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Sticks and Stones

sticks and stonesIn my early years I was taught a memorable rhyme.  It went like this: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”

What a joyful refrain!  From these words we gained the confidence to deal with whatever petty verbal aggression might confront us on the playground or in our school’s hallways.

Many from my generation will fondly remember the “Sticks and Stones” rhyme.  Many benefited from the attitude implicit in those words, not just as children, but as adults later in life.  Hurtful words?  Ignore them.  They are too trivial to warrant response.

So where are we today?  Unfortunately, the notion that words cannot hurt us has been pushed aside in favor of a kind of self-victimization.  We no longer rely on a natural confidence in our own identity to shield us from harsh or hurtful words.  No, just the opposite.  Today, we are being told that we are victims, that we should be offended by hurtful words.  Being a victim is preferable to being a secure and confident individual.  Poor baby!

More troubling, individual victimhood has morphed to include collective victimhood.  This is rapidly becoming a problem of national proportions.

Look at me, for example.  The hypothetical pain that I might have suffered could easily be adopted by a whole class of individuals.   How so?  I am an Average White Man.  As such, it is conceivable that I ought to be offended by the rock band called Average White Band.  Oh, woe is me!  Will there be a class action lawsuit to compensation me and other average white men for the devastating hurt that we have collectively suffered?

What about sports teams?  Many have names that are said to have caused irreparable damage to certain groups of people.

Statues commemorating long departed American figures are said to offend.  Streets named for historic icons somehow cause emotional harm.

How did this happen?  How did we move from a jovial sense of self-reliance and pride to a culture of victimhood?  How did we get to this place where mere words cause so much pain?

For answers, look closely at instances where victimhood has flourished.  Two trends emerge.  First, in today’s world, victimhood is easy.  We are encouraged to seek offense from a long list of supposedly hurtful words or phrases.  The message is clear.  It is cool to be a victim.  Furthermore, social media allow us to broadcast our pain to friends and to the world beyond.

Second, being a victim can be profitable.  In a lawsuit filed against the Central Lee Community School District, the parents of a student alleged that “The threats of C.M. (the alleged bully) to H.S. (their child, the alleged victim) have become so severe and ongoing that H.S. is [in] fear of [their] safety every day. This includes riding the bus as well as while at school.  The threats and harm perpetrated upon H.S. have begun to affect ability to concentrate at school and properly complete [their] school work. The threats and harm perpetrated upon H.S. now affect H.S’s ability to obtain an education.”  The parents are asking the court “to permanently prohibit the two students from having any contact with each other as well as any other relief the court might deem just and equitable” (emphasis added).

Go ahead, tally the dollars skimmed by Trial Lawyers.  That total would probably exceed the national debt.

The profit motive could easily be applied to non-monetary interests, as well.

Want to discredit a politician or a political appointee?  All you need to do is dig into his past,

select a few words or phrases out of context and broadcast them to the world.  Doesn’t even have to be factual.  Once it is out there, it’s out there.

We were once impervious to trivial slights.  We did not feel compelled to tweet every time someone had a bad word to say about us.  We could ignore meaningless jabs and not get sucked into retaliatory name calling.  Are those days gone forever?

Do we just totter off into the sunset and accept these damaging trends, asking other generations to deal with them?  Or do we re-assert ourselves and reject the notion that mere words can hurt us?  Which would you choose?  It is within your power to set a positive example for others who might be inclined to choose victimhood.  Next time you hear that so-and-so’s words are offensive, laugh and say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”

(As much as I would like to claim credit, I am not the one who originated this rhyme.  In fact, they first appeared in The Christian Recorder, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  That happened in March of 1862.  Yeah, I am old but not that old.)


A Definition of Personal Responsibility

people being personally responsibleWhat is your definition of Personal Responsibility? Being responsible can mean many different things, depending on your circumstances and your world perspective. Is your world centered on a desperate street where more is spent on drugs than on food? Or, maybe, your world revolves around high finance, board room politics and country club society. Where you come from does not matter. What matters is how you see your world and what you want to achieve in that world. That will define your sense of Personal Responsibility.

Born in poverty with no family structure to guide you through your early years? Struggling to survive where gangs rule and violence is the norm? What you choose to do can mean the difference between escaping to a better place or drowning in the desperation that surrounds you. Your choices can send you in one direction or the other. Own your choices and you might, just might, make it to that better place. Taking Personal Responsibility for your choices will give you a decent shot at success.

Wealthy parents, elite education, surrounded by comfort and privilege? Sounds good on paper but what are you going to do with it? Make smart choices and a productive and fulfilling life can be yours. More important, you will have an opportunity to be of positive benefit to others, either by supporting programs that help the less fortunate or by being a role model for someone who has not yet developed positive habits. Did I say, “opportunity?” No, it is an “obligation.”

Make bad choices, however, and all that you have been given will melt away to nothing. The traps are out there. A heavy party scene and an indulgent life style, can lead to physical deterioration and decline. Even worse, it is easy to become complacent and let each day slide by without goals and direction (see the letter “G” in our Workbooks). This lack of motivation all but guarantees failure and mediocrity. Who wants that?

The details will differ but there is one common theme: your choices have consequences. If you live in a wealthy community and have all the security and comfort that comes with that life, your choices are no less consequential than those of someone living in back alleys, scratching for food every day.

Responsibility Workbooks

Teaching “responsibility” to young people is not easy.  Most mentors and teachers employ a two-step process.

First, the basic principles must be defined and discussed.  What constitutes responsible decision making?  Where have you seen an individual acting in a responsible manner?  What public figures have demonstrated a lack of responsibility in their conduct?  Asking these questions and discussing the findings is a good way to define responsibility.

Defining “responsibility” is important but it would be impossible to tell young people how to be responsible in every instance they might encounter.  It is equally important to equip the individual with the instinct to manage new choices in a responsible manner.  Thus, we have the second step in the process.

The second step is engagement.  Once the basics have been established, it is important to engage the person who is being taught.  Our workbooks have been designed to do just that.  Yes, the workbooks do comment on aspects of “responsibility.”  But next to each comment is a blank page.  The workbook user is then challenged to come up with his, or her, own “responsibility word” and write about it on the blank page.  The cognitive process of creating that responsibility word engages the user and increases the likelihood that the lesson will be retained.

Simply put, we strive to start a conversation which will lead to reflection.  Our workbooks allow the user to reflect on various aspects of responsibility in a benign, non-intimidating, environment.  By doing this the user gets to practice making responsible choices.  With enough practice, this will become habit.  Over time habit will become ingrained and will shape real life decision making.


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