Why I want my kids to have “dirty” jobs

Currently, my 18-year-old daughter has the crappiest job in town.

She’s helping clean the filters at our town’s sewage treatment plant. She gets outfitted head to toe to plastic slickers, then helps in the once-every-four-years-task of scraping off the “cake” (it’s not really cake) from filters, runs the filters through a washer, and puts them together again. It’s monotonous but easy work, and it’s a good temp job at $12/hour, which is more than any other job in the valley for unskilled labor. And since she’s interested in processes, it’s giving her some insights as to if she wants to pursue engineering in college.

But it’s far from glamorous. In fact, she rushes home from work and takes a hot shower for 20 minutes. One afternoon she said, “I know I asked for spaghetti, but can we have something else for dinner?” I told her I was planning on ravioli, and she said, “Good, because today I learned what a parasite looks like, because I found one: long and red and wriggling, like spaghetti in sauce, come alive.”

I don’t think we’ll be having spaghetti for a very long time.

You may be thinking, “Why do you let her do this job?!”

Because I want all of my kids to have a dirty job at least once in their lives. Mike Rowe has commented extensively and beautifully on the merits of hard, filthy work, and here are my two cents’ worth: my daughter will, in her future, encounter nasty, vile things: family will get sick all over her, disasters will occur in her house or yard, and she will run headlong into manifestations of “Yuck!” that only she can resolve, because she’s the only capable adult around.

Life is revolting and disgusting, and we can’t run away from it. Being a grown-up means handling the hard stuff. And it helps to have some early practice in it.

I won’t detail the horrors I’ve had to mop up, but I knew I could do them because when I was a newlywed, my husband and I worked at a hospital in an east coast city. Back in the 1980s, this facility struggled to follow protocols, and there was contamination everywhere. (It was later temporarily shut down.) I discovered these messes the hard way when we were contracted to take out the trash while the regular trash guy had an extended vacation.

I never before realized how disgusting surgical trash can be. Nor will I ever forget the sound of wet, bloody bags splatting, and breaking, in labor and delivery. I think I wore a permanent wince for those weeks, and also rushed home to take very hot showers, especially when we encountered incorrectly disposed of “sharps.”

But because I endured that bloody crap (literally) I knew I could handle anything else adult life would throw at me.

That’s why I let my two oldest sons work in the oil fields of North Dakota as roustabouts. They’ve been covered in oil, worked in weather -20 degrees below zero spraying salt water to clean rigs, labored in 90-degree weather climbing into slimy pipes, and lived to tell about it.

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My second son learned on his first day at work as a roustabout to NOT take off the protective gear too early. The work’s not done until it’s COMPLETELY done.

In fact, nothing built in them more confidence, which they needed before joining the military or becoming LDS missionaries.

This is crucial confidence, not some fluffy, fake self-esteem too many teenagers and adults are laden with, but well-earned, struggled for, “Look at the work we’ve accomplished!” worthy kind of pride. They’ve learned at an early age that they can do hard things.

Which means they can do just about anything.

Everyone deserves to have those moments, to feel that sense of accomplishment of having done something necessary for society, something not everyone else would readily step up to do. I have to admit I’m proud of my kids not running home after the first difficult day on the job, whining that they never want to go back, although I’m sure they wanted to. Overwhelmed, I’m sure each wanted to quit their jobs, but they stuck with it, until they rose to the challenge.

Gordon B. Hinckley rightly said, “There is nothing in all the world so satisfying as a task well done. There is no reward so pleasing as that which comes with the mastery of a difficult problem.”

My oldest daughter spent a long, hot summer on the Utah-Arizona border digging up Native American artifacts in 110-degree heat, drinking gallon after gallon of water to keep hydrated as she shoveled for hours in the dirt. Weeks later she still found dust in her gear.

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(In archaeology, the office is outside.)

My second daughter is in her final year for her bachelor’s of science in nursing, and there’s no dirtier work than nursing. She’s been covered head-to-toe in, well, everything, and when she becomes a labor-and-delivery nurse, it’ll only continue.

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(White scrubs don’t stay white.)

We have four more children who I also hope will have demanding and dirty experiences. We’ll be moving to the coast of Maine this summer, and already my husband is looking for lobstering jobs for our 16-year-old son and investigating what “seaweed harvesting” entails. Then there’s the blueberry harvest.

Hard, dirty work also puts all other kinds of work into perspective. Recently my nursing school daughter commented that her current lab analysis job, which is so monotonous that she can watch Netflix while doing it, is wearing on her because of its dullness. But it pays for college and, she was quick to add, “I remember working at scout camp making three meals a day for 300 scouts in a substandard kitchen with faulty equipment all summer. THAT was much worse and paid far less. No, this is a good job and I’ll continue it until I graduate.”

