Finding the Right Teachable Moment

finding the right teachable moment

Submitted By Erin Rockafellow

Back in October the kids and I were sorting pumpkin seeds for roasting that we had brought home from a group carving. The kids and I were having fun being together with slimy hands and all. As we sorted the seeds some of them had started to sprout already.

The big discussion began between my 10 year old daughter and my 8 year old son about what to do with those seeds:

“We should save them and plant them!” says my daughter.

“No just throw them away,” says my son.

“But if we plant the seeds they will grow into new pumpkin plants.”

“Yes, but they aren’t pumpkins yet- so we should just throw them away.”

“We shouldn’t throw them away; it isn’t their fault that they sprouted when they didn’t need to.”

“It’s almost winter. What are we going to do with pumpkin plants? We can’t grow them in the house; we need to throw them away.”

As this conversation went on, my husband and I kept looking at each other. First with amusement about the parallels between this topic and the abortion debate. As the debate wore on, we really started to wonder if we should go ahead and have the big conversation with our kids since they really seemed to have very strong opposing opinions. The kids continued their lines of thought, trying to convince the other that they were right. It was like watching a tennis match.

In my head I was trying so hard to decide what to do: would I be a bad mom if we didn’t have that big talk? Is it really in our best interest to have that discussion with a 10 year old and 8 year old? My husband and I just looked at each other with a slight amount of panic and silently came to a decision to not have that discussion.

We congratulated the kids on having a well debated topic and we told them how proud we were that they never started fighting, but continued to use kind language with each other. Honestly, the kids did a great job of articulating why they thought their opinion was the right one. We helped the kids agree to disagree and explained that sometimes the best thing you can do is hold your opinion and let someone else have theirs too.

It ate at me. For weeks I second guessed my decision to take the easy way out. I knew that when we made the decision it was more about us feeling uneasy and unprepared than it was about anything else. Over breakfast one morning I told a friend about my story. She listened to everything including my own self doubt. Instead of telling me that I chickened out, she reminded me that sometimes situations have more than one teachable moment; my husband and I picked the one that was right for us. The other moment that we had skipped over would be waiting in the back of our minds for when the time was right for that big discussion. We had not lost our moment we just cataloged it away for later; and for us, that was the best we could do in that moment.

What are your tips for approaching challenging teachable moments? Share below! 

Explore this idea through children’s literature: What is most important at any given time? “Being present” in The Three QuestionsBy Jon Muth

Calm, Cool and Collected

Thinking

It finally happened. I have been working with my 3 and 5 year old kids on naming emotions and finding coping mechanisms for anger and frustration from the time that they were wee babes, and wouldn’t you know it, they have gone and thrown it all right back in my face.

“Uhm, mom, I think… maybe you need to find something calm to do. You aren’t being a very Peaceful Piggy.”

Great. That’s all I need. My 5 year old trying to teach me a lesson. I don’t want to slow down. I am sure that everyone within a mile radius of me can feel my intensity today, but I don’t care. I just want to get everything on my to-do list done. Now. Yesterday. And who does that child think she is, anyway?

“Thanks for the reminder,” I am glaring at my 5 year old. “But it is time to get going. Now. Get. Your. Shoes. On.” 

Okay. To be fair, there really is no rush. It is just that I am tired and cranky and we just got back from an emotional trip out of town and there are loads of laundry to do and I desperately need a nap. I am also a fair bit hungry, so getting the kids to put back on the shoes they took off for lord knows what reason and leaving church for the comfort of home sounds oh-so-appealing at this moment. So… let’s get a move on.

“Maaaaayyybbeee try a deep breath. Or play with toys. I like to play with toys when I am angry.” My 5 year old keeps digging deeper as she ever so slowly puts on her shoes. Today’s lesson in church was on meditation and finding ways to calm down when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated or angry. It was about finding a peaceful place in your heart so that you can take on the day, feel powerful, and love yourself and your neighbor. I should know. I put the lesson together myself.

I am growing impatient. “I will give it a try when we get home. But we have to get there first. Now, let’s go!”

“If you feel so mad you can ROAR,” sings my 3 year old son, “Take a deep breath and count to 4! One… Two… Three… Four!” He repeats the lyrics from an episode of the PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood; lyrics that I have sung with him many times as he has come down from tantrums, usually involving not getting his favorite foods for dinner. He doesn’t always love hearing this song and it usually takes a while before he begrudgingly stops stomping his feet long enough to “use his words” and tell me that he is just heartbroken that we can’t have pizza for every meal of every day. Angry stomping feet, it seems, are a lot easier to muster than finding the words to express disappointment. Except right now he has a giant smile on his face; he just put his shoes on all by himself and put his mom in check all at the same time. The kid is over the moon.

