hero-in-waiting

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i heard about a new program that is being tried in some schools, and i really hope it catches on. the idea captures such a powerful paradigm shift that i knew i had to write about it, because i think it is dead-on true, and because i think more people should be thinking along these lines.

i’m not sure who is responsible for developing this idea, but it may be the person who wrote the book the lucifer effect (which is now sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor, so after i’ve read it i may be able to let you know more…). in any case, the idea as i understood it is something like this: our idea about a hero is completely wrong. while most of us think HERO and picture a cape and superpowers, the actual real-life hero is much more likely to be the average guy (or gal) on the street who pulls someone off of the subway tracks after he’s had a seizure or stops an assault by turning on a bunch of lights and calling 9-1-1. real heroes are the people in each and every moment who make a decision- either consciously or unconsciously- to act in a noble way.

and that is something that can be taught.

so while you can’t go into a school and teach kids to bend metal rods with their eyeballs or reverse the gravitational pull of the earth, what you can teach is that, by practicing making moral and correct choices they strengthen their “hero” muscle. and when, someday, they each may be called upon to make a defining decision, they will be that much more likely to make the right one.

studies have shown time and again the one of the easiest ways you can get someone to behave outside of their moral comfort zone (in a bad way) is to put them in an unfamiliar situation. so, while i might be very comfortable taking someone to task in my own home for telling a racist joke (i am a bad example of this, by the way, because i have a big mouth, so i exercise my moral muscle a lot- hahahaha), i would in theory be much less likely to tell off that same person if we were at a social gathering or in the home of a stranger. the less at home i felt, the less likely i would be to take a stand.

this can be explained by a number of factors. obviously if i am in an unfamiliar setting, i may not know the expectations or the correct social behaviors. the more attuned one is to these cues, the less likely one would be to violate them, which may explain why reserved british *h frequently wants to run and hide when he sees someone acting out of line in public. because he can watch my blood pressure rise, and he knows that if someone’s behaviour gets to a certain level of unacceptablility, i just might intervene to take it in hand. this makes him alternately proud and mortified, i think, but this is the price we pay for exercising moral muscle…

in the school programs, they teach children that they will feel uncomfortable when they observe bad behaviour or sticky situations. but this is not a signal to shut down. sometimes it is a signal to step up. obviously they are not telling children to put themselves at risk. this is not a curriculum that tells little kids to try to stop muggings single-handedly or to take on bullies with physical force when they have no hope of not getting beaten to a pulp. this is about being diligent to return the change in a store when you are given too much. it’s about carrying someone’s packages when you see they are struggling. it’s about not fake-laughing at a mean joke just so you can feel in with the popular kids. it’s about reaching around to your back and feeling those hard bumps and knowing that’s a spine and it’s there to hold you upright. and each time you stand just that much taller. because you know you are a good person who acts in a moral way. and that means something.

because a hero is built one act at a time.

when you think about it, there isn’t too much difference between a person who walks over to a person in tears and asks, “can i help?” and a person who walks past. but really, there is a world of difference. there isn’t a lot of time involved in saying thank you sincerely, versus merely mouthing the words meaninglessly and moving on with your day. but looking someone in the eye and giving them some real appreciation for whatever they did for you- even if it is what they were supposed to do (like making your coffee hot or putting a bandaid on you or clearing your salad plate)- can change someone’s entire day. and how super-hero-level-powerful is that???

in general, it is one of my great aggravations in life when people redefine words to suit the meaning of the moment. whether something is politically charged or not, i think that if you have a new situation, you should think of a new term to fit it. so when i call these small acts of nobility “heroic”, i really do mean that. i really do mean, in the literal sense of the word, that by acting in a moral and righteous way, that you behave like a hero.

and i wholeheartedly agree with the idea behind the school curriculum that the more you can get kids to practice this skill in small comfortable ways, the more it becomes part of their nature so that they are more likely to see themselves as heroes and behave as heroes in big ways.

i think that in this world, it is an act of exaltedness, it is an act of rebellion against the norm, it is an act of defiance of mediocrity, and it is an act of true heroism.