My oldest son, a former roustabout, works every morning cleaning a fast-food restaurant. It’s easy, comfortable indoor work, he says, compared to cleaning oil rigs outside in the winter.

You just can’t buy that can perspective for your children. They have to earn it on their own, and it’ll be theirs forever.

Nor can they learn respect in any other way for those who do these kinds of hard, dirty work ALL THE TIME. My sewer-working daughter loves to hear the stories of the men who work in the treatment plant, and they’ve shown her their clever solutions to problems when the “expert” engineers said their requests weren’t reasonable. They take great pride in their work, and she’s proud of them. My sons are still in awe of the men they worked with in the oil fields, who are still there, year after year, in all kinds of weather.

We’ve been trying to instill respect for work in our kids. Our youth are growing up in the laziest generation ever, with few jobs for kids under sixteen to do, and not a lot of options available for high schoolers, either, depending on where you live. Even lawn mowing jobs have been taken over in many areas by “lawn care professionals” with trucks and trailers and expensive equipment.

It’s up to parents to point out important work happening all around us and teach kids to appreciate labor and how it benefits us.

Recently our furnace died, and two men came to install a new one. My five-year-old watched in rapt fascination as they maneuvered the old furnace up the stairs, brought down the new one, then cut and pounded and made quite a ruckus to get the new one into position. My son whispered reverently to me, after the noisiest work was over, “That was cool!” I told him I agreed, and that he could train to do that kind of noisy work when he grows up, too. He was delighted.

When the power went out this past winter, it was during the coldest days we’ve experienced in decades. After a few chilly hours, the power was restored and I checked online to see what had happened. In local social media circles, there were predictable complaints from disgruntled customers. I told my thirteen-year-old about that, and before I could comment, he said what I was thinking: “But it’s -15 degrees outside and windy! Those guys must have been freezing trying to fix the frozen lines. I bet none of those complainers had any idea how hard the job was, and they just sat at home wearing extra sweaters.”

I’d never been so proud of my son for appreciating the hard work of others in terrible conditions. I’d be even prouder if one day he did that same kind of work.

Nearly every work is worthy work (drug dealing, prostitution, and like excepted). There is no such thing as a too-lowly job. Every time I had a baby, I made a point of thanking the lady taking out my trash because I remembered doing her job.

Everyone who works deserves respect. I had an older relative who was notoriously rude to service workers of all kinds, until her own niece began working fast food. After watching the frenetic hustle of a lunch rush, my relative realized she could never do such laborious work simply because she didn’t have the stamina, and she began to be more civil to every worker she encountered.

One year, just a couple years ago, I worked as a “washing tech,” meaning that I sorted, washed, dried, and folded laundry for a large facility. Both my husband and I were underemployed at the time and were taking whatever work offered to us. As dirty work goes, it was relatively clean.

A couple of friends commented to me that they were shocked that someone with my degrees and experience was “only” doing laundry. I told them that while it was “only” $9/hour, no other jobs had presented themselves, and we had bills to pay and children to feed. It was good work, my arms became stronger, and I learned that I’m really lazy about getting our clothes clean at home. (I still am, but I’m much better at folding now.) I was grateful for the opportunity, and also glad that my kids could see that work is work, that you take what you can get because any kind of work is more ennobling than sitting around doing nothing and waiting for handouts. 

Hinckley also said, “It is work that spells the difference in the life of a man or woman. It is stretching our minds and utilizing the skills of our hands that lifts us from the stagnation of mediocrity.” (“Articles of Belief,” Bonneville International Corporation Management Seminar, Feb. 10, 1991).

My third daughter with the crappiest job may not wholly believe this yet. When she comes home from the sewer treatment plant each day, I remind her (after her shower) that nothing will be too gross after this experience. She shrugs and says, “I hope not.”

But I already know she’ll be pulling memories from this job for decades to come. That she’ll remember how more than once something brown flicked onto her unprotected face, and that she did not die from it. That she learned what real, solid work looks like, and that after this, everything will be a piece of cake.

(Umm, the real kind of cake, not the “sewer cake.” Maybe.)

He lay in his cot, tired but not as exhausted as the other new recruits. There was something to say for having been raised on an orchard and cattle ranch. He knew how to work and it showed. He completed every physical requirement in near record time while the other flabbier, weaker young men stumbled and flailed.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming later this month!

 

Book 6 Cover: Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming in May!

