The Problem with Echo Chambers

echo chamberAre you living in an echo chamber? Would you even know if you were?

Sadly, my observations would indicate, no. You wouldn’t know. You might believe you’re “informed,” but you might not be.

Wait a minute. How can I say that?! Oh, the hubris of it!

Actually, no–not really. Hear me out.

I teach critical thinking (among other things). I have observed, both at the high school and college levels (I teach both), a trend of picking a “side” and becoming entrenched. There is no struggle. There is no debate. There is no true belief. There is a parroting of what they are told by the “authorities” of their chosen side.

But this is not isolated to Gen Z. A quick perusal of any social media site will show you it’s rampant in all generations.

These individuals often think they are informed, but I would disagree–doesn’t matter the belief or they “side” they chose. Doesn’t matter if they believe what I believe or not. I would still say they are uniformed.

Why?

Because they live in an echo chamber, and an echo chamber opposes critical thinking.

Most people don’t know what an echo chamber is.

An echo chamber by definition is: “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.”

Most Americans today are very well “informed” on their point of view. They haven’t however, evaluated the opposing view critically. They can parrot back the views of their “side,” but I question that many can honestly tell you what they believe.

How can I say that?

Belief takes critical thinking. It takes personal work.

Let’s look at that word “critically.” What does it mean to think critically.

Study.com puts it this way: “Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions.”

In order to know what you believe you need to think about it. And that requires the questioning of the status quo and varying view points.

You cannot come to an informed decision if you are only hearing one view point. It is the opposite of critical thinking.

True belief requires toil. It requires looking at all sides of an issue.

Wait–that’s not quite right. Not just looking at it–analyzing it. And to analyze requires that we look at it with an open mind.

duel_3208005Too often I see people who wander to the other side of the tracks with guns blazing, ready to insult and sling mud and shoot down the opposition. We call them trolls. They’re not looking to understand, they’re look to stir up trouble, or, at best, to tell them why they’re wrong instead of listening honestly to what they might have right.

This too is a lack of critical thinking. It is a lack of objectivity.

One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard in the arena of politics (and I have firsthand experienced) is the deterioration of debate. Debate requires an open mind. Something all too often lacking in modern politics. Don’t tell me why I’m wrong–convince me why you’re right. This is the basis for intelligent thinking.

tumblingIf we’re honest, it’s rampant on social media. It is an epidemic far more terrifying than any I have observed because it takes thinking human beings and turns them in to sheep.

And we all know that analogy. Sheep will follow their leader (aka authority) right off a cliff.

Don’t be a sheep. Do the work. Seek dissenting opinions and consider what they have to say honestly. Analyze the data, search your soul, and then draw your own conclusion.

I don’t care if you agree with my opinion or not. If you have done the work, I welcome the conversation. Maybe you have something to teach me. Maybe I have something to teach you.

And THAT I can respect.

Who are you? A scrapper? A volcano? A House of Mirrors? Let me tell you how you can find out.

In my English classes, we have a unit called “Dealing with Difficulty.” One of the things we have found as educators is that students, from a very young age, don’t like to “deal” with the difficulty they confront in life. And it starts with the small stuff: the words they don’t know, concepts they don’t understand, allusions they have no frame of reference difficultyfor. When they hit these parts of a text, they skip over them. They try to make sense of the piece using just the easy parts–and so their understanding is fundamentally flawed. They miss the big picture, the purpose, the ah, ha moment.

All because they didn’t want to deal with the difficulty.

We so often are just like my students. We skip over, hide, ignore the difficult pieces, so we never learn. We never grow.

We just keep making the same mistakes over and over again–because we skip the middle.

One of my favorite Ted Talks is by a lady named Caroline McHugh, and she puts it this way. Many of us claim to have years of experience, let’s say 20 years of experience, but in reality, we only have one year of experience 20 times–in other words, if we are not learning from that experience, we have gained nothing and are just repeating the same mistakes 20 years later, that we made at the very beginning.

Many people live life in this way, and it all comes down to difficulty: loss, failure, adversity.

Adversity seems to be the theme of my adult life. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of it. Perhaps that is why I seem to have a heightened awareness of its impact–often wildly different–on people.

Adversity is a given–not a possibility, but rather an inevitability. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when.

Perhaps this is why adversity doesn’t really scare me. You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it, and you can’t wish it away. It simply is–pretending any differently is just a waste of breath, time, and energy.

fake-life-make-mistakes-Favim.com-2596418And yet it is what so many of us try to do.

We Americans like to photoshop our lives. We like things to be pretty. Wrapped up with a bow. Perfect and pristine.

But life is simply not like that. It is often ugly. And hard. And painful. It often isn’t fair. It’s often unjust. The good guys, quite frequently, lose.

Or at least in the traditional sense that is.

I don’t believe adversity, failure, loss, grief–difficulty in whatever form it takes, is loss.

I believe it is opportunity.

magic in the middleIn the words of Brene Brown “the magic happens in the middle.”

But we so often want to skip the middle.

What does she mean? What’s the middle? Well let me explain it using an analogy that is very personally applicable for me right now. Divorce.

As I mentioned in a previous blog,  everybody tends to react differently to a divorce. Many people want to jump very quickly from their former relationship, into a new one. They want to skip the middle. They want to move from brokenness straight into wholeness–but it doesn’t work that way.

The middle is hard. The middle is painful. It’s often lonely and it tastes a lot like failure. It is the place where our questions often don’t have answers and our fears loom large. It is where we question our worth and our value.

But it’s here in the middle where we learn. We learn what we did right and what we did wrong. We learn our areas of weakness and our areas of strength. We wrestle with our worth and come to realize that it does not come from another person, a talent, a career, or anything else outside of ourselves. Worthiness is a God given gift and it comes from who we are–or more aptly–whose we are.

wrestling in mudThe middle is like wrestling in the mud. You are going to get dirty. You will get beaten up. You’re going to feel every bruise, every scratch, every dagger to the heart.