now the only question left is, what kind of hero will you be?

say yes to the mess

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in the past few days i have been so deep in mental quagmire that i have probably watched about 60 episodes of a show called ‘say yes to the dress’. this is noteworthy because:

1- i don’t usually watch drivel;
2- if i spend time watching or reading something, i try to make it something where i can at least learn or derive some benefit from the experience;
3- while i can’t say that i have a life that is packed to the rafters with busyness every second of every day, i don’t either lead the kind of life that easily lends itself to spending hours in bed zoning out doing things like watching brides pick out wedding dresses;
4- while i don’t claim to be a perfect example of humanity, i do try to conduct myself in a way that i can be proud of and in a way that sets an example for my children. let’s just say that saying yes to dresses for multiple hours day after day doesn’t readily fall into this category…

and so, here i am, taking a break from my new pastime, blogging about my new pastime. in my own defense, i did read a book by malcom gladwell today (blink) and i started a book on neuroscience research into why people are altruistic. but, overall, i would say that i have the brain function of an avocado.

friday i got up and made a pot of stew and went back to bed. when a friend called and offered to make us a salad i almost cried with happiness because i didn’t even have the wherewithal to go out and buy vegetables, let alone clean them and put them into a bowl.

i have spent a lot of time trying to come to grips with the plea bargain in the molestation case, and trying to get to an okay place with the whole thing. i know in my heart that the deal was made to save the victims’ families from a boatload of suffering, and not because the perpetrator wasn’t guilty. i know that it i should think of this as a case of rescuing the victims rather than a case of a sick person being free to possibly hurt other people. i know that, even though i am very black and white, the world is rarely black and white and that we can’t just wrap things in neat little packages and have them always look like they make sense. i know that i should have much more clarity about this than i do, and it bothers me that it bothers me.

so i watch bride after bride choose the wedding dress of her dreams. one happy ending after another, all in 21 minute increments, each one a tidy dose of joy in a neat little parcel. and i stay in bed.

and then once in a while i go throw up and my kids get totally stressed out.

my older girls told me today that they are pretty constantly worried that i’m sick all the time and they feel like they alway have to make it better and they can’t. i heard my little one on the phone the other day telling *h “mommy’s throwing up again…” and i felt like a naughty kid caught doing something bad. but the saddest part was how resigned she sounded when she said it. she was so sad, but so matter-of-fact. what a cruddy week it’s been…

at the beginning of the jewish new year there is a ritual where you take a chicken and basically say that your sins should be transferred onto the chicken. then the chicken is ritually slaughtered and donated to the poor. i always feel like this is sort of superstitious and creepy and hocus-pocus-y, and i’m explaining it really really badly. (for the record, you can also do this by donating a sum of money to the poor, and this is what our family does…) about a week and a half ago, a racoon got into our chicken coop and killed madge in a fairly gruesome way. it took macy grey, and i never found a trace of her. madge was my oldest and dearest chicken- the one who had been in at least 2 previous homes, who has been debeaked and was dowdy and sweet and just so wacky that you had to love her and want to protect her. macy grey was so docile and wonderful and she was always getting picked on by the other chickens, but she was so beautiful. she was like the gawky kid in middle school who you knew would grow up to be a stunner, but she had no idea how gorgous she was, so she was amazingly humble and kind. when they got killed i was amazed and angry and shocked and i thought, well, maybe this is some kind of sacrificial thing. i don’t know why this happened, and it was awful, but i hope we are done with that sort of terrible business forever. and we talked about getting a peacock or barn cats or some sort of guard animal for the chicken enclosure and we kept the light on outside for the next few nights.

and then- no kidding- the night of the molestation plea- a horrific screaming came from the chicken coop and in the time it took me to throw the window open and *h to run outside a raccoon managed to pull twinkle out of the nesting box and to mangle her so disgustingly- to literally rip her to shreds- and then left her in shattered scattered bits in the bushes next to the coop and ran away into the night.

