and which they will eventually be able to teach to their own children. This is how we will help our society maintain strong and responsible values.

My Own Fault

This morning I had a doctor appointment for a routine physical, but when I got there, the receptionist asked me to reschedule.

Of course I was upset. I took the day off for this. I got up early, skipped breakfast, and shaved my legs! I made this appointment a month ago, knowing that my first appointment was going to be an introduction and I would be asked to come back for the physical, so I had scheduled them both at the same time to prevent having to wait. Now I would have to wait a whole extra month to get this done. I was irritated for the rest of the day!

The thing is that I know it was my own fault. I thought the appointment was at 11am, when it was actually at 10am. When I showed up at 10:40, they had already marked me a ‘no show’ and moved on to the next person in the crowded waiting room.

I could have whined and gotten angry. I certainly felt like it. I could have begged to be squeezed in, causing the staff to fall behind schedule and resent me. Instead I took my new appointment card and walked away.

This reschedule was a consequence of my irresponsibility. I should have answered my phone when they called for a reminder. I should have listened to my voice mail. Because I don’t like talking on the phone, I usually ignore calls that come in, unless I know I want to talk to the person. I avoided voice mail because I was lazy or I figured it was a telemarketer or I thought it might be work calling me in. I did wonder later why I didn’t hear a reminder call. When I checked the appointment I had entered into my outlook calendar, I saw I hadn’t put in the time, so I assumed it was at 11. I should have realized that the 11 stuck in my head was the date, not the time. Because my head likes patterns, if I had thought about the appointment being on the 11th at 11, I would have realized that two 11s didn’t seem right. Ten am on the 11th sounds more correct.

I have been on the opposite end of situations like this. I have been an office worker dealing with people who didn’t take responsibility for themselves. More recently, I regularly deal with people who don’t read signs and coupon print and then want a discounted price. If I had thrown a fit and demanded what I wanted, it would have been selfish, childish and unfair. It may not have been possible in the first place but it would at least have been unpleasant for everyone involved and probably many people behind me.

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes it’s possible to have it fixed, in which case we should be very very grateful to the person who helps us out. It’s not fair for them to do that. What is “fair” is for us to fall into the order of things and get what we earn. Today I earned a reschedule because I should have kept better track of my responsibility. This appointment was for my own benefit in the first place and was a service to me by the office. My failure to show up was a waste of their time. Why should they further inconvenience themselves just because I don’t want to come back in a month?

So I am taking deep breaths and sucking it up. My emotional disorder causes this to be an even bigger disappointment to me than it should be, but at least my head knows that I have no one to blame but myself.  I choose to take this as a learning opportunity. Write down appointment details. Answer the phone. Check your voice mail. Read the fine print. Take responsibility to for own mistakes. And be grateful for people who give you a help out.

Teach a Child to Work, part 1

Life is about work. Life is about attitude. Both things come easier to some than others, but most successful individuals – regardless of how they define success – will confirm that you get out what you put in and hard work is rewarded.

Unfortunately our culture has forgotten this. As a preschool teacher, I am right in the middle of the liberal culture which is destroying these values. While there are children in the world who are required to walk miles just to get enough water to make it through the day, the children in the United States are given awards for having their name on a roster, and the adults they become are given allowances to buy candy and soda. This is not the way life is meant to work. Even if handouts are available, someone still has to foot the bill for them. Consolation trophies are paid for by organizations or coaches, food stamps are paid for by working citizens, free school lunches are paid for by the school district… which is paid for by working citizens. Nothing is free and what is fair is for each person to be responsible for themselves, and then to be generous to others.

I recently met a couple who is expecting their first baby. They had just come from a parenting class, offered free through a liberal community college in my area. This couple told me that the instructor discouraged the use of consequences for young children. They actually said something to the effect of “Adults live in a world of action and consequence, but young children don’t understand this”. This parenting class advocated that parents work on reasoning with their young children and save consequences for when the child is closer to eight or nine and is able to understand how their consequences relate to their actions.

There are not enough words or punctuation in the English language for me to communicate how absurd this is! Young children cannot understand reasoning. They don’t even speak English! What they do understand is experience and one of the first lessons a child learns is cause and effect, beginning with learning that they get what they want by crying, to watching a block tower fall over when kicked, to experiencing the results of their behavior.

