Demand the freedom to live a fulfilling life

I missed posting yesterday, and I could use the excuse that I was merely exercising my freedom not to. But the truth is that teaching school (door decorating contests get pretty intense around here) and being in charge of a church dinner (we made the ham, funeral potatoes–best dish in the world–salads, centerpieces and dessert) packed my day and evening.

Am I forced to live a busy life? Good gravy, no.
I choose it.
I love it.

I love teaching, although the month of December is incredibly distracting to students.
I love serving the tiny branch of my church.
I love choosing my life, doing what I think and believe is the best.

Fight to have the freedom to choose your own life, and the bravery to demand that freedom.

pfreedom to choose

Get the prequel The Walls in the Middle of Idumea here!

How a Pepperidge Farms cake revealed that everyone is obedient to something, if they realize it or not

My friend “Sally” has a brother who openly belittles her for being “blindly obedient” to her religion. Privately, Sally struggles to think more charitably of “John” who she thinks is a jerk.

One summer their parents invited Sally’s family and John’s family to share their condo at the beach. They agreed until they found out—too late—that each other’s family would be there. So Sally, her husband, and three kids decided to try to be cordial to Jon, his wife and two kids.

But things started off rocky, because while John and his family arrived at the condo on Saturday, Sally and her husband has responsibilities at their church and didn’t want to miss it. Normally they avoided travel on Sundays, but to keep the family peace, they left after church and arrived at the condo that evening.

It wasn’t good enough. John greeted them with, “You and that stupid church of yours. I swear, you’re so blindly obedient to it that you fear to miss even one day? Check-in to the condo was yesterday, you know. You were supposed to be here then.”

Sally was determined to be kind, even though it was silently eating her gut. She had called the condo earlier and they told her check-in started on Saturday, but they could check in at any time that week.

However, Sally gritted her teeth and said, “Thank you for getting the place for us.” She decided not to further ruin her Sabbath by getting in an argument about her “blind obedience.” Jon had quit religion when he was a teenager, and thought Sally was ridiculous for giving up her Sundays.

The next morning, Sally got up to make her kids their favorite muffins. She dumped the mixes in the bowl and proceeded to whip the contents into a froth.

“Whoa!” John exclaimed as he came in the kitchen. “That’s not how you make muffins!” He snatched the bowl out of her hands, picked up the box with instructions, and said, “Look—it clearly says, ‘Mix gently until just moistened.’ Can’t you follow directions?”

She grabbed the bowl back, trying not to feel like a twelve-year-old again. “I know what the box says, but some months ago one of my kids made muffins, overmixed the batter, and we discovered that we much prefer that texture. Whipping improves the recipe, and this is how we like it!” She purposely whipped the batter even more, just to shock her brother who stormed out of the kitchen mumbling, “She can’t ever get things right . . .”

The muffins turned out exactly how Sally and her family liked them.

That day the weather was rough, so instead of spending it at the beach, the families hit the shops. Sally and John took their kids in different directions. One store on the boardwalk was particularly aggressive in trying to get parents to buy their children an overpriced stuffed animal they “made” themselves, then paying an extra $10 for that animal to wear a t-shirt from the beach. They advertised loudly that the bears were the item to have that year, and the employees went so far as to herd families into the store.

Sally and her husband purposely steered their kids away. They had a budget for the trip, and told each of the kids how much they could spend on them. “That bear, all by itself,” Sally’s husband told their kids, “would take all of your souvenir money. One toy for all of you? But instead of a bear that wears a t-shirt, how about each of you get a t-shirt for school? The shop over there has a deal, and you could each get three shirts and still have money left over for churros.”

The decision was easily made, because churros are the best, and when they went back to the condo at dinner time they had a dozen t-shirts for the whole family. They’d stopped at the grocery store to buy supplies for dinner—grilled cheese sandwiches, carrots with dip, and a favorite cake for dessert.

Sally wasn’t surprised when they entered the condo and found John and his family already there, each of his kids with one of those bears, each with the extra $10 t-shirt.

One of Sally’s kids said to her cousins, “My parents said those were too expensive. We bought us t-shirts instead.”

As the cousins examined each other’s purchases, John smirked at Sally. “Too cheap to buy them stuffed animals?”

