Friday, September 7, 2007

Middle School President

I came down the stairs to the intrusive and bothersome blaring of the TV. I had just finished lecturing the almost a teenager and found myself a bit on edge. I began with sincere and na├»ve intentions that my lecture would be full of unconditional love and bonding. It would include idealized examples and life lessons that I thought important for my daughter to know. I would calmly possess a non-judgmental understanding and positive attitude toward her ideas that would be unwavering. After about two minutes, my motherly lecture had deteriorated into a futile and most frustrating exercise in bashing my head against the wall. Or at least that’s what it felt like. As I left the almost a teenager’s room I had serious doubts as to whether either of us would make it through middle school unscathed.

Needless to say, I was in no mood to hear from the newscaster that 5 more soldiers had been killed in Iraq, that the trapped miners were still trapped or that my children had been sucking on lead riddled toys for the last decade. And perhaps most of all, I was in no mood to hear about a presidential election that wasn’t going to happen until well over a year from now. I’ve always been a classic example of a politically apathetic member of Generation X. While I do manage do vote in every election, I do so with an extremely cynical and disaffected view of politicians and politics in general. So when the newscast began to speak of the eventual presidential election I started to leave the room. I stopped and turned around however, when the reporter said, “So, now it is up to the American people to seriously ask themselves, ‘What qualities, characteristics and attributes DO you want in your next president?’”

“For goodness sake!” I cried to the half asleep husband on the couch. “Is it really that hard? Heck, the characteristics I would appreciate in a president are the same exact qualities and attributes I’d appreciate in any person I meet!” In fact, the lecture I had just attempted to give my daughter could just as easily apply to my ideal presidential candidate. In fact, my expectations for middle school behavior and presidential behavior aren’t that far apart.

To my almost a teenager daughter I say: I want you to be secure and confident in who you are. Figure out who your true self is and then have the strength and determination to live your life as that complete person, whether you are musical or athletic or are a closet Sanjaya fan or secretly really don’t believe in paying $40 for a t-shirt. Never let peer pressure or low self esteem dictate the path your life will take. Do what you think is right, even if it's not popular. And never mistake arrogance or bullying for confidence. I want you to have a strong personal character. Don’t lie or cheat or steal. It’s just plain wrong, you’ll probably get in trouble and it just shouldn’t be a valid option. Don’t swear or gossip or spend more money than you have. It tarnishes who you are, you’ll probably get in trouble and there is always a better option. Find someone you admire who lives their life with strong moral and ethical guidelines and then emulate them. I hope you always employ an empathetic view toward the world. Realize that your school is full of kids with different histories, cultural identities and innate ways of thinking that you may never understand. Realize that being different doesn’t make them wrong or in need of change by you. Always treat people, animals and the earth kindly and with the utmost respect. Humbly help those in need whenever you can, not just when it makes you look good. Find a way to ensure that your life is full of joy and promise and security that isn’t dependent on how much money you have, how much stuff you own or how much you weigh.

To my almost a president I say: I want you to be secure and confident in who you are. Figure out who your true self is and then have the strength and determination to live your life as that complete person, whether you’re gay or straight or are a closet Democrat or secretly really don’t believe in abortion. Never let congressional pressure or low approval ratings dictate the path your presidency will take. Do what you think is right, even if it's not popular with the political action committees or your largest campaign contributer. And never mistake televised threats or war for confidence. I want you to have a strong personal character. Don’t lie or cheat or steal. It’s just plain wrong, you’ll probably get in trouble and someone will have video taped it and the video will be linked to the internet and then you will be the lead story on TMZ.com or the most downloaded video on You Tube and before long there will be congressional inquiries and Dateline investigations and you could eventually end up impeached or even resigning in shame from your presidency and people will always mention you and Richard Nixon in the same sentence and besides, it just shouldn’t be a valid option. Don’t swear or gossip or spend more money than you have. It tarnishes who you are, you’ll probably get in trouble and someone will have video taped it and the video will be linked to the internet and then you will be the lead story on TMZ.com or the most downloaded video on You Tube and before long there will be congressional inquiries and Dateline investigations and you could eventually end up impeached or even resigning in shame from your presidency and people will always mention you and Richard Nixon in the same sentence and besides, the taxpayers get really mad when you spend too much of their money. Develop some moral and ethical guidelines that you live your life by and then set a good example for everyone who is watching you. I hope you always employ an empathetic view toward the world. Realize that the world is full of countries with different histories, cultural identities and innate ways of thinking that you may never understand. Realize that being different doesn’t necessarily make them wrong or in need of change by bribes or sanctions or weapons or propaganda. Always support legislation that treats people, animals and the earth kindly and with the utmost respect. Humbly help those in need whenever you can, not just when it’s politically beneficial. Find a way to ensure that every American can live a life that is full of joy and promise and security that isn’t dependent on winning the lottery, working for Halliburton or getting plastic surgery.

At the end of the newscast my daughter came downstairs and was kind to her little brother, polite to her father and helpful to me. I began to consider then the possibility that there was hope for us. Could we really make it through middle school? Was it really possible she could turn out to be a confident, empathetic person with strong personal character? I’m certainly counting on it. As for the next president…..me and the rest of the apathetic, cynical and disaffected jury of Generation X members are still not so sure.

Check This Out!

If you’ve ever wondered why they keep throwing rocks and bulldozing houses over in Israel and Palestine then you need to read, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan. If you think you already know all about rock throwing and house crushing then read The Lemon Tree to hear about the true, personal story of an Arab family and the house they built, the Jewish family who came to live in that same house and the decades of personal dialogue that developed between the two. It’s required reading on many college campuses today. It’s full of history and sadness and hope. I couldn’t put it down.

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