and i thought to myself the next day when i went out to get her body that it looked like a demented serial killer had gotten to her. it wasn’t like an animal tried to eat her. it was like she had been tortured. it was like a sick crime scene. and i was blown apart by the violence of it. and i gathered up the pieces of her and all i could think, was, ” okay, maybe this insane amount of evil will create some equal amount of good somewhere in the world because this is just off the charts…”.

i know that is a big reaction over a chicken, but i’m telling you what went through my mind at the time. it was almost inconceivable to me.

right now lacy is the only surviving chicken, and she seemed lonely and bored in the coop, so she is back to free-ranging, neighbors be darned. i just can’t have any more unhappiness around me right now. i borrowed *h’s computer so i could blog in bed, and when he asked me what i was going to write about i told him i honestly had no idea, but i knew i needed to write something, or i was going to go mad.

sometimes 1+1=2 and sometimes you just have to lay in bed and let the world wash over you. i tried to read a neurology book earlier and it made about as much sense to me as this blog post probably does to you.

but sometimes it just feels good to write stuff.

sorry you all have to witness the carnage…

confusion reigns and pours

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last spring the man who has been my daughter’s teacher for first and second grade got arrested for molesting children in the classroom. he was charged with four first degree felony counts of child molestation, and the rest of the year passed in chaos as the school and the parents tried to determine exactly which kids were affected and how badly. we, along with most of our close friends, had a rocky road trying to help our kids and support each other through a time that i wouldn’t wish on anybody else.

the man in question has a wife and kids of his own, and he was a friend of ours, too, so this made things even murkier.

luckily, after the last few awful months of school, the kids got summer vacation to decompress from everything, and mostly people put their lives back on track. this year, there were lots of court appearances, as one delay after another pushed the trial date farther and farther away.

this was great on the one hand, because it allowed people to breathe, and to not have to confront their demons in the light, but it was awful too, because we all knew the day would come when the trial would actually happen and everyone would have to relive the horrible experiences that led us here in the first place.

this was really a situation where, regardless of the outcome, there was going to be collateral damage on every side.

the trial date was finally set for march 5th, and both sides were in a frenzy preparing. many of our friends were caught up in subpoenas and their kids were being hauled in to be questioned by the defense, even though they had been through this all already with the police detectives during the initial stages of the investigation.

yesterday, the teacher took a plea to two counts of a very reduced charge that will allow him to serve no time (the judge will have to agree to this at sentencing) and be on the sex offender registry for 10 years. the families will be spared the agony of having their children testify in open court and the teacher’s children will get to keep him at home (is that a plus????). he will receive no treatment, and the community where he now lives (he has moved away from seattle) is under the impression that since he got no jail time that he was talked into taking a plea just to avoid a trial and that he probably did nothing wrong (this is the fiction the teacher’s family has been spreading, in spite of the fact that the prosecution’s case has always been completely solid, but they have no way of knowing this in the other state where he now lives).

so, is this a good outcome? the children who were affected by him can continue on with their lives and they don’t have to have the trauma of re-living their shame in public at trial.

he may or may not be hurting his own children, and the only person who is supposed to be supervising that situation is his wife, who is totally in denial (out of understandable self-preservation, i would guess- but i am literally in no position to judge her, and i literally do pray for her children and for her as well…).

he does have to report his whereabouts to the police (or to the court? i’m not clear on how it works when one is a registered sex offender), and he can’t have a job working with kids for 10 years- but this works IF people are diligent about checking the registry and IF he follows through with what he is supposed to do.

he will get no treatment (he still has made no admission of wrongdoing- aside from the quiet plea behind closed doors, nor any apologies), and has no felony record, since the charges he ultimately plead to were misdemeanors, so he can still get a job that supports his family and possibly contribute to society, but this is certainly no red flag to anyone that he is potentially dangerous, either.

i should say at this point, that the prosecutor in this case was extremely conscientious, extremely moral, and incredibly diligent and hard-working, and would never have offered a deal that he didn’t feel was in the best interests of everyone involved.

so, i have spent the day in bed wondering why in the world i should feel so so conflicted…

but i really do.

