Imitation and Approval

When I was 12 years old I went to Bible Camp.  It was my first time going to camp, going away for a week without having any parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.  Luckily my second cousin went so I would know someone and that was probably the only reason I wasn’t too scared to go.  I am not sure why my mom chose to send me to a bible camp, but as a Christian I am sure she hoped that I was receive some good education about religion, the bible, etc.  When I was there I was eager to impress the counselors and leaders.  They had a bible verse a day and a contest at the end to give a free camp hat to anyone who could memorize all the verses.  I was the only who could do it.  I used to have a good memory.  Maybe I still do, I just can’t remember.  At camp they also talked a lot about prayer and how praying could help you get the things you wanted in life, as long as you were good and you really believed.  For me the idea of prayer was exciting because I thought maybe it could work to stop my dad’s drinking.  So I opened my heart and let Jesus Christ in.  The counselors were so happy.  All of them congratulated me.  They were so kind and so pleased with my decision.  After camp was over, I was so excited I had made the decision because I knew it was going to make others in my life so happy.  My mother, my grandmother, aunts and uncles.  And on top of that I was told that if I was good and really believed that my prayers would be answered.  I had many tangible reasons to be very happy about it all.  It had very little to do with heaven or hell, or some events on alternate planes of existence, but the way it made others in my life happy, and the way it might help my dad to stop drinking was very exciting.  Of course none of my praying made any difference to my dad drinking and in the end the excitement of my decision to let Jesus into my heart faded and it became clear how the entire belief system had any relevance to life if one of the things they touted the most didn’t work.  I believed as much as a 12 year old could.  But the fact that prayer doesn’t work is not really the subject on my mind, but rather that as I reflect I see how much of a child I really was.  I completely didn’t understand the complexities of the religion or the Bible.  I was clearly caught up more in the joy that the adults in my life felt by my decision rather than really grasping the importance of what a religion means to someone’s life.

Dhyan_forkandknife

It takes very little time with an infant/toddler to see how much they want to imitate others.  And while I am sure there is an evolutionary aspect to this, because obviously if we have survived as long as we have, it makes sense to copy our parents, but what is also clear is our reaction to that imitation.  Because when he successfully uses a fork, or successfully gets up on a chair by himself, climbs the stairs etc, there is much applause.  There is much excitement and happiness.  All in the house are happy and pleased at this ability to accomplish these tasks that move them closer and closer to adulthood.  Every child can’t wait to do things older people can do. They can’t wait to grow up.  As children we are always looking for the approval of our adults.  We may rebel when we don’t get it, but initially, we want to be noticed by those we look up to.  As children we are somewhat helpless and getting adults to like you and notice you, is a way to make sure that they take care of you, teach you, spend time with you.  If you can impress an adult then this is a bonding experience.  Something we all seek.

dhyan_laptopFor all my dad’s faults he was fairly adamant about choosing a religion as being a choice to make as an adult.  That children didn’t have the capacity to understand the decision and thus did not want my mother to influence as children.  This was not something my mother or Mennonite grandmother could really help doing, but it was certainly tempered compared to many other children and I am quite thankful for my dad in that, because it’s clear to me that he was right.  Even at the age of 12 I could not understand a religious belief system.  From my mother I may not have adopted her belief system, but I learned about her charity, her kindness, her compassion, her perseverance, and the fact that she is someone who likes to ask questions and research the answers.  As I watch my child grow I can see that it’s less important what I believe, but rather how I act.  These are the things that will shape him.  Brainwashing him into a certain set of beliefs seems pointless over my actions being moral.  My child was born an atheist and if he decides that he wants to pursue a belief system as a guide to live his life then it will be his own choice, not because I’ve prescribed a doctrine for him to follow.

With the idea of God being “our Father”, I sometimes wonder if God isn’t the ultimate helicopter parent.  A way for people to still constantly seek approval from a parent-like figure.  It seems somewhat unnatural to me now to maintain such an attitude into adulthood.  As children it makes sense to have this attitude, but as adults we are supposed to no longer be seeking approval and be the role models for our young.  I guess as social animals it’s easy for such hierarchies to remain.  The only problem is, if there is no God then all we’re really doing is trying to make a non-existent entity happy and a lot of difficult to interpret texts written by men on what God actually wants to be made happy.  That seems like a wholly unhealthy way to live life.

