A commercial during the Olympics reminded me of just how sick and tired I am of the fear mongering going on all around us. There has got to be another way!!
I am so sick of fear mongering. Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you to look over your shoulder, to be afraid of all the terrible things surrounding you. From a virus that has a 98-99% survival rate to our President declaring the “most significant threat to our democracy since the Civil War”, to the horrible atrocities our kids face… at middle school. And no, I’m not talking about the isolation our teens and pre-teens endured over the last couple academic years, nor the impending re-masking mandates that our kids will be facing this fall. I’m talking about the seemingly mandated fear that our kids must succumb to, and therefore, by proxy so must us parents that really, honestly SHOULDN’T MATTER. This was brought to my attention last weekend while I was watching – ironically – the 2020/2021-ish Olympic Games (but we’ll save honesty in branding for another episode) So, there I was watching the bravest of the brave, the valientist of the valient, the courageousist of the courageous face incredible odds in pursuit of greatness. I saw a Mexican triathlete get lapped by the eventual winner, who in his own right passed and triumphed over the global favorite to win gold… and still the last place Mexican fought through his pain and globally public humiliation of being lapped in order to finish strong. I watched a Tunisian swimmer who barely made it into the final heat of the 400-meter free touch the wall before everyone else – even the Australian and American powerhouses – and win gold from the 8th lane – the lane rarely even visible in many broadcasts – and what was his tear-filled comment about his future plans? He said, “I just want to get better.” I saw a 13-year-old Japanese girl take on the best women street skaters in the world with the pressure of her home country on her shoulders ollie and rail slide her way to a gold medal… and then, with the biggest smile ever, say that she was looking forward to asking her mom if they can go out for barbeque afterward to celebrate! But, what floored me, in the midst of all this athletic heroism and celebration was one of the worst commercial spots I’ve seen… well, perhaps ever! (Yes, even worse than the Head On product we were repeatedly reminded to apply directly to our foreheads). It’s a commercial for a national Internet Service Provider. And, while it could possibly be interpreted as a comforting voice in the midst of a tumultuous era, even my nine-year-old saw it for what it is: fear porn. The spot begins with an emotionally provoking, Sarah McLachlan-esque song with the lyrics, “Have no fear. It’s gonna be okay”… which sounds encouraging on its face. And if my glasses were made with the wrong prescription, perhaps I wouldn’t be as irritated. I mean, at the risk of losing my man-card, I’ve always like Sarah’s music. But, it’s the visuals that got my blood boiling. The ad features nearly a dozen still photos of kids looking straight into the camera with text overlays expressing what too many people believe are life’s greatest struggles. Yet, should really be taught to be life’s trivial, petty dilemmas highlighted in overwrought coming of age comedies rather than real life. First we see a freckled redheaded girl with the text “Will I be popular” To which, I answer, “Who cares?! The real question should be “Will I be nice to people, will I be a good friend, or will I be there for those in need? These aspirations may not sound as glamorous as being “popular”, but I promise you that when she attends her 20-year reunion, she will much rather be known as the girl who was nice to everyone rather than who was known by everyone. Next, we see a young guy with a bit of a pout across his face and the text “Will I be teased”. Yes. Yes, you will be teased. Everyone gets teased. I don’t care if you’re in middle school, high school, grad school, or the school of hard knocks… everyone gets teased. The question is how will you respond? Will you pout and forever play the victim card, or will you learn to laugh it off, prove the teasers wrong, or even – if necessary – put the bullies in their place… particularly by taking a cue from the first girl and being nice, being known as a good friend, and standing strong for those in need. This guy is followed by a girl with unnaturally auburn hair and a nose septum piercing. Her accompanying graphic wonders, “Will I be judged”. Yes. So long as you consciously alter your appearance to be counterculture, you will be judged by the mainstream. On the plus side, that’s how we ended up with acclaimed trailblazers like Lennon, McCartney, Picasso, Lenny Bruce, or Elon Musk. The question shouldn’t be “Will I be judged”, but rather how will I stand up to the criticism headed my way as I tread down the road not taken. However, if you lack the intestinal fortitude to take on the establishment, then it’s time to take out the face jewelry and swim in more conventional waters. It’s a choice. The choice is yours to make. And, the consequences of that choice are your own responsibility. You’re not a victim of judgement, you are an owner of your own decisions. Miss nose ring is followed by a condescending looking girl with the tag “Am I too judgy”. Ok. Finally