A child’s personality will determine the way they naturally react to situations, how they approach life, their natural work ethic, and their temperament. While no one can change who a person is, a parent’s job is to work with a child’s personality to shape their character. As a matter of fact, studies show that a child’s personality is often established by age three. If a child is not taught to obey and submit himself as one small part of a larger society, there comes a point where it is too late. Certainly age eight or nine is way past that point.

I am now seeing the results of these thoughts on childrearing. Commonly referred to as “millenials”, the first generations of these softly-raised children are entering the workforce. Due to economic fluctuations, as many as five generations worth of workers are working alongside each other in the same workplace. Childcare is a prime example of these types of workplaces. While the grandmotherly-type is cuddling the babies in the infant room, high school students are popping in after school to play with the “cuties” in the toddler room. The differences in work ethic are palpable. In general, the older or more conservatively raised teachers are dedicated to their students, take ownership of their classrooms, have great attitudes about their responsibilities, and are faithful to a fault. In contrast, many of the younger or more liberal teachers (including those who are raising their own children in the same soft manner as we are discussing here) do minimal work, have excessive absences, complain about their responsibilities, and expect a pay raise after sorry performance. As our culture continues to embrace these attitudes, all areas are suffering, including increased crime; poor care of possessions; lack of motivation to further education and career resulting in fewer professionals, artists, scientists, and mathematicians; lack of standards and values; and overall reduced quality of life.

Hard work and responsibility need to be foundational in a child’s life in order to set them up for future success. As a preschool teacher, I have come to realize that the most valuable lessons I teach my young students are not about letters and numbers. These are foundational concepts that I certainly introduce, however, young children under the age of five or six are not always at a place of understanding how these concepts work. What they do learn from preschool is being part of a social setting. They are learning to work together, to follow social conventions, and to accept group learning. These are all forms of discipline which will feed into their continued success in school, from attending to and obeying what their teachers say, to understanding that a group lesson is meant for them personally, to developing strategies to be successful learning what they (as an individual) need help with.

Childrearing is a topic close to my heart. I have had great success as a classroom manager and caregiver and I have a lot to say about child development, discipline techniques, and family culture. However, one suggestion arose as I was thinking through this post. I would like to advocated that parents consider paying their children for getting good grades.

For the sake of keeping this post to a readable length, I will expand on this in my next installation.

 

Sin is Not just What We Do

This webpage is really fun and helpful!

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/4TFopp//localingual.com/?ISO=DZ%3Fref_src%3Dfb

It also feeds into something I have been thinking about lately. What is sin?

The way we usually think of sin is that it is doing something that is bad. It is a word that makes people bristle. How dare you tell me I am wrong? How dare you claim I am going to hell for this thing or that thing? How dare you claim I can’t do what I want?

Of course, certain acts are sinful. Almost everyone would agree that murder is heinous and wrong and deserving of punishment. There are other acts that God says are sinful that our world doesn’t want to accept, from saying a bad word to having sex outside of marriage. But sin isn’t only something people do. Sin is a state of being. It is anything that is contrary to who God is, how He intended the world to be and what He wants for us.

The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. This means that we just don’t get it right. The Bible also says “all our righteousness are as filthy rags”. This means that even when we are doing our best it isn’t quite right. Jesus said to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We know we aren’t perfect. We can’t. This is what it means to be a sinner. We fall short of God’s perfection. Sometimes this means we did something wrong and need to make amends/atone/apologize/receive consequences for our behavior, and sometimes it means that we don’t quite measure up, not because we did anything in particular. It’s our human nature; imperfection. The standard is God. That we are not able to meet His standards of Good and Best is what it is to be a sinner.

Sin can be an act, like murder or theft. But truthfully, sin is a force. It affects everyone and everything. Every imperfection and complication in our world is a result of sin. The Bible says even Creation groans under the weight of sin. This doesn’t mean that trees are sinners, but they are imperfect. They feel the result and consequences of the force of sin being in the world. The earth is not as God intended. Damage and disease ravage plants, animals, people. It is not a sin to have a disease, but it is a result of sin. Most likely not the result of individual sin (it might be possible the act of not caring for your body might cause cancer), but most likely it’s just a consequence of genetic or environmental imperfection – the presence of the force of sin.

