Best Of Thought Theater - Family Values: This Blows genre: Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Short Fuse

Following up on the Virginia Tech tragedy and my prior posting, I thought it would be beneficial to bring back a piece I wrote about a year ago. At the time, I was discussing family values with a focus on the objections to gay marriage. I've modified the posting to include only the portions I felt were relevant to an expansion of the dialogue initiated in the earlier Virginia Tech posting.

Family Values: This Blows

It's become fashionable to talk about family values. In today's culture wars, the posturing by various groups to become the definitive voice on the subject is rampant. All too often the debate centers on issues outside of the family in what appears to be attempts to vilify various segments of the population that don't meet with their approval.

From my perspective, children learn their values at home and the values they adopt are primarily discerned in proportion to the degree of sincerity and integrity they believe exists in their parents. In this construct, the degradation of family values originates within individual families as a result of a child’s perception that their parents are inauthentic and hypocritical.

In trying to then determine what is wrong with families, the indicators seem abundantly evident. Firstly, a family cannot succeed if the parents aren't committed to personal responsibility, a trait that frankly cuts a swath across all of society in its impact on the overall health of civilization. When personal responsibility is abandoned, so are the family and ultimately the society.

The family fails when parents demonstrate their own intolerance and disdain for others. It's not uncommon for a parent to have issues with their own parents and when they live out these failed relationships, their own children are taught that it's acceptable to choose conflict and estrangement rather than compromise and conciliation. This can take the form of a dispute with a sibling over money or the holding of a grudge against a former employer or coworker. Sometimes it's an instantaneous conflict with the soccer coach or the store clerk. Nonetheless, all of these actions have impact.

Families fail when mom and dad's relationship succumbs to failure through divorce or the demonstrated disdain for a spouse...often acted out in bitter divorce proceedings or custody battles where both parents savage the persona of the other in full view of the children. Frequently, these situations involve infidelity and betrayal that only further serves to tell children that commitment to the self far exceeds the keeping of commitments.

The family fails when children attend school for the first time rife with the prejudices of their parents. A child reared in a home filled with bigotry simply brings more bigotry to the society. This can take many forms...a hate for Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Arabs, Homosexuals, Catholics, Christians, Atheists, Conservatives, Liberals, poor people, wealthy people, and many, many more. The adoption of these unfounded hatreds foments conflict which ultimately damages the child’s ability to form and maintain relationships.

Families fail when parents teach children the need to win but fail to instill in them the ability and the acceptance necessary to lose. This is perhaps one of the most negligent that there is no doubt that, when confronted with the many struggles of life; more of us lose than win. There is only one Super Bowl winner each year, a limited number of lottery winners, one Tiger Woods, one CEO of Microsoft, and so on. Far too often parents give children the false impression that they can, should, will, and must always win. Many of these children are destined for disappointment. They're apt to leave school in search of a job or a relationship or success absent the ability to overcome rejection or to endure failure.

The family fails when parents neglect to teach children respect for others. This can manifest itself in many ways...a child wandering the aisles of a store without regard for another customers ability to navigate the same space...not saying excuse me when moving through a crowded room...not disposing of trash where it belongs...not acknowledging a driver that allows you to merge onto a busy freeway or into a different lane...not thanking the waitress for bringing one's meal, and numerous other courtesies that collectively build a functional society and set the framework for successful future families.

Families fail when a parent gives a child twenty dollars to go to the mall because they want the child out of their hair. Other times it may allow a parent to make up for not attending the school play or the tennis match or simply not having the time to spend communicating with their children. Many times, a parent's work or social life leaves little room for children...sometimes out of necessity, but also sometimes by choice. Regardless, children eventually distinguish the difference.

Ultimately, the family succeeds one child at a time and that must start at home. The relationship of the Mexican couple down the street or the gay couple in the grocery store can only threaten one family...their own. Time spent obsessing about the actions of other families simply detracts from the precious time each family needs to succeed. The sooner families begin to act accordingly, the sooner the value of all families can be maximized. If and when this happens, the individual will flourish and society will endure.

I wrote the following poem called This Blows while thinking about this topic. For me, it captures the essence of the issues and demonstrates the subtle, yet foreboding ease with which a parent can lose contact with a child...leading to disastrous consequences. Such occurrences are all too common and familiar.

Let me offer a few caveats. I am not suggesting that the actions of Cho Seung-hui can be attributed to his familial circumstances nor am I arguing that problem children must always be the product of a failed family...we simply don't know enough about Cho to draw any conclusions nor do we have enough understanding of psychology to definitively determine how some individuals become so disturbed and disconnected.

Nonetheless, I suspect that most readers will be able to identify with the sentiments expressed in this poem because they have known a family of this type or a child that comes from such a family. Situations like the one depicted in this poem do not necessarily lead to a bad outcome or to the same tragic ending. Lastly, there is no doubt that our culture needs to identify and address the issues that may be contributing to the number of disturbed children.

Statue In Munich - 2005

This Blows

Raised down where you were brought up
Brought down where you were raised up

You shouldn’t need to be propped up
Cause you were brought up so proper

Time is money, it’s only money
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

You crammed all night for your last test
They said stick with it, just do your best

School teacher says the kid needs some help
They think he’s fine, there’s always the belt

Give it all you got, how much do you need?
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

Be with you in a sec, they can’t spare a minute
They’re all over it, but their shows never quit

Holler if you need them, just give them a holler
Better not bother them, they can’t be bothered

Whatever it takes, they can’t take anymore
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

They haven’t time, they must be martyrs
Don’t you mother him, he wasn’t fathered

Don’t blow it all, you blew your top
They blew your mind, you blew them off

These kids today, they grow up so fast
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

Hey mister neighbor, they seemed so normal
Kid was so sweet, the mom was adorable

Nobody’s home, it’s been dead there today
Headline tomorrow, is tomorrow OK?

Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow
No need to bother, he’s blown away…

Daniel DiRito | April 18, 2007 | 2:59 PM
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