Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monoculture By F.S. Michaels, Education, and Living Parallel to Culture

Personal views on education have gradually changed for our family over the years. While we value autonomy, freedom and learning we have come to understand that these values are not synonymous with the educational systems we have today. The ethics of education have changed. The economic cost of secondary education has created appalling debt. We have a culture of "learned" students without options. 

For our personal family, choices regarding freedom, autonomy and learning, involved many books and philosophical thought patterns which brought us to the choices that we make today. But one of the books that propelled us towards change a bit quicker was 'Monoculture' by F.S. Michaels. The book is short, concise, well researched, and worth the read. The book is based on the economic story that is overarching many disciplines and thus affecting our decisions within our culture collectively and our individual lives. For a quick book review CLICK here or amazon HERE. "F.S. Michaels' Monoculture...Winning the George Orwell award, being asked to speak at Alain de Boton's London School of Life, NPR, Brainpicker and now TEDs. It's definitely an idea worth spreading." (Quote taken from the Ted Talks' link HERE.)

The book does not have solutions to living parallel to cultural (which is a concept suggested) but instead show how economics shape our lives. F.S. postulates that the values of the past which included beauty, truth, justice, and freedom have been replaced by economic values such as capitalization, competitiveness, efficiency, and growth. The last few chapters encourage living parallel to cultural. Parallel is important because it's not reactionary. If we simply live contrary to culture we are just creating a similar problem in reverse. Plus, a reactionary response usually stems out of anger, and while this may be a legitimate stage in a journey, it should not be the end game. 

Most of us have enough autonomy to BE our own stories. At least where I live, there is the privilege of choice in many areas of life. With this freedom we can revolutionize our mind by changing our perspectives.

My personal beliefs on education transitioned from a large believer in secondary education, to student in a secondary college, to an online student, to drop out, to enrolling my own kids in school, taking my kids out to homeschool, and finally finding a way to incorporate unschooling methods (see side labels.) My way is not the only way nor the "right way," but it was the path that enabled me to live the F.S. Michaels concept of living "parallel to culture." Our family choices today are contemplated versions of parallel living. An important point of living parallel to culture is that it can not be mass produced or it simply becomes another culture. Instead with thought and respect we each get to actively think and choose how we live our own story. Thus, your children may be in school. You may be a supporter of secondary education. The reasoning behind WHY you choose what you choose and contemplating the history and cultural belief surrounding your choice is what's important.

"Education was thought of as a service to humanity, as a cornerstone of democracy. Through education, you came to an enlightened understanding of the world, became someone who could think critically, someone who knew how to participate effectively in society and how to hold democratic leaders accountable. Education was a public good, a social investment in our life together as a society. We believed that education improved us collectively whether we were personally the ones being educated or not. We used education to redistribute opportunity. Education would narrow the gap between the haves and have nots by making access to a better life more equal. If you started out at a disadvantage, through education you have a chance to improve your life."- F.S. Michaels.

F.S. Michaels continues to write upon the original process behind our institutionalized learning. While the story of education started out fantastic and honourable, the story of education and science changed. The economic story isn't simply just about money but it is about what is considered rational instead of what is the good of all. Entrepreneurs and marketing make education something to buy and sell at the educational institutionalized core. Education is now a service and ethical simplicity is no longer in the equation. "In the economic story, education is ushered into the world of markets and becomes a commodity. Students become buyers. Schools become sellers, service providers competing for business in the education services industry. The economic story says that education is a private good, not a public one. Education is something that helps you get ahead in life as an individual. Education matters, not because it will help you become a fully formed and informed citizen capable of participating effectively in society, but because it will help you get a better job, make more money, and improve your quality of life."- F.S. Michaels 

What is more alarming is the inequality in a time period that we mistakenly believe is full of equality and autonomy. Hundreds of students are giving up autonomy to owe debt to large companies and systems. Families are working to pay off debt in low end jobs while dreaming of the work they thought they would do with their degree. Education is supposed to be a free leavening agent for the peoples of the world, for each to have opportunity, freedom and choice. Instead higher education (debt free) is given to the few chosen who are privileged. Money is an important factor to freedom. Instead of learning how to manage it properly with blogs such as Mr. Money Moustache,(CLICK) we believe we will make money by paying to go to school to land that job we think we deserve instead of focusing on quality and responsibility.

"Those leery about taking on that kind of debt have fewer options than they once did. Scholarships and grants- money that doesn't have to be paid back- are now based more on merit than financial need, and the criteria used to measure merit are highly correlated with socio-economic status. In other words, students who are more affluent to begin with have higher merit scores, which makes them more likely to be awarded financial aide that doesn't have to be paid back. Education scholars observe that in the 21st century, more economic and racial inequality now exists in access to higher education than in the 1960's."- F.S. Michaels 

The decision to homeschool our kids came with many factors and none of them hinged on the future possibility for secondary education. If our children decide to attend higher education, so be it. Where there is a will, there is most often a way, and we are not too worried about it. They are learning quite a bit of "higher education" now, including a complete university level liberal arts education in podcast form (CLICK) . We want them to learn for the sake of learning and critical thinking. We want them to find jobs that get them out of debt or optimally to not get into debt to begin with. Their personal autonomy, responsibility, ethics, and outside the box thinking matters. Overall, we don't want them to be another cog in the wheel of conformity and competition. We don't wish them to base their value on competing or achievements which we felt was an overarching theme in traditional schooling. 

 "The economic story says you should choose which school to attend based not on the quality of the teaching but on the recognition and cachet of the school and it's degrees; a better brand represents a better return in your investment. In your classes, you compete against others to get ahead. You're ranked against your classmates and your ranking is largely based on how you preform as an individual. If you're independent, flexible, adaptive, fast, self governing, and entrepreneurial, you're someone to watch. High preforming, valued students are those who can help the school achieve its benchmarks in its own competition with other schools...because in the economic story your school educates you to give the country a competitive advantage in the global knowledge community...and to train workers for the workforce."- F.S. Michaels

"After science lost its moral high ground by creating the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in the second world war, science slowly became industrialized... Scientists now find ways to create knowledge, then find an application for it. Outside funding is a common theme. Winning contracts and grants outside becomes huge. What was once for the intellectual commons is now intellectual private property. Colleagues become competitors. Scholars are advised not to share findings....After all, research can generate major income. In 2000, licensing revenues for research results like the hepatitis B vaccine, the cancer drug Taxol, the sports drink gatorade, and vitamin D technologies topped 1.7 billion; revenues are typically split in thirds between the researcher, his or her department, and the university... Programs like Humanities become less valuable because they attract less outside money."- F.S. Michaels

Education is one segment of the themes of life that are shaped by the main economic story. F.S. Michaels also includes this main theme in creativity, religion, health care, nature, and relationships. These disciplines and their cultural mentalities are important to consider.

So, if most of us are living monoculturally, and are aware of it, what are we to do? What is an informed, truth seeking, citizen determined to have choice and freedom, for the greater good of humanity, to do in this economic educational story?  

The first time I read F.S. Michaels book, I felt slightly overwhelmed by HOW to live alongside monoculture. I remember wishing she would give real life, diverse examples of people who chose different paths at the end of her revelations. Not for a prescription of mass production but for a stepping off point or a spark for those who wish to implement change but don't even know where to begin. When we see the courage of difference in others, it's easier to find it in ourselves. When we witness people OWNING their stories, we in turn want to find the discipline and inspiration to own ours. It shouldn't look exactly the same, but someone else's story may encourage our OWN. Change is not easy and it's not one size fits all. 

For my family, it took years to get where we are today. We currently live and own our form of dignity. We have found a way to birth our life into something independent yet still reliant on community in healthy doses (and contributing to). Our life is based on simply LIVING our story and encouraging others to live theirs thoughtfully even if it differs vastly from ours. If, after pursuing the deeper meanings behind the cultural story, large picture and beliefs, one chooses to still be in facets of varied parts of culture, that is still a valid way of living. But if you are unhappy...if you find yourself resonating with the fact that economics are at the helm of your story, then find a way to change your story. This depends on what you think and who you become within your thoughts. As Gandhi challenges, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I would highly recommend starting in your own world first. Who do you want to be and who are you now?  BE. Honour this moment and this story you are the main character in. Actively CHOOSE.