This is not to minimize our responsibility. There are so many facets to this. We are “grandfathered” into sin because Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. That is where we got our sin nature and how the earth and genetics, etc were affected. This is sin nature. This is why babies are born sinners. However, we are personally guilty because we often know the right thing and choose not to do it. I, for one, literally have discussions with myself and often conclude “aw, screw it” and do the wrong thing on purpose. Also, we are affected by other people’s sin and suffer those consequences, such as losing a loved one to someone’s sin of murder, or suffering an STI due to a spouse’s sin of adultery. We also choose to accept other people’s sin and allow our culture to be changed to “tolerate” sin. Though sin is a force, we still make it worse and often on purpose. We are guilty. The point here is that we are powerless to stop it.

As it relates to this webpage, languages are a result of sin. LANGUAGES ARE NOT SIN. They are beautiful and are useful for communication, finding a job, and worshipping God in specific terms. However, languages originated at the Tower of Babel. People were trying to build a tower that would reach heaven, with the intention of becoming equal with God. The attitude of trying to become God instead of submitting to God was an act of sin. As a punishment, God caused all those people to speak different languages so they couldn’t talk to each other and come up with anymore sinful ideas together. Since they couldn’t communicate, those people went separate ways and divided into the various languages and cultures we now have. If sin was not part of our world, and if this specific sin had not been committed, it is logical to say we would not have multiple languages. God never intended for us to be separated from each other. Because we are, despite languages being beautiful, they cause all kinds of complications, mainly confusion and prejudice. This is a prime example of how sin has affected our world.

My point here is this: it is essential for us to understand how sin has changed our world. The word sin does not always mean “you are bad and YOU SHALL BURN”! It does mean that God wanted better for us and it got screwed up. Furthermore, we continue to make it worse by not understanding how things really work around here, or just plain refusing to realize that there is a design. We don’t get to make up the rules. We don’t even get to “figure out” or “feel” the rules. God made the rules and He tells us what they are.

The amazing thing is that, instead of God saying, “Damn you all to hell!” He took it upon Himself to send His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to make amends for all that imperfection. We can’t do it. We try to do the right thing and we fail. Or worse, we make up our own “right thing”. God’s grace gives us hope that things will be set right one day. When that happens there will be no more disease, heartbreak, imperfection, prejudice, pain, frustration, and even weeds in the flower bed! There might actually not be multiple languages, either, or, at least, we’ll all understand all of them because we will no longer be divided.

As you explore this webpage, I do hope you enjoy it and learn from it. It is interesting and beautiful. But let that cause you to be grateful to God because He made beauty from the confusion of languages, which actually are contrary to how God wanted things to be for us. That’s what God does. He is just and has to guide us, which sometimes means consequences, even punishment. But He weaves those things into great beauty and He takes it upon Himself to turn it around. He is just but He is good. Remembering that will give you a whole new perspective on everything.

Book Review: The One and Only by Emily Giffin

The One and Only.jpg(Contains spoilers)

From GoodreadsThirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.


Emily Giffin is one of the few authors I look for. I loved this book. I listened to it on audio and kept itching to drive my car so I could hear more! I was so surprised when nearly all book reviews I read after the fact were negative, saying the story was creepy and the characters needed more definition. The expectations I had raised by the book description were different than reality, as the story really centers around Shea developing romantic feelings for her best friend’s father (her own father figure), Coach Carr.

I’m not a sports fan but I felt Shea’s love of football gave her definition. I find myself relying on my own view of the world to interpret the rest of the world, so it makes sense that Shea does the same. Her entire life is wrapped up in football: friends, job, social life, boyfriend, etc. That is the world she lives in. I have very little capacity for understanding football, but I didn’t feel that hindered my reading. There was enough description that I could follow the sporty scenes. I feel Shea receives dimension in the way she relates the personalities of the people around her: her mother as an imitator, Lucy as a fiery fashionista, Miller as a slacker, Coach Carr who can do no wrong. I can relate to struggling to see the world through other lenses. A large part of who we are is how we view other people.

Maybe if Shea had been younger, the romantic relationship between her and Coach would have felt creepy to me. Instead, I saw this as an example of how we transition into adulthood. I still have a hard time seeing myself as an adult sometimes and calling my parent’s friends by their first names, but I am in my 30s now, like Shea is. I am raising children, I’m a consumer, an employer, and I represent the driving forces in our world. I’m not even up and coming anymore. I see now that even though a person’s skin gets looser or their knees hurt, or even if they have grown children, they can still feel like a young person inside, experiencing romance and infatuation, feeling hope for a new future. As I am experiencing my 30s, I’m looking back at what my parents dealt with in their 30s and realizing that, though all my faith was in them to protect me through some hard stuff, they were young people struggling to hold it together. Coach is just a man with some life behind him. It’s mind blowing to realize that every child we influence will one day become a peer and, if we’re lucky, a friend.