School didn’t teach me to do my taxes: Sad emoticons

An old high school friend of mine posted this video the other day.  It’s a good laugh, but overall I disagree with it.  It’s like many memes you have seen posted on Facebook about the ineffectiveness of school at teaching everyday life skills that people need.  My friend asks for people’s thoughts and as educator I wanted to echo mine, which is basically that just because school doesn’t teach you how to do your taxes, or how to garden, or even knowledge that is directly applicable to your current life or future life, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable.  Rather than go into a lengthy discussion about how school subjects are applicable I will simply say this.  First, are schools meant to teach you everyday practical skills?  Should there not be a place that teaches you thinks you would likely not learn about anywhere else?  Second, in addition to learning, you are also learning how to learn.  A whole lot of different stuff too.  And in life you have to learn a whole lot of different stuff all the time.  And thirdly, another thought I like was given by a speaker talking to the students in our program when he asked a student “Is there anything that you ever learned that you didn’t use right away, but later on you found came in quite handy?”.  Invariably the student said yes, and I think anybody can answer yes to that question.  It’s quite possible that no knowledge is actually useless.

I think though that it is a valid question to ask.  What about all this other stuff that one has to know that has nothing to do with the things you learn at school  How do we acquire these skills?  I was pondering the question today because those memes that say school doesn’t teach you anything useful sort of annoy me and could never really figure out why, but perhaps have hit on a couple of things.  First, we should perhaps get out of this mindset that school is the only place where you can learn stuff?  Most people who I know learned to be handy, learned to garden, learned sewing, etc, didn’t get it from school but got it from home.  More than that if you aren’t finding school fun, then why aren’t you spending your time out of school exploring the things that interest you.  You have the time.  And while play is important, exploring something that you want to explore might actually feel like play.  And if your parents don’t know how to do a lot of stuff, is it the schools job to fill in all the gaps in knowledge your parents don’t have?  That seems like an unfair burden to place on a school system that is already playing parent in a lot of other ways for working families.  But I am sure if someone is resourceful they could find someone who gardens, or someone who can show somebody how to do their taxes.  Before I left home I volunteered to do the family laundry for a few months because I knew once I was living on my own I’d have to do it so I should probably learn.  Again, school isn’t the only time and place for learning.

The other thing I thought about was that even though I love the “jack-of-all-trades” kind of person, the reality is that civilization trends away from such people.  The birth of civilization from farming gave people who didn’t have to grow the food free time to pursue other activities and people specialized.  Even in hunter-gatherer tribes there had to be some people who were faster, had better eyesight, were wiser, etc.  People had specialties and civilization has allow that to simply grow over the years.  We hate ironing, and a friend of ours loves to iron, and said he’d iron for us if we cooked him several days of Indian food, and we love to cook and our good at it.  So specializing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it just means that you have to be fairly competent at something.  And that way through what you’re good at, you can then pay someone to do your taxes or just buy vegetables at your farmers market.

In my experience those that are good at school, can pick up other things they need to learn relatively quickly.  The key is to just to learn to love learning and never stop. 🙂

How Our Will Is Not So Free – Part II

In Part I, I hoped to get you into a relaxed frame of mind as you consider the possibility about the existence of free will.  That perhaps our subscribing to free will is more trouble than it’s worth and that life can be no less wonderful without it.  So here is the way that I like to look at our ability to make choices.

In a previous blog post I talked about the fortunes of life perhaps depending on the choice between Pepsi and Coke, so let’s stick with soda (or pop if you

from http://createmeaning.com

prefer) to start our little thought experiment.  Let’s say you live in a world in which there is only one beverage you know about, and that beverage is Coke.  When you are thirsty and you need something to drink, there is no decision to make it is going to be Coke.  Free will does not enter into the decision.

Now this is not particularly realistic.  So let’s add a choice like Pepsi into the mix.  They taste different, but both can quench your thirst.  Which one do you choose?  Well let’s see what might go into making a decision.  You are at the store that sells the only two beverages that are available and which one do you choose?  Likely your choice will come down to statistical probability.  If you absolutely had no preference, your decision would simply be random.  Over the course of your life you would probably have picked Coke 50% of the time and Pepsi 50% of the time, provided you had a choice.  Nothing in your life that you have learned has caused you to lean one way or another, there are only two choices, and thus your choice is limited and can be simply equated to flipping a coin.

