Thanksgiving and Religion

I think it was fifth grade when I asked why the days we got off school for Thanksgiving were just called ‘Fall Break’. My mom asked me who people were giving thanks to. I had to think about it a minute. I knew that it must be a religious thing, since that is why it’s ‘Winter Break’ not ‘Christmas Break’ etc. It did not take me long to realize Mom was referring to God, but what took me awhile was the idea that I was supposed to be thanking a specific entity. It hadn’t ever really occurred to me. I just kind of give thanks to the world, luck, all of the people whose effort it took to bring the meal together, whatever. It never occurred to me that it was supposed to be directed any particular direction. I still don’t think that it needs to. I can be thankful without having any one thing, or person, or event to thank. 

For instance; I am thankful for my family. Who do I have to thank for that? Well let’s start with the recent past: I have to thank my husband for giving me my kids. I have to thank cancer for not taking people from me. I have to thank all of the other drivers on the road who have not killed my family members. I have to thank everyone who has made our society a more healthy place. I have to thank my parents for having me, and my husbands’ for having him. I have to thank their parents (this could keep going…). I have to thank whoever designed the school bus routes for my high school so that I could meet the boy who would become my husband. I have to thank my employers and everyone who employs my family. I could go way back in time to thank the people who moved to this country, and whoever set them up to take that path for whatever reason they did. I could talk about how thankful I am that this ‘tiny blue dot’ is able to sustain life, and how grateful I am to evolution, the stars, and the big bang.

I know that for many people “Thank God” is kind of the way to express that whole last paragraph, and that is fine. I prefer to think of it as an endless series of events that put me where I am today, this allows me to run through them and kind of say ‘thank you’ individually, or just give one big collective ‘thanks’ to the universe. 

 

I consider myself a bit of an outsider, an observer to the battle between religions that has been waging recently. When I was young, I was really very little aware of different religions, I only was really taught about Christmas, maybe a bit about Easter. I found it odd that some people did not celebrate Halloween, but hey, each to his own. I knew the concept of religion and that people believe differently, but I had no idea what they believed. It didn’t really make much of a difference, at that time it seemed like everyone was pretty okay with other people. That could be a young kid growing up with White Privilege on her side, but that is how it seemed to me. 

In middle school I started becoming more aware of politics and the state of the world. It was during this time also that 9/11 happened. The announcement that it was Muslim terrorists made very little difference to me. If I had really thought about that statement at all it would have been something like ‘Ok, so they happen to follow that religion, why mention it?’ Today I believe very much the same thing, but now I know why they mention it, because it is a scapegoat. The media tells us the answer so that we won’t go looking, and having a whole religion that reportedly wants to kill us is a great copout.

On that same note, this is not a ‘Christian Nation’. We are guaranteed freedom of religion under the constitution. This does not mean freedom of Christian religions, it means freedom of all religions. There is a lot of debate right now about the beliefs of the founding fathers, but some believe that not all of them were Christian. Throughout history, while newcomers to this country have been marginalized, they came for a new start, and many for that religious freedom. We are a nation of different people, different races, different sexualities, different ages, different beliefs, but we have all come together in a place that is better for our differences. It is this melting pot that keeps us fresh, and at the top of our game. It is the exposure to new things that allows us the ability to be the best. So why are we not the best right now? We have embarked down a dangerous road, in international policies, educational policies, climate policies, and civilian monitoring, we are limiting the very diversity that made us great. We need to stand up and make the changes that will allow us to use our greatest strength to our advantage again.

Welfare and Socialism

Today there is a great debate over how much assistance should be given to people just by right. The main arguments go something like this;

“Can I get some help here so my kids don’t starve?”

“Work for it.”

“I work as much as humanly possible, my pay is too low.”

“Go to school to get a better job.”

“I cannot afford to go to school, I can’t even put food on the table.”

“I did it, why can’t you?”

And so it goes. Families that have both parents often find that they have more take-home pay if only one works, due to the expenses of child care. I cannot even begin to imagine how a single parent family is expected to do it.

As with most problems, I think that both sides have the best of intentions, and there is something that just doesn’t convey. I will try to do my best to represent both sides, but I know that it will probably become clear where I stand on this issue if it is not obvious already, and from my other posts.

