Monthly Archives: April 2012

My Final Visit With My Friend Karen

I want to talk about my friend Karen, who is in the last stages of cancer.  I went to visit her this weekend and got to see how a woman who is suffering still has class.  While I was there, the family showed me a tape of Karen.  In the video, Karen was receiving an award for Employee of the Year at the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and she was being interviewed about the award.  Now, you’re probably thinking, “the DMV?”  Most of you get very aggravated with the DMV – the waiting in lines, the rules, not feeling like you’re being helped, etc.  But until Karen came down with cancer, she hadn’t missed a day of work in decades.

Just before receiving the award, Karen had a stroke and the interview was conducted while she was in the hospital.  Some very big “mucky-mucks” came to see her – the head of the state DMV and the lieutenant governor – because it was such a big award.  She was sitting in a wheelchair struggling to talk, and she was asked how she felt about getting the award.  She said (and I’m paraphrasing – she said it much better), “I feel very honored.  I and all of us here work very hard to serve the public.  We do the best we can to be considerate and compassionate, and to do a complete job.  That’s our job.  It’s our responsibility; it’s our obligation to serve.  I enjoy serving the public, and I enjoy helping people.  I’ve always been that way.” 

There she was, only 49 years old with terminal cancer and now a stroke, sitting there glowing with modesty and talking about our responsibility to serve well and with the right attitude.  If even 5 percent of the people in this country actually do that, I’d be amazed.  It just shows what kind of a person she is and what kind of a person we’re losing.

I told her later, sitting by the side of her bed in her house, holding her hand, and wishing I had magic, that I was really impressed with her attitude.  She’s never been interviewed before and didn’t know in advance what she’d be asked, but she just talked from her heart and said, “You know what?  It doesn’t matter what the economy is like.  When you have a job, it’s an honor to have that job, and you should do it to the best of your ability without resentment and without attitude.  You should be grateful you have a job and understand the value of what you do to serve other people when you have that job.”

Karen’s words got me thinking: What if people had the same attitude about their families?  What if they thought, “It’s a blessing to be fortunate enough to be a member of this nice family; I’m going to honor that great fortune, and I’m going to do the best I can to serve the people in this family.” 

Unfortunately, most people only think about themselves.  This is why I loved that line from John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  It’s a great concept.  There are so many terms we can substitute for “country” in that phrase, and it still rings true.  You could replace “country” with “job,” “spouse,” or “family.”  

So for the rest of my life, anything useful and wise I come up with on my program, I dedicate to Karen, one of the most decent, sweet, lovable people ever.  Everybody in her family will tell you no one disliked her.

Think about that.

Do you know anybody who’s liked by everybody?  Karen’s the only one I know.  She is so genuinely generous.  She’s not one of those manipulative people-pleasers who uses people to get what she wants.  Karen was created to give with a good attitude, even with terminal cancer and a stroke.  There’s just something special about her.  If you’re lucky enough to have a handful of friends anywhere near like that, it is a major gift from the heavens.  Anybody who’s around a person like that is changed forever.

Pregnant and Sacked

People feel entitled to challenge everything these days.  Even if they’ve understood the rules and they’re reaping the benefits, they decide they’re above the system and the rules don’t apply to them.  They get lawyers, go public, and cause grief.  These people make me sick.  So when I recently read about the Christian school teacher who got knocked up out-of-wedlock and sued the school for firing her, I was disenchanted yet again. 

Here’s what happened:  A 29-year-old science teacher and volleyball coach was fired from a Texas Christian academy for getting pregnant out-of-wedlock.  She says she has a fiancé, and defends herself by saying, “I’m not just some teacher that went out to a bar and got pregnant and went back to school saying it’s okay.  I was in a committed relationship the whole time and probably would have been married if things had gone differently and this would be a non-situation.” 

She’s absolutely right.  If she had done things the right way – went on a date, received a ring, got married, and then had babies – this wouldn’t be happening.  By the way, a committed relationship is called marriage, not shacking-up.

She then claimed she had no idea she would lose her job over the pregnancy. 

What??

She teaches at a Christian school!  If you want to live a free and easy life don’t teach at a religious school.  She wasn’t fired because she wanted pregnancy leave.  She was fired because she broke the moral rules of a Christian school and became a bad role model for little kids.  And getting married at this point wouldn’t work , because she’s already knocked up out-of-wedlock and the kids all know.  

The school’s headmaster said she was fired for violating her contract, which includes a clause requiring teachers to be Christian role models.  “It’s not that she’s pregnant,” the headmaster said, “the issue here is being an unmarried mother.  Everything we stand for says that we want our teachers, who we consider to be in the ministry, to model what every Christian man and woman should be.”
 
