The Gift of Choice.

Within all of us is the same personal attribute; it was given to each of us at birth… it is the gift of Choice. You don’t have to leave the house or go “on line” to acquire it. It is a gift we give ourselves, but often we are afraid to unwrap it.  Often, it lies unused and unopened. Today, is the day to choose a better life for yourself. 

If there is any dysfunction within your immediate living situation… be it with yourself or a loved one…it is time to remove yourself from that dysfunction.  If you are a minor, then find a trusted relative, pastor, or teacher/coach that you can talk with and give you the help you need.  If you are an adult and are being abused… in any fashion… then it is not healthy and destructive to your being. It can no longer be kept a “secret.”  In the mere admission that you “need help,”  you have made a positive choice.  If you are the one causing the dysfunction to either yourself or to others…today, it stops.  It’s a matter of choice and available to all of us…anywhere.

No more excuses, no more alibis, no more whining.  Choose a better life for yourself or a loved one.  This will be your favorite gift.  Ever.

Witnessing firsthand the downfall of many young people, today! Negative Choices: negative consequences!

I try to keep up with many of my former students’ lives.  Over the years, I have taught so many; I’d like to say I remember them all, but that would be a lie.  I do remember all of those with “promise” and all of those with “struggles” as they took most of my attention and heart during the time I had them in the classroom. It’s impossible for me  to say who touched me the most.  Was it the ones that had so much potential, and actually went on to accomplish great things after they left me, or the ones who had overcome great odds and just getting them to come to school and eventually graduate high school had been a feat in itself?   I  can’t say.

In today’s high-tech society it is easy to follow their progress… or lack of.  Often they contact me themselves, my email has been the same since AOL’s inception and my students have  many times told me…”It’s so you, Ms. Brown!”  For that reason alone, I will always keep it.  Lately, it has not been difficult to track them down on the Internet. Sometimes, it’s through one of the conventional social connectors: i.e.  MySpace or Facebook or now they tell me to Twitter them, but it’s also easy to Google them and see what they’re up to.

AND…every once in a while, I am sent a news article that delights me or causes me concern.  Technology makes us all connected… good and bad news.

It was one of the latter, that has been consuming most of my thinking the past few days.  I was forwarded  news  about one of the students that had held so much promise. He was gifted academically, a wonderful athlete, a leader in his class, and was ultimately accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the Northeast.  He has now been out of college for quite a few years. The article read that He had just been sentenced to prison for the next decade of his life… on drug related charges.  It took my breath away.  How had this happened?

His proverbial fall from grace not only astounded me, but made me cry.  He was a student that had passed through my life and yet, I felt like I had failed him.  I can’t even imagine the raw emotions his parents must be having. The feelings must run the full reign from anger, sadness, failure, and shame… then back to anger!  I know that’s what I felt anyway.   How dare he throw his life away like that! Life is about CHOICE and with each and every positive choice we make we define who we are. What I couldn’t get my mind around was how selfish this young man had been.  He had thought of no one but himself with his destructive actions.  Hadn’t he seen that?  Where had he “learned” that he could do whatever he wanted to and not be accountable?

When we are given gifts and/or talents in our individual journeys, during this time on Earth, and we throw them away… we are being disrespectful not only to our Creator, but to all who love, nurture, and take care of us.  It is  hard for me to reflect on the number of young people who come from really difficult backgrounds and home lives and do go on to make the world a better place for those who will follow them.  There are many of those, but many “choose” to go the wrong way too.  This was not the first former student who had chosen a destructive path in their lives.

It is then that I wondered with guilt if Society, as a whole, has just been too easy on America’s youth and young adults in the past two decades! I am the first to acknowledge that there are many wonderful young people, but have we lost something that used to be present years ago, by giving too much and asking too little of them. When do they stop asking for: cars, trips, and parents to “bail them out”  when they get into legal and/or financial trouble.   It appears that we have created a generation of “entitlement” in our country. There is an unspoken ME, among many of them, that is troubling.  We love them so much that we honestly believe the way to make them love us back is to always give, forgive, and ignore their negative choices.

Perhaps, we adults/parents are the selfish and needy ones. It is difficult to have our  children not “love us” or even dislike us from time to time.  What I’m professing is that being  good parents, (coaches or educators as well), requires a strong backbone.  Being strong parents is necessary and we must be consistent, even when our “children” get older.    There can be no coping out because it’s easier to say “Yes,” or “I’ll get you out of it,” or “Here’s the money for…,” saying “No” is difficult, but often the only right thing to do.    However, America’s youth are accountable for their own screw ups and there are always consequences for bad choices. They did not consult with us when they had unprotected sex, bought and used drugs/alcohol illegally, ran up credit cards, or dropped out of school.  We need to recognize that they can learn from their mistakes.  We did.

