Friday, July 22, 2011

A Brief Review (continued)

Results of opinion polls for at least the past 25 years show consistent agreement with the statement:  America is heading in the wrong direction.  Efforts by both parties in the government have made no difference, so perhaps a new way of looking at these problems, a new model, is called for.  On Monday I reviewed the premise that faulty individual behaviors (our actions and decisions) accumulate to societal trends that lead to outcomes that are currently classified as crises.  We can't continue to attack the symptoms rather than not the problems.

As an example let’s look at the dimension of Discipline.  Last week in the news was an article about obesity rates in the US.  The short summary is that the country as a whole is getting fatter.  In fact, the highest obesity rate by state 15 years ago (Mississippi) was lower than the lowest rate today (Colorado). Despite billions of dollars spent on books and programs promising some magic answer, despite government programs and messages from doctors in the media, the trend continues.  It’s a behavior issue, not a policy issue.  Everyone knows the answer:  eat less and exercise more.  It’s not complex – just hard to do.  It takes discipline.  The consequence, besides the personal health ramifications, is the societal issue of increased demand on medical and drug resources for predominantly preventable illnesses.  (In general, increased demand pushes costs up.)

But this is not the only evidence of a lack of discipline in America.  Consider the number of people who spent more than they earned and the societal impact of the resulting bankruptcies and foreclosures.  Consider those who cannot stay away from smoking or excessive alcohol use.  It’s true that moving in the right direction takes effort and patience, but we tend to shun effort and patience in favor of secrets or easy answers.  Remember, we are not treading water; we are sinking.  The government keeps trying to legislate solutions, not unlike prohibition in the last century and about as successfully.

What's worse, our children are copying our behavior and we do not require better from them.  This may seem an odd example, but I just read that 40 states no longer require that handwriting be taught in school:  reading, keyboarding and arithmetic?  When I see this, alarms go off, not because I am a big fan of handwriting, but because I see one more skill that requires effort and patience dropped.  Though cursive writing may no longer be as useful, education is more than training in practical skills.  It should also develop less tangible, but important traits like patience, concentration, and discipline.  (I think I could have lived very happily without high school Latin – especially when I was in high school – or memorizing a poem, but I understand the benefit.)  When lawmakers eliminate writing to allow more time for reading, do they consider that the discipline required for the first might contribute to the second?

Take some time to think of your own examples of how we are letting our children down by not developing the necessary traits that lead to behavior strong in discipline and about what consequences these failures may have both today and in the future.  Look for your own examples.  I know they're out there.  I see them nearly every day.

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