Culture CAN Change

So I heard a statistic on NPR yesterday that gave me hope — and that tells me two things: 1) we can consciously change culture, and 2) our culture is having some success in moving things in the right direction.

Here’s the news:

University of Michigan social psychologist Lloyd Johnston runs an ongoing study that tracks the behavior of children between the ages of 13 and 18. He says that in 1996, 21 percent of eighth-graders were smoking. By 2009, that had dropped by nearly 70 percent, down to 6.5 percent currently smoking.

Johnston says the change was driven in part by prices and taxes on cigarettes. But he also points to successful public health messages that convinced kids that smoking was dangerous, not glamorous. “Today, we see three-quarters of teens say that they would prefer to date somebody that doesn’t smoke. So, what used to be suggested as increasing your attractiveness to the opposite gender, today does exactly the opposite.”

The story discussed how they could use this knowledge to fight childhood obesity.  Absolutely.  I say that cultural change is completely possible if enough people put their true intentions behind making it happen.  Now, if you know the academic theories of mass communication (such as “two-step flow”), you could argue that the change did not come directly from the public health messages per se, but from people agreeing with the messages and convincing other people to believe them as well.  It was more than a marketing campaign or a tax that got that many kids believing that smoking is not a habit worth having.  It was a combination of factors for sure, but the upshot is that a true shift in consciousness has occurred among our nation’s youth.

When I hear about shifts in consciousness like this, I get energized.  I get excited.  Because it validates what I believe — we can create a better world for future generations.  We can recover from our mistakes of the past.  We can go forward and create a world as we believe it can be, and not just sit back and say the world just is as it is and we can’t do a thing about it.

Some may call it unreasonable to think we can change the mighty tides pulling us into the messy swamps of consumerism, materialism, ultra-competitiveness, entitlement, ignorance, pessimism…  I think we can — so call me unreasonable.  As George Bernard Shaw said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  Or woman, right?

There’s a lot of depressing news out there these days.  But today I’m focusing on this kernel of good news.  Our kids are getting smarter, healthier, wiser.  Our future is getting brighter.  One shift at a time…

March 19, 2010 at 4:06 am Leave a comment

A Hopeful Little Word Twist

Forgive me, I haven’t been blogging lately!  I plead two kids under age five.

Thanks to Amy for this two-minute video and for giving me something worthwhile to post tonight.  Just a little inspiration — and a fun feat of wordsmithing — for a Wednesday evening in March…

More soon, spring break ahead…

March 11, 2010 at 3:22 am Leave a comment

Really Remembering

So we got the CD of Carol King’s Really Rosie from the library today.   I had been singing the alligator alphabet song on it to my daughter, so I wanted her to hear it.  I was kind of giddy when we checked it out, just feeling right back in the groove of my 70’s bellbottom childhood.  This CD and Free to Be… You and Me (which I wrote about in the book Mama, PhD) are probably the two that most define the first ten years of my life in my own memory banks.

I popped Really Rosie in when we got in the car, and was amazed how the words flowed back to me.  As we listened and drove, I was hit with a most vivid memory.  I was in first grade.  Our school was doing the musical of Really Rosie, and I know there was buzz about me getting a good part — I have no idea which, but I remember the vibe.  There was a “teacher’s pet” kind of thing going on from some other kids toward me, and I was feeling uncomfortable.  I did know every word and every inflection of the show, and I probably could’ve gotten a lead part, even at that age.  If I hadn’t thrown the audition.  My first audition.

The memory causes that little stab above the belly button, as I recall the music room, and our beauitful teacher Mrs. Enzmann playing her piano and cueing me.  I remember knowing every word, knowing how to deliver the lines, I had done it in my room a thousand times — but instead acting as if I did not remember.  I remember the quizzical look on Mrs. Enzmann’s face, her black-lashed eyes widening — perhaps I was not such a good actress, acting like I could not act.  I remember shrugging.  I got a part in the alligator alphabet chorus.  And each night at home, after watching most of rehearsal, I recited every line of Rosie’s and everyone’s, and sang every song.

