Friday, June 7, 2013

Right Reasons

And you thought soulja boy had nothing left to teach you.

Like a five-course fine-dining experience, all good reality shows have a certain sequence. As the season progresses, the same conflicts tend to arise and work themselves out in very similar fashion to previous seasons. The Bachelorette is no exception. At some point early in the season, the men try to uncover any competition who may not be there for the "right reasons."

The Bachelorette highlighted this "right reasons" concept last week by inviting none other than rap superstar and mohawk wielding Soluja boy. You may remember him from such hits as "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" or you may not remember him at all. Either way, he was there, helping the dudes put together a rap to impress Des, and good-natured frivolity ensued.

However, gentleman caller Ben was taking some heat from the other guys for potentially not being there for the "right reasons." This got me to thinking: What are the right reasons to go on a reality tv show like The Bachelorette?

I can see the appeal of going on other reality tv shows. On The Amazing Race you get to travel around the world whilst ruining your relationship with a loved one. On Survivor you get to lose half your body weight and nobody will judge you for not showering. But The Bachelorette is a little bit trickier.

I can see the right reason for the bachelorette herself. She is there to "find love" and gets to date 25 guys at the same time and take the pick of the litter. There's some solid odds and good logic in that. But what about the guys? Presumably their "right reason" is to "find love" as well, but really? Really? I imagine this imaginary (that's why I said I imagined it) conversation going on between the guys who sign up to go on the show and a friend of theirs.

Guy: You know, I'd like to find love.

Friend: There's this girl I know that's really great. I could set you up with her if you want. Only she is seeing 24 other guys right now. And most of your time with her will be spent with at least some of those guys.

Guy: Are you crazy? That sounds horrible.

Friend: You get to be on tv.

Guy: I'm in.

I'm not saying that the guys on the show don't legitimately want to find love and that the only reason they are there is that they just want to be on tv (I'm only kind of saying that), but let's be serious here, it has to be a factor. There is no logical reason for searching for love by limiting yourself to dating one woman who is dating a bunch of other guys, unless you get to be on tv. And let's be serious, meeting Soulja boy doesn't hurt.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Bachelorette and first impressions

It's no secret to those closest to me that I have a fondness for chick flicks and television typically targeted at women. With only a shred of shame do I declare A Walk to Remember to be one of my favorite movies. I did experience a pang of embarrassment recently when one of my favorite shows was classified as a part of a Monday night lineup called "Man Candy Monday."

I have long been intrigued by The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and yet, when asked, I have a hard time explaining exactly what it is that appeals to me. In an effort to decipher this show's ability to capture my attention, I will blog about The Bachelorette from time to time this summer. In case you don't watch The Bachelorette, I will try to keep the posts generic enough to appeal to the average reader (or even better, you should just start watching the show and follow my twitter feed @sethwatchestv as I live tweet whilst the show airs).

For those of you who aren't awesome and thus don't know, The Bachelor/Bachelorette is a show where one guy/girl essentially "dates" 25 girls/guys at a time, slowly dumping some as he/she goes, until there is one left and he proposes/lets him propose (gender neutrality is sooooo tedious) at the end of the season. If you think this sounds ridiculous, you've about got it.

Last week was the season premiere of The Bachelorette, where Des met all 25 of her gentlemen callers. One by one, the guys step out of a limo and introduce themselves. Over the course of the many seasons of this show, it has become a bit of a foregone conclusion that each guy stepping out of the limo has to have some sort of shtick; something special to make a lasting first impression. Monday night was perhaps the strangest combination of first impressions yet, including a knight in shining armor, a four-year old boy, and a guy with no shirt on.

What strikes me about these introductions are how planned out and non-spontaneous they are. Each guy knows that he is about to meet a girl that he hopes to woo and perhaps propose to and he has plenty of time to plan out what he is going to do. Some guys go the hot-bod route, like the shirtless wonder, and others go the funny route, like the guy who dropped to one knee as if to propose but then just tied his shoe.