By this time I am feeling some weird combination of complete exhaustion, pride, hunger, humility and love. I am beginning to understand why my kids would much rather throw a tantrum than “use their words.” It is like when an annoyingly chipper morning person wakes you up in the morning after you get a terrible night’s sleep. I’m happy for you that you love waking up so early and that you are feeling so refreshed and wonderful. Truly. I am. And I really do realize that my scroogy-ness is the problem and your positive attitude should serve as a reminder for me to open my heart to the possibilities of the new day. But can’t I just be the lesser person for once? It is kind of comfortable down here in the dumps…

But I do it anyway. I take a few deep breaths and try to remember that this state of feeling overwhelmed, stressed and tired is just temporary. I will eventually make it home. I will get to eat some lunch, and I will get to rest. Everything will be okay. It will.

I am now off the ledge just enough to realize that I need to dial my stress back a bit, check my ego and recognize that my children are right.

“You guys are right; I am starting to feel better. Sometimes I get frustrated, tired and angry, too. I think that because I wanted to get home so badly I forgot to be kind and loving with my words. Thank you for reminding me and helping me to find more loving words.” I am saying this to remind myself just as much as I am affirming my children and the lessons I know I want them to hang on to. I am thinking eating a little lunch and resting might help me reset a bit. Can you guys help me do that?”

Of course they will help. Kids love nothing more than to know that they are wise, important and needed; because they really are, and so are we. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.

Here are some great tools to help you and your family become “Peaceful Piggies.” Add your favorite resources in the comments section below:

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS

Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean 

When Tragedy Strikes

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I was deeply saddened to wake up to the news of the mass shooting in Colorado overnight. Of course, when tragedy strikes, we are surrounded by the story in the media, in our conversations, and in our hearts. So how can we help our children cope with this and other tragedies in the news?

Here are a few resources that may help you get started:

Bottom line: When in doubt, be available, be patient, be loving.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

Send me your suggestions for books, videos, resources, and other tips that you would like to share on this topic by emailing uuathome@gmail.com or add a comment below.

This Land is Your Land

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Once again it is time to celebrate our country’s Independence; and in a time where there is much debate about what, exactly, our country stands for, I thought I would share a couple American icons that have deep meaning for me.

The New Colossus was written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish American woman, as an auction donation to help raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Her poem was later added to the pedestal in 1903. While many of us learned of Emma Lazarus, the Statue of Liberty, and the significance of Ellis Island in elementary school, the power of these words have largely been lost on a society that seems to be fixated on the idea that the America is a country of immigrants whose borders need to be closed, a nation of wealth whose resources ought not be shared, and a place where independence means we should never depend on one another. Where did we go wrong?

The New Colossus 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus

****************

Before I was introduced to The New Colossus, I was, as I suspect many of you were, introduced to what is Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land.” I remember stumbling through the verses as we all waited for the chorus of this song: “This Land was made for you and me!” We always sang that part loud and proud.

What I didn’t know was that the version of the song that I was taught is highly censored. Woody Guthrie was an original rebel; a song writer who understood the power of his gift. He believed that music was not just music, but a way to bring peace to our world and a powerful way “…of saying what’s on your mind.” As the famed sticker that lived on his guitar said, “This machine kills Fascists.”

Guthrie’s lost verses are a powerful statement about this country and who, exactly, owns this land. “This land,” as the song goes, “was made for you AND me.” It is my hope that as we celebrate our country we remember to look up, look around, and remember that we share this land, this country, and this planet. Let’s raise our torch and sing it for all the world to hear.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,
Sign was painted, it said private property
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple ,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering
If God blessed America for me

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

For more on Emma Lazarus: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6359435

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Colossus

http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/lazarus

On Woody Guthrie: Tony Lorenzen: http://sunflowerchalice.com/2011/08/26/what-would-woody-sing/

A great report from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2000/07/03/1076186/this-land-is-your-land

http://www.woodyguthrie.org/

http://www.woody100.com/#

Kids Live Here

Kids live here. Sometimes it takes a two-year-old armed with a stolen blue sharpie and a big imagination to remind us of that.

