Sunday, September 15

Reflections and no regrets

Robin William is returning to television. In a recent interview, he was asked about being in television again and some of the changes he's made in his life. Having been through rehab twice, Mr. Williams noted some changes were out of necessity and some changes have been a choice. But when asked about regrets, Mr. Williams said he had none. "Regrets don't help anyone."

Friday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The Days of Awe are what some call the
10-day period between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur. This is a time of reflection and repentance. On Yom Kippur, Jews seek reconciliation with God as they prepare to move ahead in the new year.

As I was doing some cleaning, I came across a piece of paper on which I'd written, probably copied: "With clean hands we find our grace. We realize the slate can be as clean as we allow it to be."
Psalm 103:2-3 reads "Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases." (NLT). God forgives all of my sins and heals all of my dis-eases, those abnormalities of my being.

If you're still with me, you're wondering how all of these things go together. First, then, thanks for hanging with me.

Humanity seems to have a need to refresh and reset. At New Year's we want a clean slate. It is a time of hopefulness. We try for no regret and no recriminations. I believe we hope and try to learn from our mistakes, but wallowing in them, speculating on the "what if" of the past is pointless. We live in the present. The road that wasn't taken doesn't really matter as long as we learn something from that experience that informs our present and helps us prepare for a better future. Our mistakes and failures are just as important in shaping who we are and the kind of people we can be as our successes.

But it can be hard to forgive ourselves, so our slates may not be as clean as we could allow them to be. Yom Kippur doesn't mean Jews can't repent and seek reconciliation any time during the year, but it marks the importance of going through that process, sealing that in the past, and moving on to the future. Reflection is important; dwelling and wallowing, however, don't help us grow or improve.

"Regrets don't help anyone." Mr. Williams is right; they don't. Reflecting on our behavior and actions, acknowledging mistakes, seeking repentance where it is due, learning from our reflections and mistakes, living in the present, and striving for a better future.

That's what can help us become better people. For ourselves; for everyone.

Monday, September 9

Success through failure

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?" 
Robert Browing

Diana Nyad was 64 when she achieved her goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida, 110 miles. It was her fifth attempt since 1978; her fourth since turning 60. Each time she attempted the swim, she learned something new--about herself, about the conditions, about the kind of support she needed. Each time she failed, she learned something that would help her be more successful the next time.

There are those who believe she still has not succeeded, that she unfairly wore a mask and body suit to protect her from the jellyfish, that she swam too fast, that blah blah blah. There will always be skeptics when the seemingly insurmountable is surmounted.

An article in the September issue of National Geographic is titled "Famous Failures." Persistence. Resilience. In today's education space there are articles and studies about student grit, tenacity, and perseverance. It's curious to me that this American society--a culture that once proudly boasted of and honored "rugged individualism," that cherished and still occasionally recognizes American ingenuity--seems so often intent on schadenfreude.

Rather than celebrate the hard work of a successful venture, too many seem to want to cast aspersion. I suppose there are many things that drive that sort of mean-spirited behavior. Perhaps Diana Nyad didn't follow English Channel rules; that seems to be one of the complaints of the skeptics. Then again, she wasn't crossing the English Channel and she never claimed that she would follow those rules. Why is it so hard to say "Congratulations! Well done!" to someone who persevered to accomplish her dream? Who had supporters and encouragers to help her achieve that dream? Why must it be diminished?

Why can't this 64-year-old, who tried five times over 30+ years to complete this one task, be congratulated for what she did? That no one else has ever done? That others may try to do, and perhaps under English Channel rules because Diana Nyad has now established a benchmark.

You don't know until you try
We can learn from failure and we can learn from others' successes. In the National Geographic article, you can read about a failed Arctic balloon expedition. What has been learned from the degrees of success in each of those failures has led to remarkable technological innovations and learning about aviation and expedition in extreme conditions.

Everest climber Pete Athans says, “If you take away uncertainty, you take away motivation. Wanting to exceed your grasp is the nature of the human condition. There’s no magic to getting where we already know we can get.”

Saturday, September 7

Eyes and mind mostly open

Long ago, before Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and other such buffoons, I used to think I was somewhat conservative. I know I'm not a "liberal" as I think I understand that term, but I confess to being confused about what it means to be either liberal or conservative and the several shades of gray and other colors in the spectrum.

I realize that in some things I am more liberal than conservative and in some things I'm more conservative than liberal. I also know I change my mind about my positions on things as I learn more. And as I get older, I hope I get a little wiser about some things.

The latest incident to cause me such reflection is a brouhaha over Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. I used the book as a text in a college, and in relatively conservative Christian college at that. I did warn students of some of the graphics, but I also explained why we were reading and discussing it.

Would I teach it in 11th grade? I don't know. It depends on my students. There's a woman who Oregon who claims to be the voice of the conservative woman. She's helped me come to the conclusion that I'm not that narrow-minded nor, I hope, that insufferable. She went on and on and on and on about this book, and included some selective texts from The Bluest Eye to prove (!!!!) what a terrible book it is. She did her homework, I grant her that; she talked to a pediatrician and she did some research on Toni Morrison. She presented "research" and I'd want to check out the veracity of the presented research to determine how objectively she presented her findings or how balanced her reporting. She also quoted the American Academic of Pediatrics, though selectively. You can find the entirety of the AAP media report here. She raises some interesting points, but her tone she suggests that one dare not dissent with her position. And that saddens me because I think it might be interesting to have a conversation with her, but I doubt conversation is really possible; I fear it would become a lecture or a diatribe and intimate something unpleasant about my person or my thinking because I fail to agree with her.

I suppose what really wearies me is the insistence that lines be drawn, that there is no room for dissent nor, apparently, for objective and reasonable discussion regardless of one's position along the political spectrum. And there is no room for being more conservative on one thing and perhaps more liberal on another. No open-mindedness permitted. No tolerance for different perspectives.Minds solidly closed.

I know there are things about which I am more personally emphatic than others and positions for which I'm less likely to entertain differing points of view. But if my mind is always closed and my position always firmly staked on what I know at the moment, I don't think I would or could continue to grow or learn or develop as a humane and responsible member of the society in which I live and work.
s that exposure to violence in media has a significant risk on the health of children and adolescents and can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed. It is also associated with teen pregnancy and promiscuity. The AAP has also called on schools specifically to do more in the way of preventing young people from being exposed to and negatively impacted by harmful media
The AAP states that exposure to violence in media has a significant risk on the health of children and adolescents and can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed. It is also associated with teen pregnancy and promiscuity. The AAP has also called on schools specifically to do more in the way of preventing young people from being exposed to and negatively impacted by harmful media