something that’s actually relevant – but not in the way the ad is insinuating. This is the one question that today’s teens have the ability to self assess and self reconcile. And, even if they are too blinded by their own pride, insecurity or other baggage to self-assess, if they learn to – again – take a cue from the first girl and learn to be a good friend, her friends will be able to help keep her accountable. And, if she’s too judgmental, then her friends need to remind her to be more humble. If she is not, but so paranoid that others may view her as being such even though her behavior is actually appropriate. STOP IT. We see this all throughout today’s American churches, in particular these days. There are nice, humble, giving, generous people all over this land afraid of being perceived as being “judgy”, when the fact is that they are just fine and they need to give themselves a break. And, on a related note, being considered “judgy” is not always a bad thing. To discriminate that some behaviors, trends or opinions are wrong does not necessarily make you judgy. When handled with wisdom, it makes you prudent, wise… the smart one! Back in the day, you may be mocked for being a “goody goody” or going back further “square”; and nowadays, you may be considered “on the wrong side of history”. But, as wisdom prevails, so will goodness and actual justice. So, I wish I could pull this girl aside and simply tell her, “I dunno. Are you? If so, check yourself, be more humble, smile and move on. If not, smile and move on. But don’t sit there and worry about it. Worry is a giant smile killer, and trust me… this girl and any girl like her needs to smile! Next is a boy in plaid, seemingly with an honest smile trying to break through sad eyes with the text, “Will I be invited”. No. No you won’t. No one is invited to everything. Some people are invited to nothing. That last part sucks, I know. We all wish that we were on everyone’s list of “I need to have this person around when fun is happening”, but that’s simply unrealistic. Sorry, Red. So, what do you do? How about hanging out with the first girl, be nice, be a good friend, and stand in the gap for those in need? I promise… hand on my Bible… if you live like that, you will be invited. It may not be to the coolest parties. But it will be into the lives of people when it matters. This guy is followed by another young man with another frown wondering, “Will I be ignored”. Again, the answer is simple: Yes. You will be ignored. Everyone is ignored… often. Don’t be afraid of that. Know that it’s coming, get over it, smile and move on. Then, when it matters, make yourself known, especially when it comes to standing tall for righteousness. At that moment – when you’re the person who is often looked over yet you’re the one who suddenly cannot be refused – you will become a change agent. So smile. Courageously. Then, there’s a couple girls who really bug me. First is a girl with a coy smile asking if she will “kiss a boy”. Why is this a worry? More than likely because throughout her whole life, she has been pummeled with the idea that she needs to fall in love, kiss a boy and live happily ever after, beginning as soon as possible. And too often, it’s not just her peers that bombard her with this train of thought. It’s the media, entertainment… and even her parents. That’s a heartbreaker. And it’s “easily” solvable. I love the three rules that our high school principal has for living a successful high school experience: 1) Get good grades. If you apply yourself to your studies, this should happen. Even if you struggle, there are resources available to help you in your struggles. 2) Get involved. If you are connected to healthy environments within the school such as athletics, performing arts, clubs, or other activities, you will be more inclined to do well in your classes, discover aids to help you when you need help, and make lasting relationships with people who will love you throughout your teenage years. And finally 3) Don’t date. Yep. He pulls no punches, and every single one of his students, year after year, have heard his earnest plea to avoid teenage romance. A vast majority of the time, if you become romantically – especially physically – involved with someone, you will be distracted from rules one and two. Then, when (not if) you break up, you will be isolated instead of surrounded by loving friends, you will be depressed instead of motivated, and you will be left longing to feel romance’s highs again, which will lead to a continuing cycle that will only dissuade you from high school success. On the other hand, with strong self-control and a commitment to all three rules, not only will her teenage years be incredibly fun and successful, she will receive an incredible boost when she hears the principal announce at graduation, “Congratulations! Now you no longer need to heed to my three rules. Take what you’ve learned and go on to the next stage of your life… and feel free to date!” By the time teens graduate, they will hopefully have the relationships, responsibility and life lessons where they can date well… not just with the goal of “kissing a boy”. Which brings me to the next girl shown in the ad with the graphic wondering if she will “kiss a girl”. All I can say, in today’s cultural context is… re-read the past three paragraphs. I get