This is an issue now because the pay that many workers receive does not allow them to maintain a basic standard of living. The national minimum wage is woefully inadequate to support even one person. In fact, many states have higher minimum wages, and many cities are even higher than that. According to citylab.com there is only one state that pays more than bare minimum for one person to get by on.

Many people’s first reaction is to tell the person working at this low wage that it is all their fault. They must have made bad choices in the past, and now they have to pay for that mistake. While some people may have had the opportunity to go to college, or join the military and chose not to, not everyone has that luxury. If your family needs money now, a kid, even still in high school, may need to work to help their family get by. This means that college gets put off until later, if ever. The military is a great option, provided that you meet the physical and mental health requirements. (Not to mention that some people choose not to join for political, religious, or ideological reasons.) There are many people who are in minimum wage jobs not because of their own errors, but because of the cards that life dealt to them.

But let’s imagine that we are talking about someone who had made the grade in high school, could have gone to college, but chose to put it off for whatever reason, a common enough scenario. In the meantime, they get a job and try to get a place. Now they are not living with mom and dad anymore, and they have a whole place to themselves that needs rent to be paid. This makes it very challenging to get together the necessities for school, especially if a second job is needed to pay the bills. While their is some financial assistance available, it is more challenging than getting that assistance straight out of school. (And many of these programs fall into that category of government aid that we are debating here anyway.) The question then becomes how long should they suffer for that one bad choice?

There is also the increasingly common scenario of someone who followed all the rules, they made good grades, went to school, got a degree, worked their own way through school with as little debt as possible. Now that they are out, no-one is hiring in their field. And when they do find an opening the competition is fierce. Employers have their pick, and usually will chose someone who offers not only the educational background, but experience as well. The question then arises, “How do I get experience if I can’t get hired because I have no experience?” In some industries, the answer has been internships, but, potentials for illegality aside, this is a system that does not work in all fields.

It is frightening when even getting a minimum wage job has the same pitfalls I just discussed. Increasingly I hear about people needed to go to two or even three interviews just to ‘flip burgers’! There are so many people actively looking for work, that employers can be, and are, very picky even for supposed ‘entry level’ jobs. If people did not have to work 2 or more jobs to get by, there would be more jobs to go around.

Having established that living itself can get in the way of trying to improve oneself, lets talk about that a bit. There is enough food in the world to feed every person on the planet, and plenty of housing for all homeless, at least in many ‘developed’ nations like the US and the UK. What gets in the way is not supply, but rather, means. In some cases creating the infrastructure to distribute food might take some time, but is within the realm of possibility. In the case of housing, the largest struggle is simply the legality of it.

There are many people who have ‘made it’, and proudly proclaim that they did it all without any government aid. That may be true, they did not file for need-based assistance programs. However, they certainly have benefited from for more socialist type of structure. The type that you don’t need to apply to use, it is available to all. Some examples of this would be public roadways, utilities, and emergency services. These things are generally agreed to be for the public good and are therefore made available to all. Parks and Community Centers are other great examples.

My question is, why are these things thought of as public rights, and the things that are considered human rights and even necessary for life, are things that must be paid for? I have no problem with money. Money is a fine way to distribute wealth and luxury goods. However I do not believe that anyone, no matter how lazy, should be denied basic necessities of life, or the internationally agreed upon human rights.

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.

 

Choice in Health Care

This is a really big topic, and the center of a lot of debate at the moment.

When I was pregnant with my son, we spent a lot of time looking over all of the information about the different tests and things that were available to us. We decided not to do any tests that we could not do anything about. What that means is that if the result of a test would tell us something, but we could not do anything to change the outcome then there is no point. One of these tests would tell us that our child would likely have down syndrome. Because there would be no way to lessen the probability following the test, we decided not to do it. Additionally the risks associated with the test were far more likely to cause problems than the likelihood that it would find anything. I have worked with down syndrome kids and we knew that if anything were to happen we would deal with it.

That said I was seeing many different doctors within the practice so that I would have met any of the ones who might end up delivering the baby. One of these doctors (luckily they were no longer employed there by the time I went into labor) was very indignant that we opted not to do this test. I understand that doctors have their own personal beliefs, and that they are supposed to do no harm. We were very upset that she refused to respect our choice, especially since that choice, according to the statistics, the science, was the less damaging. The doctor agreed that there was nothing that could be done about the results, and understood our risk/benefit analysis. Unfortunately the doctor’s personal preference to know took precedence and made us very uncomfortable.

