Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Should I have Kids?

This is a common question these days, and I know I struggled with it. For many people the answer is obvious, for others it is not. I know that when I was trying to make this decision I looked to others to tell me what to do. Obviously that is not the best way to make such a personal choice, but it is easier to just do what you are told than to make a choice, or to be the one held accountable if your decision is not the best. In order to possibly help, I will tell you a bit about how I made my decision.

When I was little, I always wanted company. I lived in a small town with very few children my own age. I always wanted siblings, and I would often pretend that I had them. But I was a very bossy kid, and I found that my imaginary friends didn’t complain, so I usually pretended to be a mother. I remember imagining a line of millions of babies following me around no matter where I went.

In elementary school, most of my friends were several years younger than I was, and I spent my recesses ‘mothering’ them. I taught them some arts and crafts, as well as playground games. But really only a few of them do I really remember, they were the ones who I played with a lot, but it was mostly an ever-changing group of younger kids that were willing to listen. At this time, one of the greatest compliments I ever received was that I would make a great mother.

It may seem odd then that by high school I had decided unequivocally that I would never have children. By this point I had not really spent much time with young kids in several years, the most I had really seen of them is grocery store temper tantrums. All of the anti-teen pregnancy campaigns had worked better on me than intended. I was completely disgusted by anything baby. Pregnancy sounded miserable, and the physical changes like bigger feet and un-losable weight did not seem worth it. All for an outcome that did not sound so great to me; sleepless nights, diapers, burping, feeding, cleaning… I could go on. And the kids themselves seemed like nothing but trouble, at the time I was not a perfect angel, and I knew people who were way worse. The spoiled kids at the store didn’t help either. It all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I enjoy my freedom, and I did not want to be tied down. That said, I had always known that if for some reason I did end up with kids, I would do the best I could for them, but I was terrified that it would not be good enough.

I kept this attitude until long into my marriage, but it was wearing through a bit. I knew that a lot of what had shaped my opinion was about teen pregnancy, and since that is not where I was in my life anymore it was not a bad thing at that point. My concerns still were there, but the more that I spent time with people my age and older who had good kids, the more my fears about spoiled kids and rule breaking subsided. I was still scared stiff by the idea that I would not be good enough. I spent several years debating whether or not to have kids. I knew my husband wanted kids, and that he would be a great father. He never pressured me, the only time it even came up was when I talked about it, but I did want to give him something special, which might be part of why the idea kept coming up at all.

After awhile of doing a lot of soul searching, internet searching, and pros and cons lists it occurred to me that I would be happy with either outcome. This may not sound like much, but for me it was an epiphany. Still terrified that I may not be good enough, I knew that I would not be as bad as many parents. I also was beginning to form ideas of how kids learn behaviors and the different things that people can do to shape them, so I told myself that I would do whatever I could to make my kids the best they can be, and they would not be the spoiled ones in the store, but rather the (probably more numerous) ones that I had never really noticed because they were so well-behaved.

We stopped trying to avoid getting pregnant. After awhile, a close friend, who was deliberately waiting, got pregnant. I was shocked to discover that I was jealous. I thought that the world had decided that I was not worthy of kids. I was rather surprised at how hurt I was. We did not change anything that we were doing, but this realization helped me to know that the decision that I had made was not a bad one for me.

Soon enough, I did get pregnant, and we had our son. Now we are expecting our second child. I am very glad to have kids, but I would never tell someone that they should. There is one argument in favor of having children that I would like to take this opportunity to dispute. I do not think that they fill any void that I had before. I know that many parents would think that is a horrible thing to say, but in reality my life was complete before I had kids, and it is complete now. Think of it like a pie chart of my family. Each family member has their own slice, but there is not some void represented that a child would fill. Each kid also gets a slice, but before the pie was still at 100%.

I know that some people are not cut out to have kids. I know that some people’s lives would be unsuitable for raising kids. I know that some people cannot afford kids. I know that some people just don’t like kids. I have been there and I respect that. If that is you and you are struggling to decide because you feel pressured by others, stand your ground. Down the line you might change your mind, or not. Either way it is okay. Right now, you come first. It is your happiness that matters. If you think that you could not be happy taking care of children, then don’t let others talk you into doing it. Your unhappiness would affect your kids, if you cannot be happy with it, they will not be happy.

