Seeing the best in life's challenges

How we view Mistakes (It Matters)

It’s been in the back of my mind to revisit the John Cleese article “No More Mistakes and You’re Through!” for the past few days, and I just sat down at the computer to repost what I wrote previously about it……but first I checked my stats from yesterday, and three people found my site by googling that article.  I am not sure I have ever had anyone get here by googling that before, well, maybe once, but definitely not three times in one day.  Weird, huh?  Coincidence?  Synchronicity?

We ALL make mistakes.  Instead of viewing them as “bad” we would be much better off if we could share them, laugh at them, learn from them, embrace them, accept them as part of life.  Not be so hard on each other and on ourselves when we make them.

And, of course, this also makes me think about what we teach our kids about making mistakes.  If we don’t have a “healthy” attitude about mistakes, are we passing this on to our kids, without realizing it?  Do our kids see it as OK to make a mistake?  Do we help them focus on learning from mistakes, or do we tell them to avoid making mistakes?  Do we try to appear “perfect” by hiding our mistakes as much as possible?

Just another something to think about…..

No more mistakes and you’re through!

on January 30, 2012

Another find from the recent “cleaning binge”, is an article I saved from Forbes Magazine, from May 16, 1988.  It’s an article about John Cleese – yes, the Monty Python guy.

The article is about corporate culture, and a speech that Cleese made entitled “The Importance of Mistakes.”  Here are some quotes from Cleese:

“I want to suggest to you that unless we have a tolerant attitude toward mistakes—I might almost say a positive attitude toward them—we shall be behaving irrationally, unscientifically and unsuccessfully.”

“It’s self-evident that if we can’t take the risk of saying or doing something wrong our creativity goes right out the window.  Because the essence of creativity is not the possession of some special talent, it is much more the ability to “play.”

“For a group to function more creatively, people must lose their inhibitions.  They must gain the confidence to contribute spontaneously to what’s happening, and the inhibition arises because of the fear of looking foolish.  Yes!  It’s nothing more than the fear of making mistakes.”

Cleese talks about how viewing mistakes as “bad” leads to either denial or rationalization, or concealing them.  When this happens, when mistakes “go underground”, they are harder to fix.

“Now we reach the real problem.  If all the evidence from business, science and psychology suggests that the best results are obtained by risking mistakes, and by having a positive attitude toward them when they occur, why are we all so nervous about making them?”

“I’m sure that the answer is quite simply that we all have these ridiculous things called egos.  Once you’ve got an ego, you want to be right.”

So, my question is, how do I view mistakes?  (even big ones or really “bad” ones?)  Do I pretend they didn’t happen?  Do I make myself believe that, well, I didn’t really mean it anyway, and so it doesn’t really matter?  Do I keep them to myself?

It’s unrealistic to think that I will never make a mistake.  I’ve made plenty.  It’s just the way life is.  If I am afraid to take chances, act on a hunch, take a leap of faith, do something crazy every once in a while….well, where will that get me?  If I can overcome the fear of making mistakes, and be willing to face the inevitable feedback of making a mistake, I will learn from the ones I make and I will get better at avoiding the pitfalls.  I won’t be afraid to TRY.

Then, the next step is that I will become tolerant of the mistakes of others.  I will remember that we as human beings have this in common.  I will be less quick to judge another.

Seeing mistakes this way is part of the process of moving past the mindset of “right” and “wrong”.  I’ve said it before, the fastest way to stall your ability to learn from a situation is to get stuck in the process of figuring out who to blame.  If you find yourself using phrases like “They should know better,” and “I can’t believe that he/she would do this or that,” stop and ask yourself if there’s another way to look at the situation.

I am NOT saying we shouldn’t evaluate our actions and avoid making the same mistakes over again.  We ARE talking about mistakes here – all of us do things that, in hindsight, we hope we wouldn’t do again if we had that chance.  (This thinking occurs when we have learned from our mistakes!)

There’s that definition of insanity that goes something like “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”  If you do not face your mistakes and evaluate them, life will continue to present you will the same opportunity to learn, again and again, until you deal with the feedback and make some adjustments.

The next step in the process is to SHARE your mistakes.  As Cleese says, “The most effective way that we can create an atmosphere of tolerance and positiveness toward mistakes is, of course, to model it.”

