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Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Open Letter to Aggressive, Macho Young Men

An Open Letter To the Young Men Of America

Dear Young Man,

I understand young males have many issues. Your world is filled with conflicts: teachers, friends, parents -- all of those who care for you can appear to lack sympathy for the problems you face. You must realize your own emotions can betray you, and you may be confused at times. Believe me, there are people who realize the stress of growing up and who do love you.

The teen years can be troublesome times when others view you as a child one minute and as an adult the next when, in truth, you are neither. With one foot in both worlds, you must learn to face new experiences, gain people's trust, and extend your independence while you tend to your "dependent independence." 

General Lewis B. Hershey once said, "A boy becomes an adult three years before his parents think he does, and about two years after he thinks he does."

You are caught in the impossible bind of living up to society's conception of the new male -- someone caring and yet physically and mentally tough. This puts you in the dilemma of being very sensitive while subscribing to traditional ideas about needing to be macho.

One teen boy's complaint was typical. "When I try to be sensitive and caring, girls ignore me," he said. "They want to go out with the jocks. When I play the tough, dominant guy, they complain that I'm harassing them. How can I win?" The answers come only through time and experience, and if you are like most young people, patience is not one of your strong points.

So, it is natural that you may feel downright insecure in your skin. Some of you lack support at home and struggle to gain essential privileges with a lack of resources. Everyone wants to gain power and control during their teen years, and without much help, you may find yourself feeling alone and vulnerable to others you conceive as a threat.

This frustration with life my lead you to cover up your insecurities with strategies that seem to work to eliminate these threats. One such teen said he felt as if he was at "an intersection of a feverish and all-encompassing desire to appear worldly and an absolute lack of worldliness." It may be hard to conceive a proper direction to take when you are overwhelmed with simply being acknowledged and being appreciated.

Indeed, people should extend you a hand. But, what if few, or even none, do? This is why some young men intimidate other peers: they find attacking others before they get attacked is a good way to hide their fears of self-doubt. The problem with this behavior is that these pushy teens begin to feel powerful, and, therefore, they continue to try to exert control over others to gain more attention. 

I understand these young men are not necessarily "bad people" when they do some teasing and minor manipulation to get their way, but when they feel others around them are "bad people deserving of their bullying," their brains often become intoxicated with power. They become reckless and unemphatic toward others. They don't just tease or have a little fun, rather they act with aggression in order to increase their own status. 

Young man, if you choose to gain friends by intimidating people, sooner or later everyone is going to get hurt. You will be hurt because you will eventually find that domination only feeds your own sense of receiving warped recognition. In other words, people just pretend to like you because they fear you -- actually, they dread being around you. And, naturally, pushing others around only leads to your own personal problems with authorities at home and at school.

Even more horrifying, bullying others may traumatize them, causing them severe psychological damage. Some of those you think are "weird" or worthy of your disgust are lonely just like you. The difference is that these lonely souls lack a positive outlet for escape. As you attempt to crush them into submission, you, instead, break their will. Your control can make them feel that their lives are empty and tedious, and feeling powerless to resist, they believe existence is futile. I don't have to tell you what some of these helpless youth will do -- let's understand harm will certainly follow. 

And, young man, just because you have excellent self-esteem, you must not use others to be the big man on campus. It has been discovered that bullies usually have a strong sense of entitlement and superiority over others while they lack compassion, impulse control and social skills. These dominant males cast blame for the bad things in their lives upon others, so they often lash out with violence and aggression as they seek attention. They can become villains with uncontrollable masochistic tendencies.

It frightens me to learn that some research studies have found that according to their peers “bullies are, by far, the coolest kids. And the victims, in turn, are very uncool.” This is especially true in middle schools -- both in male and female populations. Students said the coolest kids "start fights or push other kids around" and "spread nasty rumors about other kids." (Jaana Juvonen. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2013)

In fact, I have read in some cases, the bigger, stronger teens create a social hierarchy and appoint themselves the leaders: the bullies are clearly in charge, gaining power and status that translate to a big-time ego boost. Some schools have become jungles where survival of the fittest is actually practiced and appreciated.

Yes, wicked people in our society have put an ugly premium on the primal tendency to rely on dominance behaviors. I am very sorry you have to mature in these conditions. I promise you love conquers all, and those who practice loving behavior do triumph.

Please, understand there is no such thing as "harmless" name-calling or an "innocent' punch."

I beg you, as a maturing young man, do not become a part of this insane admiration. I ask you to help stop it. Don't reward bullies by being one yourself or by rewarding them with thinking they're "cool." 

I challenge you to become active in reporting bullying and cyberbullying to parents, teachers, and school counselors. You can also tell friends about incidents that threaten people. Don't simply ignore bad behavior -- you are not being a "rat" when you are proactive and you stop an aggressive incident from happening.

You can "stand up" in many ways. Just never be a rebel without a cause. Sometimes fighting the power is gut-wrenching and terrifying, yet never bow to evil. Seek help: it is there.

I know you are told over and over "bullying is not tolerated." You may be tired of hearing the directive, but as a loving human being and a growing man, you can help erase harmful behavior that destroys young lives. 

You see, the more understanding you develop now about tolerating all decent human beings, no matter how foreign they seem to you, the more you will gain in the future -- that includes respect, friends, and love. And remember, an apology is an act of courage, so when you do become a little too forceful, listen to you conscience and make amends. Don't delay as each minute may be crucial to someone else.

Frank R. Thompson
Father, High School Teacher, Editorial Writer, and Believer in Youth

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Queen Elizabeth's Bust: Estimate and Morphine

King Richard III:
A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

Withdraw, my lord; I'll help you to a horse.

King Richard III:
Slave! I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.