And so most of us don’t want to go there. We like the safe, the easy, the pristine–and the middle is none of these things–so we will do anything in our power to avoid it.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal said this about adversity: “I don’t even know who a character is until I’ve seen how they handle adversity. Onscreen and offscreen, that’s how you know who someone is.”

Who are you?

Who am I?

In the face of adversity, how do we measure up?

The truth of that statement really zinged me, and it got me thinking about the different approaches I have seen to adversity. I know which one I am, which one are you?

ostrich-head-in-sandThe Ostrich: Do you have your head in the sand? Do you ignore your problems, pretending that, if I don’t acknowledge them, they’ll just go away?

The Coward: Do you run and hide from your problems? Do you leave a wake of broken relationships behind you, cutting people, jobs, connections off as the going gets tough?

house of mirrorsThe House of Mirrors (aka transference): Do you project your problems onto someone (anyone) else as a means of ignoring your problems? Is it always a case of the blame game? It’s his fault because…. It’s her fault because….

The Volcano: Do you avoid dealing with the real issues by hiding in anger? Does anger seem to be the the only emotion you’re feeling these days? Then you’re probably a volcano, using anger as a shield for your real problems.

female-ec-the-damsel-in-distressThe Damsel in Distress: Do you tend to expect a white knight to come riding up to “fix it?” Do you tend to wait for someone to come and save you from your problems? Do you think that if only…(x), then all of these problems will go away? Then you probably fall into this category.

The Peacock: Do you tend to magnify your strengths, your talents, your looks in an effort to minimize your failures? Do you puff your ego so you don’t notice the hits you’ve taken? Well, then you’re just going to keep taking those hits and you’re going to start looking like a weight lifter with chicken legs, developed in some areas, and tragically weak in others…

hermit.pngThe Hermit: Do you cut off from everyone and everything? Avoiding life in an effort to ignore your problems? Do you hide in video games, tv shows, even books, in an effort to live in a different world to escape from your own? This category can often include those suffering from depression, in that depression, that completely disconnect.

The Scrapper: Are you a fighter? Are you willing to get down and dirty in your effort to overcome? Do you look failure in the eyes and determine to triumph? Then you are probably a scrapper and are in a pretty good place, learning from your set backs and overcoming difficulty. Congratulations–there aren’t too many of you out there!

No matter which role you tend to play, it doesn’t define you. The great part is knowledge–self awareness–is the first step in being different. You get to choose your role.

Don’t want to be a hermit?

Then choose to be a scrapper!

You can choose the role you get to play at any time, in every situation. It is all up to you.

Don’t know how? That’s okay! Check out my blog next week for the first installment on how to change the role you’re currently playing!

 

 

Are you a dumbass? (Oh, pardon me, I meant a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions)

When I was a girl I never swore. It was a matter of principle. My Mama had always said that swearing was a sign of ignorance. If you swore, it just meant that you were too stupid to come up with something better to say. And besides, I was a good Christian girl, and good Christian girls didn’t swear.

Blonde shocked woman holding anxiously the hand over mouth

It made sense to my young influential brain, so I didn’t question the logic, and I just didn’t do it.

But then I became an adult, and I came to realize the value of a well placed curse word. Sometimes, nothing says it better. It might say it with more intelligence, or even say it  more specifically, but not better.

As a writer, choosing the best word for a situation is very important, and so, I very frequently find myself swearing these days–much to my mother’s chagrin.

Case in point: the modern driving situation.

Sure, I could call the dumbass who is too busy texting at the green light (despite the line of cars behind him waiting for him to get the hell out of the way so they can go) a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions, BUT when we are in the heat of the moment, sounding intelligent isn’t nearly as important as summing up the situation succinctly, and dumbass does that quickly and to the point.

dumbass

Yes, sir, you are a dumbass (and a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions–but I digress).

In the heat of the moment, we want to call it as we see it, simply, and with alacrity. And, being that there are just so very many dumbasses on the road, that means that I swear like a sailor these days.

Every day, I get on the road, and I am confronted with the decline of the human race. No common courtesy. Just me, me me.

I must finish this text. Who cares who is behind me. You can all wait until I finish. Besides, I’ll still make the light, and that is what really counts.

texting and drivingThis call is important, never mind that I am going 20 miles under the speed limit and the long line of cars behind me would very much like to get to work on time…the world revolves around me.

I could write an entire commentary on their lack of intellect and common decency (I guess I kind of am), but on the road, they all categorically become dumbasses.

No need to expound. No need to prove my literary capabilities with witty word play. I do not need a well thought out simile or an analogy to help one understand what a dumbass textingis. Everyone knows what a dumbass is. It’s that car in front of you.

So, what do I want from you this fine, sunny day (at least here in the great state of Texas)? What is my call to action? (Yes, I very much have one)

Please, do not join this mass exodus of the mentally deficient. Join the small minority of the conscientious. Respect the other people on the road, and their schedules. Think of the person behind you. Recognize that, just because you are in no rush, others on the road might be.

Join me in the good old fashioned characteristic of doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you.

You are not more important than everyone else. You are just as important as everyone else.

A little common courtesy can go a long way. Besides, nobody wants to be a dumbass, do they?

 

The myth of perfection: being authentic in a photoshopped world

chris-hemsworth-thorAnyone who knows me, knows that I have a bit of a crush on Chris Hemsworth (a bit creepy I suppose being that I’m 40, but hey, we can all imagine, right?!). Blonds are actually not my typical type, but I make exceptions for the long-haired viking type. There is just something so ruggedly male about them. It’s that same quality that has me crushing on Clay Matthews from the GreenBay Packers and the vampire Erick from the Sookie Stackhouse books (something that did not carry over into the tv series sadly–no offense Alexander Skarsgard–perhaps if you were to grow your hair out it would help…). Nothing screams strong alpha male quite like a viking.