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A Glimpse Into the Afterlife (reblog)

this just popped up in my reader….almost made me cry

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By Annie Kagan August 31, 2013

“The first thing that happens is bliss, at least it was like that in my case.”

I grabbed a pen and began writing my brother’s words as he spoke. Nothing would have been odd about this had he been sitting next to me or on the phone. But he was dead. He died three weeks earlier after being hit by a car. I’d been a mess ever since, so depressed over Billy’s death I could barely lift my head from the pillow. But on this day, I was awakened at dawn by his unmistakable voice calling my name. “Annie, Annie it’s me. It’s Billy. Get up and get the red notebook.”

The red notebook he told me to get had been a birthday gift from him the year before. I remember it seemed strange, his giving me a blank book with an inscription that read:

“Dear Annie, Everyone needs a book dedicated to them. Read between the lines.”

As cryptic as it was, I don’t think either of us could have imagined what it would be used for. But that red notebook became our book, mine and Billy’s, a record of my encounters with my dead brother as he spoke to me about his journey through the afterlife.

Feeling a Divine Presence

When I first heard Billy’s voice, I wasn’t sure if I was having some sort of strange grief-induced reaction to make me feel better about his departure from earth. But as my brother went on speaking, for the first time since his death I felt happy. I knew Billy was okay as he assured me, “There’s nothing hard or cruel for me anymore. I’m drifting weightlessly through these gorgeous stars and moons and galaxies twinkling all around me. The whole atmosphere is filled with a soothing hum, like hundreds of thousands of voices are singing to me but they’re so far away I can just barely hear them. And although I can’t exactly say anyone was here to greet me, I feel a Divine Presence, a kind, loving, beneficent presence, twinkling all around me.”

When Billy was alive, he was far from perfect. My bad-boy brother did a lot of things that many people would consider big mistakes. Although the end of his life was filled with darkness as he battled his addictions and lost the war, my brother was healed by the light as soon as he left his body.

According to Billy:

1. What lies beyond this world is a realm of absolute love that reaches far outside the limits of human understanding.

2. Some believe there’s Judgment Day after you die, but Billy says the opposite. There’s No-Judgment Day.

3. As you experience the unconditional love of the Divine Presence, you begin to feel that way towards yourself, unconditional.

So whatever our struggles, whatever our truth, whatever darkness we may encounter, Billy wants us to know that, “The shadow is illusory and temporary. Bliss, ultimately bliss and light, are the truer and stronger reality.”

People often ask if hearing Billy’s voice from the afterlife is frightening. Not at all. As he speaks, the bliss of his world flows into mine and I feel almost euphoric. According to Billy, this is just the smallest taste of what awaits each of us when we pass into the next dimension.

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Join the “Let’s Think About It” Camp

I just have to say, it’s not just the “School Systems” that are obsolete and could use a re-think.  Most of what we take for granted can use a re-think.

Seems to me like we take one of three approaches to the challenges that we face:

-Assume that it’s “just the way it is” and feel that there is no hope to make it better.  So, just accept it and not think about it because it’s too depressing.  Ignore the problems and hope they just go away, or at least do whatever you can to avoid being affected directly.

-Get angry.  Probably most likely when you or someone you care about is affected by something that could stand to change.  Some people get angry when they have paid attention and they can see a system that’s not working.  The problem is, anger might make you feel like you did something, but anger doesn’t do anything productive to make things better.

-Think about it and try to figure out a solution.  Understand the problem from as many angles as you can.  Consider what might make things better.  Focus on working together, figuring things out, listening to each other.

The more people join the “Let’s Think About It” Camp, the more likely we will be able to come up with some solutions, some improvement, together.

There are lots of people out there who are thinking about it.  “It” is different for different people.  There are plenty of challenges out there to go around.

And it’s the people who have been in the trenches, who have experienced the problems, the mistakes, the painful situations, the failures, the strife, that have the BEST experience who can make such important contributions to the discussions.


