kidzania insania

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I’ve noticed that many parents unconsciously think that raising kids is about them: what they have to do, tolerate, manage, feed, shuttle, kiss. Sadly, that cramped view has created much of the pathetic society we live in.

Having a child is a crucial privilege, not a obligation. It is a job—the most consequential one you’ll ever have—but as I taught my kids: work and play are selfsame…or they should be. Your ‘mission’ is to give rise to a decent adult human, one who has a sizable vision beyond shopping, soothing and Selfies. Caregivers: you’re forging the next world community.

The rant-ress isn’t suggesting it’s only parental activity that forms this. No. This paradigm is profoundly sick, but you as a parent can be conscious of what impact you and the culture does that could thwart or support your child, and select the latter. It should rarely be about choosing easy. Choose impeccable.

The New Yorker recently published an article about KidZania, a franchise, started near Mexico City (malls adjacent for the adults). It doesn’t offer thrill rides like Disneyland but instead gives kids the “chance to enact the roles of grownups” in a stylized city that’s “corporate, sanitized, market driven.” This urbanity has it’s own currency (kidzos), debit cards, banks, factories, branding stuccoed everywhere, police, courts, jail, insurance agents…and kids do various jobs for ‘entertainment,’ and $$.

Does KidZania also provide strip clubs, grow operations and bars, too? Because we adults know the world of grownups slotted into a soul-shrinking financially-driven culture creates a notorious need for unhealthy soothing.

KidZania‘s CEO believes that children love this because they get to make their own decisions about what they’ll do in this faux metropolis. “We don’t tell them anything. Just cash your check, get money and start spending…”

This might appear to be ‘imaginative play,’ to act the adult, but it’s not. The “Zupervisors” follow cue cards in all activities offered. Sure, kids pick their activity but they’re done for them. There’s no actual discovery, no genuine exploration because it’s all adult propelled. The “industry partners” like Coke, McD’s, Walmart, Domino’s… are there to create a “more authentic experience” of the world. Yeah, right.

What the kids did appreciate about KidZania was autonomy—what my generation experienced when children. We usually played outside all day, everyday—unsupervised—with who we chose, inventing games and rules, brokering between ourselves. When I was seven, I wrote and produced a play [me, the murderer wearing a black leotard] in my neighbor’s garage for our parents, even crafting the tickets. Our moms only helped with costuming by directing us to storage closets.

The rant-ress typically disapproves of team sports for kids vs. ‘personal best’ sports: skateboarding, biking, surfing, snowboarding, tag…because the former is often coach (adult) driven with established rules. Little room for critical thinking, negotiation or personal choice. I hesitate to yearn for the ‘good ole days’ of parents smoking/drinking on the patio while dismissing us kids to sort the world out among ourselves.

Today’s paradigm is hard enough on children without viewing them as marketing targets, exploiting their ‘purity’ and their belief that we want the best for them instead of low-maintenance interactions. Could we PLEASE let child-play be child-play and stay the “f” out of it? This latest ‘disguised educational entertainment’ capitalizes on childhood joy and trains kids to grow up to be characterless minions. It’s dishonorable.

betrayal is the new “connection”

betrayal

As a counselor, stories of betrayal are relayed to me regularly from the minor to the heinous: gossip, political scandals, longstanding infidelity, drinking secretly, gambling away copious amounts of money, etc… Regardless the form, there are commonalities:

  • they’re clandestine, often long-term
  • lies and/or denial
  • the deceived abruptly discovers a split life, half of which they’ve never experienced and must now integrate

The deceived has unknowingly written a fraudulent story. The deceiver holds the complete history; no incorporation necessary. Even if the betrayer has remorse, their narrative—delusional though it may be—is sound, so they usually have an easier time moving on. They made decisions all along in keeping with their skewed sense of self and those invisible choices were within their control. As Anna Fels writes, “…after the discovery of a longstanding lie, the victims are counseled to move on…stay focused on the future. But it’s not so easy…when there’s no solid narrative ground to stand on.”

The survivors of this deceit feel an unrealistic humiliation for being duped even though they often did sense discordant things but were systematically gaslighted [see: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting) ] into believing they’d “gotten it wrong.” They’re commonly embarrassed because others knew the truth and the sufferer now feels in “exile.” Picture Elizabeth Edwards. Everything is second-guessed. What really happened?

This is why my clients who’ve experienced deception want to know the gruesome details. It’s not that they want to wallow (as others sometimes cruelly say) as much as they’re trying to reconstruct counterfeit memories, struggling to integrate this previously unknown reality.

