This morning, as I ran, enjoying the beauty of the crisp, fall morning, and cheerily greeting the elderly neighbors out for their morning walks, I thought about the #MeToo movement that has replaced the show of solidarity with those taking a knee with NFL players (or not), and all of the #prayfor_____ in the wake of recent natural disasters and unnatural violence. I ran by a few landscaping crews and bid them buenos dias as I thought about this latest hashtag/meme, and what it means for me personally, and what I think it says about the current state of our culture. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, click here: #MeToo).
Even before we all learned that it turns out that a famous, powerful man in a superficial industry is a total douchebag, I have spent many runs mulling over, and engaged in deep conversations about, what I really think is a sickness of the soul, a spiritually devoid world. We are seeing the results of this disconnected, imbalanced state: climate change, mass shootings, preventable diseases linked to unhealthy lifestyles, skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression, addiction epidemic…
As a coach, I often get in conversations with people who ask for my advice, that lead me to at some point say something about how we are basically the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. This works in terms of finance, marital/relationship happiness, professional “success,” fitness, etc. One of the reasons for this is that basically, when my peers think it’s OK to do something, I am more likely to tolerate it, become desensitized to it, even adopt it as my own value, goal, norm. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that it took so long for Harvey Weinstein to be called out - from everything I have heard, including stories from people I know who have insider knowledge, the casting couch is a given in Hollywood. It became the norm. In the same way that it is (I hear) the norm to binge drink if you are in sales or on Wall Steet, or you take performance enhancing drugs if you are a pro cyclist, or you are quick to prescribe pills to your patients who complain of deep physical or emotional pain.
The whole inequality and the associated violence, and how it came to be this way, is certainly complex, and it’s not really what I want to write about today. With these big, overwhelming topics, I like to in my mind, begin with the wide lens and then start to focus in, drilling down to the point of examining how this all affects me, and even more importantly, what can I do about it? My most cherished role in life, today, is my role as a mom. So, this becomes, for me, an examination of the question, what can I do so that my kids do not become part of the problem, or to the extent possible, victims of it? What sort of groundwork can I lay, so that my daughter is less likely to be one of the 10% of college students who are sexually assaulted, and my son doesn’t become an insensitive, abusive asshole? (Actually, either of these possibilities could apply to either of my children).
Because I recite the Serenity Prayer at least twice a day, I am often filtering my actions through the lens of what can I accept, and what can I change? So, with that in mind, I am trying to look at the state of the world, and my role as the mother of two children who are still in my realm of influence, and do my best (which sometimes is pretty lousy, but in that moment, it’s my best) to role model certain things, and engage in conversations with them about it. I believe that the fact that I have spent several years practicing some level of mindfulness, and now I have focused almost two years on intentional recovery, I have a pretty good sense of some of the imbalances inherent in our culture and in our daily living as individuals in this western culture. I have often said that our children are the canaries in the coal mine, giving us the first hints of a toxic environment before we are made aware. The fact that kids are increasingly diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety, and all kinds of other dis-eases, to me has always been a sign that there is something deeply off in our culture and it’s not just what’s in the ground or what they are watching. It’s complicated. So right now, where I am drilling down on, is what is most relevant to my own children, who are now teenagers.
We are living in a hookup culture. For some areas or peer groups, it starts in middle school, for some not till high school, but most certainly, it is rampant in college (in the US at least).
“Hookup culture is an occupying force, coercive and omnipresent. For those who love it, it’s all sunshine, but it isn’t for everyone else. Deep in the fog, students often feel dreary, confused, helpless. Many behave in ways they don’t like, hurt other people unwillingly, and consent to sexual activity they don’t desire. Campuses of all kinds are in this fog. No matter the size of the college, how heavy a Greek or athletic presence it boasts, its exclusivity, its religious affiliation, or whether it’s public or private, hookup culture is there.” (Lisa Wade in her book, American Hookup).
I hope that this latest hashtag (#MeToo) doesn’t just become another flavor-of-the-week-movement where women temporarily feel connected to something that feels deep and important, but don’t do anything meaningful with it. Originally, the hashtag was intended to spread awareness about sexual assault and rape, and from what I can tell, many women have adopted it to point out how often they feel objectified and disrespected. I hope that women who have been victimized in ways that are prosecutable (FYI there is no statue of limitations on child molestation, so please go after those monsters!), feel empowered to do so now.
This latest public conversation has incited me to write this blog entry, to share some of the stuff I talk about with my kids.
1. What are your values? Do you want to be kind? Compassionate? Helpful? Take care of and respect your body? Respect others’ bodies? Be generous with your gifts, to do good? Help those less fortunate? Be a leader? Have a career you enjoy and that rewards you financially? You need to figure out your values, and think about them a lot. Because you WILL be in situations where your values will be challenged. You will be offered things. You will feel tempted by things. The people around you will either have different values, or not know what their values are. And it is much easier to engage in behavior that goes against your values, if you don’t have clarity around them. In the heat of the moment, it is much more fun and easy to do the fun and easy thing, than it is to do the right thing. Being solid on your values can help you do the right thing.
2. I believe that an unhealthy relationship with anything that gives us pleasure, allows us to escape and “numb out” - alcohol and other drugs, sex, social media, etc - is really just a symptom of a deeper problem. At the bottom of it, I think, is a deep yearning for connection on a spiritual level. Our soul is dying for something that fills the void, which can never be filled with anything that is man-made, found in a bottle or pill or Apple store. This is why I try so hard to teach you about the importance of connecting with nature, with faith, with people who support you and love you as you are. Dear daughter, and son, this is why I talk about the importance of looking beyond the happy, filtered masks people are wearing and posting, and why I talk about allowing feelings and emotions, and working through them.
3. And yes, I talk with you about the science - how alcohol and other drugs affect your developing brain, often in ways that are irreversible. I also talk with you about the fact that if you start to rely on a buzz to socialize and enjoy social gatherings, especially if you start it now while you’re young, then you will have a really hard time socializing when you are older, unless you’re holding a cocktail or three. You are less likely to develop your personality and grow emotionally, if you start drinking in your teens. Anyway, you know from health class all the health reasons that picking up something I wouldn’t offer you is probably a stupid idea. So let’s go back to #1 - how would making these unhealthy choices feel to you, knowing your values?
4. Today’s hook-up culture may be fun for some people, but a lot of young adults are actually feeling pretty lousy from it. A lot of girls who are behaving in a way that feels sexually permissive, or maybe precocious when it comes to alcohol and other drugs, are hurting deep-down. They may have been abused. Maybe things are really unstable at home. Maybe they are really stressed-out by all of the expectations they feel placed on them, or are placing upon themselves. And you know what? This applies to boys too. Most adults, so certainly most young people, don’t talk about this sort of stuff, so you really don’t know what is going on for them, what motivates their choices. So, my sweet son, I implore you to be careful with the girls you meet. I know how good it feels to be flattered, to have the attention. But please, remember that every girl, and when you are older, every woman, is a child of God, precious, like you. She may not feel her worth, she may be acting or dressing a certain way, but please, just because it feels like everyone else is playing this game, try to come back to your values. Be that trustworthy, caring, compassionate human you have been since you were born. It is in your power to treat someone even better than they treat themselves. It may not be easy, but it is certainly worth it.
5. To my sweet daughter (and, son, pay attention to this!)… sex, using alcohol and other drugs - are not, no matter what our culture wants you to believe, a way to express your power and equality. When I was in England in my early 20s, a bartender at a pub told me that “ladies drink half-pints, not pints” of beer. A statement like that sounds super sexist (it is), but that is not the point. What it really boils down to is self-respect. Guzzling beer and hooking up (the hookup culture relies on alcohol - more about that later) are not feminist acts. You have probably seen photos and videos on social media (I used to see it on MTV Spring Break broadcasts) of drunk party girls. It is not attractive, and it certainly does not scream freedom or emancipation. Consuming a drug (yes, including alcohol) that feels fun, lowers your inhibitions so it makes you feel brave, and eventually makes you feel like crap the next day because of how hard it is taxing your organs, and possibly, led to you placing yourself in situations you would never have done so sober, is not freedom, or power. Likewise, sharing intimacy with someone you don’t know enough to really trust, leads to all sorts of drama and stress. A lot of your peers are engaging and will engage in casual sex, because according to hookup culture, they perceive this as being necessary in order to have a social life and some social standing. It’s as important a social currency as the number of Likes and Follows they get. But if you ask them, and they are brave enough to be honest, they will probably admit to being anxious about it all. And this isn’t even taking into account all the diseases, social media shame, possible pregnancy…
6. This is a dicey one to talk about: personal responsibility. Nobody has a right to hurt you, period. But the reality is that it is up to you, to as much as is within your control, to not put yourself in certain situations. And, while you cannot control someone else’s perception or opinion, I feel that I need to be clear with you about the reality of appearance when it comes to this. The reality is, if a girl dresses a certain way, that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, it will invite attention. If you do not want that kind of attention, then wear something less provocative. If you decide to wear the outfit, or behave in a provocative way, then you need to understand that there will be consequences, and you need to be mature enough to handle them. Does wearing a certain outfit justify someone’s uninvited touching or worse? Certainly not! If you say no (and dear son, I hope you are paying attention to this too!), it is no. The easiest way to deal with this is to not put yourself in this situation in the first place. And again, alcohol plays a big part of this too. Alcohol is the number one date rape drug. When you are drinking, you are likely to make some judgment calls you wouldn’t normally, including putting yourself in a risky situation. (Note: many young and older adults who rely on alcohol are survivors of trauma - so if you notice any of your friends are drinking in a way that your gut tells you is “not right,” there’s a chance they are trauma (eg abuse) survivors - be kind to them).
7. Finally, let's talk about manners. I know, what does that even mean any more? It used to be, people listened to each other. We looked each other in the eye, and if you were a kid and an adult was speaking to you, you looked at them, and you stifled the urge to reply defiantly (unless you were a teen and they were your parent). You did not give up your dignity for the sake of attention/fame, or yell at people you didn't agree with. Between popular music, social media, politicians, the Kardashians and their cohorts - well, there's a heck of a lot of people practicing bad manners. You know how important good manners are to me. You know what good manners are. So, when in doubt, fall back on that. Know your values, and know your manners. Trust me, this will simplify your life big time.
I know things are really confusing right now. Adults are kind of sucking at a bunch of stuff right now. I know you and your peers don’t understand things like, is weed really bad, and if it is, then why are we legalizing it? If it’s not OK to disrespect women, and have casual hook-ups, then why are the most popular songs on the radio, by celebrities we all love to follow, glorifying all of this? Why are adults being so mean to each other on Facebook, when they tell kids to not be bullies, to be compassionate? Why are they telling you not to drink or do other drugs, while they are guzzling craft beers and boxed wines every chance they get, even at school functions? Kids, I am sorry. I am just as confused as you are. Actually, I am not confused. Dismayed is more like it. But here’s the thing. I believe you are our hope. You guys, your generation - you can turn the tide. I know we grown ups often complain about your generation, saying you are all constantly bowed down to the iGod, that you know more about the Kardashians than the Kurds, that you’re all dying from overdoses. I guess there’s some truth to that, but I think you guys can be a lot more awake than my peers are or have been. My friend Tim Walsh likes to point out how you have great wisdom available to you 24 hours in your iGods. That can be powerful! I am often floored by how much you young adults are able to understand, learn, question. You are far from lazy or on autopilot, when something interests you. And you are also, I think, in some ways more awake than my peers. I see signs that more of you are saying that sobriety is cool. More of you are choosing to wait until marriage or at least a committed, respectful, loving relationship, for sex. More of you are deciding to take a gap year rather than get plugged into the college conveyor belt. More of you are exploring “weird” things like yoga, meditation, plant-based eating.
It takes a lot of courage to be different, to behave in a way that feels counter-cultural. It can feel lonely (until you find your tribe of likeminded superheroes). And that’s why it’s so important to go back to #1, above. When we are clear about our values, and act accordingly, we know that we are living in integrity. And trust me, that is the best feeling, at the end of the day.
Finally, I will leave you with this excerpt from Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness:
“In a hardwired way, the initial trauma and devastation of violence unites human beings for a relatively short period of time. If during that initial period of unity we’re allowed to talk openly about our collective grief and fear - if we turn to one another in a vulnerable and loving way, while at the same time seeking justice and accountability - it can be the start to a very long healing process. If, however, what unites us is a combination of shared hatred and stifled fear that’s eventually expressed as blame, we’re in trouble… It will take only a critical mass of people who believe in finding love and connection across difference to change everything. But if we’re not even willing to try, the value of what we’re fighting for will be profoundly diminished.”
For further information, I highly recommend:
American Hookup, The New Culture of Sex on Campus by Lisa Wade
The Mask You Live In (documentary) - I really believe this one should be watched by all parents, teachers, coaches, anyone who interacts with boys. And it should be discussed as a family. We really are doing our boys a disservice if we are not being mindful of the lessons in this film. And I believe that if we can learn from this film and allow it to inform the way we raise our boys, it will have a huge, lasting impact on the amount of violence and other sources of suffering in our world.
Miss Representation (documentary)
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.