The Tragedy of a Victimhood Narrative

Arrow SIgns - Not My Fault Shifting Blame

This week you may have noticed, as I have, the #metoo hashtag that took social media by storm. We’re not the only ones that noticed. I’ve seen a few blog posts as a result. In fact, I’m writing my thoughts in response to one.

I don’t think anyone will argue that there are individuals (largely men) who target women. Nor am I willing to argue that our world and culture has magically become just and fair and equal for all when no one was looking.

What I do want to consider is how we are responding to it.

Preaching Victimhood

The article to which I am responding pointed out that emphasizing the negative ways in which women are being treated may actually be shutting women and girls down. Some are reacting to the narrative by staying indoors unless the sun is up. Others tend to encounter roadblocks on their personal path to success and give up because they believe they have hit their glass ceiling and they are not strong enough to fight the current establishment.

On the other side of the spectrum are the militants who believe that by striking back with protests and possibly more, they will force the establishment to accept guilt and change its ways. Personally, I have found that the old adage “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is a truth about human nature. If someone (or a group of someones) doesn’t see a problem with the way things currently are, then the protests are simply going to be proof that a discontented minority have a problem. Legislation will leave those same people searching for loopholes because a crazy law got crammed down their throats.

In either scenario, the “victim” (because not everything that happens in life rates the status of victim) surrenders power to the nameless, faceless “them” who are opposing their progress and dignity.

My Thoughts on a Solution

  1. As much as we can, we need to tone down the over-sexualization of our culture. We have members of our society who are trying to determine the gender identity of children before they are even in kindergarten! We have advertising empires built upon the mantra “sex sells.” I fear that we, through our entertainment choices and other selections in life, are setting the example for our children that “sex is the meaning of life.” Sure, sex is a wonderful part of life, but there are many other wonderful things to experience and become! We need to embrace those pastimes and values — it will allow us to humanize each other again.
  2. As we raise our children, we can teach them to protect themselves from those who will break the rules of society and harm them — but we need to be careful to let our children know that those individuals are the minority. As a teacher, I have taught children who are afraid of almost everything and who expect bad things to be in store for them. Since my career was spent teaching 4-11 year-olds, this is pretty sad. I do not advocate pretending that the bad doesn’t exist — it does, and leaving our children unprepared is unconscionable — but we need to present the bad in perspective with all the good that is out there.
  3. We need to set the example. If we don’t want our boys to see women as nothing but objects of pleasure, then we need our boys and girls to see us treating women with respect and firmly but politely standing up for anyone who is being treated less than respectfully. We need to avoid filling our homes with media and other examples of women as objects of pleasure. We also need to be women of power and support women of power who are willing to work outside of the “establishment” to prove that common knowledge and practice are wrong. We need to create and support women-led businesses and initiatives. We need to celebrate boys and girls equally in their accomplishments. We need to think before we simply compliment Jenny as being pretty and David for being strong. Those are not bad compliments, but we need to be sure that our encouragements are balanced and really speak to the child’s (or adult’s) true skills and efforts. We need to internalize and model that someone else succeeding isn’t diminishing us, it’s encouraging us that we can succeed, too.

In the end, I agree that we have problems in our modern society, especially when it comes to things like sexuality, gender, and ethnicity (and many other topics too numerous to list here). My position is that we need to think carefully about how we are trying to solve these problems because we don’t want to increase the problem through our examples and rhetoric — we want to empower everyone to be their very best.

So, I’ve expressed my opinions on current events. What are your thoughts? (Remember, I expect comments to be civil, thoughtful, and respectful. We can all agree to disagree.)

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“Ruining America”: Classism

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I read an interesting blog article a few weeks ago, and I lost the URL. Sorry about that!

From what I understood, the author was essentially trying to make the case that the upper middle-class has protected itself from outsiders by creating a culture that makes those who are not familiar with it feel like they don’t measure up. To avoid shame and embarrassment, those who don’t “belong” to the upper middle-class retreat to safer, more familiar grounds.

I heard reference last April to the idea that we are living in a shame culture — a culture that bestows a sense of worth based on how well you are liked and accepted, or in other words, how well you conform to society’s norms.

I have felt this frequently in my life, and I am still struggling to embrace being an outlier. I grew up in farming country, and I feel most comfortable around “salt-of-the-earth” people. However, life has taken me on a journey that has led to a master’s degree and suburban living. I struggle with what appears to be an over-emphasis on appearance and owning “status symbols” in suburban culture. But, I have adopted many other habits and patterns found in suburban life. In the end, I don’t really fit in with either group.

In my opinion, the problem isn’t the upper middle-class.  This idea of culture and belonging to a group extend as far back as we can trace the history of people. The tendency to mistrust and exclude those who don’t belong goes back just as far.

So What Do We Do About It?

The serenity prayer mentions accepting the things we cannot change and courageously changing what we can. I doubt that we will ever change this quirk in human nature. We are wired to want the familiar.