This is something that is the patient’s choice. It has no effect on anyone else’s life. Us knowing in advance would change nothing except potentially adding problems because of the test.

Some people choose to have the test because if the child is more than likely going to have down syndrome, they would terminate the pregnancy. This would be considered a medical reason and is subject to different rules than if the parents chose abortion for a healthy child. I respect that choice. Having children is a huge responsibility, children with special needs more than doubly so. Although I do believe that every person has worth I know that many people would not be able to handle the care that these children require.

Abortion is a choice that does affect other’s lives, mostly the parents and the child’s. That choice should be about what is best for those people. If the parents, specifically the mother, know that the child would not be well off growing up in that household or situation, they have the options of adoption or abortion. It is the responsibility of those involved to make the decision about what is best. Just being alive is not always the better option. I used to say that having a child would end my life, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative one. When I was younger I would not be able to devote the time to improving my situation if I were to care for a child. The child would come first, and unfortunately would not be able to be brought up in the way I would like if I did not have a job and an education.

So what about the other big debate right now? Vaccines. I believe in free choice. I do not like it when the government imposes things we have to do. As far as I am concerned wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice. The statistics are out there, it is undoubtedly safer with a seat belt, but the only life lost would be your own, yes other lives are affected by this as well. In a perfect society I would say that people need to take that into consideration as they weigh the risks and benefits (?) of not wearing a seat-belt. I know however that people tend to be self-centered and not consider that others would be affected by their passing.

What does this have to with vaccines? I believe that people should be allowed to make their own choices. However people are not very good at weighing the data, or considering others. I really feel silly for repeating some of this, but the original study used to back the argument that vaccines cause autism has been retracted, and the author discredited. The other risks that are often cited are concerns about the inefficacy or side effects of the vaccines themselves. If the vaccine is ineffective, you are no worse off than if you did not have it, so I believe there is no more to be said about that. As far as side effects, these are usually minimal, a little soreness, but come on, you stuck a needle there, why wouldn’t it be sore? Yes, some people are allergic to certain elements of the vaccines. The chances of this are extremely remote. Those who are too young, do have a bad reaction, or find that the vaccine is ineffective are those who have to count on herd immunity. As a culture we have had this type of immunity for long enough that some people forget what the risks really are, which makes a real risk/reward analysis skewed. It can also allow people to forget that their decisions can affect others.

This is an article about a child who was exposed to measles. And this is the response from an anti-vaccine advocate. One of the points made in the response is that the man who carried the infection had been vaccinated. This means that he is just as much of a victim of the shrinking herd immunity as the child. Yes, I have problems with the pharmaceutical industry, but that is about them charging too much for things. They have something of value and a monopoly on it. They are taking advantage, and not realizing who that might hurt, but I do not believe they are evil. If you look at some of her links you can see that the evidence does not all fit. The risks associated with the vaccine are stated, but it is clearly stated that those risks apply to the people who should be counting on herd immunity. Her link about the court case has a headline reading “Merck Whistleblower Suit A Boon to Vaccine Foes Even As It Stresses Importance of Vaccines”.

I do believe in free choice, but I am an idealist and think that people should have the ability to make informed decisions when they are given the information. I have a problem when what I believe should be the case is not the case. In the case of vaccines, I am tempted to say that the government should take away people’s right to choose, for other’s protection. But if I do that, am I any different than those who want to take away women’s right to make decisions about abortion? Am I any different than those who advocate taking guns away because some might be used to kill? Am I any different than those who are trying to take away our right to choose our leaders? If I choose to limit people’s right to spread misinformation I am not different than anyone who tries to limit my speech against corporations or governments. These are rights I believe in, and I refuse to participate in setting a precedent that would assist taking away these rights, and others. I can only hope that giving people the information and teaching them how to use it (including reforming our current school system) is the best way. I am not willing to risk the future of our democracy in order to combat one ill-informed decision. A functional democracy depends on having an informed populace. That is what we need.

 

Happiness

They say that being happy comes from enjoying what you have and living in the moment. I believe that, and I try my best. Overall, I am very happy. But this is a lot easier when I ignore what is going on in the real world.

The problem is that ignoring bad things allows them to continue. Some people say that the problem is that I care too much. That may be true, but I know that if we allow bad things to happen, it will affect us down the line. If by acting now I can help prevent that, I will act now.