So it was with great anticipation that I went to see the new Thor movie, as much to gaze at Chris Hemsworth as for what I anticipated to be a great hero flick.

You can imagine my surprise when, for the first time, I did not find Hemsworth quite as drool worthy. It was not due to the fact that he was often portrayed unwashed and disheveled–something that can just heighten that maleness in my book. Nope, when I assessed my reaction, I realized that I found him too ripped. Yep, he had crossed over into meathead territory.

gym ratNow don’t get me wrong, I love a good representation of the male physique as much as the next girl, and some nice muscle definition is downright hot, but, there is this threshold, this crossing into the ridiculous–trying too hard category that, at least for me, makes a man far less appealing. And sadly, my crush has crossed over into that land of the unreal, fake looking land of the gym rats.

This made me think about society and our expectations of unreality in terms of ourselves and our significant others. When did we stop wanting to be, and to be with, someone who looks like a real-life human being and instead to be with a photoshopped, airbrushed, image of perfection straight off the pages of a comic book?

As a psychology professor, I often have to teach things such as self image and eating disorders. A number of years ago, I had done quite a bit of research on female self-image and eating disorders, but in prepping for a new course last year, I decided I needed to update my research and what I found surprised me.

In our modern culture, boys and men are struggling with their body image almost as much as women. The media is driving men to the same sense of being not enough as women. And the expectations are most often unrealistic and unattainable.

No where do you see it quite so obviously as the online dating world. Being a newb in terms of this new and not-so-improved dating culture, it has been quite a learning curve for me.

dating_checklistAt first I just found it very odd that so many men led with their height and weight statistics.

Then I started to find it a bit creepy how many made a point of listing just how frequently they went to the gym and for how long…

And then it started to get just downright icky as they listed their point by point preferences for a female as if they were placing an online custom order with Amazon. And of course, this always included an athletic and fit or slender woman who also wants to live in the gym and only eat healthy.

But she’s also supposed to be intelligent, independent, and have her own established career…

Hmmm…most women who hit that “intelligent, independent and established” mark are in their late thirties to early forties, and no longer have the ripped 20 year old body that so many of these men seem to expect. I think these men should maybe get really comfortable with the companionship of their Maxim magazines because last I knew, women were real and far too busy to spend the hours a day in the gym that are required to look like the airbrushed and photoshopped images found in those magazines. And if they’re not, well, they are likely as shallow and empty-headed as the hours spent in a gym would imply–or they are more interested in a sugar daddy than a real and authentic relationship.

As a woman with a more curvalicious physique, despite the societal messages trying to eat away at my sense of self, I typically feel pretty good in my own skin. Though, I have to admit, the dating scene did shake my confidence for a bit, that is, until I started to realize that, the bravado and the unrealistic expectations were often just a mask for a deep seeded insecurity.

When-youre-comfortable-in-your-own-skin...youre-beautiful.-Confidence-is-the-best-makeup-you-could-ever-wear.Yeah sure, there are some meatheads who just want some arm candy, but, most people are craving a real and authentic relationship with a real and authentic human being.

When it really comes down to it, Chris Hemsworth’s unnatural physique is far less appealing than a real man who works hard and doesn’t have the luxury of hours per day spent in the gym.

The media feeds us unreality, and when we buy what it is selling, we become dissatisfied with what is real and beautiful.

It’s time we started recognizing that authenticity is far more attractive than an unattainable perfection only achieved at the end of a plastic surgeon’s knife.

Be healthy and be you. You are unique and you are beautiful.

 

From one sometimes screwup to another…(come on, admit it, you know that includes you!)

Sometimes I feel like crap, complete and utter crap.

Screwed upSometimes, I feel lonely, so lonely, that I wonder if, when my children grow up and leave me, I’ll be alone forever–the crazy cat lady, minus the cats.

Sometimes, I feel like the biggest failure in the history of failures, the epic underachiever, the cautionary tale of who not to become.

Sometimes, I feel so angry at my ex-husband for what he did to me and my family that I nearly simmer with repressed emotion: anger, rage, bitterness…the all too cliche’ stereotype of the wronged, “victim,” cheated on wife.

Sometimes, I feel not good enough in every single way–not pretty enough, not thin enough, not special enough, not anything enough…

Holy crap! Did she just admit all that?!

Yep, I sure did. Because that’s the truth. Sometimes, I feel all those things.

But most of the time, I don’t.

Most of the time, I don’t feel those things at all–but sometimes I do.

consumer-confidenceMost of the time I feel strong and confident. Most of the time, I am happy in my messed up little life. Most of the time I don’t feel lonely because I know I have family and friends who love and support me. Most of the time I know that I’m not a failure, but rather a survivor, and that failure isn’t a badge of defeat, but a chance to overcome. Most of the time, I can extend grace and forgiveness to me ex–despite the pain I sometimes still feel. And most of the time I know I’m enough–a work in progress–but enough. And in those moments, I feel beautiful, and strong, and confident.

But not always.

Sometimes, I just don’t.

And I don’t believe that makes me less. In fact, I think that makes me exactly normal, because I don’t think I’m alone.

I think even the strongest, and seemingly most confident, of us feel all those things at times–but we hide it. We pretend.

We think that strength is never feeling fear, never feeling doubt, and never, ever admitting failure.

pretendingSo we pretend. Because, we can’t admit that sometimes we’re terrified, and sometimes we’re so insecure that we can’t believe the whole world doesn’t notice, and that sometimes, we feel like an absolute failure at absolutely everything.

