Tag Archives: ethics

Why I Feel Everyone Should Read

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I truly and wholeheartedly believe the world would be a better place if everyone considered reading as essential as other daily tasks. I realize that not everyone likes to read; some, in fact, claim to hate it and refuse to voluntarily skim through even a few books a year after they have completed high school.

The result has been, over the last few decades, a disintegration of our civilization on multiple — alarming — levels. As a society, our refusal to read has had detrimental effects: many people’s comprehension, vocabulary, communication, and logical thinking has suffered; they lack basic spelling, usage, and grammar skills; and they have trouble interacting appropriately with others because they are unable to empathize or connect emotionally. Additionally, while people turn away from books and embrace television and Netflix, for example, they are abdicating any responsibility for deep critical thinking or personal growth, as is it common knowledge that binge-watching American Dad cannot replicate the benefits of a focused long-term plot or the in-depth character study offered in books. Furthermore, by wasting time so contentedly on social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, people are allowing others to dictate their ethics, self-worth, and interests. “Likes” are very important these days, and young people, in particular, will do or say just about anything to earn approval from strangers online.

Being an optimist, I refuse to believe this change to our culture is permanent. I know that reading offers too many benefits to allow it to “go gentle into that good night.” I will continue to promote reading and encourage my students to engage in it regularly. Below are a few reasons why.

Reading serves many purposes. Historically, story-telling was a way to preserve a culture’s beliefs and to pass on its values to younger generations. (In my opinion, it can definitely do the same today.) Problematically, modern-day reading is mainly seen as simply a leisure activity, done with the intention of providing entertainment, and therefore viewed as a “huge waste of time.” A lot of people would just rather “watch the movie.”

Many times, though, people do not realize exactly how much they can take away from reading, in general. We can study a character’s true motivations and analyze the factors that drive their behaviors. We can pick up on clues that a character may be “unreliable” (and, therefore, untrustworthy) through subtle hints and indirect characterization. We can assess the results of a character’s decisions and actions, examining how it impacts his or her life over a long span of time. We can gain insight by familiarizing ourselves with characters from all walks of life, with varying interests, abilities, and personality traits. This can train us for daily interactions with those around us and help us to better know ourselves.

For example, reading a novel which includes characters who are greedy or selfish can subtly demonstrate the danger of such behaviors in our own lives. Similarly, lovable characters can cause readers to forget their own loneliness for a short time, or lead readers to recognize desirable traits that they can adopt for themselves. Sympathetic characters can ease a reader’s feelings of self-pity by opening his or her eyes to other forms of pain and suffering in the world. Heroes fighting against villains — whether successful in their endeavors or not — can teach readers the importance of standing up for what they believe is right.

There are many genres from which to choose, so with enough searching just about everyone can find a novel that suits their interests. Some prefer true-crime documentaries while others enjoy romance novels. Mystery novels are fun because they enable people to piece together information and attempt to make accurate predictions — they keep people engaged. Science-fiction, fantasy, and mythology can expand people’s imaginations while, often, encouraging personal moral decision-making or ethical soul-searching. Nonfiction selections in the self-improvement, history, or autobiography categories are meant to provide useful information and can help people understand themselves and the  world around them more clearly. A few relate best to poetry, as they find that it succinctly expresses their own feelings in unique or unexpected ways, which can be quite comforting. Someone might prefer to read classics, from which they can deduce that, while the world itself has changed greatly over time, human nature and emotions have not.

Reading, most importantly, opens our minds. I have smiled when my favorite characters succeed. I have cried when innocent or helpless characters are killed. I have raged over the injustices characters suffer at the hands of their society. I have been uplifted when characters are able to turn their lives around and make a positive change. I have gained wisdom, courage, and strength from reading about the struggles in other people’s lives. I have educated myself on concepts, ideas, and philosophies about which I had no other way of learning. Reading lets me see the world from many perspectives and experience things I never would otherwise. It allows me to be part of other cultures and travel through time. It helps me to not only visit other worlds, but to live in this one more fully.

Peace and love.11215807_10205957227265590_2406978983197072906_n.jpg

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Ways We Can Improve Our Society: Part Two

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Check out part one for more ideas!

Thankfully, the number of potential candidates for the Presidency has dwindled slightly. Unfortunately, most of those who remain are the loudest, angriest, and most arrogant.  If I actually believed politicians would be willing to listen to the desires of the people they claim to represent, I would offer them the following suggestions for how we, as a nation, might grow and change. Instead, I am relying on the people to change what we can, provided we can stop insulting and berating each other on social media for how our political policy beliefs differ.

