Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lie--You MUST Go to College

Ok, parents and teachers don't kill me over this one. I know it may not be popular. I have fought against this lie for many years--including the 4 years I taught high school. I met some opposition sometimes! This one is pretty simple though. College is NOT for everyone. Young people need to hear that. Our society--from the president all the way down to individual parents--puts an intense amount of pressure on the youth. There is this pervasive mindset that college is THE ticket to success, wealth and happiness. This is a LIE. Plain and simple. College will not make you happy, wealthy or successful.

First, lets address the idea that college is necessary for success. College will not guarantee your earning potential. It does help (to some extent) give you an edge. There are some jobs that will require a college degree. Many of those jobs do pay more than jobs that don't require a degree. That said, there is an endless supply of exceptions to this rule. Compare the salaries of a diesel mechanic and an elementary school teacher. The other flaw here is the definition of success. I have discussed this on several occasions but it is always worth reiterating. Success should NEVER be measured by salary--NEVER.

So what does impact your earning potential? I think it is a combination of several things. One, you need a marketable skill set. For some, this comes with college. For others this comes from a technical school. Still other acquire this skill set from experience and experimentation. All are viable options as long as you can market them. Two, you need the drive to leverage your strengths. If you can't sell your skills, they get wasted. Be proud of your abilities--they are gifts from God. Three, you have to be able to differentiate yourself from others with the same skills. Maybe this means you connect to groups of people that are underserved, maybe you tweak your product to make it different or better. I don't know. But you should. Next, you have to find your calling. If you are doing the work God put you here to do, you will be successful, period. Finally, you go DO IT. You can make plans and scheme all you want but if you never put any action behind the plan, it is a waste.

Don't misunderstand me, I think college is valuable. I think many, many people benefit from it (even those that don't graduate). I think if you don't know what you want to do, college is a good place to "find yourself" (sometimes). Just remember, college is not for everyone. It's ok if you want to go to a tech school. It's ok if you want to go to Nashville Auto Diesel. It's ok if you want to join the military. There are lots more options out there. This country needs people at every level of the employment chain. The important thing is that you develop some kind of marketable skill and put it to work.

Real Life Episode of "The Office"

This is not a "Great American Lies" post. I just have a funny story to share. From time to time I help my Aunt Jo with catering jobs. It pays a little extra spending money and is typically quite entertaining. People are fun to watch when they don't think they are being watched and usually, they don't consider "the help" as watching.

Yesterday I helped Jo cater a corporate lunch. It doesn't matter what company or where because I'm sure this kind of thing happens all over the place. Apparently this company has integrated a new manufacturing process and improved their efficiency enough to win a bronze award. To celebrate, they bought everyone a steak lunch (60 people, over $3,000--must be nice award--can't wait to help with the silver and gold award dinners!!). The whole time I was there I just kept thinking that it was a real life "The Office" episode.

When I came in they were already eating. There were engineer type people all the way down to the worker bees. There was the one incredibly LOUD guy that was telling off color jokes. There was the older lady that didn't eat her steak but instead went and got a paper towel, wrapped up the steak and stuffed it in her pocket (no lie). I spent the next 30 minutes or so refilling tea and water. Then the "program" started. Up first-- a really lousy PA system playing some obscure AC/DC song repeatedly screaming "Are YOU READYYYY!!!". Then comes the faux enthusiastic manager doing a really poor job imitating a boxer entering the ring. Remember, all of this is in a cafeteria type room... At this point I glance around the room. There is a middle aged woman who has taken the table decorations and stuck the fake poinsettas in her hair. Then the manager grabs the microphone and says, "Ok, all right, are you ready! Are you ready to work toward SILVER!!!!! (remember they won bronze). I almost choked on my laughter at this point but I kept composed because I didn't want to miss anything.