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Kids live here,

  Sometimes we follow their whims…

…and sometimes they even let us play along.

Kids live here,

This home is where we nurture the imagination,

and let them be who they are.

Kids live here,

And sometimes we dare to let it show. 

Chilling Up

Over the past couple of weeks I have been feeling especially nostalgic. My daughter (my oldest) just graduated from preschool, and I may have started panicking a bit as I looked through the pictures from her end of year celebration. For some reason it has only now started hitting me that in just a blink of an eye I am going to look back at the pictures from significant days like this and feel a tinge of sadness. My heart has begun to ache for the future me that will look back on these moments and miss the different versions of my kids captured by my camera as we move all too quickly through time.

Not that I haven’t always felt a bit of that same tinge when I have looked back at other pictures of my daughter and my now two-year-old son; but I think that this is the first time when I have, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime moments, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future. I blame the lack of sleep that generally comes along with the first few years of a child’s life. It is a crime that sleep deprivation and new-parent stress can keep one from thoroughly understanding the magnificence of the cuddles, snuggles, and late-night feedings. (Of course, I say all this now that I am some distance from this stage.)

At any rate, I am feeling like I have finally grown into my “parenthood” shoes and that I can more fully appreciate each moment as it is. Letting go of the stress has allowed me to more fully enjoy rites of passage, big and small; from my daughter’s graduation to my son’s beaming pride at every great new achievement. I am more present as he has really grown into a wonderful, imaginative playmate and my daughter has, after two years, learned to share her toys. Some lessons are just so hard to learn, but well worth the wait.

Before I discover my next stage of parenting, which may very well land me right back into “stress and sleep deprivation” land, I want to enjoy this moment in time and perhaps reach back a little bit and honor some of the milestones that I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. So today I’d like to start my list of under-appreciated moments in time that I would like to remember in the future. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate or have a few of your own under-appreciated kid and parent milestones to add:

Milestones I Should Have Appreciated More:

  • When the kids started talking about (in detail) and celebrating their bowel movements. Call me immature, but it is funny.
  • The first creation of a family portrait. On the wall. The same one that we have not had the heart to erase.
  • Each car ride accompanied by complete songs; the ones that are sweet only a parent’s ears and sung over. and over. and over.
  • The puke covered shirts (mine, not theirs), for I would have never gotten onto the scarf bandwagon if I hadn’t been out of clean shirts and needed to quickly cover a little puke grossness.
  • The inventions of new word combinations such as “Hanitizer,” “Co-help-erate” and “Chill up, Mommy!” And the day when we realized that those words found a way into our everyday vocabulary.
  • The moment when I realized for the first time what I REALLY sound like; not because I was listening to a recording, but because my kids began to speak clearly enough to throw my words right back at me. And I found myself annoying.
  • When I found out for the first time which of our possessions really mattered… because it was thoroughly destroyed by tiny hands. (See related: when my children proved that “childproof” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant.)
  • When I could trust my kids to play nice long enough to close the bathroom door, thank you very much.
  • When we discovered that the kids were tall enough to reach up onto the kitchen counters, only to discover just how well they could also reach the trash can, and just how hard it can be to find a set of car keys.
  • When the kids could start remembering where they hid things.
  • The day when your two-year-old throws a fit and your four-year-old says, “jeeeze… what’s HIS deal?!” Priceless.
  • The first time when I, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime milestones, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future–knowing that I will miss my kids as they are in each of these moments.

Chalice Flames and Bonfires

Chalice Flame and Bonfires

One of my fondest memories of growing up in a Unitarian Universalist church involves lighting the chalice as a part of our youth group and youth conference gatherings.

But we didn’t just light the chalice. We lit.The.Chalice.

We would gather together burnt, used leftover matches and pile them carefully into the center of the candle to create a magnificent, brilliant light. While we discussed the topic of the day, one or two of us would tend to our chalice flame, keeping it contained yet bright as possible. When we ran out of used-up match fuel for our fire, we would find a use for our broken crayon stubs and melt them in the flame, letting the colorful wax drip down the side of the candle. We thought it was more pretty this way.

Over time we learned that the bigger the flame, the quicker the candle would burn. Our beautiful fire would suffocate when the pool of wax grew too deep or when the wick simply met it’s end. We weren’t too concerned then with making the candle last through our whole gathering, though. This was more about experimentation, pushing our limits (and, as it turns out, the limits of our advisors), and the instant gratification of making that chalice REALLY shine.