To begin, I believe our country (our world, in fact) would be a better place if everyone was required to give another human being a genuine compliment every single day. I’m sure there is a government bureaucrat out there somewhere who is tired of getting paid for reading magazines and pretending to file paperwork. Let him be in charge of tracking how quickly general happiness, self-esteem, and optimism skyrocket under the new Renee Fornelli Love agenda. There’s some type of computer program that can make graphs and pie charts, I assume. He could even create a survey — and we all know how important polls are these days — and build data. There would be so much more paperwork to “file” (and, by file, I mean lose/shred/stick in a box in a warehouse)! What an exciting job for that formerly bored government employee!

Next up, we can easily improve our world through the utilization of recycling centers. Last summer, my husband and I decided to make regular recycling a part of our lives. I organized a small corner of our home to store paper, cans, and plastic bottles. I have a couple pictures of my bins below. It takes, maybe, twenty minutes a month to gather up and drop off all the items that, previously, would have gone towards filling up our landfill. Instead of having companies make new things, they can refashion and reuse old things. Isn’t that “shabby chic” idea all the rage right now? Please consider making a better effort to go green. I was surprised — pleasantly — by how little effort recycling actually takes. Save our planet — it’s the only place we have to live!

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Last on the agenda today is the need and desire for our society to consider pet adoption. Statistics show there are many benefits to owning a pet. They can help to lower blood pressure, ease depression symptoms, and detect an owner’s serious illness, for starters.  Cats and dogs, especially, are excellent companions for children and adults, and offer a wide array of services to offset any minor inconveniences that go along with pet ownership. Dogs provide protection and a sense of security to people with disabilities and those living alone; they also learn tricks and make for great exercise buddies. Cats are useful for killing rodents and are particularly good snugglers. For example, my cats are great foot warmers in the dead of winter, though they do often steal all the blankets and fashion a nest for themselves, leaving me to shiver uncontrollably through the night. Be that as it may, I know they love me because they show it in other ways. They meet me at the door when I get home from work. They lay beside me and purr when I’m sick. They “sing” with me and often answer when I talk to them. They “pet” my hair and give me kisses. They leave fake mice in my purse if I leave it unzipped, and I often find toys in the toe of my boots when I slip them on. They are content to lay in my lap for hours. They fill my heart with joy and happiness.

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So, to all of you petless people, I will encourage you to go to a shelter and adopt a pet. You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars to buy one from a dealer or a pet store. Often, people give pets away for free. Pets provide comfort, acceptance, and companionship to lonely people. They give entertainment and add excitement to daily chores. They offer unconditional love. People with pets are almost always happier because of them. That’s why they fill your Facebook news feed with so many pictures of them.

So, if we can change our attitudes and behaviors, we can change our world for the better. I’m willing to give it a try. Are you?

P.S. We don’t actually need the government telling us to compliment each other. Just do it on your own. It feels great for the recipient as well as the giver. Make each other happy today!

Peace and love.

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Ways We Can Improve Our Society: Part One

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As election time rolls around and debates separate the wheat from the chaff and political ads slander opponents mercilessly, it becomes apparent (particularly on social media) that everyone in America knows what is best for the country and if you disagree you are a worthless pile of fool. To add to the “excitement” of another 11 months of campaigns, here is the first stage of “making America great again,” and if you disagree, you are a worthless pile of fool.

First up, budget cuts. I hear about this concept of “budgeting” and apparently it means “planning for a fiscally sound future by not buying so much makeup,” according to my husband’s line of thinking. What it actually means is balancing income and expenses — in other words, allotting an adequate amount of money to each area in order to responsibly pay bills in a timely fashion. The following are some ways I think the local, state, and federal government could increase revenue or cut needless expenditures, or improve our society as a whole.

First, when an individual is caught speeding, he or she should be required to pay a fine of no less than $50 for every excess mile per hour an officer clocked their speed. (Bonus: the main roads will be much safer, as compulsive speed demons will likely stick to back roads — I’m not convinced they can change.) That money can be earmarked for educational funding, including a newly required defensive driving course for all caught recklessly risking their own and others’ lives by cruising along at 75 in a 65 zone.

