Wait a minute! Did you just yawn and shift in your seat at the very …
Wait a minute! Did you just yawn and shift in your seat at the very sight of the word civics? Memories of boring classes and dry material come back to us. I remember a fear of flunking the Constitution Test and having to go to summer school in order to graduate from high school. All of this surrounds Civics. But putting that aside, we really are in the midst of a crisis when it comes to understanding our system of government and acting like responsible citizens.
A Critical Response; Our Approach on Life Supports
The Founders envisioned public education as the cornerstone and essential tool for securing our freedom. They believed this was the way to prepare young people to be active participants in our system of self-government. They concurred that there was much more to being a good citizen than simply casting a vote. Protecting the common good would require the development of students’ critical thinking and debate skills along with learning basic civic values. In other words, being an American was something to be learned and to be acted upon. Blind faith and devotion were never to be the goal.
Educators and schools have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure that young people become engaged and knowledgeable citizens. But as it stands, only nine states and the District of Columbia require one year of U.S. government or civics. Thirty-one states only require a half-year of civics or U.S. government education, and 10 states have no civics requirement. The focus of national education policy has been on math and reading while drastically decreasing attention to the understanding of the basic functions of government. There are two states that have detailed year-long curricula for civics education. Colorado and Idaho require completion of civics and government courses in order to graduate from high school.
Colorado teachers are required by The Colorado Department of Education to cover the origins of democracy, the structure of American government, methods of public participation, a comparison to foreign governments, and the responsibilities of citizenship. In addition, Colorado teachers help civics come alive in the classroom through the Judicially Speaking program, which teaches students how judges think through civics as they make decisions. The program uses interactive exercises and firsthand experience to teach students about the judiciary. The result is a higher rate of youth volunteerism and voter participation than the national average in Colorado.
“The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.” ~ Sandra Day O’Connor
iCivics; The Innovative Tool for Schools and Students
The organization known as iCivics was founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009 ‘to reimagine civic education’. This multi-faceted, comprehensive program has been embraced by judges, lawyers, teachers, parents and kids. It now reaches and is used by nearly 200,000 teachers to provide meaningful civic education to more than 5 million students in all 50 states. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says that it will literally ‘change America’.
The only way I know how to describe iCivics is by saying (in the vernacular of my generation) that it is really cool. Students become part of the action in online role-playing games and digital instruction which are exciting and fun. Curricula which might be otherwise tedious become compelling. This is evidenced by the fact that over half the young people that play iCivics games in school play them again at home on their own time. Government comes alive for these middle and high school students. It equips them with the knowledge, skills, and disposition necessary to become informed and engaged citizens. Teachers are fast adopting iCivics because the free digital resources are high quality, easily adaptable for their classroom needs, standards-aligned and effective. In fact, it is reported that 95% of teachers said this program is a trusted and non-partisan resource which fosters civil conversations about current events in their classrooms.
“Our games are the centerpiece of a comprehensive digital platform. iCivics offers a range of practical, dynamic, and standards-aligned resources tailored to the needs of classroom teachers. They are free and accessible to all.” ~ iCivics Mission Solution
An example of an online game is called NewsFeed Defenders. Follow this hyperlink to play. iCivics describes it as engaging players with the standards of journalism, showing how to spot a variety of methods behind the viral deception we all face today. Players join a fictional social media site focused on news and information, and meet the challenge to level up from guest user to site administrator. This can only be achieved by spotting dubious posts that try to sneak in through hidden ads, viral deception, and false reporting. In addition to maintaining a high-quality site, you are charged with growing traffic while keeping the posts on-topic.
iCivics is more than just games. It provides wrap-around curricula, lesson plans, mini-lessons, guided research activities, debate formats, and argumentative writing platforms. All-in-all, this program is a must if we are to rescue and improve civic literacy and public engagement in our American democracy. There is a YouTube video which explains how and why individuals can bring iCivics to their schools and classrooms.
Civics Literacy Starts With You
Thriving communities and a healthy democracy depend on active citizen participation. And that means you. We have a gift from our founders which is the opportunity to influence governmental action and the policies that affect our lives. By joining groups, volunteering, donating, and helping neighbors, we all have the chance to directly impact our communities and enrich the lives of others.
Do you think you have a good rounded knowledge of our government and civics? Could you pass the U.S. citizenship test? Check out your knowledge of U.S. history and government here.
Were you surprised at how much or how little you remember from your own civics education? This is a call to action either way. We are all teachers. Let us work together in honoring and promoting this vital public trust. Everyone will benefit if we revive our good civic health.
“If everyone knew and understood the difficulties and consequences for the lack of sexual health education for youth, and if they understood what it is like to be discriminated against, stripped of their rights, or beaten down by a world which is not built for their success, then maybe people would not be so flippant with our rights.” ~ Jack, LGBTQ Youth Activist
by Robert Jones
I know what it’s like to be a teenager. I know what it’s like to feel insecure. I know what it’s like to put on a mask. I know what it is to lie about how I feel. I know what it’s like to be popular and to be unpopular. I know what it’s like to do almost anything to please my friends.
I do not know what it’s like to have to hide the very core of who I am in order to survive. I don’t know how it must feel to be brave enough and confident enough to share my innermost secrets only to find that the rules have changed and it is no longer safe to have done so.
We were making steady progress in our acceptance of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer) kids until last year according to Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. GLSEN (pronounced Glisten) is the leading national education organization working to create safe schools for all students. They just released the latest National School Climate Survey data which is based on the experiences of over 23,000 school-age students surveyed during the 2017 school year.
This is the first year that there hasn’t been a continual reduction in incidences of homophobic harassment, transphobic harassment, and an increase in anti-LGBTQ bias and violence at school. It reflects what many teachers and students have been reporting. In 2016, 6,121 hate crime incidents were reported which is an increase of five percent from 2015. Of the 6,121 incidents reported, 1,076 were based on sexual orientation bias and 124 were based on gender identity bias. These numbers reflect a two percent and nine percent increase, respectively. This seems to me to be a good time to stop and assess the challenges we are facing as the climate continues to worsen for vulnerable children.
A gay teenager agreed to talk with me at the urging of his mentor this week. His story is disturbing. Alexander, who recently celebrated his 16th birthday, moved in with his grandparents after being forced out of his Alabama home when he ‘came out’ to his parents and community. His father threatened to force him into a gay conversion boot camp the Blessed Hope Boys Academy boarding school (now known as Joshua House) created by Pastor Garry Wiggins. Alexander’s parents told him he was not welcome in their home because of his immoral behavior and that he might influence or even molest his 11-year-old brother. A once popular athlete and sometimes honor roll student, Alexander was shunned by his school and peers as well.
Only his best friends Steven and Katherine stuck by his side. He had good reason to feel excluded. Alabama is one of seven states that have “no promo homo” laws (or laws prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality). In Alabama, State Code § 16-40A-2(c)(8) decrees that ‘Classes must emphasize, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state’.
Alexander talks openly about his feelings of betrayal, loneliness, and fear. He recounted how his former schoolmates refused to talk to him and how they slipped hateful notes into his locker. He was mocked, teased and threatened. A high school gym teacher told him not to dress out anymore and to stay away from areas where other boys were changing clothes. It was even worse at home. His father pointed out that his behavior was forbidden in the Bible and that he would go to hell unless he “went back to being straight.”
He was not allowed to eat at the table with his family and was only allowed to use a separate bathroom in the basement. As mentioned before, he overheard plans that were being made for boarding school conversion therapy so he got on a bus headed for an area near metro Memphis and family who readily accepted him. Alexander is receiving counseling and attending a regular public high school. But he is too traumatized to tell anyone else that he is gay for now. He told me, “It just costs too much to be honest.” In the meantime, he struggles with depression and admits occasionally thinking about suicide in the past. But this is a resilient kid. He is determined to succeed despite his situation saying;
Providing Support for LGBTQ Kids
To better understand the problems facing Alexander and kids like him, it might be a good idea to take a trip to your local cinema and watch the 2018 movie “Boy Erased” released in September and based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name. The film stars Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe, and follows a young man who is forced by his parents to take part in a gay conversion therapy program.
Every provider of youth services has a duty to support and encourage children and adolescents who identify as LGBTQ with an amount of dignity and respect equal to that given those who identify as STR8. There is ample evidence that the health and emotional well-being of LGBTQ kids is at risk. They need help to survive in the face of family rejection and school harassment, against heightened HIV, STD, suicide, and violence rates, against racial, cultural and socio-economic prejudice. It goes without saying that they should be able to thrive and succeed as valuable members of their communities.
“If the kids in Parkland can find the courage to stand up and make things better, so can I.”
