Why Do We Procrastinate With the Things We Love?

Sunday morning admission: I am currently suffering from a bad case of procrastination. If my children read this, they will laugh and feel vindicated. I am not the family member who typically suffers from this condition. I’m the one who gets things done, who takes control and finishes what I start.  I do this at work, with the household chores, with activities that need to be scheduled and arrangements that must be made. Why then, do I find it so difficult to do that which I profess to love so much?  Why am I procrastinating with my writing?

Writing is the thing I’ve most wanted to do since I can remember. All of us have ideas about what we will be when we grow up, but then life happens and oftentimes, we don’t end up where we thought we’d be. I have no regrets about my educational and career paths, but about ten years ago I felt something was missing. Turns out it was the writing. As a kid, I spent countless hours penning stories and poems in my room. I kept detailed diaries and rarely missed a day’s entry. I wrote letters to friends and relatives and even to my girlhood celebrity crushes (David Cassidy, I apologize for the stalker-like notes I’m sure I sent to you). My best friend and I created “magazines” for our own amusement and when we temporarily lived in different cities, receiving her magazine in the mail and creating one to send back to her was often the highlight of my week (by the way, this friend, Ms. Caitlin Rother, is now a very successful writer…go figure!).

I went back to my creative writing roots several years ago by taking some courses through the UCLA Writer’s Program. I started with short stories – the first of which was dreadful, as I’m sure my former instructor would attest. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised and when it’s not, well, the results are less than stellar.  But with time and practice, I reconnected with my writing passion and finally had one of my stories published. Soon after, I realized that I really wanted to write a novel. I had an idea – I just needed the time and energy to execute it. At the time, I had several demanding clients in my technology PR practice, my kids were young and equally demanding, and life moved at a frantic pace. And yet, somehow, I was determined to write, and at the end of three years, produced a first draft.  I began pitching and querying agents, embarking on what I’d hoped would eventually be a new career. Of course, as any experienced writer will tell you, it’s just not that easy and, now, I realize that maybe the novel just wasn’t that ready. After many promising responses and requests to see more pages or the full manuscript, I ended up with a drawer full of rejection notes and a bad case of the writer’s blues. Things got busy on the work and home front and I put my novel aside.

But the writing bug didn’t disappear. Seven years later, I’m back in a writing class, trying to rewrite the novel.  It’s a painstaking process that often involves revising the same five pages fifteen times.  I know that the odds are against me and that perseverance is the main ingredient for success, and after all this time I have to ask myself if I truly want this as much as I’d thought when I was a ten-year old, scribbling stories in my room.  The answer may be no and if it is, I have to be willing to just enjoy the process for what it is. The good news is that there are now a myriad of other publishing options (self-publishing, ebooks and the like) and new, creative outlets for writing that never existed before, like this blog.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: procrastination. It’s easy to understand why humans procrastinate when it comes to mundane or dreaded tasks like laundry, grocery shopping or reorganizing a closet. But why do we procrastinate when it’s a task we presumably enjoy, an activity that is supposedly so close to our heart’s desire?  In the past two weeks, though I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about my novel, I’ve yet to put more than a sentence on the page.  Even for this blog, I realized that my goal of a weekly post is two days overdue and getting myself to sit down and type this required two cups of coffee, a completely silent kitchen and more than a little self-bribery (i.e. trying to tell myself that I could look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds and the Sunday paper only after knocking off a full page of something – anything!).

At the end of the day, do we procrastinate on the activities we love out of fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? For myself, I can only think that it’s a little of both. If I write and fail, I will wonder what the point was, why I spent so much time in pursuit of a dream that may not come to pass. If I succeed, I will wonder how I can possibly meet the expectations and requirements of the editing/publishing process, how I can ensure that my novel is not a one-hit wonder, and how I might balance my current, financially rewarding career with writing. Procrastination is my defense mechanism, the thing that makes me pause and question myself, the process of reminding myself that nothing is quite as perfect as we imagine it might be. Succeed or fail, there will still be good days and bad, things about writing I love and things about it that I hate.

For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that for a few moments this morning, I managed to conquer the procrastination monster and pen a few paragraphs for this blog.  I’ll reward myself by reading the Sunday paper and wasting some time on social media…until I realize that my writing class deadline for the next installment of my revised novel is due on Tuesday…and I go to battle with the procrastination monster all over again.

