Coping and Critical Thinking

I’ll admit I have a bias.  I was raised to be independent; I didn’t have a choice about relying on myself.  Our family had a lower-middle-class life:  no frills, but a decent roof over our heads and food on the table that Mom invariably made from scratch.  It was never kept a secret from my brother and me that Dad’s wages were barely enough to cover the bills, and sometimes, they came up short.  There were some scary years after Dad got hurt at his job and we didn’t know if we’d lose the house.  Yes, we were often afraid of the future, but we learned to face reality and deal with problems.  I put myself through college, and my brother went right to work after high school. 

By the time I was 30, I’d experienced more deaths among my family and friends and more physical and mental crises than the average person.  Through most of those times, I had no one to depend on but myself.  I had the moral support of a handful of loyal, caring friends, and I knew how valuable they were, but I never actually leaned on them much.  I appreciated their being there for me, but I always held myself up.  According to my parents’ code, you loved your friends, but you didn’t take advantage, you didn’t ask for help.  That kind of mindset makes for a hard life, but it engenders tremendous strength, for which I’m grateful. 

As part of the excellent education I got at public schools in our township, I was made not only to learn, but also to think.  I remember an English class in which we were assigned sides in a succession of debates, and had to reason out, then compose, our own arguments.  In an American government class, we had to choose news articles each week and then analyze them.  In French, we read existentialist works from the 1950s and discussed the concepts presented therein.  Certainly, we were taught the material we needed to know to pass standard tests, but that was only one facet of the curricula, if we chose to avail ourselves of all that the schools offered.  Later, in college, I had a history prof who was fond of posing questions such as, “How would events in France have been different if Marie Antoinette had been ugly?”  In philosophy, we had to provide our own interpretations of the ideas we studied.  In general, we were encouraged to question everything and think for ourselves, rather than merely accepting as gospel whatever we read or were told.  I have no proof that my education was typical of my generation, but judging by conversations with contemporaries from other places, I believe it was, at least in terms of the learning opportunities offered. 

All of these personal recollections to say that I, along with people with whom I grew up, and generational friends I’ve made as an adult, had in common the chance to develop critical thinking skills.  Schools were set up that way.  And while my life has had its share of rough spots, neither did my friends have lives of privilege.  No one grew up believing that his or her parents owed him or her a college education.  No one was cocooned and sheltered until adulthood.  My growing-up years happened long before the time when children got gold stars just for showing up; there were winners and losers when I was a kid.  Sure, it was a harsher world for a child, but the preparation for life was infinitely better.  My parents and their parents had it even tougher.

Contrast the above experiences with those of younger people today.  When her boys were born, my sister-in-law flatly stated that they’d never have the childhood she did, which involved a strict upbringing.  Instead, her children were allowed to do pretty much as they pleased and were given everything they could possibly want.  The result is two young men who think only of themselves.  In another situation, a good friend was on sick leave for six months and, toward the end, didn’t know how she’d pay the mortgage, but instead of being honest with her 15-year-old about their finances, she used her yearly bonus to buy the girl the expensive gift she wanted for Christmas.  My friend just prayed she’d be able to catch up on the house payments.  It took a stint in the Army for the daughter to get a grip on reality.  A third example involves a younger relative who was propped up by his mother and grandmother.  They paid off the balances when he defaulted on loans and ran up hefty credit card debts.  This man never had to get himself through a difficult situation or deal with any consequences.  When faced with a genuine crisis, he was paralyzed, with no will to move forward, no clue what to do, and no faith that he could overcome the challenges.