But, with the radical rejection of standards and values in public life we took for granted only three years ago, and the continuing erosion of our commitment to public education, LGBTQ youth require increased support. There is good material available online provided by Advocates for Youth entitled Creating Safe Space for GLBTQ Youth: A Toolkit. It contains lesson plans, tips and strategies, background information, and additional resources to help youth service providers create safe spaces for young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Another great resource is the NPR series of podcasts called “Nancy” which premiered in 2017. Hailed the “All Things Considered” for LGBTQ people and their allies, “Nancy” covers a spectrum of experiences and issues which are meaningful, educational and topical.
Safe Schools for LGBT Youth
PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is the United States’ first and largest organization uniting families and allies with people who are LGBTQ. They recommend these five ways to make schools safer for LGBT kids:
If you’re a student:
- Doing nothing can be worse than the act itself: Report harassment, bullying, or threats targeted at LGBTQ students to a trusted teacher or advisor.
- Encourage your teachers to address homophobia and transphobia in the classroom by posting safe-space posters, stopping hate speech, and supporting gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
- Watch what you say: Don’t use words associated with being LGBTQ as euphemisms for stupid and explain to friends and peers who do why they shouldn’t.
- Ask your school to address LGBTQ issues by having a Pride Week, bringing a speaker to your school, and talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in class.
- Support your LGBTQ peers by joining a GSA: the A stands for ally.
If you’re a teacher:
- Stop hate speech in your classroom. Speak out if you hear a student in your class or in the halls using words like “fag”, “dyke”, or “gay” as put-downs or insults.
- Ask your administrator for the opportunity to attend professional training for diversity and LGBTQ issues.
- Participate in educators’ conferences, and speak to current and future teachers about being allies for LGBTQ staff and students.
- Post “safe-space” posters, materials, or just talk to your students about why your classroom a safe-space, free of harassment, bias, and violence.
- Support gay-straight alliances, chaperon LGBTQ positive proms, and help LGBTQ students and staff advocate for fair school policies.
If you’re an administrator or guidance counselor:
- Reach out to both parents and students to help make them aware that peers may be struggling with sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Meet with teachers and parents to help them learn about the issues that their students, children, or their children’s peers may be facing as an LGBTQ person.
- Make sure your library, school healthcare workers, and health teachers include accurate information about gender identity, LGBTQ sexuality, and health.
- Ensure that students, parents, and teachers know how to respond to bias incidents.
- Let students know that your office is open to them, should they need support speaking about bullying, violence, harassment, or conflict at home.
If you’re a parent:
- Understand the issues and terms associated with LGBTQ issues, and teach your children what you learn.
- Talk to your kids about hate speech, bullying, and acceptance. Let them know that not participating in these activities, and standing up for others, earns your respect.
- Work with your PTA to create allied groups in your community, focused on making your school safer.
- Write to local papers and contact your school administrators to make it known that your family and your community are concerned about safe school issues.
- Let your children know that you accept them, their friends, and their peers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Make your home a supportive and open space.
There is almost no way that kids can focus on academic growth and achievement or other developmental functions if they don’t feel safe at school. The renowned psychiatrist, Abraham Maslow, demonstrated clearly that safety needs must be met if students are to focus on more advanced tasks.
Time to Push Back
The past decade of steady, consistent progress for LGBTQ rights as well as youth health and safety has slowed and deteriorated. Hard-won favorable policies are under scrutiny for change or deletion. On October 21, 2018, The New York Times announced that the Department of Health and Human Services is considering rolling back the definition of gender by narrowing the definition of sex to be ‘that which is assigned at birth’. This significantly impacts civil rights protection for Trans individuals. It is undeniable that social and political events affect the daily lives of some of the most vulnerable children. Our current tendency to accept or even embrace hate speech, meanness and discrimination against minorities is negatively impacting LGBTQ kids. The work of securing respect for every young person demands our immediate attention.
The killing of eleven congregants at Tree of Life (L’Simcha) synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday, October 27, 2018, leaves us heartbroken.
This sacred space is the spiritual center of Pittsburgh Judaism and a vital landmark in the history of Jews in America. We should be heartbroken. But we should not be surprised. There is a widespread and historic tendency to minimize the hatred which Jewish people face. If you’re surprised by anti-Semitism, you’re not paying attention writes Olivia Goldhill of Quartz.
We all knew another mass shooting could, and probably would, happen again. This one is different though because it springs from anti-Semitism which has roots that are thousands of years old. Jews have constantly found themselves opposing popular economic or political theories and policies of the times. Anti-Semitism is not a phenomenon of the founding of modern Israel seventy years ago, nor did it begin with persecution in Nazi Germany. Consider the Passover story. Exodus 12 tells us of a people overcoming slavery with instructions to be ready in a heartbeat for the flight from Egypt. They were to prepare matzo, unleavened bread, for their freedom journey because there would be no time for baking. Even today Jewish people are in an ongoing state of preparedness…ready to leave from wherever they live. According to an NPR journalist, this is something that every Jew knows well.
There have always been people who believe that Jewish powerbrokers control the economy of the world. So when things get tough nations will quite often blame and then turn against the Jews. One of my dearest and oldest friends told me a story last year. We have known each other for fifty years. His family took me under wing when we were students at a prep school in Fort Lauderdale. They fed me, had me for overnights, and treated me like one of the family. Little did I know that the parents were vigilant for pervasive anti-Semitism which might expel them from their home. My friend wrote the following story for his children and grandchildren back in 2010. It is about his father and a legacy.
Alvin and The “Gold”
Alvin introduced me to the importance of “GOLD” in 1982. He presented me with a number of gold coins with the following explanation.
Alvin believed that when (not if) the economy of the United States reached a breaking point; the Jews would be blamed for the chaos. He believed that the only safe place for Jews (if there was one) would be Israel. This partially explained why he was an ardent supporter of Israel. He gave a lot of money to the Jewish Federation to back up his commitment to the survival of Israel.
He was certain that the United States currency would be worthless and that we would need gold as a medium of trade…Most importantly, to book passage to Israel.
He had been following the writings of Howard Ruff which were an important part of his regular reading material. To give some historical perspective, Alvin was 62 years old at this point. We were recovering from the horrible inflation and high interest rates that occurred during the Carter presidency. Reagan was taking office. While he was somewhat certain that the collapse would not occur during his lifetime, he was of the belief that it might happen during mine!!! GREAT news…..Nothing like a wake-up call…I was in my early 30’s…I am reasonably certain that this occurred AFTER his heart surgery. He became very anxious to make sure that his legacy was shared.
His regular lectures included lessons on self-sufficiency. He was a strong and passionate believer that we had to be able to take care of ourselves…The government would NOT provide for “people like us.”
Every now and then, I take out the “gold” and look at it…
Yells and Dog Whistles
The Anti Defamation League (ADL), founded in 1913, is rooted in Jewish values and is one of our nation’s foremost civil rights organizations. ADL’s recent Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents indicates that about 80 anti-Semitic incidents happen every month around the country, many of them involving children, teenagers, and young adults. Incidents range from verbal and written taunts promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes to threats of violence and physical assaults. Many incidents go unreported. And more often than not there are the silent “dog whistles” of hatred and prejudice being blown.
On Sunday, October 21, 2018, the Rise Above Movement (RAM) leader Robert Rundo and two others were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of inciting last years deadly riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bail was denied. Rundo and his cronies displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. “This city is run by Jewish communists,” one demonstrator told Vice News reporter Elspeth Reeve during their march. As Jews prayed at Congregation Beth Israel, men dressed in fatigues carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across the street, according to the temple’s president. Neo-Nazi websites posted calls to burn the building. As a precautionary measure, congregants had removed their Torah scrolls and exited through the back of the building. They were met with marchers in the streets screaming; “Jews Will Not Replace Us.” This was designed to depict Jews as foreign intruders who need to be wiped out. The demonstrators wore tee shirts inscribed with quotes from Adolf Hitler. A large banner read, “Jews are Satan’s children.”
The yelling and vitriol of Charlottesville graphically remind us of timeless anti-Semitic hatred and lies. But it is the use of dog-whistles (coded language) by politicians and pundits who message subgroups of solidarity while garnering votes or support and can even urge them to act out against their targets. The messages mean one thing to the general public and something entirely different to the subgroups. The correlation is to a dog whistle, whose ultrasonic sound is heard by dogs but is imperceptible to humans.
Saturday’s attack comes amid a wave of anti-Semitic threats and attacks on social media by the far-right in the run-up to the heated U.S. midterm elections. The Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents also found a “marked rise in the number of online attacks” aimed at the Jewish community ahead of the elections.
They use the typographical tactic, known as echoing, in conjunction with a person’s name, such as “(((Barbra Streisand))),” to indicate that the writer understands this person to be Jewish. This particular dog-whistle often shows up as online, anti-Semitic rhetoric. Another prominent hate-symbol comes in the form of “14/88” or “8814.” Each number in this numeric dog whistle represents two specific facets of the fascist agenda. The number 14 represents their 14-word slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The number 88 is code for “Heil Hitler” since the letter H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Some white supremacists will even price racist merchandise, such as t-shirts or compact discs, for $14.88.
