2010-04-23 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Reading, Writing and Ritual
Commentary By Dr. Nancy Gahles

The emphasis on educating our children lies squarely in the assessment of how well they perform on standardized tests. Evaluation of reading and writing skills leads to acknowledgment of those as the gold standard of achievement. Our children learn what they live. When those skills are taught to the exclusion of others, they learn that those are most important in life.

What about the Golden Rule? Treat others the way you would like to be treated. The emphasis on creating a culture of academics has, in fact, created a cultural wasteland of virtue. Name calling, bullying, disrespect, exclusion has become all too prominent a feature in the schoolyard, on the streets, in the home. It’s killing our children. Children believe what their peers tell them. Children want to belong to a group. Children need to feel secure in relationships. Children need validation for their character traits as they develop. Children want someone to look up to. Children need role models. Children need heroes. Children need to believe in something larger than themselves. Children need a safe place to fall. Children need to be heard. Children need to be respected. Children need to be loved.

Rituals provide a way in which the family can create processes by which these needs can be met. The foremost and most obvious ritual is the family meal. It is the basis of all community. The breaking of the bread, the sharing of the meal is the foundation piece of most religious ceremonies. When we gather together with one intention, to be with one another, to share each other’s lives, to eat, laugh, commune with each other, to shoulder each other’s burdens, something magical happens. Love happens. Each person at the table feels valued, special, safe and empowered to go out into the world and express his or her individuality and celebrate that of his/her friends. This is the gold standard of achievement. This is the Golden Rule. Creating loving people to elevate the quality of the world. Rituals are acts that are repeated. Repetition creates a database of experience that causes one to remember easily. Rituals are sacred when they reinforce good, positive values. Rituals that reinforce love and respect become avenues of comfort that are shared and passed down from generation to generation as family traditions. Celebration of the positive aspects of each person is standard operating procedure in our family. When that is the case, no one would think of berating or being condescending to the other person. Why would you want to hurt someone you love? What would be the purpose of that? Would you like to be treated that way?

Should the occasion arise where one of the children would call the other a name, the standard operating procedure was always the same. Think before you speak. Is it kind? Is it truthful? Is it necessary? Will it be helpful to the other person? Will it hurt or harm him/her? If these criteria are not met, one must apologize to the person offended. One must make reparation. Parents make these judgment calls and demonstrate what constitutes appropriate consequences for actions. Let the punishment fit the crime, of course. The ritual here is the same in all religions as well. Forgiveness. Each person is forgiven. When you say that you forgive someone, that is a declaration to that person and it is very important. It is implicit in forgiveness that you do not do that again. This is the best part of the ritual. When you tell someone that you are sorry for the hurt caused and ask the person to forgive you, you are also telling the individual that he/she can feel confident that you will not do that again. It is now incumbent upon you to be vigilant in your words and actions. You must follow through on your promise. Ah! And so goes the path of character building. This is how one becomes kind, compassionate, caring, respectful. This is how one becomes a whole person. A person capable of creating and sustaining relationships. This is how one becomes a success in life.

Reading, writing and ritual. Perhaps it should be reading, righting and ritual. Do the right thing. The right thing to do becomes apparent in each and every situation you face in life as you remember the rituals which instilled that understanding in you. This is the ultimate job of the parent. Hold the bar high. Demand no less than loving and respectful behavior toward one another. Create rituals that reinforce character traits of patience, gentleness, goodness, self control, joy. Spread the wealth! At the end of the day, ask your child, and yourself, “What did you do for someone else today?”

The task of living life is an arduous one at times. When you have the foundation of love and respect, self esteem and confidence, and relationships you can depend upon, one can more easily weather the challenges.

People helping people. This is the gold standard of achievement.

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