31 July 2016

Being the Second Choice - Alma 50:37-38

On occasion, a work supervisor will tell me that I was not the first pick for a job. That bothers me a little. I know that I can be a controversial decision, given things like the Psychic Proximity Principle, the Trump/Clinton ticket, and other bizarre pronouncements, but I would hope that in a few realms, I can be the first person considered. I am always grateful for my employment, no matter how it comes to pass, but it can be tough to think that you essentially were something like a back-up plan or a fall-back position and someone else was originally more preferred. Apparently, there is always a little more room for some more humility!

I am heartened by the fact that a great man in the Book of Mormon was the stated second choice in a matter of great importance concerning the record of the people of God. Alma the Younger, the only man to be both the leader of God's church in America and the political chief judge of the Nephite nation for a time, was deciding who was to be the next custodian for the sacred records to which he had been entrusted, essentially who would be the next writer in the Book of Mormon.

There are only two direct references in the Book of Mormon to Alma's first choice for the next record-keeper: a man called Nephihah. Earlier, this man was Alma's appointed successor as chief judge when he wanted to focus more on religious matters. The other reference is at Nephihah's death that is mentioned in Alma 50:37, which gives just a touch of background to this man's life:
And it came to pass that in the same year that the people of Nephi had peace restored unto them, that Nephihah, the second chief judge, died, having filled the judgment-seat with perfect uprightness before God.
This sounds like a good man "with perfect uprightness before God." The people thought enough of him to name a new city after him. Alma obviously liked him, because in the next verse, it is revealed that Nephihah was Alma's first pick for the job of the keeper of the sacred records:
Nevertheless, he had refused Alma to take possession of those records and those things which were esteemed by Alma and his fathers to be most sacred; therefore Alma had conferred them upon his son, Helaman.
So, Nephihah had "refused" the job and it was given to Alma's son Helaman, the second choice.

Now, Helaman was no slouch - eventually leading the legendary 2,060 stripling warriors that also looked to him as a father and became an important prophet and church leader in his own right. However, in the most sacred responsibility of keeping and adding to the record of the Nephites, he was the first runner-up that got the job because the original "winner" refused it.

Sometimes, we get the joy of being the "next choice", but neither I nor you should let this sort of fact get us down. Most of the important things in life are not a competition and we hopefully choose to do the best we can with opportunities (even second-hand ones) that come our way - just like Helaman did.

19 July 2016

Don't Give Up on a Trump/Clinton Ticket

I've gotten some flak for proposing a Trump/Clinton presidential ticket in the past.  It was just an impression that I got a la the Psychic Proximity Principle that seemed compelling at the time. Now that the Donald has declared an absolute nobody as his running mate and is heaving his way through the Republican Convention, everyone is ready to say that what I said in the past was wrong.  I respectfully disagree.

Donald Trump was the star of a reality TV show I never watched (my TV blew up in 1997). He fired someone every episode or so I am told. Life imitates art and I think the pick of Pence at this juncture is a tactic to get the Trump juggernaut through the Convention.  I predict that Trump will "fire" Pence as soon as negotiations with Hillary are concluded and the opportunity to maximize the impact of a Trump/Clinton announcement are engineered.  It is bold thing to do - bringing opposing party candidates together - but that makes for very popular reality TV (which is what our political leaders long to emulate).  Trump is up for the challenge of bucking the system (call it "trumping" the system) and Hillary continues to be willing to bide a bit more time to guarantee her ascension as the first woman president (through a stint as congresswoman, secretary of state, and now vice-president).

Honestly, Hillary can't really compete against the flash of Trump - she is stodgy and steady.  Her accusations of Trump as crazy don't enthuse her voters to turn out - they will trust that a crazy person can't become President. Trump will win because Hillary can't get her people charged up enough to get off their duffs and vote.

I still think my inspiration will prove correct and you will see a Trump/Clinton ticket in the White house come January.

11 July 2016

Encouraging the Development of the Different and Explaining Xenos

 The prevailing cultures in which we live have been sold the idea that there is a "perfect" person.  This idea pervades every aspect of our lives and is defined by corporations, government, media, and ourselves.  These things set the boundary (that black one in the picture) where people are expected to live within.  You, with the help of all the institutions we create to service or rule us, are expected to fill in the defined space (the rose colored stuff) and be a competent, useful person, as society defines this.  Are you not smart enough?  You need more school.  Are you not rich enough?  You need to get a better job.  Can you not hear music in your ears everywhere you go?  You need an mp3 player!  These are a few of the numerous expectations that society has for you and to be a good member of society you are expected to meet them all as an adult.

Society's expectations of what a person should be can be compared with a cookie cutter (the black line).  People are expected to fill that cookie cutter completely, which is what a lot of people call being "well-rounded".  The ideal goal in our society is to be well rounded, which is to have some ability or interest in all acceptable and anticipated areas and no serious deficits anywhere.  Our society assumes that nearly everyone has (or should have) sufficient dough (or ability) to fill in the established cookie cutter expectations.