Despite research that there is a rising tide of tolerance for anti-Semitism; dog-whistle language continues with terms used over and over again such as Globalist, and New York Values with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to certain supporters in their base. Governmental and political leaders continue to deny that their choice of words or actions ever target Jews. But these verbal forms of abuse are unmistakable. White supremacists and neo-Nazis take heart from their rhetoric. It stands to reason that if you blow a dog-whistle long enough, a dog will probably show up.
Young People are Listening and Reacting
The recent ADL-commissioned focus groups of high school students confirmed that anti-Semitism continues to be a part of the lives of Jewish youth today. Participants report hearing jokes and stereotypical remarks about Jews’ appearance, customs and behaviors, seeing swastikas on school desks, bathroom walls and locker doors, and pennies being thrown at Jewish students. Anti-Semitic cyber-hate also invades the once safe haven of students’ homes.
There are a number of resources available to youth leaders, parents, and teachers online. Among them is “Words to Action” for middle school, high school and college students designed to empower and equip them with constructive and effective responses to combat anti-Semitism. We have an obligation to combat both the yells and dog-whistles that kids are hearing. If not, we are implicitly approving of this alarming trend of hatred.
As Martin Niemöller’s famous poem reminds us, hate toward one group invariably leads to hate toward another:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The Tree of Life massacre, which was the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States history, was carried out by a single madman. But who of us is blameless or without sin? If we are filled with hatred and carry it with us every day, we are as culpable as the one who pulls the trigger. We cannot live like this and think we won’t be destroyed from the inside. The genocide of The Holocaust was the direct result of decades of resentment and negativity among good people.
Perhaps, with our concerted efforts, a day will come when the Jewish people will no longer have to be vigilant and ready for their next Exodus. We might reflect on the passage from Proverbs that lent its name to Tree of Life, referring to sacred text from the Torah as a tree of life (translated in Hebrew, Etz hayyim):
“It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”
Greed is good. It ‘works, clarifies, cuts through and captures. Greed for life, for money, for love, and for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind’. That is what we were told by Gordon Gekko, the fictional character in the 1987 film Wall Street.
I was thinking about greed when interacting with some addiction professional colleagues yesterday. The industry has been under fire for taking advantage of patients in the wake of our opioid epidemic. My comment that providers might be exhibiting greediness was met with resistance while some resignation to the reality. But then the director of an organization which provides care at no cost to consumers responded in a way that caught me off guard. He repeated the words of Gordon Gekko saying that greed is good. Without greed of big pharma, drugs that recently saved the life of his five-year-old son would not have been developed. I see his point, but like all the other seven deadly sins, greed must be constrained. And greed resists being bounded. It is generally unconcerned about the welfare and values of others. Greed is not good because there is never enough.
Greed’s Roots of Reward and Relief
When my grandson was a little tyke, he loved his pacifiers more than almost anything. He called them Baa Baa’s. Once he was in the car with a pacifier in his mouth and one in each hand, crying for another. When his mother pointed out that he already had three he replied; “There are never enough Baa Baa’s.” Of course, this was hilarious to all of us, and very innocent. But it also confirmed to me that we are creatures of more. This is not a greedy boy. On the contrary, he is generous, giving, kind, sensitive, and a delight to his teachers, friends, and family. What Jack reminded me of when he was a toddler is that we have an intrinsic need for comfort, control, and security. We have learned that we can have these by seeking and obtaining more stuff.
Scientists have determined that the desire for more is wired into our brains reward center by floods of dopamine which can be likened to heroin and other addictions. The slippery slope into greed is this desire for more-on-steroids. Greed can be an insatiable hunger leading to a headlong pursuit of accumulating money, possessions, power, fame, and attention. Like any addiction, getting a fix must be obtained regardless of the consequences.
Greed also has its roots in the relief of fear. An old Wall Street adage is that “Financial markets are driven by two powerful emotions – greed and fear.” In fact, it has been demonstrated that fear might be the most powerful motivator of human behavior. When people perceive there is a lack of necessities fear sets in, and when not relieved, can escalate into terror and panic. This is the reason President Roosevelt warned that the only thing to ‘fear was fear itself’ in his first inaugural address. People were running to banks and savings institutions taking all of their money out causing more and more damage to the economy. There was a shared vision that everything was out of control. The relief of fear provided by greed, however, is only temporary.
We witness greedy excessiveness every day to one extent or another. Having whatever we want, whenever we want it, is just a click away on Amazon, eBay or from countless other merchants online. Though this is usually extravagance rather than greed, it can be a symptom of addiction. Getting new stuff provides relief from loneliness or other uncomfortable feelings for many people but it does not buy long-lasting happiness. It’s actually a distraction from what really matters. There is always going to be a better version of everything you own, so let go of your need to have the latest-and-greatest thing and be happy with what you have.
“Greed will always leave you dissatisfied because you’ll never be able to get everything you desire. Greed never allows you to think you have enough; it always destroys you by making you strive ever harder for more.” – Rabbi Benjamin Blech
The Seven Deadly Sins have remedy in the Seven Heavenly Virtues. The opposite of Greed is Temperance which is defined as moderation, prudence, generosity, and compassion. Like any addiction, greed can be modified and controlled. The first step is admitting that there is a problem and that it is making life unmanageable. Following the 12 Step model works on this addiction too. If we are to help our children, we must first help ourselves. These are some practical ways to model temperance for young people in our lives:
- Get rid of clutter and stuff you don’t use by donating to the Salvation Army. Accumulations of possessions reinforces the notion that hoarding is important to comfort. Divesting and sharing send a powerful value statement.
- Reuse and Recycle. This lets kids know that we consider our resources to be vital. Stop mindlessly throwing things in the garbage.
- Establish an ongoing family charity. Working together to support a cause that is meaningful translates into a lifetime of compassion. Raise funds, volunteer and raise awareness.
- Take time to talk about purchases and expenditures with kids. The value of money and reasons for accumulating of possessions must be taught.
Working with teenagers to help them more fully understand greed can be tricky. The last thing they will respond to is preaching the gospel of living more simply when the rest of their world seems to embrace excess. One of the best exercises I have found for this was developed by the Peace Corps Environmental Activities for Youth Clubs and Camps. It is called Greed vs Need and requires only about 20 minutes to complete. The entire resource manual (available in pdf form) is a valuable tool for adults who want to teach about good habits and values.
Another great way to help teens become responsible with resources is to eliminate allowances that do not require task completion. Allow them to get jobs and require establishment of savings accounts that cannot be drawn upon except in emergent situations. Don’t bail them out by buying things they cannot afford with their own money. Gifts are good on special occasions but should never be equated with love.
Swimming with Sharks
Remember that greed is predatory and shark-like. It does not rest. The endless desire for more can become a life quest. Don’t get me wrong. I really like sharks. My friend, and SCUBA Hall-of-Famer, Patti Gross has even kissed one on the nose. Yikes. But they must be understood and respected if we are to swim with them. The thing about greed is that we swim with it all the time and we seem to be unprepared to deal with the consequences of kissing it on the nose. There is nothing wrong with having things that give us pleasure. There is nothing wrong with pursuing comfort in our lifestyles. Once again, it is all about balance. We must always be aware of the difference between needs and wants. And we must demonstrate to ourselves and our children that we know how to deal with them.
by Robert Kenneth Jones
I was aware of prejudice when I was growing up in Danville, Illinois during the 1950’s. Not that Danville was dissimilar to anywhere else nor that the decade of McCarthyism was so much worse than previous ones. But compared with the more politically correct era of polite-speak practiced for the last forty years there is an obvious difference. Back then it was widely accepted that some folks were superior to others. They were dismissed with statements like; “Well you know how those people are.” I was never comfortable hearing such things, even as a little boy.
It mystified me that groups of people could be categorized and so trivialized.
That just didn’t make any sense. I remember being about eleven years old when my mother remarked that all colored people did something or another. My snarky response was to ask her what color those people were…green…purple? She wasn’t amused. It alarms me that currently there seems to be an acceptability resurgence of such gross generalization and stereotyping. Prejudice and practices of discrimination are on the rise once again.
Of course, all of us are prejudiced to one degree or another in that we draw conclusions based upon limited evidence. We have developed some antipathy towards those who might have done little to deserve it and overgeneralize occasionally. The difference is that there are people who cling to their animosities, don’t wish to change their opinions, and resist information that would alter their perspective. They tend not to tolerate opposing viewpoints. This is particularly evident nowadays along political divides, religious teachings, and immigration concerns. Racial and gender-related issues and sexual identification are ongoing concerns (among others). Prejudice gets its legs in the form of discrimination. The two often, but not always, walk hand-in-hand.
