[promoted to the Front Page by BooMan]

Doesn’t everyone?  I look around and I find a real lack of leadership, a lack of empathy in my part of the world.  My parent’s generation was inundated with messages that the “big one” was coming, made to line up with textbooks on their heads in the halls of their schools to prepare for the inevitable atom bomb attack by the Russians.  Their fear was devastation brought on by nuclear war.  My fear is apathy.

How do I teach my children to be kind to their neighbors? They are subjected to an ongoing onslaught of violence. Cartoons aren’t safe, nor are fairy tales–full of death and deprivation, anger and humiliation.  We’ve scaled back what the kids watch–my three year old was running through the house trying to hit the five year old in the head with a bat–courtesy of Tom and Jerry.  Were we warped by such as children?  Are the old stand-bys truly so unsafe?

more on the flip:

How do I teach my children tolerance?  Most of the earthly religions have a specific set of requirements to “make it to heaven.”  These institutions of humility and love have no room in their heaven for those who have different beliefs, and plenty of room for the pagans elsewhere.  Why does it have to be so exclusionary?  When we went to be married in the Catholic Church, we were asked if we would raise our children to follow the tenets of the church.  I told the priest that there were some beliefs held by the church that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  Some of those beliefs have been toned down since then–but I want to know, why do all the different earthly religions think they have the one and only ticket to heaven?

How do I teach my children to live within their means?  Our government operates obscenely in the red, setting new debt records, while 45% of American households spend more than they make each year.  Where is the fiscal responsibility?  Why are we cutting taxes when my children’s children’s children will have to try to pay back what we are spending today?  Why are credit cards obscenely easy to get, and credit ratings even easier to destroy?  Why is the government encouraging consumer spending?

How do I teach my children to sacrifice for the good of their country?  To trust the judgment of the people leading our country?  For my grandparent’s generation, it was easy–the world came busting down our door, so we took the fight to them.  My parent’s generation, things got cloudy, no one attacked us, but again we were at war.  My generation, we were attacked; now we’re at war with a country that wasn’t responsible for the attack.  If you have the biggest stick in the playground, don’t you need to be pretty careful about how you swing it?  How can I teach my children to make sacrifices for their country when the policies of their country are so screwed up?  How can I teach them to support a country that is doing its best to force its beliefs on the rest of the world?

How do I teach my children to be kind to the world around them?  The land continues to be cut up into smaller and smaller pieces, while the resources it holds are sucked dry.  Knowledgeable men and women are ignored when they sound the alarm bells, trying to talk of sustainability, sensibility, to no avail.  Governments march on, putting human comforts above all else, claiming that reducing mercury and greenhouse emissions is too costly to our economy to be palatable at this juncture.  How much is too much, when is too late too late?

Funny, sort of, that my parent’s fear of nuclear attack wasn’t passed down to me.  Fear of such a thing is probably more relevant now than it was then, but the fear isn’t sharp anymore–the focus has faded, death from the sky is off camera.  I think their fear was sharp because it was their parent’s fear, impressed upon them with much more than words, fear borne of the knowledge of what America had done.  What many in that generation had seen the effects of first hand, the horrors of using such a weapon.  My grandmother, a gentle, loving woman, once told me that bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima was the right thing to do, that the Japanese would never have stopped, that enough Americans had died.  I struggle with that, with her certainty, this calm assurance from such a revered presence in my life.

What scares me the most is apathy.  People here in America by and large do not care about anything that does not affect them directly–but if it does affect them directly–Look out for number one, baby.  Go and get yours, son, don’t let that other boy get in your way.  Run that other kid into the ground, make it so they won’t challenge you in the future, but be smooth, don’t get caught–at least not red-handed.  Coach doesn’t care if you scare that less talented kid right off the team, but don’t do it so you get caught.  And as far as kids in other countries (or our own) who don’t have clean water, parents, bullet-free air–well, there’s nothing I can personally do about that.  And for that $20 a month to help out a kid like that, well, how would we afford that trip to the lake on Memorial Day?  Or Disney over spring break?  Bottom line, don’t put it in my face, if I don’t see it, it’s easier not to care–or if I see it enough, I’m numb to it.  Apathetic.  Indifferent.  How do I teach my children to look–at the bigger picture, at those around them?  How to I instill in them the responsibility to make a difference in their world?

I was raised to believe in the American dream, that hard work and perseverance would allow any American citizen to live well.  In turn, that those who live well have a responsibility to help those that do not–American or otherwise.  I was taught to look out for those less fortunate than myself, to reach out and help those around me, not so I could say “Oh, look at me” but because it was the right thing to do.  I was instructed to empathize with those around me, to put myself in their shoes as best I might, to try and see things from a different perspective.  I have many times failed to accomplish/accommodate/address these guidelines in my life, but I truly believe in them.  Is it me, or have these things become….naive?  Blasé?  Outdated, somehow?  

What are we teaching our kids?  A coach I worked with once (youth wrestling) walked away from the mat after a close match and said to me “He made me look like an idiot.  You coach him from now on.”  Is it just me, or is living vicariously through our children poisoning them?  I coached youth football for twelve years, and I made a very concerted effort to give all the kids ample playing time.  One of the results of this strategy was that we lost a lot of close games that we may have been able to win.  Another result was the loss of assistant coach after assistant coach from year to year.  I also caught a lot of flack from the parents of the more physically talented kids on the teams, who felt that their child should be on the field for every snap.  The kids were bummed when we lost, but often the adults involved were angry.  Is it naive to say, “Winning isn’t everything” and mean it?

Two of my brothers and a number of my assistants went on to coach teams of their own, and were very successful in the wins/losses sense of things.  They were also very good with the kids.  But when it came game time, there were an awful lot of clean jerseys on their sidelines.  To this day, my brothers are idolized for the undefeated seasons (we managed one of those in the twelve years I coached, but they had several)–former players write about them as their heroes in their high school reports eight years after they coached them, parents beg them to come back and coach, and I wonder–was my focus wrong?  Is winning everything, even at such a young age?  Am I doing my children a disservice by trying to teach them something else?

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