A few tweaks and edits still need to occur, and the back cover needs some adjusting, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer to show you the cover!

Book 6 front cover

Finding a model stand-in for an older Perrin Shin was, I was sure, going to be difficult. I needed a tall man with whitening hair and a presence.  I mentioned my quest to my oldest daughter, and Madison immediately begin sending me links to professors she’s worked with during her undergrad and graduate school years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I felt quite awkward “analyzing” these professors for Perrin-like qualities, as if on some kind of bizarre dating ritual. (I apologized in my head to their wives, and to my own husband, as I carefully scrutinized each candidate who had no idea he was part of this evaluation.)

Among the profiles was Dr. David Crandall. In fact, he was the first recommendation that my daughter blurted out. Madison has been his head TA for some years now, and when I saw his picture, I gasped.

Perrin Shin is an Oxford-trained anthropologist?!

I asked Madison what he’d think about standing in as a model, and she said, “He lives among the Himba in Africa every summer. You’re not going to find a more chill man anywhere. I’m sure he’ll do it!”

So I wrote an email, then rewrote it and rewrote it, a lengthy message trying to explain to him the book series, the character, what I hoped he’d be willing to do (dress up, walk around in trees, wrangle little boys), and I sent it off, holding my breath.

My daughter asked to see my email after the fact, and then she sighed. “Mom, he’ll read only the top line and skim the rest. He’s a busy man!”

But I’d already sent it, had oversold it, and my doom was sealed.

Until he responded a couple days later with, “Sure, why not? When?”

Uh . . . ok! I made costumes, I checked calendars for travel (I don’t exactly live near BYU), and found an afternoon he was available.

On the day of the photo shoot I became anxious and nervous, and during the two-hour drive I kept thinking, I’m asking a grown man–a stranger–to dress up so I can take pictures of him. Who does this sort of thing?! I don’t always do well with real live people. But I couldn’t back out now, as my teenage son frequently reminded me in the car when I’d start to hyperventilate again.

My entourage and I met him at the duck pond on BYU campus, where mature trees grow up a hillside. Dr. Crandall smiled amiably—yep, very Perrin-like—and strolled over to greet Madison, his right-hand woman in managing his dozen freshmen courses and teaching assistants. Intimidated by his height and presence, and that I was about to order him to do my bidding, I handed him the shirt I wanted him to wear. He put it on, looked around cheerfully, and said, “Now, what exactly are we doing again?”

I nearly snorted. Madison was right—he hadn’t read my explanations (there had been follow-up emails where I wrote him short stories, and he responded with a short sentence). I was struck by the notion that he didn’t have time to read my emails, but because he appreciated my daughter’s work, he willingly gave up half an hour to help Madison’s mother with whatever she was up to.

Feeling flustered as I always am when I try to tell people what I do (I’m horrible at marketing myself), I gave him the exceptionally condensed version of the Forest at the Edge series, and explained the set-up for the shots we’d be taking.

He nodded benignly and said, “All right, tell me where to walk.” He was so laid-back, so easy-going, I could have led him into Hades and I think he would have merely looked around and said, “Interesting architecture.”

Instead, I did the next worst thing: I released upon him a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Then I said, “Just try to walk with them, while I go far, far away up this hillside and take pictures. Boys, stay with Dr. Crandall,” knowing full well that wasn’t going to happen.

For the next half hour Dr. Crandall gamely tried to keep up with, drag along, or find the two preschoolers as they wandered off, got distracted, or got excited. [When you read the book, you’ll see how fitting the whole scenario was.]

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“Dr. Crandall, we’re losing one . . .”

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“Now we’ve lost the other one . . .”

In the meantime, my son-in-law Austin Pearce and I took photo after photo, hoping that something might work since we’re not experienced action-shot photographers.

Eventually, we decided we had enough shots. Dr. Crandall took off the shirt I gave him and said, teasingly, “And a star is born! Good luck with your book.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” I said bashfully. “It’s part of a series. Umm, I’ve got a couple of readers. Actually, the series has been downloaded about thirty thousand times, so yeah—you just might become famous!”

See how I’m such a goober with real, live people? This is why I write, so I can hide behind a computer and not face anyone and babble goofily at them. In his field, Dr. Crandall is already famous. (His own book, The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees is cited in this recent article.)

Once I looked at the pictures on my laptop, none were what I was hoping for. Initially I had hoped to capture profiles or sharp, distant images of Dr. Crandall, nothing too close or detailed, because I want readers to picture the characters as they wish, without cover art over-influencing or taking too much away. But none of those shots had worked.

