Saturday, September 23, 2006

Chasing the Wind

Someone must stop the madness. That someone could be you. Perhaps many of you.
As I look at western culture through the lens of how we are developing our children, I wonder if we have any critical thinking remaining in our arsenal. By scarcity of critical thinking I’m referring to our default habit of basing decisions on reactionary absorption of the fears, trends and standards we purposefully or unintentionally create—instead of embracing the discipline to make multi-layered choices that consistently adhere to our values, passions and purposes for living.
Kids today are being pushed to achieve at an age earlier than ever before. They are overscheduled, overburdened and overstressed. For the sake of attaining the highest test scores and building the most vital academic and civic curriculum vitae (in order to someday get into the most prestigious college and land that high-paying entry level job), other multi-dimensional aspects of their personhood are being sliced, diced and sacrificed at the altar of long-term “success.”
These essential and timeless elements include the notion of physical education and, with it, physical and mental fitness. P.E. in schools is becoming more of an afterthought rather than an essential portion of the regiment, despite long-standing studies demonstrating the link between physical activity and mental performance. A recent report declared that one of out every five children is projected to be obese by 2010. This problem won’t suddenly begin to emerge in 2009; it is upon our children even as I type this column and as you read it.
Adults are hardly role models in the health arena—according to Plunkett Research Ltd., only 40.1 percent of Americans maintain a healthy weight; only 22.2 percent exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times per week; and just 23.3 percent are found to eat the recommended amount of daily fruit and vegetable servings—and yet we simultaneously rearing and educating a rising generation of young persons to fall into this slippery slope. We have lots of “successful” adults who have followed the path of drivenness, and many of are filling their high blood pressure meds or taking their insulin at this very moment.
Someone must stop the madness.
Recently, our neighboring metropolis Orlando was ranked by Men’s Health as the nation’s “angriest city.” Data such as cases of hypertension and domestic violence was compiled in order to establish the list.
So here on the Space Coast, we live near a circumference of anger, road rage and stress. But this is far from a Central Florida problem; it is a national crisis of which few are willing to connect the dots, reveal and own. Nearly everyone I know is multi-tasking their life away, failing to taste the fruits of the journey as it unfolds. We are driven to achieve, to gather, to preserve, and to win. And this wreaks havoc on our emotions, our relationships and our health.
And just to disabuse any notions that I’m writing from an ivory tower and casting broad aspersions upon modern times: I’ve been just as driven as the next Type A persona. Visit my Web page at, and ask yourself how I fit it all into my schedule. Not easily, my friends, and not without a price that I’m becoming more and more reluctant to pay.
So here we are, pushing our rising generation of children to step into that very same cycle of gradual deterioration of a multi-dimensional, healthy self. I’m upset and frustrated because persons in power, and tunnel-thinkers entrenched in the bureaucracy, are making reactionary and money-driven decisions for our children that will prove even more expensive in the long run. Someone must stop the madness.
The wise King Solomon reflected on the mistakes he’d made as he composed the famous ancient Hebrew book of Ecclesiastes. In one of the most oft-quoted sections, Chapter 1, Solomon begins by reflecting on how an unexamined life not girded and sustained by greater purposes is “meaningless” or “vanity,” and that its pursuit of accomplishments, riches, knowledge, status and so forth amounts to nothing more than a “chasing after the wind.”
All of the stuff we feel we have to accumulate, all the positions of power we long to achieve, all the grade point averages we must reach and supercede—all of it becomes an inheritance of the invisible if we allow it to define who we are and consume us to the detriment of loving others well and truly loving ourselves.
We are raising a generation of wind-chasers, who are prepared to stumble across our footsteps and fall victim to the same habits and outlooks that keep us reactionary; stressed-out; and seeking whatever anesthetics we can find in the pop culture and drug industry in order to make it hurt just a little less. Someone must stop the madness.
Our physical health, our mental balance, our critical thinking—all are on the line for ourselves and our children, if we continue this relentless, myopic road of keeping up; getting ahead; being the best. When we get to the end of the road, we find there’s little there but the vestiges of the wind.
As Dean Wormer aptly said to a moronic fraternity boy in the classic comedy Animal House, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.” And yet we are consuming, escaping and reacting our way through the years while unintentionally telling our kids, “This is how it should be.”
So how do we become more critical and savvy in our thinking, and open up the deeper dimensions of our lives—in order to find some balance and change our approach to young persons so they can learn to break this cycle of wind-chasing?
First, stop and breathe. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Second, read a book. A real book, not a how-to-book, not a 63-steps-to-greater-business-outcomes kind of book. Read a novel about people who learn and grow. Read some classic humanities or philosophy. Read something that causes parts of you that are long dormant to come alive. Rent a movie that unfolds key life lessons and makes you feel something.
Third, go take a walk along the ocean. Don’t have an MP3 player strapped on or any other distraction. Listen to what you hear about your life. It is speaking to you, but often its gentle whispers and pleas for balance cannot be heard above the din of your grind.
Go to a play. Take in a musical. Hang at the opera. Play at a park. Bring the kids and liberate them from a schedule of achievement for a few hours.
And, most importantly perhaps, go get a good sweat. It’ll make you feel alive. And while doing so, cast the junk food out of your life like a bad relationship.
If you have children currently in school, and you see them killing themselves to get ready for the FCAT or get into some honors class or some college (even if they’re only six!), commend them for their work ethic.
But remind them—and their teachers and principals—that their identity is more than their academic or material success. Such pursuits are worthy, you must advise them—but embraced in a blind vacuum, they are as reliable as the wind.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My New Book

I recently completed the fourth draft of a book I started writing this past January. Three people who know me well are now spending a month or so critiquing its contents, with plans to give me helpful feedback. I'm so close to the project that I need fresh voices and additional perspectives to help me see how to ensure its quality and focus.

The book is a memoir, examing my life from when I was very young up until the weekend before I started college. Tentatively titled Toward Identity: A Memoir of Youth, it grapples with what I think is a universal story of a young person seeking authentic community in order to unleash his authentic self. I share stories of my family; young friends; playing sports; awakening to the opposite sex; dealing with teenage angst; and many other aspects of the seasons of life through which a young person must sojourn.

I'm now beginning to lay the groundwork for a second book, which will chronicle my unfolding journey of discovering my vocational purposes. I have a hunch this second book may take a great deal longer to write, and my hope is to get the first book published as I'm writing the second part.

Writing these memoirs is indeed a labor of love. It's not a project I had planned or expected, and developed only in the aftermath of my father Frank's passing last year. I found myself writing pages and pages about my life with him, and these thoughts became the cornerstone for a larger book project about my life in general. I already had chronicled many anecdotal incidents and insights from across the years, and decided to merge these with my reflections about my Dad in order to create a full manuscript.

In the manuscript, I also interact with a lot of my childhood writings. I cranked out about 15 little novels, and hundreds of song lyrics among other creative efforts, when I was a kid. I find that as I look at these works with older eyes (I saved just about all of them), I learn more about who I was then and who I am today. I can see and understand things I couldn't quite discern when I was 17, and this writing process is teaching me how to better understand where I am heading now.

Only a few persons might end up reading these projects. However, I am compelled to write them not for commercial success or widespread acclaim, but for my personal satisfaction and the need to simply allow them to pour out of me. If I hold them inside, "the rocks will cry out (a paraphrase from a familiar historical figure who has had a great impact on my journey)."

I do feel this first project is well-written (and hopefully will continue to improve as the result of my editor friends), and can speak to many persons should they stumble across it. But we shall see.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Toward Authenticity

And now, I at last embrace the blogger universe...