The manager then spends 10 minutes recapping their long journey (this word was used ad nauseum) to this point. He thanked people by name with each one giving the requisite head nod at the recognition. Then he introduced his boss (who must not be actually at that plant on a regular basis). The boss comes up and has a VERY thick foreign accent. I don't have a problem with that and I understood most of what he said. However, I saw a LOT of the workers whispering to each other and laughing. Obviously very effective. Then came the representative from a customer company giving them accolades and telling them how much more business they will get. Then came the corporate lady that helped implement the system. She actually started her speech with "I didn't want to cry but I knew I would. I am so proud of you all!" Then she took out a folded piece of paper and read her speech that was more like a sonnet--complete with some rhymed couplets. No lie. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing.

The next part solidified "The Office" feel. Another member of management that had a striking resemblance to the Lewis Black character in "Accepted" reminds the group of the song he wrote. I nearly got giddy at this point. After a lot of technical difficulty, the song started playing. He had written and recorded a song about lean manufacturing. The song had a very 80s feel to it with a TON of synthesizers and distorted voices and the like. It had a definite Thomas Dolby and The Cars feel to it. To make matters worse (or maybe better) he stood in front of these 60 people and lip synced/air guitared the song. He even had a few back up dancers come join him up front. Again, no lie. I couldn't believe what I was watching. Looking around the room it appeared that the workers had actually invented a dance to go with the song as there were probably 15 people doing a nearly perfectly synchronized dance. I wanted to take video so badly but I figured that would be illegal or at least unethical.

The conclusion of the presentation was to hand out awards and a token of appreciation to each person. The token was a really nice looking wind breaker type pull over jacket. The first manager got up and made this presentation and felt it necessary to try and remember each person's nickname. My favorite was the guy called "Big Show" who made a guttaral, barbaric yawp of a "YEAHHHH" when he got up. Funniest part of it, he was probably 5'6" and about 140 pounds--"Big Show".

Anyway, I know it is important to motivate workers however you can. I get that. I know that putting a little cheese in the work place is good for morale. For an outsider though, it is pure comic fodder. God bless these people for their efforts. I love the USA.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Lie--You Should "Do Better" than Your Parents

This is one of my "pet lies". I have a hard time not subscribing to this one myself, probably because I am very competitive. Many people, across all generations, believe this lie. It basically says that, because your parents accomplished this certain level of success, you should accomplish a higher level. Parents perpetuate the lie when they say things like "I just want better for you than I had." On the surface, this seems logical and seems like a noble goal. The problem in this lie stems from the common perception of "success" and what exactly it means to "do better."

First, know that I applaud parents for providing for their kids and I believe it is the parents' responsibility to provide opportunities and to give the kids a chance to accomplish great things. Thats not at all what this is about. I also believe that kids should strive to be the best they can be at everything they endeavor--sports, education, music, whatever. Again, thats not what this is about. I also believe that children should learn from their parents' mistakes. As the generations accumulate wisdom, children should be smarter, more wise and less mistake prone (theoretically). By that definition, kids COULD do better than their parents (though, most of those "life mistakes" have to actually be lived to be learned). I am focusing on the drive that many people feel starting in their early 20s. The want, and even need in some, to be at the same place their parents are currently. The inner push to have a higher salary, bigger house, nicer car, etc.

Where does this come from? I would say it starts with the parents themselves. As they raise the children they say things like, "I don't want you to struggle" and "You should do better than I did." Both are seemingly innocuous statements but, without proper explanation, they can be misguiding. Most parents mean that they don't want their kids to have to deal with the hard times. Parents forget, however, that the hard times make them appreciate the good times and the hard times build the character necessary to face future hard times. They also forget the simplicity that exists in the hard times (my life was so much simpler when I had 3 sticks of furniture, a rented apartment and a whole lotta love for my wife).

The next source of this problem is our own tendency to become acclimated to a certain lifestyle. Stick with me on this. If I am raised in a certain lifestyle, I get used to it. When I try to strike out on my own, it will be difficult to dial down my lifestyle. Parents need to do a better job of allowing their kids to see, touch, and feel a lesser lifestyle sometimes. Don't give them everything under the sun. Make them earn things. Make them make choices and sacrifices. Make them understand the concept of tradeoffs. Also, reassure them that it is ok to be in want sometimes. Its ok to live on lower means. Tell them the stories of how good for you it was to struggle with money.

So, whats the real problem with this lie? I think this lie is one of the MAIN causes for our growing dependence on debt. 18, 19, 20 year old kids are getting in tremendous debt as they feel they are entitled to nice cars, nice possessions and the same lifestyle their 50 year old parents have. These kids feel the pressure to live up to their parents, forgetting that their parents have 30 years on them building their wealth. This lie has contributed to the housing bust. You had first time home buyers completely exhausting their home buying power as they felt they should buy the biggest, nicest home they could possibly afford (instead of buying a true "starter home"). This lie contributes to students going thousands and thousands of dollars in debt to their schools as they feel this is the only way to get the education that will get them the job that will give them the salary higher than their parents. Another problem is that all to often this becomes an obsession for people. Parents obsess over their kids accomplishments. They push and push and push until the kid breaks. Kids obsess as well. When the parents push too hard, the kids feel the pressure. This can lead to all sorts of issues.

Whats the alternative? Should parents make their kids poor on purpose just to build character? Should parents discourage their kids from doing their best? Of course not. The answer is in the mindset. Number one, parents should let the kids know that sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down but, first, God never leaves and, second, you can always find contentment. Then, the parents should teach that contentment is not complacency. Just because I am content, I don't quit improving myself. Then the parents can teach kids to delay pleasure and the idea behind the tortoise and the hare. Its ok, even preferable, to build wealth slowly, methodically and incrementally. I believe God treats us the same way. He entrusts us with a little, then adds more as we prove our worth. Bottom line is this, be careful what message you give your kids about material things. Teach them contentment and allow them to learn how to build slowly.

Finally, help them define "success". Success is not measured in salary or stuff. It is measured in your ability and willingness to serve God. I know several that make half as much money as I do but I would call them more successful because they serve God with all they have. I am still trying to learn this lesson. It is HARD to reprogram myself in this regard. Hard, but worth it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Lie--"Fair Treatment" is "Same Treatment"

Having been a teacher and now a dad, I hear all the time about how "that's not fair. Billy Bob got __________ and you gave me ________." It is my opinion that the concept of "fairness" has been muddled with "sameness".  Many people think that the only way for some decision to be fair is for it to be the same decision you gave someone else. This takes away the opportunity to look at circumstances and to make a decision based on the entire body of information. This viewpoint means that I must pay equal amounts of attention to each kid, each day. So, if I am teaching a difficult concept to a class of 20 and 15 truly understand the concept and need no further instruction it would be fair to reteach the concept to everyone just so the 5 can get it.

This is the point where I disagree. Not every person, in every circumstance needs to be treated fairly. In the above illustration, it may not be "fair" to keep my attention from the 15 but it is the right thing to do. I should challenge those 15 with some other concept while trying to reteach the 5, even though that is not "fair".

Another illustration, If fairness is sameness and a kid has a heart attack, do I need to make sure to perform CPR on each kid? Of course, that is absurd but look at the illustration. In many parts of society, especially education, we feel that whatever on person gets, the other should as well. This completely eliminates the concept of specific needs, different learning styles, ability, maturity, life circumstances, etc. It also eliminates the need for the adminstrator to pass judgement. There in lies the motivation. If I can just administer the same treatment to all of my charges all the time, it is fair and it removes the possibility of someone calling "favoritism". Boy aren't we afraid of being accused of playing favorites!! 

When you look up the term "Fair" you get this definition--"Free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice". Nowhere in that definition is the concept of equality. Free from bias means that you don't have any leanings toward one or the other party. Dishonesty means just that, you are honest in your attempts and injustice means you didn't "do anyone wrong". If we were to utilize this concept of fairness in our daily lives, what would change? One, we would be encouraged to remove the jealousy bug that creeps in because it isn't "fair". In other words, the Occupiers would look at the situation they are protesting and determine how much of what they are protesting is "sameness" and how much is "fairness". In other words, are they jealous that they don't have the same wealth or is there actually some "bias, dishonesty or injustice?" I think there probably is some of that but not as much as they want us to believe. I think the majority of what the occupiers protest is jealousy that there is not enough sameness. I think it is time for the occupiers to get a little more specific about the injustices they are protesting. If they cannot get specific, then they are just upset about the lack of sameness (aka jealousy). Its sort of like they are saying, " I know you cheated to get there, I just can't prove it." How do they "know"? Because they have not achieved the same level and that is not fair. See the absurdity here too?

What else would change if we as a society rejected the concept that "Fair" is "Same"? We could cut a tremendous amount of money out of social welfare programs. People would be served only what they truly needed, not what they can get because it is fair. Just think about that for a second. I know that there is a benefit to most social programs and none should just plain go away. There is a legit need for many of them. I also know there is a ton of abuse that people get away with because the administrators are afraid of being unfair. What if the administrators were able to look at each specific circumstance and provide the service that is truly needed? Many people clamor for people being drug tested before given welfare. This is a backlash to abuses of the system. What if instead, people are drug tested and instead of being denied welfare, they are enrolled in a treatment facility. In other words, they are given what they actually need. Its the same concept as the kid having the heart attack in your class. He needs CPR, the other kids do not.

Why won't this work? People are addicted to sameness and jealousy. If I see that person get a certain treatment, I feel slighted if I don't get the same (even if I don't need, or even really want, that treatment). Can it change? Sure. People have to be honest with themselves and have to (ultimately) find contentment in their circumstances. Contentment does not mean they don't strive for more, it just means that they aren't eaten up with jealousy when a peer has more. I challenge you to work on this. Before you utter the words "thats not fair", think about it. Has that person worked harder than you? Has that person earned it? Has there really been an injustice, bias or dishonesty? If not, then you are just jealous. Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Lie--Discipline Will Damage a Kid

Ok parents, this one is for you. This lie is not overtly spoken in our culture. It is more of a lie that is OBVIOUSLY present when I interact with or see you and your kids in public. I don't know if all of the perpetrators of this lie believe it exactly as I have written it, but there is SOME reason they don't discipline their children. I don't know if they think they will damage the kid or if they think it is better to spoil the child or if they are too tired or lazy to discipline or if they are purposely creating kids with no discipline as a means of retaliating against a society they feel has given them a raw deal. Either way, I would challenge that parent by saying that discipline of your children is actually HOW you love them and not disciplining them is actually hurting them and may even be a form of neglect.

The first time your kid throws a fit in the cereal aisle because he or she wants the super sugar fruity yum yums, that child is testing your reaction. If you bend to their will because you don't want to make a scene, they won. They now know that anytime they want something (and they will ALWAYS want something), they just have to make enough of a scene to make you cave in. This habit will stick with them for a very long time. This will be crippling to them later in life. Children crave discipline and order and routine. They are still trying to figure out how things work. As babies, they cried, you fed them (or changed them, or rocked them or burped them). As kids, they will try the same tactics because they think it will work. It is our job as parents to help them grow past this stage.

Kids are not pleasure delay-ers. They want something and they want it now. One vital skill that parents should teach is that life does not always bend in your direction. If you want something, you have to plan for it, save for it, budget for it. NOT doing so leads to overspending, debt and financial hardship. Many adults would have greatly benefited from this lesson early in life (including me). This is where my theory that discipline is a form of love comes in. As a parent, I want my child to be happy, healthy and successful. I see my most important job (after being a strong Christian and a great husband) to be raising my kids with integrity, work ethic, compassion, and discipline. That discipline is what will get them through their studies when they would rather party. That discipline is what will give them the strength to turn down the drugs when someone offers them (and someone will). That discipline is what will help them excel at whatever extra pursuits they choose (music, athletics, academics, etc.). That discipline is what will allow them to focus at their work and excel there. It is essential. God views discipline as a form of love. He disciplines his followers when they don't obey (look at the Israelites). Discipline in the Bible is what sharpens God's people to be better Christians. Not giving them the discipline, is, therefore, neglect.

So what kind of discipline am I talking about.
NUMBER 1 is the word "NO." Kids MUST hear the word "no". They absolutely must not get everything their heart desires. I don't care how rich you are. You must not give your kid everything--period. Being able to deal with "No" is the hardest lesson to learn. It is also the most important. Kids that never hear "No" do not deal with rejection in relationships well. They will, at some point in their lives, be turned down. If you want to make that first rejection absolutely devastating, never tell your kid no.
NUMBER 2 is teach your kid to prioritize and to make "either/or" choices. Life is full of trade offs. I can either go here or here, not both. I can either have the Super Sugar Fruity Yum Yums or the pack of Tic Tacs. Not both. Learning to make a choice and stick with it very early (like 1 year old) is so important. They learn to be decisive. They learn to be who they are. They learn to prioritize. They, by the nature of choice, learn "NO".
NUMBER 3 is to have REAL consequences for bad choices. Jonas has learned real early that life is nothing but a series of choices. Sometimes he makes good choices, sometimes he makes bad choices. Good choices are pleasurable. Bad choices have unpleasurable repercussions. If he jumps off something too high, it hurts--bad choice. If I tell him not to do something and he does it, he gets spanked. It hurts--bad choice. One time he tore a book at the baby sitter's house. He had been saving his little commission for many weeks so he could go to Toys R Us and pick something out. He had to spend all of his money on a new book. It hurt that he could not get what he wanted--bad choice. He has thrown a fit in the middle of restaurants. He knows that the result of a fit is a spanking--period. In the middle of dinner, he throws a fit, I take him immediately to the restroom and give him the consequence of his bad choice. I tell him that I am not giving him the spanking, he chose the action that led to it.
NUMBER 4 is to model the discipline. This can't be left out. If you don't act with discipline, how in the world can you expect them to. If you don't want them to cuss, then YOU shouldn't cuss. If you don't want them to throw fits when they don't get what they want, then YOU can't throw fits if you don't get what you want.
NUMBER 5--and this is probably the most important part to counter the lie--You MUST reassure them that no matter what, no matter what they do, you still love them. I know my discipline does not damage my child because I know that they know that I love them. I tell him every single day, several times a day, that he is important, he is smart, he is good, and I love him. After I discipline him, I ask him to tell my why he got in trouble and then I spend a good bit of time hugging him and telling him I love him no matter what. This reinforces the idea that discipline is love. I tell him that his actions have consequences but those consequences will never be that I don't love him.

Listen, I am not the worlds greatest dad. I'm probably not even in the top 100 greatest dads. But, I love my kids. I want them to be productive, contributing members of society and I am trying to equip them with the core principles to help them succeed at whatever they choose. Will they always be successful, no. I actually pray that every now and then (rarely), they fall on their face. It builds character and makes the successes that much more sweet. This ability to succeed starts with discipline. Don't be afraid to do it. Your kids will thank you for it later. I know I am thankful for my parents having the guts and the intestinal fortitude to discipline me.

One last thing, I DO NOT think that spanking is the only, or even the best, form of discipline. You have to figure out what works for your kids with each situation. For example, grounding Jonas from the TV or IPad sometimes works MUCH better than spanking because he is reminded of it every single time he wants to watch something. Other times, spanking is the better choice. Some people don't spank. Ok, fine. They still MUST discipline and it MUST be meaningful to the kid.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Lie: Fathers are not important if a strong mother is present...

Ok, this one could get a little dicey. Remember the rules--debate and discuss but do not belittle or swear or be mean to each other. Let's start by saying this, I am pointing the above statement out as a lie in the general sense. There are DEFINITELY exceptions to the rule. Those exceptions (the minority) are most likely what caused the lie to be propagated. That said, if you are an exception to the rule, then I applaud you. Even so, there is overwhelming evidence that it is a lie to think that an active father (papa, dad or daddy) is not important.  Oh yeah, I do tend to write in a sort of stream of consciousness style. It all makes sense to me though.

Let's start with how I know this is a pervasive thought. Turn on any modern sitcom that features a father figure. There is a really good chance that the father is the comic relief in the show. He is portrayed as insensitive, bumbling, weak and a buffoon. I can not think of one show in over 10 years where there was a strong, intelligent, active, true father figure. Now think of the modern women's movement. There are countless shirts, pinterest sayings, facebook posts, etc that espouse the virtues of kicking out the dad and going with mom only. Let me stop here and say that, unfortunately, the lion's share of the blame rides on the so called "fathers." I know that. I know that many, many, many males in our culture are deadbeats. They create a child and then squander their opportunity to be a father. I also know there are many that are or become abusive--whether it is chemically induced or some latent defect in that male's upbringing finally coming to the surface. My blog is not meant to chastise the moms for protecting themselves and their families. My intent is to try to discuss why it is important for a good father to be present instead of bowing to the cultural viewpoint that says, "well he was an idiot, oh well, dads aren't that important anyway."

I understand that this is a common direction to take if your dad/husband/father of your child ditches you. It is normal to say that it is their loss and they don't really matter. It is a defense mechanism to try to talk you out of any guilt, depression, fear, etc.

Now, I would of course adopt the view that you should never create the baby outside of a strong marriage covenant relationship. The most important things a child gains from its parents is the model of relationship. The child needs to see healthy spousal interaction, healthy conflict resolution (yes, healthy spouses still disagree), healthy relationships with friends and healthy leadership out of the father. I do realize that babies are created outside of these relationships. So, if you help create a baby, it is your responsibility to care for that child. It is your responsibility to provide direction, support and love for that child. The child needs you, no matter what the mom says, the child needs you. You have a different viewpoint from the mother. You provide balance in that child's life.

My parents are still married to each other. They got married at 19 years old and have been married for 32 years now. When they married each other, they made a covenant and have not broken it. I believe I am who I am now because of this. I learned from my father how to be a husband, how to be a father, how to be a man. WAY too many kids grow up without these lessons. Was he perfect--far from it. Am I perfect--far from it. Did he do things I swore I would never do--of course. Part of the lesson was to see how not to do things. Its a constant evolution. That said, he was present, supportive, and loved my mom. Those are the most important things. Those are what I am imploring my fellow males to become--men.

Here are just a very few statistics (collected on to drive my point home:

1) 43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census] 2) 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
3) 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes. [Criminal Justice & Behaviour, Vol 14, pp. 403-26, 1978]
4) 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]
5) 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
6) 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
7) 90% of adolescent repeat arsonists live with only their mother. [Wray Herbert, “Dousing the Kindlers,” Psychology Today, January, 1985, p. 28]
8) 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. [National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools]
9) 75% of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes. [Rainbows f for all God’s Children]
10) 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
11) 85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]
12) Fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. [US D.H.H.S. news release, March 26, 1999]

If these don't speak to you, I don't know what will. Dads, do whatever you can to be present in your child's life. Moms, allow the dad to be present. If this is just not possible, purposely find a positive male figure for your child--grandfather, uncle, youth minister, someone that can show the child that not every man is a buffoon. EVERYONE--think before you create that child. Don't do it if you aren't serious about being with each other for the rest of your lives. Marriage and parenting is HARD WORK. It is NOT something to be taken lightly. It is NOT something for the frivolous and flighty. Remember what is at stake--read these statistics again.