Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

The nice thing about listening is that it doesn’t require you to know the answers.

I don’t have enough faith to believe the life, love, and laughter of my children and grandchildren are the product of evolution. So, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to enjoy it all and have enough faith to give God the thanks.

It’s unfortunate that band mates will sometimes leave when you start singing a different tune.

I can think of nothing in the entire world I would rather do with my life than work with and be surrounded by middle school students. I know, I know…some of you are gasping for breath with brows raised and eyes bugged.  With mouths agape you’re wondering “what coo-coo wagon did this nut job fall off of?” I get it. And, to be fair, it does help to be a little crazy to enjoy working with these young humans as they stumble through the matrix. But, for me, nothing could be more fun, more important, more meaningful, or more fulfilling.

Have you ever seen the movie The Perfect Storm? If you have then you understand the analogy as it applies to an adolescent. The tumultuous winds of puberty unleash tidal waves of hormones, emotions, self-awareness…and questions.  You remember the questions, right? “Where do I fit in?” “What if I don’t fit in?” “What if they don’t like me?” What if HE or SHE doesn’t like me the way I like HER or HIM?” “MY LIFE WILL BE OVER!” “Why are my feet so big…and when did they start smelling like this?” “I think I’m all out of Axe deodorant!” “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why do I even feel this way?” “Why should I even care?” On and on the questions rage. Thoughts and worries never before entertained, barrels of hormones evoking emotional, physical, and social changes never before experienced, combine with an enhanced and insecure self-awareness.  This hodgepodge cauldron of hormones, changes, questions, and insecurities converges on this single period of their history on earth and, VOILA!  The Perfect Storm. Anyone squirming through flashbacks right about now?

In simple terms, the challenge of working with middle school students is that their emotional brain becomes super-developed due to the onslaught of pubescent hormonal surges. Their purpose? To compel them forth on a find-a-mate-to-keep-the-species-alive mission. While at the same time, their reasoning brain remains disproportionately under-developed.  ~Some of you are laughing right now.~  In other words, they are suddenly capable of feeling emotions they have never felt at an intensity they have never experienced. Their bodies are beginning to do and feel things they have never been able to do or feel. And this new-found emotional and physical prowess is misguided (or not guided at all) by a lack of reasoning ability or the skills required to manage their feelings or properly express them. It’s akin to being a passenger in a car careening out of control at full speed down a curvy mountain road. As

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Original art by Joe Martinez

you cower and convulse with fear in the back seat, you dare open your eyes just long enough to glimpse the sign that reads, “CAUTION: Bridge Out.” Oh yeah, and the car has no brakes.  Yup that’s it. That’s adolescence. All gas pedal and no brakes. The beautiful significance of the chaos that adolescence creates, though, is that within it lies the portal to unlimited and untapped potential for meaningful contributions to the world in which they live. They are adults-in-training.

Herein, lies the wisdom of integrating social-emotional learning programs as part of the culture of every school. Not just middle schools but all of them. Inasmuch as there are curriculum, strategies, and standards to bolster GPA’s and standardized test scores, there must also be equal efforts, methods, and “rigor” spent toward helping middle school students gain the skills to manage this crucial time in their development. Education in our country has become largely “Data Driven and Performance Oriented.” In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when performance and data are stalked to the neglect of developing social-emotional skills, it is done so to the hurt of student wholeness and to the future of our society. I propose that a “Destiny Driven and Purpose Oriented” filter be used to guide us toward balance in the drive for performance and data. Social-Emotional Learning is the fulcrum upon which this balance can be achieved and maintained. If you don’t believe me, ask a middle school student of poverty, who wakes up at 5 am to make sure his little brother and sister are fed, dressed, and at the bus stop on time, all while doing the same for himself, because his single mom is working two part-time jobs…ask him how his improved test scores have changed all of that. Better yet, try to convince him that working harder at school and getting better grades will make things better at home…now. This is one student in one school. Our school of 870 is well above 50% on free or reduced lunch because their families are at or below the poverty line.

There is plenty of data available to support the reality that meeting students’ social-emotional needs and teaching them how to cope with the harsh realities of life does much to improve academic performance. Without citing scads of data to prove my point, let me ask you a simple and practical question. Have you ever not wanted to go to work but decided you should go anyway? What was the reason? Were you sick? Did you wake up late and on the wrong side of the bed? Maybe you had a fight with your spouse. Kid’s sick? Too many bills left at the end of your paycheck? Life happens to everyone, right? So when you got to work that day, did you operate at your peak performance level? Or, did you want everyone to know you were in a bad mood and to stay out of your way. Did you desire a little understanding and latitude about not being the best version of yourself? Did your co-workers and boss demand no slacking in your productivity or did they offer some understanding and concern? Which approach worked better?  Admittedly, I have done this before…and preferred understanding. Yet, kids can face life issues on a daily basis and we expect them to report and perform at optimum levels with seemingly little concern for why they are not when they don’t. One would hope that, as adults, we have obtained the critical social and emotional skills necessary to get through a day like this with few mishaps. The young people we deal with, on the other hand, have not had the opportunities or time needed to hone those skills. We have to make the time and provide the opportunities.

If every student in America achieves straight A’s before leaving high school but we’ve done little or nothing to prepare them for their social and emotional lives, we have failed them. What benefits do 4.0 GPA’s and off-the-charts test scores provide young adults who don’t have the life skills to maintain healthy relationships or keep a job? I argue that the well-being of our society is more endangered by social-emotional illiteracy than it is by academic illiteracy. You don’t need straight A’s to be a good person. There is absolutely a need to obtain literacy and balance in both areas of development.