I don’t care what other people say, you do not need kids to be happy. Lots of people are very happy without kids. This idea comes from the old-fashioned notion that people are supposed to have as many kids as possible. Many religions still encourage large families. I cannot say that is a bad thing, but we do have to put it into a modern context. The reason behind this is so that people would be ensured that someone would be able to take over the family business. Kids were less likely to survive into adulthood, and having more kids increased the odds that some would make it. People also needed the labor to help take care of the land, or produce whatever it was that made the family money. This is not such an issue now either. There are plenty of people already in the world to do this labor.

We are at a point when overpopulation is becoming a problem. For this reason I choose not to have more kids than would replace my husband and I. Two kids, that’s it. That said, with better health care and longer life-expectancies, we are still adding to the total.

Money is another big contributing factor. While at one point having kids made the possibility of earning money easier, today raising kids is a huge financial cost. Even though most everything that my son has is second-hand, mostly gifts, the cost in essentials like diapers and food is noticeable. If you feel the need for your kids to have all-new things and a full nursery you will be feeling the pinch a lot more. That is not to say that my kids are lacking anything, I just have a different idea of what is essential than many people do. I believe that my kids will benefit more from the time and effort that I give them than the money I spend on stuff for them. I would rather save it for experiences and college than to spend it on stuff.

Ultimately the decision is yours. Do not let others make it for you. Notice how you feel in reaction to events in your life that may play a role. Put thought into it. Consider other’s opinions, but know that what is right for some people is not right for others. Make sure that you balance what is important to you with what would be necessary for raising kids. Right now I am putting off a lot of travel I would love to do so that when I do it I can share it with my kids. Right now they are too young to appreciate it, and we are taking the time to establish ourselves so that we can do this when they are older. I realized that my life did not have to end when I had kids, but some things do get put on hold.

Remember kids are a lifelong commitment, if that scares you right now, it might be better to wait. If you are nervous about the commitment, it is healthy. It means that you are taking everything into consideration, and it is a lot. Just think it through and be patient. Not all of the fear will ever go away. I am still terrified that I will not be good enough for what my kids deserve. I am still afraid for the world that they will be inheriting. But I made the commitment, and I am sticking to it. The fear helps motivate me, but it was not that long ago when I was frozen by it.

I am not saying that this is the natural progression that everyone will follow, because it is not. Everyone is different, some people know the answer before they ask the question. I was there for a long time, on both sides. I understand both, and I know that the answers lie within.

 

Religion

I consider myself to be an Eclectic Atheistic Agnostic Pagan. What the heck does that mean?

It means that I don’t really know what is going on out there, but I do not believe that any one entity is in charge, but rather that we are all connected. I take little bits from lots of different religions and sciences and put them into my beliefs together. I know a lot of people think that religions are not compatible with one another, but I find that most religions, regardless of the details, had one point in common; Be nice to one another.

I do not understand how people have begun associating so many negative things with religions. Bad people will do bad things. They will find an excuse anywhere. There are passages in religious texts that, taken out of context give fuel to people’s hates. This is not to say that religious texts teach hate, because they, as far as I have seen, do not.

In America right now I hear a lot about two religions in particular, Islam and Christianity. The story about Islam from one side is ‘They are out to get us” and the other side says, “we just want to live our lives, we hate the nut jobs who attacked just as much as you do”. The story about Christianity also has two sides, one says “Poor me, I am being attacked!” and the other says “You are the one in power, all anyone asks is to be on par with you.”

Islam is actually very similar to Christianity. In fact the books are so similar that people can’t tell them apart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnWw_lH4tQ

I have gotten into multiple discussions with people where they argue that there is no way that Islam has roots in Christianity (some even claim that Islam is older than Christianity). People talk about how if they are not all out to get us, why are they not standing up to defend their religion? Now I see all over facebook, ‘Blaming all Muslims for ISIS is like blaming all Christians for KKK’ and this is a much more succinct way of saying it, but I would talk about how most people just want to live their lives in peace. Today, in the face of all of this hatred toward Muslims, many are standing up for themselves. I stopped watching the mainstream media long ago, but I doubt that they are covering any of that, since they are guilty of perpetuating the myth.

This is not the only religion that is being marginalized, with all of the hatred coming from Donald Trump, many non-Christians are fearing the worst, like the holocaust kind of worst. But somehow the other big religious battle getting any media coverage right now is the ‘War on Christmas’. I know it is all over the place online right now, but I am going to say it too. There is no war on Christmas. You are allowed to celebrate it all you want. We may get annoyed with the holiday starting two months early, but we can deal with that, and I don’t think that is what they mean.