 (William Shakespeare, Richard The Third, Act 5, Scene 4)
Wow, guess who just got busted? 
Would you believe Britain's Queen Elizabeth II? 

Well ... sort of. You see, Estimate, a champion racehorse owned by the queen has tested positive for morphine, a banned substance on race days in the United Kingdom. The five-year-old filly is under investigation.

Oh, the embarrassment! Yet, could this "horsy" drug abuse have been just an unavoidable, accidental mistake?

"The British Horseracing Authority announced last week that tests on five horses under the care of various trainers showed the presence of morphine in their 'A' samples. Late Tuesday, Buckingham Palace said that one of the horses was the monarch's 5-year-old mare Estimate

"The Daily Telegraph reports that 'the horse will likely forfeit its second-place finish in the Gold Cup at Ascot this past June, as well as the prize money of 80,625 pounds ($137,671).'

"A statement released by Buckingham Palace late Tuesday said that the Queen had been made aware of the positive test, and said the result was likely due to the horse's consumption of contaminated feed. Morphine is allowed to be used while training horses as either a painkiller or sedative."

 (Associated Press. "Champion Racehorse Owned by Queen Elizabeth II 
Fails Drug Test. Fox News. July 23, 2014)

Much to her delight, the Queen become the first reigning British monarch with a winning horse in Royal Ascot's biggest race in 2013. But, Leading Light won the Gold Cup on June 19, 2014, denying Queen Elizabeth II's horse Estimate a second consecutive victory in Royal Ascot's most prestigious race.

A possible explanation for the positive reaction to morphine is contaminated food. One of Britian’s major feed merchants, Dodson and Horrell, issuing a statement last week that one of its suppliers had notified them “of a possible component contamination.”

The Queen’s bloodstock and racing advisor John Warren released a statement to the effect that Estimate was one of five horses that tested positive to morphine and that the Queen has been notified.

(Mark Mazzaglia. "Queen’s Horse Estimate Tested Positive to Morphine." July 23, 2014)

Estimate (middle)

If it is proven that the presence of morphine was accidental and related to food contamination, trainer Sir Michael Stoute will escape any penalty, as will the other trainers that have been caught up in the unfortunate situation. Sir Michael continues to offer his full co-operation to the investigation.

The Queen is one of the world’s highest profile thoroughbred owners and has raced horses for sixty years with more than one thousand, six hundred winners.

When Estimate won the Gold Cup at Ascot in 2013, Elizabeth II was ecstatic. Footage of her royal reaction was played on the big screen at Ascot, much to the delight of the crowd. Tom Sykes of The Daily Beast reported: "It's definitely the happiest I have ever seen the Queen! Look at that royal grin!"

(Tom Sykes. "Queen Goes Nuts (For Her) As Horse Wins Gold Cup." 
The Daily Beast. June 20, 2013)

Perhaps the grins have vanished and red faces rule the day in 2014. In a rather ironic case of nomenclature, previously Britain's most publicized case of a horse testing positive for morphine was "Be My Royal" after he had won the 2002 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. The horse was subsequently disqualified.

Whatever the findings, this matter must hit close to the queen's heart. It is reported at 88 she still enjoys her daily horseback rides and loves a day at the races. She even made sure to be back from her D-Day commemoration trip to Paris in time to be in Surrey for the Epsom Derby on June 7 of this year. According to the Daily Mail,  her majesty enjoys riding through Windsor Great Park with her Fell pony named Cartlonlima Emma.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

High School Cliques, Bystanders, and Bullies

High school cliques become tight social groups that compete for attention and status. Each clique has its own claim to space and to fame on campus. For example, geeks are friends bound largely by academic interests. Jocks and cheerleaders have highly visible and often applauded athletic connections. And, fashionistas often flash their sporty clothes as their flock stakes claim to the trendy "runways" of school hallways and cafeterias. Descriptions could continue with Goths, emos, etc.

The following is a scene that plays out daily 
at every high school in the nation.

A student without the approval and social protection of a particular group -- a stray wolf, for whatever reason -- enters a confrontation with one or more members of a high school clique. Usually the problem is related to either resistance by the loner to accept "clique cool" or aggressive behavior by a clique against someone who appears freakish or foreign, a presumed affront to the social parameters of the group.

So many times after such a confrontation, a clique member uses the excuse that the foreigner was "running his or her mouth" about them although this "rumor" is almost always discovered through second-hand information.

Many sociologists call these confrontations "bullying" and attribute them to the actions of a single, loud and offensive student, but I believe they are often more akin to group "needling" in that the harm is less bullish and physical than it is verbal and psychological group warfare.

One metaphor that comes to mind is an incantation and the use of a voodoo doll. Victims of clique attack become unwilling voodoo dolls pricked often (sometimes daily) by the badgering behaviors of group members attempting to control (or destroy) their deemed "unacceptable" actions. Day after day, sharp words, cruel physical isolation, and degradation make the alien victims feel like human pin cushions.

One of the most interesting and extremely frightening aspects of a clique/alien confrontation is the pack mentality. Each member of a high school clique has been through a pecking order, accepted his or her role in the group, and feels allegiance to participate blindly in any clique behavior, including the act of psychologically maiming a stranger for little or no reason. To many students, social standing in high school is that important and that controlling: cliques can rule all social behavior.

Once the confrontation begins, bystanders inevitably partake of the encounter. If a fight is brewing, bystanders smell the blood in the water and hope for a slug fest. Likewise, if  a prank or a verbal showdown is to be on display, bystanders want to witness how the freak receives his "propers." So, the bystanders often hear about the upcoming confrontations and eagerly watch them happen.