I believe that the overall lack of coping and critical thinking skills among Generations Y and Z, especially, have added to the miasma and chaos in the U.S. in these last months.  There are carping posts everywhere about being cooped up, complaints about having to sacrifice, protests about government restrictions.  This when almost anything in the world can be delivered to the front door with a few mouse clicks, food can be brought from most restaurants, and worldwide communication is available 24/7.  In the states that have re-opened but still maintain social restrictions, younger people have jammed into bars and eateries, totally ignoring the rules.  They defiantly tout the virus as “no worse than the flu,” despite the horrifying statistics.  They believe, against all logic, the propaganda trotted out by those in charge of the government.  Of course, not all the re-opening protesters are under 40, nor are those packing the pubs all college kids, but from the photo evidence I’ve seen, it appears that older generations are both taking the pandemic seriously, adopting appropriate precautions; and having an easier time of the quarantine.  I’m making generalizations, surely, but I’m convinced that the nation as a whole would be better off if modern child-rearing approaches included introducing kids to the realities of life before they leave for college or start jobs.  Instilling the habit of questioning and independent thought, too, would go a long way toward producing more aware adults, people who don’t buy into everything they see on any given news channel.  Perhaps the dumbing-down of America could be reversed.

9 thoughts on “Coping and Critical Thinking

  1. Here’s a big ‘Kudos’ to you, Denise! I, likewise, was raised to ‘think’ for myself. My parents ( God Bless them! ), always taught me that “I” have to be accountable for my actions. If I got in trouble for an ill-considered action than I paid the consequences. Believe you me! “I” learned the hard way some times. However, in the school of hard knocks I’m a Valedictorian,& proud of it. To me, anyway, the best way to learn is from your mistakes. Let’s face it! We are ‘all’ going to make mistakes. My folks told me that ‘they’ would not come to my rescue if I broke the law when I knew better not to. They said if I got in trouble due to my own actions then I could suffer for it. I admit that I ‘did’ suffer a few times, but I survived it,& learned some ‘very’ valuable lessons.
    I remember one of the first things they taught us in a Science class was-for every action, there is an equal,& opposite reaction. In my opinion, I have used that statement as a rule by which to govern myself. For every stupid, or ill-considered action one takes. One can expect the reaction to be very unsettling. For every well-thought, or intelligent action one takes the reaction can mean a positive outcome. I hope I explained myself relatively clearly!
    I have witnessed todays generation being pampered,& yielded to all too often. Todays kids have the opinion that the parents ‘owe’ them everything they want, or need. Ha, ha! My parents always told me that if I got everything that I wanted then I’d have ‘nothing’ to look forward to. I have seen one too many spoiled brats. I grew up with rules,& consequences for my actions. I turned out to be independent, hard-working, considerate,& compassionate. I can stand on my own two feet.
    I decided at a young age that “I” was not going to have children. I was lucky enough to find a man that believed as I did. We were quite happy with our freedom,& privacy. Sorry folks, but not everyone ‘wants’ children. I give credit to those strong enough to do so However, those who have them should instruct them to know right from wrong. The first teachers in your life ‘are’ the parents. I recall a family that lived next to us when we first moved to Willoughby, Ohio. The mother just let her boys run rampant,& the father just went to work,& when he came home he shut himself up in his basement radio room. Once again, away from the kids. The boy was about my age,& was the neighborhood bully. His brother was very little, but had big brother Chucky to learn from as an example. My friends,& I would be playing in ‘my’; back yard,& Chucky would throw rocks,& dirt-balls at us,& chase us away. My mom said something to his mother, Her comment-‘tell the girls to go paly somewhere else’. Excuuuuse me! ‘That” was ‘our’ yard not his. He would come over, intimidate me,& beat me up. You know. Stomach punching,& kicking me. He was a monster. My Dad couldn’t always be there to defend me. Therefore, he taught me ‘how’ to fight to defend myself. Not like a girl would fight, but like a guy. Far more effective! the next time Chucky approached me in that fashion, “I” took him to his knees. He went crawling home to Mommy. He never bothered me again. I found out years later that he finally wound up in State Prison. Why? Because his parents never taught him any values. They didn’t want to be bothered.
    I used that as an example of the extreme that can happen when parents fail to take a hand to initiate a sense of morality, common values, or even common courtesy. His parents always bailed him out of trouble rather then let face the music for the trouble he cause others.
    Today’s kids are tone-deaf in regards to facing the music. The parents become their safety-nets. They grow up just taking advantage of everyone,& everything. That has been my observation. Correct me if I’m wrong!
    Not even sure of what they teach them in schools. They sure don’t teach English from what I’ve heard. Todays kids can text, but fail to speak proper English. Todays generation doesn’t even know ‘The Pledge of Allegiance’. Why? Is it not politically correct? Is it considered obsolete?
    It comes down to this observation. Today parents can make the children, but it stops there. They expect the tablets, laptops,& cell-phones to be their teachers. Look out world!