But, we all feel all of those things…sometimes.

So let’s help each other out, and stop pretending.

It is time to stop hiding, to stop window-dressing our lives, and to stop competing with something that has never been nor ever will be.

It is time to start getting real with one another.

Which means, it’s time to get vulnerable.

There is nothing I admire more than vulnerability.

I think nothing is more misunderstood than vulnerability. So often, vulnerability is portrayed as weakness. Or an excess of emotion. Or as a liability.

I view vulnerability as the height of courage and strength.

Vulnerability means admitting that I have wounds. It means bearing my battle scars. It means giving a window into my private struggles, my moments of shame, and my weaknesses.

That is strength, not weakness. That is not a liability.

It takes great fortitude, a strong sense of self, and true bravery to lower the mask to our greatest failures and wounds. It leaves our most personal moments and struggles open to attack, to ridicule, and to judgement. That doesn’t sound like weakness to me.

Vulnerability_Brene-Brown2I have very slowly been making my way through Brene’ Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” (Slowly, because it is filled with so much truth and food for thought.) One of her topics is shame and vulnerability. She talks about the “double bind” that we find ourselves in as women in modern society.

According to Brown and her extensive research, we, as women, feel that we are expected to be perfect, and to be it effortlessly. That we are supposed to be ourselves (well, unless you’re an introvert, then you’re supposed to pretend, because people prefer the outgoing, fun types). That we’re always supposed to be confident (no one likes insecurity), and that we’re supposed to walk this line between not being too emotional (because that is a lack of control), but not too detached either (what a cold-hearted bitch!). In sum, we’re supposed to be this perfectly balanced, confident (but not too confident because no-one likes the arrogant), version of ourselves (well, if, remember, we’re outgoing and fun) that is, of course, gorgeous, because how we look is really the defining standard of our worth…

And since none of us are all that all the time…

We believe we have to hide. Hide our struggles. Hide our weaknesses. Hide our insecurities. Hide our true selves.

And so we feel alone in these struggles. We feel ashamed of who we really know ourselves to be, believing that we should have it all together like her…or her…or her…

But no one has it all together. NO ONE.

And I, for one, have no interest in pretending.

Authenticity-Quote-2I do not have it all together (in case you haven’t already figured that out).

Sometimes I lose my temper with my children. Sometimes, I choose to binge watch netflix and let the dirty dishes pile up in my kitchen sink. Sometimes, even when my makeup is freshly applied, and I’m all decked out in trendy fashion, I feel woefully short of our modern standard of beauty. Sometimes, despite two degrees and one of them being psychology, I have absolutely no idea how to handle my son. Sometimes, all I want to do is give in to cynicism, become a hermit, and not find the bloody bright-side. Screw the bright-side!

But that doesn’t make me a bad mother, a bad woman, or a bad human being.

It just makes me normal. No better and no worse than anybody else.

So how about giving me a break?

And giving yourself one too while you’re at it.

Let’s stop trying to impress, trying to pretend, and get down to the business of admitting that none of us have it all together all of the time.

What kind of neighbor are you?

Do you know your neighbor? Do you? Do you know what’s going on in his world? Do you know the difficulties she faces? If they were in an emergency situation, could they come to you and ask you to watch their daughter for a couple of hours?

wilson_fencePerhaps you say hello when you walk your dogs in the morning.

Perhaps, when you meet across the mailboxes in the afternoon, you chat casually.

But do you know your neighbor?

I can’t say that I really do. As I get ready to leave this home I have lived in for three and a half years, I find myself convicted. I don’t know my neighbors–not really. We’re friendly. We say “hi” and “how are you,” but with the exception of one (and I’m so glad we became friends, Tianna!), the truth is, I’d be hard pressed to tell you their names.

Shame on me!

My whole life I have dreaded living what I have coined the “treadmill existence.” To me, this is the daily grind. We wake, we go to work, we come home, we sleep, we wake, we go to work . . . over and over again.

To avoid this, I thought I needed to do something exciting. I needed to live overseas and be a missionary. Or I needed to be a best selling author. Or I needed to find something other than this ordinary, soccer mom (or in my case football/gymnastics mom) existence.

Ironically, God seemed to determined to keep me in that soccer mom sort of existence–and if so, either he was okay with the treadmill existence–or (much more likely) I was missing something!

No, huge surprise here, but I now realize, I had it all wrong.

themostinterestingmanintheworld_1426The treadmill existence is not about the job we do or where we live. It’s not about a great list of accomplishments or a wall full of awards.  You don’t need to be the Dos Equis’ most interesting man alive to get off the treadmill.

It is about our mindset. It is about seeing the opportunity for the divine, for change, for influence in every moment.

Perhaps it’s a little easier for me to see this than most. Being a psychology professor, I see how the impact of what I teach has the possibility to change lives, and it transforms the way I look at those moments in the classroom. They are loaded with possibility, potential. What I say today has the potential of altering the course of a life (in a positive way, or possibly, even in a negative way–very humbling thought!)

But the truth is, every moment of our lives is filled with that same potential.

7089479-business-woman-rushingThe other day, I was cleaning up after my work out at the gym. I was in a hurry. I was running late for a conference call, and I needed to get ready to meet one of my friends for a night out. Just as with my neighbors, though I’m friendly with several people at the gym, I don’t really know anyone by name or well, so nothing should have gotten in the way of my mad dash for the door.

But there was this woman, a woman I had never seen before. And she sighed. Not just the “I’m tired” sigh. Not the, “this has been a really long week sigh.” No, this sigh was something different, and I couldn’t resist commenting on the weight of her sigh.

She responded that her workout had knocked her on her butt.

I made some comment about that being the sign of a good workout.

despairTo which she responded, “No, you don’t understand. It literally knocked me on my ass. I have MS. This is my therapy, and I can’t even do it.” And she sat down and started to cry.