Slightly discouraged, I remembered that none of my book covers have been what I originally wanted, but have turned out in surprising ways. I began to fiddle with half a dozen photos, when this emerged.

Book 6 front cover

And suddenly, it was perfect. Dr. Crandall gripping the two-year-old’s hand while earnestly watching the steep terrain he was leading him up (does he have perfect hair or what?), the curious/cautious expression on the littlest boy’s face, the other boy working to maintain balance—suddenly it was representative of many aspects of Flight of the Wounded Falcon, metaphorical bits I hadn’t anticipated but were manifesting subtly, and I knew I had my cover. The trees, the background, the angles, the motion—I never would have been able to stage that purposely.

I contacted Dr. Crandall’s secretary recently so that I could send him a thank you gift, and found out that he’s already in Africa again, hanging out with the Himba and a bunch of students for the summer. How chill is that? (Did I use that word “chill” properly? Shows how un-chill I am. Is “un-chill” a word?)

So chill, my friends–Book 6 will be coming soon in May (after a few more tweaks, a few more edits, and a proof or two). I can hardly wait to share it with you.

 

Book 6 teaser–What do you find entertaining?

Just as you can learn a lot about a person by what they laugh at, so too can you understand their character by what entertains them.

What one watches, reads, puts up on their walls, and pours into their minds will tell you a lot more about someone than what comes out of their mouth.

book 6 world's entertainment

(I can’t help myself–the first thing I do when I walk into someone’s house is evaluate the art on the walls and glance at the titles on the bookshelf, if there is one.)

The Internet Civility Award (TICA): Who will you award it to?

The other day something astonishing happened on my Facebook page.
Friend #1 posted his feelings about government spending, and Friend #2 chimed in with an opposing viewpoint.
Friend #1 presented more evidence.
Friend #2 countered and began to escalate.
This is the astonishing part: Friend #1 explained his beliefs, then APOLOGIZED if he stepped on Friend #2’s toes.
Even weirder, Friend #2 responded by saying no apology was necessary and that SHE was sorry for getting emotional.

AND THAT WAS IT. CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!
They remained friends, and everyone went merrily on.

I, however, messaged both of them and told them I believed they each earned The Internet Civility Award (TICA). Since there wasn’t one yet, I couldn’t give it. But here it is now. (Yes, I just made this up.)

TICA The Internet Civility Award

Copy and paste this on anyone’s social media page to recognize them for kindness and respect.

I’ve written about civility before, but lately I’ve been watching for it, and it’s out there. For example, the LDS Church (Mormons) recently announced plans to build a temple in Pocatello, ID, and a Muslim family who lives there posted publicly on Facebook that they were happy for their LDS friends.

Muslims and Mormons

CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!

In looking for examples of civility to share with my children, we recently became addicted to “The Great British Baking Show,” not because we’re any good at baking, but because we love watching the contestants. It’s a competition, with each week a Star Baker identified, and someone sent home.

The amazing thing is watching these contestants HELP each other, GIVE each other advice, and when one of them wins, they CHEER their fellow competitor. And when someone gets sent home, they WEEP genuine tears for their loss.

Image result for the great british baking show hugging  Image result for the great british baking show hugging

CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!

I realized the need to point out good behavior to my children during last year’s presidential election. My kids read over my shoulder when I’m on Facebook, looking for movie trailers and videos of screaming goats. My 9-year-old was stunned to see the posts of supposedly “mature” adults she knew, calling candidates names and behaving very uncivilly.

My 4th grader said, “That person’s a GROWN-UP! Why isn’t he acting like one?”

That great question led to a discussion about kindness and respect for all people, if we like them or not. Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone.

She agreed with me that we should unfollow this person, along with a few others, who didn’t demonstrate “grown-up” behavior online.

But I want to reward those who act like mature and civil adults (even if they’re still kids), so I will be awarding TICA  TICA The Internet Civility Awardto those who demonstrate excellent behavior in the face of rudeness, intolerance, and anger, and I’d love for you to join me.

When you see someone approach a conflict with grace and dignity, with kindness and respect, paste this image to them and let the world know that here’s a person who still knows how to behave.

TICA The Internet Civility Award

Maybe if we point out civil behavior more often, more of it might occur.

“That’s the way to respond! With respect like that, you’re already two weeks ahead of everyone else.”

~Book 6, The Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

Book 6 Teaser–Just how many laws are you breaking today?

There are so many laws in the United States—likely many more than 300,000—that no one is sure of just how many. I’m probably breaking a few laws typing in my robe near a window.