I was six.  And I was afraid of claiming my own success.  There were peers — at six — who did not want me to succeed.  And I let their attitudes keep me from shining.  This is the same year I cried about getting one answer wrong on a worksheet.  I was so filled with a desire to learn, to feel good about myself, to succeed.  But I did not know how to proceed, whether I wanted to be smart or cool, or that I could be both.  I did not know that real friends always cheer you on.

As I drove up the hill to our house today, my daughter humming along with Carole King from the backseat, I wondered how I could help her feel confident in claiming her successes, in being smart and cool, and in not caring about those people who will discourage her.  I wondered why I did not have the courage that day.  I wondered how I could give it to her.

I am looking to our Parenting on Track program for some answers, as Courage is one of the four “crucial C’s” we are working on with our kids.  I am also looking inside of myself.  I will continue, every day, to seek ways to tell and show my kids that they never need to throw the audition for anyone else’s benefit.  And if they do, well, I guess we will learn from it.  I sure did, at least there is a happy ending there.  I never threw another audition, and got to play Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown by sixth grade.  I was still called teacher’s pet then.  But at least I got to sing the songs on stage instead of in my room.

The most ironic part of this story?  Here are the lyrics to the main song of the show — the show for which I threw my first audition and did not let my light shine — the message King was sending to kids was just the opposite…

I’m really Rosie
And I’m Rosie Real
You better believe me
I’m a great big deal!


I’m a star from afar
Off the golden coast
Beat the drum! Make that toast!
To Rosie the Most!


I can sing
Tea for Two and Two for Tea
I can act
To be or not to be
I can tap
Across the Tappan Zee
Hey, can’t you see?
I’m terrific at everything!
No star shines so bright as me–Rosie!


I’m Really Rosie
I’m Rosie Real
I’m Really Rosie


February 26, 2010 at 6:41 am 4 comments

A Gift

My friend gave me a great gift today.  She knows who she is.  She said something to me in a way I don’t think anyone ever has.

You see, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told that I am “oversensitive.”  I get it. I am highly emotional. I cannot stand seeing any living thing in pain. I cannot watch a scene on film or television that is violent, or else I have nightmares for weeks.  I get my feelings hurt by things others would not even hear. I worry about that one person who may be left out in any situation, I want to be sure no one is hurting or feeling alienated (apparently I started doing this in preschool). I tend to shut down in loud places with sensory overload.  You get the picture, the list goes on.

So, I’ve always received the message that it is in my best interest to “toughen up.”  Always thought that was what I am supposed to do.  “Don’t let it bother you.”  “Oh, relax.”  “What’s the big deal?”  Toughen up.  And I’ve tried to, with not much, perhaps just a smidgen of, success.

I said to my friend yesterday, after a conversation in which someone I don’t know very well said something I felt was particularly insensitive about a choice my husband and I have made, “I guess I am just learning to have a tougher skin when people say things like that.”  Her response?  I will quote her flawless wisdom exactly (I really hope she doesn’t mind, as it is for the good of the world that I put this out there):

“You will find no comfort in defenses or toughness.  You will find comfort and solace and peace and healing and understanding by staying vulnerable and open.  No one will attack you.  And if they do, it is but mist.  Stay Open.  Your kids need you open.”

Oh, the relief I felt in those words, the validation, the YES.  The: THIS is what I’ve always known but never could quite articulate with confidence, or never had articulated to me.  She also said, and this is a paraphrase: if you put up your dukes or stiffen up, you will get knocked down.  If you remain soft and flowing, no one can push you over, you just keep moving.  Again, I know this, I believe this, but somehow having her say it to me just put it all into perspective today.

What if everyone in the world was actually emotionally open?  What if we had not been taught to toughen up, shut down, fight back, criticize others, and turn off our sensitivities — but instead were taught to open up and embrace those sensitivities, and use them as a gauge and a guide in being with one another, and to see them as a gift?  What if we traded our closed-minded judgements for open-minded listening — so that we actually took in what others’ did and said in the most sensitive of ways, rather than with defenses heightened, or wall built?  Do you think the world would be different?  That there would be less prejudice, less divorce, less war?  I wonder.