You might say at this point, wait, I can choose to pick Coke or Pepsi more often.  Okay then, but why would you?  What particular reason would you have for choosing one over the other?  This question is particularly devilish so I’ll get back to it later.  As for now, you have no reason to choose one more than another, and so quite simply you wouldn’t; it’s a flip of the coin, which isn’t free will.  Generally people don’t do anything without a reason.

Now let’s throw in a reason.  Your mother who you revere and think is wonderful always brought you a special souvenir coke when she’d go away somewhere, and so drinking Coke sometimes reminds of that warm feeling.  This is an influence that impacts your decision making. All of a sudden your preference for Coke perhaps goes to 60% (40% Pepsi) because when you’re thinking about your mom you’re in a mood for Coke, taking away from it always being a completely random decision.   Now since Coke is a little less sweet, perhaps your blood doesn’t react well to too much sugar, a genetic trait running in your family, and you can’t tolerate Pepsi as often and all of a sudden you’re at 75% Coke, 25% Pepsi.  Then you find that the makers of Coke are a little more efficient at running their business and are able to have more sales on their product.  As someone who is money conscious all of sudden you are buying Coke 85% of the time, Pepsi 15%. A really hot girl or guy is in the Coke commercial – 90%/10%.  Finally your Dad is a mean person who beat you as a child and he always drank Pepsi.  All of a sudden you are only drinking Coke again.  Your choices are a function of the things that influence you.

For every answer there is a question.  You’re money conscious, but where does that come from? Perhaps your father despite being abusive was very disciplined with money and so you gained that skill from him.   What if you decide that you aren’t going to let your father’s action impact your decisions and

From http://crenshawcomm.com

get a Pepsi out of spite.  Great, but what would cause you to be so defiant and rebellious.  Perhaps your mother showed that trait.  Perhaps you were inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. that you learned about in school.  Perhaps you were inspired by the movie Braveheart.  There may be many possible influences, the point is that you believe that defiance is a positive way of dealing with such childhood trauma and that idea had to come from somewhere.  Many people do not have such boldness.  Perhaps that is not a weakness, perhaps they just feel the best way to cope is for them to completely dissociate themselves with their Pepsi drinking dad as way of staying stress free and peaceful.  They learned this from a self-help book that they read on letting go of the past.

Now going back to an earlier question, what prevents you from just preferring one drink over another for no reason?  People seem to do things for no reason all the time, and I would have to agree.  But doing something for the hell of it is also a trait.  There are people who will never be like that all their lives.  Some people say, I’m just going to be a Coke drinker even though I like both of them well enough, because hey why not, I’m a wild and crazy guy, and I just want to be on team Coke.  Where does this spontaneous side come from?  An aunt you love and revere whose always taking chances and is a thrill seeker?  A friend you went to college with who just loved to be spontaneous?  But if your spontaneous next year you might just be on Team Pepsi.

The reasons for our decisions are so varied and complex that such a breakdown for why we make the decision we do is not always clear, but it is clear that we are conditioned by multiple influences over different scales of time to reach those decisions.  Your choice of beverage might really be something like this:

Coke 70% – Tastes better, grew up with it, family drank Coke

Trying something new 10% – Your mom always encouraged you to try new things and that variety is important so you aren’t afraid to take a chance when something catches your eye

Dr. Pepper 10% – You also like the taste and it reminds you of your years in grad school when you and your friends used to always take a break from studies and get a Dr. Pepper

RC Cola 5% – They were out of Coke, you wanted a cola and you hate Pepsi

Tolerable Beverages 5% – when your favorite choices aren’t available you can tolerate maybe an Orange Crush, Fanta, or Root Beer because it’s better than any of the other choices you’ve been given.

And then finally you might have a special category of beverage you’d hate and never choose unless you had been in the desert a real long time and had no other choice.

In our minds we think about all the things we have drank and see them all as choices and feel like we are consciously making the choice with our free will, but the truth is that we are conditioned into those choices and if we really thought about it, we usually do get a Coke, and the other beverages are choices but low probability ones.

Can our lives really be predicted so easily?  Our decisions already pre-determined? The answer, of course, is “no”, because life is full of unexpected events.  Even if everything that occurs is deterministic you are an incredibly small part of everything and cannot follow the chain of events. And perhaps your penchant for trying new things leads you to a beverage you love more than Coke.  Perhaps you fall in love with a girl who loves Dr. Pepper and that becomes your preferred drink since you both like it and it’s something you can share.