Is Adversity a Requirement for Success?

My younger daughter recently had shoulder surgery – not something you plan to deal with when you’re an active 13-year-old whose sport happens to be swimming and who enjoys a full social life. Just after her surgery, I overheard a conversation she was having with her older sister who is away at college. My little one was clearly trying to stir up some sympathy from her sibling and was bemoaning the fact that she has to wear a sling for eight weeks and will then have the daunting task of trying to regain her strength to get back in the pool and swim over the course of the next six months. My older daughter dispensed these words of wisdom to combat her sister’s complaints: “Adversity is a good thing.”

This gem was spoken by the same girl who complained incessantly when her iPhone went in for repair and she had to use that “awful, ancient” Motorola Razr for three whole days: “But Mom, it’s impossible to text on this thing!  And it has no Internet!” Imagine the adversity of having to use a 6-year old cell phone for three whole days!

But in all seriousness, I thought about these words of wisdom and how Daughter #1 came to the recognition that adversity can be a positive and not a negative. As it turns out, my oldest does have some valuable lessons in adversity that she can share with her sister when it comes to their chosen sport of competitive swimming. Daughter #1 has been swimming on a team since she was five years old, on a competitive, year-round club since the age of nine and is now on partial scholarship, swimming for a Division 1 college team. During her years in the pool, she had an almost comical (though, in reality, not funny – or fun – at all) number of coaching changes – particularly during her formative periods. She also witnessed all of her best friends leave the team or quit swimming entirely, and struggled through a two-year plateau where she did not see a millisecond of improvement in any of her best events. She experienced most of this during her high school years, continuing to attend nine practice per week, including three mornings where she had to rise at 4:15am, drive 15 miles to the pool and practice from 5-7 am, attend school all day, return to the pool for practice from 4-7 pm and then conquer the usual homework and chores most students have to deal with.  She struggled to balance swimming, school, family and social life. She was fortunate to have a few good friends, her family and a couple of special coaches who encouraged her to stick with it and if you ask her now, she’ll tell you she is happy she did and could not imagine her life without swimming. After breaking through that time of struggle, she was recruited to one of the top college swim programs in the nation and in June, will compete at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

While I admire her, I do tease her when she talks about conquering adversity. After all, she is not living in a war-torn country with the threat of dropping bombs all around her or living in an impoverished, third world nation where she goes hungry every night, nor does she suffer from a debilitating disease. When we speak of adversity, then, we are speaking of a very personal kind of adversity that does not even begin to compare to what some in the world unfairly struggle with every day. Nevertheless, though it is all relative, she has experienced struggles and difficulties and has come out the other end stronger and a better person.

More importantly, this issue of adversity got me thinking about what we give our children, what we do for them and whether or not it helps them, at the end of the day. As a child who was raised by a single, working parent struggling to make ends meet, I worked hard and saved to make sure that my family never had to face the same. As a child of divorce, I promised myself that when I got married, it would last, and knock on wood, here I am, married to the same guy for 26 years now and going strong.  As a child who attended four different schools in sixth grade alone and was uprooted numerous times to different states, cities and neighborhoods, I made a pact with my husband that we would raise our children in the same place so they wouldn’t have to experience that upheaval. So far, so good – we’ve been in the same house for nearly 14 years and our daughters have grown up and gone to school with essentially, the same group of kids.

’m happy that my husband and I were able to provide these things for our children and I certainly don’t regret following this path. But I do have to wonder: is it really a good thing that I’ve protected my children from so much adversity?  I look back at my own childhood and while there were many difficult times that I would never want to repeat, there were also important lessons learned. Having a mother who struggled financially motivated me to begin working at the ripe, old age of twelve and never stop. I was determined to work hard, have my own money and not be dependent upon anyone. It also motivated me to achieve in school so I could attend a good college and have a higher-paying career.  Being the child of divorced parents taught me about relationships – what I wanted from them and more importantly, what I didn’t want.  Having to move and uproot was painful, but it taught me how to adapt to new situations quickly, how to make new friends and how to adjust to new surroundings. I learned valuable coping skills that contributed to success in school and have been advantageous in the business world.

