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Guilt and absolution

One of my recent sojourns of solitude produced the word absolution for my reflection. While this word is one that is significantly Roman Catholic or Protestant in its origins, I find it free of religious connotations for me but worthy of my consideration nonetheless.

While I may have dismissed this word as insignificant or irrelevant in the past, my patio time causes me to reflect on words that persist in my consciousness. As writer and educator, it is my intent to spend time on it, rather than dismiss it as simply another vocabulary word.

For those unfamiliar with absolution in the secular context, it is the freedom from blame or guilt. We who do wrong things are often quick to blame or assign guilt to ourselves when we consider some acts or thoughts for which we are responsible. Ultimately, God is solely capable of creating our guilt and absolution.

Aside from that, we often burden ourselves with the recollection of actions in our pasts for which we feel guilty. This is familiar to me, having committed at least two or three major mistakes in judgment for which I have felt guilty. But my question becomes, for how long must we remain responsible for those deeds that we did in years past?

So much of that has to do with inexperience or lack of counsel that would have prohibited us from making bad decisions. Clearly, we can’t change what we committed in the past – we can only learn from it in the hopes of not repeating our secular (or perhaps, religious) transgressions.

For fear of appearing sanctimonious, I simply recommend that we free ourselves from the guilt that hinders our present tense clarity or positive outlook. Learn from what you did wrong in the past and it will inevitably result in better decisions. Just as with so many other negative messages that we send ourselves, remorse is non-productive and can be filed away with the other mistakes of our youth or lack of wisdom.

 

Forgive yourself. If you can understand a mistake, you are halfway to not repeating it. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. Shalom.

 

 

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Keeping promises

For this, the 300th of my blogs, it made sense to me to elaborate on a subject that means more to me than many others. It relates to keeping promises and fulfilling obligations. Among the many cultural trends that I observe, the failure of many to do what they say they are going to do leaves me frustrated and worried.

Here’s an example. Not long after we moved to New Mexico, we spent some time with a young man who was very charming and persuasive. Because of him and his enthusiasm, we were moved to make a major investment in our home. Among the other commitments he made to us, he assured me that I would receive part of his recent shipment of Kona coffee, something I truly love. My cupboard is still devoid of Kona.

From a different organization, we were promised a refund for our warehouse club membership as a demonstration of good faith from our purchase of another home improvement. This was right around Christmas time and we continue to wait for our check.

Why is it that people don’t believe that their assurances are as binding as their reputations? Prefacing the guarantee of something with “promise” or not doesn’t make a commitment any more or less sacrosanct. If I tell a client that I will have an edit done by tomorrow, he or she will receive it tomorrow if it requires my staying up all night to furnish it.

Is doing what we say we will do a vanishing habit? Can we tell our children that they will receive this or that and fail to have the item materialize? Absolutely not. When I tell a class that they will have pencils or candy by the end of the day, you and they can be certain that they will.

Don’t promise me something that you can’t provide. It’s a much better idea to indicate you’ll try or that you’ll make every attempt. In the event that the pledge is incomplete, I will believe that you have tried. We must keep our words. If those words are lies, ultimately so are we. Shalom.

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Lessons

Why would I be surprised about learning something each day I am in a classroom? The kids do – we educators work quite diligently to ensure that learning takes place, whether in big chunks or in subtleties.

Yesterday’s assignment for them required creativity. They were given a drawing and instructed to make it into anything they wanted. It’s practice in thinking without limits and with no possibility of making a mistake in interpretation.

What’s the lesson? Allow for self-expression minus self-criticism. Write or sing or dance or draw without conditions or judgments, internal or external. It’s the process of creation that is paramount. What happens thereafter is secondary.

Next segment was about trust. When I told students to get their computers and do whatever they wanted, they all went to educational sites. There’s a message there about assuming integrity. Of course, if these had been eighth graders instead of second, we might have had other directives. You could easily make the case that I’m in a second grade classroom by intent, just as I am not in an eighth grade environment.

Later I get an opportunity to direct kids through a fifteen-minute writing event. To one young man, fifteen minutes was an eternity. To another, it was an invitation to display every written page he created since October. And to a third, it was hardly enough time to describe his thoughts and dreams.

Clearly, the good writers wrote while the others found numerous methods to avoid or postpone. Lesson learned – those tasks that appear simple or enjoyable to some are torture to others. The lesson included an illustration, after the writing was completed. Not surprisingly, one girl went directly to the picture with not a word on her page.

The last notion I learned was during the math segment. While a few students breezed through four pages of math problems, some required my assistance for each effort. What was the lesson learned? Once again, it is imperative that we educate one student at a time, with each one advancing at his or her own pace. Maybe it’s a life lesson. We move through our tasks, required or optional, at the pace consistent with our abilities and tastes.  Don’t ask me to sit in front of a sci-fi movie when writing a blog will be a much greater gratification. Shalom.