When I tried to find out how many laws there were in my state (they add an average 300-400 each year), I couldn’t find a definitive number, but Google popped up warning me that the official state websites wanted to know where I was, and would I allow my personal information to be shared?

I shut down those sites immediately, and likely broke another handful of laws doing so.

In re-reading one of my favorite books, “How to Rule the World,” I’m reminded again how governments become totalitarian by whittling away people’s freedoms, one law at a time. We’re told that they’re to protect us, to keep us “safe,” but since more and more regulation confines and restricts us, and we have to always ask the question, “Why?”

And then ask “Why?” again, and again.

book 6 teaser lots of rules

Book 6 Teaser: Toss that past! (Or, how I finally let go of bad 30-year-old paintings and other junk that holds me back)

There’s one huge advantage to moving cross-country: knowing that everything you own has to fit in one truck, or it gets left behind. The “There’s no going back for that,” mentality has forced me to evaluate what can be released. Web and Facebook pages of minimalist strategies has helped me to see the clutter I no longer want to.

It’s also allowed me to give up things from my past that I should have shed decades ago.

Such as my oil paintings from high school. My father kindly framed them, my mother generously displayed them, but aside from some decent technique here and there, the paintings were unremarkable. So much so that for thirty years—30!—I’ve kept them in a bulky box and carted them from home to home, across the country twice, and finally, last month donated them to a recycling store. Someone else can paint over the canvas.

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While this won first place in a school district competition, it’s an EXACT replica of a very common 1980s poster. What’s the point of replicating a $3 poster?!

I held on to the mediocre art, not even fit for a motel room, because it represented something: my teenage dream to someday be a wildlife artist. I’m “artistic” in that I’ve remodeled homes, made many designs for my Etsy shop, created my book covers, but I never painted that one great work of art.

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The best thing about this cougar was the head, which my art teacher did to get me started. Notice my “happy little trees“? Yes, I was a Bob Ross watcher.

Finally I accepted that I don’t have to fulfill a dream I randomly pulled out of the air when I was 16. I may someday pick up fine art painting again, and if I do, would I really want these old paintings haunting me with bad proportions, inconsistencies, and random highlights and shadows? No!

So I did what I’d wanted to do two decades ago, but didn’t dare: I sent them on their way, grateful for what I learned, and ready to look forward, not backward.

I’ve done this with many objects: clothes I’ve held on to for too many years, books I’ll never read again, dishes and collectibles and Christmas décor and fabric I’ve kept out of obligation. All of it is gloriously gone, at least half a moving truck full.

I keep putting aside those things that hold me back, that remind me of what I used to be, and the old dreams that I no longer care about. Unfinished stitching projects, untouched wood crafts that went out of fashion in the 1990s, old stencils I used for a bathroom two houses and fifteen years ago.

When I let those go, I get to look forward. I get to plan for what I want to become now, where I hope to go in the future.

Gone, too, is a lot of regret, a lot of “Oh, I should have kept pursuing this, although I had no time or resources or desire.” I’m able to think, “It seemed like a worthy pursuit at the time, and it’s had its moment which is now over. I get to pursue something new.”

Solidly in middle age, I’m finding the satisfaction of releasing my younger self. I no longer collect teddy bears or snowmen . . . or anything, really. Once I thought collections were necessary. Now each week I make sure my extra garbage can is brim full of stuff that previously held me back. To the donation store goes tablecloths I never used, to the neighbors go canning jars and vases I won’t fill, and to the dump goes the sofas I can no longer repair.

No more hauling around old expectations and obligations, or feeling guilty about dreams that were never feasible or necessary anyway.

Onward, I get to go freely.

While Peto knew the satisfaction of harping about the past, he also knew that satisfaction was short-lived, soon to be replaced with renewed feelings of anger about a life that couldn’t be changed, words that couldn’t be unsaid, and events that couldn’t be erased. The past was to be occasionally remembered, but not lived in.

There’s too much to do today to dwell on yesterday.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser THE PAST

 

Don’t kill The Beast! I love “Beauty and the Beast” (even though as a conservative Christian I’ve been told to shun it)

I wasn’t going to see the new “Beauty and the Beast,” although I’d been looking forward to it ever since it was announced two years ago, because of that “gay factor.”

But then I decided to go anyway, because I remembered something: People are not always worth listening to.

So here’s this very conservative Christian’s take on it: I LOVED IT!

Oh, it was bigger than life! Visually gorgeous, with additions to the story that made it so much richer than the 1991 cartoon. The music and the characters all had greater depth, the story deeper meaning, and “those scenes”? Can we say, much ado about nothing?

I’d been betrayed.
Deceived.
Thrown into angst over really nothing.
In fact, I found myself quite liking the “gay” character LeFou. He was never as evil or nasty as some reviewers had suggested, and became the voice of reason toward the end, making some excellent choices. His orientation (which he’s not entirely sure about himself) had no bearing upon his improving character. (And yes, I caught all the verbal references, and I thought they were pertinent and hilarious.)

Indeed, I found myself rather ticked off that I’d ever considered boycotting the movie because of the raging on both sides of the issue. The “This is our first gay character and we’re proud!” was merely PR blustering, because once I saw the movie I was left thinking, “Sheesh. THAT’S gay? Gimme a break.” Then there was the “Oh, horrible Disney! It’s all over and the world will end with this movie!” blustering on the other side which now makes me roll my eyes. (And as for the old argument that the movie promotes bestiality? Those worriers don’t know what bestiality is. Belle clearly is attracted to the beast’s humanity, such as his knowledge of literature.)

All of which had me pondering as I drove home from the movie, “Does something have to be perfect—‘perfect’ according to my very particular standards and sensibilities—in order to be ‘good enough’ for me to enjoy?”

No. Nothing needs to be ‘perfect’ because why in the world should I expect the world to meet my peculiar sense of perfect? Or anyone else’s idea of “perfect”?

Another movie example: I finally saw “Moana,” and I’d heard criticisms of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s singing in “You’re Welcome.” Cringing in worry when he started, I soon relaxed, because you know what? He sang great! Better than me, that’s for sure. (And that’s not hard, either. Is there anything dear Dwayne can’t do?*) (Listen for yourself, and I defy you to not have this earworm stuck in your head for the rest of forever.)

Too many critics, too many snarky folks insisting that this wasn’t perfect in the movie, or that could have been better, kept me from watching “Moana” until this past weekend. And you know what? I LOVED IT! I’m getting the music to add to my walking repertoire.

I find myself scratching my head more and more frequently at the immense criticism flying around about every last little thing, and finding that very little of it is actually deserved. I need to stop listening to people, at least the critical ones. And at times it seems nearly everyone is a critic, for the worst of reasons.

It’s as if we’re finding power and authority in dragging someone else down.
As if we think we’re something special because we can nitpick someone else.
As if we can’t accept something unless it’s our perception of perfect.

Here’s the thing: NO ONE and NOTHING is perfect! (Not even “Rogue One,” which some of my Star Wars crazed children believe IS PERFECT, even though I LOVED IT!)

Ask yourself this: why should my definition of perfect be met by others? Why should I expect writers and actors and politicians and music and entertainment and stores and products and every last little thing in the world pander to what I believe is perfect?

How utterly self-centered and childish.

Here’s the other thing, the more important thing: God doesn’t demand that we’re perfect, either. He loves and appreciates us as we are.

Now, He tells us to strive for perfection, which, according to the scriptures, actually means becoming one with God the Father. Jesus himself didn’t declare himself perfect until after he was resurrected and was one with the Father, which tells me that perfection is impossible in life.

However, perfection is the goal, because it has to be. Nothing less, really, will do. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “We strive for perfection, knowing we’ll never get it, but achieve excellence as we do so.”

Ah, EXCELLENCE! THAT’S the mark! Perfection is impossible; for you, for me, for anything we experience.

But excellence? That’s everywhere! I can create lists of truly excellent movies, music, people, books, art, national parks—and I’d probably never find an end to them.

“Beauty and the Beast” was excellent. So was “Moana,” and “Rogue One.” So are thousands and millions of other things.

Enjoy that excellence! See how someone else did something well, and let it inspire you to try to make something excellent in return. There’s no reason—no decent, good, honest reason whatsoever—to demean and denounce and degrade something minor in something that is excellent.

Because isn’t it wonderful that something can be marvelous, but the minor smudges left by the very human people who created it remain, and still it’s excellent?

So instead of harping upon these flaws, these perceived slights to our overly sensitive sensibilities, forgive them. Accept them. Take heart in them, that excellence abounds despite small failures.

Excellence abounds even in us, despite all of our failures. Maybe we need to be more accepting of ourselves to be more appreciative of the wondrous success of others around us. We’re not competing with them; we’re being inspired by them!

That’s why I’m not listening to the critical voices anymore, because think of the most critical people you know, those who are never satisfied, those who can always find even the smallest imperfection and shine a magnifying spotlight on it. Aren’t those also the most miserable people you know? Aren’t the most self-righteous also the least righteous?Image result for monuments to critics quotes

No one likes the critic. There’s nothing noble in criticism. Never has been. I’m beginning to suspect the most critical people are also those who never attempt to do anything themselves, so that they never are subjected to critics like themselves. Perhaps it’s jealousy that drives them to pick at others, or immense insecurity. Or fear of their own failure.

Criticism doesn’t bring joy. It doesn’t bring improvement. It doesn’t fix anything, either.

But appreciating someone’s efforts does. Identifying and acknowledging their successes. Learning from what they’ve learned. Rejoicing in their excellence, and taking from it that nudge to make something more excellent yourself—there, THERE is joy!

This world and people who make stuff in it are fantastic. Once we quit criticizing every potentially offensive item, we’ll discover what an amazing place we live in.

(And if you can’t, I’ll simply quit listening to you.)

Mahrree’s heart sank to her knees as she watched the three darling girls who she loved so much do their best, their eyes darting over to her as they read their lines, anxious for her approval, and likely fearing her criticism.

They had done their best. Who was Mahrree to point out anything else?

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser Critics

(*Totally unrelated to anything here, but an epiphany I had the other day–for those who have read my books, Perrin Shin is about 20% Dwayne Johnson. The other parts of him are Yun-Fat Chow, Colin Firth, Manu Bennett, and my husband, the cute man there in the corner.)Dave smiling

You don’t have to agree with me for us to be friends

I was 19 and terrified to realize that my supervisor for the summer was an openly gay man. It was the late 1980s, and I was from a sheltered community where “such people” were rare. Realizing that me, Molly Mormon, would have to interact with Flamboyant Paul made me think I’d made a mistake in taking that mall job on the east coast.

My suspicions were confirmed when I met my coworkers who immediately jumped in with predictable knocks on my religion when they heard I was from Utah. The fact that I didn’t join in on their drinking party as we unloaded the new freight didn’t help much. I was an easy target. My work environment was initially very uncomfortable, but since it was for only three months, I decided to grit my teeth and bear it.

I frequently noticed Paul watching me, and only much later did I realize that he must have understood what it felt like to be the object of scorn. One afternoon, when the store was quiet and I was dutifully putting away stock while Paul sat at the register with paperwork, he suddenly blurted, “Dogs!”

I looked up, surprised.

“Do you like dogs?” Paul asked.

Confused by the random question, I said, “I grew up with a small, white mutt named Fluffy.”

“Tell me about it.”

“We had him since I was a toddler. When I moved away to college, he’d grown very old and smelly and was going blind. He wandered off shortly after I left. My mom was devastated and my parents searched everywhere, but no one ever saw him again. As if when I left, he knew he should die.”

When I saw how aghast Paul was, I wondered why I’d chosen to relate such a depressing story.

But then Paul burst out with, “That is the SADDEST dog story I’ve ever heard! But I LOVE IT! I love sad dog stories! Ok, I’ve got one—listen to this!” And he went on to relate an even sadder dog story. I have no idea what it was anymore, but I found myself smiling and sniffling at the same time.

I realized Paul had been looking for something to talk about with the quiet, awkward Mormon girl who worked in his store, and finally we connected on dogs.

He told me all about the Great Dane puppy he and his boyfriend were raising, and we spent the whole afternoon talking dogs.

The next day I hesitantly mentioned, “Right now, I have a fish tank.”

Paul clapped his hands and said, “And WE want to get a fish tank! Tell me all about yours!”

For the rest of the summer we chatted every day, and when I left, I hugged Paul with genuine tears in my eyes while Paul sobbed, because we had become friends.

Paul demonstrated that I can still be friends with someone even if I don’t agree with their beliefs or behavior. Our relationship was based on what we had in common, and after three months, that was quite a lot.

About ten years later I was teaching a college writing class where the main project was a 15-page persuasive research paper. I had a very cocky and confident student who I’ll call Doug. I brought articles to class to analyze different points of view, and Doug made it point to quiz me on what leanings I had toward the issues, then launched in to argue against me. While I found him rather boorish, he certainly did liven up the class.

Soon he was meeting with me after class to dig deeper into a certain issue which I suspected was for his paper. He even took notes about my position. Sure enough, when he turned in the project, the little stinker had taken a position the polar opposite of mine. In fact, he argued against me, point-by-point.

When I handed back the papers a few weeks later, cocky Doug appeared worried, for once. He hastily thumbed to the last page, looked at his grade, and gasped.

His peers, who had been reading through his drafts—and warning him, too, about not directly writing against me—leaned over to see his grade. They, too, gasped, and one of them said, because Doug was speechless, “You gave him a 98%? But he argued against you!” (He had a few grammar issues, after all, to warrant losing a few points.)

