Competition vs. Cooperation

I mentioned in another post titled “What Can I Do To Help” that I wish the world could be less competitive and more cooperative.  Or at least I would like my kids to be, but it is difficult to encourage that when the world around them is so focused on competition.  I think this is evident in plenty of ways, but when I think about how many reality TV shows there are that are competitions, it really hits home.  I’m not saying I think all competition is bad.  In fact, I think it’s a good thing for a number of reasons as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that being the winner is not the be all and end all.  It’s a wonderful goal to set for yourself and work towards and something to be proud of if you can achieve, but one should also be proud of the dedication, persistence, and improvement one achieves in the process.

I think back to the Olympics and how it is perceived by so many that “only” winning a silver metal is somehow a failure.  What kind of message is that sending? … that unless you are the absolute best at whatever it is you do, that somehow you are a failure, or minimally not good enough?  I think being in the Olympics is quite an accomplishment in itself and always applaud the athletes who look at it that way.

The kids’ elementary school always seems to have some sort of contest going on whenever there is a reason to collect money or anything else for charitable organizations.  I understand that the kids need motivation to bring in their spare change or Box Tops or whatever else.  And I think it’s OK to have a collective goal and be able to say, “Look what we did when we worked together!”  What I don’t like is when there are prizes for individual best sellers or contests when it comes to things like food drives.  I think that very much takes away from the spirit of why it is being done in the first place.  It’s not about winning a contest but about being compassionate and helping others.  Sometimes that message gets lost in the translation when all the kids focus on is which class or person is winning the competition.

Then there are all the kids’ sports activities where some parents forget that at that age it is about developing skills and love for the sport, good sportsmanlike behavior, learning to work as a team, etc. and not all about winning the game.  They get way too riled up on the sidelines.  It really bothers me hearing some of the things both parents and coaches say or yell to the kids and seeing them be unsportsmanlike. Some coaches are very good about keeping it at the right level, while others take it way too far.  Some kids seem to thrive in a highly competitive environment, but many lose interest too soon.  I know my one son dropped out of baseball partly because of this and not because he didn’t enjoy playing anymore.

I’ve also seen kids get very frustrated when they can’t do something really well right away.  I think this can happen when someone is used to doing well at other things. However, I think the competitive environment doesn’t help.  There is pressure to be good at or the best at everything that doesn’t need to be there.  As long as my kids’ effort is the best it can be or relatively close, I’m happy with that.


Gratitude and Attitude

So much of how we experience life has to do with our attitudes about people and situations.  If we approach life with a negative attitude and expectations, then we’re probably going to have more negative experiences.  A great quote a read recently is, “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t go anywhere until you change it.”  Having a positive mindset really does make a difference.

A while back, I started writing down at the end of each day something I was grateful for and something I enjoyed about that day.  Not only does it help keep things in perspective on the not-so-great days, but it helps me to think more positively and appreciate the good things in my life.  There is a lot of negativity surrounding me on a regular basis, so I very much needed to consciously think about the positives.  The things I have mentioned that I am grateful for range from big things like my family and friends who are always there to support me and lift me up when I need that to little things like the nice weather or having time to exercise.

Beyond just writing things down, I have been trying to make more of an effort to let others know when I appreciate something they have done for me.  I think I have always been relatively good at expressing appreciation, but I wanted to be even better at it.  The funny thing is, showing appreciation can be as simple as a smile or hug or saying “Thank you”, but it sometimes seems like there are too many people who have difficulty doing these things.  Being on the receiving end of those gestures can sometimes feel so good though, and they can make a big difference even though they are a small gesture.

I think part of the problem is that we’ve developed into a society where too many people feel a sense of entitlement.  Instead of people appreciating what they already have, they always feel they deserve more.  And they have forgotten to stop and be grateful.  We take too many things for granted.  I’m sure people were much more grateful for the springtime weather after the harsh winter we had this past year, but we shouldn’t always wait until we don’t have something that we are used to having to stop and appreciate what we do have.

I can’t change the world all by myself, but I can try to set a good example for my kids of how to be grateful, how to show appreciation, how to have a positive attitude, how to be a “we” person and not a “me” person, and how to be helpful and generous to others without expecting anything in return. And hopefully they will see that when you give to others and show appreciation, then other people will be much more willing to give in return.

flat tire

Keeping Up Appearances

It’s hard to admit to yourself that you failed at something, especially a marriage or other relationship, but it’s even more difficult to admit this to close friends and family members.  It is often easier to “keep up appearances” and not let on that there are problems.  I did this for at lot longer than I should have and kept everything to myself. I t slowly but surely ate away at me, and I felt very alone because no one really understood what I was going through except for me.

I finally reached a point where I spilled my guts to a good friend and eventually some family members and other close friends.  It felt good to get it all out to at least a few people.  I eventually told others in various degrees of detail, but now I don’t feel like I have anything to hide or that I have to pretend in front of anyone, which is very freeing.  I don’t have to carry around all that anger, resentment and whatever other feelings with me to deal with all by myself.  I actually don’t know what I would do without my good friends who are always willing to listen and commiserate.