I keep running into the problem that so many bad things are going on in the world that I cannot really be active enough in any one thing. Especially since I am a parent and I work full-time. This frustration that I have is probably part of the reason that so much of what I post are merely rants. I know full well that I am not adding anything meaningful to the debates. I just feel the need to DO SOMETHING.

I sign petitions, but so many of them ask for money after you ‘sign’ that I don’t even know if it gets counted unless I donate. I am not a bottomless pit, and I cannot donate to every worthy cause I come across.

Kindness

I am a kind person, I do my best. In the face of the evils of the world I genuinely believe that we need more kind people. There are so many people in the world who need that kindness.

At other hotels, where less than once a year someone would come in just to be indoors, I would let them spend some time in the lobby to warm up, maybe have some coffee. It wasn’t a problem. I met some very interesting people doing this, but not once was I frightened by them, or felt like I was being scammed.

More so at my current job than at any other I have people coming in and asking for help with things. Since it is a hotel, it’s usually a room. I am willing to work with them as much as possible within regulations. I have called over a dozen churches in the area to see if any one of them could help a homeless woman get out of the cold for a night. None of them serve that function.

I let people use the computer to make a reservation, but the other day it was on a bad card and they had an elaborate facade of getting someone else to pay for the room. I know they are locals and I have to add them to my mental list of people I cannot trust. *Since initially writing this, one of the women returned and did have someone to pay for the room. I was obviously skeptical, and made her wait outside, but everything is sorted out. I kinda needed that to restore a bit of faith in humanity*

People come in and try to eat the condiments that are left out for breakfast and drink the coffee. I know that if they need to do this there is a reason, but I also know that if I let them, not only will they be back, but so will others. Once a year for someone passing through town is very different than every day for several locals.

Over and over again I am reminded of why people are unkind to others. We have had people use counterfeit money. People smoke in the rooms several times a week, even though we are a non-smoking hotel. We charge $250 cleaning fee, and the same people return, thinking they will get away with it this time. I have had many people use elaborate stories to buy time in the lobby for different reasons. Many of these stories end up screwing the hotel. I have had many people try to scam us.

While I am kind, I am not stupid. One woman stayed in the lobby for more than 8 hours trying to get hotels.com to get her reservation straight. I did what I could to help her, but of course I could not let her into a room without payment. When I left, I told the next shift to make sure that the hotel received payment before giving her a key. The next day I found out that the girl had just checked in the woman with no payment. At the time I thought that the woman was genuine and had gotten lucky with the other girl. A few months later the same woman came back with the same story.

I find myself more and more skeptical of people, and it hurts. I do find that my instincts are usually right, but I often choose to be kind until I know for sure. I probably end up with more problems as a result, but I hope that by doing so, I can help more people who truly need it. I know that when people see my kindness they know that they can push the limits more, and that is not good for me, or the business I represent.maxresdefault

I do my best to thin out those who are up to no good from those who are genuine. For every bogus story that I hear, I have heard the story in truth once before. I know that there is a fine line between doing things because they need to be done and needing something done and using excuses. Even the people who try these simple scams do it for a reason. Something about the world has made them think that either they need to lie to get what they need or that lying gets them better results. I will tell you that lying is not serving them better than telling the truth. These people get kicked out of here and other businesses a lot. They need a way to get what they need without the lies. I need a legitimate place to send people who are in this predicament. I hate having no recourse but sending them back on the street. I hate that being kind means being taken advantage of. I hate that the media has made these people into monsters.

I have lots of ideas that might help, but they all need a source of funding. Most are the thoughts of an idealist that rely on the idea of ‘Pay it Forward’ actually working. I know that it has worked in some industries, but I am still skeptical about it working as an economic model on a large scale or over the long-term.

In the end, I am more willing to do what I can to find someone a job than to give them money. I could provide the homeless with an address, a haircut, a shower, photo id, and a reference. I would even like to provide temporary housing until they could get on their feet again, maybe job training too. The job market does not look kindly on long-term unemployment and this would likely by where my idea falls apart. In theory, once the person was able to move out they would, and would re-pay us over time. I do think that treating it as credit would result in more of these people disappearing before we were able to collect anything from them, whereas allowing them to donate to us to help another person in the future would work better.

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