Friday Musings: Clarify Values to Simplify Choices

At some point, we have all felt that painful tension between what we want to be and what behaviors we are willing to adopt. We ebb and flow between the pain of discontent sparking new action and the pain of discipline pushing us back towards comfortable, while limited, living.

A few weeks ago, Justin wrote a Friday Musing on Core Principles. As he so eloquently put it, “Those ‘healthy’ choices that we see others make are not simply expressions of their superior willpower. That is the observable final outcome of a cascade of steps that began with their core principles.” While Justin was referring to nutrition, these core principles lie at the root of all consistent behaviors, particularly those requiring a degree of discipline or energy. It is through a commitment to growth and self-education that we have the ability to evolve our core principles and eliminate the painful tensions I mentioned above.

A lack of these core principles is driving some deeply unhealthy youth development trends. The parenting paradigm has shifted to an obsession with providing and protecting abundantly while neglecting the priority of creating autonomous, purpose-driven youth who are inclined to contribute. Expectations are not clearly defined, because principles are not clearly defined. The point of childhood quickly becomes accumulating superficial outcomes and material comforts. Thus, it becomes common to see parents rationalizing their child’s cheating while fighting to remove “unfair” consequences.

Frustrated parents often reach out to me. At their wits end, they feel like they’ve begged and badgered their children to straighten up, but to no avail. While it is tempting to outline the responsibilities and actions they should expect and enforce, this is unproductive. There are too many possible behaviors to outline. What they need is the consistency of expectations, boundaries, and accountability that can only come from the clarity of principles and values.

Principles simplify decision and action. They are our brand. If we have not defined what type of values we want our kids to have then we are at the whim of strong forces intent to normalize the Standard Model's patterns that ensure limited living. When there is lack of clarity about what is the priority, we falter and lose to a culture obsessed with entitlement, convenience, and perpetuating childhood. It is very easy to make infinite compromises when we are not sure about what we stand for. When I value the ability to delay gratification, then I’m more likely to require chores and teach saving for purchases rather than simply buying my son an arsenal of video games and celebrating the quiet. Still, in this crazy world, some scenarios are more complicated.

For example, paying for that summer baseball select team may seem like the thing to do for your 11-year-old. After all, a couple of his friends are on the team and he has always enjoyed rec league. When you see the price you are shocked. $2000, plus travel far outside your city every weekend for tournaments culminating in a 20-hour drive to Daytona for the "big tournament". You have to do it, though. Right? This is investing in your kid. Right?

The costs may be higher than just money. What could you have done with that time and money?

-       Family dinners where bonds are strengthened, values are conveyed, and seeds planted for a deeper love of learning

-       Unstructured play where autonomy, social skills, and love of the outdoors were instilled

-       Opportunities to try many other sports and physical activities 

-       Time for summer camps that expose new interests and types of people

-       The ability to maintain consistent expectations in household work and teach a bouquet of skills like cooking or building a fort

-       Transformative family vacations that created context and experience to excite future exploration and learning

-       The financial flexibility to create more available, less stressed parents who can model solidarity, connection, and love

-       The ability to go on dates with your spouse and time for your wife to go to that Saturday morning yoga class that always rejuvenates and restores her 

-       Modeling a love of reading and talking about shared stories

-       Time with the people that matter most in your life

 Still, the norm is to live on fast food while chasing baseball scholarships. 

The reality is, there may be unique situations with special kids where the select ball cost-benefit is worth it. Maybe. However, my experience is that for most kids who spend their summers at the whim of select ball structure, it is not worth it. Whether they stop playing before freshman year, after sophomore year, after high school, or even after a two-year Ju-Co stint, it is usually not worth it. Select baseball facilities are littered with former players who never developed any interest, inclination, or competency other than a fastball. Education was always an afterthought- a means to an end. They resent their lack of options while continuing to operate in the only world they've ever known. 

It is not that the two courses are mutually exclusive. Amazing parents dive into this world and still create great kids all the time. But in my experience, that is the exception. Parents almost always pay the travel ball bill in an expectation that it entitles them to some glorified outcome. Its a manifestation of the faults of consumerism. They pay for every narrow advantage while neglecting all the other experiences and values they could have endeared. 

We do this in every sport, nowadays. Sports once were the best avenues for learning hard-work, how to put a team first, and how to thrive under pressure. While sport and activity remain essentials of childhood that are capable of endearing strong values, this is often overshadowed by the Sports Industrial Complex. We’re convinced that every elementary kid needs a skills coach and her name on the back of the jersey. We’ve turned every youth activity into a version of Little Miss Sunshine’s bizarre 5-year-old swimsuit pageant. There is no way of navigating these minefields successfully without a very clear understanding of what matters most.

While each of our children presents unique character traits and challenges, by valuing the right things you can virtually guarantee they will become good people who are resilient, hardworking, and committed to a purpose that creates a contribution to something bigger than themselves. These are the ingredients of fulfilled living that most people lack. They are available to us all, but we have to choose. 

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Shane TrotterComment