One of the most difficult strategies to employ to help avoid the implementation of these clashes is to expect bystanders to be proactive, not neutral. But, contributing to the solution as a bystander, not ignoring the problem, is also one of the greatest, most effective measures to stopping ugly, unacceptable social behaviors in high school. Proactive bystanders can be saviors.

“It’s none of my business.”

There is such a stigma in our society about "ratting" on another person that most students will not inform school authorities about potential disputes. Add to that the power and influence of a high school clique and one can see the likely consequences of going against a formidable group.

Still, in my mind, nothing works better to solve social problems than students stepping up, coming out of their roles as indifferent bystanders, and risking the eventualities of their own positive actions.

Most bystanders passively accept showdowns by watching and doing nothing. Yet, the truth is, bystanders rarely play a completely neutral role, although they may think they do. They may feel powerless to help an individual, so they accept their own cowardice. Passive bystanders contribute to problems by providing a clique the audience they crave and the silent acceptance that allows them to continue their hurtful behavior.
Hurtful bystanders do the following:
* Instigate the confrontation to begin

* Encourage the confrontation by laughing, cheering, or making aggressive comments

* Join in the confrontation once it has begun

Proactive bystanders do this:

* Intervene directly by discouraging the aggressor, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying

* Get help by rallying support from peers to stand up against peer misbehavior or by reporting the behaviors to adults. 

"The weirdo 'deserved' it."

Oh, how quickly a student finds the excuse above unacceptable if and when the day arrives that he or she is shunned by their own high school clique. The horror of becoming powerless to victimization becomes reality. And soon, a new "outsider" also develops guilt for not having defending other helpless victims.

Adults should prepare children to become helpful bystanders by discussing with them the different ways bystanders can make a difference, and by letting them know that adults will support them, if and when they step forward. Adults can also provide examples of how helpful bystanders have shown courage and made a difference in real-life situations and in their own experiences.

Help For the Victims

A study by Karen D. Rudolph in the journal Child Development found promoting an egoless approach to building relationships that encourages children to react in such mindful ways is key to protecting kids from the psychological blowback of bullying. Rudolph's study shows that kids who are able to respond with care have better mental health than those who respond to stress thoughtlessly.

The data was revelatory. It is not the only answer, but it provides fruitful opportunity to thwart problems. Though it wasn't astounding to find out that half of the children reported being the object of taunts, gossip, or intimidation, how they reacted to their harassers was. The key to anticipating victims' responses, it turns out, is to figure out their motivations for interacting with their peers in the first place.

That is ... 

* Students who wanted to be popular and feel superior tended to retaliate impulsively. 

* Those who wanted to appear cool by avoiding criticisms were more likely to pretend like nothing happened. 

* And those who were genuinely interested in fostering friendships tended to react in healthful, positive ways. They asked their teachers for advice, sought emotional support, and found means to solve the tension with those who harassed them.

In no way are these findings "blaming the victim." You don’t have to be the one at fault to take action. Who is more likely to approach this problem in a constructive way: the people who take pleasure in promoting their power or those who may benefit from a change in the dynamic?

 (Hans Villarica. "An Alternate Approach to Stop School Bullying: Fix the Victims." 
The Atlantic. November 2, 2011)

I strongly believe promoting a responsible, tolerant student body, especially a strong and proactive senior class (Underclassmen do not admit it, but they do look up to senior leadership.), eliminates many clique/alien confrontations. Of course, wouldn't high school be lovely without all the pressures and stresses of social classes? Well, good luck with that one.

I taught high school for decades, and I believe some student divisions are so strongly entrenched that they may never disappear. Teaching toleration for all becomes so important because it is grounded in accepting differences, not in excluding them as meaningless.

During my many years of teaching high school, I have also seen the positive role of proactive bystanders. They are a caring force to be reckoned with, and a meaningful "clique" of their own. Great high schools have great student leaders. There is no substitute. Honest, well-meaning leadership in the student body of a high school is paramount to smooth sailing during a school year. Administrators, counselors, teachers, and, most of all, students will confirm this.

People must realize that great young leaders must be groomed -- if they are groomed with beliefs that money, position, and class make them special, they will associate only with those of that ilk; however, if they are groomed with the understandings that all people are equals with admirable qualities that should be recognized, they will broaden their personal connections to include an entire, diverse student body. Parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and other students must contribute to grooming significant numbers of student leaders who can work together to forge a close-knit school.

If we, as adults, believe this kind of toleration and friendship will take place by happenstance, we should look into a mirror. I believe most of us will see our own imperfections that need corrected.

God knows I have been through many personal struggles to reshape my understandings, and as look back at my own youthful days, I shudder at some ignorant beliefs I once held. Young brains are not mature brains, no matter their intellect. Without meaningful interactions and consultations with thoughtful, wise adults, well-meaning teens will make many critical mistakes they really don't mean to make.

I do know that all teens need help in reasoning, even though they may resist it. This "tough love" is as essential to a youngster in grade school as it is to a senior in high school. Without guidance and love, teens wither. They become unfriendly children. The individual bully is one such despicable person, a person who is a product of his or her environment. The all-exclusive clique group is an even more formidable foe, but also a product of a doting social environment.

No good high school can tolerate a student body of hurtful bystanders. Unfortunately, adult society presently tolerates too much of this behavior, and the trickle-down is damaging, even killing, bright young high school students. Teens who stand up do not have to be tough or physically aggressive; instead, they have to be gutty, proactive leaders.

"It is the supreme test of a system of government whether its machinery is adequate for repressing the selfish 
undertakings of cliques formed on special interests 
and saving the public from raids of plunderers."