I didn’t know this woman. If not for my inane comment about her sigh, I would have walked right on past, and never known the despair that was eating her up inside. I would have made my conference call, hung out with my friend, and this woman would have left with her burden of despair still firmly on her shoulders. Instead, I found myself with an opportunity of helping a fellow human being. It was time to get off the treadmill.

I didn’t know this woman, but I knew her pain. And I knew that I needed to stay and listen, and offer what comfort I could, conference call be damned!

That moment was one of possibility. It was an opportunity to be God’s hands’ extended. And I could easily have missed it.

How many times have I missed those moments, caught up in the hustle and bustle of the treadmill life, the relentless daily grind? How often, with my eyes focused at the task at hand, have I missed the divine, the chance to get off the treadmill, and to make a real difference in someone’s life?

Too often I fear.

Which of my neighbors has cried out to God for help? And I could have been part of the answer. Who has needed to know that they aren’t alone, but I’ve been too wrapped up in my own world to see?

I despised the treadmill existence, and yet I have had opportunity to get off that treadmill,  time and time again, but I have been too blind to see the opportunity.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg put it this way:

sonrise-burning-bushAnd Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Everything turned on Moses’ being willing to turn aside–interrupt his daily routine to pay attention to the presence of God. He didn’t have to. He could have looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just missed the exodus, the people of Israel, his calling, the reason for his existence. He would have missed knowing God. But he didn’t miss it. He stopped. He “turned aside.”

I don’t want to miss the reason for my existence. I don’t want to miss my calling because I can’t see what’s right in front of me.

I need to live my life in this way. I need to have my eyes open so that I see the burning bush moments, the moments when I get to be the arms, and the voice, of God.

I need to get off the treadmill.

And it starts with seeing.

Seeing our neighbors and their pain. Seeing our coworkers and their struggles. Seeing the needs of our community and stepping out of our daily grind enough to be the one to meet those needs.

Our society, according to a recent gallup poll, is one third Christian. Nine out of ten Americans say they pray everyday. And yet, we are notoriously bad about living with our heads in the sand, being too consumed with our own lives to see the struggles of those around us.

handsThis is what Jesus means by reaching the lost–and most of us are failing.

It is time for us to embrace our purpose. To see that each moment is heavy with possibility. To get our heads out of the sand, and to see.

Will you join me?

We don’t want to miss our burning bush–because that is what it’s all about.

 

What do you do with your cookie, and what does that say about who you are?

hand-holding-cookie-bite-taken-outWe’ve all had that moment when we’re about to take a bite of the last chocolate chip cookie, and we’re anticipating the burst of flavor that will come with it when our sister/brother/friend/son/daughter/etc. comes on the scene and says, “Oh! A chocolate chip cookie! I want one! Where are there?!”

What we do in that next moment is a window into who we are, a window into how we live our lives, and it is a window into our heart.

Do we, scarf down the cookie quickly, and only then admit it’s the last one?

mouthfulDo we shrug and say “last one” and then take a huge bite from the cookie?

Do we break the cookie in half and cheerfully offer the other half?

Do we offer the other half, but feel a tug of reluctance, begrudging the loss of half of the cookie?

Or do we cheerfully hand the last cookie to the person we love because we’d rather make them happy than have the cookies ourselves?

It’s such a simple thing, a simple test, and we have moments like these every day of our lives. How we respond in these moments defines who we are on a basic level.

I’ve watched this played out among my children. Gavin would scarf the cookie down without a thought, fearful that I would tell him he had to share. Arabelle would hand you the cookie. Lily would struggle somewhere in between.

Every year for Halloween (or almost every year–we made an exception last year) the kids pick a theme and we all dress up, even mom and dad, according to that theme. This year the kids chose Wizard of Oz, or rather the girls did, and Gavin graciously deferred to them this time. We spent weeks discussing who would be which character from the very first days of October.

wizardofoz_085pyxurzLily wanted to be Glinda, the Good Witch, so Arabelle agreed to be Dorothy. I went online and found a Glinda costume, purchased it, and two days later Lily excitedly tried it on. She postured through the house, admired herself in the mirror–she was thrilled.

But then, a couple of days later, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to be Glinda anymore; she wanted to be Dorothy. Arabelle graciously said she would be Glinda (luckily the costume also fit her) so that Lily could have what she wanted. No harm, no foul. Great.

But then a couple weekends ago, I promised Lily that we would go to the store to buy her Dorothy costume, and as we were browsing the costumes, we came to a beautiful Wicked Witch of the West costume. Arabelle’s eyes lit up. “Mom, can I be the Wicked Witch instead?”

I was stuck. We already had the Glinda costume (and Lord knows I can’t fit into it!). I had promised Lily the Dorothy costume…

“Well, hon, I guess that’s up to Lily. If she’s willing to be Glinda, you can be the Wicked Witch.” Remember, just a few days before, Lily was thrilled with the idea of being Glinda.

When Arabelle asked Lily if she wouldn’t mind being Glinda as they had originally planned, Lily started balling, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

Arabelle patted Lily on the back and put her arms around her. “It’s okay, Lily. You can be Dorothy.” Great response from Arabelle. I wwas so proud of her, but…

But it wasn’t okay. I watched as Lily, without a thought, accepted her sister’s change of heart. And I watched the disappointment bloom on Arabelle’s face.

I pointed out to Lily that she hadn’t even considered for a moment what it was her sister wanted and whether or not she should let her have what she wanted instead of Lily getting her way.

crying-little-girlShe began crying again, “But I want to be Dorothy!”

“Yes, I understand that. But Arabelle wants to be the Wicked Witch. Why should you get what you want instead of Arabelle getting what she wants?”

“I don’t know.”