As I look back on the lessons I learned from my childhood experiences, I wonder if my husband and I have somehow done our daughters a disservice by giving them a stable, financially comfortable upbringing in which they can avoid much of the adversity I dealt with.  Where will they learn the importance of hard work? How will they know the value of financial independence? Will they be able to adjust to new situations and new people? Can they handle the only constant in life – change – when it is thrust into their paths?

While I don’t know for sure, I am at least comforted that somewhere down the line, my older daughter began to view adversity as a good thing and is now trying to impart this wisdom to her sister. She may have overcome a different kind of adversity than I had to, but it’s clear that she has still learned the crucial values of hard work, persistence and perseverance. There is relief in the knowledge that she is almost at the end of her freshman year and thus far, has successfully navigated life away from home – adjusting to new surroundings, making new friends, succeeding in both the classroom and with her sport.  I can only hope that the same will hold true for Daughter #2 when it’s her turn – that maybe her sister is right that the small adversity her shoulder surgery thrust upon her will result in some valuable lessons about determination, hard work and resilience.

Do you think adversity a requirement for success? How do we give our kids a comfortable life without sacrificing the lessons that can only be learned by struggling a bit?

Ten Albums to Help you Escape Suburban Gloom

You give up a lot of things when you settle in suburbia and start a family.  The ability to make a spur-of-the-moment dinner date at a hot new restaurant in the city. Meeting friends after work for drinks. Deciding to go dancing all night at a club you’ve just read about.  Taking off work to stand in line all day for tickets to a favorite band’s concert.

Oh wait – did I admit that last one out loud?  Yeah, I did that.  It was 1985 and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were coming to Dodger Stadium for the “Born in the USA” tour.  In those days, we’d line up in front of the Tower Records in Westwood (yes, there still WAS a Tower Records in Westwood back then) and wristbands would be dispersed.  Your wristband was the key to purchasing actual concert tickets.

While I can’t say I miss the standing in line part, I do miss Tower Records, not to mention the idea of buying and listening to an entire album.  But my passion and love for music has never disappeared.  While I might have lived the past twenty years of my life in suburbia, I’ve never given up on music’s ability to stir the soul, to conjure up all of our hopes and dreams, the promise and the heartbreak. Music can make you feel simultaneously young and old, ecstatic and despondent, motivated and apathetic, driven to tears, to desire, to desperation. And most of all, music is the background of our lives, the way in which one song can suddenly transport us to another time and place, reminding us of who we were, who we are and who we could be.

Full disclosure: I sometimes feel that Cameron Crowe is living the perfect life.  Almost Famous is my favorite movie. I don’t consider it summer unless I’ve attended at least two outdoor concerts. I probably have more songs on my iPhone than photos, contacts and emails combined.

I decided it was time for a more lighthearted post and hence, prepared this list of the top ten albums that can help you recapture your soul in the midst of suburbia. I know there’s an inherent problem with lists. Everyone’s will be different. Everyone will complain that you’ve left their favorite artist/album/song off the list.  The number ten is random and limited. But I love music and I love lists and therefore, I love lists about music. So while certainly not even close to definitive, here are my picks – a short list of some amazing records that can get you through just about any dull or uninspired day. Some are old, some are new and the genres are all over the place since I like all kinds of music (save hard-core country/western – sorry, just can’t do it).  Also, these are in no particular order and I’ve included some links to give you a sample of what you might expect on each album.

1) Adele’s 21:  Much has been said and written about Adele and this album. She has won numerous awards and accolades, so it’s probably not a surprise to see this album on anyone’s list. But truly, 21 lives up to the hype. 21 struck a chord with teens, tweens, young adults, middle-aged men, senior women, hipsters, rappers – basically, anyone with ears. I can’t think of any other artist with such broad crossover appeal.  Adele’s pure and soulful voice is just that good and the songs – an amazing amalgam of pop, jazz, R&B and rock – transcend genre. I’m thankful Adele came to popularity in the U.K. Had she been born in the U.S., I fear the music industry would have told her to lose 50lbs, pick a specific genre, and sing more “radio-pleasing pop songs.” Thank goodness she didn’t do any of these things. When I listen to her, I wonder if she can hear, herself, how truly good she is. If I were Adele, I’d probably just sit in my room and sing to myself all day.