We don't always get the opportunity to plan out what type of first impression we will make. If I did get the chance, I might try to come off as kind and caring. These are the traits that I find most important about myself.  However, I think reflecting on how we typically act around a new person or group of people is very telling of not what we find most important about ourselves, but rather what we think others will find most appealing about ourselves. For example, when I meet new people I think about 75% of the things I say are attempts at humor (and 5% are actually funny).

Perhaps I'm hypothesizing that we are more motivated to be who we think others want us to be rather than who we, ourselves, want to be. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but first impressions offer an interesting test to the hypothesis. When you really think about it, what characteristics are most important about yourself? How do those compare with how you act around new people?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Art of Sneaking Out

Sometimes even the most carefully planned hi jinx go wrong at the hands of a suspicious, light-sleeping mother.

It was the summer before my freshman year of high school and a buddy and I had spent all morning during summer school gym conniving. The plan was to sneak out of our respective houses and go toilet papering. It was my first time sneaking out and I knew my mom was a light sleeper so I made several contingency plans. First, when I left my bedroom I locked it behind me so that if she woke up she couldn't come in and see if I was asleep. Genius. The only problem was that in order to do this I had to lock the door first, then close it. I did not know doing this would disable the ability to close the door quietly. A quick but loud pop came from the door, then silence. My parents were still asleep. Time to keep going.

My second contingency was that I had packed a bag of clothes and stashed it in the backyard. This way if I got caught outside of my room I would just be in my boxers, clearly going to the bathroom or getting a drink of water. 14 year-old me was so smart.

I went into my garage and out the back door, quickly finding my stashed clothes and putting them on. My friend was waiting for me on the street. That's when we heard it. A loud tapping. More like a knocking. Coming from my parent's bedroom window. They had heard my door closing and were awake! They had not seen me because I was still on the side of the house but my friend had been compromised.

He ran over to me and we quickly decided to abort the mission. He took off as I restashed my clothes and got into the garage, hearing my mom approaching from inside. I needed to quickly think of some reason to be in the garage. The only thing that occurred to me was to grab a soda and say I came out to get one.

When my mom opened the door, this is what she saw: Her 14 year-old son in his underwear, holding a can of soda with the door to the backyard cracked open. I can only imagine what she thought was going on. My memory of what was said is a little foggy, but I believe the conversation went something like this.

Mom: What are you doing?

Me: Getting a soda.

Mom: Why is the back door open?

Me: I don't know.

(Long pause. I figured my best defense was to play stupid. My mom, probably figuring I was stupid for other reasons considers how to play this one)

Mom: It's late. I think you should go to bed.

I could say that I fooled my mom that night, but in my heart of hearts I'm pretty sure my mom just decided to have mercy on me. She probably knew that I was making a pathetic attempt to sneak out, figured I wasn't going to go do anything horrible anyway, and let me off the hook. She probably knew that I am such a rule-follower by nature that simply getting caught was punishment enough. Out of all the possible choices, on this night, she chose to have mercy.

To my wonderful, selfless, hardworking, strong mother. You have always desired the best for your kids and that's why you're the best. Love you!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Face Your Fears

I've been thinking a lot recently about really trying to blog more consistently. By recently I mean, oh, I don't know, the last seven years or so. I've even more recently (six and a half years) thought about slowly working my way toward some sort of scenario in which I get paid to write. I have these daydream sessions in which I imagine myself sitting at home with a typewriter writing the sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. Of course, it becomes an instant bestseller, I write and star in the movie adaptdation and win an Oscar, and during my acceptance speech I demonstrate how cool but humble of a guy I am and then everyone wants to be my friend (with sentences like that one, I'm bound to write a bestseller any day now).

The only problem (because there's only one) is that I never daydream about the writing part of it. I never think about the hours spent writing and editing and rewriting and whiting out all the errors from punching the wrong typewriter key. And when I finally do sit down to write I get very self-conscious. I ask myself, "Who would want to read this? This is so boring. If I am not enjoying writing it, how can I expect anyone to enjoy reading it?" In fact, I am experiencing these very thoughts as I write this very post.