But the miscreant? S/he’s redeemed and ready to start a new life, make better choices leaping from villain to reformed sinner. And everybody loves the reformed; movies revere them; Judeo-Christian morés press forgiveness. It gives us the righteous chance to feel good about ourselves (maybe justify our mistakes). They change! They’ve repented! Loser to winner in a single bound! To paraphrase Anna Fels, our culture has a soft spot for tales of people starting over.

But for the others who’ve systematically been lied to, the picture is much grimmer. Nobody likes a victim—even the victim. People want to align with the winner.

Addiction is all about disconnection: from Self, from family, from community. And it is fabulous when someone creeps out of the alley of self-delusion into the light of reality. They probably should be forgiven—at some point—but that point comes after accountability, amends, sincere understanding of damage done, empathy, mercy. In other words, connection. Bestowing facile forgiveness, so that we can feel saintly isn’t any more real than the brutal twaddle the deceiver pulled.

We need authenticity before forgiveness and we need to have compassion, not contempt, for the marginalized casualty who unfortunately reminds us of our inability to have control over our lives instead of affiliating with the asshat perpetrators. Maybe we worry that we could be that “loser” at some time in our lives and we despise the “victim” for that inadvertent disclosure. Betrayal shouldn’t warrant an oversimplified amnesty “connection” without ethical culpability.

do you like me? do you? huh? huh?

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Remember *Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech? and what many found treacly enough to cringe at? I suspect it could’ve been her gigantically eager need to be liked.

I don’t find the moniker “likeable” a compliment. Passionate, fun, kind, dramatic, upbeat, creative, serious…those have meaning. Likable?? What does that say; that anyone can like you? Is that something to aspire to?

Here are two of the few axioms I gave my kids: Don’t throw a rock and hide your hand and If everyone likes you, you’re doing something wrong. Not that I was suggesting they deliberately rankle others but people-pleasing/brown-nosing wouldn’t have been honoring their Selves.

Needing to be liked thwarts us from showing our whole selves to others. That dysfunctionally emotional unfulfillable hole drives us to abandon or exile the “unacceptable” parts. The distorted, rearranged version we present to the world may fool others into thinking we’ve got it all together for awhile but, honestly, I think the only one fooled is us.

If you can’t see your Self except in the reflection of others, your mirror is not your own. You won’t even recognize your face. Toddlers are better at being true to themselves than most adults and at their tender ages their brains are designed to surrender authority to others in order to learn. Isn’t it possible that the bible verse, Become as little children, might mean transparently inhabiting our unabridged self while simultaneously owning our adult power?

Refusing to be the main character in your own life renders you ineffectual for genuine change or authentic connection. If you unmindfully take cues from others to determine your next move, thought, “feeling,” that means that your self-worth will be elusively and eternally out of your control and will be tied to what someone else ignorantly decides about you. You’ll adjust your behavior to be likable and as a result you’ll consciously or subconsciously feel like a sham, robbing yourself of the opportunity to bring your unique power to the world. That leads to failed relationships, addiction, depression, rage, narcissism, victimhood (in yourself or in others)…and a myriad of other social ills.

The truth is that we don’t need everyone to like us, but we do need a select few people to love us, to actually see us, to truly know us. If we won’t reveal our unmitigated self to others, then how can they truly receive us?

Ultimately though, the only person you really need to like you is YOU and that only happens when you’re authentically YOURSELF not some knock-off designed to be “likeable.”

*no criticism of Ms. Field or her exuberance intended

the world’s going to pot

This will probably be an unpopular post. No…I’m not going to diss the holy grails of coffee or cell phones—though I could.

Nope. Worse. The sacred “herb,” marijuana.

Six years ago, a dinner guest asked my 18-year-old son why most people his age don’t experience activism like we did in the 60s & 70s. In a somewhat judgy tone he asked, “What happened to you?” meaning Dario’s generation. I didn’t speak at the time but I suspected it had a lot to do with the explosion of hella-potent weed use (and the decline of psychedelic use). The former lulls you to non-perturbed non-action.

As a counselor of 35+ years, I can tell you that there’s a substantial growth in the use of weed and the negative effects it has on people’s lives whether you’re the one doing it or on the other end of someone else doing it. The U.S. consumes three times what the rest of the world uses and in a June 2012 CDC study, pot surpassed tobacco in popularity with teenagers. Indeed, when they say, “Let’s go smoke,” they mean weed.