2) U2’s Achtung Baby: Ok, let’s just all agree up front that U2 is awesome.  And if you’re not willing to agree to that, just skip to #3 on the list. I think I recall that at one point in the band’s early days, lead singer, Bono, was quoted as saying that U2 wanted to be bigger than The Beatles and everyone laughed at his hubris. U2 may never quite fill those shoes, but is anyone still laughing? U2’s brilliant songwriting, impassioned performances and now-proven longevity, have put them right up there with the best. I could have picked almost any album from their catalog to put on this list (except maybe Pop — hey, every great band has to overreach sometimes when trying to be creative). But Achtung Baby stands out to me because every single song is a gem. Everyone knows the anthem, “One”, and has probably rocked out to “Mysterious Ways”, but even the lesser known “Acrobat” and “Ultraviolet”, are worthy of admiration.  As complete albums go, this one is flawlessly executed with masterful songwriting, soulful vocals and the perfection that comes when a group of musicians know who they are and love making music together.

3) Dave Matthews Band’s Crash: You either love Dave Matthews or hate him and if you love him, you love him passionately. I’ve never met anyone who said they were “sort of” a DMB fan, or that they “kinda like” Dave Matthews. There is no in-between and Dave is on the list because, well, I love him. It’s ok, my husband knows about my somewhat obsessive fandom and has also become a DMB fan. So do both of my kids who I’ve somehow, miraculously and possibly through continual over-exposure to DMB music, converted into Dave fans, as well. To be completely honest, both the Under the Table and Dreaming and Big Whisky and the GrooGrux King albums are probably better overall records than Crash. But the title song was the first Dave song I ever heard and began my 10+ year love affair with this band, my very favorite Dave song, “#41” is on this album and my husband’s favorite song, “Two Step”, is also on this album (yes, he has a favorite song – I’ve converted him!). So, in short, there was no way this album wasn’t going to make my list. It’s true that you probably need to see DMB live to truly appreciate them, but give this album a listen and you might see why it’s one of my picks for lifting you out of the doldrums.

4) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn The Torpedoes:  This album instantly grabs you with the opening chords of “Refugee” and never let’s you go. It’s one of those albums I will never grow tired of hearing, one that always brings me back to exactly where I was when I first heard it and one that will always remind me of some supremely good and equally bad times.  My personal favorite track is “Even the Losers” and I fondly remember singing (loudly and badly) to it, on many a night with my college roommates, feeling like Tom Petty must have written it just for me. Tom Petty put it all out there in every song and made you feel that he knew just what you were going through. Petty has always been a quintessential California artist, even though he rarely gets mentioned in those California-specific music lists.  There’s the ode to “Century City” on Damn the Torpedoes, and I’ll never forget hearing the plaintive opening chords of “Free Fallin’“(though not on this album) when I was living in Dallas for one, long, miserable year and feeling so homesick for Los Angeles and “all the vampires, livin’ in the Valley”, that I could cry. If you have no history with Tom Petty and this album, I can’t guarantee you’ll feel the same way, but I bet you’ll like it, just the same.

5) The Beatles’ Abbey Road:  The Beatles are revered the world over and are certainly not a surprise on anyone’s list of best, greatest, favorite, etc…. I could have easily chosen Sgt Pepper because it’s the album I most associate with my childhood, having heard it on constant repeat in my house for years – not to mention, Rolling Stone chose Sgt Pepper as #1 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. I could have picked Revolver or The White Album which some think were more creative and boundary-pushing. But at the end of the day, I love Abbey Road the best – and not just for the iconic album cover.  It’s just a perfect mix of the genius of Lennon (“Come Together”), the beauty of Harrison (“Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” – perhaps, my favorite Beatles song of all time), the signature sound of Sir Paul (“Oh! Darling”) and yes, even the quirky contributions of Ringo (“Octopus’ Garden”). And how can you dislike an album that ends with this simple and beautiful adage: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love…you make”. It’s sheer Beatle brilliance, reminding you why no one comes close to The Beatles’ singular place in music history.

6) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Born to Run:  As with U2 and The Beatles, it’s pretty tough to choose just one Springsteen album, but if I had to recommend one to someone who had been living in a cave and had never heard of Bruce Springsteen, this would be it. First off, it contains “Thunder Road”, a song that has caused some to call Springsteen the Shakespeare of rock music.  Rolling Stone listed Thunder Road as #86 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it’s no wonder – you don’t have to be New Jersey born and bred to relate to Springsteen’s desire to “trade in these wings for some wheels.”  It’s a universal song of youth, the desire to escape the everyday, the feeling that something waits for you beyond your front doorstep, if you can just get out.  If Thunder Road has never spoken to you, you should probably check your pulse…just sayin’. Beyond that, there is, of course, the title track, which is quintessential Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”, which is guaranteed to make you miss Mr. Clemons, and the superb, nine minute plus “Jungleland”. All I can say is…BRUUUUUUCE!