“You need to think of what your sister wants too, Lily; you’re being selfish.”

There in the middle of Target she started wailing, “You called me selfish!”

“No, Lily, I said you were being selfish. You have a choice in whether you are selfish or not.”

But the problem was, she didn’t want to choose to not be selfish. Though Arabelle tried to pretend that she was okay with it, she had gotten quiet and was obviously sad. Lily cared enough to ask her what was wrong, but when Arabelle told her, Lily would start crying again, stating, “But I want to be Dorothy.” She didn’t want Arabelle to be sad, but she didn’t want to give up what she wanted to take away that sadness either.

The whole exchange really bothered me, and stuck with me. Later that night, I pulled Arabelle aside to tell her how proud I was of her, that her heart, her love and care of people, was something rare and beautiful. I marveled at how she always put others before herself.

support-groups-empathy-signHer response humbled me. She said, “If I have a choice between someone else crying, or crying myself, I’d rather be the one crying.”

Wow. I felt like that statement shined a light on my own shortcomings, my own failure to live up to the example of my nine year-old daughter.

Would I willingly take on pain and hurt to spare someone his/her pain? I would do it for my family. I would do it for my husband, my children, my nieces and nephews, my brother and sister, but would I do it for anyone? Arabelle would. I’ve seen her do it. And even if I was willing to do it, would I do it with the grace and openness of Arabelle, or would I begrudge the action and feel resentful?

I fear it would be the latter.

And then I thought more of Lily and her reaction. She doesn’t want people to hurt, but she doesn’t really want to give up her wants and needs to take away the hurt of someone else. She feels compassion, but it doesn’t translate to action.

How often are we like that? We see the pain of others, we feel badly, but we don’t reach out to them, we don’t try to ease their pain. We see what ISIS does to children, and we feel awful about it, but not enough to try to find a way to help. We know that there are motherless and fatherless children all over our own country, and we feel so badly, but we don’t want our lives rocked or altered by the needs of a troubled child in our own home.

Compassion without action is nothing but a mask concealing selfishness.

And my little daughter has held a light up to my own selfishness. I am humbled.

What kind of person are you? Do you give the cookie away or do you keep it for yourself?

I fear that I split it in half, but give it away with a twinge of regret or even resentment.

I need to do better. I need to learn the lesson my nine year-old is teaching me.

CAM01287-1Thank you, Arabelle, for your kind and generous spirit. I am so grateful God put you in my life.

 

Deferred today, but not Dead

I have found myself contemplating the nature of dreams.

The last unit of this school year was titled “Dream Deferred.” I think it might be my favorite unit of my teaching career. So often, in this technology filled world, we do not give our children (or ourselves) the opportunity to reflect, and that is what this unit was really about.

What are our dreams? Are deferred dreams always negative? Are dreams worth pursuing at any cost? How do dreams, and the pursuit of dreams, change as a result of our society and culture, religion, SES, etc.?

I think our answers to these questions change a lot over time.

dreams4American culture is a highly individualistic, even narcissistic. We ask our children what they want to be when they grow up. We talk to them about their dreams and aspirations, as if it is entirely up to them. We tell them they can do anything if they work for it hard enough (which simply isn’t always true). We send them out into the world, believing that they can do it all–without having realistic conversations with them about what it all means. It’s a dream it–achieve it mentality. It sounds great, but tends to lead to disillusionment when the realities of life–family, responsibility, they need to pay rent–start pushing their way in.

STEM-LogoMy Asian students approach dreams very differently. Their culture is not one that promotes individualism, but rather community. Their aspirations are not a result of personal passions, so much as the dictates of their family and cultural expectations. Very often, their pursuit is not of a “dream,” but rather for status and wealth, which bring honor and prestige to their families. Many of them struggle as, the society they find themselves in and which naturally affects them  (American), comes into conflict with their heritage.

As with so much of life, things on either extreme lead to dissatisfaction. Life tends to be lived in the middle ground, but when our expectations don’t match up with that…someone, or lots of someones, are unhappy.

I, being a product of my culture, started my path with much of the mentality of the typical American perspective. My aspirations were big, larger than life, and I do think that I probably could have attained at least some of them by now–but at what cost?

Years ago, I remember one of my coaches telling me that I could be a truly amazing basketball player if I really worked at it. I was a good basketball player all ready, but not great. If I were to work year round, every day, if I were to dedicate myself to it, I had a chance of being something special.

I was in high school at the time. I remember thinking about what he said, weighing it, and deciding that I didn’t want it that badly. To be truly excellent at basketball meant that I would have to give up theater and music. I would have to give up cheerleading. I would have no time to practice the piano. Would I ever have time to read a book again?

I suppose my coach may have been right, but just because I could have that, didn’t mean that I should.

kiddosIn the same way, the young me, hadn’t thought through the affects that meeting and marrying my husband, and our subsequent children, would have on the attainment of my dreams. Had I never met Aaron, I think I would have been closer to fulfilling, or possibly even have fulfilled, many of my dreams by now…but at what cost?

Are my dreams so huge that I would throw love and family to the curbside to attain them? If I had it to do over, would I change the path I took?

Absolutely not. My family, despite the personal sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis, are worth the deferment of my dreams. I do not exist in a vacuum, nor would I want to.

American society, does its children a disservice when they approach the concept of dreams. We hold the dream up, as if it were worth any cost, without bringing the conversation of family, love, and responsibility into the conversation. This leads to disillusioned young parents as they struggle to make their concept of a dream match the reality that they find themselves in.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the Asian families have hit the mark. I think that they too, have fallen short of what leads us to happiness.

dreams 5If we live life solely for the accumulation of status and wealth, solely for responsibility, we will find that our lives are spent on a hamster wheel, every day the same with no sense of fulfillment. Humans are passionate creatures. We need time to allow the sides of us that feel, that create, to have their time too. To be a lover of art, to create art, does not mean that I must be an artist as a profession. Just because I am a businessman by day, does not mean that I can’t indulge in my need to create art. Our dreams do not need to be synonymous with our professions.

