ears ago, during a conversation with a friend, filling in the pause after finishing a point, he asked; “I’ve meant to ask you, are you a cup half-full or half-empty person?” My response was not thought out, it wasn’t contemplative, it wasn’t a life guiding principle, it was just a response; “I don’t know, but grab another cup and let’s talk about it”. My friend let me know that he’d never heard that answer before and found it refreshing. Because this was a respected friend, one older and wiser by my measure, his comment has stayed with me.
It eventually occurred to me why the answer had made an impression. A response I spent no time formulating has filled the time since molding my thinking. Though not completely, it has tempered me, my reactions, and influenced my processing and writing.
The lesson that I took was that most conversations are not A or B…either/or…this or that…full or empty. Conversations cannot start with me predetermining if I’m going to relate to a person and validate what they say, or label them and predetermine their words and define intent.
I share the memory of the conversation, and what I took from it, and ask if you would share this cup with me, this conversation. Let’s reason together and agree, disagree, and agree to disagree. Then pour another cup and talk about the weather…
Consistency is a trait we value in the Steffen home.
Consistency is how we approach a February Thursday, a Saturday in June, and next Monday, October 31st. We are not “Pro-Halloween” and we are not “Anti-Halloween”. In fact, we do our best to approach Halloween the same way we do the other 364 days a year in our home, with consistency.
We share with our kids all year about eating healthy food (if “healthy” still translates for you as “Cardboard” then pause and read this). Are there exceptions? Of course! Our kids have Grandparents.
We talk about contentment with our kids. How to appreciate what they have and find the difference between “dreams” and “just more”. Dream big! Get everything out of the plans for your life and be careful of excess and its effects (“Do you like honey? Don’t eat too much, or it will make you sick!” – Solomon).
(…and knowing our kids are watching, saves my wife from her weird weakness for Butterfingers. Really? Of all the things to crave…stick-to-the-top-of-your-mouth, dry, Butterfinger? So don’t get it.)
Our kids are still young, so we also caution them about strangers. Daily I appreciate the fact that we live in a place that reminds me of my adolescent years, the Aloha filled community of Oahu. Growing up, strangers were most likely to offer help and guidance, and occasionally a call home to my mom (busted!), so my childhood was wonderful in that respect. Today, I see the same character of people in our neighborhood. But the world is the world, and there is caution to be instilled in our kids.
We share stories with them about virtues; self-discipline, compassion, work, courage, honesty, faith. Fear and being scared? Yes, they learn about that as well. Sleeping in their own tent, on a moonless night, where every twig snap and rustle in the brush “must be a bear”! Cliff jumping, slack-lining, traversing log clogged mountain creeks. Yeah, they learn about being scared and how to handle it.
We also do our best to show our kids how to think for themselves. How to view what their friends may be doing through the prism of what they value, what they know to be important. This lesson is about them, our kids, not their friends. How to make a tough decision, and then walk peacefully in it, graciously. We encourage them to stay the course when internally tempted to give in, even when it’s “not that big a deal”. How to make a decision, and then survive questioning yourself everyday in a month-of-festivities…and parties…and grocery store end caps.
So when presented with an event, as parents we try our best to see it through the bigger picture of that character trait we value, consistency. In the past, we’ve been geared up and ready to hand out candy, but years have taught that kids don’t like to climb the steep hill that leads up to our house, the only house up the hill. We’ve watched groups of excited kids pause in the intersection, glance up the hill, and then see the relief flood over them as they see their friends down the flat street to chase after.
When friends invite us over for dinner on Halloween (can still taste the yummy chili from last year), and ask if we’d like to help pass out candy, we are there! Our kids loved “giving preference” and “loving others more than themselves”. No really, I looked in their faces…it was hard, but they loved it…and it strengthened these virtues we’re trying to instill in them. We do this with a desire for our kids to be kids AND with an eye towards the adults we are raising.
Good time to ask how that cup is doing? The one we are sharing? We are confident in our approach, a parent has to be in order to pass a life lesson on to their kids. But please, see our confidence as only that, an approach that we have chosen. That early line, the “A or B…either/or…this or that”, still have that in mind?
We see Halloween as a real life opportunity to teach our kids that it is OK to be different. How to look at a situation, understand it, make an informed decision, and stand by it even when it is hard (and lasts “forever“). We are also teaching our kids to respect others and realize that thinking differently can be where you find wisdom.
For those heading out to Trick-or-Treat next week, have a great time with the kids and be safe. For those headed to a Harvest Festival, have a great time with the kids and be safe. We may see you at either…or we might go camping.
I hear it is supposed to get cold soon…