 I feel that living parallel to the current culture is a revelation to many. Healthy self and healthy community starts by having a thoughtful choice instead of being swept away by "one economic story that is shaping our Education, Creativity, Religion, Health care, Nature/Environment, Relationships ect. "- F.S. Michaels. 

Your personal story, WHOM you are, what motivates you, your thoughts and challenging yourself within these thoughts, matter. The quality of life depends on choice, which in turn is influenced by gut**(Click here for more thoughts on the gut and how it shapes your decisions) and thought. Beliefs are meant to be questioned. The reasons why we do things are just as important as implementing choice.

You ARE your story. Not the monoculture. Not the economic story you may happen to find yourself in. Perhaps that is your setting but it does not have to be the place where your ending is. Our stories involve what we tell ourselves everyday. Change the narration. Find a way that honours your personal beauty, freedom, justice and wisdom. 

Song Choice: Brick in the wall- Pink Floyd 
*All quoted material written by F.S. Michaels chapter on Education in Monoculture.

** check out the book Gut by Gulia Enders

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Choices That Brought Me to A Life I Love Today Based on Sartre's "We are Our Choices."

*This is a lengthier post in general because it was tough to condense the choices made to the point of freedom we are at today. Skim it if you want basic tips, read it if you need more, skip it if you are loving your life and in need of time elsewhere. :)

Sometimes (ok almost every day) I am in awe that the life I lead is MY life. I LOVE my life. It's a princess sort of existence without the responsibilities and gender expectations that would otherwise come with that role. I have the surroundings of a queen. I live in general comfort and each day I get to choose what I wish to do for the most part. I am free in many aspects of living and my children enjoy the same. It's a privilege of course but I didn't just wake up here in this lovely life. I made choices. I became my choices. My husband made choices. He became his. Life was mostly hard in various ways for me up until the age of 26/28 ish (or at least that is the mentality I owned back then.) I didn't understand the culture I was immersed in, I disliked many events I participated in but felt that it was my fault, I felt secretly ashamed of how I worked but KNEW that something was different about me, and I struggled with dark depressions, crazy baby hormones, finances, daily grit, and general BEING.

I often get asked why I am so happy now even though some events in our life are tougher than before, I am aging, and I still struggle with health. People have asked me what is the difference between my mentality then and how I view my life now. There are MANY events that lead up to the last few years of abundance and most of them involved changing perspectives to a startling degree.

I was burning old piles of letters, papers and journals last week. Having a recent death in the family had me asking myself what I wanted people to go through when I was gone and I realized my papers needing a lot of weeding. As I was travelling down memory lane one last time before the blazing fire, I came across pages filled with prayers to the lord and heavy Christianize language regarding my life. I wrote a lot of tag lines like 'Daughter of the King' or 'Christ follower'. I defined myself by a set of rules or even ironically my own self rule but called it God. I thought saying phrases like that were a testimony or a huge part of my identity but I didn't see the part of it that was not what it seemed. Back then I would have considered these current statements blasphemous but now I understand how immersed my belief was as a cultural experience and how blind we are to our own control issues. Many of the letters were full of guilt or shame disguised as humbleness. An example of my letters; "Dear Precious Lord and Saviour. I know my life is yours heavenly father and I realize that I am your servant but yet I still struggle. Even though I know I am your precious daughter I don't understand why I am unable to get passed the death of my baby. Why am I this way? I ask you to forgive me for my sins and that I can be more of a witness for you. Please allow me to show grace and to not be bogged down by the world and rest that my baby is with you. Please shine through this circumstance." Instead of truly grieving for what I lost I felt conflicted between my true feelings and being a testimony through the pain or winning souls to the lord. Anyway, it got worse after that to the point that I could not stomach much more of my own Christianize thus I disgustedly threw the pile in the fire. Because truthfully, that was NOT me. The essence was me but the language was full of christian expectation that was fighting within me. Plus, it was a short stage in my life. While I was a bit more religious in high school, I wasn't as conservative and was considered an outside the box, "grace based" christian until after I was married. My husband was quite strict for the first years of our married life. Our adherence to biblical rules to the point of fanatic, happened after we had  our first two children and for a few years I was the wife whom, even though I had a rebellious, non conformist spirit, ALMOST believed in submission and read the 'Power of a Praying Wife' believing that it was ME who was the problem. I was the one crying out to god in my room. I was the one parenting the kids while he went out to serve in the church continuously, thinking that it was the true work. We sacrificed a lot in the name of god and religion. Until one day our aunt called us on the hypocrisy of our doctrine. We thought she was going to hell...but the seed had been planted. We started questioning. As a result we received more control from others in our life, more patronizing and more accusations of being deviants...which told us that maybe we were right in questioning our so called safety of church in the first place. We went through the stages- first we became more Benedictine, then Anglican, then we focused on grace filled application, then charismatic, and then eastern/new age sort of christian. It was interesting the stages and phases and while they all had their benefits and we can recognize many types of Christians from what we went through ourselves, we began to see the benefits, downsides and mentalities that were surprisingly similar deep down. We stopped attending church...at first it was a few times a month, then for months, then finally after three years we stopped attending the special occasions too. And we breathed LIFE. Lazy like Sunday finally made sense.

The support was taken from our lives with these choices and for a couple years we did not have many people speaking that love so we built our own supports gradually. It took about four years total but one day we woke up realizing it all paid off. Fast forward through many books, podcasts, and finally access to the Internet, philosophy, secular history, psychology and sociology and you would never believe that I wrote letters like the ones I threw in my fire. I look at that girl and I don't recognize her at all. It feels like I have lived several lives re incarnated within the same lifetime of myself. I actually have more questions than answers. I am definitely against organized religion in general of all shapes and sizes but I also accept individuals who practice many faiths out of love. I am more familiar with the religion of my childhood so thus I WILL be tougher on it. Because we don't go around parenting other children but we do have a responsibility to parent the children we know well. I also believe each faith has something to teach.

Religion aside, many life altering choices became available to us in the last decade. I found understanding in diagnosis. Finding out I had Asperger's Syndrome (now simply Autism) was one of the most freeing moments of my life and the co conditions I was diagnosed with like Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, ADD, and being a Highly Sensitive Person. Suddenly, I no longer looked at myself through the lens of flawed. I no longer spent agonizing nights going over my day, where I went wrong, how I was foolish and wondering WHY my inner life could never be expressed properly from my outer life. It wasn't easy finding a diagnosis or getting my kids diagnosed. It took years of our life going to appointments, finding therapists and dealing with pretentious beasts of people at times while finding a few intellectual gems and acceptance. I was thirsty for any information on our conditions and I read hundreds of blogs, articles and at least forty (ish) books on the topic. Some were thrown across the room while others were highlighted and still have an honoured place in my library. My husband was not comforted at first by the thought that his wife would be autistic for life. He confided that he always thought one day I would magically be "normal" and that one day I would wake up able to cook and drive. That was a moment when there was a choice. For both of us. Those months were tough. I had to choose to accept myself but to also accept his decision if I was even what he wanted anymore. He had to choose to learn about differences and how to adjust to a different brand of family function. Along the way he realized he had a diagnosis of his own and suddenly accepting mine was easier because he suddenly understood what it was like to be a minority in diagnosis too. Hours were spent on trips reading and discussing our perspectives. Our marriage went from hanging on a string to the strongest souls uniting. But it started with a choice. It meant not giving up despite a flawed medical system. It meant being berated by some, criticized by others and told we were sinful (which is soul destroying when you actually believe in sin but became a lot easier to deal with once we did not.) Yet, despite the many odds we CHOSE the difficult path which ended up getting us to the easy path we are on today.