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Investing

One of the school’s most difficult students blasted through the classroom door and announced his presence as loudly as possible. He bounced around the room at will until I silenced him by suggesting that no-one enjoys listening to someone yelling.

We spent the morning together and by the end of that time, he repeatedly sought my approval, calmed down considerably and stayed on task after booting his Chromebook. Giving kids computers is an enticement to do wrong but more importantly, the chance to do right.

Over and over, I reminded this child and his classmates that I trusted them and believed that they were doing the right work. My conviction is that assuring them of my trust resulted in absolute compliance.

Ultimately, students competed to show me that they were working. In some cases, they appeared insulted that I would ask what they were doing.

Saying, “I trust you” and “I believe you” constitutes my investment in integrity. It caused rowdy kids to seek my affirmation. It encouraged kids to monitor each other toward correctness. And it decreased the decibel level by at least half.

Returning to rowdy kid’s classroom at the end of the day, his teacher proudly informed me that he had one of his best days. While I would never take credit for his exemplary behavior, he joyfully greeted me on my return. Today, tomorrow and for who knows how long, he will remember how it feels to be trusted. Shalom.

 

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The price for free speech

Those of us who watched the response of a TV network to the unfortunate and irresponsible remarks of Roseanne Barr probably had a wide assortment of feelings about the event. Should she have made the comments that she did? Does freedom of speech allow her to say whatever she feels at the expense of whomever she references?

We can all have our opinions about whether or not Rosanne’s remarks were appropriate or inappropriate. Ultimately, I submit that the accuracy of her statement is not the issue. Most of us learned from an early age, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

It’s interesting but not germane to the discussion that Rosanne apologized for her remarks. By the time she did and by the time that her show was canceled, many millions of people had read the tweet and she accomplished disseminating the information that she wanted to spread.

Is social media an excuse to distribute ugly remarks? It appears that there is no agency that monitors or censors anything and everything that goes out on social media. If I chose this medium to spout nastiness about someone or something, the chances are reasonably good that no-one would prevent its publication. My guess, however, is that my followers who are accustomed to my positive observations and conclusions would object or check out entirely.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? Let’s talk more about the golden rule than we do the right to free speech or any other constitutional guarantee. Someone recently mentioned to me that we can’t use the term, “golden rule” in the schools any more because of the need to keep religion out of the educational system. My feeling about this is that the mandate is garbage although I will follow the guidelines to the best of my ability while still teaching the concept of treating others as you want to be treated.

Before you suggest that someone resembles an ape, think about how you would feel if were said to you. We all know that opinions are like kidneys – everybody has at least one. Sometimes it’s better to keep opinions and kidney references to yourself. Shalom.

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Success

Yesterday I began to think about success. It occurred to me to wonder if success is a term that has a generally accepted definition. One alternative is that we each have our own concept labeled success. It may or may not correspond to a generally held understanding. Another option is not to think of success at all or to assign that title or quality exclusively to others.

Who ponders the concept of succeeding as it applies to each of us? One possibility is that we measure success in dollars. The more money we make, the greater our success. Others of us may think of commercial success – we sell a million books, attract billions at the box office or perform hundreds of concerts per year.

If we don’t measure accomplishments, what’s left? The answer is the only explanation that makes sense, at least to me. Our successes are as individual as our genes, our upbringing and our highly specific tastes in everything. What that means is that I can’t define your success any more than I can tell you what makes you happy, what gives you joy or what to have for dinner.

My conclusion is that at least in my case, success has nothing to do with numbers, if it’s appropriate at all. Because I have two children who continue to make me proud, my feelings are that I have been a responsible and caring mother. Not living under a bridge or in a shelter suggests that my financial endeavors have been successful. Most of my days in the classroom result in learning. And having created a formidable body of written material indicates that I have learned to overcome writer’s block enough to throw words into paragraphs.

Finally, having one or two or three people who call me friend constitutes one of life’s most formidable feelings of a life with happiness and meaning. Perhaps seeking success in the first place is best left for entrepreneurs and rock stars. The possibility is that seeking success eliminates our pursuits of dreams much greater. Shalom

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Then and now

Thirty years ago, I carefully monitored my bank account (by calling the bank for the balance). Today, I search the landscape for the exhilaration associated with spotting a moose.

Twenty years ago, I wondered whether or not I would spend the rest of my life alone. Today, it’s coffee and breakfast for two.

Forty plus years ago, I eagerly anticipated completing the requirements for my bachelor’s degree. This morning, I accepted the request to substitute in sixth grade for the last week of classes.

Twenty-five years ago, I hoped that my children would grow up to be responsible, intelligent adults. Today, I continue to be amazed at their brilliance and compassion.

Because change is inevitable, our responsibility as adults is to understand the best methods for embracing and enjoying change. That’s not to say that our pasts are worthy of being forgotten. We can’t measure how much of our present is because of its contrast to the past. But we can evaluate how much we’ve learned from our memories and how that learning facilitates our ability to celebrate the present.