From http://dilbert.com

Life is full of events that we don’t know are coming and it is those intersections that throw us out of our comfort zones and give us new experiences that shift the probabilities and possibilities of choices we can make in any given situation.  Whether you are open or closed to new situations also depends on the various things that can influence us as human beings.  We are animals born with a unique mixture of genes, in a part of the world we had no choice in, raised by people who we had no choice over, while our senses feed us information every day we exist to a brain that has been conditioned over millions of years to process all that information amazingly well and do its best to help us survive.  Yet most things we will never know or understand fully, closing off an entire range of possibilities that we might choose from.  And so what if we are not consciously making our choices?  We are a complex mixture of nature and nurture and in such a symphony who wants to pick out a single note from a single instrument.  Just sit back and enjoy the music.

A Little Respect

From http://masalamommas.com

In a conversation with a good friend who was born and raised in India, we had one of those east vs. west discussions.  I think it’s natural to always defend the values of where you were raised to a certain degree, for me I was raised in the west, but had an Indian father and thus spent time with many Indian friends and relatives as well as having been to India a couple times so I’d like to believe that I can look at both sides objectively and see the best and worst of both worlds.

This particular discussion was about family values.  My friend argued about the lack of family values here in the west, specifically the lack of respect for one’s

parents.  I think even a lot of parents here might support her claim.  In India there is a lot more respect for parents and the elderly in general.  Before evaluating whether or not such statements are even true, let’s perhaps breakdown some factors that might be important in the different attitudes of children in the west vs. east.  (Note here in the east I will be focusing about India, but India does share similar values with other countries in Asia towards family and parenting, and for the west mostly U.S.A and Canada).

In the west we might attribute a lack of respect to the following:

  • Both parents working meaning less time to spend, discipline, and guide children
  • In the west there is a general rejection towards authority, government, and hierarchy
  • High divorce rate
  • Highly valuing individualism over collectivism
  • A tendency to be more mobile and not living very close to family
  • A long history of a strong economy allowing for greater financial independence at advanced ages

In the east we might attribute greater respect to the following

  • Relatively low divorce rate because of the emphasis towards arranged marriage, binding families and resources over an emphasis on romantic love
  • Like many nations that have had historically high poverty rates (although India is an economic powerhouse now) have created a system in which there was simply no plan for the elderly to be taken care of should they become unable to take care of themselves. Thus grown children are expected to take care of their parents financially when they can no longer work.
  • High population density and again the historically weaker economy means people are less likely to leave the area near where their parents live
  • Less job opportunities for women historically and thus allowing many women to remain at home giving more time for discipline and guidance. This also reduces the amount of retirement money that would come into a home when the parents are older

I am sure there are probably others, but honestly I feel like a weaker economy historically and a lack of social security and retirement plans for older people has created a system over time that required closer family unity.

But regardless of the reason let’s take a look at whether or not it is actually true whether or not there is an actual difference of respect.  First of all I have never actually seen a study that proves this is true.  Certainly there are many studies that talk about the differences in behavior culturally between young and old, or parents and their children.  However none of those studies really measure respect.  The dictionary defines respect as the following:

“A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”

It seems to me the first error in this discussion is that maybe we aren’t talking about respect, but duty, or obligation.  I guess it could be respect if say “abilities” involves the ability to parent a child, but that’s a bit of a stretch, given that even a weak ability in raising a child can get one to adulthood.  So respect seems to be something different and it is not clear whether there is a difference between east and west. A soldier in the military can follow the orders of a superior out of duty, but still not respect that superior.

I have known numerous Indian children who were given little freedom in choosing what they wanted to be, who they can marry, how they want to marry, etc.  Well I’m not saying they obeyed purely out of duty, because clearly there is love there as well,  but I do know some children who resented their parents for taking advantage of that sense of duty and love to set them on a course in life that they did not want.  It’s somewhat questionable to me how much respect there was.   They often did what they were told even though they were unhappy about it.  Parents in the east would do well to recognize that their kids are not simply extensions of themselves but individuals.