i would love to hear your thoughts on this because mine are clearly unclear…

on courage

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here is the premise: of course negative experiences impact us, but they don’t have to define us. we are not the sum total of our biology or our biography. we still have the power to respond to what happens to us in a multitude of ways- and it’s that power that gives us our humanity. rather than merely defining our limitations, challenges can also lift us into flight and set us up for infinite greatness. so every obstacle is an opportunity to soar…

people will suffer in life. the only way to get away from suffering is to be dead. so the trick in life is to concentrate less on avoiding suffering and more on how to go on in spite of how acute your suffering is in each and every moment. if you can succeed regardless of how uncomfortable you are, then you are truly alive in every moment… i feel very zen and un-me-like to say that, but i read something that made me think about that, and then i watched some TED talks on neuro-science and, shockingly they touched on the same theme. you know when you hear the same messages over and over again from very unlikely sources and sometimes you just realize that maybe- just perhaps- it isn’t a coincidence and the universe (or the Cosmic Voice, or the Ultimate Consciousness or God or whatever you want to call that Big Higher Power…) is trying to really make you get it???

in a book called Write For Your Life, lawrence block says that fear and courage are like lightning and thunder. they both start at the same time, but the fear- like lightning – travels faster and arrives sooner. but if you can just hang on for a little bit longer, the courage will arrive. isn’t that one of the coolest things you have ever heard? because if you know relief is coming, you can almost always hang on for another second or two, right? i LOVE that…

yogini victoria ramos talks about fear being about self-preservation. but- and this is why she is a yogini and not an ordinary lady with a blog complaining about how stressed out she is (hahahaha)- she says the trick is to find a way to preserve yourself in a way that is glorious and expansive and not limiting. isn’t that beautiful? because so much of self-preservation, at least in my world, is about being shut-down and closed-off and guarded. what a different life people could have if they could feel safe yet glorious at the same time. it’s such a unique way to think about something that i never even considered from another perspective. i always just kind of took it as a given that to be safe was to hunker down. and, truthfully, i probably still will because i don’t know that i am brave in this way… but maybe this will inspire one of you to go beyond your comfort zone and test some new waters; how game-changing that would be!

this bit of wisdom, though, is perhaps the most in line with me: from a book called whatever you do, don’t run, by peter allison- he says that in the wild, prey animals run. sometimes, an animal will fake charge another animal to see if it flinches or runs away. if it does, the predator knows it is food and will give chase. in the face of an animal like a lion, allison says the best strategy is to make yourself as big, steady, and strong as you can. often, this dynamic works with human bullies as well. sometimes when you are feeling the least courageous is the time when you need to summon up the most courage. this is the time when you need to wait for your thunder and grow your expansiveness. it’s the time to stay with your discomfort and be prepared to soar.

sometimes when we most need a voice of guidance we open a random book and watch something that has been in the netflix line-up for months and months and they virtually scream the same message.

and sometimes that message is to have heart and be strong. there could be a multitude of reasons why i need to hear this message right now, but i find that when i most need to hear it is often when other people need to hear it as well.

so, here it is, as clear as i can give it over. i hope it resonates with you- or at the very least i hope i don’t sound like a total raving lunatic ;)

What constitutes helping?

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thegardenrenegade:

i saw this reposted on amanda’s blog and i just thought it was so poignant i couldn’t stop myself from re-posting it here as well. even though this is not my issue right now, i am putting it up here in the hopes that it might touch someone out there who needs to see it. you never know what battles a person is fighting, and it never hurts to have a bit of perspective around it… for what it’s worth, i think the last paragraph can really be said about most struggles… prayers to amanda and her family :)

(you have to go to the blog to read the whole thing- but is is really worth it! and it isn’t long…)

Originally posted on Nesting changes:

In  this  article, Russell Brand articulates the relationship between hard drugs and pain, and the tragedy of the particular brand of stigma reserved for drug users.

“…I cannot accurately convey to you the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain. It transforms a tight, white fist into a gentle, brown wave. From my first inhalation 15 years ago, it fumigated my private hell and lay me down in its hazy pastures and a bathroom floor in Hackney embraced me like a womb…

…This shadow is darkly cast on the retina of my soul and whenever I am dislodged from comfort my focus falls there…

…Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution…”

Kudos to him for being brave enough to speak compassionately about something considered so contemptible by so many.