Wake up everybody

no more sleeping in bed

No more backward thinking,

time for thinking ahead

The world has changed

So very much

From what is used to be

There is so much hatred

War and Poverty

Ooh, Ohh, Yeah

Wake up all the teachers

Time to teach a new way

Maybe then they’ll listen

To what you have to say

‘Cause they’re the ones who’s coming now

When the world is in their hands

When you teach the children

Teach the very best you can

The world won’t get no better

If we just let it be

The world won’t get no better

We gotta change it, yeah

Just you and me

Wake up all the doctors,

Make the old people well

They’re the ones who suffer

And who catch all the hell

But they don’t have so very long

Before the Judgement Day

So won’t you make them happy

Before they pass away

Wake up all the builders

Time to build a new land

I know we can do it

If we all lend a hand

The only thing we have to do

Is put it in our minds

Surely things will work out

‘Cause they do everytime

It’s the God hour

The morning I wake up

Just for the breath of life I thank my maker

My mom say I come from hustlers and shakers

My mom built it on skyscrapers and acres

He said take us back to where we belong

I try to write a song

As sweet as the Psalms, the one the type to bare arms

And wear my heart on my sleeve

Even when I fell in God I believe

Read the days that weave through the maze

The seasons so amazing

Feed them and raised them

Seasons are aging

Earthquakes, wars, and rumors

I want us to get by but

We’re more than consumers

We more than shooters, more than looters

Created in His image so God live through us

And even in this generation, living through computers

Only love love love can reboot us

Ohh Wake up, everybody

No more sleeping in bed

Ohh Wake up, everybody

I said I need a little help, y’all

Ohh need a little help, y’all

Come on, come on, come on, come on

John Legend – Wake Up Everybody Lyrics

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School Discipline Gone Wrong: Bullying or Not?

Here’s another real life example of how our schools approach our kids.  This is from a different local school.  If you read the article at the bottom, you will see this is just an example of something that happens a lot.  Unless you have experienced this, you are probably unaware that it happens.  You probably find it hard to believe that it really does, and I don’t blame you.  I do believe it is unintentional, or at the very least, not thought through.

When it’s your child who is involved (or potentially involved) in these situations, most of the time you just want to avoid involvement if possible, or at least minimize it.  Parents might tell their good friends (which is how I know about this one), but mostly we don’t want to be vocal about it, because then our kids get targeted, or we get labeled “a problem” or our dirty laundry gets aired for all to see.

But unless SOMEBODY gets us talking about it, these problems will continue and fester.

One of the saddest aspects of this, to me, is that the kids get used to this, they accept it as “just the way it is.”

So my question is, Is this really how we want our kids to be treated at school?

I originally posted this story here.

A Bullying Story from Real Life

on February 22, 2013

I want to share a story I heard yesterday, about a situation where a girl was bullied in a high school.  I know from experience that this is not an unusual situation, but it might surprise you.

Let me set the stage.  This situation occurs at a small, independent (read “parents are paying a good chunk of money for their kids to go here”) school in an affluent suburb.

OK, so here it is:  a girl finds sticky notes in her locker that call her bad names.

So, the usual suspects (consisting of about a half dozen boys) are rounded up and questioned about this.  Their parents are called and told about the situation.

One boy gets home and his father asks about what happened.  The boy says he knows absolutely nothing about it.  This father takes this kind of thing very seriously, and he tells the principal at the school this.   The father asks some questions to get a better sense of what is going on.

Father:  My son says he knows nothing about this.  Can you show me the sticky notes?  I can tell right away if it is his handwriting.

School:  Oh, we haven’t seen the sticky notes.

Father:  You haven’t?  Well, what did the girl say to make you think my son had something to do with this?

School:  Oh, we haven’t talked to her, we didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was.

Father:  Then how do you know about what happened?

School:  Another girl told us about it.

Based on no solid information, this group of boys has been singled out and accused of bullying a girl.  They were not accused by the “victim” of the bullying, and probably not even accused by the tattle-tale girl.  The administration concluded that these boys are up to no good and assumed it must be one of them.

But here’s the kicker:

It turns out that the “victim” is the one who put the sticky notes in her locker – she was unhappy at the school and wanted her parents to take her out.

There is a very real problem here.

It seems that we unconsciously label kids as either “victim”-types or “bully”-types.  The vulnerable, insecure, unable-to-speak-up types are automatically victims, unable to speak about their troubles, unable to stick up for themselves.  We treat them with kid-gloves.  There is a lot of fear and angst and drama surrounding our view of these kids.

My question is: are we serving these kids’ best interests by treating them like this?  I think they deserve our support – we need to help them gain self-confidence, feel good about themselves, maybe get them some counseling.  Learning how to speak up for themselves and be self-advocates would be of huge benefit to them.

