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December Notes

Natalia J. Garland

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Christmas is nearly here. I'm ready. It has long been my habit to do my Christmas shopping in October during the Columbus Day sales. Now I can take all those gifts out of the closet and wrap them. While among my ribbons and bows, let me unfold a few random notes for your consideration.

There's no place like home
Last week I watched the movie, The Wizard of Oz, on television. The main character, Dorothy, goes on an adventure to reach the Land of Oz. She makes new friends who help her destroy a wicked witch, but her goal is always to go back home to Kansas because--"there's no place like home."

I wonder how many children feel safe at home nowadays. I worry about children whose parents are addicted to drugs, whose homes were destroyed by war, or whose families have sold them into slavery. Rather than to let this reality sicken the spirit of Christmas, I choose to hope that all children will find a guiding star to lead them to peace.

Can Texans say, "Howdy partner?"
There is a high school in Texas that has a large number of students who arrived from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. There was a huge fight between some of the Texan students and the New Orleans students. Each side blamed the other for having a bad attitude.

Now, I remember when Hurricane Katrina struck and many people were displaced. Students around the country were doing projects to collect money for the hurricane victims. What happened? Is it better to give money to distant victims than it is to be a good friend when those same people are your classmates?

Perhaps it is easier to give than to share. The Texan students have a big adjustment to make. They probably feel as though their school was invaded by outsiders who are taking their resources. The New Orleans students are still in a process of adjustment. They need a lot of understanding. The hurricane was not their fault. They have a right to go to school. All of these teenagers have some difficult growing up to do before graduation.

Favorite things
The most beautiful Christmas tree I have ever seen is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (located in New York City). Every year the Met displays a 20-foot tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. They decorate it with over 200 handmade 18th-century angels. Around the base of the tree, they arrange a Nativity scene with shepherds, Magi, and animals. To complete this spiritual environment, they play Christmas music in the background. It is also a pleasure to observe other visitors, both adults and children, as they marvel at the tree and smile with with happiness.

On my bookshelf
(1) It is so nice to have time to read novels. I was just at a yard sale where I picked up a copy of Paradise, by Toni Morrison. The sentences are lengthy for my taste, but the story is intriguing. It's about trying to create paradise on earth and, ironically, the evil that ensues in the process.

(2) The current issue of Scientific American Mind has an article on "Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth." It puts forth that self-esteem does not necessarily help students get good grades or prevent them from getting into trouble.

Before I make a comment, let me preface that I think low self-esteem is a painful condition. Even so, I have always thought that high self-esteem is over-rated (NOT undesirable, but simply over-rated). Most of us live with certain levels of low self-esteem, insecurity, and discomfort. We function because we compensate for our insecurities in other areas where we can excel. Or, we bravely go forward and do what we have to do despite our feelings of inadequacy.

Occasionally, I have had patients who say something like, "I'm not comfortable doing that right now." That means they do not have the confidence to look for a job, take a college course, talk at an A.A. meeting, cook a turkey dinner, or learn how to drive; even though they are very capable. In some cases, my response is something like, "If you wait until you are completely confident to learn how to drive, then you may be stuck at the bus stop for the rest of your life."

Malls as babysitters
Some shopping malls will no longer let young people on the premises unless accompanied by an adult. This is because there have been too many occasions of unsupervised kids stealing, fighting, and smoking and selling marijuana. Why are parents turning their children loose at the malls? My guess is that the malls are being used as a babysitting service. Some parents use Sunday Schools in the same way. They drop off their kids at the church, then run some errands, and later come back and pick up the kids. Sales people, security guards, and Sunday School teachers are not free nannys.

Parents need to include their children in weekend activities. Assign chores to do. Teach responsibility and family teamwork. If they get bored, why not encourage them to read a book or start a game of basketball? Have they finished their homework? Routinely giving them money and sending them to the mall results in aimless behavior. These children will lose respect for adults and this attitude will also be reflected in the classroom.

Crime in the living room
Why do journalists and television news reporters focus on stories of crime, accidents, disasters, and war? Why isn't good news reported as frequently? Does the public really need to hear about EVERY earthquake, train wreck, and murder? Does this not give a distorted view of the world? Can any human possibly absorb all the horrors of the entire world?

Along with freedom of the press, there should be a rule* to report an equal number (not just the occasional segment) of stories that affirm life. What are the good things that are happening? Who are the people who are making life better? Where can we find beauty, knowledge, love, friendship, achievement, fun, art, music, tranquility?

Although I want to be an informed citizen, I also want my living room to be a refuge from the harsh world. The television news channels are available 24 hours a day. Sometimes I have to be selective in my viewing, or just turn the television off.

Throwing stuff away
This my dilemma: I like to save things, but I dislike clutter. If you have ever lived on a limited income, then you know that saving things is a means to survival. But it can go too far. Things become junk. You have to sort through it and decide what is no longer re-usable. Okay, I admit it: I saved last year's Christmas wrapping paper. After this Christmas, it definitely has to be dumped. But maybe I could still save the bows. (Written 12/19/05)

[*ADDED NOTE: The word rule was used loosely and was not intended to suggest censorship. It was meant to suggest a more balanced or realistic reporting of events, or a better definition of what is newsworthy and how this has an impact on the average person's worldview. Let it also be noted that the author does NOT support the Fairness Doctrine or any enforcement that artificially divides news or commentary into so-called fair proportions of political viewpoints.]

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2005 Natalia J. Garland