--William Graham Sumner: American academic, historian, economist, and sociologist

Monday, July 21, 2014

High School Sports Obsession: Give Kids a Place to Fail

I love sports, and, like most other Americans, I can speak of the many benefits of high school sports: exercise, lessons in sportsmanship and perseverance, school spirit, and just plain fun. But lately, I fear the obsession with high school sports has reached a crazy, frenetic state -- for schools, for fans, and for participants.  

In many schools, sports are so entrenched that no one -- not even the people in charge -- realizes their actual cost in terms of dollars, time, and human impact.

Let me give you some examples that support my belief that high school sports obsession hurts American education:

*  Many school boards show a disregard for the emotional well being of kids by ignoring the importance of family time and the simple need for "a break" from sports. Any practices offered by coaches will be "voluntary" in name only, as no athlete will risk disappointing a coach and no coach will risk allowing the competition to get an advantage. Thus, practices are often mandatory even over holidays and in the off-season.

Sports can be quite time-consuming for a child, interfering with homework, dinner, getting together with friends and spending time with the family.

Read more :
Sports can be quite time-consuming for a child, interfering with homework, dinner, getting together with friends and spending time with the family. All participants will feel significant added pressures of being on a high school team.

Ask anyone who understands high school sports and the increased emphasis on pruning athletes for one sport, and they will tell you that playing a single sport involves a full-year commitment. Gone are the days of athletes passing one ball off for another and participating with ease in three sports a year.

Sport “specialization” at an early age that limits children’s ability to learn to play a variety of sports and excludes, at a young age, those who are not “good enough” to compete.

There's no legitimate reason why teams need more practice, but there is plenty of evidence that coaches aren't wise enough or secure enough to know when to take a break. Grades and family relationships aren’t as important as practices and competition.

* High school sports can be very costly. For example, football at Premont Independent School District in Texas (the state that inspired Friday Night Lights and the focus on social importance of high school football in small Texas towns) cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student.

For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, but this option never occurred to anyone.

So, in the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down the district for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Premont did the unthinkable -- the school suspended all sports -- including football. By suspending sports, the district saved $150,000 in one year.

The fall of 2012 at Premont, the first without football, was quiet. But there was an upside to the quiet. “The first 12 weeks of school were the most peaceful beginning weeks I’ve ever witnessed at a high school,” Superintendent Ernest Singleton said. “It was calm. There was a level of energy devoted to planning and lessons, to after-school tutoring. I saw such a difference.”

That first semester, 80 percent of the students passed their classes, compared with 50 percent the previous fall. About 160 people attended parent-teacher night, compared with six the year before. Principal Ruiz was so excited that he went out and took pictures of the parking lot, jammed with cars.

Through some combination of new leadership, the threat of closure, and a renewed emphasis on academics, Premont’s culture changed. “There’s been a definite decline in misbehavior,” claimed Desiree Valdez, who teaches speech, theater, and creative writing at Premont. “I’m struggling to recall a fight. Before, it was one every couple of weeks.”

Suspending sports was only part of the equation, but Singleton believes it was crucial. He used the savings to give teachers raises. Meanwhile, communities throughout Texas, alarmed by the cancellation of football, raised $400,000 for Premont via fund-raisers and donations—money that Singleton put toward renovating the science labs.

No one knew whether the state would make good on its threat to shut the district down. But for the first time in many years, Premont had a healthy operating balance and no debt. This spring of 2013, the school brought back baseball, track, and tennis, with the caveat that the teams could participate in just one travel tournament a season. “Learning is going on in 99 percent of the classrooms now,” coach and history teacher Richard Russell said, “compared to 2 percent before.”

The State of Texas announced in May, 2013, that the Premont Independent School District could stay open. 

(Amanda Ripley. "The Case Against High-School Sports." The Atlantic. September 18, 2013)

* During the earlier days of American high school sports, the thinking went, participation would both protect boys’ masculinity and distract them from vices like gambling and prostitution. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. warned that cities were being overrun with “stiff-jointed, soft-muscled, paste-complexioned youth.” Muscular Christianity, fashionable during the Victorian era, prescribed sports as a sort of moral vaccine against the tumult of rapid economic growth. And, of course, athletics focused on helping youth become physically fit.

Boy, somewhere along the line, the perspective of the worth of organized sports changed. Once sports become so important to the school, they start colliding with academics. Now, so many high schools are judged more by the success of their sports programs than by the quality of their scholastics.

Mark Hyman, Baltimore writer who covers sports business for Business Week and author of Until it Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How it Harms Our Kids, says, "Parents with visions of scholarships and professional riches have turned youth sports into a high pressure, big-money enterprise at the expense of their children." Adults give youth the impression that organized sports is sports and anything else isn't valuable. What about riding bikes around the neighborhood, playing pickup and sandlot games, or swimming with friends?

What results when organized sports become king? Too many kids view sports not so much as fun but more of a pre-professional curriculum, and they often burn out at young ages. Hyman says, from research, we know that 75 percent of kids 13 and under drop out of sports. Attrition is to be expected, but we also know almost all youngsters want to be athletes, so 75 percent is a startling factor.

When asked why, the answers are what you'd expect. The youth say, "The games are too competitive; they didn't have fun; the adults take it too seriously. Hyman believes the answer to this is evident: "Reigning in our own adult behavior is what it comes down to."

Hyman explains ...

"In the '60s and '70s, there was not this gold rush mentality with scholarships and playing professionally. Now parents pay big money for private coaching, travel teams and medical bills, all with the idea of the kid getting into the college of their parents' choice, preferably with a scholarship... 

"The odds of a high school kid playing one minute in college are dismal. Just five percent of high school athletes play in college. If you're looking for a free ride to college through an athletic scholarship, it doesn't happen.