it. None of this is necessarily “easy”. That being said, why complicate things by putting anxiety-riddled worries on your front burner instead of things that are far easier to handle and reap far better results… you know, like being nice to people, being a good friend to someone, and standing alongside people in need. And, speaking of needy, here come the final two teens. First, there is a boy, holding his guitar, wondering “Am I liked”. Liked? Dude, you are loved. You just need to open your eyes to the fact. Start with the fact that you have an omni-present God, who is with you wherever you may find yourself who loves you more than you can ever imagine and wants to spend eternity with you. And, believe it or not, His love is often manifested through the people all around you, just waiting to be recognized and responded to. This doesn’t mean that we are all super-humanly immune to feeling lonely. But, I’m not talking about feelings. I’m talking about love – the decision someone makes to stand by their friend through thick and thin, the decisions strangers make to reach out to you when you’re in need, the decision parents make to continually love and support even when you behave like a knucklehead. Being liked is too low of a bar to ever worry about. You. Are. Loved. And yes… I mean you. Each and every one of you. And lastly, there’s our final teenage girl with natural sparkling blue eyes and artificial matching blue hair wondering if she is “doing things for ‘likes’”. Yes, kid. You likely are. But, that’s also easily solvable. In many ways, this poor girl is “suffering” from the same dilemma as the very first girl hoping to be popular. The primary difference being that the first girl wants recognition in the real world, while this final girl is looking for approval in her virtual world. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate social media. I think it can be a Pandora’s Box filled with anxiety, fear and depression. But, when used properly, it can also be a fun tool for connecting people across town or across the globe. For too many, however, the innate curse of social media is “It didn’t happen if you didn’t post it and it wasn’t worth happening if it isn’t well liked.” Therefore, too many people (and not just teens, but adults as well) find themselves orchestrating their lives in order to score virtual likes versus simply being likable. Life doesn’t have to be that fraught. It really shouldn’t be. If we lived our lives, and taught our children to live their lives, with the mere goal of being nice, being a good friend and standing in the gap for those in need, then we will find ourselves being so much less self-absorbed and so much more popular, invited and liked. The ad concludes with the narrator assuring us that while, “There’s a lot to worry about in life. Cox gives us one less thing to worry about online. With Advanced Wifi Security for everyone in your home”, while they show eight and ten-year-old siblings video chatting on their personal devices. In other words, “Your life is full of fear. Trust in us to keep your kids safe from online predators while under your roof… but everything that takes place beyond your four walls… well, perhaps it’s better not to go beyond your four walls.” Alright that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, judging by the comments that stream from this video, parents all over are watching through tear-filled eyes, clutching their children tight as they empathize with the fear that entangles their kids. How about we simply get rid of the fear to begin with? Many studies reveal that exhortations to “fear not”, “do not be afraid”, or “dude, chill” are in the Bible 365 times. That’s no mistake. So, unless it’s a leap year, we definitely have enough reminders to take comfort in God’s presence and His care for us in order to live without fear. Instead, here’s something new to focus on: Every morning, on the way to dropping off the kids at school, we’d ask them, “What are the four most important things?” It quickly got to the point where we didn’t even have to ask. We’d hit a certain stop light, which was about where we’d normally ask, and without any cue, they’d simply start listing them off. Our four most important things?
- Love Jesus
- Love others
- Have self control
- Don’t lie
Now, for a season, when our oldest was in the second grade, we had to add a fifth “most important thing”: Don’t lose your hoodie. But, that didn’t last too long, though his younger siblings like to remind him whenever it gets chilly outside. But, it just makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s even more simple than Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. I mean, if you think about it, with daily reminders to be loving, truthful and self-controlled, so many of the potential fears that this commercial refers to simply fall by the wayside and are replaced with healthy relationships, peace and joy. And all that can be achieved outside of our four walls and without any technology at all. If we raise our kids with the priority of being kind, loving people, then fear melts away. Sure, there will be stress. So long as there are tests, changing environments, authority figures… and sadly, masks… in school, there will be stress. But that doesn’t have to translate into fear.
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