It’s messier when you take it all in, feel it all, tune in to it all.  I imagine it could be easier to be tough and unflappable. I imagine it could be easier to sit comfortably believing that your judgements protect you, rather than practicing detaching from those judgements, as in Buddhism, which I’ve also tried with a smidgen more success.  But perhaps in the long run it is not easier to be tough.  It still takes energy, and then the energy must release somewhere, at some point — that can’t be good.

I know one thing: I felt like a success today because someone validated who I am, in a way that our culture often does not.  I felt like a success because I was heard and seen and appreciated for a trait I’ve been criticized for by others.  And I also know that I feel like a success when I can validate others in this deep and meaningful way.

Think about it.  Maybe you could give someone this kind of a gift today.  Maybe you could give it to yourself. How?  Stop toughening up.  Remain open.  And see what happens.

February 24, 2010 at 5:45 am 5 comments

Enough Prejudice!

Oh, man, DH and I watched the first half of Milk the other night and I can’t get it out of my head!  (Yes, I’m a year behind on Oscar movies — going to the movies? um, four years behind!)  Anyway, what a powerful film about the roots of the gay rights movement, told through the story of one closeted office worker turned out-and-proud activist-politician.

The power of the film and its message is on both sides of the coin — the horror of how prejudice leads to violence and inhumanity, and the hope in how one person can make a difference in the world.

And, on the concept of “enough,” it’s got me really thinking in my spare moments about how, when people are fighting to exclude others, they never feel they have enough protection from these “others.”  They live in fear of these “others” taking something from them.  They resort to violence because they have created the idea that these “others” are threatening them.  And there will never be enough protection for them until these “others” are basically eradicated.  Sound Hitlerian?  Well, if it quacks like a duck…

Anyway, looking forward to watching the other half one of these evenings (thank goodness for Netflix), and feeling proud of the filmmakers who got this important and relevant story to the screen.  The fight for human rights, civil rights, in our country (though we are better than Uganda on this one!) is alive and well, and there is much to be done…

February 19, 2010 at 7:02 am 2 comments

Put Down The Phones, Please!

So, today is the first time in my life I have been so grateful for web banner ads!  Apparently Oprah Winfrey has launched a campaign to get people to stop texting and talking (beyond hands-free) while driving.  Yes!!!!  (I found this out from a banner ad on my Yahoo group.)

The other day I was driving and looked around me and every other driver I could see was holding a cell phone and talking — and this is illegal in our state!  Come on, friends, it does not take the proverbial rocket scientist to know that holding a phone and talking while driving means we are not fully conscious of our driving and we are putting people’s lives in danger.  Are we really so self-involved and self-important that we cannot either wait to text or talk, or take a moment to put on a headset and do it safely?  Well, I won’t answer that, but I will post here Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” pledge and public information campaign.  Please sign it with me, and please pass it on!

February 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm 2 comments

The New Global Student: One of Those Books

I love to read. I read a lot of books. Mostly non-fiction. I always have several books going at once, and I always have fines at the library.

Now and then, I come across a book that I believe will change my life.  One of these that pops into my head is If The Buddha Came To Dinner by Hale Sofia Schatz, which I first read several years ago on my honeymoon (out loud, in a hammock, in nowhere Mexico, with my new husband, ah, good times…).  That book profoundly affected the way I look at eating and food, self-care and true nourishment, and it will be central in a talk I’m percolating for my UU fellowship one of these days about food and spirituality.

I read another book the other day that I believe will go on that life-changer list for me as well.  It’s about education. And I read a lot about education, since I have written about education throughout my career, I edit education books, I have been an educator, and I come from and belong to a family of educators.  So, to find an education book that stands out as life-changing is pretty darn exciting for me.  (Wow, have I built this up enough?)