There are some people who don't seem to have enough ability to meet society's expectations.  This is like having too little dough available to fill up the cookie cutter form. Society has a label for that problem:  disability.

As a disabled person, you are deficient somewhere and that is a problem for everyone.  Other people feel badly about the fact that your cookie cutter is not filled in everywhere and they want to “help”.  Society has decided to form entire industries for the purpose of trying to make disabled people more "perfect".

Our society has decided that there is one way to fix disabled people: remediation.  If you cannot fill in the cookie cutter society has designed, outside help is required in the form of medicine, psychology, therapy, and other interventions.  The goal is still to make a person well-rounded, but if that cannot be accomplished, the most important thing is to make the person “look” more round to outside observers.  If a disabled person is good at something, it is often ignored in favor of working very hard to address the things a person is not good at.  Essentially, remediation is an attempt to steal dough from “unwanted” places to fill in blank spots within cookie-cutter expectations.

There is an interesting sort of person that we will call Xenos.  It is an ancient Greek term for a stranger or alien (to one's village). These people are obviously very different from "perfect" people, much like the disabled are different.  For the most part, a Xenos person would have the same amount of ability as the "perfect" person, it is just distributed differently.  A Xenos is someone who focuses on one facet of life, often has greater than normal ability and interest in it, and typically has shortcomings in other areas of life.  This person is often called "obsessive".  For the Xenos, this obsessive nature is inherited and cannot really be eliminated, though it can be hidden by "behavioral training" or “healing” obvious and socially-disquieting quirks out of a person.

Fortunately for everyone, these Xenos people can often learn to steer their obsessive abilities toward interests that make the world a better place.  It was Xenos-type people who created industrialization, telephones, the light bulb, radio, television, nuclear energy, computers, and ultimately iPods and iPhones, as examples.  No one can doubt that people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates are pretty obsessive and odd and were able to do things that normal people cannot do or would have never thought of doing.  Thankfully, many people were willing to ignore Einstein's unkempt hair and interesting mannerisms and focus instead on his theory of relativity!

Unfortunately for the Xenos, society doesn't like obsessiveness particularly.  It gets in the way of making people well-rounded.  Society's institutions (think about schools as an example) are designed to produce and service people whose ability and interests fit into the established societal cookie cutter.  A Xenos person will have serious problems and cause serious problems when faced with a world (such as ours) that is heavily and inflexibly oriented toward institutional well-roundedness.

You can see in the picture above that there is some dough outside the black line.  This is the indication of someone obsessively pursuing an interest or ability beyond what is considered normal and acceptable.  To make up for things required to follow an obsession, material is missing from other facets of life.  Often, the Xenos person is poor at mundane everyday tasks like hygiene and may lack common sense or common manners.  In a typical Xenos, the basic dough (or level of interest or ability) is roughly the same as (or greater than that) in a "perfect" person; it is just distributed differently, some of it outside of the cookie cutter definition of what is normal and acceptable.

Our society grows more and more myopic and can only see value in what is considers to be normal and (frankly) profitable. If you were to cover over the dough that is outside the black circle in the picture, the Xenos person looks just like the disabled person - someone who doesn't have their cookie cutter filled in. To most people, a Xenos person is considered disabled, being practically unable to see ability outside of the boundaries of social normalcy.

It is important to remember that society controls not only the way things are done but the institutions created to do and run things. There is really only one cookie-cutter definition of normal and there is really only one established way of dealing with things that are not normal: remediation. Therefore, Xenos people end up being put through the same people, institutions, and processes that disabled people face. "Johnny, I want you to stop designing the next Mars rover and sit with the therapist and practice blowing your nose properly. It is much more important to fit in with the other kids than it is to win the Nobel Prize in physics."

Most disability professionals would excitedly attack that unsightly blob of "wasted" ability outside the established circle in the picture above and chew up someone's childhood or entire life trying to fill in that missing place in the cookie cutter that dictates how well one holds their fork. Thank goodness there were no therapists engaged in fixing Einstein - who knows how much we would have lost!

It is important to note that there can be truly disabled people among the Xenos, just as there are among typical people. These disabled Xenos are often labeled "autistic". I am sure you can see the picture in your mind of the cookie-cutter and a small amount of cookie dough stretched out toward some obsession, resulting in very little lying inside the circle. There is some need for therapists and doctors and psychologists for those people, with an understanding that you cannot beat or drug the obsession out of the Xenos, only help channel obsessive behavior toward something positive. A helper's focus can be better set toward expanding existing ability to help the Xenos achieve their potential to go where no normal person could ever go!

02 July 2016

Child Development Flashbacks - Exploring my Academic and Philosophical Roots

It was a silly misstep. You are supposed to include every document requested by a potential employer and focus resume information toward the specific position being sought. I did neither.