Definitions of Prejudice and Discrimination
Dr. Gordon Allport, regarded as an expert on the subject of prejudice, developed what is known as The Allport Scale which measures its severity in five stages. He defined prejudice as “an aversive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to that group.” He also developed a definition of discrimination saying that it was demonstrated when the “out-group is discriminated against by denying them opportunities and services, putting prejudice into action. Behaviors have the intention of disadvantaging the out-group by preventing them from achieving goals, getting education or jobs, etc.”
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” ~ Maya Angelou
Prejudice is a belief system that lumps people into categories rather than recognizing them as individuals. Due to the fact that someone is black, female, Muslim, LGBTQ, and so forth, the prejudiced person needs no further information on which to base evaluations. The distinctions and value of human diversity disappear. Finally, at some point, elevated status is achieved by degrading others.
Discrimination is prejudice in action. It means that another group or class is treated unequally which causes them harm. Groups commonly associated with being victims of discrimination include;
Ethnic origin Gender identity
Discrimination can occur in the following forms:
- Direct Discrimination; occurs when a person with a protected characteristic is treated less favorably than others. For example, an applicant for a job has all of the necessary qualifications but is turned down because they are too old.
- Indirect Discrimination; occurs when there is a policy, procedure or rule in the workplace that puts someone at a disadvantage compared to others. For example, if an employer has a dress-code or rules on appearance which applies to all its employees it may indirectly discriminate against some of a particular religion, belief or are of a particular gender.
- Discrimination by Association; occurs when someone is treated unfairly because of associating with another who has a protected characteristic. For example, you are refused service in a restaurant because you are with someone who belongs to a particular race.
- Discrimination by Perception; occurs when someone is treated unfairly because it is assumed you belong to a group with protected characteristics. For example, a person is denied employment because they assume he is gay due to their misconceptions about how gay people look, dress or behave.
Teach Your Children Well
A classic rock song, Teach Your Children Well, by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young informed us that we have a duty to teach our children and listen carefully to them as well. This is such an important time for us to do just that. Especially when it comes to issues of prejudice, discrimination, and racism which are poisoning our relationships today.
In point of reference, Pew Research recently recounted how the election of the nation’s first black president raised hopes that race relations would improve. But by 2016, following a rash of high-profile deaths of black Americans during encounters with police and protests by the Black Lives Matter movement, many Americans described race relations as generally bad. The political divide is so expansive in 2018 that one of the only things large numbers of Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that they can’t agree on basic facts. With this in mind, knowing our children are being influenced by such negativity, there are some tools out there for opening their eyes, minds, and hearts. My favorite was developed by Jane Elliott.
The Elliott Exercise
On the morning of April 5, 1968 a boy walked into his third-grade classroom in Riceville, Iowa asking his teacher, Jane Elliott why a man killed Martin Luther King the day before. Her students were all white kids and clueless about how such a thing could have happened. She was challenged to come up with more than an answer to his question. And so began one of the most innovative exercises in prejudice and discrimination ever imagined in a classroom.
“If you aren’t angry about racism in America you’re probably white, because you don’t think it’s affecting you.” –Jane Elliott: Anatomy of Prejudice
Now, five decades later, Elliott’s experiment still matters and has been cited as a landmark of social science. That spring morning 50 years ago, the blue-eyed children were set apart from the children with brown or green eyes. Elliott pulled out green construction paper armbands and asked each of the blue-eyed kids to wear one. “The brown-eyed people are the better people in this room,” Elliott began. “They are cleaner, and they are smarter.”
The following is an account of what happened according to Smithsonian:
Mrs. Elliott knew that the children weren’t going to buy her pitch unless she came up with a reason…and the more scientific to these Space Age children of the 1960s, the better. “Eye color, hair color, and skin color are caused by a chemical,” Elliott went on, writing MELANIN on the blackboard. Melanin, she said, is what causes intelligence. So, she continued, the more melanin, the darker the person’s eyes and the smarter the person. “Brown-eyed people have more of that chemical in their eyes, so brown-eyed people are better than those with blue eyes,” Elliott said. “Blue-eyed people sit around and do nothing. You give them something nice and they just wreck it.” She could feel a chasm forming between the two groups of students.
“Do blue-eyed people remember what they’ve been taught?” Elliott asked.
“No!” the brown-eyed kids said.
Elliott rattled off the rules for the day, saying blue-eyed kids had to use paper cups if they drank from the water fountain. “Why?” one girl asked.
“Because we might catch something,” a brown-eyed boy said. Everyone looked at Mrs. Elliott. She nodded. As the morning wore on, brown-eyed kids berated their blue-eyed classmates. “Well, what do you expect from him, Mrs. Elliott,” a brown-eyed student said as a blue-eyed student got an arithmetic problem wrong. “He’s a bluey!”
Then, the inevitable: “Hey, Mrs. Elliott, how come you’re the teacher if you’ve got blue eyes?” a brown-eyed boy asked. Before she could answer, another boy piped up: “If she didn’t have blue eyes, she’d be the principal or the superintendent.”
At lunchtime, Elliott hurried to the teachers’ lounge. She described to her colleagues what she’d done, remarking how several of her slower kids with brown eyes had transformed themselves into confident leaders of the class. Withdrawn brown-eyed kids were suddenly outgoing, some beaming with the widest smiles she had ever seen on them. Jane asked the other teachers what they were doing to bring news of the King assassination into their classrooms. The answer, in a word, was nothing.
Back in the classroom, Elliott’s experiment had taken on a life of its own. A smart blue-eyed girl who had never had problems with multiplication tables started making mistakes. She slumped. At recess, three brown-eyed girls ganged up on her. “You better apologize to us for getting in our way because we’re better than you are,” one of the brownies said. The blue-eyed girl apologized.
On the next day, Elliott reversed the exercise, and the brown-eyed kids were told how shifty, dumb and lazy they were. Later, it would occur to Elliott that the blue eyes were much less nasty than the brown-eyed kids had been, perhaps because the blue-eyed kids had felt the sting of being ostracized and didn’t want to inflict it on their former tormentors.
When the exercise ended, some of the kids hugged, some cried. Elliott reminded them that the reason for the lesson was the King assassination, and she asked them to write down what they had learned. Typical of their responses was that of Debbie Hughes, who reported that “the people in Mrs. Elliott’s room who had brown eyes got to discriminate against the people who had blue eyes. I have brown eyes. I felt like hitting them if I wanted to. I got to have five minutes extra of recess.” The next day when the tables were turned, “I felt like quitting school. . . . I felt mad. That’s what it feels like when you’re discriminated against.”
It is easy to see that this exercise would be a powerful one to use in any classroom or group gathering of kids. There are wonderful lessons and courses available at Study.com based on Jane Elliott’s experiment.
A Tide Turning Mission
While researching and writing this column, I found myself listening to and observing what people were saying on television and posting on social media. The incidences of stereotyping and over-generalization seemed rampant to me. I heard governmental officials making statements which belittle all Republicans on one hand and all Democrats on the other. Cable news anchors paint wide brush strokes that condemn the actions of liberals or conservatives depending on which station you monitor. Social media is full of such vitriol and contempt for one group of people or the other that it is hard to know where to begin describing it. Prejudice is overflowing and seems out of control.
I believe we have a mission to be tide-turners in any way that we can. Film writer and director Andrew Heckler who was recently involved in making the soon-to-be-released movie “Burden” which is based on the book “Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South” that ‘you can only make an enemy a friend with love’. He is right. And we can do that. We can listen more patiently. We can find common ground. We can find the genuine in each other. It will take courage and determination. But prejudice and discrimination can be eliminated if we have the will to do it. Howard Thurman once said it like this;
“Now there is something in everybody that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in other people. And it is so easy for you or me to say, ‘Anybody who looks like him or her or anybody who acts as this person or the other acts…’ there simply can’t be any sound of the genuine there. I must wait and listen for the sound of the genuine in you. I must wait. For if I cannot hear it, then in my scheme of things, you are not ever present.”
Robert Kenneth Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
While the idea of honor may seem outdated, Robert Kenneth Jones makes a convincing case why it’s still critical to modern society. Properly channeled, honor encourages virtues like courage, integrity, and solidarity, and gives a sense of living for something larger than oneself. Read on and consider the many ways to introduce young people to this ancient, yet essential quality of life.
President Jimmy Carter sent out a public statement mourning the death of Senator John McCain. He said that McCain was “a man of honor, a true patriot in the best sense of the word. Americans will be forever grateful for his heroic military service and for his steadfast integrity as a member of the United States Senate.”
Soon, dozens of such tributes poured in. Each of them with similar sentiments about the Senator. It has been a long time since I remember hearing so many references to honor. Not so many years ago, this word was much more commonplace. I remember my father telling me that honor was the most important thing a person could strive for. He made sure that I memorized the Boy Scout Oath and knew the Scout Law.