On the other side, we view the kids who are reasonably confident, who are not afraid to speak up, who are louder, as automatically being bullies.  We are way overly suspicious, even when there is absolutely no evidence or reason to believe they have done anything wrong.  A kid who speaks up or who (God forbid) doesn’t cower with fear at confrontation or at an authority figure, is automatically the bad kid, the one to be feared.

This culture rewards victim behavior and punishes confidence.

We are discouraging kids from being confident.

I happen to know these boys personally, and they are not bad or mean, or bored enough to plan out this kind of scheme.  Sure, teenage boys do some dumb stuff without thinking it through, but that is not the same thing as intentionally aggressive, mean behavior.

Yes, there are real bullies in Real Life. 

I do not mean to diminish that fact. 

But our definition of bullies seems to have gotten way out of whack.

And I find it SO interesting that these incidents are not even reported by the supposed victim of the crime.  We have fostered the behavior of the tattle-tale who likes to stir up drama.  Anyone else have a teenage girl? – then you know how this works.  Rewarding drama-provoking behavior can lead to no good.

If we become so afraid of and obsessed with bullying and assume it’s everywhere, we will find it everywhere even when it doesn’t exist.  Is this really the atmosphere we want for our kids?

Izzy Kalman wrote a great article on just this kind of thing, A New Kind of Bullying:  Bearing False Witness.

Because I know you might not click on that link to read the article, I am copying it below :) :

A New Kind of Bullying: Bearing False Witness

by Izzy Kalman (November 2005)

Are you concerned about kids being bullies? Do you wish these evil children would stop their immoral behavior?

Parents, along with just about everyone else, unanimously favor anti-bullying policies. But how would these parents feel – especially those who believe in the Bible – if they discovered that their schools’ anti-bullying policies are leading children to widespread violation of one of the Ten Commandments – one that is no less serious than not stealing nor committing adultery?

A New Kind of Bullying

The kinds of bullying we commonly hear about are insults, threats, shoves in the hallway, rumors, exclusion from cliques. However, there is another kind of bullying that is far more pernicious and is becoming increasingly common. In the following stories from my casework the names have been changed, but the deeds remain real.

Ten-year-old Billy enters the school bathroom and sees a classmate, Jason, calling his friend Vinny “gay.” Vinny laughs and playfully punches Jason in the arm. Neither Vinny nor Jason is angry, and they are laughing as they leave. Billy informs his teacher that Jason and Vinny had a fight in the bathroom. Vinny’s mom gets a call from the teacher informing her that he is getting detention and risks being sent to a special school for delinquent students if he engages in such violence again. (This was a second incident for Vinny; a few weeks earlier, after a kid took his book, Vinny poked him with the eraser end of his pencil. The current incident was a first-timer for Jason, so he wasn’t being suspended.)

Brandon, a gentle, socially naïve seventh grader, has long been picked on by a group of tough kids. Theresa, an eighth grader who hangs out with them, decides to be clever and tells the school principal that Brandon made a sexual remark to her. A policeman shows up that evening at Brandon’s house and arrests him for sexual harassment.

Roland, a black fifth grader in a predominantly white school, tells school staff that Scott called him the “n” word. Scott gets detention though he didn’t say any such a thing. This is the third time Roland has pulled off this trick on Scott.

These are not isolated cases. Do your own investigation and you’ll find they happen frequently in schools that encourage students to report incidents of bullying.

What does this have to do with the Ten Commandments?

Most people, including secularists, accept that the Ten Commandments, particularly the last six, are basic principles for living a moral and civilized life. One of those Commandments, however, is different from all the others because it relates to behavior in a specific place: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” This relates to lying in a court of law. We’re not commanded “Thou shalt not steal in the marketplace,” or, “Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife in the Temple.” Why have a Commandment specifically about lying on the witness stand?

This Commandment is widely misunderstood. Most commentators believe forbids all lying, which is why so many adults treat their children like major criminals when they don’t tell the truth. However, it would have been very simple for the Bible to say, “Thou shalt not lie.” But the Bible didn’t do that because lying is not always the wrong thing to do. Sometimes a “white lie” like, “No, you look fine in that dress,” or “Hey, it happens to the best of us!” is the proper thing to say. And sometimes it is definitely immoral to tell the truth. For instance, a hate-filled person asks you the location of a person he is seeking to kill. Telling him the truth would make you an accomplice to murder.