There were lots of times I didn’t like how Shea handled things, like when she provoked her boyfriend, Ryan, during a borderline  domestic violence scene. She was absolutely right to get away from him and not give him any more chances to “change” but I was sure that whole thing was going to lead to Ryan pressing charges against Coach and ruining his whole career. By no means do I blame her for her boyfriend’s temper, but she should not have lied to him, nor should she have hit him as she did. However, I have often stayed too long, talked too much, let my emotions run away, lied to get out of something, etc. It was agonizing thinking, “shut up, get out, just tell him/her!” but realizing the scene was reality. In the long run, Shea actually acted much more wisely than many people who end up on Jerry Springer, or just the local bar!

In another confession, Coach shares that one of Ryan’s former girlfriends came to him 15 years before claiming Ryan abused and raped her and Coach did not report it because, he said, he genuinely did not believe her. He did the wrong thing. I feel the book should have dealt more seriously with the abuse issue or left it all together. I don’t feel the characters were necessarily wrong in the outcome but a big issue like this can’t be tidily swept away. Even so, I don’t feel this destroyed Coach’s character. It seemed he took responsibility for his mistake and tried to do what he could to make it right. We all do wrong things. It takes a big person to admit it. There could still be consequences for what Coach did or didn’t do but I feel his character demonstrates a desire to do the right thing and to not make that mistake again.

Finally, when it came to telling Coach’s daughter, Lucy (Shea’s best friend), about their relationship, I was going to freak if Shea chose Coach over a 33 year friendship. I had one of those that did end and I mourn it every day, sometimes very painfully. For Coach and Shea to have a relationship, there was so much to consider. Age difference does not make it wrong, if both people understand what the consequences are (fertility, mortality, etc). However, I don’t believe that “love conquers all” or whatever. The terms are all muddled to begin with. Real love is choice and commitment. Feelings of romance, attraction, infatuation, etc are real and lovely, but they come and go. Relationships (even just friendships or acquaintanceships) need chemistry to have depth, but when you “don’t feel like it” you still have to be loyal, and that comes from a choice. Coach’s late wife, Connie Carr, apparently made lots of choices to love and support her husband. I’m sure she didn’t always feel like it. Then Coach watched her die. That’s excruciating. That’s love. Love hurts. Love is not the emotional high at the beginning of a relationship. Love is doing the hard thing for the other person. Giving up a lifelong friendship and the relationship with one’s godchildren for the intense feelings of a relationship that has the potential to destroy everything you have ever known is asinine. I was relieved they really did do the right thing. Romance is not everything. You don’t need a relationship to be a fulfilled person. Even a broken heart can be poured out to serve other people. Coach’s comments about how you never know what life will bring were so wise, showing the benefit of his life experience. That might be one great reason TO be in a relationship with someone older. He can enjoy the feelings but temper them with wisdom.

I greatly appreciate that there was nothing immoral about Coach Carr and Shea’s relationship. They did not cheat on anyone, they were considerate of the people around them, they didn’t even have sex in the story, and they respected Lucy’s feelings.

I can see how a relationship like this has all kinds of implications that have to be worked out, but we should all be so lucky to find someone who loves us so unconditionally, who has been part of our messes and accepts us anyway, and who treats us with such tenderness.

I loved this story, just as I have loved all of Emily Giffin’s books and I appreciate a new perspective on romance.

Child Evaluation

2017 Easter - Tulips 186As a preschool teacher, child development fascinates me. As I am currently homeschooling my four-year-old nephew, I love watching him learn and evaluating why he does certain things.

We recently visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival where he enjoyed the huge windmill at Rosengaard garden. He has seen a windmill on Thomas the Tank Engine, but it was generally a new thing for him. He kept asking to go back to see it, but kept calling it a “coldmile”. It took me some tries to figure out what he was saying, and then I started thinking about why he would confuse “windmill” with “coldmile”.

