Monday, June 17, 2013

Risky Behavior-Choice, Chance and Change

Two score and three years ago, as my husband was packing his lone duffle bag for a tour in Vietnam, he turned to me and said, “Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m going. I won’t be here to tell you what bulletin board to create in your classroom or what pair of cut-offs to wear. ” His words shocked my tears into submission.

I never knew that he perceived me as a weakling in the decision-making department.  “I am not that bad at making decisions!”  I argued. He then explained that for my whole life -22 years at that point-I had allowed my father-as well as my sisters, friends, teachers, etc.-and him, to make my decisions for me.  He did not include my mother in this list, because he knew that she tried to counteract my compliant and somewhat passive nature when it came to either/or situations. “Now you’ll be on your own,” he said as he zipped his bag closed. “I will always support you, whatever you choose; I just won’t make your decisions for you.”

“You Must Make a Choice…

Tim was right- I needed to learn to trust my judgment, my knowledge and my emotions and to quit second-guessing myself when I had to make a decision. Oh, I had always been firm with major options like when to break-up with a bad boyfriend, what to choose as my college major (although I did capitulate to my father on where I’d earn my degree) and who to marry, but it was those day by day risks that could send me into  an endless circle of indecision.

Although Katy Perry song, Hot N Cold was released in September of 2008, she might have time traveled and been speaking to the 1970 me and not her boyfriend when she said,
“And you overthink
Always speak cryptically…
'Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in then you're out
You're up then you're down…”.

Classroom decision-making in regard to planning, teaching, discipline, parental concerns and administrative demands never threatened to drown me in whirlpools of doubt. Oh, I had to sport a poised face and demeanor until my teacher-legs firmed with confidence, but I expected that.  Any time that I questioned whether my knowledge would have my back - even in my last year in the classroom when I was teaching The Stranger for the twelfth time-I’d just plan a bit more meticulously and re-read tough passages again and again until my inner critic assured me that I was, “Good to go.”

Decisions that affected my family life, though, they were and still are the sleep stealers. Emotional involvement makes it too easy to push aside those all too necessary facts. My difficulty evolves from making decisions that will touch, and maybe alter, the lives of those people whom I love.

Choices equal ownership and ownership means responsibility. That accountability is the root of the do I/don’t I dilemma, not the Choice itself. Usually, I realize that the Choice I want to make harmonizes with the one that I need to make.  The question has never been the Choice, but whether or not I want to assume the duties, the liabilities, and the task. That is what caused, and still causes, those wee hours of the morning fits of doubt. Othello addressed this agony well with his words, “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.”

For years, one of my role models has been an elderly woman in a TV commercial. She nestles her cookie grandma self onto a park bench, smiles at the camera and says, “Every morning I can choose to be happy or sad. I choose to be happy.” I love that woman’s firm resolve, upbeat disposition and her staunch understanding that although she might encounter outside influences, she and she alone is responsible for her Choices.

To Take a Chance, or …

Chances are a gamble. They present us with visions of health, wealth and happiness or nightmares of failure, bankruptcy and buffoonery. No matter where we turn, we are barraged by exhortations-verbal and visually enticing-to multitudinous Chances of a lifetime. We are guaranteed to have brighter smiles, firmer abs, sexier hair (and bodies), and more friends and fun than we can handle if we take a Chance on this toothpaste, that shampoo or this beer.
From apples to zucchini, from the study of A.P. Algebra to Zooplasty, from Alabama to Wyoming we are assailed with promises, promises, and more promises. Where is the assurance, though?  Is it hidden in the lure of glittering generalities, of celebrity testimonials, the desire for peer approval, no matter our age, or any of the other propaganda techniques used by family, friends, foes and the media?
Maybe, but chances are that life would be banal, boring and, well, not really worth living if Chances didn’t exist. Those What ifs of life keep our hearts and brains charged up with the possibilities of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” At least they do that for me.  I’d much rather leave myself open to the dark side of Chance than live in a world without possibilities.
As ABBA said in their song, Take a Chance on Me,
“If you change your mind,
I'm the first in line
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me.”

Your Life Will Never Change.”

When I was younger, I welcomed Change with an open heart, an open mind and open arms. A moving van was sure to punch my yearning button for new people, places, adventures and ideas, These teaser qualities of Change are part of why I loved teaching,

Every day a student could change from an apathetic seat warmer to an involved learner.

Every class, students offered me a chance to add to my analysis of a novel through their interpretations, to excavate my understanding of writing techniques or to change my attitude about a song, a dance or a fashion trend.

Every year I had the choice to change what, when, why, where and how I taught if I so desired- the good old days of education, some would say.

One theme that laces every book, movie and television show that I have taught and/or viewed is that people fear that which they don’t understand, and this fear can lead to misunderstanding and tragedy.  I have seen friends, family, co-workers and students paralyzed by the fear of change. Through research, being open to other viewpoints and strong communication, most overcame the anxieties that clouded the pros and cons that accompanied their qualms.

Now, that I have skirmished with these three Cs for three score plus five years, and even though I welcome Change in smaller doses, Mental Myopia scares me more than the three Cs ever will. Every day is a chance for me to learn something new, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and to face myself in the mirror and not cringe. I have always loved and attempted to live by the Man in the Mirror philosophy that Michael Jackson so eloquently speaks about in his song by the same name,
                “I'm Starting With The Man In
The Mirror…
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways
No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
(Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make The Change).”

For me, every year that I have the Choice to take a Chance and to Change something about me, my life, my attitudes or the world around me is a very good year.

Until next week,

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