Courts: The Foundation of Civilization

The reason for the difficulty understanding this Commandment is that we don’t realize that courts of law are the foundation of civilization. Having been born into civilization, we all take the legal system for granted. We can’t fathom why a special Commandment would be required for lying in court. However, from the beginning of time until the advent of modern civilization, we lived tribally in nature, where “might makes right.” We handled our problems with each other ourselves, meting out justice much like a Mafia family. But with the crowding and complexity of civilization, we can no longer take justice into our own hands. If we were to continue resolving our disputes by “might makes right,” there would be rampant violence and pandemonium. So we appoint courts with (hopefully) wise and principled judges to determine if a crime has been committed and what the punishment should be. Without a legal justice system, therefore, civilization literally could not exist.

Using the Courts to Bully

While Civilization establishes courts to replace personal vengeance, it becomes possible for citizens to use the courts as a weapon of violence. All you need to do is testify to the court that someone committed a crime, and the court will make that person suffer. Why risk hurting someone with your own fists when you can get the legal system to do it for you?

A legal justice system can function only if it’s based on witnesses telling the truth. Since it’s so easy to abuse the legal justice system, lying under oath must be deemed an unpardonable crime. The Commandment against bearing false witness, therefore, is a pillar of civilization.

Punishing the Liars

What then, are we to do to a witness who lies under oath to get someone else punished?

The Talmud, a collection of ancient Jewish law that interprets the Bible, provides the perfect solution: We do to the false witness what he planned to get the court to do to his victim. For instance, if the false witness plotted to have the defendant receive lashes, the false witness is to receive lashes.

Punishing false testimony in this way makes witnesses reluctant to lie. And since the punishment perfectly fits the crime, it makes the liar understand the gravity of his evil intentions.

How schools encourage kids to give false testimony

Now that anti-bullying policies are requiring schools to function as courts of law, investigating and punishing all acts of bullying between students, kids have discovered how easy it is to manipulate the system to get other students in trouble. And the adults eagerly invite this behavior! We instruct our students that they must tell when they’re bullied or witness bullying. Some schools even punish kids for not telling!

More and more schools are adopting an anonymity policy allowing students to report bullying without identifying themselves. This enables kids to get others in trouble at absolutely no danger to themselves. Just put a note in the “bully box” and watch the adults torment other students and their families! This is much more fun than punching kids or threatening to beat them up after school, and carries none of the risk.

Of course schools don’t instruct kids to lie about bullying, but what do they do to discourage it? Do they say, “You must tell on bullies. But if you lie, you will be punished as badly as you wanted us to punish the bully.”? Of course they don’t! Who would dare to report bullying under such circumstances?

No, schools are not instructing kids to lie. But when you reward a crime while doing nothing to punish it, you are in effect encouraging it. And you become morally responsible for that crime. As an old Jewish saying goes, “The hole [in the wall] – not the mouse – is the thief.”

To Teach Children to Act Morally, We Have to Act Morally

If we want our kids to be moral, then we have to start with ourselves. Recognize what our ancestors understood thousands of years ago, that bearing false witness is the worst kind of bullying. It’s time to get rid of the slogan, “Telling is not tattling,” and teach kids the gravity of trying to get others in trouble. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them directly; don’t involve the authorities unless it is absolutely necessary.

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That’s Why We Play the Game…

I’m reposting something I wrote a while back.  It brings up a basic question:  who are you, really?  Are you this body, stuck in this world?  or is there more, are you a Soul who is here for a purpose?  What is that purpose?  When life brings up situations that don’t make sense to us, the really challenging situations that shake us to the core, we can retreat into fear and denial and want to hide (which is a natural response) but we can also dig deeper and try to learn something and find some purpose.

Let’s play “What If…” with a new video game called The Game of Life.

Pretend with me.  Let’s play along together and see what happens.

We’re going to pretend we’re just our soul, and we’re hanging out with God and family and friends, and it’s before we’re born.

God says to us, “ok, it’s your turn to play the Game of Life on Earth, and here’s what you need to do.”  He hands us a controller.  “There are lots of decisions to be made to set up your life experience.  All the decisions affect each other, but don’t worry, you can decide the details in any order you wish and you can make as many changes as you like until you are satisfied.

Keep in mind the experiences and lessons you wish to experience, and make your choices consistent with them.  And coordinate with everybody else.