When I was little I thought “Happy Holidays” referred to ‘holiday season’, or Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I was pretty clueless about non-Christian anything, so I made it fit with what I knew. As far as I remember, growing up ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ were used pretty much interchangeably. (I grew up in New Mexico). I think that if that one store had just quietly switched to ‘Happy Holidays’ no-one would have really noticed. While I whole-heartedly approved of the announcement that it was done with the intention of being more inclusive, and still do, I believe that the announcement itself is what kicked off the whole thing.

I understand that part of the history of Christianity involves persecution, but I also recognize that since the conversion of Constantine, they have largely had the upper hand. Yes, some places not so much, but overall, after that Christian influence has flourished around the world. Aside from some small countries in some parts of the world and a few radicalized individuals, no-one really wants to kill Christians just because they are Christian. The ‘War on Christmas’ in America is really just a bunch of over-entitled people who have been told their whole lives that they are victims (because persecution is still taught like it’s a current issue) throwing a pity party because their entitlement is waning.

All anyone ever wanted out of ‘Happy Holidays’ or making a cup red is making people who celebrate other holidays around the same time feel more accepted. All we want is equality. We are not trying to take away your right to celebrate, we are not trying to minimize your holiday or religion, we just want to be able to celebrate ours with the same freedom.

So this Yule I want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Peace to the World.

Intelligence

What is intelligence? I know I have touched on this before. Traditionally we define intelligence as IQ, or Intelligence Quotient. This is something inherent to us that does not change within our lifetime, or at least that is how it is thought of. IQ is a way that we are all assigned a number that puts us on a line from less intelligent to more intelligent. There is no second dimension to it. More or Less, that is all.

But I believe that there is more than that. Think of it as the difference between plotting a point on a one dimensional number line and plotting a point in three dimensional space, except that I want more planes than even that and adding time (as a fourth dimension) would allow. There are so many different ways that people (and animals) can be intelligent. This is how we generally think of animal intelligence.

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But not only do they probably think the same of us, but what if they are the smart ones? All it takes is a small perspective shift. They have figured out a way to let us do the work while they reap the rewards. Pretty smart.

In my opinion, intelligence is made up of many things, including some that cannot be tested for. I don’t really see the point of testing for it anyway. As I see it the point of testing is to see who is superior, and I would argue that no-one is. Everyone has their own strengths, and beyond finding a way to discover those, testing is superfluous.

Children are a perfect example of this. People often laugh at children because they believe the things they say are stupid. When I was young I put together the fact that I saw the world as flat and the fact that I knew there was another side of it and imagined that the world was a cube. Obviously my conclusion was incorrect, but you cannot fault the logic. I had used the information available to me to come to a more accurate representation of the world than man had for centuries. Intelligence, in this case, is about taking pieces of information and putting them together.

My son still has a very limited vocabulary, but he is figuring out ways to tell a story. Sometimes he will say ‘hot’ and ‘mom’ while pointing to the kitchen. It is pretty clear at that point that he wants a meal. He is communicating not only that he is hungry, but he wants hot food, or a meal. One time I came home and he said ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ and pointed at a wall. I was a bit confused, until my husband told me that they had been pointing out the eyes and ears of the girl in a picture on the wall. My 18 month old was telling me what they did while I was at work.

I know that may not sound like much, but one of the smartest things about kids, and this applies double to babies, is that they soak up information all the time. Learning itself is a part of what intelligence is. And, as many parents have discovered, they don’t only learn what you try to teach them. Many parents find to their dismay that the kid has picked up curse words. This is for the same reason that many babies first word is ‘no’. Kids say what they hear.

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These type of images are all over the internet, and people laugh at the dumb little kids. Really though that is a very smart kid. He knows that he is hungry, and food comes from boobs. He is just missing some information that led him to a false conclusion.

All the time kids fall down because they are still learning physics. If a kid learns to walk in a room with a perfectly flat floor and nothing on it, they will stumble when he gets on a ramp or a hill. But the younger they are, the quicker they are able to learn to compensate.

Another group that is often mocked for low intelligence is older people. When someone with Parkinson’s shakes and drops something they are called ‘retarded’. (We will address that in a minute.) The person’s mind can be as sharp as ever, but if the motor function starts to drop off, the labels fly off the shelf. In many cultures, and I am sad that mine is not one, older people are respected for their wisdom.

I completely understand that it can be very frustrating to try to teach someone who did not grow up using a computer how to do something that my generation regards as basic. But all it means is that the person’s mind is less malleable. They have more information stored in their brains than we do. Their intelligence is generally called ‘wisdom’ and it comes from the build up of all of the information that they have accrued in life.

