Sunday, July 29, 2012

Impressive, No?

Being smart is impressive. Rattling off math facts at lightening speed, reciting scriptures by the hundreds, high IQ/standardized/placement test scores, you know all the stuff that screams, "Look at me! I am smart and I can show you!"

I know fact spouters, scripture reciters, and high scorers, that are extremely impressive. They all have an intense drive for attention. This drive leads to a constant seeking of approval from others, and it grows to insatiable proportions as it takes on an addictive nature. As time goes on, this perceived need drives wedges between husbands, wives, children, and families. It leads to harmful practices and dysfunctional relationships as "anything to fill the void" becomes the driving force in the persons life. Sometimes it takes years, even decades, for the "fall out" to arrive. Sometimes it is very quick. No matter the time frame, there are always innocent people caught in the fray. The battle between ego and spirit is fierce. Although it seems a singular struggle, the effects are far reaching.

There seems to be something that drives this need to be impressive and in the spotlight. In my experience, admittedly limited but convincing none the less, the relation to ego seems apparent in each case. The ego is a curious thing and needs constant stroking and assurance. Such time and effort wasted in encouraging this base element of our psyche, could be better spent.

Conversely, I have seen people that are capable of being fact spouters and reciters, but they choose to live quiet lives. They use their knowledge quite effectively, in ways that do not scream for attention. They seek conversation, communication, and understanding, rather than attention and supremacy by declaration in impressive acts.

Impressive only lasts so long, and is only valid as long as someone else is willing to acknowledge and stroke the ego. Students seek learning for smarts, and can be very impressive. To be wise is power. Not power over another, but power to be our own true selves. Scholars seek the wisdom within their learning. 

Think of all the truly great leaders of our time. From George Washington to Gandhi, great leaders have the power to be themselves, all of the time. Without superiority or haughty attitude, they are true to themselves, always. Why are we drawn to them? Why do we seek their wisdom? Great leaders are never trying to impress anyone. They may be "impressive", as a result of choosing to be scholars in the truest sense of the word, but their very nature does not allow them to seek "impressive" as a goal. The drive is knowledge and understanding for a greater purpose than stroking ones ego. They are creating their own path. 

Truly great leaders do not seek the spotlight, they are generally found and sought out. At least they don't seek the spotlight for the spotlight. They may seek positions which are in, or surrounded by, the spotlight, due to interest. But they themselves are more comfortable studying, learning, creating, and leading, in quiet and purposeful ways. They seek to be scholars. To solve problems. To create better than what was there before. 

We are entrepreneurs of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Wisdom is gained upon reading, listening, thinking, pondering, formulating, and eventually, creating original findings and meanings within what we have sought. Wisdom lasts forever. Smarts are gone as soon as no one is looking.

In our family we have a saying, "Smart people talk. Wise people listen." I am grateful for the reminder that saying has become, as I really enjoy talking. I find myself better served, nearly every single time, through listening. 


I was fortunate to have been raised around the influence of great people. People who pioneered the way for women in education. People who spent their entire lives in the pursuit of trying to help others in various ways. People who said things like, "I don't know what do you think." all the time in response to my inquiries about subjects they knew everything about.

These people are my grandparents and great grandparents. It saddens me often that our life is not conducive to having my children immersed in their grandparents and great grandparents. We are blessed with other examples, and for that I am grateful, but it's just not quite the same for me.

There are few true heroes for our children today. I could cite scads of examples of "the greatest", most all of them have fallen from the pedestals upon which they are placed by media. Most all of them fall in devastating ways and we are left trying to answer questions like, "What did he do?" "What does that even mean?" "Why did he do that?". It's not just males either.

As a mother I am careful who I hold up for my children to emulate. I am careful to involve them first in their own life and not to encourage them to seek to build their lives on the latest YouTube star, teen sensation, child prodigy, or sports star, etc..

The instinct seems to be to "help" our children achieve success. Success has been drastically redefined by the media.

I know a guy. A guy who, served his country in war, worked hard at the same job and retired, has been married to the same woman forever (okay not forever. I confess to not knowing the actual number), has a modest house, with enough. This man visited me often as a child and made me feel that I was important just because I swam in a pool, rode my bike, got McDonald's cheeseburgers with him, and sometimes, for a special treat, got to sleep in the "chair bed" at the hotel with them. That man is my grandpa. He's pretty great and I'd say he led a very successful and happy life. He's not famous, but he's more of a hero than most I know that are touted as such. I'll take grandpa any old day, and I am serving up regular doses of his wisdom and example to my children. I love all my grandparents of course, but my heart is with my grandpa for this post, love you gramps :)

Who do our children know, and what do they know about themselves as a result? How do our children define success?