"Most of these kids are on partial scholarships that account for just a small amount of the tuition equation. Plus, parents are spending a lot of money to put kids in the position to get that partial scholarship.

"Parents are looking for some kind of return on investment. The more you're putting into an enterprise, even your child's sports career, the more you expect in return."

(Pete Williams. "Is America's Obsession with Youth Sports Hurting Kids?" Exos. June 26, 2009)
* Aren't high school sports supposed to be fun activities? By focusing too heavily on winning, coaches, parents, and athletes fail to realize what is important in competition, and, even worse, the obsession with winning refutes what is important. Sports cease to be vehicles for learning when adults skew proper goals. Sadly, some adults even attempt to live out their own athletic dreams through their children.

Of course, wanting to win is human. It feels great to win. But adults should not merely teach kids to do what feels best, but rather adults should help equip them for independence in life. The proper perspective of sports is seen by examining the long-term gains rather than by considering the expedient successes. Playing sports gives youth confidence that their own effort, preparation and focus is essential, and not that short-term outcomes and winning are foremost.

Soccer mom and writer Lisa Endlich Heffernan believes between the very permanent record created by social media and the Internet to the hyper competitive college process, kids have few places they can safely fail. Heffernan thinks athletics plays an important role as that place.

Think about what Heffernan is proposing. The playing field provides a place for kids to experience heated competition, losing, regrouping and beginning again, without consequence. Heffernan says, "As parents stand on the sidelines baying for conquest, they give weight to something that, realistically, has little meaning and removes this golden chance to learn from loss."

She would argue that athletic competitions offer one of the very best venues for learning some of life’s most important lessons.  But these lessons don’t require victories, and in fact many, like some of the following, are best taught in defeat:

  • There is always someone better than you, at everything.
  • Those who enforce the rules can be mistaken or even biased and conditions under which you have to operate are often bad.
  • You can do your very best and still not succeed. This isn’t unfair, it just is.
  • People will cheat and you will lose because someone is not honest.  
  • It is important, in fact essential, to continue trying hard long after success is no longer a possibility.
  • You must never let down those who have invested it you--teachers, coaches, parents and later bosses--even though your motivation has long since dissipated.
  • It is as important to learn how to be a gracious loser as it is to be a humble winner.
  • A team is about something much larger than any one person.
  • Individuals do not succeed, teams do.
  • Playing your role, whatever that role, is an honorable thing to do.
  • Intense physical activity is good for almost everything that ails us.
  • Kids feeling the endorphin-laced thrill of exertion will habituate into adopting a healthy lifestyle.
  • Sharing a goal is not the same as sharing success. The camaraderie of a team comes from the former not the latter.
  • One small mistake in an otherwise flawless performance can be the difference between winning and losing.
  • Practicing anything will make you better, more confident and, perhaps at some point, lead to success.  But you practice to become better and more confident.
  • Outcome cannot be controlled, only processes and effort.
  • Failing to win is not failing.  Teams improve, players improve and that is success.  You can play a great game and someone else can just play better.  Failing to win can just be bad luck.
(Lisa Endlich Heffernan. "Parents Ruin Sports for Their Kids by Obsessing About Winning."  
The Atlantic. October 10, 2013)

My Two Cents

High school is just high school and that should define the importance of a high school sports program. It's community foremost, and a small segment of one community at that. All good people herald the high school team as the most "important factor" in competition; however, inflatable egos housed in coaches, parents, fans, and young participants seem to push a personal obsession that would be better quelled. The gap between professional sports (even college sport) and high school sports is as wide as it ever has been despite the huge investments now given to succeeding.

I believe the fun I had playing sports in high school resulted because I had free will to join and compete. My parents never pressured me and seldom advised me of how to play or even if I should play. During high school, I had plenty of time to pursue other interests and to participate in family activities. Playing sports was something I chose to do, and I did it as an extension, not as a definition, of whom I was at the time.

I love my high school. I wore the purple and gold in many games to represent the district. Looking back on playing games that occurred over 45 years ago, I can honestly tell you participating made me less of a sports fanatic and more of an appreciative person who learned from both victories and defeats. The "profit" in high school sports to this individual is largely the memories of great enjoyment.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Married Women Are Cheating More: Ruby Has Taken Her Love to Town

"You've painted up your lips an rolled and curled your tinted hair.
Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The Shadow on the wall tells me the sun is going down 

Oh Ruby
Don't take your love to town"

"Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" by Kenny Rogers (Mel Tillis, songwriter)

Mel Tillis wrote this song. He based the song on a couple who lived near his family in Florida. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in World War II and sent to recuperate in England. There, he married a nurse who took care of him at the hospital. The two of them moved to Florida shortly afterward, but he had periodic return trips to the hospital as problems with his wounds kept flaring up. His wife saw another man as the veteran lay in the hospital.

Tillis changed the war in the song to the Korean War, and he left out the life ending: the man killed her in a murder-suicide. In the song, the man says he would kill her if he could move to get his gun. "Ruby" was originally recorded in 1967 by Johnny Darrell, who scored a number nine country hit with it that year.

However, "Ruby" was released and made most famous by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition in 1969. Many assumed the man in the song was a Vietnam veteran, but, Tillis intended the veteran to be a soldier who had served in Korea.

Cheating Sistas Doing It For Themselves

A cheating woman? In the not-too-distant past, women were assumed to be less likely to cheat than men. And, people thought when married women did cheat, they were somewhat of a disloyal rarity -- females who broke sacred vows of fidelity. There was a double standard as many more men cheated on their wives than vice versa.

Having emotional affairs, cheating wives were said to be likely to "swap up" when they cheated. Cheating wives tended to have affairs with men who had more status and resources than their husbands. They were also known to be more likely to view their infidelity as a symptom of the problems in their relationship.  By comparison, men were assumed to have an easier time separating infidelity from the problems they faced at home.