Second, why do prisons provide cable television? Many hardworking, law-abiding citizens can’t afford such a luxury. My cable bill each month is astronomical (particularly after adding an additional box) and increases semi-annually. Felons don’t need cable, they need to sit and think about what they did wrong. If they get bored with repenting, they can pick up a book and read. Our world would be a better place if everyone in it read a book a month. Rather than setting up convicts with expensive entertainment, force them to watch local channels and, when they tire of that, to educate themselves. I know, the option of schooling already exists in the joint, but I feel more people who are incarcerated would put forth the effort of seeking an education to better their lives on the outside if it was the only option available during their free time (and by free time, I mean the time they don’t spend lifting weights and fashioning shivs out of toothbrushes). Admittedly my knowledge of the inner workings of life in the clink is limited to, ironically, what I have viewed on cable networks. What would the government do with all the funds they freed up by making the pen “hard-copy only”? They would redirect that cash to fuel public education. By funneling more money into our children’s schooling, we could hope there would be fewer ex-cons in the long run — and wouldn’t that make for a brighter future overall?

Third, hire only highly skilled and professional construction companies who will work on one mile of road at a time, from dawn until dusk every single day until the job is complete. The longer that stretch of patch work takes, the more road rage I suffer. The citizens pay taxes to fund quick, sound reconstruction of the roads, not to hire a bunch of sweaty, chain-smoking sign holders. When I drive by at 10:15 in the morning, I know they cannot possibly be legitimately still eating breakfast. So why are they just sitting in their trucks, laughing at my aggravation? Why do they tear up twenty miles of the interstate at a time if they have no intention of fixing it that week? Why must I slow down to twenty-five miles an hour when workers are nowhere to be found? Why doesn’t the foreman insist they remove the “reduce speed ahead” signs before leaving for the afternoon siesta (which is the only logical explanation for why machines are sitting empty in the ditches when I drive home at 4:30 in the afternoon)? Why is my tax money paying for months of unnecessary inconvenience to travelers and a lack of oversight resulting in lazy incompetence from poorly managed road crews? I’m becoming suspicious that maybe they intentionally take so long because they get paid by the day. Government officials, do some reference checking on the companies you pay with my money, or I will vote you out.

Check out part two here.

Peace and love.

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Why Teachers Get Burned Out

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In the fall, I will start my tenth year as a teacher, as unbelievable as I find that to be. I still remember the jitters I felt when my student teaching mentor told me she was going to have me take the reins at the end of September. I still remember the nervousness of starting my first job (in March — not exactly ideal) in a town I’d never heard of before, with only a few days’ notice. I still get that “first day of school” bubbly excitement and that “when will summer finally be here” longing. I still think about the mistakes I made early on, the struggles I’ve overcome, but also the victories and success stories that make my job worthwhile. I still love school, just as I always have since starting kindergarten at age four. But I am beginning to feel burned out.

We have, in America, a mindset that our educational system is failing our students, and, by extension, our teachers are failures. There are several widespread beliefs about teachers, none of which are flattering or even remotely accurate. The first is that teachers are exceptionally lazy — how hard can it be to be a full-time babysitter, right? Plus getting the summer off?! Some people think teachers are power-hungry dictators who like to throw their weight around or are only in it because they can’t make it in a “real” job. Everyone has heard the phrase, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Let me address these outlandish misconceptions. Admittedly, as with any profession, there are those who excel, those who are mediocre, and those who are ineffective. To paint all with the same negative brush is absurd. Did I have bad teachers when I was a student? Unfortunately. Did I have exceptional ones? Absolutely — and I feel blessed to be able to say so. But the majority of my teachers fell somewhere in the middle.

Most of the teachers I’ve known as coworkers are incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and selfless. Therein lies the problem. They are willing to come in far earlier and stay far later than is contractually obligated for meetings, for tutoring sessions, for correcting papers, for entering grades in the grade book, for writing improvement plans and newsletters for parents and reference letters for kids’ scholarship applications. They put in long hours of unpaid time, to spend their “summer free time” prepping and planning and taking extra classes and organizing their classrooms, because it is what is best for their students. They are willing to accept the criticism from outsiders who don’t know what occurs in their classes on a daily basis. They are willing to take phone calls right before bed from angry parents. They are willing to swallow the thinly-veiled insults on social media about how they are letting down America’s youth. They are willing to suffer personal attacks on their character or intelligence or ability level from strangers. They are willing to let go the insinuations of lawmakers that teachers don’t do enough to prepare students for the new world, the global economy, the military, college, or the workplace. They accept the blame that should be shared around.