From the mouth of a wise old soul, "I don't care how much money I have. Things are not important. I want to be a garbage man so I can drive a cool truck, use my muscles to get rid of trash, and have lots of time for catching frogs." This wise old soul is 11. Garbage man, really? Who cares as long as you have plenty of time for catching frogs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Have you ever wondered? Is it even possible to wonder in this day and age? With technology and media at the ready to tell us what to think and program our brains with messages before we even know what's going on, is there any room for wonder? Have you ever wondered something and then, in a split second, some image planted by media helps you snuff out the possibilities before you can even explore. If there is a moment of wonder, do you allow it, or google it?

What would have happened if Einstein never wondered? How about Edison, Earhart, The Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs, George Washington, Columbus, and many, many more, what if they had everything fed to them and never explored the possibilities of their wonderment?

You might think it interesting for me to include Steve Jobs in a seemingly anti-technology post. Technology is great, when used in moderation and appropriately. Steve Jobs spent much more time in life than technology. Technology isn't the problem. It is our use of it, and addiction to it, that's the problem. We use it to create a false sense of importance, self, identity, and productivity. We use it to fill the voids in our soul that come from various places. What if we wondered about the voids and allowed ourselves time to find solutions, rather than stuffing them full of meaningless time sucking virtual things.

Studies show that the addiction, or pleasure center, of the brain is stimulated by texting. The adrenalin rush and consequent satisfaction of the addiction gets harder and harder to reproduce as time goes on. This is true for all "screens"/media, but I find it particularly interesting that this seemingly harmless activity is right up there with the biggest addictions we face today. We need more and more texts in order to satisfy our pleasure center and prove to ourselves that we are "okay". Is texting evil? Of course not. Is it addictive? Yes. Is it damaging when not used appropriately? Certainly.

What's the big deal? The big deal is that life is wonder. We miss a whole lot of life to live in this virtual world. Our children don't even know how to live life because they are being raised by screens and parents who show them how to be addicted. Their entire existence is virtual. That is a very lonely, addictive, and isolating place to be. A sea of people completely unaware of the real life surrounding them.

Do we search out our own identity, or do we search out the identity of the latest "star"? Do our children know more about famous people than their own siblings and family? What would happen if wonder was the addiction? Go ahead and enjoy some wonder today. It does wonders for the soul.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Walk Beside Me

It's really quite simple this mothering gig. Why do we complicate it so?

Things have been, shall we say, a little dicey around here lately. I have had many an, "Am I doing ANYTHING right as a mom?" moment. Much pondering has been devoted to this burning question.

As I was walking through the kitchen yesterday, Malachi and I happened to be on the same path and we spent several steps in sync. About two steps in, he looked up at me and we locked eyes. He got the biggest grin on his face and giggled with glee. He spent the next little while staying in step with me and giving me that same smile. At one point I reached down to take his hand. He didn't want it. He told me no and gave me an even bigger smile. I recognized something that I have never really "gotten" before. Our children just want to know we are there, with them. They want to know we are in step with them on their journey. They don't need us to hold their hand as though they don't know where they are going. They want to explore their path with us by their side.

This beautiful moment was made possible through eye contact alone. Had I not looked down and caught his gaze, it would have been just another walk through the kitchen. I saw him and he saw me seeing him. What a marvelous thing to be seen and acknowledged in wholesome and pure ways. I realized something in that moment, I spend much more time in pursuit of trying to "give" my children the necessary ingredients for success, than I do in seeing them and understanding what success means to them.

The trap of needing to mold and shape children into what we think they should be is so dangerous. Most times we don't even realize we are doing it. We mean well when we try to pattern their life after the neighbor kids, the cousins, the super successful child of the amazing family, their friend at school. We even mean well when we either make sure they have what we did growing up, or make sure they don't.

It's difficult these days to actually let our children build their own identity. They are born with it. It's not difficult for them, but we train it out of them pretty quickly if we aren't careful. We tell them, in many ways, what they like and don't like, what they are interested in and not. We "see" the genius and make sure they are the next prodigy. We schedule their time and lives so they will be busy and have many accomplishments. Children don't need us to live their lives for them. It is possible to teach and train them in the best things without labeling them and putting them in such tight tiny boxes. What about the accomplishment of knowing who they are and being secure and comfortable in that alone?