“Not at $50 each,” Sally scoffed. “Our kids would stick them on a shelf then never play with them. I thought it was a useless purchase for us.”

John scoffed back. “But it’s what you do at the beach! You buy them expensive souvenirs. That’s what credit cards are for.” Sally and her husband didn’t believe in using credit cards.

John also predictably made fun of their grilled cheese sandwich dinner, (“But it’s our favorite!” Sally defended) and when someone knocked at the door, John announced, “There’s our dinner from the ‘Happy Harbor’.”

John’s kids frowned as his wife paid the delivery boy. “But we hate seafood,” they complained.

“Seafood is what you eat at the beach,” John told them, and set out their elaborate dinner of shellfish on the table on the back porch, so that any passers-by at the condo could see the bags advertising the most expensive restaurant in the area.

Sally quietly made two more grilled cheese sandwiches and slipped them to John’s kids who wolfed them down before their parents announced that their seafood feast was laid out and ready.

Sally’s family sat at the table indoors, not needing to show off their sandwiches, and perfectly satisfied to not have to dig their dinner out of shells like their cousins, whose complaints could be heard from outside.

When it was time for dessert, Sally pulled out of the freezer their favorite: two frozen Pepperidge Farms cakes. John came in from the porch and frowned at the cakes she was removing from the boxes. “You’re not cutting those up frozen, are you?”

“Of course I am,” Sally said. “They taste like ice-cream cake like this.”

He grabbed the box and pointed at the words. “Look, right here. You’re supposed to defrost it in the fridge, first. Man, you can’t get anything right, can you? I’m taking my family out to the Ice Cream Shack for a proper dessert.”

“But that place is pricey!” Sally exclaimed. “One scoop of ice-cream costs more than an entire cake.”

“It’s supposed to be pricey. It’s the beach and it’s supposed to be the best! And don’t cut that cake while it’s frozen!” Enraged, he took his family—and his credit card—out for the evening.

That’s when it hit Sally, and she told me later, “I realized at that moment that John belittled me not for my ‘blind obedience’ but because I wasn’t obedient to what he thought was important. His fury at my cutting a frozen cake was only a hint at a much bigger problem:

He, too, was exceptionally obedient—to what the world expects of him.
His insistence that I follow the directions on the boxes?
Obey the boxes.
His buying those expensive bears because everyone else was?
Obey the crowds.
The ice-cream?
Obey the marketing.

“The trip became easier after that, because I finally understood my brother; he was scared of what people would think of him if it found out his sister wasn’t obedient to the world he worshiped, and he was terrified to not be seen what he thought it demanded he be doing.

“I realized that all of us are obedient—wholly devoted—to something: maybe it’s a team, or a political party, or a religious organization, or a movement, or even ourselves that we set on a pedestal and worship.


That’s not necessarily wrong or bad. But it is if we don’t realize it, or if we didn’t make that choice consciously.

“John didn’t recognize how blindly he followed the trends of the world, and worried that everyone was watching to make sure he did everything he was ‘supposed’ to do at the beach. But I doubt anyone even noticed him and his family’s ‘obedience.’

“Yes, I’m obedient to my church, because I’ve researched and lived by its teachings, and have discovered for myself that it’s the best way for me to live my life. That’s how we’ve done everything, from muffin mixes to how we spend our Sundays.  There’s nothing blind about my obedience. Nothing blind at all. I’ve chosen what I’m obedient to, and it’s brought meaning and peace to my life.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure my brother can say the same thing.”

But Jaytsy knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. ~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

Don’t be afraid of my opinion, because I’m not afraid of yours

I’m fascinated by how many people are terrified to allow someone else an opinion contrary to their own.

If someone says/writes/believes something differently than we do, we’re struck with an almost primal need to purge that difference.
For some reason which I can’t figure out yet, we’re terrified by differences.

The obvious examples are terrorists and racists and any other form of negative “–ist”.
But I’m not talking about the obvious bullies who are acting out of what they believe is “righteous condemnation,” disguising their cowardice.
No, I’m talking about you and me, our neighbors, families, coworkers, students who, when presented with an attitude different than our own, shrink back in worry.