In this age of electronic application submission, it is too easy to fall into traps of convenience.  One generic resume can be used for a whole swath of positions, at times even at multiple organizations with one click of a mouse button. The inclusion of a cover letter is often optional to submission, but probably should not be. Harried HR departments in some larger organizations must filter through thousands of applications daily and choose to mechanize the process based on a handful of answers to questions or scanned keywords. In this case, I treated a smallish university steeped in more traditional ways in the same fashion that I would approach a highly outsourced HR process at a multinational government contractor. I knew better than to do that and I will likely be discarded out of hand for not following instructions.  The sad part is that, unlike those who send hundreds of applications into the wind, I really wanted to be seriously considered for this specific job.

The Child Development Center (CDC) at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) is advertising the position of Director, long held by one of my most influential mentors, Francine Stuckey. I worked as a student caregiver at the CDC from 1988 to 1993, created and ran two centers during that time, was a trainer at a military child care center after graduation and trained myriad others as a program specialist at the ENMU Child Care Training and Technical Assistance Program, and served for a number of years as a subject matter expert and consultant/trainer in child care management, parenting, and public health, concurrent with other employment. In other words, I have been around this block several times and in several capacities. I could also include the fact that my wife and I raised our six children along the way. I last worked directly in the field of child development in 2004 and my earlier undergraduate work focused on this, so I haven't had big and specific child development thoughts for a bit over ten years. Saying that, the ideals I have promoted over time, like family sovereignty, are being dredged back up just as I seem to need them as I present myself as a candidate for post of ENMU CDC Director.

Let me present some thoughts that have come to mind over the last day or two in regards to directing a place like the CDC and leading a community dedicated to child and human development.

I am a home economist at heart and by training - I am practical and I prefer “hands-on” demonstration to other forms of knowledge transfer. I have never been much of a formal "teacher" though I was employed in the role a few times. I have always skewed toward home and family over the school ethos - smaller, more intimate, less institutional, more personal. I relate more toward and better serve people than abstractions like the schooling institution.

My leadership style has always been along the lines of the servant-leader. I run an "input and consensus" shop, knowing that I don't have all the answers, I often miss important elements in a situation, and have learned that the best answers and solutions often come from unexpected people and places. I am much more a leader than a manager with an understanding that the center director is most responsible for crafting the "feel" of the organization, making things work from a regulatory, accreditation, and "get'r done jack-of-all-trades" standpoint. These tasks assigned, caregivers (master and student) can concentrate their time and thought on facilitating children’s development and serving families. To put a "Harry Potter" twist on things - the center director is a "Dumbledore"-type figure who directs and services community rather than formally “teaches” children.

A university Child Development Center is essentially three things - Laboratory, Community, and Environment.

The "Laboratory" - This is our academic purpose (why we are on campus). To be a good lab, we don't just cater to one type of child or family, which other child care settings can better accomplish ("best Hispano-Catholic care anywhere!”). The better child development lab must be more accommodating of different families and attitudes so university students can observe interaction, gain a wider breadth of experience with children of different families and cultures, and test out new theories of fostering development among divergent people. Students do this with children in our care - Instructors (director/master caregivers/mentors) do this with students through coursework and “on-the-job training”.

The "Community" - This is the voluntary collection of families that are served in a communitarian way. We serve families directly and through their children in our care. In this way, the center bears little resemblance to the compulsory catchment and attendance “school” where parents have little choice in associations and little influence in the institutional function. The center director spends as much time opening up possibilities for parents as they do working with the children - the family is the most important unit of society and the Community must honor and service this.  In the case of child development, parents choose a Community (center) that works best for them and best “fits” their family and their culture.

The "Environment" - 'You call this a "pre-school" and I will instruct you differently (hopefully without violence).' We have no “teachers”, a role which implies the centrality of lessons and methods where children are passive consumers or followers. Here, caregivers create and foster an environment where children lead the way, patterned more after a safe, orderly home rather than a "school" (within our obvious physical constraints). We also don't set up “simulated” environments, we make it as authentic as we can - "play" living rooms and kitchens give way to "working" versions with real equipment for instance. Parents should be able to see this as a place to observe "professional" (well, often student) "child developers" in action and find encouragement, insight, and empowerment toward fostering and leading the development of their own children, often to other settings that may bear little resemblance to this center.

Priority for the hiring of workers is given to CDC is CD/ECE students. After this, we encourage a breadth of background, knowledge, and experience put in service to the Community.

Guiding Principles and "Promises" that Hold Sway in a Nemrow-led Shop:
  • We put other people’s needs ahead of our own.
  • We owe it our Family and our Community to be our better selves.
  • We work to create a safe place for growth.
  • We discover and honor contributions (efforts that improve your Family and your Community).
  • We help others realize their potential and build toward it.
  • We make decisions to be helpful and not hurtful.
  • We explore the balance between roots (safety, order, heritage) and wings (unbridled expression/action, "pioneering", taking risks).
  • We honor and foster individuality and each family culture within our Community.
  • We present alternatives. Maybe this situation and Community isn't for you and your family, and this fact is okay.  
  • We leave it better than we found it (and not just our personal definition of "better").