Now ...

"An astonishing one in six wives admit to cheating on their husbands after a 40% rise in last 20 years."

(Frank Bass. "Cheating Wives Narrowed Infidelity Gap Over Two Decades." 
Bloomberg. July 1, 2013)

While one in four men rationalized their adultery with the excuse "unhappy marriage," there were more women (one in two) who actually used the same justification.

Women now seem to be becoming less discreet about cheating. Sociologists believe the gender gap is closing, and female infidelity is very likely linked to cultural change. Statistics support the fact that men cheat more than women, but according to the research, the increase in unfaithful women reflects many trends. Here are some findings:

* Women have their own jobs and great financial independence, so they feel they have less to lose from a divorce. “Among married couples with children, the proportion in which the wife’s income tops her husband’s has increased from about 4 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2011,” according to a Pew Research study.

* Women have greater access to men who might be interested in them and available.

* Women find cheating easier with the internet and social media (including but not limited to dating and extramarital meetup sites).

* Women believe personal fulfillment is more important than ever before.

* Women may be cheating with same-sex partners more. This is an assumption: there's no word on whether or not the NORC survey contains data on same-sex marriages

Relationship experts and authors Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels say, “To the extent that men play a role, the change reflects a certain inattentiveness. Relationship neglect is often (but not always) a primary cause of infidelity.” And, now women understand that if their marriage isn't making them happy, they can find another partner.

Daniel Bergner, author of the newly published book What Do Women Want?, claims in the past, cultural expectations have prevented women from having more affairs. The assumptions that women are programmed to seek out one good man and that men never have been really well-suited to monogamy are being questioned.

Bergner says an increasing body of science suggests that women’s sex drives are as powerful as men’s libidos though they’ve been repressed by thousands of years of male-dominated culture.

The website Ashley Madison (Incidentally, since its 2002 creation has grown to serve 3.5 million active users speaking nine languages in 26 countries) operates with this slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair."

Noel Biderman, the author of Adultropology: The Cyber-Anthropology Behind Infidelity, is the chief executive officer of Toronto-based Avid Life Media Inc., which operates Ashley Madison. He started the site more than 10 years ago. He said he now makes more than $40 million a month from it. “We’re the second-biggest dating service on the planet,” Biderman said.

Biderman believes the website’s usage patterns by age highlight the cultural shifts. Biderman says the ratio of males to females is greatest among users older than 65, with 14 men for every woman. The ratio is 4-to-1 among users in their 50s, 3-to-1 for spouses in their 40s, and evenly divided among people using Ashley Madison in their 30s.

As the nation’s median age increases, changes in attitudes about women engaging in sex with someone not their spouse may cause the gap to narrow more, Bergner states.

“Once you strip away the stigma from the equation, interest in casual sex is about equal for women and men,” he said. “So we men may have a lot to worry about.”

Yet, the difficulty of dealing with the emotional cost of affairs and cheating is still very questionable. In the 2009 the National Opinion Research Center's (NORC) poll, when asked whether extramarital sexual relations are (1) always wrong, (2) almost always wrong, (3) wrong only sometimes or (4) not wrong at all, public opinion was uniformly adamant.

According to polls, slightly more than 80% of Americans say that extramarital sexual relations are always wrong. The “always wrong” response had actually risen over the past 35 years.

(Karlyn Bowman. "Just How Many Spouses Cheat?" Forbes. June 29, 2009)

My Take

Spouses will always be tempted with the forbidden fruits of cheating. Whether men and women are equally sexually charged, equally unhappy in stale marriages, or equally financially stable, the stimulus for excitement and variety is at hand and fairly easily available. Merle Haggard once sang, "It ain't love, but it ain't bad." Yes, affairs continue within the bonds of marriage -- some exposed and some hidden -- and life goes on. Love suffers, but life goes on.

I believe judgment of those entering the cheating game today is much more slack than ever. What with more and more emphasis on hot body parts and 50 shades of libido satisfaction, sexual candy comes in so many tasty flavors that titillate the imagination. Affection, then love, then sex and more sex or much more varied sex and a little sprinkle of stretching the boundaries and ... soon, the entire concept is on the edge. Who these days can "get enough" of anything or be satisfied with "less"?

If you look at the reasons cited for female cheating, you begin to understand why temptation has turned into much more mutual coitus. More money, more opportunity, and more desire top the list. What besides moral commitment to fidelity will stop females or males, for that matter, from using their resources to taste new dishes of exotic appeal? It's there; it looks good; so, I deserve it resounds in modern day America. "I will have fun" is a credo that dictates social interaction.

To me, you can never take the flirtatious impulse and thrill out of the cheating equation. The positive aspects of women shrinking the gender gap will also cause married ladies to meet a darker, more dangerous threat. How can they not? The real concern is that extramarital sex will eventually become so commonplace that reliability, allegiance, and constant love die within marriage.

How do couples stem this in the face of the "highest happiness matters" marriage? Should married couples cheat if cheating makes both spouses happy? I don't know because I am of the old school that contends cheating breaks bonds, and these bonds cannot be repaired with simple promises or material gifts. I have seen love and marriage survive cheating situations, and I believe this rarity is always due to unbelievable forgiveness and incredible humility and change. Finding those things all coming together after a spouse discovers his or her lover has offered up their most sacred affection is so rare.

If love is happiness, not money or variety or sexual fulfillment, cheating will likely lead to hollow gratification. Let's face it. Jealousy is explosive, especially since a spouse's affair feels like a sickening, crushing blow to the faithful partner's genitals and fragile ego. Perhaps God created this thin line between pleasure and pain to keep human beings from finding sexual satisfaction so commonplace that it would mean nothing to the emotion of true love.