We can not cure the problem(s) of our country’s upcoming generations, but we sure can start fixing our own mistakes in how we love them and guide them in positive directions.   Right now, we must start by being stronger parents/adults ourselves, giving our children less, and speaking up about any negative choices in their lives when it’s necessary. 

MySpace/ Facebook…when it’s used inappropriately!

     As an adult, I am neither conservative or prudish; that’s a given. Working with, and teaching, teens and college students for two decades has kept me “up” with what’s going on in our culture.   Perhaps, my caring and deep love for young people has given me an even stronger sense of moral and ethical… right and wrong. This is the future of America.  As the youth go and do…our country either prospers and flourishes or fails.   Sadly, many of the things I see put on the Internet by America’s Youth are either morally or ethically… just plain wrong!

     I often wonder how many of us would have become better people or have accomplished more with our lives if we had  “walked away” from things that were unhealthy.  There are so many things that are “unhealthy” for us, that I believe we are not even aware of the long term repercussions, until it’s too late to make corrections.  The Internet provides the new positive as well as the new unhealthy.

     For some of the best years of my life, I have taught young people.  Although it appeared that I was an English teacher/professor…what I really taught was about LIFE!  My message was not subtle; I am not a subtle person.  Life is hard and it requires a steady course to overcome our individual tests and limitations.  As of late, I am so angered and disappointed by what I see posted by so many young people on Facebook and MySpace.  What you put on today, you  own forever. Forever!

     Not only are things being said/done that can never be erased, (once it is on the Internet it can be “recalled” for eternity…I need to repeat that ), but there seems to be great delight in “shocking” the viewers/readers. You know, EVERYONE can see those postings, right?  Family, employers, teachers…everyone.   I see it as a call for help from young America.  It is desperation to be noticed…if only in a negative way.

     When a young person blatantly acts out in words/deeds…they are in trouble and need guidance.  I know this from experience and personal involvement.  Excessive drinking and drugs, posing nearly nude or in suggestive sexual positions, excessive self -mutilation (be it piercing or body art ), and words/deeds that hurt others are…never signs of a healthy young person.  When it is posted for the world to see you open yourself up to all kinds of future liability, criticism, and heartache.  Sadly, you are abusing yourself.  I can’t view it any other way.

     I get that all young people test and act out.  However, excessive testing and acting out and then “posting” it on line for the world to see… has dangerous and long lasting repercussions.  Even if your site is marked “private” one of your less scrupulous contacts has theirs wide-open for the world to see and read.  Your “privacy” is their fodder.  Duh!

     If you are someone with a healthy self-image, you don’t need approval or validation from anyone else as to how “cool” you are.  You give yourself honor and integrity by doing good things for yourself and giving generously to others.  Over drinking/ doing drugs, body parts with excessive art(?),  eating disorders (too much or too little food; it doesn’t matter), or beating up on others physically or verbally are just scabs on the wounds that will never heal. 

     Do something that you can be proud of and then post it on-line.  The world is watching. You will be pleased not only today, but five and ten years from now as well.  If you are in an unhealthy “space” it stops today.  If you need help, ask for it!  You have that choice.  Pretty amazing to be human.  However, do it so you can “face” your choices with pride down the road.

Sue Brown

There’s One More Gift…Always!

      It’s a brand new year and we all have the chance to start over. That’s a powerful thought!  Many years, we let that opportunity slip by.  Imagine the freedom of actually wiping the slate clean of all the negatives and instead focusing only on the positives in our lives.  Aside from the scientific meaning, I’d like to think that’s why we call it a “new year.” This opportunity is offered to all men …everywhere.  It makes us connected in a very basic way.   Sometimes, this gift is forgotten or dismissed. Yet, it might be the most meaningful thing we receive.

      It is often difficult to unwrap a new beginning and start fresh because it brings memories and situations that might be painful and scary.  Maybe a loved one has died or has been diagnosed with an illness. We might even be the one who is ill and we feel frightened and alone.  Perhaps, we have lost a job or our home and we are uncertain of our family’s security. Sometimes, there is Military Deployment in the family or one is coming up and we worry constantly. Or occasionally, our burden is a wrong that was done to us over the last year or perhaps, it’s something we did to another person and we are now shouldering the guilt of our actions.  Real situations: real life.

