Thursday, February 19, 2009

Finding Inspiration in Our Youth- The "Lost Generation"

Last week, I wrote about the impact of the economy on our children and explored if there is an "upside" to the down turning economy for families. (read here). I received huge responses on Facebook links far and wide, as parents explored their feelings about the inherent value of cutting back on accustomed luxuries, and how our youth can surprise us with their vision and resiliency.

When it comes to handing the keys of our future to the next seven generations; are we pessimists or optimists? Are our teens and young adults going to be known as the "Lost Generation" or the next "Great generation?" Are we giving them the tools to dream, imagine, create and strive or simply buying their silence and complicity?

One thing I do know- give a kid the tools to shine, and sit back. A youthful passion for change is afoot in America. A new band of revolutionaries; stirring up a Boston Tea Party to buck 'King George' out, and create a new leadership of founding fathers. We may question their "Twittering" ways and "texting" mania, but they are a plugged in generation: completely networked for rapid fire change. If we give them the keys to drive a car that works, we are out of the ditch for sure.

I have two poignant examples to share with you about the incredible power of what our youth can do. First, check out this very short YouTube video made by Jonathan Reed, a film student at Columbia College called "The Lost Generation." It was entered in an AARP video contest called "U at 50," and won second place. Notice your emotional reaction and how it changes from the beginning to the end.

We can have it either way. Which is it going to be? Pessimism drains energy, optimism infuses energy. Our youth don't want to be burdened with the negative labels we put on them, it is our job to teach them how to fish, for our future's sake. Once we are brave enough to clear away the clutter of too much stuff, show them alternatives, and empower them to take a stand for what they believe in, we can rebuild America into something we are all proud of once again.

While there are plenty of youth addicted to TV and videos, with nary a desire to leave the couch save for grabbing some Doritos, there are plenty of others out there scorching a new trail to follow, if we dare.

My second gold nugget is Cassie Zito: a 17 year old youth from the rough neighborhoods in Hartford, Connecticut. She is anything but a "typical" teenager. Cassie and her family run a juice bar, organic eco-friendly store called The Green Vibration, and are about to open a "Sustainable Academy for Kids" with a summer youth activist program. They have passion enough for ten families. All around Cassie are peers who are in gangs, with daily doses of violence, yet she has transformed herself into a veritable force.

Cassie considers herself an activist, and has been working for years on sophisticated causes such as teaching youth about the dangers corporate consumerism, reducing the carbon footprint, and conserving resources. She leads a teen poetry slam monthly, and delivers a power point lecture for school assembly programs around the state called, "Living the Green Dream." She was selected to travel to Florida last year and participate in the Jane Goodall Institute's "Roots & Shoots" teen leadership program.

Dr. Goodall writes about her program and her passion for empowering our youth:
"Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very light, but to get to the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine the brick walls are the problems we have inflicted on the planet. Hundreds and thousands of roots and shoots, hundreds and thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. You can change the world."

Currently, Cassie plans to travel to San Francisco for a paid summer internship with Corporate Accountability International to help with an initiative called "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign, to challenge the marketing muscle of the bottled water corporations. She chides that most of the water in bottles comes from the tap anyway. I asked her what she would say to other adults and youth her age who don't know how to begin making the world a better place.

"Think outside the box,"
she said simply.

"Start seeing a bigger picture and stop being a drone through life. Think for yourself and not what everyone else is thinking about you. It's not about what you have or what you need, but what is necessary."

Pretty impressive. There is hope.

Tell us your stories of youth who have inspired you, and are "thinking outside the box". I'd love to hear and will try to feature some of them in an upcoming article. And, as always, I'd love your comments and always try to respond when possible.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Mommy, Are We Poor?"

I have to say, this recession thing is taking me back to my youth. Growing up in the 70's, the era of inflation, oil embargo's and doing without was central to my foundation. We grew up in a middle class family, struggling to make ends meet. With both parents working, my brother and I grew up as latch key kids who could run a house ourselves by age 10.