7) Green Day‘s American Idiot: In making a list about lifting one out of suburbia, one must consider an album that contains a song called “Jesus of Suburbia”, right?  Beyond that, I told my husband that I think American Idiot is the “definitive rock opera” made by a band that had a grandiose idea that actually paid off. When I said this, he raised his eyebrows and reminded me of all the great rock operas that came before like The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and many more. Yeah, he’s right. I overstated the case. However, I put this album on when I want to be reminded of the punk spirit that lives somewhere inside all of us and how a band can take an idea and create a whole series of moving songs, one flowing into the other, that tell a story. I also love that everyone had written these guys off as punk wannabes who made trivial songs about apathy…until this. I recently saw American Idiot, the musical based on the album and while it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had, the actual music still stood out as a testament to this band’s creativity and raw talent.  The progression on side one of “Jesus of Suburbia” into “Holiday” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is epic and moving. If you still need another reason to listen, how about because, quite simply, it totally rocks.

8) Coldplay’s Mylo Zyloto:  Coldplay has yet to prove they have the longevity of U2, despite the comparisons they made to their Irish counterparts early on. But they are establishing an impressive body of work that is bringing them closer to the mark. While previous albums like A Rush of Blood to the Head contained some of their best songs like “The Scientist” and “Clocks”, their newest album, Mylo Zyloto, is my favorite and the one that I listen to all the way through, almost every time I start it.  The joyful opening chords of the title track and world-music vibe of “Hurts Like Heaven” are guaranteed to make you smile and “Paradise” is a brilliant mix of layered choral vocals and booming guitar and synth sounds. I’m seeing them live in May at the Hollywood Bowl and I cannot wait. Maybe Rihanna will make a guest appearance for their collaboration on “Princess of China”, a dark and powerful ballad about break-ups. A girl can hope!

9) Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road:  Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the first album I ever bought with my own money. I will never forget taking the bus to the mall, walking into the Wherehouse and handing over my hard-earned babysitting money for the plastic-wrapped, colorful, animated package that was this double album. I went straight home, closed the door to my room, put that record on and probably didn’t stop playing it for the next two weeks.  I poured over the lyrics and the album artwork – always a revelation with an Elton album – and learned every word to every song.  But I have to believe that even if this album didn’t hold that special place in my own personal memory, it would still be on the list  – a wild combination of beautifully executed tunes – each one a story, each one different than the one before. From the creepy-sad opening of “Funeral for a Friend” to the futuristic sounding beats of “Bennie and the Jets”, this album was never dull, always offering something new every time you listened to it. I bow to you Sir Elton.

10) Bob Marley‘s Legend:  While I typically think it’s a cop-out to put a greatest hits compilation on any kind of best/greatest/favorite albums list, I will make an exception for Legend (and I’m not alone – Rolling Stone ranked it #46 on the 500 Greatest Album list). It is not summer for me until I hear the reggae sounds of “Jamming” escaping from our stereo, no matter what the calendar says, how much sunshine is filtering through the blinds or how many margaritas I’ve had.  This album equals summer for me, although, clearly, Marley had a bit more in mind than a lazy, mellow summer day when he wrote these songs. Despite the deceptively cool reggae beat, Marley certainly had more important things to communicate when he wrote “Buffalo Soldier”, “Get Up Stand Up” and “No Woman, No Cry”. That’s probably the genius of Marley – that he could trick you into listening about revolution and social injustice by infusing it with Jamaican spirituality and a laid-back vibe.  Plus “Redemption Song”, with the plea to “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” is one of the best songs ever written, IMHO.