As I educate those who are assembling memories for later reference, I am acutely aware of the impact that we have on those young minds. Long ago, I learned never to say something that I would like to take back. My hope is that those who have heard my words for as long as I have had something to say have benefited from those words.

Someone close to me remarked recently that I was probably not as equipped to teach immediately after college as I am now. That occurs to me frequently, emphasizing how critical it is to be intentional about what we do and say.

In the past, I had a reputation for speaking my mind, no matter where or when. Now I have succeeded in being appreciated for what I say, probably because of the differences between then and now. Shalom.

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Less is better

Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to over-teach. Kids are usually flexible and creative, and I often consider that we do them a disservice by structuring every minute.

This is probably the most representative example that I can cite. A young boy timidly approached to advise that his stomach hurt. Stomach distress is the most common ailment I encounter in elementary level kids.

He didn’t display any symptoms, but I asked if he wanted to go to the nurse. Shaking his head, he demonstrated the sad face. My response was, “Go and rest for a while. Let me know what I can do to help.”

That was all the educating I needed to do. He was evidently satisfied with my solution and expressed nothing else.

Sometimes I declare “free time” rather than math or science or literacy. Inevitably, one or two of the class will do something on a laptop or iPad that is prohibited. But I always convey without over-emphasis that I trust them to do the right stuff even though I won’t be checking.

It causes me to wonder if we overdo other tasks. Are we guilty of offering too much advice to our grown kids? It’s generally understood that too much fertilizer will kill our lawns. And so, it follows, when we distribute too much in the way of advice or suggestions, we take the chance of sabotaging the faith of others in themselves.

And maybe we pack too much for trips, buy too much for our refrigerators and pantries and worry too much that every ache and pain is a sign of cancer. Maybe when we can’t remember a song title, composer or performer, it’s not a sign of early onset dementia.

For my part, I’m eternally working on less versus more. Isn’t less speed on the road better than too much? Aren’t many trivial gifts less meaningful than one large and thoughtful one? Aren’t sales people who push too much less effective than those who don’t push at all?

Fewer teaching words are generally more powerful than many. To be sure, telling anyone, “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult day” always feels better than, “You’re difficult and disruptive.” Sometimes, it’s challenging to achieve but the outcomes are always preferable. Shalom.

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Strength

If friendship is your weakest point, then you are the strongest person in the world. Abraham Lincoln

One of the best characteristics of true friendship is that it is uniquely reciprocal. While I would deprioritize everything in order to assist a friend who needed me, I am certain that my friend would automatically do the same.

With reflection, I am certain that the friendships that I enjoy are great sources of strength. Friends are cheerleaders, celebrators, sources of comfort and those who share our various passions. They know why we feel the way we do about virtually any subject without our need to explain or justify anything.

As I consider the most compelling reasons why certain friendships endure, we often call those people friends who have been constant during times of crisis. The crisis can be large or small, with permanent or temporary effects. But we always know that we can call upon certain people when the world is most difficult.

This degree of loyalty is hard to find, it seems. We watch numerous politicians coming and going, often for reasons that we will never understand. To make this perplexing, these are often people who have displayed loyalties and friendship.

Somehow, friendships that come from working relationships are usually transient. After that employment ends, so do many of the alliances or camaraderie that developed from that environment.

Maybe this type of friendship is more valuable as we grow older. Distance often makes spending time with friends more difficult to achieve and the obstacles we face appear to be more substantial. Through it all, I become increasingly grateful for the strength of friends who I hope are equally enriched by my unqualified dedication to them. Shalom.

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Anywhere you want to go

One sure way to get kids talking is to ask them about their family lives. On one occasion, I asked about the Christmas presents that they received. When one child indicated that he received a hover board, numerous others had suddenly acquired a hover board or two.

Yesterday I asked students what they did over the weekend. Please keep in mind that my school district is economically disadvantaged and replete with drugs, crime and homelessness. One student said that he played with his family, one went swimming in his outdoor pool with his sister (it’s January in Colorado) and another said that he went to Hawaii. Not to be outdone, the next student said that he spent the weekend in New York City.

For a group of kids who frequently arrive at school without breakfasts, school supplies or jackets, I could have easily and legitimately questioned the weekend trips. But in deference to discretion, I elected to say nothing.

Have I violated a rule or angered the great gods who venerate truth? No good, no learning and no values are served if I question students on trips that they can only imagine. There was no need to analyze further, especially because I always avoid embarrassing students. And maybe the greater good is served.

We’ll never know what this student believes that a weekend in Hawaii looks, feels or sounds like. At the least, we can hope that he will experience that magnificent location in his lifetime. But if he never succeeds at arriving there, a bit of fantasy is healthy for all of us, as is knowing what we want to achieve.

And in the endless desire to create and sustain a connection to my kids, maybe he’s enhanced because I accepted him at his word. He’s much too young to consider me naive or uninformed. Rather than interrogating, challenging or investigating, I appeared to believe him. Most likely, that was the greatest gift I could give. Shalom.