This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lessons for my Kids

[Note: This is not humor. It's been a while since I wrote a humor column I could post (although I have one that is awaiting permission from the person it's about before I post it, probably in another month or two). I was thinking last night of the things I want to instill in my children, and decided to write this up. It doesn't really seem to fit the political blog, and I thought maybe the people who read this one might have some thoughts and input on this. Hopefully this will be an evolving document. And of course there's nothing certain in life, and so it's something that can be given to my children as they grow, should something tragic happen to me. -- Liam]

Some things I've learned in 40 years on the planet...

1)It is more important to be informed and thoughtful than to be right.

As you go through life, keeping an open mind and considering your positions carefully is vital. You may, during your lifetime, come to hold beliefs which are different from mine. You may opt for a different set of religious beliefs than mine. You may chose a radically different candidate in a political race than the one I would support. As long as those choices are well considered, as informed as they can be, and are open to change as new information comes to light, you'll be okay.

Over the course of your lifetime, if these were the only two choices, I would far rather we disagreed over most things, but that you had good, thoughtful, reasoned arguments for why you took the side of each issue that you did than that you agreed with me in all things, but without any better reason than “Dad thinks this, and that's good enough for me.” It's flattering if you think enough of me to want to parrot my beliefs, but what if I'm wrong? I'm human, I can be wrong. I can be missing crucial facts or have failed to consider a connection I should have. I'd like to believe that an intelligent, informed person will come to the same conclusions I do most of the time (I tell myself that I'm an intelligent, informed person), but my respect goes to the worthy opponent, willing to listen to my points and refute them with his or her own. The opponent (or ally) who merely spews back dubious talking points they heard somewhere without even a moments consideration as to their veracity does not do anything to further political discourse and should make way for those who actually consider their positions.

Beyond that, understand that sometimes experience teaches that what may initially seem like a good idea actually is not. Wisdom is gained from experience, and the truly wise can gain wisdom from the experience of others. Be open to the wisdom of other people's arguments, try to understand it, and let it affect your opinions appropriately.

2)It is more important to be moral than to be ideological.

In life, you will run into a lot of people who believe that simply holding an ideological belief is sufficient, that living up to it is not terribly important. On the other hand, some of the most moral, most ethically behaved people are those who do not let a membership take the place of proper behavior.

It is, of course, possible to be both, but you should never allow your belief in a religion to substitute for proper behavior. Paradoxically, some of the most un-Christian behaviors are done in the name of Christianity. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, to treat others with respect and dignity, and that it is in our treatment of the outcasts and downtrodden which counts the most towards our behavior, and yet so many self-described Christians these days seem to find hatred of gays to be central to their religion. Jesus spent time with prostitutes, lepers and poor people yet the Religious Right find their ideological soul-mates in a political party that is forever trying to do away with services to aid the poor in favor of more money to the rich.

I don't mean to pick on one specific religion, it is simply the one I know best, and the one whose followers (and thus, whose hypocrites as well) I've had the most opportunity to come into contact with.

3)The behaviors of the ill behaved do not define the group.

If Christianity can be described as a religion of love, I'm told Islam is a religion of peace. And yet the single worst terrorist attack on our nation was perpetrated in the name of Islam. Too many Americans view this as an immediate and proper reason to hate all Muslims. Some, by association, choose to hate all Arabic people.

The Republican party, as I write this (in early 2006) right now is embroiled in many corruption scandals and the President appears guilty of lying, violating the law and generally poor decisions. This does not mean that all Republicans are corrupt or selfish or evil, and it certainly doesn't taint the value of conservative ideology.

Understand that in any group, there will be those who do not hold to the core values of the group, or do things in the name of the group that most of the group would not support. Sadly, these will often be among the more outspoken members of the group. Don't let the radicals color your impression of the rank and file.

4)It is more important to be independent than to belong. (or “Politics is not a sporting event”)

This is particularly true of any group (such as a political party) the membership of which can become too much like an “us vs. them” situation. There are times when the most pressing needs can be met by one political candidate and other times when someone from a completely different part of the ideological spectrum is what is most needed. Remaining independent makes it much easier to vote with your head instead of your gut.