I can’t believe this twit has the gall to sue.  If this had happened back in the day, she would have been ferociously embarrassed, kept her mouth shut, and gotten married 20 seconds after she took the little pee test showing she was pregnant,  because her behavior would have been considered unbecoming a lady and unbecoming a teacher in a Christian school in particular.  These days, if you don’t tolerate something, no matter what it is, you’re a bad person.  In my opinion, how dare she sue.

Quote of the Week

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. 
               – John Muir
                 Scottish-born American naturalist
                 Advocate for wilderness preservation
                 1838 – 1914

 

The Teenage Mind

Many people call me all the time saying, “It’s so great to have kids.” And I joke with them, “Just wait until they’re teenagers…” 

What is the teenage issue?  Well, there are a lot of changes happening in society and in our physiology which explains some of what happens with teenagers.  Kids today reach puberty a lot earlier than they did in previous years.  And they reach adulthood a lot later.  It’s amazing to me how many callers say, “I have a kid age 23, 24, 25, 27…etc. living at home and not doing anything.”  Plus, we never know why kids don’t think something through.  Somebody once said, “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and know how to brake.” 

  • Puberty is kicking in earlier and earlier.  A leading theory points to changes in energy balance – -as “Mother Laura” has said many times. 
  • Kids are eating more and moving less.  Weight gain seems to have something to do with kids entering puberty earlier. 
  • Children also come to take on adult roles later and later.  Think about 500 years ago.  Shakespeare knew the emotionally intense combination of teenage sexuality and risk taking could be tragic.  Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Had they not belonged to warring families, they probably would have gotten married at 13. 

So what happens when kids reach puberty earlier and adulthood later?  They have a lot more problems because they don’t have an established identity as an adult. 

Psychological and neurological systems need to develop in concert with each other.  According to a recent study from Cornell University, emotion and motivation is tied in to the hormonal changes of puberty, and the areas of the brain that respond to rewards reveal adolescents aren’t reckless because they underestimate the risks.  Teenagers don’t seem to have a neurological issue, but instead overestimate the rewards or find the rewards more rewarding than adults do.  So, they will engage in behaviors with no hesitation and no breaks because the little “zing” is just everything – e.g. the incomparable intensity of puppy love.  What teenagers want the most are social rewards.  They want to be respected and liked by their peers.  That’s the built-in mechanism. 

The second crucial system in the teenage brain has to do with controls.  That’s the system which inhibits impulses, guides you in decision making, and encourages long term planning.  This system requires learning.  And we don’t do much of that.  Think about what most teenagers do today.  They mostly hang out…party…party some more…party a little bit more and after that, play video games and text — they spend their lives doing anything but learning. 

In the past, you had to practice gathering, hunting, cooking, and caregiving all the way from childhood to early adolescence in order to become a good hunter, gatherer, or caregiver.  The part of the brain responsible for learning all this then gets wired appropriately for adult use.  But today we don’t have kids apprenticing at anything.  We have them mostly playing all the way through childhood.  We have very few kids working on a farm, working in stores, or working with their parents.  Few kids are working anywhere.  Very rarely is this seen anymore.  We have prolonged childhood forever. 

In contemporary life the two systems that have to do with control and risk taking are not worked on by experiences, because our kids aren’t having any.  Our kids are having very little experience with the kind of tasks they will have to perform as grownups.  I remember when I was in middle school, I had classes where I learned to sew, type and cook.  It didn’t matter if I was going to do that for a living or not.  Everyone had to learn these basic things.  Guys went into shop classes and learned how to make things.  We were teaching our children by experience to build things, to be patient through the process, and to apply themselves.   We don’t do those things anymore.  Just think of the things we all grew up with that taught us to be responsible, control our impulses, and postpone our gratification.  This was very important.  Now our kids are getting into all kinds of trouble, and they are not able to function as young adults.

So, what do we do?  

We have to start with our kids earlier.  It’s not just because we are “disciplining them and teaching them character.”  It’s because their brains actually need this exercise in order to function in a mature way.  They need it.  Concretely, what we need to do is to stop babying our babies.  They have to take on responsibility.  That’s why I think all 18 year olds should go in to the military.  After spending two years in the military, they’ll learn a lot about responsibility and controlling their impulses.   I really like that in the Mormon religion; young people have to go on a mission  someplace in the world to help others and perform tasks.  They learn a tremendous amount, enrich their brains, teach themselves control, postpone gratification, and learn to solve problems.  They don’t just turn to mind altering chemicals.

For a more in-depth perspective, Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California Berkley, wrote a good article in the Wall Street Journal called “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?”