So, we go to the video screen where we pick the avatar.  The questions start popping up, too many to list:

  • Male or Female?
  • Personality?
  • Motivations?
  • Ego characteristics?
  • Appearance?
  • Body type?  (you get to pick all the details)
  • Disabilities?
  • Birthday?  Easy birth, difficult birth?  Home or hospital?
  • Astrological sign?

Now pick your family situation and location:

  • Pick your family…, dad, grandparents, siblings, pets, etc.
  • Rich or poor?  Social status?
  • Education levels?  Professions?
  • Family dynamics?
  • What part of the world?
  • What kind of house?  Neighborhood?  How often will this change?

Who else will you play with and what kind of relationships will you have with them?

  • Friends
  • Enemies
  • Teachers
  • Lovers
  • Spouse(s)
  • Children
  • Wise old man that lives across the street

Pick the situations you would like to experience, the theme of your life lessons, etc:

–What trait would you like to work on?  Patience, tolerance, self-worth, etc.

–Experiences:  War?  Cooperation?  Education?  Prison?  Poverty?  Wealth?  Dysfunctional family?  Challenging kids?  A carefree, simple life?  Etc.

So, we’ve made all our decisions, down to every last detail.  In fact, the level of detail is astounding, and can only be comprehended when we are with God.  We’ve had time to discuss and coordinate everything with all the other players.  We have a pretty good idea of how it could play out, but we still have to play the game.

(I am imagining, at this point, the Angels sitting around placing bets about how it’s going to work out, who will accomplish what, and trying to make all kinds of predictions.  Then the wise one says, “Hey, you can never tell what’s going to happen – that’s why we play the game!”)

Then God says, “Are you all ready?

“YES!!” we all shout.

Ok, but before we begin, I have to remind you about The Rules.

Well, I guess every game has its rules, huh.

“The one primary rule is that you will forget everything you know.  You will be immersed in the virtual reality world of the game, and you will believe that it is real.  You will believe that the game is all that there is.  You won’t forget right away, but you will still be getting used to your newborn body and figuring out how to make it work, and you won’t be able to tell anyone what you know.  By the time you learn to talk, you will probably have forgotten most everything, and you will become very convinced that the world is real.  Even if you do remember and are able to talk about it, most people will dismiss what you say because you’re a child or they won’t even be listening.  Remember, it is going to be frustrating.”

“Now, some of you may have picked really challenging scenarios for this time around.  I realize you are eager to experience some of the extremes, but make sure you are up for it.  Remember, when you experience abuse, pain, suffering, betrayal, and loneliness, it will feel extremely real.  Right now you know it’s just a game, but it won’t feel like that while you are playing.  The game is set up to support Fear, and you will have to fight to resist Fear from taking over.   You would not be playing this game if you were not a strong soul, but the game will be challenging nonetheless.”

“All of us understand your intentions, but once you are there you will forget them to a certain extent.  You will have free will – we cannot control what you do, you are free to play however you want.”

“But also know that you will not be alone.  First of all, a piece of you will remain with me and never leave you at the same time.  When you are in the game, this will seem impossible to you.  In addition, my assistants and I will always be watching, with controllers in hand.  We will nudge you when needed.  There will be many hints along the way.  And remember that we will work with you during your sleep as well.”

“Over the years, we have planted many, many seeds of wisdom and guidance.  They are everywhere, but finding them and recognizing them will only be possible with determination.”

“For those of you playing at the highest levels, your veil of forgetfulness will be more faint.  You will retain a sense of knowing that there’s something more, but you will have to work hard and pay attention to figure it out.  The skills you developed in previous plays will be a big help.”

“We all know that the ultimate goal of the game, once you have mastered all the levels, is to go in one more time and figure out that it is, in fact, a game.  To remember.  Even this final play will not be easy, because most of the other players will make you doubt yourself and will call you crazy.”

Hey, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be a very good game, would it?

Now, are you ready?


When Mistakes Prove to be Fatal

It hurts me to read that title.  But it is that thought which prompts me to write this post.

Yesterday was a very sad day.  We learned that a young man died of an overdose.

Two years ago, as a junior, he started on Varsity as the football team’s quarterback.  I can only tell you what I observed as a parent of a fellow teammate, as I didn’t know him personally.  What I did observe was a poised player, who always seemed to listen to the coach, who seemed to be reliable, who seemed like a “nice kid.”  This was a team that didn’t have a large roster, from a small private school, so even some freshmen started on varsity.  Even though the Independent division is small, it was a big deal for him to be named First Team All-Conference Quarterback as a junior.