The book is called The New Global Student by Maya Frost.  It lays out a philosophy of educating the next generation of global citizens that is practical, exciting, and deeply transformative.  It reads, for me, almost like an antidote to The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins, one of the books that sparked me to launch this blog three years ago, as it so highlighted the unhealthy attitudes rampant among “overachieving” teens and young adults when it comes to what makes them feel successful.

Frost blows the competitive, cut-throat and stifling “traditional” path through high school and college out of the water by recommending ditching the AP classes, SATs, and the typical four-by-four plan (four years of high school, four years of college) to create a global, eclectic, and non-traditional path to a college degree that she argues not only saves stress and money, but also better prepares young people for the “real world” we now live in, and keeps them excited about learning and participating in their lives.

Now, I say all of this as a recovering overachiever who took the AP classes, and the SAT (although, I must admit, I kind of rebelled against that test, refusing to study for it or take it more than once), and did the four-four plan.  I paid way too much for my study abroad, stressed myself out constantly, got my magna cum laude, and always colored between the lines.  I’m not at all complaining about where I ended up or what I learned, and I’m grateful for all the experiences I was able to have.  But, still, I’d like to give my kids a chance to try things a bit differently, to offer them an alternative (less stressful, more joyful, less conventional, more intentional) path to a similar end.  Frost’s book lays out ideas for how I can do just that.

A book that will change my life helps me think outside of the box, and validates why I want to.  It gives real-life examples and hard facts while at the same time tapping into something deeply emotional within me.  It pushes me and nudges me to make a change.  Of course, it makes perfect sense to me that it was Vicki Hoefle who recommended this book to me, as its values are right in line with those of the parenting program she founded, that my husband and I are participating in.  These values are about true connection, conscious living, conquering fear (Frost calls it “fego” — fear and ego — love that!), embracing change (and love), purging excess, raising kids who can care for themselves and others — and being willing to challenge ourselves, our “shoulds,” and why we are doing what we are doing.

The New Global Student is a book I am actually going to buy and put on my bookshelf, and take off that bookshelf again and again as I help craft a conscious and globally-minded education for my kids — or, perhaps more aptly, as I help them craft their own education in ways that feed their minds and souls.  Maya Frost’s book is a call to parents and educators (and school counselors and administrators) to reconsider why we do what we do when it comes to our children’s education in America.  It is needed, in part, because of the attitude she captures by quoting a bumper sticker she saw in Oregon: “I love America, but I think we should start seeing other people.”  Obviously not everyone agrees with this sentiment, but I do, and thus I agree with the heart of this book.  It’s about opening our eyes and minds and facing our fegos, so our kids can make a real difference in the world, be a part of a broader world, and enjoy doing it.

Let me know if you read it, and let me know what you think…

February 9, 2010 at 4:46 am 2 comments

Baby Steps

I had this moment today of feeling so successful.  The cynic in me wanted to dismiss it as a sad statement of how mundane life can be as a stay-home mom.  The buddha in me knew to celebrate it in its very smallness.

The baby (now one!) woke up crying from his nap, inconsolable actually, which is rare for this little guy. I tried to put him back to sleep, offered him milk, to no avail, he was shreiking at me by now.  But then I took off his wet diaper and saw an awful rash, quickly wiped him off and applied an herbal salve. He stopped. Sighed. Smiled. Thanked me in babyspeak. Then waved his hilarious backwards wave (the Spaniard wave) to the dinosaur drawing his sister had tacked onto the wall for his “wake up present.” It was a wonderful feeling, watching his mood transform, watching him shake it off and move on, seeing how I was of use, critical to him, in this small service.

This isn’t something I could post on my LinkedIn page, to show all of my professional colleagues what I’m up to.  It wouldn’t fly in the alumni magazines. It actually wouldn’t even probably get me a pat on the back at playgroup, since other moms do this every minute of every day.  But, for me, inside of me, I had this moment of feeling very proud and I happy that I had figured out what was bothering this child who could not help himself in this moment, and I had helped him, given him some relief, allowed him to move on with his work.  I stopped and cherished the feeling, because lately it’s been easy to get caught up in other, less buddha-like feelings, and it can be so much easier to focus on what is wrong than what is right sometimes.

