Monthly Archives: June 2009

Why We Need Role Models

Why the heck do we need role models?  Can’t everyone just think for him or herself and make decisions about right and wrong and choices of action without somebody on a philosophical runway modeling what they could or should be?

Possibly…but role models alert us to POSSIBILITIES, in addition to serving as INSPIRATION.

Angry rappers role model distrust, rage, anti-social notions and actions: killing, raping, hating.

Stupid “stars” role model self-indulgence and excess, self-importance: self self   self

Successful people who “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps” role model perseverance, giving up a “victim mentality,” optimism and plain hard work.

Heroic types (military, police, firemen, and caring bystanders) who put themselves on the line of life and death role model taking care of others.
and so it goes.

These days, however, good role models are few and far between.  Pastor Bill Shuler, of Capital Life Church in Arlington Virginia, pointed the way in his recent essay: 10 Reasons Why we Are Losing Good Role Models.

What follows is my paraphrasing of his list:

1.  Honorable people are attacked for taking a stand for morality and values

The favorite attack here usually takes the form of being called either a “hater” or a “hypocrite.” If a person disagrees with you, you can say that they simply hate you or your stand, or that they once (usually decades ago) behaved contrary to their own words so therefore, they have no moral ground on which to defend their position.  I don’t have to explain how ugly, stupid, and dangerous those approaches are to the well being of a civilized society.

 2.  High profile scandals in sports politics and religion have caused us to become jaded.

Yup – it’s hard to believe that a moral high ground even exists if the people you looked up to don’t respect what they have and the responsibility it gives them.

3.  Fewer dads are present in the home.

 Soon, most children won’t come from intact homes where they see a dad providing and protecting and teaching them how to be decent men and women.

 4.  Success has been defined as fame, fortune, and power.

 We used to have the word “infamous” to describe people well known for skuzzy behaviors…now it’s all just “famous.”  “Octo-mom” Nadya Suleman now has a television show because she’s famous for showing incredible insensitivity and irresponsibility in having 16 children with no dad or intact married family.    If someone is rich (no matter how they got there), they have admirers.

 5.  Image often supersedes character.

  Bad boys and bad girls reign supreme in our media-drenched culture.  The more stupid and horrid their behavior, the more important they are to the media.

 6.  Indulgence replaces sacrifice.

 Just think daycare.

7. The practice of self-discipline is losing ground.

 If you “feel it” you have license to “do it” is today’s mantra.  Consideration of consequences to others, as well as one’s own future, became secondary.

 8. Seeking of “self,” on the other hand, is an over-practiced art.”

If I hear one more person excuse stupid, cruel, or self-indulgent behavior on the basis of “low self-esteem” or “I guess I have to learn to love MYSELF,” I think I’ll scream.

9.  Family values have become a political issue rather than an ideal to be embraced.

The responsibility and obligation to spouse and children outweighs feelings and urges, which are temporary and often foolhardy.

10.  Good people with deep convictions remain silent when they should speak up.

  I have said it quite differently:  way too often, good people are “wusses;” they are afraid to stand up (not without good reason…see #1), because they want to be liked. I have gotten myself into all sorts of trouble by “standing up,” so I know what it takes.

“Being beautiful, uninhibited or rich has become a cheap substitute for courage, decency and selflessness,” writes the Pastor.  And he is so very correct. That’s why I often ask people to project themselves 20 years into the future, and then look back on themselves at this very moment.  I ask them to tell me what they would need to do in order to be proud of themselves.  It’s funny how they always know what’s right when looked at from that perspective.

Quote of the Week

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days.
               – James Russell Lowell
                 American poet, critic and essayist

Jon & Kate Plus 8

I can’t believe how many emails I got from those of you who watch that program, Jon & Kate Plus 8.  It’s a reality TV show, and they’re breaking up because he had an affair?  Because she seems to be really mean to him, people have written suggesting I get involved.  NO WAY. 

When I was young, there was a show on PBS, An American Family, that was the same sort of thing.  Cameras were there 24 hours a day, and the family fell apart.  Strangers were there, the family was performing for television, and there were stresses and strains with the celebrity part of it – there shouldn’t even be a celebrity part.  I just think these things are disgusting displays.

