Our dinner table topics tend to be obscure and in-depth because my kids delve deeply into their own interests. Detailed conversations about plant classification, advanced computer cooling methods, arachnid behavior and diesel fine-tuning require little from me except that I keep my eyes open.
But elections are coming up and we also tend to talk a lot about politics. These are conversations I can get into. These are also conversations where I need to temper myself. I know it’s important to stay open to everyone’s perspective around the table so I can hear what they have to say. This is difficult when I have strong opinions built on years of activism.
It’s easy to utter pat answers and give what may seem like trite explanations. It’s more valuable to build bridges of understanding than to be “right.” So I try, often unsuccessfully, to keep myself from snorting in derision about moneyed interests and short-sighted politicians. I want my family to continue to care deeply about things.
I also have to temper myself because politics are one of the few areas where my natural optimism wears thin. Still, it’s terrifically important to me that my family remain optimistic. According to The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and BuildLifelong Resilience by Martin E.P. Seligman, there are major differences between pessimists and optimists. People who are cynical believe negative conditions will last a long time. They give up easily and tend to blame themselves when things go wrong. In contrast, optimistic people look at negative conditions as a challenge and look for ways to prevent the next misfortune. In fact optimists find life more fulfilling and rewarding. That’s an outlook worth cultivating.
Seligman recently spoke about infusing meaning and optimism into education. In one study, high school students not only read the classics but focused on the strengths of main characters. They also turned good intentions into actions benefiting others. The result? Greater love of learning and increased social skills.
Looking for what’s valuable, what works, what brings joy is something we can do in all aspects of our lives.
Every day our children observe the direct kindness we demonstrate. They also witness the generosity of spirit we express as we talk about others, discuss issues and yes, listen. Our words and actions show them how to approach to the world.
For the Children
The rising hills, the slopes,
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers
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