Teachers are getting burned out because the expectations we have for ourselves and our students are already high enough without pressure from outside sources. We administer weeks of testing — state tests, national tests, tests that affect college and military entrance, tests in the form of surveys, tests that reflect the school’s “annual yearly progress.” Most of these tests don’t actually impact the students directly; if they don’t understand the tests’ relevance, many don’t take them seriously. But teachers do, because we have to.

Teachers are getting burned out because of all the other roles we play throughout the day. In addition to “educator,” I am supposed to be a mediator when there is an argument, or, more rarely, a physical altercation. I am a detective, searching for signs of abuse or neglect, and searching for “lost” homework and “misplaced” books. I am a counselor, discussing with students the many options for their futures. I have been a taxi, driving students to events I am chaperoning or coaching. I am a champion for encouraging new thoughts and ideas. I am a sympathizer for students and staff who are struggling. I am a cheerleader for those who lack self-esteem. I am an artist, coming up with new ways to teach that will keep students motivated, interested, and learning. I am a technology coordinator. I have been a nurse when students have been injured — one unfortunate nose-breaking incident far exceeding my first aid training. I am a guardian for children whose parents are, for whatever reason, unavailable physically or emotionally. I am a rock when I would rather be lax and laid-back, because I know that strength is what my students need. I am a role model, whether I wish to be or not.

Teachers get burned out because we are only human, but we are expected to be the perfect blend of the best qualities of all people. We are forgiving and compassionate. We are consistent and fair. We are adequate disciplinarians. We are experts in our fields, but we are knowledgeable about potentially “teachable” topics. We are “hip.” We are extroverts, who make new students and staff feel instantly welcome and cared for. We are in tune with our emotions and capable of reading others’. We are decision-makers and trust-earners and skills-builders. We are motivators. We are inspiring and memorable. And we do it all for some of the lowest paid salaries offered for professional careers.

But we do it because we love it. Or, at least, we used to. Please don’t make us regret it.

Peace and love.11058377_10205556576209564_1109540006035127487_n

Success Series Part 2: Drive

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Check out part 1 here.

We have all been asked the question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. I have a difficult time with this question. I guess I don’t even know why people bother asking, since they don’t truly expect honesty or answers like, “I’m incredibly lazy and won’t do anything productive without prodding” or “I often stay out unbelievably late at night gambling and drinking, so I will frequently show up late — if at all.” The expectation of future employers or college entrance officers is that we will effortlessly spin our flaws into benefits, like, “I’m a perfectionist so I spend way too much time getting everything exactly right” or “I often become so consumed with tasks that I bring work home with me — I just can’t stop thinking about it, even in my free time” or “I take on too much because I am overly eager and a real go-getter.”

My conscience is far too inconsiderate to allow me to ignore my true failings. My answer when posed this question often goes a little something like this: “One of my best qualities is my determination. I am tenacious. I am headstrong. And, fine, I will admit it: I am bordering on stubborn. One might even call me obstinate. If I feel I am justified, I dig in my heels — admittedly, being inflexible is possibly my worst quality.” And then I blush. I’ve never really learned to quit when I’m ahead.

So, let me see if I can spin this quality back into a positive.

I am proud of my ability to set a goal and work to reach it single-mindedly. It is my perseverance that has enabled me to get good grades, graduate from college, pay off most of my student loans, quit smoking, and lose a considerable amount of weight. (I am not discussing the impact of having a loving family or strong support system here — while those, too, are keys to success, they are so important that they will be in a separate blog post.)

Even though it hurts to acknowledge that being strong is often seen as unattractive or undesirable, I can’t allow that to intimidate me into being weak. I am a principled person, and when I am relentless or tough, it’s because I feel I must be. I stand firm when I believe it is not just the right thing, but the only thing, to do.

Despite being called “unyielding” and “unreasonable” by both loved ones and strangers, I find that it is my rigidity that has enabled me to survive hardship, bullying, and many new beginnings. I don’t let obstacles prevent me from doing what I need to do to find happiness. I go over, under, or around whatever is blocking my path to success.

Sometimes, that blockade was put in place by me. Sometimes, it was left by others. But it is my willpower, my unwavering desire, my belief that I CAN, which has allowed me to clear those hurdles one by one. It is my steadfastness that has let me heal from rejection, unfairness, and tragedy.

It is my dedication, my diligence, my drive that has led me to the life I have today. How can that possibly be a negative?