"Oh, Ruby, for God's sake, turn around." 

And now the song rings even louder in my 63 year-old ears. Yes, ladies, I believe cheating is "tit for tat," yet I can assure you when a man finds his "baby" loved by another, he goes insane to some degree. Tell me things have changed, and I will tell you of so many heartbreak stories that happened in the spur of the moment during flaming, all-consuming passion that you will reconsider any advantages of free love. We used to say "If it feels good, do it." No happy person I know practices this ignorant philosophy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Human Life's Mystery: Affirmation of God Is Love


Human Life’s Mystery

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

We sow the *glebe, we reap the corn,
We build the house where we may rest,
And then, at moments, suddenly,
We look up to the great wide sky,
Inquiring wherefore we were born…
For earnest or for jest?

The senses folding thick and dark
About the stifled soul within,
We guess diviner things beyond,
And yearn to them with yearning fond;
We strike out blindly to a mark
Believed in, but not seen.

We vibrate to the pant and thrill
Wherewith Eternity has curled
In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
While, freshening upward to His feet,
In gradual growth His full-leaved will
Expands from world to world.

And, in the tumult and excess
Of act and passion under sun,
We sometimes hear—oh, soft and far,
As silver star did touch with star,
The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
Through all things that are done.

God keeps His holy mysteries
Just on the outside of man’s dream;
In *diapason slow, we think
To hear their pinions rise and sink,
While they float pure beneath His eyes,
Like swans *adown a stream.

Abstractions, are they, from the forms
Of His great beauty?—exaltations
From His great glory?—strong previsions
Of what we shall be?—intuitions
Of what we are—in calms and storms,
Beyond our peace and passions?

Things nameless! which, in passing so,
Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
We say, ‘Who passes?’—they are dumb.
We cannot see them go or come:
Their touches fall soft, cold, as snow
Upon a blind man’s face.

Yet, touching so, they draw above
Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
Our daily joy and pain advance
To a divine significance,
Our human love—O mortal love,
That light is not its own!

And sometimes horror chills our blood
To be so near such mystic Things,
And we wrap round us for defence
Our purple manners, moods of sense—
As angels from the face of God
Stand hidden in their wings.

And sometimes through life’s heavy *swound 
 We grope for them!—with strangled breath
We stretch our hands abroad and try
To reach them in our agony,—
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
Which soon is large enough for death.

* glebe - land
* diapason - harmonious sound
* adown - adorn
* swound - swoon 

"We look to the sky inquiring wherefore we were born." At some point we all do this, don't we? We wonder what circumstance and what fertilized miracle put our particular soul into this singular earthly existence. We wonder about who we really are and what we were meant to be. Perhaps, we will never find the answers to these perplexing questions. One might ask if answers that crease our human brains even exist.

The unique soul we possess comes to life on planet Earth without a smidgen of our control. The die was cast and, at some point, we developed a consciousness capable of questioning the reason and purpose of our journey here. And, believe me, many, many think they might have answers.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates as of 2013, 7.176 billion people are alive on earth. Then, to get a perspective on human kind, we must consider how many of us have ever walked the globe. One learned estimate assumes that if we started counting from 50,000 B.C., the time when modern Homo sapiens appeared on the earth, approximately 106 billion people have been born since the dawn of the human race.

So, roughly 6% of all people who have ever lived are here today. Each of us is a speck of humanity born in wonder. Elizabeth Barrett Browning had the great intellect to write about her conceptions.

Browning (1806 – 1861) questioned the mysteries of life. Her poetry makes us consider all the tumult and excess we consume as part of blinding existing among others while making our way to the inevitable end of our days. Birth -- life between -- Death. What is it all about?

The mysteries of human life are many. What way are we meant to exist? How should we "sow" and "reap"? Where should we dwell? We wonder if we were born as part of a divine purpose or possibly, just in jest.  As Browning writes: "We strike out blindly to a mark/Believed in, but not seen."

The quests to fill the most important parts of our lives leave us wondering about our own decisions? How did we find the right lover? Or could we even hope to find one by mere chance and minute familiarity with all others? How did we make our desired friends? Don't we all really rely upon His grace to experience "the pants and thrills" and occasionally "hear the kiss of peace and righteousness through all things that are done"? Inside each of us remains the incredible yearning for more -- more understanding and more human love.

Are the most incredible moments of life but abstractions of "His holy mysteries"? Is not the fate of our existence, even mortal love, a form of "light that is not its own"? Here, on earth, God's love is abstract -- the true love we seek is holy and what "we shall be." Try as we might to reach that light here, we fall short because "God keeps his holy mysteries just outside of man's dream." Life -- the good, the bad -- is lived within that ever-widening "wound which soon becomes large enough for death." We seek a goal beyond the bounds of human existence.

Browning believed that real art led the soul to contemplate God, the supreme Artist of the universe.
Yet, she understood art was not the highest, the ultimate —

"Art is much, but Love is more!
O Art, my Art, thou'rt much, but Love is more!
Art symbolises heaven, but Love is God
And makes heaven."

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

Understanding Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Understanding Elizabeth Browning's life increases the reader's understanding of her poetry. Born in England, she was the eldest of 12 children. Browning was educated at home.

Browning was an intensely studious, precocious child. She writes that at age six she was reading novels, at eight she was entranced by Pope's translations of Homer, studying Greek at ten and writing her own Homeric epic, The Battle of Marathon: A Poem. The poetry Browning began writing from around the age of six was compiled by her mother, comprising what is now one of the largest collections extant of juvenilia by any English writer. 