Our finances began to be worked out which I wrote about in other posts (see side labels), I learned about boundaries which I have also written a lot about (see side labels), and I learned that despite being an honest and open person, not giving all my information away to anyone whom I wanted to make a connection with was key to survival. People are not as nice as I assumed. Most are curious but not caring. Boundaries and necessary endings were painful at first as I took proverbial scissors to many events and relationships...the first few years especially. But after I adjusted I looked around at what first seemed like a burnt up forest and saw that instead it was a flourishing secret garden. 

Personality Cognitive Functions was another step in growth. I am not speaking upon the simple tests and letters of INFJ but the actual cognitive function and science behind these brain function stacks. Personality Hacker is one of the better tools for explaining this. We learned the function stacks of our children and each other and this cut family arguments in a third. Sometimes it's a choice between wasting time somewhere else or sitting down to learn about each other. But a choice that has paid off in so many ways.

The INFJ put another piece of the puzzle together on why I love people but need to sparse out my social commitments. It also drove home to me why I still often felt like an outsider in most of the Autistic community. I didn't fit in with the Nuerotypicals but I didn't fit in with most of the Nuerodiverse either (even though I fit more.) I realized it was because I had the INFJ component which very few autistics have. It made even more paradoxes for me. I discovered Sam another INFJ Aspie blogger who became a friend even off the blogs. I discovered home in a private blog by a few random ladies finding me and becoming some of the most treasured friends I have today. At least five of them are in my life on a more personal level. No longer were my only friend options those in my town. Don't get me wrong- I LOVE my friends from my home town but with an exception of a few, I didn't really know a diverse group of people from different countries, sexualities, mentalities and religions. Each of my blog gals fit a category of differences that I had not yet come across and they grew my perspectives. When you grow up in  a rural small town religion mentality, even if your family is considered liberal and you have lived in other places and visited other countries, there is a limitation (pre internet) on growth outside of books and film. I was well rounded enough BECAUSE of the movies and books I grew myself up on, but when I actually began to know other people from diverse differences, suddenly these aspects of being were no longer simply labels but an organic piece of a loving person. This changed everything.

When my kids were little I thought traditional schooling was the only option. I thought homeschooling was for either super religious people or those who were over protective of their children and limited their choices. I could not have been more wrong (or more of a snob really.) When my children attended the school I became shocked at what they didn't learn, what peers taught them in a not so good way, what went on even in a private school, the sensory overload and how hard it was for all of us. Their behavioural issues went through the roof. One day I was speaking with a mental health professional about it all and she suggested I look into homeschooling. "You are smart and think of things most don't- it doesn't take a degree to teach a child- look at the years of history leading up to school as we know it today. Think about it." The seed was planted. A new choice had to be made. It took three years of pulling them in and out of school until I found my groove in homeschooling and fully committed to it. At first I hated it but now I could never put them back in. My biggest worry is that I will die before they finish school and they will be sent to that prison of conformity, walls and time. Yup- my mentalities are open to OTHER people choosing school- I really do get it, but I realize I am aware I am quite opinionated about the school system itself. As time went on I grew into an even different mentality within the homeschooling community which was unschooling. That choice made our life even more beautiful. I still have more growth to go and each year I learn a new approach or change my own. 

These are all choices that I never in my wildest dreams thought I could implement as a child. I thought I would be a working woman with an epic love story but I did not want kids. I believed that University was the sign of success and that job security was the sign of a fruitful life. I valued education not realizing that really what I valued deep down was choice, freedom, responsibility and learning about diversity and choices. I didn't want to stay home and I certainly didn't want to ever entertain the idea that I may change my faith and go to hell. Turns out there is a lot in our place of freedom that can be done to make a living or Be.

Other choices and changes that brought us to this point:
*Health Answers and Questions

*Kids Passing the Age of Five. I am not an early year person even though I adore little children. The sensory overload and exhaustion, PPD and general work did not suit me. I almost hated my kids sometimes if I am truthful but now I look back and realize my mind was tired, overwhelmed and sick with hormone imbalance. Now that stage is done I ADORE having children and I am glad I did it.

*Therapy! It's not easy finding a good therapist and it takes a lot of work but it's worth it! When you can't find one, be your own. Read challenging relationship books outside of your chosen religion or perspectives. Find Youtube videos and self help that actually make you THINK, take responsibility, become aware and lovingly implement respect and boundaries. Make time to discuss all outside the box thinking with your partner. 

*Body Acceptance. See side label. 

*Not Giving a Damn but Then Avidly Caring in Other Areas.

* Learning about Sensory Overload. This was HUGE. I started avoiding situations I could, making the best of what I couldn't and accepting myself when I melted down over certain triggers.

*Changing my homeschooling facilitator even though my last one was kind and smart. I realized I needed to have someone who suited my personality and goals. It was actually very tough to quit on someone who was such a kind and smart person. It took bravery of a different sort. As an INFJ I can actually deliver in such a way that makes someone feel happy while I leave them but it takes a large amount of energy and I normally save that for important situations. It was a choice I could have been ok with not doing but by stepping out it made a larger difference in our life than I thought was possible.

*Legal Name Changes. It's surprising how last, first and middle names change a person. In fact, as we were going through our changes we came across a whole philosophy built around name changing and what it means sociologically and individually. Name meanings also have also been shown to become a trait the person becomes. We live up to what we are often called. We must be wary about what we nickname others because names influence behaviour. Of course there is a choice factor too but there is an aspect of names that contribute to becoming. The names we give our children may not be the names that suit their later personas. We learned how to let go of our children choosing different names when they age or important nicknames. We allowed them to pick their middle names based on meaning and a range of options we gave. We changed our last name (CLICK) and it has made all the difference in our daily living. 

* The Art of Eating and Diet (see side label.)

*Our Home Renos. The Not So Big House series taught us what makes a home. We started designing our starter home into our dreams instead of waiting for the "right dream" home. We chose to spend our time and money on where we were at. A split level is the last sort of home design I wanted and yet ours now is one of my favourite places in the world. Is is exactly what I would choose if given unlimited options? No... but I would enjoy many different types of home. Thus we put into it what was important to us in detail, design and the layout we could. We focused on roots yet wings but not physically so much as mentally. I learned that decorating is important to me even in the midst of a minimalist movement. I learned I could love and respect my minimalist friends while filling my home with everything I love. And no that did not mean I was a hoarder, could not let go or held on too much to things. It just meant I knew what fills me, what I love and how to enjoy what is surrounding me.

*Realizing Family may NOT always be Blood Relatives. Family members are those who accept, challenge in a loving way, and grow with you. They are a support system who call during good times and not just bad times or when they want you to change something. Family are those who try to understand the topics that are important to you even if it bores them and vice versa. Family are also people who are willing to let go of their ideas of the afterlife enough to not pass judgement or have every conversation revolve around AFTER and instead focus on what they have NOW. They give up control over the outcome of your fate and simply become travellers together even if their beliefs do not line up- it's about love and acceptance instead of judgement and control. Family are those who become with us...and it can change...some family members stick around while others come and go.

* The Gifts of Imperfection. Letting go of any shame story changed my relationships forever. Thank you Brene Brown.

Those points above were some of the key moments that brought us to loving the last few years of life. If I died today I would die content in what my life was and is. I have everything I never knew I always wanted. It was a crucial moment the day I asked myself, "Why can't my life look like Anne of Green Gables or Father of the Bride 2? Why can't I make little choices and mentalities to perceive that way? My life IS a story ... so why not be the director of it when I can?!" And so I did.

It's still hard, as life can be sometimes, but in general when I am alone witnessing it all, I feel gratitude deep and abiding. It's magic. In Once Upon A Time, Mr. Gold often cautions, "Careful what you wish for dearie, all magic comes at a price." Our magic did come at a price but the magic was worth it. The price was paid by us in all these changes initially but once the adjustment period was over in each of them, the price no longer bothered us because the magic was there. I used to have a life filled with regrets of what I should have done, what would have been more of a testimony, what was the "right" decision...and now I rarely if ever, regret anything. It's all a learning process and if I am going to accept other's mistakes and look at them as opportunities for change, growth and acceptance, I must do the same for myself.