It occurred to me that he likely did not know what a “mill” was. As adults we understand that a mill is something that turns, usually for the purpose of grinding or moving something, as in a pepper mill or a grain mill. He does not know that machine mills move and grind grain, or that a watermill uses a water wheel to produce power. For my nephew, the closest word he could think of was “mile”. Through movies like Cars and through conversations about where things are, mile is a word that sounds like mill but is familiar to him.

Thus, he replaced the word “mill” with another word which is associated by phonetic similarity.

The word “cold” is a weather term included on our preschool weather chart. “Windy” is also on the chart, so he associates those words because he sees them together. He heard the word “cold” nearly every day for the first six months of school, while “windy” only came up a few times. Though “wind” is a familiar word, it is not as familiar to him as “cold”.

Thus, he replaced the word “wind” with another word he associated through the categorical status of “weather terms”.

Windmill –> coldmile.

Amazing how the brain works.

Birthdays are Important

Birthdays are important to our family. They are the one day each person is celebrated exclusively each year. As small people in a big world, it is important to put others first and minimize our own needs and desires whenever possible. When a birthday rolls around, it is fun to be in the spotlight.
Birthdays also provide valuable opportunities for the hosts to show value to the friends in our lives. A child’s birthday is an opportunity for that child to learn to be a gracious host. As adults, my sister and I love making a party a fun and special occasion to share memories with our guests. We always go all out with the theme and make lots of memories, including educational activities for the kids. Both of us have the love language gifts, which is why we love showering our guests with fun trinkets and memories.

My sister and I also each have the receptive love language of quality time. When our friends simply show up, it communicates that our efforts, and as an extension, our personal strengths and contributions, are valued.

Kid parties can be tedious, especially as kids get older and are invited to so many. There are obviously certain priorities that take precedence over a  birthday party, such as illness or keeping prior commitments. Plus, you might need to choose parties for people who are constant in your life as opposed to every single classmate. However, an invitation to a birthday party is an expression that someone wants to share a special event with you. Attending is not just an opportunity to take advantage of whatever the party is offering, it is a way of showing the host that you value that person and want to support something that is important to them.

As you encounter parties in your life, I hope you will learn to look not at the event but at the person. Yes, things come up, but don’t avoid parties because you don’t want to. Definitely do not cancel last minute. If you can’t afford a present, who cares? You are the present because your attendance communicates a care and value so much more valuable than STUFF. Let your time be the present and let your attendance show that the host is important.

Be the Change

I hate small talk. As a cashier at a grocery store, small talk has become a big part of my life and it literally makes me physically ill. How many conversations can you have about the weather? I actually look up conversation topics so I don’t have to have the same conversation 200 times per day.

Even so, it pains me to walk into the staff room and hear coworkers complain about customers. I have heard my coworkers complain about having to make conversation with customers, stating that customers often give too much information. I know everyone needs an outlet and, thankfully, I have seen each of my coworkers do their job well. Working with people is difficult and exhausting, but it is such an amazing opportunity.

Besides, what is wrong with Too Much Information? This is the stuff that gets to the heart of a person. It is about really getting to understand who that person is. Asking real questions – ones that open the door for discomfort and disagreement – are opportunities for you to learn something new, or even just to realize the state of the culture we live in. What do you do when you only have two minutes with a person who just told you their husband is dying and that is why their family is in town? How do you respond to the person who complains about having to wait and then turns out to being the slowest person on the planet?

The exciting part is that you then get to decide who to be. You can be the kind person who listens. You can be the person who responds graciously even if you are insulted. You can silently evaluate the character you are seeing in the person in front of you and decide if you want to be like that or if you want to behave differently. You get to decide to treat that person the way you would like to be treated.

Every conversation is an opportunity to show each person they are worthy of the same kindness and respect as any other person. You get to reflect that a person is worthy of care because they are a valuable human being, regardless of what they have or how they look. You might even get to influence our entire culture by either tactfully correcting poor ideas and behavior, or by demonstrating what our culture should look like. You get to learn from people of all walks of life and then take the information to shape who you are.

Every interaction is an opportunity to be the person you want to be and to be grateful to the person in front of you, regardless of how that opportunity presents itself.

The Holocaust Didn’t Happen In a Day

How often do you look around and ask yourself “How could this happen?” I am often appalled at the place our lives and culture end up and I am flabbergasted that we could allow certain things to happen. However, most of it can be traced back to choices made long ago which led to where we are.