The thing is, I know many people who are in the same boat with a failed relationship, but some of them are still trying to keep up appearances in some way, shape, or form. They continue to take family photos for holiday cards and post pictures on social media sites, as if things were just wonderful.  They still wear their wedding rings, even though the relationship is not really a marriage anymore.  Some people continue to get together with friends, family, or neighbors and put on an act like they are still a happy couple.  What they may not realize is that people can see through that and may even want to say something, but they don’t know how to bring up the topic when the person in the failed or failing relationship is making it clear that they don’t want to talk about it.  Others may not know all the details and just how bad it really is, but they probably have some clue that things aren’t as good as they used to be.

I found this to be true anyway when I started opening up to my friends and family.  Every single person understood what I had been going through because they all had seen and heard things that raised their eyebrows as red flags, but they didn’t know how and when to ask if everything was OK or what was going on.  I knew that certain people like my mom would not be surprised at all, but I was surprised at how many other people nodded their heads and couldn’t wait to chime in with their opinion of my husband as soon as I would say that things hadn’t been good between us for a while.  They all had a somewhat of an idea of what I had been going through but just didn’t realize how bad it really was.

So those of you who are keeping up appearances for whatever reason, you may not be doing as good of a job as you may think, and you may be making it an awkward situation for others.  Someone like me who has been there can spot signs of a failed relationship pretty easily.  So don’t be afraid to start talking about it.  It may be the first step in gaining support enough to move on to bigger and better things, or it may lead to you realizing that you’re not ready to give up and that you are willing to work things through with your significant other.  Either way, it’s much better to talk about the issues rather than pretend they don’t exist.

What Can I Do To Help?

Truthfully, this is one of my very favorite questions to be asked, not because I feel I need a lot of help, but because it shows me that the person who is asking is not a “me” person but rather someone who is thoughtful, giving, and is capable of putting others’ needs above their own.  I also feel good when I ask someone else this very question because knowing I made someone else’s day a little brighter or easier always feels good.  I am the type of person who does things for other people not because I expect anything in return, but because it just makes me feel good, especially when I have done something that I know many people will benefit from or is very much appreciated.  And I always find it easier to give to people who give back, even though that’s not why I do it.  People who give beck seem to be able to express their appreciation better as well, so maybe that has something to do with it.

It strikes me as odd sometimes that we make such a big deal over new stories where someone does something “out of the ordinary” for someone else.  I’m glad those stories make the news so that my kids see those examples and so we don’t all lose sight of the importance of giving, but I wish those things were not so “out of the ordinary.”

I think we’ve become way too competitive as a society, and I find myself telling my kids that they need to be less competitive and more cooperative.  In fact, we as a society could be more cooperative and less competitive. In other words, we need to be “we” people and not “me” people.  In my opinion, too many people are too focused on what they can gain from any given situation instead of thinking about what they can give.  If only more people would realize that the more you give, the more you get in return.  Not only will people be willing to give to you, but you will gain that really good feeling that you made a difference, even if it was just a small difference in one person’s life.

Giving doesn’t have to be something huge.  It can be one little thing here and there, or maybe a lot of little things. It’s all a matter of perspective.  If you see doing something for someone else as being an inconvenience to you rather than a chance to put a smile on someone’s face or help him or her out, then you will be less likely to ask, “What can I do to help?”


What Can I Get Away With Today?

It is really challenging to deal with people who seem to operate with this attitude.  What comes to mind as a good metaphor is going to a pool, clearly seeing a “no diving” sign, looking around to see if anyone is watching, diving in the pool anyway, and then claiming you didn’t see the sign if you get caught.  My experience has been that people who would do something like this generally don’t feel like they need to follow the rules or that the rules don’t apply to them.  It irritates me when I see people parked in a handicapped spot who clearly don’t have a handicapped permit.  I usually can’t help but wonder if they are a “me” person who doesn’t feel they need to follow any rules and always put their needs above others.  And what are these people teaching their kids about the importance of following the rules?  I think the same thing about parents who allow their kids to lie about their age to get an email or social media account.  That just reinforces the idea that it’s OK to lie and not follow the rules.

Unfortunately, I think there are more and more “me” people in the world all the time.  In my opinion, “me” people think of themselves first and will do and say whatever they need to in order to get what they want, even if it means they make promises they have no intention of keeping.  And they usually have no qualms about lying to cover up the fact that they broke the rules or didn’t follow directions.  They don’t think about how their actions and decisions affect others around them and expect others to always accommodate them.  Consequently, “me” people often come across as being insincere, dishonest, deceitful, and untrustworthy.  The kicker is that they don’t understand that their actions are not acceptable, partly because they may not realize that everyone else doesn’t think and behave the same way they do.

I expect my kids to be “me” people to a certain extent because they are kids, and kids tend to be pretty self-absorbed.  However, adults who are self-absorbed don’t have that excuse.  They should know better, but that’s assuming they were taught not to be.  I am doing my best to teach my kids not to be so self-absorbed and hope by the time they reach adulthood they are not “me” people.  I do see signs of that happening, so I am hopeful, but when they are exposed on a regular basis to “me” people, my job becomes much more difficult.