Occasionally, but not often, this ritual might have gotten a little out hand; an especially overzealous youth might add a few scraps of paper in an attempt to add a little more height to our fire and discover that the now bonfire was too hard to control, or we would create a waxy mess trying to clean out the candle. Those were the times when we found we had pushed our limits a little too far and our advisors would step in to dole out the logical consequences, and sometimes we could expect to lose our fire privileges for a while.

But that seemed to be part of the role of our advisors once we reached high school- to watch us tend to our own flame (hopefully not in panic-stricken horror) and step in when it became too much for us to handle on our own. Since then, I have learned that the line between a manageable brilliant light and an out-of-control blaze is very thin, and it takes a unique individual to help youth walk that line.

Sometimes I wish I still had an advisor to help me find that line in my day-to-day life. I might wake up in the morning, feeling calm, peaceful, yet determined and focused. But I might find that by dinnertime, after encountering a day full of frustrating news– stories of children taught to recite hate, thoughtless violence, and fear-mongering politics– I have crossed the line and transformed myself into a fuming, sarcastic, out-of-control blaze.

When I have crossed that line, I respond to antagonistic articles, Facebook posts, and conversations with not an ounce of understanding; I find myself seeking out news stories filled with mudslinging and hate, just to keep that fire fueled. Then I spend hours reading the comments and adding pointless lectures that won’t be read by anyone other than the people who were trying to create a bonfire in the first place.

And I know that I am not the only one– I think that UUs in general can be pretty susceptible to crossing that line. We are a passionate people and we care a whole awful lot. But sometimes our flammability lands us exactly where we don’t want to be and we react in exactly the wrong way. We turn into blazing, out of control bonfires.

We need our congregations and fellow congregants to be our advisors; to help us discover that line and to help us sustain our calm, brilliant lights. We need to help each other remember to respond in love, and not in-kind, when someone tries to fan the flame. Most importantly, we need to hold each other accountable so that we are compelled to react responsibly, especially when the temptation not to is great.

 

When It Rains…

One of the things that I have been vowing to do is to start running… again. It has been since before my daughter was born (4 years and a half years ago) that I have seriously pursued running. I remember loving it. But since I have strapped on my jogging shoes for the first time in years, I am finding it to be quite a challenge to overcome the “I am terribly (and I mean TERRIBLY) out of shape” hump.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the “out of shape hump” is what one experiences when he or she first starts excersizing after taking an extended, shall we say, sabbatical from rigorous exercise. This is the period of time where everything hurts and there is nothing about the experience that feels even remotely rewarding. In other words, the pain factor severely outweighs the immediate gratification factor. I am pretty sure that this is an actual thing– look it up.

I expected it to be hard; I knew that I was going to have to re-learn form, regain some endurance, and locate some muscles that I forgot I had. But truthfully, it is a lot harder than I expected, mostly because I have yet to experience the feeling I used to love when I went running. I really miss it. Nevertheless “run a marathon” remains one of the top items on my bucket list, so I really feel like it is in my best interest to bite the bullet and get in shape sooner rather than later.

So today I went for a jog through town. When my running partner (my dog) and I left the house, the skies looked nothing more than a tinsy bit threatening. I would call it partly cloudy. Still, the breeze was cool, the town was quietly enjoying their Saturday morning snooze, and the thought of a little drizzle during my run didn’t frighten me one bit. I remember enjoying running in the rain–when I was in shape.

I would like to say that about a mile into my run (read: walk with a little bit of hop) I was feeling good, but not so much. My knees were hurting, I had a cramp, and I was just giving in to the urge to walk. And then it happened. Thunder.

I was a mile away from home and the sky opened up to release what I can only assume was Noah’s signal to get on board that ark (of course this is not at all an overly dramatic recreation of events). At this point, I was a little bit glad that it was early enough that I didn’t have to endure running past a heckling crowd of neighbors, sitting on their front porches pointing and laughing at the poor slob and her dog who didn’t check the weather before leaving the house. I was soaking wet, in pain, and to make matters worse my dog HATES getting wet. As I tried to muster the strength to jog the rest of the way home (yes, after only one pitiful mile), my (not so) fearless running partner began to pull on her leash, seeking shelter anywhere she could find it.

At some point during the storm I decided that I was not going to win. Even if I suddenly became the in-shape, marathon ready version of myself that I wanted to be, I was never going to outrun the rain. I was going to get drenched–whether I like it or not. My dog was probably going to be unhappy about getting wet–whether I liked it or not, and I wasn’t going to suddenly get into shape before the end of my run… whether I liked it or not.