Perhaps we strike out fearful that maybe we’re the ones in the wrong, but we don’t want to change, so we better smack down the opposition. (But that’s only my opinion.)

But here’s a radical notion: What if there’s room for all of us to have our own opinions, and we don’t have to fight every different idea, but simply . . . let them be?

Aristotle said thousands of years ago that the mark of an educated mind is to entertain an idea without accepting it. 

Are we yet evolved enough to follow the Ancient Greek’s advice?
Recent evidence would suggest no.

Think about how many articles you’ve read where an opinion is stated, and commenters rage that the authors are wrong. I’ve frequently published letters to the editor (opinions) and recently published a longer piece expressing my reasons (opinion) why I don’t cry when I send an adult child away on a mission for two years. I was explaining my experiences, yet some commenters said they felt “judged.”

Judged? By MY experience?
What an odd way to think.
(Uh-oh—someone’s going to judge my opinion on that, I just know it . . .)

But here’s the thing: we all express OPINIONS, and we should. These are not statements of fact, not insistences for policies, not movements to obliterate all other opinions.

Opinions are merely interpretations of life based on one’s experience.

And they are all different. And that’s ok. (In my opinion, that is.)

Yet I’ve seen people squirm in discomfort, scowl in surprise, and even rage in fury when someone else’s experience runs counter to theirs, as if their lives have been suddenly invalidated.

But every person feels and interprets differently, and here’s the marvelous truth: the world IS big enough for all of us to have different opinions.
Here are some opinions I’ve heard recently which turned into actual—and unnecessary—arguments:
–Taking trip to Disneyland/Yellowstone/New York City is stupid/dull/overrated and a waste of time and money.
–Home schooling/public schooling/private schooling shows you don’t have any faith in the system/yourself/the world in general.
–Going to college/not going to college is the biggest mistake you’ll ever make.
–Having one/three/ten children is an excellent/irresponsible decision.
–Letting your kids play/not play on the computer/watch TV/not watch TV is a sure way to ruin/help your children.
–Starting a business/working for someone else is the only way to be sure of your future security.

And, fascinatingly, all of these opinions are ACCURATE.

Because these opinions are based upon individual’s circumstances, and if that circumstance is evaluated honestly, then that opinion is correct, even if it runs counter to what someone else believes.
 (But that’s my opinion.) opinion definition

I think vacationing at the beach is dreadfully dull. My in-laws think it’s ultimately relaxing. We’re both correct.

When I taught critical writing, I’d spend weeks trying to explain that various opinions can all be correct, but even by the end of the semester many college students still struggled with that idea.

I had an excellent test of this early in my teaching career. Before Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002, there was controversy among Utahns about the impact of the games. I had a student who absolutely opposed the Olympics, while I thought their coming was the greatest thing ever. The assignment for the semester was to write an extensive research paper supporting an opinion, and guess what this guy chose for his subject?
The Damaging Effects of the Winter Olympics.
I didn’t like his topic, as you might imagine. While I am a conservationist at heart, living in a host city of the Olympics had been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. (Ironically, we were living in Virginia in 2002, and I confess I went to my bedroom during the Opening Ceremonies and wept because I wasn’t there.)

Anyway, Olympics-Hating-Student was smart. Each day he’d ask me my opinion about an aspect of the Olympics—traffic, recontouring of ski slopes, building of ice rinks, etc.—and then he’d take careful notes of what I said. He’d smile gratefully, smugly even, and would leave me stewing as to what he was up to.
It turns out his research paper became a carefully orchestrated opinion argument to prove my opinion wrong in every paragraph.

It was absolutely brilliant.

Oh, I didn’t agree with a word of it, but I gave him the highest grade I ever awarded: a 198/200 (he had a few comma issues). While I didn’t agree with his opinions, I had to agree that his ideas had merit and value, and while there were not ideas I wanted to embrace, I would allow him to embrace his opinions.

When he got back his paper, I watched as he nervously opened to the last page of evaluation. The grin which broke out across his face was priceless.
His peers, who knew I opposed all of his arguments, glanced at his grade and were astonished.
“We thought you’d hate his paper!” one of them exclaimed.
“I disagree with his ideas,” I told them, “but he’s entitled to his opinions, especially when he’s so carefully researched them and presented them. He did an excellent job. Who said I have to agree with his premise and conclusions?”