And deferred dreams are not dead dreams. Just because I am a teacher today, does not mean that I can’t be a writer tomorrow.

And as with so much of life, isn’t it the waiting, the dreaming, the anticipation of the dream happening, that makes the attainment of it that much sweeter? Like a child waiting for the gift that he knows is under the Christmas tree…if it were easy to attain, I wouldn’t value it quite so much.

 

Just another pretty face–being an adolescent girl–it’s all in the packaging

My daughter has started asking me what the songs on the radio mean.

That meant I had to actually start paying attention to what I was bee-bopping along to, because, I realized, half the time I had no idea what in the world the songs were about.

So, I started paying attention. I started actually listening to the words . . . and I was a bit dismayed by how many a)were about sex, b) were encouraging very negative behaviors, and c) were about sex. Did I mention how many were about sex–casual, meaningless sex?

tove loI’ve never really thought that deeply about the messages of many of the songs I listen to. I put the radio on and find myself enjoying the beat and the style, and so sing along without really knowing what I’m singing, or if I do, it really doesn’t penetrate, and, up until now, my kids were too little for it to really matter.

But now my nine year old daughter wants to know what they mean…and I find that I don’t want to tell her.

How do I tell her that, “Oh, honey, this song is about a girl who does drugs and goes to sex clubs because she misses the boy who dumped her so badly? (Tove Lo’s song so aptly named ‘I get high all the time’)” Umm . . . no, I just switch the station whenever that song comes on.

taylor swiftOr how about the new Taylor Swift (my girls love her–a model for young girls??) song about hooking up with a guy for the weekend because he looks good ( not because he is good, nope, just looks good) and she doesn’t really care if it lasts or not (song named “Blank Space”) so long as she has a good time. . . do I want my daughters to think that sex has no deeper meaning than if you find someone good to look at or not?

Or how about all the songs that objectify women. That’s fun. “Oh, honey, this song is just about how a woman’s only value is in how she looks and whether or not a guy can get her into bed . . . ” I’m not ready for that conversation yet!

The tendency for Hip Hop and Rap to throw around the “bitch” word and refer to women in all sort’s of sexual ways is notorious, and frankly, those songs are never playing on my radio, so let’s look at the genres that do get played in the family car…

sexismHow about Keith Urban and his “Little Bit of Everything.” For those of  you who haven’t heard it, here’s part of the first verse:

“I want a cool chick that’ll cook for me

But’ll dance on the bar in her tan bare feet

And do what I want when I want and she’ll do it with me.”

Nope, not sexist at all. :/ Is that what I want my daughters to think a healthy relationship in the 21st century looks like?

The lookism that is rampant in our culture, the objectification of women, is sadly something that I have become numb to on a conscious level–I don’t notice it that often except when it hits me over the head.

Having my precious, sweet, innocent daughter ask me what a song means was one of those “hitting me over the head moments.” Knowing that my tween daughter is about to walk into this ugliness, where her creativity, her innate goodness, her bright inquisitive mind are all going to take a backseat to her pretty face and a body about to blossom kind of pisses me off. My daughter is amazing, and so much more than how she looks! She is so much more than whether boys think she’s hot or not.

But this is what we do to our girls. This is adolescence for a female.

aibileenI want to wrap my daughter up and keep her safe from the ugliness out there–but I can’t. It’s our world and she has to live in it. So, I need to figure out how I can combat all the negative messages she receiving on a continual basis.

I just recently got around to watching the movie “The Help” (a truly outstanding movie with so many rich ideas I might have to devote a blog to it at a later time). What Aibileen said to that little girl–on repeat–really stuck with me. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Notice that she doesn’t say she’s beautiful– though she could have. She doesn’t mention how adorable she looks–though she certainly did look adorable. She focused on what that little girl really needed to know about herself. That she was kind. That she was smart. And that she was worth something.

That is what I can do for my daughter. I can remind her of who she is and what really matters.

Three boys playing tug-of-warMy son is a very handsome little fella. Every once in a while someone tells him that.

More often, he is told that he is smart, that he’s athletic, that he’s got potential. When he gets compliments, they are things about him. It’s not that he’s not good looking–it just doesn’t really matter that much for a boy. I mean it helps, but it’s not what’s most important.

My girls on the other hand, the vast majority of their compliments are about how they look. They continually hear that they’re cute or pretty or skinny–but much more rarely do they hear that they are kind or smart or talented, though they are all these things and more.

Their father and I tell them that they are smart and good and funny and talented, but the world around them focuses on how they look. Are our voices enough to make a difference?

Back in my dating years, I was always floored at how deep and intelligent guys who should know better were drawn to the pretty faces of shallow and flighty girls. This always stumped me.

peny-and-leonard-leonard-penny-32729301-1224-792Half of the guys I crushed on were just sort of  “meh” in the look department. It didn’t matter that much to me. It was their minds or their wit or their passion that drew me, not what they looked like. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be attraction, but attraction was so much more than what they looked like!

Nearly every guy I knew thought he deserved a drop-dead looker (even if he was a less than stellar specimen of the masculine race). And so many of them wouldn’t consider going out with an amazing girl because she was plain. This never made any sense to me.

papertowns2John Greene in his book “Paper Towns” puts it so well. “[It’s] always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” It makes no sense, but when it comes to females, that is what society (and guys) tell us is the most important factor when it comes to date-ability.

He furthers this idea in his book when he refers to a character who is popular and sought after by the guys in the protagonist’s school. Greene states about this girl: “She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch . . . [we]have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children”– and yet, the boys came swarming. Here was an awful, hateful girl, but her good looks made all that was negative about her disappear.