Through a chain of events, I have taken an interest in learning about Dr. Josef Mengele of the Auschwitz concentration camps during the Holocaust. This German-born man became fascinated with the idea of developing a supreme race of blond-haired, blue-eyed Germans, and set about performing genetic tests to discover the secret of racial perfection. His subjects of choice were Jewish twins, who he plucked from the crowds at Auschwitz as their families marched to the gas chambers and crematoriums, believing twins held the secret to understanding genetic mutations.children-of-the-flames

I received a book for Christmas telling the stories of several of the twins who survived these experiments. As I see certain aspects of my world imploding – for example the division over our current president, culture shifts regarding gender, behavior of children, etc – I want to know how to fix them. Perhaps the Holocaust seems like an extreme example of problems plaguing our world, but this book made me realize how any trend – good or bad, mild or extreme – gets started. There are many principles to be pulled out of a story like Josef Mengele’s and the Nazi party in general.

First, any change begins with an idea. In this book, Lucette Matalon Lagnado states “His [Mengele’s] apprenticeship as a mass murderer formally began not on the selection lines of the concentration camp but in the classrooms of the University of Munich” (1991, p42).

In Mengele’s case, his murderous behavior started with Nazi ideals that were based in the theory of evolution. Adolph Hitler was gaining popularity in the late 1920s, when Mengele was a teenager, and nearly all academic subjects at that time were beginning to lean toward the racial superiority values of the Nazi party. By the time Mengele entered college in 1930, he had already been groomed through the Grossdeutscher Jugendbund (Greater Germany Youth Movement), a youth club popular throughout Germany.  Langado states,

 “The messianic quality of social Darwinism seems to have appealed to the young Mengele. His writings suggest that he was especially struck by their use of the phrase ‘the fate of mankind’. From his youthful encounter with their distorted ideals, to his old age, a weary and broken exile, Mengele would continue to feel a personal allegiance to the social Darwinists. At the university, the questions of the ‘biological quality of mankind’ may have been esoteric to most of Mengele’s classmates. But for him, it was apparently a clarion call. His account of the period suggests he was deeply upset by the fact that the lower classes were having many children, while those of impeccable genetic stock were too busy even to marry” (p43).

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Trends begin with one person or group publicizing their ideas, and the easiest way to make something take hold is by training children to grab hold of them. Children learn whether or not you know you are teaching them and they see the behaviors we may not even know we are displaying.

Second, a person’s behavior and values are wrapped up in their paradigm. When evaluating a person’s behavior, the issue at hand may not be the real issue.

I made this point recently when responding to a post on a writing forum. The person asked “Is euthanasia good or bad?” People weighed in with their varying opinions, but I told the writer that it all rests on a person’s view of the value of life. For example, most Christians would hold that no one has the right to take any life willingly for any reason (capital punishment being an exception with precident: a topic for another discussion). On the other hand, many people these days believe in evolution, natural selection, Darwinism, etc. in which case, humans are an accidental byproduct and do not have any inherent value or purpose.

Herein lays the paradigm. If life is valuable and belongs to God, then only God has a right to give or take it. If life is an accident and doesn’t matter one way or the other, then euthanasia, abortion, murder, or any host of other things are inconsequential.

In the case of the Nazi party, the references to Darwinism are very telling. The Nazi belief that some races were superior to others does not take into account any inherent value to a human life, genetics aside. The same was true of the slave trade, and any other example of ethnic struggle in history.

As I’m reading this story, I am relating to how Mengele must have thought and felt. He likely felt vindicated in his behavior by seeing Jews as lesser beings, valuable only for research but not for their own sake. Of course I don’t agree with this, but perhaps I can relate to the intensity with which Mengele likely held to his beliefs. Perhaps he should have known better. Or should he have, when he was taught that he was on the right track?

While we could point a finger and say that what Mengele and other Nazi’s did was atrocious, fighting a battle is not the same as fighting the war. The concentration camps were not the real issue. The issue was the core beliefs held by those in charge. Those beliefs trickled down to other soldiers who were converted to those beliefs, and actions were carried out by imprisoned people who complied out of fear. Even further back, the root of all this were principles founded in Darwinism that people are only as valuable as their genetics. And if life is a cosmic accident, who gets to decide how to live it? If there is no value, it doesn’t matter what anyone does.

Third, because of this, there needs to be a concrete set of principles we live by. Without a definitive guideline by which we set our standards, there is no reason we cannot all make up our own rules.