“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” ~ The Scout Oath
He instilled in me a sense of sacred duty. Though never a very enthusiastic scout, I always held the importance of honor close to my heart. So the many notable mentions of McCain’s honor make me hope that there is a resurgence of interest in the subject. If that resurgence is to happen, it is up to the adult community to fuel the effort by teaching and modeling honor to our young people.
A Definition of Honor
Honor has been described as an ‘abstract concept’ but it is not. It is far from abstract. Though complex, honor is tangible, understandable, and easily recognizable. Honor is having a sense of right and wrong. It is standing up for what you believe is right. It is the about showing great respect for yourself, other people, and the rules you live by. It means trying to live by seven essential values which are:
- Faith: a belief in something bigger than yourself.
- Hope: a belief that good will prevail.
- Charity: concern for others. Always helping them in times of need.
- Fortitude: never giving up.
- Justice: being fair, equitable and merciful to others.
- Prudence: being careful with and mindful of all our resources.
- Temperance: moderation in all things.
Developing a Personal Code of Honor
Honor is the measure of a person’s quality. It is at the core of who we are and who we aspire to be. When you are honorable, you don’t have to feel ashamed of who you are or what you are doing. You are worthy of respect. What a good reason to become an honorable person.
Once upon a time, many schools had honor codes which were outlined in student handbooks and signed at the beginning of the academic year. People pledged not to lie, cheat, steal, or plagiarize as well as to act responsibly in all personal endeavors. These behavioral standards were the minimum expectation and kids were expected to report others who violated the code. It seems that these codes are fading from schools according to the New York Times. Apparently, successful report cards are a higher priority than character building nowadays. With this in mind, it is very important that mentors, parents, teachers, coaches, pastors and other key adults in the lives of kids help them to understand and develop a personal code of honor. We are responsible for helping motivate ethical and moral conduct which will guide them as they grow up. One way to do this is to teach young people how to develop such a code.
Creating a code of honor is simple but takes a little work and some self-reflection. I always start out with these basic statements for inspiration:
- I want to be the kind of person who has the courage to stand up for myself and for my beliefs.
- I want to be the kind of person who will be loyal to my friends and rescue them from trouble when they need me.
- I want to be known for always doing my best.
- I want to be known as honest and dependable.
- I want to be respected.
- I want to be known for being a good citizen at school, at work, and in my community.
The first step in developing a personal code is to write it down so you can look at it as a reminder of what you believe and as an encouragement to follow your plan. Here is a guideline for creating that document.
- Who do I say that I am? Think of it like this. If you asked a friend to describe you, what would they say? An example of this would be someone saying to you that you are friendly, helpful, or kind. List all the qualities that other people might have pointed out to you.
- What do I believe? Make a list of all of your moral principles and beliefs. Write down as many personal beliefs as you can. These are the beliefs that you carry through everyday life and define the way you make good decisions.
- Why do I believe what I believe? Religious beliefs may have come from places of worship or scriptures. Political beliefs may have come from parents, friends, TV or social media. Other beliefs may have been formed in sports or other activities. Knowing where your beliefs come from is essential because it may inform you as to how important they are.
- How do I act around people at school, work or play? Write down what you like about the way you relate to others and what you might like to change. There are always things to improve and eliminate like misleading people, gossip and little deceptions.
This is about all of the information you need to start a personal code of honor. It will take some time to think about what you want to include and what you don’t, but this is the foundation for it.
Start out by writing a purpose or overview of your code of honor which will inspire you to live according to your principles. The only requirement is that the purpose is tailored to fit you and your needs.
The second part of your code is the “I will and will not” section in which you go through the list of qualities you made of how others see you and how you see yourself. Many of these qualities will match up with what you believe. It should contain the rules you expect yourself to follow when dealing with other people.
Follow these two steps with a question which will help you be even more honorable tomorrow.
Here is an example of a personal code:
My Code of Honor
Purpose: I want to be a good citizen who is valued, trusted and respected in all of my affairs.
Personal Rules of Conduct
- I will be kind
- I will be generous
- I will be honest
- I will be dependable
- I will stand up for myself and what I believe
- I will be a good friend
- I will always try to do my best
- I will not judge others
- I will not cheat
- I will not steal
- I will not harm other people physically, emotionally, or sexually
- I will not blame others for my mistakes
Daily Question: How or what will I change tomorrow based on what I learned today?
Once you are done writing the first draft, look it over and refine it as necessary, You will be adjusting it as changes occur in your life. But the basics will remain the same. Make a pledge to keep the promises made in your code of honor. It should be a binding contract with yourself. This pledge will help you gain greater respect. It will increase your sense of self-worth, credibility and moral direction. You will be known as an honorable person.
Our Legacy of Honor
There was a time when a person’s honor was the bedrock of character. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton fought a duel over it. Burr’s character was savagely attacked by Hamilton during a gubernatorial election. He resolved to restore his reputation by challenging Hamilton to a duel, or an “affair of honor,” as they were known. Though such drastic measures are ridiculously unnecessary, the point is well made by our founders that honor was of the utmost importance. We have gone far astern from those days. But we can still impart a sense of honor in these modern times,
The kind of legacy will we leave our children depends directly upon our commitment to it. A dedicated effort on our part can and will leave a lasting impression. We want for the love that we have given to endure forever. We want for our work to have made the world a little better than we found it. Wouldn’t it also be great to have bestowed a sense of honor that guides the character and conduct of our children and grandchildren! If, indeed, this is an age in which the virtues of honor have become a relic of the past, then it is up to us to restore it.
In this post, writer Robert Kenneth Jones examines honesty and truth. Finding both under assault, he offers ways we can challenge young people to reset the standard for integrity – for themselves and the country.
How important are honesty and truth today? When we hear statements like “Truth isn’t truth” or that we should rely on alternative facts from our leaders, things start to get a little murky. It has even been suggested that we live in a post-truth era of blurring lines between opinion, fact and personal experience. Half-truths received from the internet, social media, cable television, and talk radio make it harder and harder to sort out fact from fiction. This all sends an especially dangerous and destructive message to young people. If honesty and truth are being publically devalued, the kind of foundation they will have upon which to build their futures will be unmaintainable. It is our job as adults to restore the sanctity of these virtues.
Dishonesty Has Survival Roots
Departure from the truth starts when we are very young. It usually comes when a child is experiencing anxiety or fear resulting from some behavior which has been deemed unacceptable or naughty. When asked or confronted about the incident, the feeling level intensifies to an extreme state. The denial, cover-up, exaggeration, or diversion relieves anxiety or fear. This relief is stored as a memory (sometimes hidden).
Memory is a complex function of the brain. The things we’ve done, learned, and seen are first processed in the cortex, and then, if we sense that this information is important enough to remember permanently, it’s passed inward to regions of the brain such as the hippocampus and amygdala for long-term storage and retrieval. As these messages travel through the brain, they create pathways that serve as the basis of our memory. Of course this all but guarantees that the behavior will be used again when similar situations present themselves in the future.
We all lie to one extent or another. It is important to own this fact and admit it when we are helping kids sort out ways of being honest in situations when the truth might be uncomfortable. I have developed a process for achieving honesty in my practice with kids and adults which might provide some help.
To Thine Own Self Be True
“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” ~ e. e. cummings
I remember my first lie. It was clear to me that I would be found out because I carelessly left a piece of stolen candy from Liberty Market in my pants pocket and it was laundry day. My parents had raised a thief. I was in big trouble. How could anyone love me after what I had done? The only way out was to come up with a logical story before it all hit the fan. So I came up with alternative facts and when confronted, confidently told my mother that Mrs. Golden bought candy for Scott and me a couple of days ago. It worked. I was off the hook. Now I was a thief AND a liar. What a burden to bear for an eight-year-old.
What follows successful dishonesty can be even more insidious than the lie itself, because now we are in the business of keeping secrets as well as engaging in ongoing secret behaviors. These weave into our fabric to provide power over people, places, and things. The ego demands that we protect the secrets by creating more false narratives. Ultimately a web of illusion begins to mask who we really are. And ultimately we can begin to believe the lies and accept them as our own truth. As a result, good and intimate relationships become difficult to develop and maintain. Nobody really gets to know who we are.
Recovery from lies and secrets begins when we make a decision to get real with ourselves. This kind of personal truth and honesty requires courage because we know how inauthentic our lives have become. Uncovering ourselves behind the mask to reveal our brokenness is scary. It means we have to forgive ourselves. It is critical that we let go of self-blame and anger. We were doing the best we could with the amount of information we had at the time. Everyone makes mistakes but there is no reason to keep repeating them. Things just get worse and more complicated. When we do this work it is like waking up from a dream. The ability to be honest with others returns along with an ability to make better decisions. Parents and other key people in the lives of teenagers can shape how important honesty is in their lives. We can help them learn how being truthful in different social situations now will establish a foundation for future employment, and develop meaningful close relationships in the future. This will assist them in creating a foundation of universal moral principles to guide decision making throughout their lives.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ~ Mohandas Gandhi
When we resolve within ourselves how dishonesty has poisoned us and compromised our dreams it becomes clear that we have an obligation to become truthful with others.