So that’s ten and it was mighty hard to come by. I guess I have to qualify this with a list of honorable mentions, albums I also love dearly that didn’t, but could have easily, made the list: Peter Gabriel’s So, Steely Dan’s Aja, The Police’s Sychronicity, Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles, Eminem’s Recovery, Counting Crows’ August & Everything, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Carol King’s Tapestry, Van Halen’s, Van Halen, Billy Joel’s The Stranger, The Eagle’s Hotel California, Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor, Queen’s The Game, Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings, The Clash’s London Calling, Nirvana’s Nevermind, REM’s Out of Time, James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, The Killers’ Hot Fuss, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and In Through the Out Door and nearly every album ever made by The Beatles, U2 and one of the most obvious omissions, The Rolling Stones. And lest anyone ask why Bob Dylan is not on the list, ok, here’s the thing – as lyrics go, Dylan is a brilliant poet. But I have just never been able to listen to that voice for the course of an entire album. Sorry. I know. I’m a heathen.

Alright, open the floodgates for comments. I know all you folks out there have opinions on this one – and I want to hear them!  Which choices do you love or hate? What did I leave out that one must own and listen to when stuck in suburbia?

Upholding Freedom of Speech in Suburbia or Why We Shouldn’t Let the Bullies Win

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty opinionated. I have no problem sharing my views with anyone who asks (and, admittedly, sometimes with those who don’t ask). I have a healthy respect for the freedom of speech we all have as Americans which allows me to state my opinions freely and without fear of retribution, and I absolutely believe in the right of others to do the same, even when their views differ from mine. But as I found out in my lovely suburban enclave this past week, the unprecedented partisanship and pettiness in this country is threatening our ability to enjoy that freedom of speech without fear of someone trying to take it away.

I was walking with a friend the other day and she asked me what bumper stickers I had on my car and if I’d noticed any of them missing. I told her that one of our cars has three stickers – one promoting clean energy initiatives, the now-ubiquitous suburban sticker “My child is an honor roll student at INSERT YOUR SCHOOL”  and an Obama 2012 sticker.  I told her I certainly hadn’t noticed that any of them were missing and asked why. Apparently she was on a walk with her daughter in our neighborhood a few days ago and witnessed a man, late forties or early fifties, walking ahead of them, stop at our driveway, look at our car and then take something off of the car. My friend’s daughter stopped in her tracks and said, “Mom, it looks like that guy is doing something to the Hultin’s car!”  My friend wasn’t sure what was happening, but the man was at least ten feet ahead and by the time they reached my driveway, he  was gone and she wasn’t sure what he had or had not taken.

I told her I would check my car after I got home from our walk. Sure enough, the Obama 2012 sticker was missing.

Now, I realize that stealing a bumper sticker from someone’s car is not equal to stealing their actual car or a valuable piece of jewelry or robbing their home. But, in fact, I felt the same way and possibly worse; I felt completely violated. Someone trespassed on my property, touched my car and stole something from me.  The bumper sticker? We’ve already replaced it. What this bully really stole was my right to freedom of speech and the right of every American to have that freedom upheld and respected.

Personally, I cringe when I see someone with an old Bush/Cheney sticker on their car, or a McCain/Palin sign.  But I would fight for that person’s right to post that sticker or sign and state their opinion freely and without fear.  I hate to be cliché, but seriously: what is this country coming to?  I can’t have a bumper sticker on my car, in my own driveway, on my own property, without a neighbor walking by and ripping it off?

For the person who committed the crime (and again, making me feel unsafe and violated for expressing my opinion is the bigger violation here), I have a small bit of sympathy. I’m guessing this guy is too insecure in his own thoughts to have others freely express their opinions around him, too full of hatred and intolerance to uphold the freedoms we enjoy in America and at the end of the day, a good-old fashioned bully  – the kind that I teach my children never to be and never to interact with. Mr. Bully, I’ll just put another sticker on the car and every time thereafter that you decide to remove it and just remember – by removing it, you are not removing my right to my opinion and you’re not changing my opinion – in fact, if anything, you’ve probably made me even more steadfast and stubborn in my support for President Obama, given the way in which you’ve chosen to represent the other side.

I hate to think what this kind of incident says about my neighbors, my city, my state, and my country, but at the end of the day, I will keep expressing my opinion and keep teaching my kids to do the same – after all, upholding freedom in the face of bullies is really what our country is all about.

How Do We Define Fairness in an Unfair World?

How many times have you heard your child utter the words “no fair”?  We’ve all likely uttered the phrase a few times in our own adult lives, but there’s nothing like your child looking up at you with wide, innocent eyes and calling something unfair to make you wonder just how you can explain the concept for his or her young mind. Do you simply say, “Well, life’s not fair” or do you try to differentiate between truly unjust situations and the sometimes, natural human feeling that we need to assign blame to someone or something when things don’t go exactly our way?