I decided to walk. I slowed down and laughed at myself and my rain-soaked clothes and hair, the water dripping down my face. Then I laughed even harder when I passed two other walkers who were seemingly unscathed by the sudden downpour, their hair and makeup somehow picture perfect, as if the storm never happened. It seemed for a moment that Eeyore’s cloud had taken a break from making his life miserable just long enough to complicate my morning run.

The rest of my walk home was really quite wonderful– there is a gift in the beautiful quiet of a spring morning rain when you aren’t too busy battling sore muscles and water-averse dogs. Once I gave in to what was, rather than focusing on what I would have rather accomplished, I was able to enjoy my journey.

As I stepped in my front door, the rain stopped; and for the first time since I strapped on my running shoes, I felt as if the pain was outweighed by the reward.

Time for Self

I am going to say what anyone reading this undoubtedly already knows: Life is busy. So busy, in fact, that sometimes we just can’t muster the energy at the end of the day to take care of ourselves in the way that we should.

But who am I kidding? This isn’t about you; this is about me.

I love to write. In fact, I have discovered after months of not keeping up on my blog that not only do I thoroughly miss writing and blogging, but that I am simply not functional when I skip out on this practice; even if it means staying up later and missing out on a little precious sleep. Even knowing this, somehow I allow life, schedules, stress, to-do lists to get in the way of what I most need to do to maintain my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Each day can feel like a race to the finish, and things that were once important get lost in the shuffle, especially when all you want to do is crash. And even though I know that I know better, I sometimes allow care-taker burnout to happen. You know, when your life revolves around the well-being of others so much so that you start pushing aside that really important thing you need to do “just this once.” Then pretty soon “just this once” turns into “maybe next week” and eventually into “it’s too late to do that now.” Before you know it the stress of missed opportunities seeps in and transforms a once fulfilling practice into something weighed down by the heavy baggage of resentment and regret.

Not only does neglecting my spiritual practice drag me down and stress me out, I have found that I become forgetful as my brain-space becomes cluttered and preoccupied with an epic inner tug-of-war for peace of mind.

You see, my writing process goes a little something like this:

Each day I take mental notes and file away my observations and reflections for future use (blogging). In the best of all possible worlds, I sit down in the quiet of a post-bedtime house and put it all into words. The problem is that my brain never stops taking these notes even if I never do anything with them.

Now picture a section of my brain covered with Post-It notes about big “Ah-ha” moments and earth-shattering paradigm shifts. Just go with me on this. (I would ask you to picture a file drawer, but let’s face it, even on my best days I am not that organized).

The more days go by the more Post-Its seem to litter my brain, leaving little room for other new, time-sensitive, important information, and my daughter shows up for a beloved school Pajama Day in her regular play clothes. Now not only am I stressed out, preoccupied, and forgetful, but my4 year old is heartbroken and I have nothing left to do but to leave myself an ironic Post-It note reminding myself to clear out some brainspace.

I always have great excuses for keeping these personal notes-to-self locked away in the cluttered mess of my brain, and they usually have something to do with “later.”

“The inspiration will hit me… later.”

“I’ll have time… later.”

“Things will be more quiet… later.”

Well, self, later isn’t coming. And pretty soon those Post-Its are going to be gone with the next strong breeze. Then you’re really going to miss out on some extremely important stuff that is infinitely more real than those little yellow pieces of paper you are running around trying to collect.

I am ready for a change.

About a week ago, my husband started a blog of his own sort of out of the blue. It is a lovely online gratitude journal documenting everyday events that he (we) might otherwise forget to appreciate. And so far, he has successfully written at least one post every day. It has really inspired me to get my stuff together and stop making excuses. I am not sure if this shift came about because of my competitive nature, because he just inspires me so much, or perhaps because in a moment of complete honesty he revealed to me that it was always his evil plan to kick my butt back into gear. Whatever the reason, I am ready to recommit myself to my spiritual practice, writing at least 2 times a week to start. Of course, I say this knowing that my spouse (and perhaps some of you) will hold me accountable. I have decided that while accountability can be at least a little bit scary, it is completely necessary.

I think we all need this; a support group of people who will hold you accountable to your commitments to self care. Without someone who has the audacity to hold up a mirror, it gets much too easy put ourselves last and forget to practice what we preach. We forget that we can tell our friends and family to love themselves all we want, but if we don’t show them what that means our words are lost. Taking care of ourselves means giving others the permission to do the same and it allows us to be fully present in our roles as parents, teachers, friends, neighbors.

For the foreseeable future, I am posting two times per week, and in the process I am going to do my best to shut down that little voice in my head that tries to tell me that self care is a selfish desire. I am going to nurture my spirit to recognize my worth and the worth of those around me.

I am ready to take the plunge. Who’s with me?

Aside

Arguing With Pundits

One of my favorite pastimes is to yell at my television and radio. Of course, the TV and radio aren’t really the subjects of my frustration; my issue generally lies with the personalities who use these poor, defenseless inanimate objects to deliver their misguided messages to the public.

For the most part, this tradition has always been quite an excellent arrangement for me; I get to sit on the couch in my pajamas, remote in hand, devouring the junk food of my choice, all while energetically poking holes in said cable news personality’s horrible excuse for an argument.

Surprisingly, this whole ritual is never as satisfying as one would think (junk food aside, of course). You would think that winning an argument completely unchallenged would be a huge ego boost, and since this generally all takes place when there no one else in the room to do anything else but roll their eyes at me (enter my spouse), I always win. But somehow, I still tend to leave the argument even more enraged than I was before; frustrated that I really haven’t done anything to change the fact that there is someone out there who holds a worldview that is, in my opinion, illogical, baseless, and probably even destructive. And, astonishingly, my arguments, no matter how loudly delivered, never seem to reach the ears of the pundit who so unapologetically espouses his or her views.

I have always passionately argued that this practice helps me better understand different points of view so that I can defend against them in an “actual” debate. I have even gone so far as to say that my Unitarian Universalist Principles demand that I occasionally immerse myself in alternative opinions so that I may challenge my own beliefs and explore other truths. Also, I figure that if I expose myself to some of these sometimes shocking ideas then when I hear them repeated by someone who is, I don’t know, cutting my hair, I will be able to keep myself from saying something I might later regret every time I look in the mirror.

On the other hand, there is a distinct possibility that this whole custom might really be contributing to the problem. If I tune in once a week to a cable news channel, what kind of money am I responsible for feeding into the whole operation? Am I just egging on these people? Perhaps my energy would be better spent writing letters and having an actual conversation with somebody.

So, with our cable service cancelled and the local talk radio channel erased from my presets, I have decided that it is time to have real conversations with people while engaging in a new spiritual practice: listening. Really listening.

I have discovered that the most disastrous result of my cable news and talk radio habit isn’t that I am giving the networks money. The worst part is that that every time I surround myself with the kind of hyperbolic rhetoric that comes from someone who can say whatever they want from the safety of a studio surrounded only by people who are making money from his or her wild assertions, then I forget that none of it is real. It only becomes real when we all start emulating the tactics of these pundits and stop having conversations outside of the safety of our living room couches.

Our pundit culture has completely changed the way we think about politics and debate. It taught us to view debate not as a way to expand our minds and understandings, but instead as a contest to be won; and what could be more interesting than to watch in a time of reality TV than two people engaged in duel? The winner has successfully and stubbornly stood her ground and the loser walks away with his tail between his legs, dragging his credibility behind him.

In the pundit world, ratings have replaced enlightenment as the ultimate coveted prize, and there is no line networks aren’t willing to cross to win them. Cable television and talk radio have become a modern-day Roman Colosseum, and our politicians and pundits are gladiators, pitting ideas against one another and hanging on to ill-begotten ideas as if their lives depended on it. Thanks to pundits, we have all adopted the opinion that to change your position on an issue “wishy-washy”, and that as long as you never show a single sign of humility or an ability to expand your mind, you will never have to answer to the person yelling into her TV screen a thousand miles away.

It is so easy to forget that opinions are much more likely to change when two people are in a position to actually listen to one another. Not just because they happen to be physically in the same location, but because they really want to hear what the other person has to say and (gasp!) are even amenable to learning something that they didn’t already know. We need these conversations to get back in touch with our humility and remember that we do not die when we change our opinions. Sometimes we actually grow.

So we, on both side of the aisle, can continue down the path of the pundits; we can continue to engage in destructive debates that focus only on destroying the character of another who disagrees with us. Or we can choose the higher road. This is a path that requires us to leave our couches and our studios and to listen in love every time; no matter how hard it may be.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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