I do break a few rules like driving faster then the speed limit, but I am conscious of the example I am setting and think twice about breaking other rules or lying about things so that my kids don’t learn by example that these things are acceptable behaviors.  I just wish more people would think about the example they are setting for their kids in this regard.

Failure … It’s OK.

At the open house for parents on the last day of my son’s LEGO robotics camp, one of the instructors was praising the campers for being able to deal so well with failure.  She was pointing out that they were all probably used to things coming very easily, being that they were all pretty bright students.  Therefore, failure wasn’t something they were used to facing.  The LEGO Robotics camp by nature (as would be the case with engineering in general) is full of failure due to the trial and error process of building and programming.  I’m really glad she mentioned that to the kids because I think there are too many parents who are afraid to let their kids fail at anything and will bail them out and make excuses for them every step of the way.  And then they never learn that it’s really OK to fail, or at least not be great at everything or get everything right the first time.

It’s OK to struggle with something and make mistakes as long as you don’t give up and you try to learn from those mistakes.  I know I always remembered things that I missed on a test or didn’t do right the first time, especially if it was something that had to be pointed out to me.  There are plenty of things I figured out on my own though too that I remembered better after I realized my mistake and didn’t want to duplicate that mistake.

Kids also need to learn natural consequences, but many parents don’t allow that to happen.  When a child is pulled off the field in a baseball game and has to sit on the bench because the player was warned that would happen if he didn’t pay better attention, that’s a natural consequence.  When that child’s parent then chastises the coach for doing so, that parent becomes part of the problem.  They are teaching their child that there shouldn’t be any consequences for their actions.  It’s usually the same parent who feels the need to comfort their child after the coach talks sternly to the child about making an error during the game, perhaps because they weren’t paying attention.  I actually like when other adults (teachers, coaches, etc.) get on my kids’ cases a little if they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing so that I am not the only person who is ever telling them some of these things.  I figure that way they may actually pay attention when someone else says it, and maybe they won’t think that I am making a bunch of stuff up that is way off base just to make their life difficult.

Kids definitely need encouragement, so I am not suggesting that we focus on the negatives or hope that they fail, but when they do make mistakes or don’t do well at something, they need to be told it’s OK as long as they realize what to do differently the next time and to keep trying to be successful and not give up.  Hopefully, they will see that their hard work and determination paid off and they will be even more proud of their accomplishments.  Failure, along with the determination and encouragement to keep improving until they get it right, is one way our children can learn to be successful.


Favoring One Child Over Others

I grew up with a father who wasn’t all that interested in spending time with my brothers and me after he and my mom got divorced.  We saw him, but it wasn’t on a very regular basis, even though he lived not too far away.  I’m not sure my one brother would remember it the same way though, because he got invited over to my dad’s house more frequently than my other brother and me.  And he got what we thought was special attention at family gatherings, not only from my dad, but also from my grandparents.  He is the oldest grandchild on that side of the family, so I guess that makes sense.  His birthday never got forgotten, but I don’t think my dad knew the correct date of my birthday until several years ago.

Because I grew up feeling like my dad favored one child over the others, I think I am more conscious of trying to treat my kids equally. Having said that, I will also say that it is challenging to do so because they are all different.  And sometimes they get treated differently because they behave differently or make different choices, which is difficult to get them to understand.  They do also need to learn that life is not always completely fair, so I am OK with everything not being completely equal and fair.  Some things are easier than others to be fair about, like consequences and at what age they should be allowed to have a cell phone, an email address, and a Facebook account.  Other things are not so easy.

My kids are pretty quick to point out when they think I have not been completely fair about something, as most kids would be.  They don’t want to feel like they got the short end of the stick in any given situation, whether it concerns where they get to sit in the car, their bedtime, a particular consequence they or one of their siblings earned, and so on. I get that.  No one wants to feel slighted.  But a red flag has gone up a couple times when one of them has pointed out that he or she thinks I love them less or treat them differently in general.  I take that very seriously and do my best to reassure that child how special they are to me and that I love him or her just as much as anyone else.  And it makes me more conscious of how I do treat all of the kids.  I also find myself explaining to whichever child that I may be treating them differently because they are behaving differently or are making different choices, and that’s something that needs to be made clear when that is actually the case.

I definitely don’t want any of my children to feel what I felt growing up, that I was somehow less worthy of a parent’s love and attention.  Significantly favoring one child over another can have some pretty deep and long-lasting consequences relative to the child’s self esteem as well as his or her relationships among siblings and with the parents.  It is something all parents need to keep in mind.  The child who gets favored may grow up to think they can do and have anything, regardless of how they treat people or whether they have earned their privileges.  Siblings can end up resenting each other as well.  We need to treat our children differently enough so they feel special and unique but not different enough that one or more of them thinks they are less worthy than their sibling(s).  Life is quite the balancing act in so many ways, isn’t it?