We can, however, decide how we will react:

  1. Walk away. Sometimes, belonging isn’t worth the effort, and there is no shame in taking the time to evaluate whether or not you truly want to be part of a particular group. Every person has a right to choose their friends.
  2. Fake it until you make it. The truth about culture is that it is simply a set of learned behaviors. Go to places where you can read a book and people watch at the same time. Look up things on the internet that you don’t understand. Watch trends on social media. Show up at open social events, be friendly, and make new acquaintances. Learn what this particular culture values and why. Eventually, you will feel comfortable in your environment, and you will have the friends you seek.
  3. Embrace being an outlier. While this is the hardest route, this is the only way to be part of a group and stay true to your nature. It does mean that you will not be readily accepted and that some may never accept you at all. It also means that you need to show a little tact and “give in” on things like dress and grooming when it doesn’t violate a personal (or moral) code.

In the end, there are no easy answers to being human. It’s a nice idea that everybody loves everybody, but it’s not a realistic goal. Just trying to get everyone to agree on what it means to love everybody would be impossible.

So, in the end, let us accept with grace the things that we cannot change, and courageously change those things that are truly worth the effort.

Change is in the Air

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Some who have read this blog or know me personally  are aware that I submitted my letter of resignation as a teacher on May 1, 2017. Since that time, I have been trying to “decide what I want to be when I grow up.”

In the next few weeks, I will be making that announcement. I’m sure there will be a few more announcements as I put all of the plans in place. As I do, I realize that I’m having to completely change my perception of who I am. I’m also going to be making a few changes to this blog.

Anyone Else Frightened?

Change isn’t comfortable. The things that we have always known and the things that we have always done become our comfort zone. They become to us like that favorite stuffed animal or blanket that we carried around as toddlers. It doesn’t matter how filthy and nasty it gets — it’s what we turn to for comfort and security.

As far as this blog is concerned, the changes won’t be that big. I’m mostly going to be working through a process of claifying my purpose for this blog’s existence, solidifying the message, and (hopefully) making it a little more interactive.

As for me? Well, let’s just say I hope I’m holding on to my hat tightly! I’m trying to convince myself that I’m ready to get rid of my worn-out, dirty “lovie” and move into the world with more wisdom, maturity, and confidence than I have in the past.

What Did They Learn?

legacy

This coming week marks the last week of my teaching career. It is doubtful that I will ever go back. I might work as a substitute teacher for a while, but it really seems to be a matter of completely moving on to a new career.

I am both scared and excited. I’m also feeling very nostalgic. I have given my best as a music educator for sixteen years, and I have to wonder why I have been so passionate. What did I really hope to do for my kids? It’s unrealistic to believe that I have created thousands of future professional musicians. In fact, most of the children that have come through my classes in elementary school won’t even continue music in to middle school. Few will be able to read music as adults. Have a really accomplished anything?

  1. I have respected and loved children, and most of them know it. Even in the best of schools, children can have hard lives. Sometimes, a bad day leaves a lasting impression on the best of kids. I have learned, as I have matured as a teacher, that children are doing the best that they know how to do. In elementary school, if kids are messing up, it’s because their brain made a poor decision — not that they wanted to be bad. That means that kindness and teaching are going to go farther than harsh punishment ever would. Kids need to know, from the earliest ages, that they have worth, that they deserve respect, and that they are amazing. I have filled countless buckets in 16 years, and that’s a powerful legacy.
  2. I have modeled that people can have lots of hobbies and interests. Sometimes, people (even adults) think that the only things that I know and love revolve around the world of music. I’ve shared with them my love of running, learning, and enjoying life. I’ve also had the opporunity to teach and model that choosing one thing and not choosing another is ok. Many of my kids had never considered this.
  3. I’ve made mistakes ok. Learning is a process. We tell ourselves and we tell kids that mistakes are ok and part of the learning process, but then we never act like it. What do the kids really learn? Even with bad choices in behavior, I’ve made sure that mistakes are not scary moments, but chances to learn. I’ve tried to make taking risks and trying new things a regular part of what we do.
  4. I’ve tried to lead by example that life is an adventure. I hope, that in the end, my lasting legacy to the children I’ve taught is a sense that there is a lot to see, do, and learn in life — and that life, overall, is fun. I hope they’ve learned to be a little bit like Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. I hope that they will take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

It’s interesting that, as I close out my teaching career, these are the things I want most for my students. Sure, I’d love to think that a handful of my former students eventually go on to become professional musicians. I hope that they all carry some love of music with them throughout their lives. Even so, those aren’t the most important lessons to give to my students.

No, I hope I gave them a chance to start a little further ahead of the game than I was able to start. I want them to feel the freedom that comes when one is not chained by logical fallacies and emotional hang-ups. I want them to be the best unique individual that they can become.