J.P Sartre, a philosopher of the last century wrote, "We ARE our choices." We become what we choose. Looking back I can sum these choices up in a tidy package and most seem large, but at the time most of them were small, daily choices that seemed to have little impact. I had no idea that when I acted upon a thought of research that I would be witnessing a domino affect of years getting me to where I am today. I didn't know I would be happier in my thirties than ever before. I thought I would be dead or miserable because I was no longer young according to culture. I thought those best years of my life everyone kept telling me to enjoy were mostly not so hot. If people were right I was screwed. I didn't think I had autonomy and in some cases my environment did make me have less freedom...finances would be one of those areas that has restrictions...but there ARE ways around sometimes...it's finding them that is both adventure, hardship and freedom.

Today I watched my kids play basketball out on the road as the autumn sun beat down on my deck. I listened to Steve Tyrell croon as my neighbourhood was quiet because all others were chasing down other dreams and expectations. I sat and I realized I was happy. More than happy because I was content, I was rich in what I have, and I was part of beauty and am beauty. Of course my tummy was off as usual, I was exhausted and breathy and a little apprehensive about my latest blood work result, my child had been obstinate at one point and my house wasn't clean...so I am not saying life was perfect or had a lack of struggle. I am not looking for perfection. I am looking for the gifts within imperfection. I found that. I made choices that put me at risk. I participated in existential crises and turned many of my previous mindsets on their head. It all started with a little choice that I could make inside- owning my perspective. Like Sara in The Little Princess I decided that markings of a princess involve an internal belief system. I didn't think I would ever get my cushy home as a lovely reality so until I did I pretended and chose what I could. That made all the difference.

I know I've lived and it has mattered. I try to savour every ordinary moment I have. I want to own every second...even the ones I would rather forget. That girl I was talking about that I no longer recognize in my early twenties? Well, even though I don't recognize her- she helped bring me HERE so I don't regret her. She gave me lessons and grit and a remembrance of what it is like to be immersed in a belief system. She continues to give me grace for others like her because I was once her. I am glad I am no longer her and in another way she was beauty too, but there will be aspects of myself now I will shed later if I get to live longer. A large factor in all of this though was choice. We become our choices and we ARE what we choose.

Looking back, what daily or key choices brought you your best moments?

The music video for the song below "I Lived" is part bio of an attractive boy with Cystic Fibrosis and each time I watch it I relate in some areas, and am relieved in others while also growing in my awareness of each of our stories, how they are integrated, what becomes us and how we choose to live:

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Obligations as Privileges for Our Children- The Problems Behind the Mentality Of Over Scheduled Children

The start of a new season comes with natural changes, growth, die off and perspective. It's part of the process of life. In Autumn most are preparing for school, extracurriculars and signing up for as many possible "privileges" for our children. In moderation, all of these things can be beneficial. But it's the interesting mentality behind most obligations that could be challenged. I often hear parents say that they see these sign ups as privileges. Indeed they are. But so are water, food, shelter and clothing. Yet, it would be ridiculous if we set ourselves up with constant food simply because it was a privilege. That kind of reasoning sets the stage for all sorts of excess and even a hidden type of guilt choosing, over consumption and not making room for others. Out of the belief in privilege we mistakenly think if we do not sign our kids up, then we are NOT setting our kids up for a good future, making them into whole beings, or giving them "enough" love. We mistakenly equate discipline and skill as love. Of course these are important stepping stones to wholeness but we have over emphasized them because our culture is all about being privileged. It's about finding that perfect job that makes a soul sing and living the life of dreams. But is that really what we want for our children? Deep down is that what our children wish from us?

We must deconstruct our choices and mentalities. Sometimes we think we are going against the crowd when really we are another form of baying sheep. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being sheep either. In moderation we need some sheep. Just not an entire society full of them as the endgame goal. Why are privileges "privileges" in the first place? What does this mean in our lives? Why do we believe we need to cash in on most of them? Is there another way to encounter the same value without exhausting our time, resources and children? Can our children be loved simply BY being? Can they learn love and other valuable attributes without joining a sporting event, music lesson, second language ect? Can they not learn organically themselves based on their interest with us supervising discipline when absolutely needed? Should we not be a facilitator instead of controller of our children's desires and gifts along with challenges and needs? Oh but they must be equipped with the skills to find the best career to enjoy! What about simply teaching them to enjoy everything...including the mundane and mediocre? The life lived in the ordinary and what beauty to be found! What about the value of boredom as a step into creativity?

A privilege by definition is a right, immunity or advantage granted to a certain people group. Why are we holding this up as something to cash in on? Many atrocities, judgements and prejudices are committed in the name of privilege. Ask any minority group. There are many advantages too of course, but there are also valuable lessons to be had in not being privileged.

There are hard knock rules of life that give underprivileged children the grit to get by in a harsh and sometimes unfair world. Not that privileges are bad within themselves. Each of us have privileges that contribute to our glittered viewpoints. I am writing from a place of privilege because I make most of my own choices, have my own autonomy and am middle class. On the flip side I know what it is like to not be in the people group who have the advantage culturally to succeed. I also know what living with an impairment is like. In that regard I have learned valuable lessons about BEING. The tough questions are ever present. This has damaged me and served me equally. I am glad that my childhood was not spent focusing on my abilities. While there were aspects of that, most of my childhood was spent with free time, responsibility within that time, and allowance OF time. The part that was focused on my abilities I now receive therapy for.

What does it mean to have a disability in a world that prizes ability? A world where slogans for those who are different even include the words "see the ability." Well intentioned and true in some of their worded merit, but limiting within themselves. People should be seen for whom they are; a unique package of beauty and struggle, strength and weakness. Instead we should just see beyond. Beyond package, beyond words, beyond ability, beyond mind into the soul...the genuine, innocence and soul that IS. My particular slogan is supposed to be a puzzle piece. Something most of the autistic community takes issue with but those who are parents of the Autistics and those even trying to help... promote. That is usually how it goes. We don't want to be seen as a fascinating puzzle. We just ARE. Of course there is education and support to go along with that but it first comes from a place of love. Slogans, no matter how well meaning, only further complicate the issue. They veil it with more misunderstanding and cloak US with further stigma while trying to free us. It's ironic and unfortunate. On a larger scale it also factors in to what we choose for our children in the first place. Education, improvements, and preparation. What are we preparing for? Another cog in the wheel of the work force? Another life like so many of our peers that are unsatisfied, constantly searching, scared and exhausted? It's one thing if they join the workforce because they have learned that any life is of value. It's completely another to try to rise in it because they think that it GIVES value. There is a difference.

I will be happy if my children work at Subway their entire lives and enjoy their down time, learn to manage their money so that they can live within their means and validate all of their own experience...the messy and neat. If they struggle with depression because they are prone to it but still see that in that they ARE, it matters. If they need to go on disability because they can not fit into culture, THEY STILL ARE. They still give and they are still valued. If they are bored, that they learn how to give time to find creativity. I will also be happy if they decide to be a lawyer because they love helping people and they love using money wisely and enjoying it. If they prefer to spend hours alone working at a job because it is what comes naturally to them, so be it. What a person really desires they will find a way to do, no matter most of the odds. No matter what "privileges" of are joined or not. What exactly are we hoping for them to achieve?

Before we sign our children up for another music lesson or sporting event we should ask ourselves a few crucial questions. Why are we doing this? What does it mean for US? What does it mean to them? Where in our story did we get this ingrained belief? Even if it is a good belief, could there be a question or caution within it? Why is this particular music lesson (or insert event here) important? Can our children learn the same values without putting out that money and time? Can we personally vouch for that valuable resource of money and time? Are we considering our exhaustion, borrowing money, borrowing time, and other hindrances to society as part of the equation just as equally as we are considering the benefits? Are we buying into these societal norms because we believe in research, funded by programs that promote and make money off of these events? Because they give jobs and make our society go round so we become part of the cycle because everyone else is?  Just because we take a different perspective on it, however healthy, doesn't meant that we might not need to step back and question.