Somehow, we did fine. I wanted Farrah Fawcett hair and instead had bad dime store perms that looked like light socket frizz. I wanted new clothes and put up with hand-me-down jeans, with 4 inches of red bandana sewn on the bottom hem, to cover my lanky frame. I learned that life went on if I didn't have the latest craze. Fast forward to today: I am a mother of 4 children who are have more "stuff" than I ever dreamed of, and can barely pour a bowl of cereal. I know I am getting old because I feel like I'm on the crotchety side of the generations -- pointing a finger at the lazy youth and condemning them for their wayward habits.

It's been a long while since we have had such an economic crisis, and many kids today have no frame of reference in having to pinch the penny -- and they often aren't needed to help the household survive. They really aren't "needed" at all. How does being indulged in sheer entertainment for your entire childhood affect your drive, empathy and engagement? Maybe there's a gift here. I think the recession is going to shake up this generation of children who have been at the center of the universe for far too long.

In my middle class neighborhood no one shovels driveways, no one delivers newspapers and no one bikes to a part time job after school. Finding a high school babysitter is like striking gold; teenagers today don't want to work -- and they don't have to. Their parents buy them all the Uggs and iPods and Razor's they need, and they are too busy on Facebook to bother with an afternoon job -- unless you want to pay them $10 per hour cash -- and they aren't busy.

The mess of the economy has left millions of us in various degrees of dire straits as jobs disappear, savings goes down the toilet, business is dead in the water and no end in sight. The gnawing fear is palpable, and at times overwhelming. Many parents feel guilty they can't provide their kids with all the indulgences as the questions start pouring in:

"Mommy are we poor? Are we going to have to stand in line for bread?"
Their only concept of doing without harkens back to an old Jimmy Stewart movie.

While I am seriously worried about our future generation inheriting a debt beyond imagination, I'm glad my kids are getting a dose of reality with this forced curb on our consumer-driven youth culture. We knew deep inside that giving our kids the Wii, Guitar Hero and whatever else they wanted was wrong; but did we see it was also denying them of the value of wanting? The opportunity to participate in the family economy?

According to consumer expert, Juliet Shor, author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture our kids have become consumer drones who watch 40,000 commercials per year and have often become the dominant voice in family purchases -- including what type of car to buy. Many kids are over-scheduled, over-stressed, obese and depressed. Maybe having less cash to spend is just the diet they need.

The upside of an economic downturn is more time together as a family. In making lemonade out of lemons; a positive slant can look like fewer extra curricular activities, and more dinners at home, fewer 'toy of the week' purchases and more classic games of gin rummy, Clue and Scrabble. Our social connections with one another matter more to kids than 'stuff' anyway. UC Berkeley is home of the "Greater Good Science Center" with a department called; "Half Full: Social Science for Raising Happy Kids," containing current research and ideas on happiness, altruism and compassion for kids and families.

While our young children can shift more easily, the way to captivate our teenage culture is through social service. Teens are very aware of President Obama. Eighteen year-old voters showed up in record numbers to cast their vote and be counted, and almost every school in the nation, at every grade level, broadcast the inauguration in the classrooms. We have a great opportunity to engage our youth. To show them the value of money, the struggles our country is facing and instead of bemoaning what they "can't have," inspire them to what they"can do" to help bring our country turn around.

Shoveling the driveway for the 80 year old neighbor, helping plant a garden in the backyard for summer food, taking old toys to a shelter, leading the family's efforts to reduce carbon footprints, or helping a friend who is down and out -- can transform our children, increase their innate gratitude and help them to flourish. Maybe asking for their help will elevate them to become the next "Great Generation."

The recession is impossible to escape these days, and many families are hugely impacted. How are your children reacting? Could there be a silver lining for those kids who have never known an era of doing more with less? Do you have stories of kids rising to the occasion and making positive changes? I'd love to hear your comments.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Citizen Confidence- Are American's Having "Honeymoon Blues?"

In last week's post, I spoke a bit about the new umbrella called Positive Psychology and how it is drawing top level scientists and researchers to contribute a new frontier of how to focus on our wellness or happiness, instead of our illness --

One idea I'd like to explore further is how to track America's 'Well-Being' at any given time. We have methods to track how much we spend and how many jobs we have lost, but how does it affect us all emotionally? What is the status of our "Citizen Confidence?"

