New Year, New Outlook

As a child, celebrating Christmas seemed infinite. It was taken for granted that the same people would be celebrating year-after-year. Time changes this outlook. Siblings grow up and move away, starting families of their own and creating new traditions. Divorce and death take others, until you enter the last stages of life and realize that this may be the last holiday celebration. Yet with this realization, there is a tendency to reflect on the people that have passed away and the traditions lost with them.

My sister Alison passed away almost eight years ago. She led a difficult life, needing to flee a southwestern state with her infant daughter and change her identity to escape a dangerously abusive relationship. She struggled financially, yet every Christmas she would send baked goods to her immediate family members who were spread out across the country. The cookies and candies would carry a lingering taste of cigarette smoke, but the gift wasn’t the quality of the product, it was the love she put into the gift to share with the people she loved.

Holding this belief directly conflicts with the Character Counts Program, based on the training I attended twenty-five years ago. Two of my children were attending Clegg Park Elementary School that was a pilot program for Character Counts when we first moved to West Des Moines in 1997. They were taught that there were six pillars that represented a person of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. When I raised my concerns about the program conflicting with the goals I was trying to achieve with my children, the school principal shipped me off to a training program with teachers from the school.

One of the examples given during the training was a story about a recent widow who wanted to show her deep appreciation for her minister’s support during this difficult and painful time. She decided to bake a pie for his family. Apparently, the family didn’t care for it. So, after the next Sunday service, the woman asked her minister if they enjoyed the pie. He told her that they did not. The belief being that she would continue to make these pies for other people, and a person of character is demonstrating a caring act by letting her know that her pies stink.

This example stays firmly in my memory as the Character Counts program spread across the country. I’m not sure what bothers me more, the brutal comments made by a man representing the love of Jesus, or the sheer arrogance that one person’s taste in pies should be held by all. For example, my husband Marty made a lovely homemade apple cream pie for a neighborhood pot luck. Someone else brought a Hy-Vee apple pie that was devoured by the attending local fire fighters. Now I personally don’t care for the store-bought pie crust, but I understand that others don’t care for homemade products. No one is right or wrong, it is just preferences developed through life experiences.

That was my goal with my children, the ability to not only accept the differences in people, but to seek out, learn from and understand people that are different. The richest resource in this country is the numerous people that hold different life experiences, values and beliefs. The problem with programs that want to set specific standards is the eventual results.

Now as we witness the increasing anger and division of our country resulting from deeply embedded fear of diversity, I’m reminded of the minister and the arrogance of anyone thinking that there is only one acceptable set of values or beliefs. The only standard set when I was a child was the Golden Rule that is followed by most religions: Treat other people the way that you would like to be treated. Somehow, I don’t think the minister would enjoy having the widow tell him that his sermon stunk.

We wish our readers and supporters a Happy New Year and ask that you consider this New Year’s Resolution:

Seek out and truly listen to people with a different viewpoint and learn from their experiences instead of judging them.

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