What is wrong with us?

I always marveled when I was young at how important it was for me, and for us as girls, to hear affirmation about how we looked. What did I do to contribute to how I look? Was it some great fete? Did I expend great effort? Was this a great achievement on my part. No, no and no. It was simple genetics–something I had no control over, and yet something I am told over and over again, is the most important part of who I am.

According to this idea, we are set up from the beginning to succeed or fail and nothing we do is really going to alter the outcome. Doesn’t really seem fair to me.

As a parent, it makes me angry–and it makes me feel so futile, the one voice in the noise of a society that says that how they look means so much less than who they choose to be.

helen of troyBut this isn’t a new problem, it’s not uniquely 21st century and it’s not uniquely American–though perhaps the prevalence of the idea is more oppressive because of this age of social media. This is a problem that is as old as time, and for all our gender equality, we don’t seem to be making any inroads on this particular facet of the problem.

In her book “Reviving Ophelia” Mary Pipher states “In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability. Attractiveness is both necessary and a sufficient condition for girls’ success. This is an old, old problem. Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker. Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.”

She goes on to say that “America today is a girl-destroying place” and that “Girls have long been trained to be feminine at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much . . . girls are trained to be less than who they really are.”

I don’t want that for my girls. I don’t want my girls reduced to less than the dynamic individuals they truly are. I don’t want them to look for their value in how the male gender perceives them. I don’t want them to think that sex is something to approach casually or that it has no real meaning attached to it.

Somehow I need to fight this tide and help my daughters know that they are amazing, brilliant human beings, and not just pretty girls.

tween girls

It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, women, and human beings, to let girls know that their worth is in who they are–not in how they look.

I think I’m an endangered species . . . I’m an introvert

New-Years-Eve-Party_1I’ve been radio silent for a while. Have I been exceedinly busy with tons of holiday activities? Have I been dashing from one social event to another?  Maybe I’ve been out of town with a party every night and an activity every day . . . ?

No, no, and no.

I’ve been in my cave. Yes, my cave. And yes, I’m a girl. It’s not only guys who need and have a cave. I have one too.

You see, I am an introvert living in an extroverted world. That’s no easy thing! And sometimes, sometimes, I need to retreat, recharge, and frankly pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist for a while (not easy to do when you’re mother to three little people!).

multitasking-mobile-devices-660x429We introverts tend to be very misunderstood by our extroverted sisters and brothers. You see, for us, parties take work. We don’t thrive when surrounded by great crowds of people. We don’t look forward to the weekend for all of the clubs, parties and events that await. We don’t feel the need to share every waking moment via text or instagram. We don’t keep our phone in hand waiting for any incoming texts so that we can respond to with some funny quip or snarky comment and feel continually connected to the world at large.

Nope. Our phones are on silent most of the time. Heck, they might still be in our bag. We might even forget to check them, for a day, or maybe even two. We might even misplace them and forget about them until there is someone we have to talk to or if we need a timer or something.

When you seeing us sitting in the lunchroom alone, or out for coffee at a table by ourselves with a book or maybe a computer, it’s not that we can’t have company. It’s that we don’t want company. Don’t pity us for our solitude. It’s what we want, what we crave, and something that is so very difficult to find in this crazy busy, over sharing, nauseatingly social world of ours.

My friends know this about me, because they really, really know me. Why? Because I’d much rather have one or two really awesome friends, than be the most popular mom on the block. And because they know me, they give me space to quite simply be me.

They don’t get angry when it takes me a day or two to text them back. They don’t get all pissy if I don’t feel like going out. They get me, and I get them. And it works.

So, why was I radio silent? Because I was hiding from you, all of you. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that it all takes so much darn WORK!

I am a teacher. A very social job. I’m bombarded with questions, required to make snap judgment calls on a regular basis. Sometimes I am required to talk almost every single minute of my working day.

grinchAnd then I go home. I go home to three little kids with their endless questions and needs. I go home to a husband who I haven’t connected with all day and there are more words. I feel a bit like the Dr. Seuss’ Grinch: “Oh, the noise, noise, NOISE!”

It’s not that I don’t love my students. Most of them are pretty great. And I certainly love my children. And Aaron and I never get enough time to talk as it is, BUT it becomes sensory overload to the introvert. It fries my circuits. I start to short circuit, and eventually, I just shut down.

woman-curled-up-in-chair1This time I shut down and escaped to the world of Kim Harrison and her Hollows series. I read and read and read. And for once, instead of impatiently having to wait for the author to finish the series, I have the luxury of having the WHOLE thing from start to finish at my anxious fingertips.

Yes, I reluctantly emerged from my cave periodically and spent time with my family and kids (and had some great times and memories as a result), but I anxiously anticpated the return to the fictious world. It’s not just that I love to read, it’s that I NEED it.

And then, one day, battery is full. My mind beeps, and I can go back into this crazy social, fast paced existence called the modern world. I have the energy to expend.

So, all of you extroverts out there, be patient with the introverts in your life. It’s not that your husband doesn’t want to talk to you when he comes home, it’s that he has nothing left. It’s not that your friend doesn’t want to hang out with you on Friday night, it’s that she has nothing left. It’s not that your dad doesn’t want to spend time with you, it’s that his very existentence is spent providing you with all the cool gadgets and wants that you desire and he’s fried.

We all don’t want to party ’til the sun comes up. Some of us would much rather curl up in a chair with a good book or zone out on the couch watching whatever professional sports team happens to be in season. Some of us find this modern world draining and solitude, not socialization, is what charges our batteries and keeps us going.

He’ll go the party with you, if you give him the space he needs in return. It’s how we work. How we’re wired. And society doesn’t give us much space to be what we really are.