Even people with what most people would consider ‘diminished mental capacity’ are intelligent in their own way. Today Einstein would probably be diagnosed with half a dozen learning disabilities. The reason that we think in terms of higher and lower intelligence is because we are giving the fish and the birds the same test as the monkeys and the elephants.

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This image has been used as a mockery of our current educational system, and it is. But the problem goes deeper than that. While many kids can excel at reading, teaching a dyslexic student in the same way can be disheartening, and make them wary of not only books, but the information contained in them. While trying to teach an autistic child to read can be completely futile. (And yes, under No Child Left Behind they are held to the same standards of ‘proficiency’ as anyone else in their grade).

That same autistic child might be a savant at something else. For some it might be advanced mathematics, another might be just obsessed with trains. While some teachers might try to use that obsession to motivate the child, (nothing wrong with that) I would suggest going even further and trying to figure out what it is about trains that they love so much. It might be that she is interested in creating the path for them because in their mind they can instantly see the most efficient route, or maybe it is the idea of multiple things following in the exact same path.

Sensory Processing Disorder is diagnosed when people’s sensory perception is abnormal. It is often described in terms related to ‘broken’ but what if some of them feel the need to re-confirm the solidity of objects because they somehow subconsciously know that atoms are mostly empty space? When Earnest Rutherford first discovered that fact, he is reported to have been afraid to get out of bed in the morning because he did not want to fall through the floor.

I am not presenting any of these ideas as fact, but as a thought exercise, a reminder that things are not always how we perceive them. Something that we see as stupid can, in fact, be signs of intelligence. It just means that we not see something in the same way as someone else. Rather than judging in the moment, we should give some time to consider how they came to that conclusion. It might just be that our own understanding of the situation is missing some information, or that they understand something better than we do.

Donald Trump as President

At first I thought this post would say something like, ‘Ok, the joke is up, it’s not funny anymore.” But it is way past that point. I am truly terrified about this. At first it was just as an idle ‘what if,’ but the polling numbers make this a real possibility.

facebook page supporting Bernie Sanders posted a question, ‘What worries you about Donald Trump being president?’ I found that my answer was far too long for a response in the comments.

Entitlement – It started with Trump’s 1% attitude. He thinks that he got himself where he is today. As I have said before, I don’t really believe that is how capitalism works. Our economy does not get people where they belong based on work or ethics, but primarily on family wealth and/or unscrupulous behavior. This is shown with his ‘small $1 million dollar loan’. Little does he realize that this is more money than most Americans will even handle in their lifetime.

Trump feels that he is the best. His success has given him the idea that he can do whatever he wants. And the US legal system supports that. The fact that he has declared bankruptcy makes him feel that he has seen the worst. And the fact that he came back stronger makes him believe that he is even stronger than an ordinary millionaire. He thinks that he is so infallible that no matter what he does he will succeed.

As someone who already benefits from the elaborate protections the wealthy have on their money, Trump is likely to keep those and create more. All of these protections are damaging for those who cannot take advantage of them. For every penny that they keep is a penny out of circulation. Each penny is another one that will not be paid to the hard-working employees to buy food. In the end, each penny they hoard is a penny they don’t have to steal a second time.

Cruel – The television show, The Apprentice, is known for Trump’s coldhearted treatment of the contestants. While one could hope this was just for sensationalism, it is precisely that sensation that propelled him to where he is today. It is that attitude that has earned him fans. Having anyone in charge who thinks that people are disposable is a recipe for disaster. I doubt the people who work for him are treated very well. And these people we see on the show have been mentored by him, sometimes for several weeks. Even that does not help him to show any sympathy. What can we expect him to feel for people he has never even seen?

Bigot – Trump has gained his thunder through cruelty in general, but now he is directing it. He knows that he needs certain individuals to support him, and is directing their existing fears and prejudices to his advantage. His hate speech is terrifying to me. We forget that Hitler did not round up everyone he disliked at once, he started small and gradually worked his way up as fewer and fewer groups were there to protect one another. This is one of the reasons that we must protect other people’s freedoms as well as our own. American history that I grew up learning was a consistent progression of gaining equality and rights for the disenfranchised, but within my lifetime we have gone back centuries when it comes to this progress. Trump is even more overt about it than Bush.

Followers – The most terrifying thing to me is not that there is someone in the world like this. I know they exist. The fact that he has power is frightening, but what scares me the most is that people follow him. He has supporters who believe the outrageous claims. He is working them up to a fever pitch, allowing people who were considered ‘fringe’ before for their radical views to come into the limelight. This is the Tea Party, but perhaps even more extreme. This is dangerous.

 

Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.