Let me be clear:  this post is me grieving.  I know a lot of kids that loved this kid.  You couldn’t watch him play and not grow fond of him.  Of the hundreds of people who have read this post, three have told me I am being disrespectful.  That is certainly not my intent.  To me, the greatest way to pay my respect is to encourage other people to get reflective about how we interact with our kids, especially at school, so that we lower the odds that we will ever have to face another situation like this.  I don’t expect you to agree with me, I just want to make my intent clear.

I remember being surprised the following year, when he wasn’t there for football season.  I don’t know the details personally, so I will just tell you the basic story:  apparently he made some mistakes academically at school, and the school did not let him return the next year.  And apparently there is more to the story, some might say extenuating circumstances, but he could not stay despite that.

I live in an area where there are a lot of private schools.  This is a result of a lot of local history.  These schools are expensive and “exclusive.”  Of course, these schools need to market themselves as special and better, in order to convince parents to send their children.  To survive financially, these schools have to come out on top in the competition for students.

But there are unintended consequences of this competition.  As the schools market themselves as “better and safer,” the other schools become, by default, “worse and dangerous.”  An “us vs. them” mentality results, and assumptions are made.  Kids in private school are told how lucky they are, which means all those other kids must be unlucky.  These schools are grooming the students to be “successful” which means kids at public school must be less likely to be successful.

This brings up what I am sure are difficult situations for a school to handle.  On the one hand, they want to support kids and help them do their best.  On the other hand, they have to maintain their image of quality.  They can’t tolerate a student that crosses too many lines.  If they want to remain competitive, they can’t appear “soft” on the important issues, whether they be unsafe behavior, drugs, cheating, lying, not studying, not performing, or any bad behavior that might prove embarrassing.  How many mistakes are too many?  Standards must be adhered to in order to maintain quality control.

I don’t know anything about his situation, his personal challenges, or how he felt about changing schools.  I do wonder if he felt like a failure, if he felt judged, if he felt embarrassed.  Did he feel doomed to a future of “less than”?

I don’t even know if he meant to take his own life or if the overdose was unintended.

I’m being contemplative, not trying to place blame (which I believe is unproductive).  But hopefully situations like this move our focus to the unintended consequences of our school system and its use of punishment when a student makes mistakes.  Something seems wrong here.  It just seems like we could do better in helping our kids to learn and grow.

Isn’t it worth the effort to step back and think about all this with a fresh set of eyes?

My friend David is a former teacher who has thought a lot about how we school our children, and he uses this analogy to explain how he has come to view the existing way of schooling vs. the new way that we need to work toward.

D: Very well. I will begin at the end of my journey as a school teacher and share with you the conclusion I reached about attempting to fix the system. Here it is:

Attempting to “fix” the school system is the same as attempting to repair a video cassette recorder with the intention of playing a DVD in it.

Q: Oh…… wow…… okay…… can you elaborate on this?

D: Sure. Let’s imagine I own a VCR and have an extensive collection of VC tapes. I receive a gift in the post. The gift is a DVD. I want to watch the DVD but all I have is my VCR. I can stick a CDD (Compatibility Deficit Disorder) label on the DVD… but it still won’t work in my VCR. I can isolate the DVD from the rest of my movie collection, placing it on an empty shelf for a few days… but it still won’t work in my VCR. I can shout and swear at the DVD or throw it against a wall… but it still won’t work in my VCR. There is nothing “wrong” with the DVD. It does not need fixing. It is not broken. Likewise, there is nothing “wrong” with my VCR. It does exactly what it was designed to do: play video cassette tapes. No amount of repair work on this machine will allow me to watch the DVD. The VCR cannot be “fixed” because it does not need fixing. It is not broken. It was never broken. It is simply… obsolete.

Q: Oh wow. That is a powerful metaphor. So you’re saying the school system is not broken… but obsolete?

D: In my experience, yes.

David summarizes his educational philosophy here.  Yes, it is a completely different view and many people might think he is unrealistic.

But we have to start somewhere.  We have to think outside the box.

Our school system is obsolete.  It was designed for kids that no longer exist.  We might wish kids were like they used to be, we might continue to try to fit square pegs in round holes, but it’s just not going to work.   And the damage we are doing along the way is very real.