Even more importantly, we surround them with images through television, movies, video games, and even social and cultural pressures at school and church and other organized places. We hold celebrities and sports stars up and say be this, do this, look how cool, they are. We don't say it in words so much as we say it in example and actions. These images crowd out their own image of individuality and identity. They are stuck in a sea of trying to be someone else because that's what is in front of them. I am not saying we stay home and seclude ourselves. I am saying that unless we are aware of the images being inputted and how seriously tipped the scale is in comparison to the true identity of self, unless we recognize it, we can't do a thing about it.

Perhaps what I am saying is, when did mom and dad stop being the heroes? When did a simple life full of hard work and enjoyment get shoved into a corner? When did the pursuit of fame and fortune, prestige and titles, become more important than taking care of your family and loving every minute of it? Take even a small peek into any type of media and you'll see, if you want to.

There are now so many studies concerning media and the mind. The mind is a powerful thing. It can tell us to act and compel us to do things without the sound reasoning of the heart. A balance of mind and spirit is necessary for healthy growth. The mind is being altered, at astounding rates and in ways that are not healthy for our individual identities.

Most sad to me is that we are starting with babies. Babies! Do they even have a chance? I see a clear difference in my children that started watching "screens" at an earlier age than the older ones. A clear difference. I love all my children and it saddens me that I have let things go so far before recognizing the damage. It was just circumstance I told myself. Naturally, the younger ones will be exposed earlier to screens, sugar, junk food, "entertainment" vs creativity, and so on. Naturally, I can't help it. Oh yes I can. Oh yes I will. It's never too late.

I don't want to raise my children in that kind of "naturally". I don't care a bit if they can't have a conversation about the latest movie or video game. I don't care if they are the only ones in the neighborhood outside making mudpies. I care that they are able to be individuals with solid identities that aren't tossed about in the sea of addictions looming incessantly at their fingertips. Addictions are only possible when a lack of self realization and identity is present. I want to raise my children naturally in the purest and truest sense of the word. Since when did electronics and processed junk become "natural". I'll tell you when, when mothers began seeking time outside the home and wanting to "achieve" greatness by worldly standards. I say, "How great would it be if every single one of my children believed they were already exactly who they need to be." That would be truly great!

Children just want to be themselves and figure it all out. From the time they are born we tell them "hurry up". We put them in ridiculous outfits that say "look how stylish I am", inside they are screaming, "boy I wish I could move around freely". We push things on them so we can prove to others how smart they are, how accomplished and "ahead" they are. We have charts that compare their growth and tell them where they are on the scale and if they are better or worse than their bestie Billy Bob. It never stops.

They don't need us to tell them who they are, they already know. Really, all they want is for us to walk beside them, each step of their way. We are the ones that need to open our eyes and see them. We need to be wiling to be mothers rather than accomplishment spouters. We need to find our identity and stop trying to get one through our children's lives. Since when did being a mother mean sitting around doing nothing but catering to demanding children all day, running around to this and that activity so you could prove you were doing something. Our children will learn how to live because they see us doing it, not because we busy ourselves with trying to get them an identity suitable for society.

I need to see my children more and live my life more fully. That is the solution to the dicey around here of late. Simple, and very fulfilling. Oh yeah, and I need to be willing to keep usurpers of the mind out. How can one live and see, if bombarded, even in small doses, by messages so clearly designed to encourage confusion and self doubt.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Power of Literature

What is so important about reading anyway? The mind is so much better engaged with moving pictures on screens that tell you what to think. We can read on screens with animated pictures to save ourselves the work of imagining. Imagination is overrated. Why should we bother. We can even plant virtual flowers now and watch them grow without the laborious task of weeding, digging, watering, and caring for anything. Instant gratification is great! Why should we bother? Thinking, reading, planting, growing, doing, it's all simply overrated. Who needs to think anymore anyway? Just Google it. Google knows everything. Again, why should we bother?

I'll tell you why. The entire nature of our existence is to create. Not recreate, or restate, what someone else created and stuck in some screen for us to parrot back. To create is to be an active participant in life. To create our unique journey. We create from the myriad of stories we are exposed to. We plant a seed. We create a story of the seed and it's difficult journey to full potential. We watch a caterpillar gorge itself on sticky milkweed. We create a story of gluttony followed by hard work, and finally beauty within. We listen to bedtime stories of our parent's youth, and family reading night stories from classic literature. We create safe and comfortable places, where we can feel safe and comfortable in a world that is not so, much of the time. We listen, we read, we think, and we learn. We are scholars of life and we create.

