Reading Books With My Son

My son has always loved books. They were among his first objects his eyes fascinated and focused on. He’s learning to read right now and his love of books remains as strong as it was in his infancy.

It’s clear that books – the traditional kind: made of paper and ink and labor – are being replaced by digital media. The Kindle and the iPad and other tablets are making it easier to acquire and consume material once only available on books.

For children today, the iPad is very intuitive. In fact, some parents have reported that their children have become so used to the iPad screen, that they “pinch” pages in books – expecting them to zoom-out.

Perhaps some parents believe we can let books go and just let our kids skip them in favor of digital media without any cost. They *may* be right. Or they may not.

As for me, books are still a critical foundation for civilization.

Neurons are amazing things: the more they’re used, the better they get (generally). So as a child grows, the more exposure they get to different kinds of learning and feeling and experiences, the healthier their brains grow.

We still don’t have enough longitudinal research to know for sure that it’s OK to just skip books and let our kids do everything electronically.

In my opinion: let them explore; let them have fun; let them watch TV or play games. BUT: *be there* with them. Explain to them what’s going on. Step back an observe their behavior before, during and after their interactions with different media.

I know too many people who are letting the infiltration of technology into our lives go on without enough critical awareness and thought and discipline.

When my son and I read books with each other, we enter a world created by our ancestors for the pleasure and wisdom and civility of our minds.

I can’t tell other parent what to do.

But I do hope they keep reading books with their kids for as long as they can.

I’ve many regrets in my life. I’ll never regret reading books with my son.



Failure’s ROI

I follow all kinds of people (and some bots) on Twitter. I read all sorts of blogs and books. I rarely watch TV anymore but I know what happens there. I’m an information omnivore, so I keep a pulse on our culture. I hear the drone of one theme in our modern world: Success. I witness  it when parents talk to their children, when self-help authors pimp their latest books, when social media gurus give their readers variations of the same pep posts. Success! Success! Success!

Here’s a fundamental problem: we all, one way or another, fail to live beyond a few years. That’s a big failure when you think about it, at least from a certain angle.

And living forever in this world isn’t the only thing we fail at. We fail at a great many things. We fail at the things we’ve never experienced. We fail to see truths set in front of our noses. We fail everyday and fail to see those failures.

Our culture’s obsession with success perhaps speaks more about our fears than it does about our ambitions. Why is there such a fear of failure in our culture? Why is it shamed so much in our schools (where it’s sometimes used as a weapon), in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our media? I think we are paying heavy prices for our failure to experience failure.

You see, if you spend your life without any intimacy with moments of failure, with death, with loss, then you set your life upon a course of disappointment. Our culture’s obsession with success is really an obsession with only one part of our passion-complex: our desire for pleasure, be it the pleasure of pride or accomplishment. But we have other emotions, other spaces we all are born to inhabit: like grief.

It’s important to grieve. We don’t like to talk about death because we don’t know how to grieve. We don’t like to talk about failure because, ultimately, we don’t know how to grieve. A culture, or a person, who spends every moment focused on success never gets to practice grief. As you get older, that grief (which is a garden) dries up unless tended to once in a while.

A healthy culture welcomes grief, clutivates it, and in the process grows successfully. It doesn’t talk about success: it just does what it loves to do, which is to ensure that its members live fully. The ancients, for all of their insane or brutal rituals and habits, cherished things we seem hell-bent to banish. They appreciated the beauty that surrounded them, respected the mystery of existence and were keenly aware of the dangers inherent in life’s turbulent flows. For them grief itself was a gift.

Fast-forward to our evolving world of social media.

We’re all still trying to sort out what it means to live in a streaming, “real-time” state of affairs. One thing we know is that things are getting faster and faster and the rate of acceleration is accelerating. Which is to say, things are more likely to fail than succeed. This is an important thing to know in the 21st Century.

The more you’re willing to face your fear of failure, the better your chances of succeeding at the important things in life. Take a close inventory of your failures and thank them.

Don’t be so brainwashed by our culture’s insistence on success. Our general culture is itself a failure. Which is why it’s so obsessed with success. Be wary of calls to “climb to the top” or “fly high”.

Angels fall fast from the sky. But roots grow deep in darkness.

Tend to your garden of grief. One day, or one long night, you will find yourself alone in that garden and nothing that you accomplished will accompany you in your dark time.

The question you should be asking yourself right now: Will the flowers deep down in my bed of grief be dead when I need them or will they be fresh enough for me to have things to care for?

It’s OK to fail. The universe gives you that permission. Don’t let the Success Fools fool you into being only a half-human.

Being a fully-grown human being takes a lot of failure and grief. Invest in being human. The returns are priceless. Literally.

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Thanksgiving 1951: Delayed Pilgrims

I was born in the short Summer of Love to parents who endured long Winters of Hate in madness-torn Hungary. My parents came to this country in 1951 after spending about seven years in a Dispaced Persons (DP) camp in Austria: a place with little hope, food, shelter, clothing, heat. Hungarians each, they lived through the European Depression (which dwarfed what happened in the U.S.) and then the horrors of World War II. My parents met in that camp, eventually got married and had two children, a girl and then a boy.

My parents could have gone anywhere in the world. Through all the hell they experienced, they worked hard to come to only one place on earth, the last refuge of freedom in the world: America. Here they are, on November 22, 1951. The Wilmington New Journal’s caption: City DPs (Delayed Pilgrims) to Give Thanks:

From Last Import

From left to right: two of my maternal aunts who journeyed here with my parents; my brother Julius; my father Julius Sr; my mother Laura; and my sister Laura (yes, my parents named their first born children after themselves).

In the DP camp, my parents had practically nothing. I never understood why they would have children amid such ruin and despair: the trauma alone of war and persecution and starvation must have been overwhelming. Now that I have a child of my own I understand why: a child is a gem from the future, a kindling of hope.

When you give thanks today, think of the people who endure, every day, terror, starvation, evil government, wrath, disease and despair.

After thinking of all the pain there is in the world, look at the picture of my family. It’s not something we see everyday. But there it is: the beautiful result of laboring your hope into a dream and your dream into a moment of pure gold. If there’s gold on your Turkey today it’s the color of someone’s difficult dream.

Think good thoughts, as hard as that may be.

Happy Thanksgiving, my brothers and sisters.

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