Honesty With Others
There are lots of ways to restore the practice of honesty when dealing with other people. The following are three steps that have worked for my clients over the years.
Watching for Little White Lies
Little white lies are often told in order to protect the feelings of another person. We tell someone we loved a gift when we really didn’t or that we enjoyed a meal when the food was not all that great. We slightly bend the truth in the name of compassion. But even these well-intentioned deceptions can cause those we have misled to doubt our integrity and lose trust in what we tell them when the truth is revealed. Serving up falsehoods isn’t the only way to kindly deceive…you might also simply leave out unpleasant facts. Dr. Julia Breur emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the way we respond to someone. The fact is, she says, that not telling the truth can take its toll on you. It’s not always about the person the white lie is being told to. Therefore, it’s important to ask ourselves when it is and isn’t appropriate to deliver the hard, honest truth, and when it’s best to step back and offer a more delicate response. More often than not, it’s about finding a balance between the two. Dr. Breur suggests the following regarding white lies;
- Instead of saying “I was stuck in traffic,’ consider telling the truth. Say that your son had a temper tantrum and you had to help him calm down, which caused the delay. You’re human after all, and these things happen!
- Instead of saying the turkey meatloaf is delicious, consider saying: “This is a new taste for me and I am enjoying eating something new.”
- Instead of saying someone’s outfit is “absolutely beautiful,” consider saying: “I enjoy seeing you express yourself through fashion – you are a unique and beautiful individual!”
Sort Out Your History of Dishonesty
It is important to understand the nature and history of our behavior if we want to avoid repeating it. The folks in 12 Step circles insist that it is necessary to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Though difficult and sometimes gut-wrenching, it sets up a new kind of preparation for living more honestly in the future. Creating a list of lies and deceptions provides a means for us to fess up and make amends wherever possible. It may be tough, but worth it in the end. According to the popular site, Lifehack.org, admitting your fault puts you closer to dealing with it and can be a critical step towards a successful turn-around. It shows that you’re someone with integrity and courage.
Integrity and Living Honestly
Integrity has been defined as a consistency, honesty, truthfulness, and accuracy in all of our affairs…even when nobody is watching. This requires intentionality and thought. When difficult situations show up there will always be a tendency to fix things with compassionate (or escapist) deception. Even painting a rosier picture may be harmful. So the idea is to hesitate and consider before speaking or acting. What good will come of putting your integrity and reputation on the line with a lie? Accepting responsibility for our part in the problem, or acknowledging the seriousness and damage done, allow us to foster relationships rather than taking on an ego-driven need to control things. It will take practice to learn to live this openly and honestly. Old habits, particularly protective ones take time to change. But before long, a trust will be restored with people who might have lost faith in what we say or do. We will be known as people with integrity.
You Can Handle the Truth
A powerful scene in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men” in which Tom Cruise is confronting Jack Nicholson about his dishonesty leads to an explosion of uncomfortable truth. Nicholsons’ assertion that Cruise ‘can’t handle the truth’ is so memorable that it is often quoted today. But even in this era where truth and honesty might seem in short supply, they are really never old fashioned or out of date. We can handle the truth. With that in mind, it is so important to not only to teach but to live with integrity. Young people will never fall for the old adage of ‘do as I say not as I do’ nowadays. As responsible adults, we have to be real. We should never fail to praise honest behavior in kids and teens if we want them to understand its’ value. We also must risk being vulnerable enough to admit our own mistakes and deceptions.
Handling the truth is much easier in the long run than trying to handle a lie. For when we are honest about who we really are, we will lead and encourage young people to be truthful and honest as well. We have the opportunity to become agents of change for our children and for ourselves.
Robert Kenneth Jones
Innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.
In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.
Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin
Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast
Opioid use among adolescents and young adults continue to rise. For police officers in middle schools and high schools, this is one more life-threatening crisis that must be managed. The good news is that there have been breakthroughs and innovations in addressing the problem. In this post, Bob Jones explores new treatments and possibly a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
We are not getting better yet. The opioid epidemic continues to worsen. Overdoses and overdose deaths are increasing. Despite dire warnings and increased federal funding, the use of heroin and fentanyl is on the rise. Even teen deaths due to accidental overdose, which had decreased in previous years, are now increasing at an alarming rate. Not one of us wants this to happen. None of us want to see kids die.
“Transformative power is discovered in the dark – in questions and doubts, seldom in the answers.” ~ Richard Rohr
Nine-in-ten Americans who live in rural areas say drug addiction is either a major or minor problem in their community, as do 87% in urban and 86% in suburban areas, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 6,251 adults, conducted early in 2018. So what are we doing to throw ourselves into some solutions? Our darknesses, our questions, and our doubts are finally fueling a new path for prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery. People are rising to address the challenges.
Communities That Care
Communities That Care (CTC) is a social development program with a strategy which helps communities to prevent substance use problems before they happen. This University of Washington project also addresses crime and violence issues. The result has been dramatic.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that CTC-associated reductions in current substance use and delinquency, which had been observed when the children were in grades 8 and 10, were no longer evident in 12th grade. A benefit of CTC persisted, however: Although similar percentages of youths who had lived in CTC-using and comparison towns while in middle school reported that they had avoided those behaviors in 12th grade, higher percentages of those in CTC-using towns had done so in all previous grades as well.
The CTC social development strategy has five key components:
- Opportunities: Provide developmentally appropriate opportunities to young people, for active participation and meaningful interaction with prosocial others.
- Skills: Teach young people the skills they need to succeed
- Recognition: Provide consistent specific praise and recognition for effort, improvement, and achievement.
- Bonding: Acknowledge a young person’s effort and promote positive bonding — a sense of attachment, emotional connection and commitment to the people and groups who provide that recognition. Bonding can occur with a family member, teacher, coach, employer or neighbor.
- Clear Standards for Behavior: Through the process of bonding, young people become motivated to live according to the healthy standards of the person or group to whom they are bonded.
The CTC offers a series of web-based workshops for communities that are interested in really addressing the life and death problems facing kids today. The evidence-based system is being embraced by towns and organizations across the country. The series of materials include instructional videos, guides, and personalized support backed up by the latest research and strategies. All that is required is making contact with the organization to get started.
Harm Reduction Services
The term harm reduction at one time referred only to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs such as methadone clinics and physician-based DATA 2000 Suboxone practices. This nametag was based on a thinly veiled premise that medications prescribed in those programs allowed people to live more normal lives but that they were still under the influence of drugs (not authentic “recovery”). The Minnesota Model of total abstinence was the only truly recognized or accepted treatment model. There is a movement afoot to call MAT something else in order to remove the long-held bias and stigma associated with that name.
Harm Reduction Services now refers to a much broader effort of offering services to those who are not only seeking recovery but those who are still using. I recently interviewed Marc Burrows, a substance abuse disorder professional in the Upstate of South Carolina. He was candid in his assertion that everyone has to do a lot more to address the enormous problems facing us regarding overdose, overdose death, and addiction. His organization, Challenges INC is one innovative systemic program that does just that. And Marc knows what he is talking about. In addition to several years in the field, he struggled with childhood trauma that fueled his own addiction which began at age 12. By 17, Marc was using heroin. Now, with seven years of solid recovery under his belt, helping others is his passion.
During the regular work day, Marc is a counselor in a DATA 2000 practice and also works with a residential treatment facility. Off-the-clock he operates his own harm reduction service, most of which provide him little compensation. They are free to the consumer. He even travels to pre-arranged meeting places and helps people who are at high risk for overdose and health-related consequences of opioid abuse such as HIV. Other organizations around the country have stepped up to provide this emergency care as well. These are three of the critical services they offer;
- Fentanyl Test Strips – Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. Deaths specifically from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, doubled from 2015 to 2016, Live Science reported in March 2018. There is increasing incidents of fentanyl in other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Most people who use drugs laced with fentanyl don’t realize that there is fentanyl in them. The State of California Department of Public Health began distributing fentanyl test strips at needle exchange centers over a year ago to allow users to test for the opioid in other illegal drugs. Fentanyl test strips have been increasing in popularity nationwide ever since. The strips cost only a dollar each and work by being dipped into a small mixture of water and the drug being tested. This bold step is saving lives.
- Clean Needles – The bottom line is undeniable. Clean needles save lives. The opioid crisis is so drastic that the government and medical communities are taking unprecedented steps to stem the tide of overdoses and deaths. Syringe access services are beginning to become more commonplace in many areas. Though the thought of giving heroin-dependent people the very means of injecting themselves may seem counterintuitive, the end result is that more users are introduced to non-threatening treatment professionals and fewer people die.