But, no, today, I savored the success of this one tiny moment. I reveled in my son’s relationship with the dinosaur on the wall.  I thanked my lucky stars and the divine for allowing me to be present with these children in these small moments of their childhood, and I thanked the woman who created that rockin’ herbal salve (Kerry’s Herbals! thanks for the rec, Melissa! it’s vegan, too!) for making my baby’s tush feel instantly better.

In honor of this moment today, I am going to post here another wonderful video that the fabulous life coach/writer Jena Strong recently posted on her blog.  A writer-mom of grown children reminds us of how it is these small moments that are so important looking back, and how quickly they become memories.  Hard to remember that sometimes. I’m thankful to be reminded today.

February 4, 2010 at 4:42 am Leave a comment


My sweet friend Vanessa sent me this trailer — for a movie following babies’ first year of life in different countries across the globe — looks fabulous!  Can you imagine the perspective American parents (me included!) could get from seeing these differences?  And the similarities as well. What a fabulous concept. I’m already in love with the babies, and especially love the last scene where the goat drinks the baby’s bath water.

This is also in honor of my baby, who turns one year old tomorrow!!  Happy birthday, little dude.

January 30, 2010 at 5:30 am 2 comments

Success in Global Citizenship

We’re all concerned about Haiti right now, rallying to send what we can to help them recover from the natural disaster that has befallen them.  As I listen to all the news talk of the intense poverty there, though, I must ask the question — why wasn’t this poverty on our national priority list before this disaster?  I keep thinking about how the media works, and how our country’s popular agenda has not included this nation’s need for assistance and infrastructure before it became an apocalyptic situation there.  And this goes for so many countries in the world.  We live most days without any thought to the fact that the state of so many of the world’s citizens is grossly impoverished compared to that of most Americans.

In thinking about schooling my children, one of my goals is to be sure that they are educated as global citizens — aware of other cultures, of inequities, of differences and similarities of their lives and the lives of other children around the world — and to not keep them in the bubble of our suburban existence.  We are pretty sure we are going to homeschool for the early years, for medical reasons but also for the great opportunity we have as teachers to educate our own children with the values and critical thinking we believe it will take to make a difference in this world of the future we are all facing.  Assuming we jump with this plan next year, we are planning to use The Global Village School as our curriculum, consultants and school of record, and we are thrilled at the idea of working with an organization with similar goals as ours in educating the new generation of world citizens.

I’ve been doing some reading to prepare for all of this, and I came across a quote, quoted in the book Growing up Global: Raising Children To Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar that speaks to all of this, and stopped me in my tracks:

But as we wonder why the Iraqis react this way, and the French that way, and the Russians help the Iranians, and the Germans blithely lecture the United States on moral points only decades after incinerating millions, a common explanation coalesces. We don’t know enough about other countries.  We don’t follow the rest of the world enough.  Our newspapers and TV stations don’t tell us enough.  And we don’t care enough.

What will it take to help the next generation become better global citizens than most of us are now?  I’m trying to learn the answer to this question.  I’m seeking resources, like the aforementioned book and the Global Village School, that can help me and my kids dig for information that will help us understand and constantly consider other cultures, other faiths, other realities, and not just our own. And, while traveling abroad would of course be one great way to learn about the world, if that is not an option there are so many other ways to think globally from wherever we live. Success for me as a homeschooling parent must include children who think with a global perspective, and who think beyond the surface of what flashes on the nightly news.

Each image of Haiti serves for me not just as a reminder of how precious each moment is, and how things beyond our control can occur in an instant to change everything — but also as a reminder that there are things we can control before a disaster strikes, and that we have much to learn about how others live so we can even out the scales on our globe a bit more in years to come.  The disaster in Haiti is more than the earthquakes. It’s a disaster of global inequality.  And we have the power to make a difference beyond earthquake relief, before earthquake relief, too.  Let’s think about it.

January 20, 2010 at 2:55 am 2 comments

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Blog Mission

To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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