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    1. Yep, my growing-up experiences were similar to yours, even down to the neighborhood bully.

      Read a study some years ago about the younger workforce. The advice was that, because new graduates and 20-somethings were used to not having to punch a clock, to being able to leave at any point for, say, a yoga class, then companies were going to have to learn to accommodate that modern mindset, or they wouldn’t be able to hire younger people. My thought was, “If your company bends over backwards to give younger employees the freedom to come and go as they please, your company won’t be in business long.” If a 22-year-old doesn’t have to show up at any particular time, and doesn’t have to stay on the job for the whole day, then good luck getting anything done. That person isn’t going to just spontaneously become conscientious and hard working.

      Same goes for morals and self-reliance, as you point out. If kids are never taught how to treat others, and they’re never made to deal with the problems they cause themselves, then obviously, they’re never going to learn those things on their own, especially if their parents keep bailing them out (sometimes literally), A friend of a friend had a younger brother who never in his life had to face the consequences of anything he did. His parents always provided a safety net. His sister was treated much more strictly, and she grew up strong and independent. The brother, though, ended up becoming diabetic, and because he never listened to the doctors and followed instructions, passed away long ago. The parents told their daughter, “Well, he was never as strong as you, so we had to help him.” Yeah….you keep enabling bad behavior, and you keep getting bad behavior.

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  2. Right on! They have tp be made to realize that the rest of the World isn’t going to bend over backwards for ‘them’! Nobody ‘handed’ anything to me,& I’m ‘sure’ no one handed it to you. Anything I have I worked very hard for. I may not be rich, but I have a nice roof over my head,& plenty of food in my cupboard,& frig..
    Like you I have friends that I value. If it had not been for my friends,& my work, I would surely have wanted to lay down,& die, or lost my mind after I lost my husband. They supported emotionally,& just let me talk,& cry during that time period. They have my eternal gratitude! My family was of a big help, also. However, I value friends,& family so much that I would take advantage of them. People that take advantage of other people’s kindness are lower than Whale dung in the Ocean.
    I’m glad I was raised somewhat strict. I feel “I” am a much stronger woman for it! I’m sure that ‘you’ do, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! I have no idea how I would have gotten through the worst times of my life, had I not been a strong person. Sometimes, in the darkest moments, I’d reach out and friends wouldn’t be available, for one reason or another (I could never rely on family), and I had no choice but to endure on my own. I could always count on someone to eventually be there for me, though, and that made a huge difference.

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  3. I’m so sorry! I left out a word in my last comment. I meant to say that I would ‘never’ take advantage of family, or friends. I’m afraid that the typeface is very tiny when we reply!

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    1. I knew what you meant! : )

      But that brings up an interesting issue. I was brought up to NEVER ask for help, from anyone, no matter what, and for many years, through some pretty awful stuff, I never did. In fact, if help was offered, I’d usually reject it, at least at first. I was in my 30s before I changed enough to willingly seek out help. Even now, it has to be really bad before I’ll lean on anyone. I discovered that it’s not weakness to admit a need for help, but the thought patterns that are drummed in from an early age are difficult to overcome.

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  4. I agree with you that I was brought up to be very independent,& strong-willed, also. It’s really tough for people like us to admit when ‘we’ need help. However, it took my Mom to make me realize that, at some point in our lives, we ‘all’ need help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or inadequate, to ask for, or accept help when it’s offered.
    I admit I’m a rather prideful person, but, as my Mom reminded me-pride comes before the fall. Overall I have done pretty good on my own. However, the few times that my situation was desperate,& family, or friends, helped me, I have been ‘very grateful’. I ‘always’ pay back a kindness with a kindness. That was how I grew up believing. I still do!

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