Archive for March, 2010

31
Mar
10

Bullying, Hierarchy, and Happiness

Nine students of a Massachusetts high school have been charged with various felonies after a student they were systematically bullying at school and on social networking sites committed suicide. This type of action taken by our prosecutors and our courts can only be seen as a good thing.

We each can remember the terror felt walking down the hall with a new boyfriend or a new outfit or a new haircut — do we look okay? did we make the right decision? will we be admired, laughed at, or, perhaps worst of all, ignored? Many of us have also witnessed bullying — sarcasm, ridicule, scorn — taken to excess, and struggled with our own response, or lack thereof. What kind of risk do I take if I stand up for what is right? Will I be next? Am I strong enough to bear the scorn of my peers? Most of us, when in high school, would probably have answered no; many of us maybe still.

And there’s no need to wait for high school — I witness this even with young children. My super-athletically-thin daughter comes home and tells me she’s going on a diet because her 50-lb-overweight friend told her she was fat. Two of my nine-year-old piano students  thump their chests at each other at the half hour as one lesson transitions into the next. It’s like watching puppies jockeying for position next to their mother when they’re not even hungry. We can’t even generalize and say it’s a guy thing; “women” are probably harder on other women than men are, even when we’d like to believe that we should all stick together.  In any case, we’re each trying to find our place in the hierarchy, and to the immature or simplistic mind making someone else feels small makes “me” larger.

In an article in the New York Times, David Brooks points out that “Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions.” Interestingly, though, the Brooks article was not about the case regarding the bullying, but about Sandra Bullock’s “difficult” week last week —  you know, the week when she won the Oscar and lost her dignity because of her philandering and apparently, possibly abusive, husband — and whether professional success trumps personal tragedy in our individual and societal quest for happiness.

Are these two things related? Are we doing what we need to to teach our children about the subtle and surprising manifestations and effects of bullying? Are we stressing enough the importance of how we get along in the world, how we present ourselves, how we can, and need to, build ourselves up without tearing each other down? How the social decisions we make, from how we make and keep friends to how we choose our lifetime partner, impact our lives?

If our children perform a “Yes Dance” with a group of friends at a talent show, are the closeted gay students in the audience intimidated even more than they were before into keeping their identities secret? Do the performers get a “pass” if their actions were harmful but their intentions were not malicious? If we agree to buy our children trendy clothes are we contributing to the idea that these things matter so much that those who do not wear them, for whatever reason, are “wrong”? Should we all just breathe a huge collective sigh of relief that we are safely OUT of the halls of high school? Or is our work just beginning?

We need to teach our children that what we think, what ANYONE thinks, doesn’t matter a whit compared to what they think of themselves. If your child asks if you like a picture that she drew, ask her first if SHE likes it. When a student asks how they did in a competition compared to other students, steer the conversation toward how they did compared to how they HOPED to do, how they EXPECTED to do, how they would like to do next time.

We all like to pat our little charges on the head and bolster their self-esteem. But maybe there are better ways to do it than letting them beat us at card games, and cleaning up after them. Teachers should command respect, stop the grade inflation trend, and not let students text in class. It’s hard to keep after it, I know. Mentoring children, as either a parent or a teacher, is often not the beautiful, inspiring, profound experience we imagine it would be. I liken it more to erosion — they’re the dripping water, I’m the sandstone. What happens when we’re worn down? Despair?

Until then, I’ll try to keep fighting the good fight, and hope that every other parent, teacher, administrator does the same.

30
Mar
10

The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

A Baptist missionary takes his wife and 4 daughters to the Congo, where he tries to bring Jesus to the “natives.” Blatantly disregarding the deep and profound spiritual lives of the residents of the village, and unwilling or unable to learn the subtleties of the native language, “Father” only serves to alienate most of the villagers while exerting his own particular type of religious discipline on his wife and family.

When the youngest daughter dies after being bitten by a poisonous snake, the wife begins her own personal Exodus. Her description of this resonates:

Plain and simple, that was the source of our exodus: I had to keep moving. I didn’t set out to leave my husband. Anyone can see I should have, long before, but I never did know how. For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings. Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either–the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart. Let men write those stories. I can’t. I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on. On the day a committee of men decided to murder the fledgling Congo, what do you suppose Mama Mwanza was doing? Was it different, the day after? Of course not. Was she a fool, then, or the backbone of a history? When a government comes crashing down, it crushes those who were living under its roof. People like Mama Mwanza never knew the house was there at all. Independence is a complex word in a foreign tongue. To resist occupation, whether you’re a  nation or merely a woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat, basically, when you have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line and it looks like rain.”

27
Mar
10

Wizard of Huh?

To spare us all the black-and-white, and having to spend any time at all in Kansas, we’ll jump directly to Oz:

After the vertically-challenged (you could never get away with this in our politically-correct 21st century) thankful bestow upon Dorothy a bouquet of flowers, a giant lollipop, and the keys to the city, Good Witch Glinda (GWG) puts the ruby slippers of the easterly wicked witch (EWW) on Dorothy’s feet without her permission. She solders them on somehow, using her good-witch magic (maybe this has something to do with the rather papal-looking hat), and, immediately following the threat bestowed by westerly wicked witch (W3) upon Dorothy’s life, sends her out of Munchkinland (where apparently W3 has no power) and off to fend for herself in her quest for Oz and the sole being apparently capable of helping Dorothy find her way home.