“I know,” I said, “and marvelously, too. He almost persuaded me to his line of thinking.”

When Doug finally looked up at me, he was grinning. “I thought you’d hate it!”

“I did,” I told him, grinning back. “Because you made such darned good arguments.”

When the semester ended a couple days later, he gave me a quick hug as thanks, and we parted as friends with mutual respect. We didn’t have to agree with each other to appreciate each other.

Over the years I’ve discovered different kinds of people who I appreciate. For example, I’d never become Amish, but I wholly admire the life they live and how they remain mostly untouched by the outside world. I don’t want to convert to Judaism, but I deeply respect their culture, tenacity, and temerity. While I’ll never be a Muslim, I’ve gained greater understanding for them, primarily through chatting with a sweet Muslim family at a university dinner, and discovering how much we had in common.

I have many friends who, while not of my faith, still show support for what we do. On occasion I post pictures and stories about my children who are serving as LDS missionaries, and among those who comment kindly and like the posts are Lutherans, Baptists, and even a “recuperating atheist.” None of them are likely to join my church, but they’re happy to see the experiences of my children, as I am to see the successes of theirs.

We call this kind of appreciation and behavior “civility.” 

And despite what the news and social media would have us believe, it’s still a widely-held virtue, at least among many people I am blessed to associate with.

I have acquaintances who put up with my quirks and ideas without agreeing with them. One friend, who knows I’m trying to go vegetarian, delights in telling me how much meat she consumed that week. It’s friendly teasing, and I barb her back because we know we are safe with each other; we respect each other’s differences.

If I insisted that the only friends I’d have would be those who believed as I do in every last thing, I’d have no friends. I wouldn’t even be married, because there are number of issues on which my husband and I will never agree. Still, we manage around those, as we have for twenty-eight years, roll our eyes at each on occasion, then simply move on to one of many other things wherein we do agree.

No one in my family has precisely the same views on politics, music, literature, food, or education as I do. Yet still I love and appreciate all of them.

Indeed, if we all believed the same about everything, we’d be instantly bored with each other.

We need each other’s differences to challenge us, open us, expand us, and make us take second and third looks at what we thought we knew. We really don’t want homogeneity; we really need variety!

I’ve noticed that people tend to get fixated on rightness and wrongness. It’s been my experience that for a few key issues, usually dealing with life and death and personal agency, there are clear rights and wrongs.

But for the millions of other things we can bicker about, it really doesn’t matter. (I’ve heard people argue vehemently if cookies should be crunchy or chewy, of all stupid things.)*

Many dissimilar approaches can all be “right.” For example, what the “right” dress or music or meal may be for my adult daughters will not be the “right” one for me.

And I think there are times when all of us may be “wrong,” so what does “rightness” matter except to make more enemies in an argument where no winners can exist?

Civility doesn’t worry about who’s right. Civility chooses to exist despite its surroundings.

civility

My gay friend Paul never approached the topic of religion, nor did I approach the nature of his sexuality, except to ask where he found such a gorgeous man who could have been cast as Superman. We avoided the topics we knew might cause a rift, because we wanted to be friends.

Friendships can form even between people who spent an entire semester debating opposites sides, because of mutual respect for the other’s opinions. It’s been nearly 20 years, but I still think fondly of Doug.

I refuse to believe these incidents, or that civility itself, are from a past era, because I still see civility occurring among thoughtful, intelligent people all around me. Civility does not ...mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good. - Mahatma Gandhi

I see acts of kindness despite idiosyncrasies, and patience with others’ peculiarities. I frequently witness joy in differences. And if you want to be my friend even though I’ve got some strange ideas, I’d love to be friends with you, as long as you promise to keep me on my toes.

Let’s make civility fashionable again.

*Chewy.

“When people govern themselves honestly, there’s little need for mediation. ”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Book 6 Teaser–The one thing those in power fear

 

book-6-teaserthose-with-power-threatened

I’ve been trying to find examples where this isn’t the case lately, but . . . nope.

Perhaps the biggest threat to institutions are those folks who actually spend five minutes thinking about the issues. Most people just deliver a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the “jerk”) concerning any issue–racing to protest, to complain, to throw a fit–without actually analyzing why they are.

In my inconsequential opinion, every political side has become extremist and sensational, leaving what (I hope) is the majority of us watching the swirling all around us, waiting for a break in the action so we can make a collective run for it.

It’s those who ponder and think, who don’t jump to conclusions or accept the scandal of the day as doctrine, who will (hopefully) eventually change the world.

Or escape it.