My humble folk band, The Falderals, got a write-up in our neighborhood paper. My son asked if this meant we were now “as famous as Justin Bieber”? Before I could figure out how to reply (because it’s really too close to call), my other son said, “no, probably only about as famous as a minor league baseball player.” So that’s the modern fame continuum for boys: minor league baseball player to Bieber. These days fame can be pretty quantifiable. We can check stats and likes and count “followers.” And our young people know this well. My son was disappointed by the paltry number of hits he got for the YouTube video of him getting his cast off. His grandparents could only watch it so many times. It’s good fun. But there is a danger when fame, recognition, and notoriety become our full measure of success. How can we make sure our kids pursue things they are passionate about, things they love to do, not just activities that will make them famous, well-liked, or go viral? Emily Dickinson can help.
Here’s a really good question I was recently asked: why would you feel distressed over a situation you can change? Why worry about something that can be fixed? Just fix it. If you plan on fixing it later, then do that. But don’t waste time with worry. Good point.Obvious, right? But here’s the follow-up question: why would you feel distressed or worried over a situation or problem you can’t change? If it can’t be fixed, changed, or altered, why spend your time being worked up about it? Good point. Obvious again. But it turns out, those are the only two types of situations that exist: things you can change and things you can’t. So there’s nothing to worry about. Right? Of course, it’s easier said than done. But helping kids see the difference can steer them towards contentment.
I like to think that the reason my family didn’t notice that Screen-Free Week had arrived was because we don’t watch enough TV or media to hear it announced. But that’s not true. There’s plenty of screen time in our house. My media savvy seven-year-old is great at tricking his parents into extended TV sessions by mining our favorite shows of the past using Netflix. We’ve been through seven seasons of MacGyver, much of The Dukes of Hazards, Gilligan’s Island, Leave it to Beaver, and now he just got me re-hooked on Family Ties. That’s not screen time, that’s history (right?), watching Alex P. Keaton learn valuable life lessons that always end with a family hug. We do track screen time, but over a long winter things have eroded a bit. This was why my wife and I were so ready to jump on board when we heard about Screen-Free Week, which is an “international celebration” led by ScreenFree.org “where children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days turning OFF digital entertainment and turning ON life!” Yes! Awesome! We’re in. Wait? Did they say seven days?
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary.” -Rabbi Hillel
The Golden Rule has been around a while. Some think it was first taught by Confucius. Yet, according to religious scholar and worldwide compassion ambassador Karen Armstrong, this core idea, that you must not do to others what you would not want done to you, is at the heart of all religions. And she thinks this unifying thread is the secret to saving our world, if only we’d remember to follow it. Of course, we want to raise compassionate kids, and there are tips and resources below. But we also must consider how we, the adults, are doing. Are we compassionate only to our children, house plants, and those who pay us well or smile back at us at the customer service counter? Is compassion bigger than this? Are we compassionate with our investments? Compassionate shoppers? Is compassion something people must earn from us? It’s easy to get teary-eyed over pictures of starving children, but what about angry inmates? What will it take for compassion to change the world?
As a species, we evolved for survival, not contentment. The four Fs decided everything we did: Fight, Flee, Feed, or, uh, you know, Fornicate. (A student of mine though “freak” would be better, but we all know what the F stands for). Those of us who had these four instincts most strongly ingrained in us, survived. We survived by fighting and feeding and fleeing and freaking as much as possible. The oddball who decided to take it easy, enjoy the sunset, stop and smell the roses, probably didn’t make it very long in the cave man world, and probably did not pass down these traits. So now, if we want to find contentment, we need to go up against our own evolution. But it’s worth it.
I have been through some terrible things in my life, some which actually happened. -Mark Twain
Happiness is often too much about the future. At work on Friday I’m happy because I’m looking forward to the weekend and time with my wife and kids. Strangely, at home on Sunday, when I’m actually with my wife and kids, I’m moody and down because I’m anticipating Monday. Hmmm? That’s insane. But it’s a good lesson in how the future can taint the present. Our over-active mind does us a great disservice by endlessly anticipating horrors that will never occur or craving pleasures that we cannot have. But we can train the beast.