I admire the forward thinking of the Huff Po with the dedication of the Living section to the Inner Life, the Giving Life and the Balanced Life. How is our Inner Life, our enthusiasm and confidence affected with the frustrating and disheartening "Business as usual" on Capitol Hill?

More American's than ever are daily tuning into politics, after such a historic election turn out. We were inspired like never before. Yet, this string of stumbles in confirming Obama's cabinet with tax evasion issues, the impeachment of the Illinois Governor and a zero republican vote of support for the bailout bill is absolutely having an impact on our Well Being, thank you very much. This is not part of our happy ending story.

The presidential inauguration reminded me of a really fine wedding. The American people and the Obama family have had a love affair for a year during the campaign, got engaged with a big diamond and celebration at the election, and finally walked down the aisle in the biggest wedding our nation has ever seen. Everyone came to the celebration. I am talking all the relatives in this big blended family were there, and it was a blast. Moving into the White House has never been so exciting.

We all ran out under a flurry of white rice and dashed off in a shiny new car to celebrate our honeymoon together. As citizens, we're committed to get active in this marriage and do our part to wash a few toilets, clean a few dishes and remember to put the top back on the toothpaste, as all newly weds do. We're ready to confront the crumbling economy, tackle health care, go green and rebuild our standing around the globe.

I also imagine the selection of the new Cabinet members to be something like inheriting "in-laws" for the next few years, to share our dining room table. Naturally we are all on our best behavior and ready to welcome in the crowd. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to get in without too much ado, and she lit the place on fire with her strong team building skills and has the State Dept. jumping for joy. She took the first seat and we were ready for more.

Now, we had a seat ready for Bill Richardson. Ooops. Nope. Can't put him in for Commerce Secretary. Too bad, he was perfect. How about this seat here for our Treasury Secretary? Well, Senator Geithner almost lost his seat with that "little tax problem". I guess we can forgive him, because we really do need him with the economy in shambles and all.

How about that seat for Health and Human Services Secretary? Uh oh. Senator Daschle had to leave the table entirely yesterday with his tax embarassment. Not that health care matters much I suppose. And also yesterday, another fine potential "in-law", Nancy Killefer, had to withdraw her candidacy to be the first chief performance officer, due to botched payroll taxes on her household help. That's three who had to leave the table and three that have had major tax issues. Some performance.

Please, can't the honeymoon last a little longer? I'm not ready for it to end. It took a lot after Bush for us to get our hopes up and get hitched in the first place. I am not sure this newlywed bliss is ready for the partisan beating, delays and the frustrations. We had our swoon, and now are we crashing?

The high after the inauguration to the recent string of either blatant dishonesty, or over scrutinized confirmations, disheartens us at a deep inner level that affects our confidence, our willingness to stay involved, and quite frankly leaves our collective hope on fragile ground. How does our emotional response stay buoyed? Clearly no one can get through a Senate approval unscathed. What average American could? But we want a team. Now. We want our dining room table filled with people we can believe in -- just like that guy we put at the head of the table.

What is the modern lifespan of societal hope? Jobs are tanking and the fear in our bellies is gnawing deeper and deeper every day. How long will American's continue to believe that "Yes we can" if at every turn Washington wags it's finger and says, "Oh, no you can't?" How does this dysfunctional family environment affect about ability to stay motivated and move forward?

Maybe the only way for our Citizen Confidence and societal well-being to remain intact is to set up another table. Keep the fancy dining room for traditional formal meals like Thanksgiving with all the hoopla to get there; but maybe we need a kitchen table nook with trusted uncles like Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and our buddy Warren Buffet to get down with a beer and a napkin style plan to get things done.

After all, everyone knows all the action in any house happens in the kitchen.

How is your Inner Life and Citizen Confidence doing right now? Are you in honeymoon bliss or blues? What do you think of our dining table of Cabinet members? How can we keep our active participation alive in the face of current pitfalls? I'd love to hear your comments.