However, I've been reading a book recently about how to take career aspirations and make them a reality and this book addresses this type of self-talk. The book is called Start by Jon Acuff and he calls this self-talk, "voices of fear and doubt." Jon's prescription for said voices: mock them and make them face the truth. What he means is to mock your fear by exaggerating it to illustrate how ridiculous it is in the first place and then make them face the truth by simply writing what is true about that issue. So hear goes.

Fear: "Who would want to read this? This is so boring. If I am not enjoying writing it, how can I expect anyone to enjoy reading it?"

Mock it up real good: If I continue writing this post and publish it, I will lose all four of my followers of this blog. Google will probably ban me from blogging and Wordpress will fold as a company so they do not have to publish my blog. My own mother, when reading this post, will projectile vomit and stop answering my phone calls. My eighteen month old son, despite being unable to read, will sense the lameness of my writing abilities and throw my laptop in the toilet, instantly potty-train himself in order to pee on my computer, then un-potty-train himself in order to communicate his disapproval.

The truth: Someone may want to read this and may even enjoy it. I have written some posts that people have really liked and admittedly, some that were pretty bad. If I actually write more consistently, I will get better.

That was pretty fun, especially the mocking part. What fears do you need to mock and confront with the truth?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Scarlet Letters

I am lucky to have a perfect child who has already demonstrated at the tender age of sixteen months that he will never, ever need to be disciplined. However, some children (probably because they were vaccinated) have disobedient tendencies that need to be parented out of them. There are all sorts of disciplining techniques parents can use: timeouts, spanking, and making your child watch a tiger eat a live goat are just a few of the more time-honored classics. But what do you do when these old standbys lose their effectiveness? What do you do with an unruly teenager who is too old for timeouts and eats live goats herself? Why not try the ultimate in human motivation: public humiliation.

Perhaps you've noticed the rash of online news site articles about parents who force their children to hold signs that decry their transgressions in a very public place (perhaps you've also noticed the rash of online news site articles about anything but actual news, but I digress). This discipline strategy combines the best of Puritanical condemnation with the viral capabilities of our modern world. Now anyone with a web browser can learn how desperate your parenting efforts have become.

To be (kind of) serious though, I wonder about this strategy. How effective is shame as a motivator? Maybe it is embarrassing, even horrifying for some people, to have your mistakes displayed publicly but does it really motivate one to change? On one hand, I could see how this form of discipline would be more of a motivation to make sure you don't get caught the next time. For truly disobedient teenagers who tend to wear their rebelliousness as a badge of honor this form of punishment is almost a reward; it's another opportunity to show the world how bad they are. On the other hand, I could see the time spent holding your sin sign in public as a time to really think about what you have done. If one does not feel shame for actually committing the act, then perhaps this form of discipline will create the appropriate feeling (if they can ever get past the feeling of hatred toward their parents for forcing them to do this/vaccinating them).
I have to admit, there are aspects of this technique I really like. I like the honesty and accountability of it. It is easy to rationalize bad behavior to ourselves when nobody else knows about it. But the practicality of shame is that it works as a kind of public conscience. Even if we can trick ourselves into not feeling bad about doing something bad, society will correct us through shame.
However, as a parent, I have scruples. After working with teenagers for many years, one of my favorite characteristics to see in a teen is a disregard for what others think that enables him/her to do what is right or good. This is one of the core lessons I hope to teach my own children. I wonder, does it not send conflicting messages to our children when we tell them not to worry about what other people think and then turn around and promote that shame and exploit it to try to correct behavior?

To be honest, I don't know. And like I said, I won't have to worry about it. Because my child is perfect.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moral dilemma

Please help me with a moral dilemma I recently faced as a substitute teacher:

On this particular day, students had a few assignments to complete independently at their seats. As I walked around the classroom monitoring students' progress, I noticed that one student was working on science. This was a bit fishy since we were in a language arts class. I told him that he is free to work on whatever he likes once he has finished the language arts assignment and that I would even help him with the science if he needed it. Hearing this, he handed me the science packet and told me to look it over so that when he finished with his language arts I could help him.