On the other hand, parenting is not really easy.  It’s easy to doubt yourself and your actions.  A lot of times you might just default to what your parents did to

From http://blogspot.com

you instead of really adopting a practice you are not comfortable with.  Raising kids takes time, energy, and resources.  Kids growing up in western culture would do well to remember that and appreciate more often the sacrifices and difficulties associated with raising them.  However, does not listening to your parents indicate a lack of respect for them? If we value individuality as a nation, isn’t likely that your child is simply expressing that individuality.  This can be hard when you see them making mistakes, especially the same ones we made.  But isn’t that how we also learned some important lessons.  Again, just because a kid chooses to ignore your advice and do their own thing, doesn’t mean there is a lack of respect, it just means they feel more compelled to exercise their own judgment right or wrong and see where it leads them.

Whether it’s duty or respect, I asked myself after the conversation with my friend, why did I have a child?  Was it so I could raise somebody who would listen

From http://www.childandfamilymentalhealth.com

to everything I had to say about what to do in the world?  Was it so I could instantly have someone who respected me regardless of my flaws, weaknesses, and the way that I treated him/her?  The answer of course is no, but what is absolutely wonderful about the parent – child relationship is that it begins with love.  There is an implicit trust and affection built in, and so we only have to think how best to foster and grow that love from the simple biological relationship to the complex relationship that binds any two people together.  As I watch my son grow I can already see his sense of self forming, and I know it will only get stronger with time.  It seems that we always have to remember that respect runs both ways with our children and I hope I have the wisdom to know when to let him express his individuality even if it runs against my better judgment and my need to remain his protector.  Being able to let go is also a quality worthy of respect and it seems to make some sense that as children grow the qualities that they admire in you and others change.  I hope that I will be able to grow along with him and adapt to his changing needs and desires while remaining an ever present part of his life.

While there are differences between east vs. west parent – child relationship I don’t think any one of those is a better way of doing things.  Respect is always earned and I think it is best earned when a parent demonstrate an ability to understand what their children are going through and by constantly being there for their child.  I think this is what builds a lasting respect between parent and child.

 

It’s a mistake

Over my recent vacation to Canada to introduce our new baby to family we had one of those frightening moments.  He was sitting next to me on the sofa as I was watching him play with a toy.  Thus far he had been a pretty stationary baby.  He was starting to move more and I was paying more attention to him so he didn’t fall.  My aunt asked me a question and I turned my head and just like that I hear people yell out and I turned my head back to see him dive onto the floor, landing head first, his head bending backwards.  I picked up quickly and held him close, his cry was different.  My wife then grabbed him from me, not because she was mad at me (I think) but just her own motherly need to hold him.  I was on the verge of tears.  My head was swimming with thoughts that I had broken his spine and he’d be paralyzed or that I had caused some other brain damage…perhaps even fatal.  Thankfully he was fine, although if he gets a B in math class I’m sure I’ll feel responsible.

In reflection I thought about how quickly such horrible tragedies can happen.  What if the fall had been a bit harder?  Hit a different part of the head?  At times, life seems to be a matter of fractions of seconds and millimeters (inches for my American friends). It made me think about some recent stories I read about parents who have lost their children.   Earlier this year a bookcase killed a 3 year old girl as she tried to climb it and it tipped over killing her.  These kinds of things happen often enough now that we should be more aware, but there are literally a lot of possible dangers out there and I am not sure it’s possible to prepare for every one of them.   Very recently, footage at a London train station showed a baby carriage blowing onto the tracks as the parents stopped to help someone with their bags.  Fortunately the mother was able to get the carriage off the tracks in time, but the stroller literally gets turned by the gust of wind caused by the approaching train and quickly ends up on the tracks.   There is nothing remarkably different about these two events other than some fortune in spotting the trouble before it was too late.  I am sure there are many more parents who have been fortunate that a similar accident has not killed the child only injured them.  Or perhaps they caught the impending accident in time by catching something before it fell or moving the child out of harm’s way.  Perhaps when the child was a little younger and lighter, or the bookcase a little heavier they saw it teeter a bit and said “Hey, I should secure that.”  The positive outcome is most often the outcome.   Children can take more bumps and bruises than we think, and tears are often temporary.  No child dies from crying no matter how much we don’t want to see those tears.  But we simply can’t predict or foresee all possible dangers.

These two incidents and the one I experienced are good examples of how habit influences our lives.  We often get used to routine and what we consider as usual that we don’t take into account the unexpected.  After 7 months of my son not trying to roll off the couch you come to sort of expect that it won’t happen, even if that seems stupid in hindsight.  I am sure the parents who lost their daughter to the falling shelves, never thought she would try to climb it, or never had seen her try before.  I’m sure all of us who are regular train travelers are well aware of the gust of wind that rushes ahead of a train, especially in an enclosed station.  How many of us might think about how that wind might push a stroller?