Reality is full of suffering, maybe it’s time we stop judging others for how…

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in my opinion, the only truly super bowl is one with brownie batter in it…

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this is not meant to be any kind of rant against football fans (or as they seem to be in seattle, football fanatics), but the recent frenzy of excitement over the superbowl left me feeling more than a bit perplexed.

here in seattle, football is an obsession like i have never seen before. there is a whole quasi-religion of “12th man” (meaning a football fan. because a team has 11 players, so if you are the 12th man on the team you are the fan. why do i know this? because i asked someone if all of the “12″ flags flying everywhere in the city had anything to do with the recent legalization of marijuana. yes, i thought it was some kind of significant pot holiday type of flag, like maybe bob marley’s birthday??? anyway, i was set straight really quickly after much laughter and not a small amount of shock that i could possibly not know such a clearly important thing…)

people literally plan community events around whether or not there is a football game on TV- no joke. and when seattle made it to the superbowl the city just went crazy. on wednesday there was a parade here so people could see (yes, see! as in glimpse…) the football players who won the superbowl and yell happy things at them. there were like 750,000 people (i’m not exaggerating that number)- and the only reason it wasn’t more is that they closed the public transit systems going into downtown because everything was standing room only. *h had to get off the bus a mile away from work and walk even though he got there at like 8am and the parade wasn’t starting for several hours because things were already so congested. in the middle of the day i was driving home from somewhere in my neighborhood- quite far away from downtown- and saw people walking in groups all decked out in green and blue (the team’s colors, dontcha know) actually trudging through super cold weather to the parade.

so here’s where my confusion comes in: i think sports are fun to play. i was a sportsy kid. i ice skated and played baseball and i was actually quite a good gymnast. i thought kickball was awesome and volleyball rocked and, as a matter of fact, i rather enjoyed playing football with the kids in my neighborhood. but i don’t get the excitement over WATCHING other people play a sport.

like if your children are playing, i understand that you would cheer for them, but that’s sort of because you have to and sort of because it’s cute. if your friend is playing, you might want to show your support for them because they actually know you and what you say to them might help them in some way. like, “hey, joe, i noticed that you closed your eyes when the ball came to you. maybe next time you might try keeping them open…” and joe might really benefit from having you there. but to get all up in a lather because some random anonymous person who doesn’t know you exist is running with a ball or carrying it or throwing it or kicking it or whatever- and this can make or break your mood for the day? that i really don’t get.

and this is fun for people.

they get a big rush from watching other people doing something that:
1- they may want to do themselves but can’t? so why isn’t that sad?
2- they don’t want to do at all? then who cares?
3- they did once upon a time but no longer do so now they live it vicariously? again, see #1.
4- they think is just completely surreal because it is so far removed from anything real that grown adults invest time and energy to care about who has a ball that cost less than $10? so why not just play minesweeper or tetrus or whatever it is that people play these days to zone out? or, better yet, take a nap…

maybe someone can explain the whole watching sports thing to me, because when i ask people about it they generally just give me an exasperated gush of air as if the question doesn’t even deserve an answer. like it is so obvious why this is a quality use of one’s time that i should be ashamed not to fully grasp it.

i actually let one of my kids watch about 7 minutes of the superbowl (obviously with me there so he wouldn’t have to see commercials- don’t even get me started on those- or half time shows or whatever). he was curious about why everyone was so hyped up. so we saw what payton manning looked like, and i explained a little about why some of the players were not huge like he expected them to be. then he lost interest (hurray! i raised a sensible kid!) and we turned it off.

all in all, i think that’s about right. my kids can now say they have seen football and we have an interesting topic for conversation in our house. i always like things that make my kids curious, so i would say it turned out well.

but i’m guessing most people don’t watch these games for cocktail talk. so tell me: what is so compelling about watching other people do sports?????

some days just need this kind of post…

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