Sheldon Big Bang Theory  | You watch your mouth, Shelly. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. But Mom, evolution is not opinion, it's a fact. And that, Shelly, that i | image tagged in sheldon big bang theory  | made w/ Imgflip meme makerMay I submit the following: We balk at others’ opinions because we’re afraid they may be right.
We feel the need to fight back because we aren’t entirely secure in our own opinions.

May I also submit this: We don’t have to.

If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading.
If you don’t agree with someone else, agree to disagree and LEAVE IT ALONE.
Stop fighting. Nothing good comes from a fight. Ever.

I believe that God gave us our agency—our ability to choose—to allow us a full range of experiences in this life. When we, for any reason, try to shut down or deny another person of their opinions, we are essentially taking away their agency. That’s a devilish attitude, and one we need to avoid at all costs, or we become devilish—controlling, angry, and overbearing—ourselves.

There’s a time to push against another’s opinion, and that’s when YOUR opinion intends to change MY way of:

  • Living
  • Eating
  • Dressing
  • Worshipping
  • Teaching my children
  • Living according to the dictates of MY conscience

Then I will fight back.

There are many obvious examples of this in the world, but let me give you a more local one: A friend of mine recently took her daughter to a musical camp where kids could be trained by professional musicians. The camp fell on my friend’s daughter’s 12th birthday, and to celebrate my friend splurged and bought a store-made cake. She placed it on the food table where other parents had brought snacks, intent upon letting everyone share in her daughter’s birthday celebration.

Except one mother didn’t agree. Putting herself in charge of the table (no one’s sure if she was asked to, but she set herself there anyway), she announced to the children that sugar would make them hyper, and she wouldn’t allow anyone to have any cake, since she didn’t allow it for her own children.

This woman decided—based on her opinion and rather poor science (sugar does NOT cause hyperactivity in children–read this)—that no one should have the opportunity to choose for themselves if they wanted cake.
One person’s mere opinion overruled everyone else’s choices.
That’s wrong.
(In my opinion, that is.)

In our homes we have the right (for now) to impose standards as to what will be allowed and what won’t. In my house I won’t allow abuse, or vulgarity, or pornography, or music and/or entertainment that promote anything like that. In your house, those rules may be different.

But it is NOT my prerogative to barge into your house and force my standards—be they more relaxed or more stringent—upon your family. However, if you come to my house, I expect you to respect how we do things, as I will respect how you do things in your home.

As long as your opinions don’t threaten to take away my freedoms, I’ll keep my mouth shut, and I’ll even be your friend.
But if that line is crossed, if someone’s opinions try to change the way my family lives, then I will push back.

You can live and think and worship and behave differently than me—I have no problem with that, really. We should afford a level of respect to everyone we love. I don’t agree with every opinion of my husband’s, but I won’t detail those differences here right now because we’ve made it 27 years by agreeing to disagree, and I’m not about to disrupt that cart.

We make these kinds of “opinion accommodations” with many people we love.
So why do we not always do so with strangers? With other nationalities, religions, cultures, genders? Why do we feel the urge—even the sanctimonious right—to blast online the opinions and experiences of people we don’t know simply because we can?

Here’s a radical thought (and this is just my opinion): if you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it and move on.  

Don’t attack, don’t claim to be judged, don’t cry foul, don’t do anything. Just step away and do something constructive and useful instead.

I tend to clean the kitchen now instead of lashing out with unexplained venom, crying, “What an idiot! Who does he think he is, writing that?!”
“He” probably thinks he’s a person—just like yourself—who feels the desire to share his opinion to help others of like minds realize their experiences are valid. He’s not forcing his way of life upon you, so calm down already and go scrub something!

But then again, that’s only MY opinion, and I’m frankly, I’m entitled to it, as you are entitled to your own.

“What’s wrong with having opinions?” Mahrree said, her voice rising to the pitch of a trapped cat. “What’s more frightening are people with no opinions at all. ‘Oh, that sounds nice, let’s do it! It just feels good!’ What’s wrong with thinking?” 
~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea