Saturday, December 26, 2015

Everyone Needs to Chillax; The Kids are Alright

Let me tell you about my last night in my own apartment in China.

I was packing up boxes and suitcases, getting ready to move in with some friends for the last two weeks of my time in China. My son had gone to sleep, and it was about 12:30 at night. About that time a friend texted or called me (I'm not sure which) and asked if I wanted to go out for shaokao (Chinese BBQ). It was going to be one of if not the last opportunity for us.

What was I to do? I surely couldn't wake my son up. Yet I didn't want to pass up this opportunity. I did what any reasonable father would do: I made sure my son's door was locked, and I went out for shaokao on the streets 18 floors below my apartment.

Now, before you go calling DHS on me, let me take you through my thought process:

  • I had lived in the house for several years, and never once has there been a fire. That is, there had been at least 1000 days and no fire.
  • In my entire adult life (including several sketchy Chinese dwellings, one with exposed wiring) the only fire I'd ever experienced was a grease fire I myself caused. 
  • My apartment had a safety door that makes an American single deadbolt look like a Chinese finger trap game in comparison. No potential kidnappers or worse were getting through that door.
  • My son's bedroom windows had bars on them, so although we lived on the 18th floor, it was not possible for him to climb up and fall out of the windows.
  • My son had never had any kind of serious problem while sleeping. While sleeping, he had always simply slept.

In all respects, statistically speaking, there was absolutely no harm in leaving him safely locked in his room for one hour while I went just outside to enjoy a meal with a friend.

Could I ever do that in the US? A local friend of mine (a native Arkansan) grew up in France. He said it's common for parents to go out for a nightcap after children have gone to bed. Others have told me similar stories of other countries. In many (possibly most) parts of the world, this kind of life is normal. It's not seen his negligence. Its not seen as uncaring or irresponsible. It's simply life in the knowledge that the occasional accident is probably not going to happen. Not that it won't, mind you, but that the likelihood is statistically insignificant.

It seems that many in the US people would think of me as a terrible or irresponsible parent. If I did the same in the US (and people knew about it), I'd be risking a visit from child welfare authorities. Somehow here in the US however we've lost all sensibility. Somehow honest recognition of risk has turned into outright paranoia. Somehow awareness of potential danger has caused our society to react with overbearing policing to the peril of reasonable parenting.

Everyone just needs to chillax. The kids are alright.

*A previous version of this post somehow de-published itself and reverted to an old draft. This post is a rewritten version, and it is unfortunately not as good as the first, in my opinion. I apologize.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Being Foreign at Home

Sometimes I confuse even myself when it comes to my culture.

Without a doubt I am a product of Midwestern US culture. However, sometimes it seems not so simple as that. Is it the 10 years I spent in China? Is it the fact that I'm married to a Chinese woman and usually speak Chinese at home? Does it have to do with my church and quite a bit of my social life being conducted in Chinese? I'm not sure but I know there are times when I confuse myself with how I refer to my life and those in it.

Sometimes my students ask questions about China, and I'll respond saying something like, "In China we..." Other times I'll be with other Chinese friends and (without thinking) refer to others in Arkansas as "foreigners (外国人)". Occasionally I refer to "people from the US" as if I'm not one of them.

It's not really a conscious choice that I'm making. Rather, it's just what's coming out of my mouth. I assume it reveals something of my thoughts or at least the way I think about myself. I remember one specific instance in which I apologized to Chinese friends for referring to myself as if I were Chinese, and one said, "Its okay. We already don't really consider you a foreigner." So, what am I?

I know enough of psychology and sociology to know that, as individuals, we're always in a state of flux. Our identities and the ways that we perceive ourselves is constantly being rewritten in our own consciousnesses. Nevertheless, I don't think I ever really imagined not knowing or being sure of what culture I was living in or a part of. Yet, that is what it seems to have happened.

So, anyone for baijiu?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Solving" is not the standard.

Recently I've become aware of a frequent retort when discussing how to address a variety of complex issues. It's a retort I've heard in relation to education, climate, racism, gun violence, terrorism, and a variety of other complex, multifaceted issues. The retort comes after someone suggests a new rule, policy, or legislation And what is the retort? It's not going to solve the problem.

