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Thursday
Jan122012

Peace, cowboys and a good stick...

"When you pick up one end of a stick you pick up the other"  I can still hear my dad's voice relaying these words of wisdom to me whenever I was facing the inevitable consequences of my choices.  My dad's education went no further than the sixth grade, he was from a small town in Eastern Wyoming, grew up in a home that started with a dirt floor, he was a veteran of the Korean War, an oil rig worker, long haul truck driver, dump truck driver, land developer, and small business owner.  He was self taught - reading the newspaper front page to last everyday.  If he wasn't sure of a word he'd holler out "Mom...what does this spell?"  or "... what does this mean?"  He'd get the explanation from my mother and then just keep reading.  His language was laced with expletives throughout, not so much in an offensive way but more as a matter of fact.  What my father may have lacked in formal education and worldly polish, he made up for in life experience and common sense.  He was a man of integrity, and as such, whether or not you liked him, you always knew where you stood with him.  The idea that the reward of labor was life itself both my mother and father understood well.  They worked hard everyday and as a result they were able to enjoy life.  Work was an integral piece of who they were - not just simply a means to an end.  If life was to be worthwhile you had to work at it...and if that was the case - you might as well enjoy the working too.

 

So back to the stick..."when you pick up one end of a stick you pick up the other."  I spoke to a group of kids this past week about that very topic.  In fact I went out in search of the stick you see above just to get my point across.  Choices.  Consequences.  Both are inevitable in life each day.  What I found most interesting as I discussed this concept with those kids was that even though they had a clear understanding of the meaning of the word"consequences", it was only understood by most of them as something negative and in their mind resulted only from bad choices.  The idea that consequences could also be positive and result from good choices was foreign to them...  Really?  I couldn't believe it.  

I pondered this a great deal over the next several days.  I have heard many times over the years from those around me and the media that the young people of today simply don't want to face the consequences of their actions, that they want to side step personal responsibility.   In fact, today as a talk radio host discussed the current snow storm Seattle is entrenched in, he reflected upon his own childhood and how he and a friend would go neighbor to neighbor offering to shovel out their driveways for a small monetary reward.  When they had finished going through their neighborhood they would take their money and go rent a video and order a pizza to eat - immediately consuming their hard earned reward.  Nice memory...  It was immediately followed with the comment "You wont see kids today offering to shovel your driveway.  No.  The movie is available "on demand" and their parents have already bought them the pizza."  

If you are not responsible for any of the positive things that happen to you in life - why should you be responsible for any of the negative things? And who wouldn't want to avoid consequences if they were always negative? What if our young people  began to understand again as the generations before us (my parents were born in 1926 and 1932) that the "Reward of labor is life"?  That good choices carry with them good consequences?  And here's a thought - what if that transformation simply required a keen eye for the right sticks?  Could it be as simple as pointing out the shovel in the garage?  

I recall going to pick up my son (now 24) from a sleep over when he was about 14.  There was an elderly neighbor out mowing her lawn a couple houses down from where all the boys were.  She was struggling with the electric mower she was using.  On an impulse I stopped my car and told her to wait just a minute I would be back with some boys to help.  Yep, I did it.  I rousted my son and his cousins and their friends and they all walked down the street for some yard work - free of charge.  I showed them a stick they needed to pick up.  They were sure I had lost my mind.  Yet, I know when they were done the "consequences" of their labor couldn't have been duplicated any other way.  

When one of my daughters was about 7 years old she asked me "Mom, do you have to be happy?"  The question caught me off guard.  I hadn't been asked that ever before and she was asking with more than just a passing curiosity.  I could tell she already understood at a very young age that being happy required some effort.  I told her no - that it is a choice, one she would have to make again and again.  I didn't know at the time if I had made the right decision, sharing that truth with one so young.  Shouldn't she just be happy?

 Perhaps what I should have told her was that happiness is a consequence.  Success is a consequence.  Peace is a consequence too.  They are the other end of sticks we have the option of picking up, or leaving lay, each day.   Far too often we walk right by the very sticks that would bring us exactly what we are looking for.  If only we considered the other end of the sticks that lay along our path each day.  And even though a single stick can be broken and discarded - many accumulated over time and bound together have great strength.  

So there you have it.  My personal challenge for the new year. Examining the sticks I pick up. 

By the way... two young men were going door to door with snow shovels in my neighborhood this week.

Choices.  Consequences.  

I pulled out all these old photos of my dad.  I'm going to share them with my kids this week.  Some cowboy wisdom too.  Most of them really only know the baby in this picture...me.

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