The concept of fairness is interesting because it seems to mean slightly different things to different people.  From a strictly semantics point of view, the dictionary defines the word fair as “free from bias, dishonesty or injustice”. Given that definition, it seems that fairness is like that old courtroom argument about obscenity: “I’ll know it when I see it.” In terms of teaching kids about fairness, I think most parents want their children to behave in a just and unbiased way, while expecting the same treatment from others. On the other hand, it makes sense to prepare them for the injustices they will surely encounter in their lives.

Fairness is a concept that is also being hotly debated in our country right now in regard to the income gap, taxes and the Occupy Wall Street movement. On one side of the debate, protesters decry the fact that 1% of the country is controlling the majority of wealth and therefore, has the most influence in elections, that by defining corporations as “people”, the Supreme Court allowed unprecedented amounts of anonymous dollars to be funneled into the political process and that Wall Street is responsible for much of the country’s economic woes. On the other side, the argument is that much of this is normal in a capitalistic, free market society, that one must only work hard to reap financial benefits and that the protesters are just jealous of those who have been successful. Ok, I admit that I may have simplified the arguments a bit, but in general, I think it points to the need to differentiate between true injustice and a feeling that if things don’t go your way, there must be someone or something to blame.

So how do we tell the difference? Following the “I’ll know when I see it” concept, I came up with a few examples that I think illustrate the difference between unfairness and “whining”. Only one of these is political; the rest will likely be relatable to any suburban parent.

1)    The fact that Mitt Romney made lots and lots of money over the years is fair (although, the ways in which Bain Capital helped him make that money, may not have been). The fact that he only paid 13.9% in taxes last year, while Americans who make far, far less than he does paid much more is patently unfair.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that our current system, which allows these tax loopholes to exist is both unfair and obscene (I know both unfairness AND obscenity when I see them!). If it’s true that in America, anyone who works hard can achieve, then why do hard-working people, putting in 5 days per week, 8 hours per day or more at jobs that pay less than $50K per year pay more tax than a multi-millionaire and struggle to make ends meet?  Not fair.

2)    If a teacher assigns a school project and clearly states that it must be neat, well-formatted and creative, in addition to having satisfactory content, then assigns a lower-than desired grade because the project is messy, hard to read or clearly demonstrates a lack of effort, that’s fair. If the teacher (assuming that this is any class other than art) assigns a lower-than desired grade because the project was not professionally (i.e. required $$ to be spent) printed and bound, artistically brilliant and showed obvious evidence of parental involvement, that’s not fair. We all know the parents who work more on the look and feel of their children’s school projects than the kids do, and a higher grade should never be assigned because some parent forked up the money to go to Kinkos or spent 40 hours helping their kid cut, paint and decorate.

3)    It’s perfectly fair that celebrities who have aged well go on TV to talk about their exercise and eating regimens and how these things have helped them stay young. It’s totally unfair for celebrities who have been constantly airbrushed and cosmetically enhanced to go on TV and talk about how well they have aged, without acknowledging the helpful and expensive tools that made it possible.

4)    It’s perfectly fair for a youth soccer team to beat another youth soccer team by a score of 10-0.  Hopefully, the winning team, after reaching, let’s say five goals, has the sportsmanship to move their players around, let defenders play offense, etc… in an attempt not to “cream” or humiliate the other team.  What’s not fair is when overly competitive coach-parents rig the system so they can stack a team, thereby creating a situation in which every game played has a similar outcome. I know that AYSO and all of those other youth sports organizations have systems in place so this doesn’t happen, but somehow, it always does.

Those are just a few examples but of course, there are a million more. And let’s be real: most of these, save the first example, are not devastating. The truly senseless injustice that abounds in the world  is even more difficult to explain to our kids – why some children suffer from absolute poverty while others have so much, why some are born into war-torn countries where they will never know a feeling of safety, while others live in peace.  These are the hardest to talk to your kids about because there is just no explanation for why some children in the world are orphaned, why some are destined to be child soldiers for an African warlord, why natural disasters or school shootings or so many other terrible things happen to innocent people.

What unfair situations make you tear your hair out?  And how do you explain them to your kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts.