A few years ago while volunteering for Earthfest I was approached by a pair of students from one of the area high schools. One held a video camera, the other a microphone. They were asking attendees if they would be willing to answer one question in front of their camera for a project.
"What is the most important question?"
Perhaps it was because I was in the middle of working my tail end off for an event that has become a massive labor of love, but in that moment the answer was simple. "What can I do to make the world around me a better place?" I further explained, "I am responsible for the community around me, the community that my children will be raised in, and for the environment generations to come will have to live in. So what can I do to create the best possible results?"
Up until being approached for this school project, I had never thought of it in these terms. I mean, that's just what you do, right? Be a good person, do the right thing, work hard, all that jazz? I long ago established that I am responsible for what happens to me, the good, the bad and the ugly. It isn't some pissed off god dumping his wrath on me. It isn't that the world is just a shitty place, and I better buck up and deal with it. Things happen because of me, not to me. And when the bad and the ugly hit, I believe that it is an opportunity to learn a lesson.
I am currently raising three children, ages 5, 12 and 15. The two older were primarily raised in a different home with blatantly different rules, ethics, and lessons being taught. Any stepparent will tell you this is not an easy position to be in.
Without going on an unnecessary tirade, I will say this much. The other home did not do much to instill the concept of responsibility or self-accountability. One of the adults raising the children in that home has yet to understand those concepts, so how on earth would the children have a chance to follow suit? It has been nearly a year since they have been primarily under this roof, and from day one we have set some clear guidelines and rules. Mistakes were made with the appropriate adjustments, but we are at a pretty steady pace today.
Alas, there is still much work to be done. We have a list of chores, and each kid must choose one a day before going to TV, computer, etc. I'm assuming we're pretty run-of-the-mill when it comes to after-school routine. As the routine sinks in each week, things do get a little better. But there's an elephant in the room that isn't as clear-cut as some issues. Even as I write this blog, I'm having a tough time articulating what it is. So here goes.
The two older children don't seem to see a bigger picture in anything they do. I guess the simple way to say it is that they don't pay attention to their surroundings. I am also attempting to teach the idea that if the way you are completing a task isn't working, change it up so it works better.
As an example that touches all of these; we own a portable machine dishwasher. In order to hook it up to the kitchen sink, you must turn it 90 degrees for the hose to reach. When it's turned and you open the door, it blocks the bottom of the stairway to the second floor. The other night, the 15 year old chose the dishes as his chore. It did not occur to him to check to see if the dishes in there were clean or not (they were), so he ran them again. Afterwords he started putting them away. It was later in the evening, everyone was home, so the traffic up and down the stairs was pretty heavy. He kept getting frustrated at the fact that he would have to close the dishwasher door to let people through.
Now, none of the above offenses are dire, by any means. But do you see the lessons that could be taught here? It is neither difficult nor mentally demanding to check on the state of the dishes or to turn the dishwasher so the path to the stairs would be cleared. It seems to me that deviating from the basic and primitive plan (I must clean the dishes) requires some "outside the box" thinking that he has simply not been taught. I see similar examples every day. If there's a shoe in the middle of the floor that everyone keeps tripping on, no one thinks to pick it up and put it away. They're content with the fact that it's there and it's now just a part of life to trip over it. (UGH! Why did someone put this shoe here?! Why do I keep tripping?? The world sucks, and clearly I'm just a clutz!)Exaggeration? Maybe. Maybe not.
There was once a commercial that showed a small queue of well-dressed people on the sidewalk, staring at a piece of litter two feet away from a trash can. They are all just looking at it, discussing how horrible it is that someone would be so lazy as to not just put it in the trash. Some kid in flannel and a backwards hat comes along, sees it, picks it up, and throws it in the garbage can with a pause and a smile to the others, and is quietly on his way.
My stepsons, and many others, are the queue of onlookers. What's worse, they're not even complaining about the trash. There's this blase feeling combined with a lack of accountability that I just can't wrap my head around. Being pro-active seems to have become an "outside the box" thinking concept. Call this a stretch, but I must ask, if a person is incapable of going out of their way to resolve some little household cleaning issue, how on earth can they go on solve greater issues in the world outside of our four walls?
Are there bigger fish to fry? Of course! There are starving people in [insert third-world country here], war in the middle east, homelessness, violence against women, the list goes on. And it gets to be overwhelming, even depressing just watching the nightly news. I've often said to members of the community, "You can only do what you can only do." What that means is, you will not single-handedly cure cancer, create world peace, feed the hungry masses, etc. What you can do is, donate to the food pantry, smile at a random stranger, and yes, even pick up that piece of trash.
But kids, I beg of you, start with your own rooms. And maybe the kitchen if you wish to eat.