We use the stories of our creation to make sense of our lives. When we are not so productive as the little seed that knew it could, and the chunky caterpillar that couldn't breath, only to find its glory was inside all the while, we have their stories to help us along. We use stories from those around us, in countless ways, to create our own story. We read to fill our minds of the very best things. We create a personal library, right inside our mind, and we become our own best resource because we seek the best. There is no such thing as over exposure to classic literature.

I read an interesting article recently. The claim was that reading is bad for teenagers. Many studies have shown that  teenagers that read are ill equipped to handle life situations of all types, they are cursing, smoking, rebelling against authority figures such as parents and community leaders, and they are generally unable to determine reality from fantasy and virtual worlds. Mind blowing, how could reading be so bad?! The last paragraph of the article lists the books said teenagers were reading. Aha! It's not reading that's the problem, it's the content. Duh! Most disturbing was that texts were considered "reading material". I get it, it's technically words, but reading material? Come on!

Much of "teaching" and literature today is sorely lacking in content. "Learning" is merely an exercise in feeding predetermined facts, often laden with hidden agenda, to be regurgitated at some latter time for proof of education. Literature has fallen prey, in large part, to consumerism and entertainment value.

We need thinkers. We need voracious scholars. We need leaders of the same stock as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. Whether you are a mother to the next president of the United States, or a future devoted husband and father or nurturing and kind mother, it makes no difference. We all have the opportunity to lead in whatever capacity best suits us. Leadership of what caliber is up to individual choice. Individual choice is shaped by the stories we hear.

I am entranced at the moment with, A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver Van DeMille, as well as Leadership Education, by Oliver and Rachel DeMille. The first 65 pages of Books That Build Character: A Guide To Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, by William Kilpatrick and Gregory and Suzanne M. Wolfe, are also thought provoking, and the book lists to follow have provided our family with hours of enjoyment and discussion.

Reading and discussing, such a simple thing, and yet the results offered are beyond measure. Stories teach. They offer solid ground to plant the values, morals, and principles that will sculpt the character of our children. The way those things are internalized has everything to do with the stories we hold dear. 

A book has the ability to remind us who we are. To bring us back from places that are not authentic to our own path. To ground us in the tumult of a continuously spinning whirlwind, that is the world in which we live. What we put into our minds, and how it goes in, does matter. The university of life begins at birth and lasts until death. I can't actually give my children character. They get to build it themselves. I can give them stories. I can read to them of the best books and give them heroes worthy of following, and villains worthy of avoiding. I can focus on content and steer away from entertainment value and "excitement" as the world sees it. Life will offer my children choices. I hope to give them gigantic piles of good stories with which they can create character aplenty.

The girls and I just finished, Lazy Tinka, by Kate Seredy. It's a wonderful book and we have enjoyed many of her others. We had an engaging discussion about God, work, animals, and people, the relation between all parties and who's job it is to make sure we have food, clothing, and shelter. I say 'we' had a discussion, but really I just listened while they did all this figuring and connecting on their own. It was one of those rare mom moments where you get to see that your children are actually more than all the bickering, pushing boundaries, and fit throwing. You know, the moments we live for.

About 30 minutes later, after much excited chatter, the girls bounded down the stairs exclaiming, "Mommy! Mommy! We are going to be oak tree farmers! We have acorns and we are going to go plant them and grow an oak tree farm!" After a jinx, followed by a double jinx, and yet still the triple jinx, finally resting on the rainbow jinx, they got down to business and starting planning. "Buckets of water to wet the extremely dry soil. Let it soak in a little so a good hole can be dug. Nestle the acorn into the ground. Water it well. Water it every day. Use our math skills to divide the acorns in half and devise a planting pattern so we each get to dig, plant, and water. Make sure we plant far enough away so the saplings don't fight for sunlight." And they were off.

Some time later, two happy little oak tree farmers burst into the house proclaiming victory over stubborn soil, and excitement at their new babies. The oldest farmer cried, "I really liked the Lazy Tinka book. It was fun!" To which the younger farmer agreed and added, "Tinka is a great teacher and the old wise woman sure was wise!" What a delight.

What do you hold dear? Do your children know? Is it worthy of your time? What do your children hold dear? Is it worthy of their time? Do you have any clue? Sharing stories with the growing generation has everything to do with our future. It has worked since the beginning of time. It still works today. Thinking is a natural product of reading. What do we want to encourage them to think about? Time to think is necessary to formulate and create. What do we want them to spend their time with? What's on your shelves? What does it bring you and your children? Is there time for thought and discussion, or is life just too busy to be that productive? Think about it :)

The very best leader told great stories. He leads with a calm assurance that He is, and therefore we are.