Politics is not a sporting event. There is no inherent merit in “your team” winning at the cost of “the other team”. Each political candidate comes with a different set of strengths and beliefs. In our predigested, two-party world, sometimes it's difficult to separate out the candidate from their party, but nevertheless, not all situations call for the same thing.

For example, the United States works best when it works slowest. This may seem a paradox, but it is nevertheless true. The problem with a streamlined system is that while it may make it easier to pass legislation for the greater good, it also makes it easier to pass legislation that pulls the country away from what is best. Having effective checks and balances, with all sides of each issue having some level of power in the discussion, prevents the corruption that unchecked power engenders in humans. Always voting for the same team regardless of circumstance is like always getting on the same side of the seesaw on the playground. You aren't getting the best use out of a seesaw if you get on the end that your playmate is already sitting on. You may prefer that end of the seesaw, and so may your friend, but if the sides aren't balanced it won't work very effectively.

As a corollary of this, resist peer pressure. Do not do something you don't support just because “everyone's doing it” or “only dorks are afraid to do this”. Whether the subject is drug use, sexual activity, breaking the law, picking on the underdog or anything else, be strong and do what you believe is right, not what everyone around you tells you to do. “I dare you” is not a valid argument for doing anything.

5)There is nothing wrong with people who are different.

I can't stress this enough. As you go through life, you will find aspects of yourself which are different from most of those around you. Some will be small and insignificant (such as being left handed), some will be larger. It is okay to be different. Those who tell you otherwise, or hate you for your differences, are small minded bigots too wrapped up in their own problems to see that their hatred solves nothing.

Do not hate other races, other genders, other sexual orientations, other political ideologies, other religions. Treat everyone with respect and dignity and expect the same in return. You may not always get it, but recognize that when someone does not treat you with respect and dignity, this is not someone with whom you should be associating. Don't let an abuser convince you that you deserve the abuse, move on to someone who will respect you for you.

And because one never knows what the future holds, I want to make it particularly clear, if as you grow you determine that you were born gay, that's fine with me. It is not a life I would choose for you, but not because there is anything inherently wrong with being born different, only that it is a difficult life in our society, and I would hope for you to avoid that pain. Nonetheless, I do not believe it is a choice, and so if that is who you are, embrace it and move on. Those who can't or won't deal with it are not worth your effort.

6)It is more important to be loving than to be macho.

The Golden Rule is repeated so often it can feel like a cliche, but it is no less true for that. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Try to temper your discipline of your children with love. Reward the good as well as punishing the bad. Treat your spouse with love and honor them as your partner, not your servant. Apologize when you wrong someone. Stand up for the underdog. Be a friend to the friendless.

And do not confuse “macho” with “strength”. It takes far more strength to stand up for the socially outcast than to stand around with the other “macho” fools laughing and pointing. Try to think how you would feel if you were the social outcast.

7)Opposing positions are sometimes both vital sides of the same coin.

This is true of many parts of life. Disagreements do not always have to mean that one side is right and one side is wrong. Certainly you will run into cases where there is a clear right and wrong. But understand that in philosophical discussions, there may be no clear right and wrong. Liberal vs conservative is one example, both in your personal life and in the political realm.

Everyone needs a conservative grounding. With nothing grounding you to reality you can feel lost and worse, you can actually BE lost. Conservative grounding is what keeps us from spending money we can't afford to spend, or throwing away a strong, long-term relationship over one small argument. Conservative thought is what helps us to make the unpleasant decisions, choosing what is best over what is fun.

On the other hand, liberalism is change. Your liberal side is the side that urges you to quit your job and travel the world (generally a bad idea if you aren't independently wealthy), but it is also the side that urges you to change things for the better. Go out and join that club you've wanted to join. Go volunteer some time for a local charity. Try a new ice cream flavor. Take a different route to a common destination. Mix it up.

Your liberal side keeps life fun, your conservative side keeps life safe and secure. You need both, do not reject either out of hand.

8)You can't make your father not love you.

Finally, and most importantly, nothing you ever do will make me stop loving you. You will make some mistakes, you will make some bad choices. And there may even be some choices you make that I simply can't support, although I will try to be as supportive as I can. But whether you make big mistakes or small ones, whether we are friendly or estranged, whether you generally agree with me or generally think I'm the stupidest person ever to successfully tie their shoes in the morning, I will always love you.

Copyright (c) February 8, 2006 by Liam Johnson.

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