At the end of the day we will all make different decisions. I don't want mini robots of me because I value individuality and freedom. Plus I secretly enjoy aspects of the crazy sign up sheets... because it means other people are super busy in their lives and less likely to be in mine. Yes, I benefit from it too. I also love that after school times are often full of parents running around which means life is more likely to be quiet for my children to explore. I value that because I am a quiet soul. I realize for others who have a extroverted souls or a heart for services may want to meet and greet as many people as possible. For those children, it actually may be important to be in a few of these obligations/privileges. But those children are certainly not the norm we portray them to be. A busy society means less likely to get into trouble, to be rebellious, to THINK, to be more creative and thus to be more effective. If effectiveness is a goal...by all means...but most people want more for their children.

At the end of the day, ALL children want to know they are worthy and loved. This will be a large contributing factor in regards to content, whole adults. Most parents want their children to feel love and thus pick a lot of misplaced ideas of what this means instead of giving the children what is most fleeting to them- TIME. Childhood is only a quarter of an average human life. They have plenty of time to be effective adults and plenty of time to learn. In fact, when their brains have matured they will learn the lessons of discipline whether through hard knocks or fantastic support...but the children who have love do have an advantage and indeed a privilege worth it all. The children who do not, also have the possibility to succeed despite the odds and validate their own existence.

Each child can learn they are worthy because they exist. Not because they know two languages, play the cello, or can pirouette. Oh but these things give them more to enjoy. Really? So a child who twirls clumsily is less happy and aware than a child who can ecarte? Are they more passionate simply because we define these art forms as passionate? Are they more driven because our perceptions of ballet inform us that obviously a person who performs in ballet lessons has to be driven and disciplined? Yes, yes there is something to be said for the love of ballet/dance/ ect.. I do know dancers who chose ballet because they LOVED it, not because their parents or society valued it. In them, the spark is real. I am picking on ballet simply because it is one of the popular choices along with certain sports, the violin and second languages. Why? Because in previous studies these have been proven to enhance life. But we forget that many other aspects of being can achieve the same effect if we only open our inner eyes. Also, ballet, the cello/violin, second languages, basketball/hockey/soccer, ect. whether we want to admit it or not, are associated with money, privilege, status, sophistication, success and ease in life. What person wouldn't be tempted by that future package for their children?

 Our children should be allowed to pursue what they are passionate about. Yes, there are opportunities we can give them to explore options but how many parents force their children to continue piano because they believe one day their kids will be grateful? Maybe they will, but there would be other, just as beautiful skills or take it further (no skills but whom they are) that they would also be grateful for. Time itself, love or the merit of freedom and exploration, among them.

My point is any child will turn into an adult who pursues excellence in whatever they deem, whether it's waking up with a grateful attitude, enjoying the friends in their lives, or editing a book or whatever it is, if they are given sufficient time to value time itself, they will always value LIFE. It's not the action I take issue with. It's the age at which we introduce these things, the time and money debt we go into FOR them, and the ingrained beliefs behind them spurred by fear we don't even recognize we have. That niggling voice that says, "Will my child survive?" "Will they have what it takes?" "Will they 'succeed'?" "Will they be happy?"

Why don't we just allow what IS now. Give them basic skills and opportunities in daily life for problem solving and love of life? The truth is they may not make it into adulthood despite our best efforts. Or the most well balanced, educated child can still turn into an unaccomplished, unhappy adult. A babe who had a disability will STILL have a disability  in what culture is in majority, but that does not mean they are not worthy. We do not have to make up for what the world sees as lack. Because it's not true. We can rest in that perspective. We need to avoid marginalizing of course, but we also need to allow WHOM a person IS. There is a balance to strike between facilitating challenge and promoting self acceptance. We simply have to perceive another way and show that by acknowledging the difference, validating it, working around what needs to be to survive but also allowing what IS.

Will my children be better because I pick this mentality? Nope. They will have their own struggles and successes. Also life happens and is unpredictable...who knows about their future. But right now, they ARE and that matters. Letting go of outcomes but embracing the advantages when they happen too matters. Plus, it's easier for my husband and I to give them time when we are not running around. Part of our life enjoyment is loving the time with our kids. So it is also serving us.

It's good to value a privilege. It's also good to have a few obligations for the sake of a successful society. But there are many good things we do not have to continually participate in. What matters is what we choose in the end. Mostly, WHY we choose what we do. Sign up the kiddos for some fun. But even if they are asking for something, it does not mean they need to do it. My children have asked to participate in one particular event for years. But we can't afford it in our lives thus I have given them other privileges or opportunities that give the same attributes of growth within our own means and level. Each time I tell them no their faces fall for a bit, and they still ask at times, but they are given reasons and alternatives...I have heard that people are concerned that maybe I am allowing them to miss out on being a world class star in that form. So what? In reality, is a world class star happier? Maybe because they are doing something they love, but can someone love their ordinary bliss just as much? Deconstruct it further... Your own conclusions will lead your heart home. It may look differently from my choices...you may still choose the violin, the ballet, the soccer or the language lessons...hopefully not all at once, but that is your choice. Just ask yourself why, why, why? My son loves languages for the love of them and engages on his app. Maybe he will be fluent one day, maybe he will only know a few words, maybe he will forget them all. If our world suddenly switches to a different language he does not know, I am not worried. He will learn it. Life may be tougher because he doesn't know it for awhile, but the beauty about humans is we adapt. I want him to savour whatever IS. What is it you want for your children deep down?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Post Inspired by the Song "That I would Be Good" . A personal Story of Being Good Enough Despite A Religious Background.

My friend Hillary pointed out this song in her beautifully written post (CLICK). Alanis was part of my formative years but somehow I had missed this particular song. I had a listen and was struck by the lyrics.

Growing up surrounded by various versions of christianity, grace was preached. Repentance and forgiveness were repeated daily themes. Yet, the conversations, the pressure, the sermons, the judgment disguised in prayer or in rebuking a fellow "sister" insinuated the exact opposite. I was a sensitive soul so this did not go unnoticed and while it had it's affects, I was also lucky that I grew up with a bit of a princess complex. I was very loved at home, adored by those who chose to love me, and felt (even when I had a belief in God in that way) that I was also un boundlessly loved by my "creator." Thus, I was luckily unscathed by most of this hypocrisy in theology. However, many of my friends were not. Unfortunately, because of strong beliefs, I unwittingly contributed to this at times even while trying to help. We don't realize how indoctrinated our speech can be until we have stepped out of our boxes. It's taken me years to get certain automatic phrases out of my vocabulary and still I tend to sound like a typical christian which is fine if I was one but this does not fully encompass my essence.

I was often preached to be "part of the world but not OF it." That the world had all these horrid consumerism, materialistic, evil, awful pressures and that christians were exempt from a lot of this because of choices to abstain and "Gods covering grace." What I have found is the opposite. Now fully immersed in what is considered a "pagan" lifestyle I have found grace. Yes, I admit that the world CAN be materialistic, evil and there is a huge pressure to consume, but there was in the christian sphere too. Instead of celebrities it was Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and worship music (This post really dates me, doesn't it?) Instead of buying "wordly" clothes we bought clothes with ripped off captions and plagiarized sayings. Or with pretentious phrases like, "Love them, don't judge them" which were ironically judgy in and of themselves. I digress. So we were "set apart from the world" with our little ways of working around the system while ironically being a duplicate copy in a different form while still believing we were "good."

I remember many in my circle having massive secret self esteem issues. Made worse by the fact that if God loved them, they were not supposed to have self esteem issues. God was always supposed to be enough. If you believed in God and were suffering depression or an illness ect, different sects of christianity would have different fixes, judgments or verses or prayers to complicate the matter.

 I think the hardest stage for us was when we were stepping out of this. The first few years of our transition we were on the edges and we felt really annoyed by those "conservative, fundamentalist" christians who gave "the rest of us" a bad name. But years later, fully stepping out, we realized the issues became clearer, the grace was abundant, and life was less confusing. It probably helped that we didn't give a flying @#$@. When you are out of it, you care about love, but it doesn't bother as much when someone is fundamentalist or too Calvinist or too Evangelical or too Anglican or too whatever....eventually it's the same fabric but a different colour. You don't care when someone accuses you of being selfish...because you know your worth, that you have love, and you also admit to selfishness both for growth and life enhancement. Each one has beauty and each one has a bit of corruption too. Suddenly everyone is on the same playing field. And if something bothers you about it you can challenge it without it triggering much emotion, ignore, or focus on what is compatible between you and the other person. Suddenly everyone is enough. Suddenly everyone is both beautiful and brutal, including one's own self.

The secret I discovered was that I was still good. I was good enough. The following lyrics are by Alanis Morisette and underneath are my experiences with each;

"That I would be good even if I did nothing."
Where I grew up, deeds were everything. You knew a person by "the fruit they bear." Outward appearances, servitude, a good attitude...these were all things prized to show the God who may be. This pressure was especially tough on women. I remember most mother's day services were about the Proverbs 31 woman. I was asked to bake pies for events even though I did not bake. When I said as much they told me I was on the list and it was how a woman contributed to the health of the church and since I was a member it was important to do. Since I had young kids at the time I was already overwhelmed but my husband was quite conservative in those days so he pressured me to bake the pie. I went to the local store and bought one. Money that should have gone to our babies. A small example of what was asked of us on a regular basis. I was told I was only something if I accepted God. I was nothing without belief. I was told I was a lowly sinner, worthless, and the most selfish creature but all is redeemed through the Lord. Obviously, for a time I bought that. So thankful I do not anymore. Admittingly this was only one subtype of christianity and for most of my life I was luckily a member of a more generous orthodoxy of christian thought. However, the other strong voice in the community was constant "accountability" and never peace. Never good enough. Always watching your brothers and sisters and "lovingly" rebuking them in the name of Christ.

Stepping out of that addictive pace of "doing" was really tough on my spirit. At first I thought I was not good if I did nothing about most things. Now I am sick and some days consist of nothing. Yet I know I am still good enough. I am still worthy. My children and husband still love me. Even if they did not, within whom I am, doing nothing, I am still good.

"That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down,"
Being an outspoken writer occasionally has given me opportunities for definite thumbs down. I have had practice with disagreements, challenges and opinions on my character. The perspective I have chosen is that I was once one of these people who judge me. I was once in a completely different mindset. Also, being out of it, I realize how much it does not matter. We all have our own path...let's let one another walk. The beauty is often in the mistakes. We need to allow each other to make them. We can support, challenge or have a neat discussion...in the end though, even if I may adamantly disagree, I have realized that the beauty of my freedom is that they get to have theirs. Even if I may believe it is damaging to the world or myself. They need to be on their own path. The thumbs down or disapproval to me means that I am just part of the world. We all will have people who approve and disapprove and if I am living for the thumbs up I am not truly living my own life.

 "That I would be good if I got and stayed sick"
This is probably one of the hardest lines for me. I had to gulp for a minute and ask myself, "Am I good enough being sick and staying sick?" The beauty in illness is what it teaches. There is a lot of brutal too. I have tried different cures, lifestyles, mentalities, spiritualities, and practices. Some  helped heal while others have managed a few symptoms, yet here I am, still spending days in bed or in pain. Am I good enough? I prefer to view this one through the eyes of a child. The other day my daughter was listening to "Mom" by Meghan Trainer. Her eyes filled up within the first line and she grabbed me tightly, "That is how I feel about you mom. You are my best friend and I love who you are. Nobody has a mom like mine." Awwwww. I replied, "Even when I can't do anything for you sometimes or be a typical mom?" She smiled, "I especially like it when your mad. You are hilarious. I like that you can be real and how you are... makes me feel good about everything. Even the bad things." I was blown away. My daughter takes the brunt of our household work when I am sick. She sometimes is MY caretaker so the fact that she said that meant loads more. I am good enough even though my body is broken. (See side label Anemia for more on this)

"That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds"
I have been there, done that and have gained ten pounds again. Before I was fifty pounds "overweight" and for years I tried many healthy eating habits and exercises until one day I went off gluten. Within three months it just melted off. But three years after eating healthy and fresh an extra ten pounds is back. In fact, I walk more and do more healthy things than ever before. Sometimes weight just happens. Due to lack of sleep, disease, or life. The first time this happened I was devastated. I felt so yucky. Luckily, I did not lose weight until I learned to accept my weight, otherwise I would have missed out on some of the beauty of being "overweight". What I have a tougher time with now is just the adjusting to fluctuations and the reasons why. An awesome song that helps me whenever I have body issues is Meghan Trainor's cheesy "Me too." Because we should all want to be whom we are. Anything less seems like a sad way to spend life. And I was one of those girls who wished I was Jennifer Lopez. But I have so many things Jenny from the block (lol) doesn't have...and she has many I don't have. We both have beautiful live's with strife and beauty. What is the point of wanting more? I have written about body image more in depth HERE and HERE. I have gained ten pounds. I am good enough. I am still my essence. Anyone who can't see that can walk.

"That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt"
We have ALMOST been here too. Years ago we were advised to go bankrupt. We actually didn't but those two years were hell. See THIS post for more. Money is a tough issue. To be honest, I don't know if I would have said I was enough during these years. It felt like we were operating continually from a place of lack. Money runs deep and our beliefs regarding. We don't know until we are searching the couch for basic needs or purchasing that diamond ring without a second thought, how ingrained our money issues are and how they add to our value. I had friends who did go bankrupt and looking back said it was the best thing that happened to them though hard at the time. We live and learn. It's hard but even still, within finances, good or bad,  the important attribute is that we are still fine within ourselves.

"That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth"
Living with chronic illness and an old soul makes youth relative. Sometimes I act WAY younger than my age and feel like I am getting younger while getting older (CLICK) while other days I feel like I am way older than most of my decade old friends. Body wise, I don't hold up to my peers. I have to guard my time and schedule like a banshee just to be stable. I have lost my hair. Contrary to those with luscious locks understand, losing hair truly can bring on a crisis. Click HERE, HERE and HERE for more on that topic. What I have found? While sometimes it is important to fake it to make it (CLICK) acceptance is crucial. Hair loss has provided an opportunity to rethink social constructs, sexuality, and soul work and put them into a larger perspective. I am good enough.

"That I would be great if I was no longer queen"
Yea...I get this on so many levels. I am queen in my house. I love it and it would suck to lose that adoration and love, but there was the year our marriage was on the brink of divorce and I resented my children. There was that year when no one seemed to like me and I didn't know if I liked anyone either. I wondered if I would survive my love lost. Yet during that time I discovered crucial truths to being. I found comfortability in being anonymous. That was the time I learned that I do not need anyone to even remember me if I die because I am just a part of the world. That is everything and nothing. I found a strange peace in that. I was great within nothingness.

"That I would be grand if I was not all knowing"
I had a lot of answers when I was an evangelical christian. I was brought up with arguments and verses to back them up. The Bible was my ultimate authority. Now, while interesting, that book does not hold any sort of authority over me at all. Our years of adjusting from something telling us everything to everything open to interpretation were gut wrenching. Having more questions than answers seemed more than unsettling. In fact, we went through a couple existential crises as a family and as individuals. Now, I have a few more answers for myself again but for about five years everything was open to interpretation. The answers I have now are also open to growth and perspective. In my childhood, I had learned I was nothing without the Lord. That I was all but a wretched sinner with nothing but the blood of Jesus to atone for me. How terrifying was it to slowly question that and to unravel all my previous answers to life. Those were tough, tough years made tougher by those trying to convince us to be blind. Yet in not knowing we found a grand grace.

"That I would be loved even when I numb myself"
I'm human. Which means I will sometimes numb myself. Being an INFJ means that I abstain from most addictions but I would be lying to myself if I did not admit to my vices. I use music, chocolate, sex, sleep, decorating and purchasing to avoid feeling some darker things sometimes. All of which are good things in moderation. I am not a judger of individual people even though I DO judge social movements. Thus I do not often judge myself but if I am going to be tough on someone, it will most likely be myself first. I used to think I was such an underdog when I gave in to a numbing behaviour. Now I realize I am still loved by my husband when I do. I have that grace and acceptance. I am loved despite needing to escape sometimes.

"That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed"
Living with sensory overload (CLICK and CLICK and CLICK) mean that my life is often overwhelming. As my posts mention, I have learned to manage some of this and accept the rest. In my essence, I am good even when I am overwhelmed.

"That I would be loved even when I was fuming"
Ha! Well, it doesn't happen often that I am fuming but cranky? Yup. Plus I am passionate. My husband calls me his little spitfire. I know I am loved...especially when I am mad. My husband, for some reason, gets a kick out of me when I am angry. He says I am terrifying but also humorous. This is good for me. Because of my upbringing I was the toughest on my temper. I was always trying to stifle anger instead of honouring it and using it appropriately. My husband's love of my anger has taught me more about using it appropriately than any denial ever could. My children also seem to think I am funny when I am fuming...and believe me when I say, I am dead serious in those moments, but they dissolve it quickly with their acceptance. They have taught me how to also love them when they are angry...and allow them to BE and express.

"That I would be good even if I was clingy"
I am fiercely independent. But I am also clingy. That paradox factor again. It depends on the person involved. Usually I prefer my space, but if I get particularly attached for some reason I can be quite clingy. I have had to work on boundaries in the past. However, even if I AM clingy sometimes I am still good. We all are "too clingy" or "too independent" at various stages of life but within this, we are still good enough. We are still worthy of being human as we are.

 "That I would be good even if I lost sanity"
Lol...sometimes I feel I have lost my sanity and perhaps I have? Having a different wiring plus a personality that can be opposite of said wiring can make for some interesting complexities. Sometimes I look at people eating and feel like I am watching some alien ritual. I think people should poop skittles instead of feces and it baffles me that this can't be the case. I find most cultural traditions bonkers. But I suppose in general my sanity could sometimes be questioned. But I am still good. As the Cheshire Cat answered, "Mad, completely bonkers, but let me tell you a secret...all the best people are." Sometimes I envy the completely insane. And sometimes I think that they have more things right than wrong. It's like the Matrix or Adjustment Bureau of the brain. Whose to say what is real? I often feel like Alice in Wonderland. Except everything normal is Wonderlandy to me. Without sanity we ARE still.

That I would be good, whether with or without you.."
This is a tough one. None of us like to be completely alone. I thrive on being alone but I would still be devastated without those I love. I have had to learn though, that completely on my own, I am still good enough. No one else can define, make my choices or BE me. That is up to me. It has to be enough.

Song Choices: That I would be Good- Alanis Morissette, The Last Resort- The Eagles

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Joys of a Mediocre Life, Sporting Achievement and The Downsides of Award Ceremonies in Schools.

Post Edit: Music, sports and all things gloriously human are wonderful endeavours in and of themselves- this post is focused on how our awareness changes our perceptions and views and what this affects...especially when we uphold them as institutional "norms."

( Caption- when my kids were little ones)

Recently on Pinterest I came across this article by Krista Di gui What if All I want is a Mediocre Life? (click)

There are movers and shakers in our world. We need a balance of both. Of course we need the goal setters and strivers but in North America, the priority is emphasized on them and we need a counterbalance of those who shake the status quo. We need those who are content to sit back and BE. The people who are happy with a "mediocre life" which in reality is quite extraordinary. Krista writes, "The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count. But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?"

A memory surfaced of myself sitting in a grade five gym class. I was watching my peers compete for attention and I was baffled that the teacher was giving mixed messages. The teacher told us to be kind to one another yet when we were in our game we had to compete, achieve and ruthlessly find a way to win. I recall sitting and thinking something along the child version of, "No thank you. What if I don't have it in me to play this sport? To compete and taunt my friends in a 'healthy' sporting style..." I was always an old soul. To some that meant "boring" or "Lazy." My report cards never failed to mention, "She could use more participation." or "Would like to see her achieve more goals for herself." And my gym scores were the worst! A lot of my scores were due to unknown Dyspraxia, but even without that factor, I would never have thrived in gym class. I didn't want to compete with my peers - I wanted to harmonize or advise or challenge them on an equal plain of diversity. I was the one who choose to walk around the school at recess having deep conversations with a few close friends over playing. 

"She would shine if she could try a bit harder to go after what she wants." Wait, what? "SHE wants?!" That was a misplaced phrase meant to convey what the teacher wanted. The beliefs about hard work, value, impact, team spirit and all those ra ra ra phrases were meant to create a conforming team that would compete to achieve. Which is fine sometimes, but as a school goal I found it interesting that the sports teams were the focus of budget, time and that even the parents seemed to misplace the value of these teams as something higher than should be.

As my own children have aged I have challenged a few people kindly on this mentality. In the end the basic argument they have is, "Well it has been proven that healthy sport is crucial to a child's development and a healthy society. It's a way to build team spirit." Um no it's not. It may SEEM like there is team spirit, but if you take those children and put them on separate teams they would ruthlessly tear each other apart in the name of the game. There are other gentler ways that are just as effective. Yes, sports have their place and do help channel aggression into a safer manifestation but sports are not the only way to teach children loyalty and how to work together. A healthy society is one in which each individual can find meaning, no matter whom they are, and find a way to give this meaning in their own special way. Not by being another effective cog in the wheel for achievement and prosperity.

(Lol J.P Sears Satirical's always crack me up...)

Sports are a channel for body fitness and awareness and a channel for countries to compete without war, but in basic form sports are just another cultural way to promote achievement. If you are an avid sports fan due to enjoyment or because of the beauty you see in the movements or functionality of a team- good on ya.  As a whole sports still have their place as a practice but let's be truthful about what it is all about. (Music has also done this while ironically trying to combat it- same issues with a different format...competition and achievement instead of beauty for joy's sake.)

The last straw for me, when my kids were in school, were the award ceremonies. Looking around at the hopeful faces and crushed spirits hurt my heart. Of course the same kids received the same awards every year. The same parents would proudly show off the medals of their kids. For the school it was a way to show "Hey look at these few kids who uphold our amazing standards so well. Look at what we taught them." For the parents it felt like their children were considered an extension of themselves and not their own unique vessel. Why were we putting children in a spot to think that these awards held some sort of meaning over their lives?

Of course there were the participation awards that everyone got but we all knew that was a joke. There is a time and place when we should honour brave acts of kindness or physical accomplishments, but an end of the school year "celebration" is not one of them. Yet our whole society is set up like this. From grades, to sports, to family events to church to spirituality. It is ingrained in us that pomp and ceremony are the big moments in life. Private and Public schools hand out the academic achievement awards and behavioural awards. This practice, based on competition and teacher/ student relationship, becomes the center of wrapping up the year...and most times it is not the celebration that the child actually needs.

Achievement Awards could be put under the category of Discrimination Awards in some cases. There are children who thrive under pressure (during tests) and can sit appropriately at a desk. There are children who can not. No matter how hard they try. It's not about rebellion in most cases, or for a lack of trying. It's about certain characteristics that not all are born with. Many children with undiagnosed learning disabilities, dyslexia, memory problems, or other disabilities never get the privilege of an award.

"Smart awards" do not actually say much about the intellectual capacity of a child. There are many successful adults, who have paved the way in our society intellectually, who failed school. Not because they did not have brains, but because the school system was not set up for the way their brains were wired. Or they simply thrived on thinking outside the box- Einstein!

There are children I know who received the Academic Awards every year and are failing miserably at adulthood relationships and general life choices. Dear parents and children: These are NOT an indicator of future success nor are they an indicator of future failure.

 If a child does well at school it is one of the three reasons:
1) They tried REALLY hard or have parents who push really hard. (But some of the children who do not do well, try REALLY hard too- without the same results.)
2) They are naturally inclined to listen, replicate, and mimic back necessary information.
3) They are gifted or received tons of support.