- NARCAN® (naloxone) – Naloxone is a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioids in the case of an overdose. It is available in some states at pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS as a part of a “comprehensive national plan to combat drug abuse” and help the communities they serve. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications. Law enforcement is playing a big role in combating this crisis by allowing police officers to carry naloxone with them on the job in some areas. NARCAN® can not only save the lives of those who are overdosing but an officer’s life if they get accidentally contaminated according to David Battiste, who is in charge of the DEA’s Pittsburgh office.
There are several other things that Burrows and his Challenges INC provide including safe cookers for preparing the drugs, biohazard containers, cotton filters, and even condoms. He provides his clients with treatment resources and educational materials as well. Though some of his work is quasi-legal, Marc says that local government, police departments, first responders and recovery treatment providers support his efforts fully.
On A Better Path
While we are making some progress in facing the opioid epidemic, there is a long way to go. Programs like CTC and Harm Reduction are changing the ways we prevent, understand and deal with this crisis. Trauma Informed Care and ACEs are rooting out causal relationships with early childhood experiences and providing new kinds of compassionate care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a 5 Point Strategy “to empower local communities on the frontlines.” This is their outline of action;
- Access: Better Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Services
HHS issued over $800 million in grants in 2017 to support treatment, prevention, and recovery while making it easier for states to receive waivers to cover treatment through their Medicaid programs.
- Data: Better Data on the Epidemic
HHS is improving our understanding of the crisis by supporting more timely, specific public health data and reporting, including through accelerating CDC’s reporting of drug overdose data.
- Pain: Better Pain Management
HHS wants to ensure everything we do — payments, prescribing guidelines, and more — promotes healthy, evidence-based methods of pain management.
- Overdoses: Better Targeting of Overdose-Reversing Drugs
HHS works to better target the availability of lifesaving overdose-reversing drugs. The President’s 2019 Budget includes $74 million in new investments to support this goal.
- Research: Better Research on Pain and Addiction
HHS supports cutting-edge research on pain and addiction, including through a new NIH public-private partnership.
While the government is addressing the crisis from the top-down and seems to be responding pretty well, the best work and results will come from the grassroots. Innovative new approaches in prevention, treatment, and safety are emerging every day. Recovery doesn’t always occur around 12 Step tables in the basements of churches anymore (though their efficacy is unquestioned). Now it is happening on the very street corners where the problem exploded in the first place.
Robert Kenneth Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
by Robert Kenneth Jones
Columnist Robert Kenneth Jones reflects on three timeless virtues essential to all those who work with youth.
It doesn’t take careful observation to realize that there is way too much worry, too much hurry and too much hate. They ooze out of social media, our televisions, our schools and workplaces, our government, and even our places of worship. With that in mind, it’s time to reclaim hope, patience, and love as an antidote to all of this negativity. For these virtues are like medicines which wipe away the contagions of worry, hurry, and hate.
My paternal grandfather had a motto he generously passed on to his descendants. He told us that a long and happy life could be gained by following these directions; “Don’t Worry. Don’t Hurry. Don’t Hate.” We all aspired to follow his advice, but it is rather daunting because each of these emotions crops up on an almost daily basis. And perhaps there is an oppositional part of me that wants to disobey the word “Don’t” anyway. Some little boy who resides in my psyche like a naughty Peter Pan always dares to do the opposite of what he is being told to do. However, Roy Jones’ wisdom is right on target. I have found that if I turn his adage inside out, there is a hidden formula that reveals his secret in plain sight. It is this; Have Hope. Be Patient. Love Unconditionally. This eliminates my oppositional leanings and sets me on a path of joy and happiness.
Have Hope; (Don’t Worry), Be Happy
Worry has its roots in feeling threatened for some reason. It causes stress and sets off the fight or flight survival response. This, in turn, triggers all sorts of changes in our bodies. Blood pressure and heart rate get ramped up while the immune system and digestion are turned down. These survival responses are necessary and critical if we are under attack by a bear causing us to run away or fight him off in some way, but when they persist because of worry which lasts for weeks or longer, we are in for some significant problems. There is a huge hidden cost to your health, and even on how long you might live, from worrying too much.
“If you don’t relax you’re going to worry yourself to death.” ~Dr. Robert Adler
Worry is mostly about the fear that we are not in control of what might happen. And it is a fact that we cannot control much of what will happen in the future. So why worry? Studies indicate that most people spend (or waste) 6.5 years of our lives worrying while only eight percent of those worries will ever materialize.
Hope overcomes worry. It is not some idle, misty, sympathetic emotion. It is a faith-filled response to life. When we hope we are doing the things required to grow and recover. When we have discovered that we are worrying it is time to escape from our heads and ground ourselves in hope. Because where worry is destructive, hope leads us to acceptance and action.
Be Patient; Slow Down…You Move Too Fast
An article in Fortune Magazine warns of something they are calling ‘hurry sickness’ saying that we are losing the ability to stand back and think. Furthermore, our quest to do-all and be-all is costing our health. The pace of life continues to speed up. Many of us feel like we are trapped in a time crunch. Our bodies and minds weren’t meant to endure continual stress. Blood pressure spikes and eventually remains at an elevated level, hearts wear out, we become irritable and easily angered, and we get upset from frustration and exhaustion.
“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”John Quincy Adams (6th U.S. President
Patience and perseverance are not as valued today as they might have been in simpler times. We have come to believe that the things we want should materialize immediately. The quicker we satisfy our desires or reach our goal the better. There is a sad loss of anticipation and wonder that have almost disappeared in the process. No longer do we have to wait weeks for a treasure to be ordered by catalog, shipped and packed by some meticulous clerk in a city far away, and then mailed to a mailbox checked and rechecked every day after school or work. Now we see what we want online, pay by debit card, and then become annoyed when FedEx doesn’t have it at the door in two days.
No patience, no perseverance, no big thrills. These qualities haven’t completely disappeared of course, as evidenced by the feats of people like Diana Nyad who, on her fifth try, finally swam ninety miles through jellyfish invested waters from Havana to Key West. The story is chronicled in her inspirational work, “Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream.”
Diana was a classmate of mine at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. She has lived a glorious but tough life. She is a decorated distance swimmer, hall of fame member and popular speaker and author. She also had a near death infection in her junior year of high school and was sexually abused by her famous swim coach as a young girl. She has shattered world records through determination, patience, and persistence. Nothing stops her. She teaches us that there is no hurry. The journey is more important than the destination.
Love Unconditionally; Just The Way You Are
“There are people in the world who refuse to yield to hatred and who rise to a level of love that has within it a redemptive and transformative power.”Colette Parker, OPA
There is no doubt about the presence of hate. We are exposed to it every day. Hate groups and violence seem to erupt in headlines constantly. But the remedy for hate, which is love, reveals itself in more elusive ways. We seek it and run after it as younger people though it seems to become more and more elusive the harder we pursue. We grab for it, and once it is in our grasp, try to control it and possess it. However, it is not something we can own. The problem is that trying to hold on to love is like trying to hold on to flowing water. As we mature we begin to discover that love often leads us. We do not lead it. It comes like a butterfly to one who sits patiently in the garden. Often it is anticipated but usually unexpected.
The question that burns in our hearts is ‘Do you love me’. It is a question said to have been asked by Jesus of Simon Peter. Do you love me? He asks it three times. Do you love me? Real love springs from the unconditional love of God. It is a reflection of that pure and true Love that really matters. Unconditional love does not expect performance. It has no prerequisites. We cannot expect people to fill our empty spaces. What we can do is to recognize that the presence of that beloved person in our lives is a gift to be treasured. Whether a mate, son, daughter, friend or relative, we must remember that the love we have for them does not require anything in return, nor can we ask for it or for them to make us happy.
We have the common experience of being little babies in diapers. Someone has held us, looked down on our innocence, and discovered the miracle of a bursting, unexplainable love. The baby does not have to do anything to deserve love at all. It simply overflows in abundance. We relive unconditional love at the birth of our children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews. Something deep inside stirs as the memory of perfect love is revived. Other experiences of deep love and affection can only approximate this.
The glimpse of unconditional love is a spiritual experience. It eliminates the possibility of hate. To think that we are all loved in this measure, without strings attached and through no merit of our own by a God who cannot get enough of each and every one of us is the antidote for hatred. God does not care who we are, what we are worth, where we come from, our color or creed or our sexual orientation. We are just loved perfectly. He perceives no flaws. God sees only his little babies in diapers. How could hate ever co-exist in the presence of such love?