When did this become the standard? I suspect it's not. I suspect it's simply a cop out for those who have no solutions themselves but don't want to do anything (or have others make them do something). Or it's a way of getting oneself out of a debate in which they don't have the moral high ground.

Let's be clear:

  • Brown vs. the Board of Education didn't solve racism or inequality in education, but it certainly moved the country in a better direction.
  • The EPA and environmental protection laws haven't solved pollution problems, but they have certainly given the country better living conditions on the whole. (Anyone who disagrees can attempt to find clean air, water, etc. in a Chinese city. Good luck.)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in employment based on race or gender. Has this solved problems of discrimination? No, but surely the situation has improved since 1964.

The list of examples could go on and on.

Whether or not a given policy or legislation "solves" a problem is irrelevant. Most of the important issues in our lives are too complex to ever be solved, let alone with one bill or law or mandate. The question is not and should not be, "Does this solve the problem?" Rather, our question should be, "Does this move us in a better direction?" or "Would the benefits of this outweigh the effects of doing nothing?"

I'm not saying that we should simply try anything. Nor am I saying that all attempts to address problems are successful. There are successful and unsuccessful policies, and there are intelligent and ignorant policies. Of course we need debate and critique. However, let us not succumb to the fallacy that being unable to complete solve a problem means an attempt should not be made.

Adaptation is Amazing, I Guess

I received a phone call earlier this week. It was someone on my son's cardiology team. They informed me that they found an arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.

My reaction: "OK".

Now he's on a beta blocker and will be reevaluated at the end of the month.

It's telling. My family has obviously been through a lot when news of an arrhythmia is received with a shrug, as if someone told me my son has a head cold.

On to the next thing.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What Has Happened to Us?

I've heard the laments from parent after parent (and I've said them myself): "Kids don't get to have the freedom we had when we were kids." It's sad that nowadays we have to watch our kids all the time. Why can't kids just go outside and play like they used to?" "It's sad that children have to be watched over so much."

Here's what's crazy about this:

  • WE are the one's telling our kids that they can or cannot do such and such.
  • WE, the people lamenting the fate of our children, are ourselves creating this fate.
  • WE know what we enjoyed as children, yet we refuse to let our children enjoy those same simple pleasures.

Here are some facts:

  • Only around 100 children are abducted by a non-family members in any given year, according to the most recent study. (1)
  • The vast majority of child abductions are committed by people children know (family and friends). (1)
  • Nearly 60% of all abductions are of teens aged 15-17, not young children. (1)
  • The violent crime rate has fallen nearly every year since 1994. (2)
  • The violent crime rate in 2010 was only 25% of the rate in 1994. (2)
  • The number of violent crimes has decreased about 12% over the past four years. (3)
  • Statistically speaking, people in a town the size of Fayetteville are least likely to experience violent crimes. (4)
Despite these statistics, the majority of Americans continue to believe that crime in the US is getting worse. (2)

How did it come to this?

There are a lot of reasons, a lot of places at which to point fingers, but today I want to point to two: media and the human brain.

The human brain naturally loves novelty (5) and remembers negative events more vividly than positive events (6). That coupled with the repetitive and sensational (novel) nature of the modern, 24/7 news media cycle means that every mass shooting, every abduction, every robbery that piques the interest of reporters and media outlets stands a very high chance of (a) attracting ratings and (b) being retained in viewers' memories. As our brains create narratives, those memories and our impressions of those memories become dominant, coloring our understandings of the world.

In essence, we have let ourselves be tricked by our own minds.  We have let our emotional responses create a narrative that exists in our minds only, a narrative that is unjustified by objective analysis. This is a narrative that persists and embeds itself deeper into our culture's collective parent psyche not because of accurate observation, but because of continued reenforcement in media and by well-meaning friends, families, educators, etc. No one wants a child to be unsafe. But the fact is, our children are growing up in one of the safest countries in the world, at one of the safest times in history, in one of the most educated and socially aware societies that has ever lived.

A very safe society: Perhaps that's exactly why we are so sensitive to risk and danger.

In any case, I wish we could go back. I wish we could put aside our irrational fears and let our children play, run around the neighborhood, explore, and learn. Don't you?