Peace and love.4332_1149745819631_369708_n

Why I Love and Loathe Social Media

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Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Youtube, Instagram, WordPress — odds are good that most people have an account set up on at least one of these websites. I, in fact, have an account on all of them. So, why are we, as a society, so into social media? When did it become so popular as to include people all over the world, of all ages and cultures and interests?

The benefits of using social media are numerous. These sites enable people with common interests or purposes or beliefs to interact. I have had the pleasure of meeting several people online that I would never have been able to meet any other way. I can learn new skills, discuss my ideas, promote myself, and broaden my circle of acquaintances. I can support and encourage my friends, and console or commiserate when it is necessary. I can feel like I am a part of something big.

This is a detriment. Social media is, at least in my life, beginning to replace other interests or hobbies — there is not enough time in my life for everything I love to do. I check my sites several times a day, scrolling and commenting and liking and reading other peoples’ posts. I watch a video online, and it links to another video, and another. Time gets away from me. Playing my instrument, practicing my calligraphy, sketching a picture, reading a book, playing a video game, crocheting an afghan — all my other hobbies take a backseat to updating my status online.

It gets worse. Studies are suggesting that the longer one spends on social media websites, the more unhappy he or she becomes with his or her own life. It seems that people become envious of the lives they see presented to them (not to confuse this with the lives their friends are actually living, which, daily, are likely just as boring and uneventful as their own). In fact, many people are now, whether intentionally or unintentionally, dishonest about what they show on their sites, showing just the positives: they post pictures of their vacations or slim themselves down with photo-altering programs or write about their job promotions or update about how their husbands are the sweetest men in the world because they got roses for their birthdays.

By themselves, none of these things are a terrible misrepresentation of someone’s life, and I delight in the joy of my friends. The problem comes when one only posts about the exceptional things that happen to them, in an effort to make others think their entire lives are exceptional. “Look how skinny I am in my bikini in Aruba! I could afford this because I got a promotion at work, the day after my husband sent 32 long-stemmed roses to the office to celebrate my amazing and enviable existence!” See the problem? Sadly, social media becomes a contest, rather than a celebration.

The concept of social media site is sound: interact with old friends; make new friends; easily, inexpensively, and quickly keep in contact with people you love, even if they live across the globe. Unfortunately, in practice we see that websites dedicated to human interaction, unfortunately, are at the mercy of the humans who interact. They have become a safe haven for bullies and trolls, who enjoy spewing hate with few (if any) consequences. They have fueled a rampant case of widespread narcissism, where one’s self-esteem is now determined by how many followers/friends/likes/comments one has.  They have granted fanatics a sounding board from which to promote their controversial arguments, with little regard for the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of others. They have enabled people to post pictures of others which are unflattering or embarrassing, without their consent, sometimes even anonymously. They have, ironically, ended friendships.

In effect, social media is a double-edged sword. It is a fine balance between responsibly utilizing it and abusing it. It is an expectation that everyone uses social media, but it sometimes becomes a chore. Even when I am interacting respectfully, I am still constantly assailed by arguments, updates, and images that are snarky or untruthful or outrageous.

I can’t block out the negativity completely, but I can contribute positively by creating or resharing inspiring and encouraging messages. I hope that will be enough. Peace and love.

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The “Unpleasant Job” of Being Atticus Finch

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mockingbirdIn the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie perfectly describes the nature of her life-long friend, Atticus, who is a lawyer. Maudie tells his children, “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

The nature of his “unpleasant job” in the novel is simple: Atticus defends a black man against the blatantly, undeniably false charges of a white woman in the south in the 1930s. Atticus is ridiculed and threatened by the townspeople, who don’t understand why he is trying so hard to save someone they are convinced is guilty.

Atticus perseveres through the destruction of his reputation. He ignores the whispered criticisms and shrugs off the mocking insults. His belief in doing what is right enables him to wade through the venomous hate, so that he can teach his children to stand tall and proud. He leads by example; doing what is right is not always popular, but is necessary nonetheless. Even when his family is attacked, Atticus takes what he believes is the just and moral path, never growing bitter or regretful.

The unpleasant job of being Atticus Finch is the same in all times and all places: it is unpleasant to do what is morally and ethically right, even at the expense of one’s own security and happiness. It is unpleasant to defend the weak, the abhorrent, the defenseless. It is unpleasant to have compassion. It is unpleasant to go against the grain, to be unpopular, to, in essence, be despised unjustly. It is unpleasant to value truth and justice over tradition and expectations. It is unpleasant to be strong, when it would be so much easier to give up or give in. It is unpleasant to be a leader, rather than a follower.

Peace and love.

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