He was a great kid.  Every kid is a great kid, when we appreciate him or her for the unique individual that they are.  If school is primarily a competition, we are guaranteed to produce losers.  If school is a place to learn, kids need to be able to make mistakes.  And when they do, they need to be able to get help to recover and learn from them.

Mistakes don’t have to be fatal. 


It’s All a Set-Up!!

The situation you are in is not by chance.  You have been set up.  It’s all part of a well thought-out plan.

Those challenges that most push your buttons?  On purpose.  Those people that drive you crazy?  Planted right in front of you.  The hazards, pitfalls, temptations, carrots on the end of the stick, bright shiny objects just out of reach?  Why are you surprised?

All some sinister plan?  Well, why would you assume the worst?  If you assume that life is in opposition to your greater good, meant to drag you down, something you will never get “right”, well that sounds like a set-up to fail.  Deep down, is that what you really believe?  If so, sounds pretty hopeless to me.  Why do you even try?

Or do you believe that God is good, that life has purpose, that in essence, you are beautiful and good and perfect and loved?

Which is it?

How would you act if you were convinced that your life is perfectly planned for you, by you, with great care and love?  What if you knew that the angels have your back?  That it is impossible to fail?

Would you stop worrying about making mistakes, and start to appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the plan?  Would you be more likely to see the synchronicities?  Would you appreciate the new perspectives you gain from the experiences?  Would you become more wise?

(To be fair, I’m not including the “random” scenario – everything happens by chance, there is no Creator, it’s all just a random happenstance with no meaning.  I know some people believe this.  I just took too much science and learned about entropy.  Chance leads to chaos, not order.  The random theory just makes no sense to me, so I tend not to give it any attention.  That’s just me.  If you are a believer in the random theory, disregard this whole thing.  I would just ask one question:  If you really believe in the random scenario, why do you even care?  Caring seems inconsistent with the randomness, to me.)

No one else can convince you what to believe.  Oh, they can try.  They can give forceful opinions.  They can preach from the pulpit.  They can write about it.  But what you truly believe inside, cannot be forced.  Only you can examine it, think about it, know what it is that you believe in your heart.  And if you don’t have any interest in the question, no one can make you think about it either!!

But I wonder —  even if a person doesn’t consciously think about it, are they still operating under one of these beliefs?  Is there a default setting deep inside?

I don’t think anyone would disagree, that a person would act differently depending on how they see the world.  If it’s all a sinister plan and there is no hope, a person would be more self-protective, more suspicious, and more competitive.  If a person believed that all is for the greater good, they would tend to be more open, trusting, giving, and hopeful.  Am I wrong here?

So my next question is, which belief system results in a “better” world?  If every single person chose one way or the other, what would be the result?

Just to make it more interesting, what would happen if every single person except one thought the world was sinister?  The world would operate in a competitive manner, everyone would be in it for themselves, people would be grabbing what they could get without a thought about how their actions affected others.  The one person with a different view would get crushed.  Everyone else would take advantage of that person, and they wouldn’t last long.  They would probably lose hope.

Now think about the opposite scenario.  Every person except one knows they are loved and trusts the process.  They give others the benefit of the doubt.  They spend time to think about what they have learned from their experiences.  They have hope.  The one insecure, scared, competitive person doesn’t trust anyone.  They take advantage whenever they can.  And what happens?  Others continue to love them anyway.  They have compassion and understand that this person is only acting according to their beliefs.  How long do you think it would be before this person is able to relax and trust that all will be well?

So, what if you lived in the first world, the sinister one?  And what if, over time, more and more people came to see life from the opposite perspective?  What if, despite past history and disappointments and pain, they came to the conclusion that there is purpose and that we all are, deep down, good and lovable?

Many people would still be competitive and focused on survival of the fittest.  They would take advantage.  The trusting people would have to remain pretty darn strong to keep loving and giving the benefit of the doubt and believing it would all work out.  The trusting people would have a hard time holding on to their beliefs.  The competitive people would scoff at them and tell about their “real world.”  But slowly, one by one, those competitive people would experience the love, compassion and forgiveness of the trusting people.  Even just one act of caring from a converted survivor would feed the Hope that everyone could one day have compassion and respect for others.

Now THAT’S an interesting set-up….

different perspective