The routine can even lead to more unfathomable mistakes.  Such as not realizing your child is in the car seat behind you and leaving them in a hot car for hours.  If you are a parent or just a compassionate person it takes just a second to imagine what the infant must have gone through.  There is no way your mind can take you through that slow death.  You will hit a wall before it gets really terrible and all you know is that unspeakable darkness comes after.

These incidents unfortunately also end up serving as a reminder of the lack of compassion that is so visible in society today.  The comments that people make to these parents are truly horrifying.  Scores of “perfect parents” who think they’ve done everything right and would never make the mistakes these parents did.  These perfect parents are calling for the gallows instead of realizing that the person you are criticizing is in a massive amount of pain.  If it could be displayed as a physical wound it would be a chest wound to the heart with the patient ending up in the intensive care unit in critical condition.   And how “perfect” are these parents anyway? Have these parents never had their kid fall? Driven over the speed limit with their kid?  Driven in a busy city with their kid?  Have they never lost their kid in a crowd?  Have their kid’s sweaty hand slip from their grip in a dangerous situation?  Did they never have to watch their kid after having a couple of drinks, perhaps affecting their judgment or reaction time?  There are more possibly dangerous scenarios than I can list, and the fact that nothing ever happened to them during that time is the only reason they are not one of these tragic stories.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are terrible parents out there.  There are parents who do unspeakably horrible things to their children, or who are just irresponsible and are neglectful to their children causing them great harm, mentally, physically, and sometimes fatally.  It is actually the harm to children that led me away from the idea of their being a loving deity out there, but perhaps that is a post for another time.  The point is that the death of a child is always a horrible thing regardless of how it happens and so it is understandable that we would get angry.  That feeling, however, does not give us the right to lash out at other people in pain.  We all make mistakes, and many of them go unnoticed because nothing bad ever comes close to happening while we are making them.  You want to get angry, direct that energy into something useful; education, better safety standards, helping others.

These perfect parents, even if it were possible often sound like the kind of parent who hovers over their kid, never letting them play just because they might get a bruised knee and keeping them so far from danger that they are more likely to get brought down by the simplest things in their adult life because they’ve never had to cope on their own.  And here’s the rub – as parents we must walk that thin line between protecting our children and giving our children the freedom to overcome their own obstacles in life.  Children need to face fear, and they need to solve their own problems and make mistakes while doing it.  Children also need their parents to be good people, and not just good guardians.  The London couple helping out somebody with their baggage is a great act of kindness that kids need to see.  If you think that you are a positive individual who is a good role model for your children then part of you must continue to be the person you’ve always been.  Kids may take over your life, but you are not your kids.  You have your own identity and, again, if you value yourself then part of being a good parent is just being what you think is a good human being (good luck in getting an agreement on that anytime soon).

Finally, I want to quickly express my concern for the trend in wanting to criminalize every parent for these mistakes.  All the details of the case rarely get reported and unless you are intimately involved in the case you really don’t know the truth.  Furthermore, even though many parents do not face criminal charges thankfully for these horrific mistakes, some do simply because they don’t have what society considers having a “good character”.   Maybe you occasionally do some marijuana, maybe you flirt a little with other girls or had an affair. Maybe you just aren’t a rich white person.

All I can tell you is that had my son truly been severely injured or killed in his fall, I can guarantee you that no prison would have walls stronger than the one I would have built for myself.  Nothing you could say would be harsher than what I would be telling myself.  I will guarantee you that you do not love your child any more than I do and though your negative judgment would be despicable, I would still never wish on you such pain in my anguish.  So if you can’t direct your anger and sadness to the loss of a sweet child into something helpful at the very least remember the golden rule, which I hope you are teaching your children, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

Destiny’s Child

 

One facet of human nature that fascinates me is the idea of destiny.  Now when I say destiny here I don’t mean like some blockbuster movie in which I am destined to save the princess, fulfill the prophecy and become the most benevolent leader of mankind.  I am talking about something more fundamental than that.  What some people might refer to as “a calling”.  And maybe not even in the sense of a career only, but rather one’s passions, one’s nature.  It is not too surprising that I am reflecting on that, because as I watch my son, I wonder what he’s going to be like.  What will his interests be?  How will he want to live his life and how different will that be from me or his mother?

The nurturing influence of parents cannot be overlooked, but we’ve all known people who were vastly different from their parents in some very fundamental ways.  Two parents might be very messy and their child is neat.  Two parents might be teachers, and their child wants to run his own business.  Of course trying to determine why somebody ends up the way they do is a fool’s errand in a lot of ways, because nurture is not just a function of parents, but of teachers, friends, relatives, society, etc.  It could be that one day a kid sees a fancy car that he just loves and says to himself, alright how do I get a job that allows me to drive around with that.  Perhaps not the most noble of callings, but he we like shiny things that enhance our status and so these kinds of things certainly happen.

For most of my life I thought I had a calling to be a meteorologist.  I’ve loved storms since I was a small child.  I would get up in the middle of the night to watch the lightning.  In grade 6 we learned about different clouds and how they could tell us about the weather that was coming our way.  I was fascinated by this and remember feeling hooked by it.  I wanted to learn more about clouds and forecasting.  In grade 8 our science class was a full year and broken up into 3 parts:

From http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov

astronomy, meteorology, and geology.  I loved all 3 of those and at the time they had us thinking about careers, but I was already hooked on meteorology and I decided then that I was going to be a meteorologist.  During my undergraduate I decided that being a forecaster wasn’t for me and wanted to teach it so I went to grad school and I loved it and don’t regret a second of it.  At the end of my undergraduate I took a linguistics course and I loved it.  At that time I questioned my career decision a little, but it was my last year of undergrad and it seemed too late to do anything else, and what did it matter, I still loved the weather.  I do think that I would be just as happy if I had chosen linguistics as a career had I been introduced to it earlier in life.  Now my interests lie in cognitive science and neuroscience.  I could definitely see myself being a researcher, or even a clinical psychologist because I am deeply interested in understanding others and our nature, and feel I have some aptitude in understanding the motivations of others.

Despite these ponderings on alternative careers, I still don’t have any regrets.  I enjoy my job, and perhaps being a professor is the reason I have had time to pursue these other passions.  But it has led me to some questions about this idea that I was somehow “destined” to be in the atmospheric sciences.   Would I still have become what I became had I not lived in a climate that did not have thunderstorms?  What if our curriculum in grade 6 did not include learning about clouds?  What if the grade 8 science curriculum didn’t have meteorology which helped me appreciate the subject at a greater depth and attract me to it even more?  What if I had a mother who was afraid of storms and that made me afraid of storms?  Yet my choice to go into meteorology seems beyond these things.  We had lots of subjects in school and with some good teachers.  Why didn’t any of those subjects arouse a passion in me?  My parents were not scientists, teachers, historians, writers, etc. and it seems that they didn’t influence me in any particular academic field so I could have chosen anything.  In terms of time, we spent more time learning about many other subjects than meteorology.  There are rocks everywhere and I had been to the Rockies, so why didn’t I go into geology?  I loved watching nature shows so why didn’t I become a biologist?  Why did I feel I had a “calling” when I meet so many students who aren’t even sure what they want to do?  Is this a rare feeling? Or do other people feel it and just ignore it?

From http://www.zoriah.net

I don’t know that I have an answer to any of these questions, but what I do know is that I was very fortunate.  I’ve seen many students with a passion for meteorology but very weak quantitative skills, having weaknesses in math and physics that forced them to take a different career path even if their interest remains.  I do not have that problem. I am fortunate by circumstances having parents who worked hard for me to give me a chance to pursue my passions.  I wonder how many people feel this “calling” towards science, the arts, humanities, history, education, etc., but simply must take a job as soon as possible to support a family.  Maybe they can’t afford to go to school and don’t want to take out student loans.  Some people might argue that their “calling” is perhaps not that strong to drive them, but there are practical realities that must be adhered to and when basic needs must be met they simply must be taken care of first.  Somewhere there are people who could have been brilliant athletes with enough training and leisure time, but instead had to work in a factory to support their family.  How many geniuses have simply died of starvation?  How many talented artists have died of curable diseases simply because they couldn’t afford a doctor or the vaccine that would have save their life, or a doctor or vaccine simply wasn’t available?

In the end I don’t think I subscribe to this idea of destiny, because whatever natural passions we have, they must be cultivated, and even those passions may fade slightly as new ones take their place.   In the end I can only be thankful for the natural gifts I seem to possess and the family, friends, and society that has allowed me to develop them.