Then there was the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show, which was about his life being a television show, and he not knowing it.  I remember at the time that people said, “Isn’t this a disgusting thing to do to a person?”  Well, now, people volunteer for it!  So, I have no respect for these parents.  I have no respect for any of the people who do this “reality” stuff. 

My heart goes out to the kids.  Is it humane to children to let their parents exploit them in a television program when their images and intimacies are exposed to everyone for all time when they have no say or control?  Is it in the children’s best interests to be USED as entertainment by two parents so self-absorbed that they put money and celebrity in front of their children’s privacy?  It’s like putting your children in a circus freak show strip and having a barker yelling: “Come in, come in and see what happens to children when their parents use them for your entertainment… It’s exciting, it’s damaging, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off ‘em.  Watch ‘em wiggle. Watch ‘em cry. Watch ‘em squirm.  It’s so much fun…bring popcorn and beer and come watch the show.”

To me, there should be a law that you can’t use kids on TV like this.  It’s one thing when they’re acting, but it’s another thing when they’re being exploited.  I’m surprised that nobody stepped in and said “This is the exploitation of minor children,” although late last week the Pennsylvania Department of Labor said it was looking into whether the show is complying with the state’s child labor law.  But I’m not going to get involved.  There are other show-biz types who have a habit of doing that.  I’m not one of them.

Here’s one of the letters that came into me, and seemed to have the most in-depth information:

I was once a fan of Jon & Kate Plus 8.  I loved watching these children, and seeing them grow. [note: I think it's exploitation]. Only the longer I watched the show, the more disturbed I became with Kate’s treatment of her husband.  I’d turn off the TV feeling deflated rather than uplifted.

Episode after episode, she’d berate and belittle him:  about his weight, his intelligence, and his parenting.  He’d take responsibility for his mistakes, while she’d excuse hers.  I remember one specific episode where he’d taken the day off to help her at home.  Having noticed one of the kids acting up, he put them in a “timeout.”  She went over and said “Daddy’s being mean,” and let them go back and play.  It broke my heart to see his authority continuously undermined in front of his own children.

Recently, at the end of their last season, Jon mentioned he wasn’t up for another season, explaining how he hates how he can’t go out in public and ‘just be Jon.’  Instead, he’s ‘Jon & Kate Plus 8.’  Translation:  he’s the guy on TV who is whipped by his self-centered wife.

Weeks later, all of the scandal broke.  Kate, in a People Magazine interview, said that Jon felt cancelling the show would make him happy, but she didn’t think anything would, so she would do what she felt was right for her family.  What is right for her family is not a television show, but two parents who love each other.

He wanted to cancel the show so the world would no longer see his dirty laundry, his controlling wife, and constant failures.  It may not make him happy, but it would make his life bearable.  What would make him happy is having a wife who cares for him.  I just wish that someone would reach out to that woman and give her a hard shake, before she damages the lives of 8 little ones, and her husband.  It seems silly to be caught up in the lives of ten reality show strangers, but I’ve learned a little something from it.  I gained a better understanding of the Dr. Laura saying:  “Do you want this woman/man to be the mother/father of your 87 children?’ 

Thanks for being a version of reality that I can rely on.

I like that last sentence.  What do we call “entertainment?”  The shows where they have people competing to cook, make clothes, and all that other stuff are such mean shows.  Hostility?  Competitive venom?  I can’t understand why we call this “entertainment.”  The population that enjoys sitting there with popcorn and a beer, watching people be mean, be diminished, and be demoralized is scaring me.

Empowering Men on Campus

A news headline from last week that said “Power Move By Male Students Ruffles University of Chicago” caught my eye.  It seems a group of University of Chicago students think it’s time the campus focused more on its men.  The Chicago Tribune reports:  “A third year student from Lake Bluff has formed Men In Power, a student organization that promises to help men get ahead professionally.  But the group’s emergence has been controversial, with some critics charging that its premise is misogynistic.”

That is purely laughable.