      Here’s the amazing part.  It is virtually impossible not to find something good in even the most challenging of situations.  It’s difficult to see sometimes, but it’s always there. My own personal belief is that we can not control what is done to us, our individual tests and challenges by others, Nature, and our God, but we always have a choice in how we react to those tests and challenges. It appears as basic as acceptance of the things we can not change and a quiet determination to rise above our adversities as a stronger and wiser person.  It is also our opportunity to act both honorably and responsibly not only for ourselves but for others while we find our way.  Very simply, it’s Integrity or doing the right thing regardless of the outcome.  Sometimes it is difficult, but we can accomplish it. 

      Choice is what separates humans from other mammals; that’s empowering.  Even if we personally fail in one test or challenge…a new one will come along in which we get to choose all over again.  Maybe, it’s so we finally get it correct.  Life, as given, isn’t easy.  Often, we do not like the apparent choices as they are presented to us and sometimes, they seem unfair, but they are choices nonetheless.

      With each and every positive choice we make for ourselves and towards others we further define who we are as Human Beings and make the world a better place. Every day we are given this opportunity to perfect ourselves. It is an absolutely liberating thought and practice. We are not defined by what has been done to us in the past, but instead we are what we have chosen to do for ourselves… both now and in the future.  We can all choose that this year.

     A few months ago, I heard a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital radio telethon on a local station. It was impossible not to detect thankfulness in the parents’ voices for the care their children had received while at St. Jude. For those who do not know, this is a hospital that treats children with life threatening diseases and never turns away a child whose family is unable to afford the cost of the treatment. Never!

     But, what hit me particularly hard was one parent on air, who was saying that each and every time they bring their young daughter for Chemotherapy at the hospital, when the treatment is over…she wants to stay and play “…because they are so nice there.” The child may or may not survive her ordeal with Cancer, but both she and the parents seem to get that there is always a positive in even the toughest of circumstances.  I admired them.

    We have all been given another similar gift to unwrap…Life!  It’s another one of those gifts, like a new year, that is often forgotten and just taken for granted. Thanks to the recent movie, BUCKET LIST many people are now, more than ever, trying to scratch off their own dreams and wishes before their individual time here expires.  My own thoughts and methods in this regard are more in the line of: Why would an individual ever wait to experience the riches of life?

     One need not have an expensive or lengthy list to experience life’s amazing gifts. Maybe we can just slow down and recognize LIFE for the precious gift that it is… all on its own. A good place to start would be if we all recognized the small things of our day that touch our soul. We so often overlook these because we are too busy or we yearn for something greater and grander. Actually, just embracing each day to the fullest is pretty amazing all on its own! The sun as it is setting in the west on a glorious evening, the extra hour of sleep curled up next to the one we love on our day off, a walk in nature, or helping a total stranger- are wonders that can be enjoyed by all.  

       Simple things are in our lives for the taking, but we need to make an effort of recognizing them.  Each day for the next month write down at least one thing that you did that day, which you normally would have taken for granted. At the end of the month, you have a wonderful Living List.   Now, this is a great list!

      It’s pretty safe to say that all of us lost something this past year.  If we lost family members or friends, it is important to honor their memory by becoming strong within ourselves. What a wonderful tribute to them if we actually become better people in spite of our grief over their passing. Reaching out to others in need: financially, emotionally, or spiritually can be done in their name. We further define their life by our own positive choices. Also, there is great healing in personal growth of our own.

      Unfortunately, because of the economic turmoil in our country many lost their jobs as companies downsized and went under. Homes across the nation saw the greatest foreclosure rate in decades and those who were lucky enough to actually sell their home, sold it for much less than anticipated. For some, retirement assets dwindled and savings all but evaporated.  Yes, it was a year of great changes…financially.  However, the coming months will be an opportunity of new choices and fresh starts. I’m going to embrace the changes and hopefully learn from the experience.

        Not everyone suffered a financial loss but they were tested in other areas. This is a given; no one has it all. All too often tests and challenges are in the area of relationships.  Perhaps, a relationship at work or within the family didn’t go exactly the direction it should have in the past year.  Words were said to each other and actions directed at another person that might seem irreversible. There’s that old joke about… nothing is certain but death and taxes.  Actually, it is a good lesson.  Negative actions towards each other can cease and hurtful words can be corrected by heartfelt apologies.  It appears that nothing worthwhile is ever easy and this will be no exception.  There is no guarantee that there will be forgiveness, but the effort of trying is notable.

     What is amazing about our time here on Earth is that with each positive action we choose, we have the opportunity to leave our own Human Footprint in time.  Let this be the year that our lives aren’t so much about what we have…or what we’ve lost, but rather what we’ve given and therefore found.  Here’s to all of us opening that last gift!