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 www.johnmdemarco.com, 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.

6 Comments:

At 4:41 AM , Anonymous Nelly Eskandary-Gomez said...

John,

I am so proud to be your friend.

Please make sure you let me know when your book comes out. I want to buy it.

I remember that you always wrote well and always had in my mind that you would sell a screen play.

Congratulations!

From your Long time High School friend Nelly -

 
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At 11:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello. Prompt how to get acquainted with the girl it to me to like. But does not know about it
I have read through one history
Each of you has your personal story; it is your history. Keeping a diary or writing your feelings in a special notebook is a wonderful way to learn how to think and write about who you are -- to develop your own identity and voice.

People of all ages are able to do this. Your own history is special because of your circumstances: your cultural, racial, religious or ethnic background. Your story is also part of human history, a part of the story of the dignity and worth of all human beings. By putting opinions and thoughts into words, you, too, can give voice to your inner self and strivings.

A long entry by Anne Frank on April 5, 1944, written after more than a year and a half of hiding from the Nazis, describes the range of emotions 14-year-old Anne is experiencing:

". . . but the moment I was alone I knew I was going to cry my eyes out. I slid to the floor in my nightgown and began by saying my prayers, very fervently. Then I drew my knees to my chest, lay my head on my arms and cried, all huddled up on the bare floor. A loud sob brought me back down to earth, and I choked back my tears, since I didn't want anyone next door to hear me . . .

"And now it's really over. I finally realized that I must do my school work to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that's what I want! I know I can write. A few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humorous, much of my diary is vivid and alive, but . . . it remains to be seen whether I really have talent . . .

"When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much, because writing allows me to record everything, all my thoughts, ideals and fantasies.

"I haven't worked on Cady's Life for ages. In my mind I've worked out exactly what happens next, but the story doesn't seem to be coming along very well. I might never finish it, and it'll wind up in the wastepaper basket or the stove. That's a horrible thought, but then I say to myself, "At the age of 14 and with so little experience, you can't write about philosophy.' So onward and upward, with renewed spirits. It'll all work out, because I'm determined to write! Yours, Anne M. Frank

For those of you interested in reading some of Anne Frank's first stories and essays, including a version of Cady's Life, see Tales From the Secret Annex (Doubleday, 1996). Next: Reviewing and revising your writing

 

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