Recent job losses hit men harder – women earn far more bachelor’s and Master’s degrees than men.  There is a huge imbalance in government and private initiatives that advance the interest of women and girls (often to the direct detriment of men), like Title IX, which eliminates men’s school sports when there aren’t enough women interested in having a women’s team of the same sport.

The University of Chicago has nine women’s advocacy groups on campus.  This group would be the first male advocacy group – and it welcomes women!  Get a feminist group to do the same – HA!  The group would host pre-professional groups in law, medicine and business, foster ties with alumni, bring speakers in to discuss masculinity, and mentor local middle school students as part of its “Little Men in Power” initiative.

I read most of the 1,440 or so comments that followed this article in the Chicago Tribune, and saw exactly what I expected:  paranoid, hate-filled rhetoric, demeaning and dismissing men and masculinity, with no compassion whatsoever for what men have to confront in contemporary society (which is “angry minority orientation against the male – especially the white male.”).  It should be noted here that this organization is pulling in men regardless of ethnicity, religion, or sexual persuasion.  It is just about men.  It’s not about forming small, angry little groups that demand entitlement.  This is a group helping men succeed and regain a respect for their masculinity – something current culture and feminism has worked double time to destroy.

You go, guys!

Do Animals Have a Sense of Morality?

Newsflash from the University of Colorado, Boulder:  scientist believes that animals can have a sense of morality that shows them the difference between right and wrong.  Professor emeritus Marc Bekoff explains in his new book that morals are “hardwired” in a mammal’s brain and has gathered – he says – evidence showing how various species appear to have a sense of fairness, will help other animals in need, and can even show empathy.

First of all, the very word “hardwired” indicates a lack of choice.  There is no knowing or choosing between right and wrong without a clear conception of the notion of consideration of options.  Animals other than humans are, indeed, “hardwired” – that is, they act by instinct.  Secondly, using anthropomorphic terminology is misleading.  I remember being on a morning television show eons ago, when some feminist was pointing out that rape was ubiquitous, and then showing a clip of alligators mating.  Trust me…that wasn’t a pretty or comfortable sight…but it wasn’t rape.  Alligator males have to overcome resistance so that the best sperm wins.  That’s the female alligator’s world of making a choice with whom to hook up – as violent as it appears to humans.

A hungry lion coming into a room with ten frightened human beings is not going to starve to death because it isn’t “nice” to kill innocent humans.  He’s going to eat the first guy or gal he clamps his jaws on.  That’s not an immoral act.  Morality requires a choice.  The lion is “hardwired” to eat meat.  That’s it.

Here’s an example from Dr. Bekoff’s book that I believe is way off base:  “Vampire bats need to drink blood every night, but it is common for some not to find any food.  Those who are successful in foraging for blood will share their meal with bats who have shared with them.”  He considers this a reciprocity which indicates the acting out of moral precepts.  I think that conclusion is just silly.  Bats are gregarious and need to be in “packs” for safety and comfort.  Therefore, they are wired to keep each other alive.  You’ll see competition when they’re mating.

Ants will pile up over waterways to allow other ants to pass.  This is not self-sacrifice after kissing your family goodbye – this is instinct built into the tiny brain of an ant, over which he has no control.

And that’s the point.  Morality is an issue of making a choice between personal gain and the welfare of another which may even take away from the self.  Risking one’s life to pull a child out of a river in which you might very well die is not an instinct.  Most people would never set a toe in the water.  That’s their choice.  However, some souls will put their lives on the line, because their compassion overwhelms their sense of personal survival.

That’s what makes some human beings magnificent.  The stories of people standing by and not helping others in other in need are legion, and include individuals, groups, and even whole countries.  This sort of analysis about animals is emotional, not scientific, in my opinion.  And it seems important fodder for PETA-types to argue their points.

The good and bad point of the human brain is obvious:  we can figure out how to walk on the moon and discover penicillin.  We can also think of ways to fly airplanes into buildings to kill as many innocent people as possible for the sake of our “god.”  CHOICE is wonderful in concept, but either beautiful OR deadly in actuality.