Dorothy heads off on the yellow brick road, being extraordinarily careful to begin at the exact beginning, and, in the this happens, then that, then this convention of any self-respecting children’s book, accumulates friends 1 (scarecrow), 2 (tin man) and 3 (cowardly lion). In the course of the adventures, we are “subtly” warned of the dangers of 1 playing with fire, 2 not having the sense to come in out of the rain, 3 picking apples from talking trees, and 4 heroin playing in a field of poppies.

After much travail, and a melodramatic threat drawn in smoke in the sky, timely tears trigger the sympathy of a ditzy and apparently castrated guard. The intrepid travelers are granted audience with the symbolic deity of the Merry Ol’ Land of Oz, whereupon they are immediately given a small “task,” also known as do-my-dirty-work-for-me-while-I-stay-back-and-run-things.

W3, who has apparently never bathed, has her power, and her life, quenched with a bucket of dirty mopwater, and all appears to be well on its way to a happy ending.

Of course, upon their return to Oz, it is revealed that the Wizard is an imposter, but he appeases each individual’s righteous dismay as well as their deepest fears of inadequacy through the bestowing of cheap trinkets, much like what can be found at your nearest dollar store or the Oriental Trading Post catalogue.

To reinforce the metaphor of a false god, the Great and Powerful offers Dorothy a ride home in his hot air balloon, which he does not know how to operate.

Just as Dorothy despairs of ever returning home, GWG returns, and informs her that her means of transportation home have been on her feet the whole time, but that she had to learn it for herself. The gap in logic here is just the beginning. When asked what she’s learned, Dorothy replies:

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”

What? Qua? Was? Che?

Does this makes sense to ANYONE?

27
Mar
10

[One] Man’s Garbage. . .

is the world’s disaster.

Ran across this picture in a list of the 10 worst places to visit in the world.

The horrifying thing is that this is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one.

Please stop using plastic bags, and recycle any plastic that you do use. The earth is not our garbage can.

27
Mar
10

Biggest Blog Day

My “biggest” day so far in my lengthy career as a blogger was the day after I tagged “, , ,

What does this say about us?

p.s. Made ya’ look!

26
Mar
10

Colonoscopy Day

So, my husband (51) had his first colonoscopy today. He is concerned about my preserving his dignity, but I’m not actually intending to write about anything that would threaten it in any way. This post will, it goes without saying (so why say it?), be given his stamp of approval before being posted.

I’m not really interested in discussing the enormous quantity of laxatives consumed in preparation for this procedure, nor the specifics of their effect. It was mildly amusing in a gallows-humor sort of way that some of my piano students were arriving yesterday for a group class, as we mixed the 5-year supply of laxative powder with the 64 ozs. of non-red gatorade, and some seemed quite interested in what we were concocting. There were a lot of jokes made about the potential reaction of parents if their children drank that “juice” by mistake, rather than the apple cider that was intended for them.

The gallows humor continued in the prep room this morning as the nurse described both the procedure and the “recovery” process, the results of which were audible from previous patients in the curtained areas 3 or 4 cubbies down from ours. We looked unsuccessfully for the opportunity to use Bertram Pincus’ line regarding chaos and screaming. Suggestions were made for the manufacture of buttons bearing the logo “toot for fluids;” followed by discussion regarding the implications of my eliciting promises for undying love and devotion, gifts of jewelry, and a trip to Tuscany while he (my husband, not Bertram Pincus) was under the influence of anesthetic and advised not to make any legally binding decisions for the next 24 hours.

No, what really struck me was when he was wheeled back out to me and the curtained cubbies afterward. This is a strong, virile, intelligent man, and the anesthetic had rendered him as helpless as a baby. He kept telling the nurse that he was supposed to be somewhere else, that the doctor needed to come and “do something.” Then he’d curl up on his side and fall back to sleep with a little pout. If I touched his arm he’d reach for and clutch my hand, and open his (bloodshot) eyes just enough to squint at me and ask me if the doctor was going to come for him soon.

Eventually he came to fuller consciousness, although much of what happened over the next couple of hours is only “remembered” upon my prompting. He had trouble getting feet into pant legs, may or may not have fallen asleep in the bathroom before we left the hospital, and once we got home, bobbled around, bouncing off of door frames, insisting that he could deliver luggage to the basement and wondering if he should do his routine workout while having trouble maintaining vertical as he walked across the kitchen. I worried about having to leave him home alone for a few hours.

He has never been so grateful for the 36-hour-fast-breaking brunch of scrambled egg whites, 7-grain porridge, toast, coffee and pineapple, nor have I that I could make it for him.

24
Mar
10

Y Chromosome

Has there been any research done on the apparent presence of a visual filter provided by the Y chromosome which prevents men from seeing the dirt on the kitchen floor?

Just curious. It would explain a lot.




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