After looking over the science packet for a few minutes, I notice that it is another student's name at the top of the paper. Looking back at the student, I see that he is still working on science. I assume he was copying another student's work onto his own packet and now he is just doing the science packet himself. However, when I get to his seat I find him working on a separate science assignment for the same girl who owned the packet.

My first reaction was shock that a student so blatantly cheating would actually hand me someone else's packet that he was working on without me demanding it. He freely offered it up! But then my need to make a decision set in. This was a clear instance of cheating and I had to decide what to do about it. Should I turn the student in to the science teacher? Should I return the science assignments to the girl to whom they belonged? Should I rip them up? Should I do nothing?

To complicate the situation, the student told me how the girl had been absent for a while and the teacher hadn't given her ample time to make up the work. Furthermore, if I turned the student in, there would be big consequences including suspension and getting kicked off the track team.

It is a difficult thing, trying to figure out when to exercise judgment and when to exercise grace. I wanted to find a way to both show grace to this student but still teach him a lesson that would hopefully stop him from cheating again.

As a side note I will say, students cheat like this all the time and find absolutely nothing wrong with it. Even to the point where they don't even consider copying homework answers from another student's paper onto their own "cheating." This kind of bugs me. It's one thing to say it's not that bad but to say it's not cheating at all? How can a statement like that be defended? What does the prevalence of cheating say about what we are really teaching our students? That the grade is what matters, not the learning? I digress.

So before I share what I ended up doing, I'd love to hear what you would do. How would you handle this situation? Also, were you a cheater when you were in school? Is cheating not so bad? Why do so many students cheat and think it's not a big deal? Put your thinking caps on and give me some thoughts.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nose to nose

My child is the cutest child on the face of God's green earth.

I know pretty much everyone thinks this about their own child and has no hesitation saying it to others. I know this can get annoying for others to listen to or see countless pictures of said baby on Facebook. But the reality is, someone's child has to be the cutest. It just so happens that my child is that child (with the possible exception of my mother's youngest child).

It's like when you're a celebrity and people are always telling you that they are your biggest fan (this drives me nuts. I can't go anywhere anymore). Well, it probably feels like that to those fans, but even though most of them are wrong, one of them is right! One of them is the biggest fan. Just like my child is the cutest child.

Out of all the cute things he does though, there is one that just melts my heart far and above the others. Sometimes, when I have him on my hip and I am focused on something else, he will lean over gently and put his face right in front of my face, real close, and smile his sweet, pure smile. "Look at me, Dada! Pay attention to me, love me!" ( He can't speak yet, but this is what he is saying).

It really is something remarkable, to know that my attention, my love means so much to another. To be able to make my son happy from my mere presence and attention.

As I thought about this more, it brought to mind a few different and conflicting metaphors for my relationship with God.

In one metaphor, I am the baby and God is the father. Sometimes I feel like God's attention is far from me. I trust in his near presence but it doesn't feel like his loving eye is on me. It's like he is holding me but looking at something else. I know he is there in my head, but my heart isn't connected to that presence. I suppose I should be satisfied with knowing God is near but my heart longs for more. I want to be desired by God, to feel God's eyes looking on me with love and delight. I want to make God smile.

In the other metaphor, God is the baby and I am the father. I have the most precious thing in the world right in front of me, ready to deliver joy and delight into my life, and yet, I am looking at something else, focused on something else. It's not that I am completely neglecting God; I am keeping him right there next to me, but I am not engaging with God. I am not focused on God's desires. And yet, God is leaning over, trying to get my attention. Not even in an angry or whiny way, but in a loving, sweet way, God is putting his face in front of me and saying, "What could be more important? What could bring you more joy?"

I wonder which metaphor describes my relationship with God more. I wonder why it is so difficult to feel God's loving gaze sometimes. I wonder why I allow myself to become distracted with trivialities when the greatest joy I've ever known is unceasingly, gently, lovingly, placing himself nose to nose with me everyday.