There is no greater discovery than self-discovery and middle school students are crossing the threshold of finding themselves and their place in the world. What an amazing privilege to greet them at the gate and direct them on toward the rest of their lives! And if you are one of those gatekeepers who stands at the ready to calm their storms and lovingly nurture their self-discovery, I commend and applaud your bountiful love, passion, and sacrifice. Because what else could possibly keep you there? I am honored to be counted as one within your ranks. I have stood at that threshold for thirty years now. I know more now than I did when I started but I certainly don’t know it all…or enough.  There is always more to know. Times change. Kids change. Needs vary and so methods change. But though the methods may change, the message remains ever the same; every person who ever lived, is living, or ever will live has value. We all have purpose and something unique to add to life. Middle school students are at that time in their lives when they are ripe to begin realizing their great potential. What an absolute joy and sense of fulfillment to be a conduit for information and skills that will help them discover, develop, and deploy their innate super-power; that unique quality that only they can bring. Social-emotional learning provides the skill set they will need to properly and effectively share their lives with the communities they inhabit.

And what will happen if we continue to fall short in this endeavor? That’s simple. Just watch the news.

…Food For Thought

Peace and blessings…


Every civilization is in dire jeopardy when is citizens are uncivil. 

What makes me human is not my ability to think but my ability to feel.

As a youth growing up in a small Arizona town, I recall seeing a bumper sticker on a 1970 Chevy Vega that read, “Do unto others…then, split!”  Disabled by the under-developed frontal lobe common to adolescence, I chuckled at the word play of an age-old classic known as the “Golden Rule.” I gave it little more thought than to think it was funny and cool. My thirteen year old self was oblivious to the moral implications of this word play and to the prophetic prowess of a 70’s era meme.

The Golden Rule was taught to me and my peers when we started Kindergarten at West School and was reinforced for the duration of our primary and secondary education. It was the magnetic north to our moral compass and the unbiased guide for interaction with others within our little community. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Now, there’s a novel idea.  Simple in its statement yet profound in its standard; one of those “minute to learn, lifetime to master” things. Even if we willfully chose to violate the inherent tenets of right and wrong woven into its fabric, we at least knew what we did was wrong and, therefore, were ripe for redirection.  The reprimand was written into its code. “How would you like it if someone TREATED YOU THAT WAY?”  We understood…and we were sorry. Simply stated another way, if I thought it was wrong for someone to do to me then it was wrong for me to do to someone else.

My, how far we have come!

The beauty of this powerful guiding principle is that it transcends time, culture, race, gender, nationality, religious beliefs, or any other dividing force that can come between people. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, young or old, black or white or other, man or woman or other, straight or gay or other, Catholic or Protestant or other, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, pro-life or pro-choice…and on and on…I am going to first consider how I would like to be treated, then, treat you that way…regardless of how you treat me…regardless of how we are different. In this way, how I treat others is determined by a “higher ground” principle that is constant and unaltered by the actions or behavior of others. I’m in control. 

The power of the Golden Rule is that it is not a rule at all. In fact, the term “rule” is a misnomer. This Golden Precept from Holy Writ is more rightly a rudimentary maxim or axiom upon which a lifestyle is built…and, in turn, when everyone else lives by it, a society. In fact, it is a biblical principle founded on truth sufficient to guide one’s life toward good. It is as simple in its nature and profound in its wisdom as its Holy Author. It is a foundational building block for the culture which is the kingdom of God. The Golden Rule is a witness of heaven on earth. Consistently applied with fidelity, the Golden Rule possesses the power to change the world we live in.

Unfortunately, “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” has caved under the retaliatory weight of “do unto others as they have done unto you.” Instead of treating others the way we would like to be treated, the norm for many is to treat others the way they have been treated. Or, an even more base rendition which is subject to misinterpretation, “do unto others as you percieve they have done unto you.” The prophecy of a 1970’s bumper sticker has come to fruition; “Do unto others…then, split!” Get…before you get got. Strike first.

It seems, in today’s world, the way to treat others is too frequently prescribed by how others treat us, not the more forgiving  and absolute standard of how we would like to be treated.  The trouble with this is that it gives “others” all the power, and so, the blame game begins.  We are no longer accountable for our actions but our actions are “caused” by the actions of others. “They made me do it.” “They threw the first punch…hurled the first insult…said this or said that…violated my rights” This is all nothing more than knee-jerk justification for insensitive, inappropriate, uncouth, divisive, and even felonious behavior. My bad behavior is excusable because you behaved badly first.

Sadly, this mentality is kindling and fuel for the fires of social unrest we are experiencing in our great nation. Why is our society and culture in its current sad state?  That’s easy.  It’s their fault! In a society intoxicated and  driven by entitlement, many people are more inclined to react to violated rights than to strive for the reconciliation of fractured relationships. Its easier. And, if you happen not to know which violated rights warrant your equal and opposite reaction, a casual perusal of countless “one-sided” media outlets will offer plenty of options. Or, perhaps better stated, plenty of versions of a handful of hand-picked options…but seldom, every option. Apparently, all violated rights are not equal. Selfishness is driving the train off the tracks. “I demand my rights and I’m offended that you are offended that the demand for my rights is infringing upon yours!”  What a degradation to society when its people seek only to be understood with little or no effort to understand. And, this complicated all the more by the hail storm of violent complaints and demonstration littering the streets of our cities under the protected misuse of “Freedom of Speech.”  Burn any flags, lately? Do you loot much?

The fact of the matter is that, regardless of which side of which line you are standing, nobody is entirely right or entirely wrong on either side of the line. In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

All the more reason to Golden Rule the hell out of our differences don’t you think? How different things could be if only we all practiced this simple Golden Rule. But I know how it goes. You’ll start living by it when everyone else does, right? And so…

…here we are.

Time to split!

~ Food for Thought

~ Peace and blessings…