We all know potheads who talk big but do little, ingest “cheetos and goldfish” and have a jolly, if lethargic, take on life. Then there’s the other: anxiety ridden souls, emotionally removed, in perpetual adolescence, avoid sociability unless with pot-smoking friends, unreliable, creatively stunted, must smoke to do their “horrible job,” are moody and restless if they temporarily refrain and—in the pot-rocky-relationship-realm—will usually choose weed over their wife.

Before I go on, I’m adamant for legalization of said Herb and I’m nauseated that U.S. prisons are crowed with non-violent users or sellers of weed—not talking Cartel here. I mean, potheads may not be exactly productive but geez they surely aren’t dangerous. I’m also not discussing the casual weed smoker or anyone using it for medical reasons.

However, I doubt that all those males [National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that adult cannabis ‘abusers’ are 74% male] in their 20s and 30s who’ve gotten doctors to sign off for their Medical Marijuana cards because they “suffer” from debilitating pain, depression, nausea or other relatively benign conditions are truth-telling.

And I don’t want to hear about how natural it all is. Huh?! I know people who’ve grown for 25+ years and they’d laugh in your face. The highest weed sample ever tested between 1975 and 2009 had 33.12% THC (domestic), 37.20% THC (non-domestic). The average potency of all marijuana in the U.S., according to the UMPMC’s Dec. 2008 – Mar. 2009 quarterly report, was 8.52% but potency continues to surge. Reality check: the national average THC content in 1978 was 1.37%! That’s when it was natural, people.

Now, there’re all sorts of ways to get your THC hit if you don’t feel like smoking a joint (approx 5 mg THC): cookies, brownies, fudge, pasta sauce, suckers, caramels, animal crackers, ice cream… Here’s the THC content on just two items: soda—120 mg, chocolate truffles—300 mg!! Who could emotionally connect or otherwise function with that dosage?

Why bother to wake and bake? Just stay asleep.

help me, I think I’m falling…in “distraction” again

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Nowadays, we commonly denounce addiction to substances: drugs, alcohol, coffee, tobacco, pot, food and some compulsive activities: excessive gaming, gambling, sex addiction, FB, shopping, watching TV, texting, etc. Then some excessive behaviors are rewarded and considered virtuous: work, running, sports, religion, spiritual materialism or groups, for examples. But as my brother Ralph says: You can’t blame the weapon for the murder.

Research shows that substance abusers and compulsive behaviorists possess a similar dependency on the brain’s pleasure-center neurotransmitter, dopamine. We avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind. When we take refuge in any one of these things/activities—favored or not—we’re doomed to disappointment. I didn’t say ever participate in, but “take refuge in.”

The most hidden-in-plain-sight addiction, the most dopamine-filled action is falling in love. And it’s not just rewarded by our society, it’s held as the apex. I’m not against falling in love—I mean it’s the instinctual biological cocktail to ensure we keep our species going—I’m against the mania of it. Even the phrase, “fall in love,” reveals its lack of choice, intention, forethought.

Being in love may be our biggest mega-distraction and certainly the mega-delusion that kills many a potentially fine working human relationship. It distracts from the real work of partnering, which IMHO is why we’re attracted to certain people in the first place: we have esoteric, complex connective work to do on ourSelves. We come together for deeper reasons than just the biological imperative. I believe every relationship is a “spiritual” or profound one and that includes not only our mates but our kids, parents, siblings, friends and our cat or dog.

An old friend of mine has gone through many a delightful woman because he’s addicted to the feeling of being in love and carries the fallacy that the reason it doesn’t last is that he’s with the “wrong” woman. But after about 40 years, I’d say, Look deeper within, Bub. [see: why women don’t date nice (entitled) guys]. I also knew a woman who would hang out with a friend three times a week doing all sorts of fab things only to verbally dishonor this connection by remarking, “I need to find a relationship.” Really? Blind spot!

C.S. Lewis defines four loves:

  • affection/companion/familial
  • friendship/freely chosen
  • romantic/being in love
  • agape/charitable/divine

Romantic love is elevated beyond its superficial power. It differs very little from crack cocaine—and ultimately lasts about as long—before the fantasy starts destroying you and your mate prior to the discovery that you love their companionship as well as their kisses.

In my 35 years of work, I’ve often suggested to clients that if they want to find their raison d’être they should try to “overcome their biology.” William Blake suggested we’re half human, half angel. Time to focus more on the “divine” part of ourselves and generate our own bliss, joy, “love” within and stop exclusively thinking we can only find “it” in others, activities or substances. Let’s start elevating the relationships we do enjoy beyond the romantic sort and honor all our loves equally.