At 15 Browning became ill, suffering from intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life, rendering her frail. She took laudanum (opium - a perfectly legal patent medicine then) for the pain, which may have led to a lifelong addiction and contributed to her weak health. Her own sufferings could never daunt her in the pursuit of learning.

Browning's first adult collection The Seraphim and Other Poems was published in 1838. During this time she contracted a disease, possibly tuberculosis, which weakened her further. Browning wrote prolifically between 1841 and 1844, producing poetry, translation and prose.

Browning believed that "Christ's religion is essentially poetry—poetry glorified." She explored the religious aspect in many of her poems, especially in her early work, such as the sonnets. She was interested in theological debate, had learned Hebrew and read the Hebrew Bible. The poem "Aurora Leigh," for example, features religious imagery and allusion to the apocalypse.

She said in her writing ...

"We want the sense of the saturation of Christ's blood upon the souls of our poets, that it may cry through them in answer to the ceaseless wail of the Sphinx of our humanity, expounding agony into renovation. Something of this has been perceived in art when its glory was at the fullest. Something of a yearning after this may be seen among the Greek Christian poets, something which would have been much with a stronger faculty."

She campaigned for the abolition of slavery and her work helped influence reform in child labor legislation. Her prolific output made her a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for the poet laureate on the death of Wordsworth. 

Browning's volume Poems (1844) brought her great success. During this time she met and corresponded with the writer Robert Browning, who admired her work. The courtship and marriage between the two were carried out in secret, for fear of her father's disapproval.

Following the wedding she was disinherited by her father and rejected by her brothers. The couple moved to Italy in 1846, where she would live for the rest of her life. At the age of 43, between four miscarriages, she gave birth to a son, Robert Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Towards the end of her life, her lung function worsened, and she died on 29 June 1861 in her husband's arms. Browning said that she died "smilingly, happily, and with a face like a girl's. … Her last word was … 'Beautiful'".

A collection of her last poems was published by her husband shortly after her death. Browning may be most remembered for her poem "How Do I love Thee?" The themes of "Human Life's Mystery" are so apparent in this work, too: the need for love, the longings of human existence, the dedication to a heavenly faith.

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

I have learned through the eyes and pen of Browning. I hope this post furthers your understanding of life. Or ... perhaps, just opens your heart and mind to a more detailed quest for finding more peace on earth.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Freckled Faces Finding Fortune

 "Four be the things I'd have been better without: 
love, curiosity, freckles and doubt."

 --Dorothy Parker, American poet and author

A small girl with freckles is normally considered cute or perhaps a little ornery and impish, but a woman with freckles often seeks every method to minimize her dappled condition. No longer charming, her adult freckles become something uninformed acquaintances consider an unattractive, potentially dangerous skin disorder. In truth, freckles are neither ugly nor unhealthy.

Leave it to myth and fiction to denigrate the different. There has been a literary tradition of casting one with freckles as the loser, or as the villain. In A Passage To India by E.M. Forster, Adela Quested is described as being unattractive because she is so "angular" and "freckled"; in creating Caliban, the deformed creature in The Tempest, Shakespeare chose to make him a "freckled whelp"; in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, the spooky Peter Quint has red hair and freckles.

There is even an legend that you can tell how many souls a soul-less redhead has stolen by counting the freckles on her face.

Those freckles are actually clusters of concentrated melanin which are most often visible on people with a fair complexion. Freckles can be found on anyone no matter their genetic background; however, the amount of freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.

The formation of freckles is triggered by exposure to sunlight. The exposure to UV-B radiation activates melanocytes to increase melanin production, which can cause freckles to become darker and more visible.

Freckles are not a skin disorder, but people with freckles generally have a lower concentration of photoprotective melanin and are therefore more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV-radiation. It is suggested that they avoid overexposure and use sunscreen.

Angel Kisses

Freckles are also considered angel kisses -- beautiful, unique markings on attractive faces. In fact, Vogue magazine did a summer 2008 special edition just to showcase the gorgeous freckles many women possess.

Alex Bilmes, editor of the British edition of Esquire magazine, declared...

"Vogue declares this season's must-have look will be a 'sexy sprinkling of freckles.'"

""Freckles are sexy," Bilmes wrote in Vogue. "Freckles should be fetished, embraced, touched, kissed. Freckles, more than anything, are a provocation: if I can see that some of you is freckled, I can't help wondering about the rest. If your face is freckled, what does your back look like, your stomach, your thighs...?"

The Vogue article went on to describe the seductive power of freckles. One thing many men find sexy about freckles is their potential to capture the eyes’ attention. Seeing freckles on the face and arms often makes the eyes wander to the rest of the body and wonder just how many other freckles there might be. Additionally, many men enjoy kissing and touching freckles and see them as the ultimate turn on.

"A face without freckles is like a night without stars."  


Freckles may also give a woman the much-desired “girl next door” look. As a sign of natural beauty rather than the fake glamour, freckles seem youthful, playful, and fun as they are often associated first and foremost with little children who laugh and play.

Finally, freckles can be sexy because they are rare. They make a woman more unique and more interesting. This allure is enhanced by freckles that seem to only appear beneath the glow of the sun.

So many dermatological experts say women who have these beauty marks should embrace their genetics and learn to see their skin as a sign of sexiness because freckles are gorgeous. As more and more people embrace the sexiness of freckles, freckle fan clubs have started appearing on the internet. The web is full of sites dedicated to freckled beauties who know that their skin is truly their best feature.

Maybe Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) should have lived in this millennium so she could have found freckles to be her ally with "love, curiosity and doubt."

 Dorothy Parker

A Very Short Song

by Dorothy Parker

Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad-
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.