Achievement Awards tell children that in life they will be rewarded for conforming to the "right" tests and the "right" way of learning, or that they will only get recognized if they have a certain type of brain. While our society is set up to be about competition, our school systems should not be a proponent of this. Not only does it single children out to be bullied by those who are jealous or as the "smartie pants" but it also singles the children out who did not receive a reward. It sends the message, intended or not, that they just don't make the cut. They just did not try hard enough. At the end of the year, if there must be a ceremony, it should be about celebration of each child's abilities.

In Private schools there are behavioural awards, or in my case "Christian Character" awards. Ours was called the "Daniel Award" and it was given to one student in the class, every year, who exemplified "christian" character by being kind, considerate, and all those other qualities. Ironically, my classmates and I noticed as we got older that it was not the pupils who were actually compassionate, empathetic and inclusive but rather those who were on sports teams and constantly seen, or those who were shy and never bothered to interact. Because interaction DOES involve tension, disagreement and sometimes a falling out...but that does not mean it is going against christian character. It's simply life relationships.

If we actually get into the "christian" doctrine, this practice goes against what it means to be a follower of Love. There was a scripture taught that good deeds are supposed to be done in secret. Another verse taught was to learn how to encourage each other and build each other up.

 The children who get picked by this are often the same children who received academic awards as well. Why is this? Because those are the children that the Teacher sees and is impressed with more often. The "Christian character" award is not going to go to a child who acts up in class because they don't understand. Never mind that this child is the one at recess who compassionately includes others. The teachers can't see everything and can not reward what they do not know. This divides children. The children who receive it feel above the other children. (It's not their fault. They are just kids who are mimicking their parents. The adults own this responsibility.) Often the child who acts out is the child who needs to see value in themselves. They are in need of more love and attention.

Those who do not receive it begin to wonder at their internal state. Are they actually bad? In my school, in every grade, as we got older it became more and more of a joke. People tried to AVOID getting these awards because then we got singled out as the "Teacher's Pet"or the "Goodie" ect. In Elementary, however, most took it very seriously. We would sit hopefully in our chairs begging for our name to be called. I have seen children cry after awards. Their innocent hearts do not understand why their beloved teacher would not single them out. ( Yes, I received the award for being complacent and shy in grade five. I wouldn't say I was more worthy than any of my peers and it bothered me.)

We are teaching children that good behaviour is rewarded. It's not always. Good behaviour should simply be expected. Also, questioning and determination are attributes of behaviour that are not honoured. This is unfortunate. We do not want little rule following robots. (Well, I don't.) Wouldn't it be more beneficial for children to learn to decipher good from bad on their own? If this practice is considered "christian" then private schools have a lot of thinking to do.

During the year, if a child is acting especially kind and a teacher notices, they should take them aside and honour them with recognition without other little eyes taking it in. If a child in the classroom is achieving because of extra work, the teacher should recognize it individually and praise it.

Unfortunately, those whom are bothered by the ceremonies are worried to voice their opinion. Legitimately, they don't want to be seen as "rebellious" if they take a stand against this practice. The people that often volunteer to be on a parent committee or school board are often people who value rules, tradition, structure, institution and method. Most school boards are full of people who thrive in social and structured settings. While that is great for the school and is not necessarily horrid attributes to have- it's not so great to the artists, disabled and differently wired who do not adhere to all of those standards. It is tough to understand differences if life/school comes easily or the structure makes sense.

Most seem to eat it up without asking a question. The awards set the tone for the goals of the school.  I have seen, not only the results of the Daniel Award and Academic Awards in adulthood, but the consequences in childhood. I have also heard many parents, who are very diverse in beliefs, be upset after the Awards on who received what or who did not.

 My son was one of the children who cried after the KINDERGARTEN awards. My daughter was confused after she did not receive the Daniel Award in grade two. But here is the paradox. I don't want them to receive the awards either. I would rather they were not left out from anything but I also do not want them singled out in a positive manner publicly. Instead I want to do this in tiny ways everyday. In the school setting, this just contributes to ego and does not foster being good for good's own sake. It's not just a ceremony. It says a lot about the values and principles the school takes over the course of the year. Luckily, I think some mentalities are changing and there are quite a few teachers who are beginning to question this practice as well. Why do we consider this just a harmless tradition? If we are a country who believes our educational standards should be based on equality and altruism- is this a practice that supports this belief?

I hear comments on the new granola way of living... a lot of people mock the non competitive, no winning sports functions that are happening now. While that suits me a bit more because playing for playing's sake is a beautiful way to BE, I still don't believe that is the way either. We are basically replacing one goal with another in the same format. Obviously, it's not going to work beautifully, but small steps in a different direction will eventually get us on to a completely different path.

A ceremony celebrating the joy of each child could be a easy alternative. The parents will get to see their children have their turn, the teachers can award every child in some form, and the children can feel equal yet unique with the words being given to them. It's not impossible nor is it utopian. It's quite attainable and though it may have some downsides too, in the end it's a far more reaching alternative. The ceremonies are long anyway. Why don't we skip the pomp and circumstance and instead take a few seconds to focus on every child or do that separately in a classroom and let them perform in the way they thrive best for their parents?

For multiple reasons, including the above, I had to pull my children out of the system. I couldn't handle the layered mentalities from character to learning to physical fitness. I was consistently stressed and one of those parents who I'm sure the school dreaded seeing. My children were not happy either. They had huge anxiety and depression (in kindergarten!) and their needs required something with less sensory overload. I found the first years of homeschooling tough until I found my groove in unschooling. Now, I LOVE it (see side label for more.) I know that many people can not afford the choice my children and I have, but many can not choose it because of their mentalities. There is a lot of prejudices wrapped up in homeschooling. For the children who are in school, my hope is that these issues will find alternative ways to grow.

 If we simply value the "brightest" stars we are discounting the backbone of society. The educational system and the church system (ironically) are the biggest culprits in setting us up for believing that bigger is better, that we need to strive for excellence, and that we need to compete to make it. Why are we judging our lives based upon what we can SHOW? We are not taught the value of the mediocre. The beauty in the plain. The joy of the ordinary.

I know I am enough. Deep down, even within the school system, I knew that I was different and didn't fit. Luckily, because of my support system, personality and coping mechanisms, I learned how to channel my "rebellious" spirit into a way that wasn't harmful to myself or others mostly. Despite this benefit, in my twenties I still had to deconstruct a lot of crap. I slowly eased out of all these systems and people groups...and I found peace, joy, happiness, love, self control, patience, kindness, gentleness, tough boundaries, appropriate anger, and honour of all things dark and light. It is enough. I am enough. That was never taught to me and if it was there was a contradictory message to go along with it.

I love my simple life. My cottage small filled to the brim with colour, life, and love. The joy I receive from those whom I love and acceptingly love me back. The contribution I make to life simply by being in it. The give and take to survive is a part of it but not in a conforming way, though that also has it's place.

I have limitations. Some days those limitations are tough. However, I also am at peace with whom I am within these things. I have found deep inner joy despite very hard life moments. It's a soft foundation of acceptance. In all its layered darkness and light, I love life. This is the joy of a mediocre life and I would not trade it, because it's an ordinary miracle. I don't care if my name is lost in obscurity after I die. I don't need to have that immortality to feel worthy. What I have- I have. What I am- I AM. My star may not be bright but it's illumination fills the tiny spaces surrounding. It matters in what it is.
*Regarding the Olympics...the video was satirical and while it had some truths I will also mention women my aunt recommended that are "fierce and labour for little money or glory."  Christine Sinclair and Karina Leblanc, Kadeisha Buchanan, Jen Kish, Clara Hughes... My aunt pointed out that these women show all kinds of ways to be human together. I admit that I am not a sports fan in general and do not know most of these women but sports have also contributed to positivity, rights for varied people groups and they CAN contribute to a general world outlook of positivity when not focused on sole achievement. There are biases everywhere...we write about the ones we see and hopefully also challenge the ones within ourselves.