Monthly Archives: October 2015

Gratitude and Ideas for Problem Solving

This post is about two topics. For starters, I’m honored that Nessun Dogma published my book in Italian this month, making it the first secular parenting book in Italy. I hope there are many more secular voices to follow. While I’m on the topic of gratitude,  I’m honored and thankful that Sterling Publishing thought I had something worth sharing. Most of all, I’m honored that people take the time to read this blog–so thank you for reading and for the interesting comments and conversations we’ve had over the years. That ends my secular prayer for Sunday, October 18th.

Another thing I’d like to share today. Working in the corporate world again, I look at things differently than I did a decade ago. I see young kids, fresh out of college; I see the employees close to retirement, looking weary. Having kids who will go into the workforce in the next few years, I think, “What skills do my kids need in the business world, if they choose to go there?” Working hard and team work are still important, but creativity and problem-solving are more important than ever, no matter what your job function is. With many jobs becoming automated, creativity is still something that humans have that computers do not. It helps to be able to look at the work flow and see how everything fits together, and how things could fit together differently. Creativity and logical reasoning are not skills that the schools are particularly strong on nurturing. In fact, public education discourages kids from creating their own solutions. I remember this struggle in math class with my older kid. Sameness is valued over uniqueness.

What we need to do is teach our children how to couple creativity with problem solving. This is something we can nurture at home by asking our kids to solve problems or to consider the many possibilities in solving problems we have. For example, the vacuum doesn’t start? Why not? What are all the possible reasons? How could we fix it? Is there more than one way. Let them try to figure out why and how.

Playing chess help kids problem solve because it’s a game of logic and strategy. Also, reading–a lot–helps. Reading creative works as well as magazine and newspaper articles about many different topics helps expose children to a variety of ideas across many knowledge bases. If your child is too young to read complex material, you can play this game, which I used to play with my kids. Start with a banana. At about a year old, I’d ask my kids, “What is this?” (holding up a banana). “What is it used for?” I’d ask. “Food?” What else? “A smile.” (Put the banana in front of your face like a smile.) “A telephone?” “A frown?” “Decoration?” You’d be surprised by the answers kids come up with. But you can use this game to start kids thinking, and you can apply this idea with about any household item. Looking at ordinary things in new ways is the basis for problem-solving.

Because we have such easy access to so much information, what we know is not nearly as important as how we think about what we know.

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share them!

The Invisible People

As I was sitting at a Counting Crows concert last night, I saw a young man in his early twenties walking down the aisles, carrying a mop. His head was down, and he dutifully followed another man, clearly his supervisor, who was pointing to spills, vomit, and other suspicious-looking liquids on the floor. As thousands enjoyed music, drinks, and friends, this guy cleaned up our collective mess. All night, he was led from spot to spot like a work horse, invisible to the majority of us.

We like to think that the U.S. is a democracy where anyone can become anything. In some sense this is true. But for the large majority of us, our destiny is shaped while we’re still in utero: by our genes, hormones, and parents’ social status. This is not new news, but many forget that, for the kid whose parents are barely making ends meet, a job cleaning up messes might be the best he can do, or it might be the best he can do quickly.

Some moms and dads can barely help themselves, and they don’t have the influence or resources to help their kids. I help my teens financially in many ways that other parents cannot. My husband has helped family members get high-paying jobs that they were not qualified for. These are examples of advantages that we neither earn nor deserve, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. And it is one reason that we should pay a living wage or better to those folks who are not born with the same advantages and opportunities, to the folks who work into the night cleaning up messes or who wash our cars in the heat of the day or who help build bridges in cold weather. It is the reason why mentoring programs are so important and why nepotism not only hurts the health of a business but also unfairly takes opportunities from others.

While hard work does indeed factor into success, whether you become a janitor or a white-collar employee has a lot to do with serendipity.