The world is full of social problems and there is no easy answer to any of them. It is simple to say “you should think this” or “you should do this”, but these issues are rooted much deeper than they seem. They speak to ‘who makes the rules’?

That is why it is important for each person to take it upon him or herself to know WHY they believe what they do. I don’t just mean choosing beliefs that make sense to you. I mean choosing beliefs that have a foundation. Who says so? Why do they say that? What support is there for that? Science and religion are both places to start for these answers and, as far as I’m concerned, I can at least respect a person who knows why they believe something, even if I don’t agree with them. However, simply saying ‘That’s how it is’ or ‘you’re wrong’ does not answer any of these questions. We need to do the research and make sure that the things we believe are actually factual.

In so doing, we must realize that life is not about any one person having everything or feeling good or being in power. Marriage is not about one person being comfortable. Business is not about one person having as much as he can get. Life has a bigger purpose than that and the choices people make affect other people.

Conversely, while life is not about one person, one person can make a huge impact on many lives. That is why we must be aware of the logical consequences of the choices we make. The changes that are made to our society are leading us somewhere. Are the tiny steps we make today and the views we hold leading us somewhere beneficial? Or are our choices opening doors to darker places than we are prepared to go? And are we even paying attention?

Lagnado, Lucette Matalon, and Sheila Cohn Dekel, Children of the Flames, Penguin, 1991.

Unsinkable

We all think we are unsinkable in the beginning. Most of us have to learn the hard way that we are not.

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I was 15 when James Cameron’s movie, Titanic, came out. Like the passengers on the ship, I was embarking on a new life. I had just moved to a new town, reluctantly breaking away from everything I had ever known but finding a new identity.  I had freedom to explore my world and I had my first boyfriend, with whom I fashioned a future where I could realize my lifetime dreams of being a lover, mother, advocate, apologist, and strong and graceful woman. As I sat in the theatre soaking in the footage of the wreckage and watching it transform into its former glory, my friends heard me gasp and suck in my breath. The ghost of its majesty and the mystery of its life overwhelmed me. I longed to feel the freedom and adventure Rose Dewitt Bukater finds aboard that ship and, as far as I was concerned, I had found that love. Each time Rose and Jack were separated by rushing water I felt my heart stop. When Jack finally died in the frigid water, I wept.

I found a renewed interest in the Titanic as I revisited the movie and consumed  special features about the making. Perhaps this was sparked by a find of a coffee table book called “Ghosts of the Abyss” by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall about their experiences diving to the Titanic site with James Cameron himself. A great deal of the movie Titanic is digitized. This is impressive for how beautiful and detailed the movie is and gives a deeper respect for the talent of the actors, who showed remarkable reactions to things they were not actually seeing. It does take away something from the immersion in the ship on screen. An amazing thing about Titanic, however, is that it really happened. Perhaps many of the lines and details of the movie are imagined, but the joy, magic, confidence, security, hope, zeal, mistake, terror, and tragedy are real.

As I have longed to put my thoughts into a blog again, I have struggled to sum them up into one tidy name and theme. My previous blog “Thirty Going on Thirteen” came at a time of change, self-searching, and healing. When I transitioned to “There’s So Much to Say”, I needed a more mature platform to share a variety of ideas. However, when I began believing that I had nothing worth saying at all, both of those blogs were archived.

Now I realize I am like Titanic. I have always been a ship of dreams, full of potential and promise, secure, certain of a brighter future.  When I recently hit an iceberg, I took on water instantly and nearly sank completely. In the process of evaluating the damage, I realized that I have hit many icebergs, and, in fact, I was made of the wrong material to begin with. Ornate fixtures, false superiority, and meager preparations were all a farce. This ship was never destined for paradise.

I vacillate between whether I am ready to divulge the skeletons in my closet or not. This blog will no doubt cover many topics – whatever comes to mind. Many of the thoughts I entertain involve evaluation of the things I see, identifying the folly of the ideas underlying them. We all believe we are unsinkable in the beginning. We are always looking for something bigger, better, progressive, more tolerant, more efficient. Nothing is ever perfect, but some ideas are better than others and it is only with time that we find that our unsinkable ships were never what we thought they would be. Unfortunately, the wreckage of the unsinkable ships last much longer than we would like and the disaster often comes to haunt us. I know mine has. But those are stories for another time.