Virtues Leading to Joy and Happiness
I refer to hope, patience and love as virtues instead of feelings or emotions for a good reason. Feelings like worry, hurry and hate can allow us to languish in them. But virtues demand action. There is a definite relation between action, joy, and happiness. The desire for joy and happiness motivates our actions, and our actions are what determine whether we obtain happiness or not. Hope, patience, and love are the virtues which free us to find happiness and to live life joyfully.
Robert Kenneth Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
It’s been hard to hear the news from Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury which reports that some 300 Roman Catholic priests sexually abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades. Attorney General Josh Shapiro disclosed that the actual numbers are higher. Almost as disturbing is that the church did everything in its power to cover up the crimes and protect the perpetrators. And perhaps the word perpetrator is too sterile. Maybe we should admit that these men have become monsters in the lives of those they molested, their families and communities.
Adult Heroes Who Slay Monsters
Several champions have shown up to help us find a way to heal. Among them are Paul Dorsch and Nanette Kirsch.
Paul Dorsch at age 13 was the victim of Fr. Jack Hoehl, who was his headmaster at Quigley High School in Pittsburgh. After his initial battles with depression, substance abuse disorders and chronic physical problems, Paul came forward in 1997 to tell his story. Despite being dismissed without apology by then-Bishop Donald Wuerl, he continued to fight for the dignity of those who were abused. His determined persistence paid off. The grand jury released public accounts of the actions of the priests and responses by the church. His story of resilience has inspired dozens and dozens of boys, young men and adults to find their voices and to seek long neglected care for the trauma they suffer.
Nanette Kirsch published her book, “Denial: Abuse, Addiction, and a Life Derailed” she tells the tragic real-life story of a Pennsylvania grand jury report victim of childhood abuse at the hands of a priest. Her accounts of suffering, addiction, and suicide have opened the door for others who had been hiding in shadows for so many years. Recently, she bravely faced the ‘monsters hiding in her own closet’ as the scandal in PA continued to unfold. Her most recent blog names her abuser and tells of the long-term effects the molestation has had in her present-day waking and sleeping life.
Kids Slay Monsters Too; Shane’s Story
It is a whole different battle for children and adolescents to confront a monster. Telling the truth to power when you are so vulnerable makes it very scary. And everyone has power over kids. Exposing a monster can mean losing your family, your school, and your friends. Trying to find someone who is safe and trustable with such awful information is daunting.
Shane was 14 years old when I met him. The community had chalked him up as a hopeless loss. He was already addicted to drugs, was committing juvenile crimes and seemed bound for a life behind bars. As fate would have it however, Shane ended up in our treatment center because of the rather high-profile nature of his situation. He summoned courage deep within him and told a teacher that his probation officer had been sexually abusing him for several months. The court determined that due to these circumstances treatment should be afforded at no cost and allowed him to remain with his family.
Many studies show that a primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships. Shane was lucky in that he had a mother who loved him deeply. She was a good role model who offered him continual reassurance and a safe home. His middle school teachers believed him and saw great potential. Counselors and medical staff at the treatment center embraced him. These are a combination of factors which contributed to his remarkable resilience.
Shane was very hesitant to talk in group and individual sessions. He never made eye contact and showed signs of depression. His mother reported that he was having night terrors and rarely slept for more than a few minutes. His first counselor asked if I would consider taking over the case since my experience with abused boys was well known. Things did not go well until I decided to disclose the fact that I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse as well.
The boy began to reveal his history of victimization at the hands of the probation officer and earlier abuse from a family acquaintance. He trusted me because I really understood. Before long, Shane was joking around with the other boys in group and showed signs of hope and joy. When I asked if anyone might be interested in starting a Narcotics Anonymous group for kids, Shane volunteered to help get it going and assumed a leadership role. Later, we encouraged him to enroll in junior golf at a local public course. The sport allowed him to compete against himself, set and achieve personal goals, and re-introduced him to playing. When we talked about hopes and dreams, the boy said that he wanted to become a master mechanic. Shane’s mother reported that night terrors were gone and that he slept as many as six hours without waking. He successfully completed outpatient treatment after about six months.
I got a phone call from Shane and his Mom two years after I left the area and moved to North Carolina. They told me that he had received his three year sobriety chip from NA and graduated from high school. In addition, Shane was enrolled at Job Corps where he could be licensed as a master mechanic when completed. What had appeared to be a dead end life of struggle and heartache turned into a life buoyed by resilience, hope and love. He ended our conversation by asking me to keep helping boys like him. His message to other survivors was;
“Be brave even when you are blaming yourself and all you feel is fear, guilt and shame. Someone will help. There is nothing worth staying in hell.”
Note: It is always safe to call a local Child Advocacy Center
Exposing and Vanquishing Monsters
The work required in exposing monsters involves a great deal of insight, courage, and strength. They don’t want the light to invade their darknesses. They need for you to think they reside in the past, that you have moved on, and that they have far less power than you have given them. They thrive and feed on minimization and denial. As you allow them to whisper their lies, they provide false comfort and security until you doubt they ever existed in the first place. But their residence in your interior world is only taking up more and more secret space. When things begin to happen which remind you of the pain you endured, a glimmer of light breaks through. Your ego rejects the notion that it is important and informs you to keep it cerebral. And the monsters are rooting for you to do so too. They want you to intellectualize so that the cracks can be plastered over and the light extinguished. But if you have done some work, and recognize the need to break open the walls, the monsters will be exposed in all of their ugliness. This is when your insight, courage, and strength are summoned.
One of the things you must do is to name your monster(s) and call out the damage they have done. You tell them you know who they are. You bring them into the here and now as you tear open their hiding place. When you inform them they really are just a swim coach named Jack Nelson, a trainer named Larry Nassar, a tenth-grade science teacher named Randolph Byrd, or a priest named John Hoehl who crossed all of your boundaries and destroyed your innocence, a legion of dreams and memories are unleashed. These dreams and memories are metaphors for healing.
They are the wee small voice of the psyche and inner child telling of the impact of the abuse you endured. They can be nightmarish but are filled with symbols to assist us as we overcome the years of silence. They tell us that though you had been rendered voiceless, you are no longer that stifled victim. Now that the monster has a name and is faced with his crimes, he can no longer lurk in the darkness.
An important tool for expelling the darkness that I have used in my professional and personal life is ‘staging a rescue’. It has provided a path to freedom for so many people (including me). When I was working with a group of eight sexually abused boys several years ago, their agony spilled over into my own shadows. Though I had done much to deal with the sexual abuse I experienced as a boy, it hadn’t been enough. There was still a frightened kid in me who was living in terror of monsters. I kept thinking about how I must have been a seductive, cute boy who brought it all on himself. It must have been my fault. After all, I allowed the abuse to continue. I remembered how worried I was that my mother would find out.
Then, a confidant and colleague introduced me to John Bradfield’s staged rescue for survivors of abuse. In this exercise of guided imagery, I was to visualize myself as the strong adult I had become. Then I was instructed to see myself driving up to the place where I was abused. I broke through the door, ran up the stairs and burst into the room in which the man was about to molest me as a child. I shoved him out of the way, scooped my young self into my arms and made a daring getaway. I literally saved myself. This is the essence of the work to be done. A new freedom and a new happiness began to sink deep into my psyche. More work had to be done, of course, but the monster had no more power over me.
A Cry for Morality
The Catholic Church has covered up for monsters. American Bishops, Cardinals and the Vatican historically protected men who abused vulnerable children. In the past, there was a ‘playbook’ which spelled out mechanisms for shielding accused priests from legitimate punishments. Unfortunately, there is still a culture of minimization and denial at all levels of authority within the institution. Cardinal Wuerl stands by his actions which allowed priests to escape legal consequences and refuses to resign. The Vatican expresses sorrow and sadness. But there is little-proposed action that addresses the deep wounds of those thousands from Pennsylvania. It smacks of all-to-familiar rhetoric. Pope Francis himself has taken another step to express his own deep remorse in a letter that condemned the abuse and the cover-up on August 20, 2018, saying “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” This gives me hope. However, the bottom line is that men who claimed to be the representatives of Jesus not only violated these children but robbed them of a relationship with God. Restoring any element of that sacred connection should be the prime mission of the church.
Perhaps the monsters have indeed taken hostage a traditional understanding of God. But they cannot actually take the real God away. We can reconnect by looking outside of ourselves.RKJ
Perhaps the monsters have indeed taken hostage a traditional understanding of God. But they cannot actually take the real God away. We can reconnect by looking outside of ourselves. We can begin to trust, once again that there is a power greater than ourselves. It is a power greater than the sum of things we have experienced. It is greater than the power of our abuser. It is greater than the power of drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, or any other addiction. That power will guide and shepherd us from darkness into light. We will know that we were never alone and that everything that happened can be used to help someone else who was wounded and broken like we were.
God is bigger than monsters. We no longer feel we must get over what happened. We will use it to guide others home.
Robert Kenneth Jones
is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. ,In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.