Soldiering Toward Tolerance

By Gregory Keer

The soldier is someone’s child, a boy raised with lessons of love, the value of tolerance, and the benefits of friendship. Eight months into the soldier’s tour of duty, all those lessons are tested when two of his closest brothers in arms are out in a Humvee, driving through treacherous desert. Manning the turret is a hulking linebacker type who joined the military to protect his skinny high school buddy, who steers the vehicle. A bomb detonates, killing one soldier, knocking the skinny guy unconscious, and ripping off the arm of the linebacker. Bullets tear into the Hummer, awakening the skinny guy. Bleeding but determined to get his big friend to safety, the skinny guy guides the damaged Hummer back to base.

The soldier now stands before hundreds of students, not much younger than he was at the time of that fateful attack, telling his story.

“Aid was administered and both survived,” he says of his friends. It is then that the soldier pauses and tears come. “You see, real men cry.”

As he holds a hand to his face, he explains his deepest understanding of what they all fought for — to uphold a vision of the world that puts care for fellow human beings, regardless of race, creed, or color, above all else. Earlier in his presentation, he said that he had lost some of his Army friends and that “many of them were not the same race as me, or the same religion as me, or the same political ideology as me. But they died just the same. The strength of this country is and has always been in its diversity, and in its fearless inclusivity. If anything makes us exceptional it is this.”

The soldier has every reason to be cynical because of his trials, but his resolution is rooted so deeply that it binds a group of teenagers who struggle with their own doubts about life’s meaning. HIs resolution is so powerful that his tears return.

And it as this point that a student, a ninth-grade girl with a titanium leg in place of the one she was not born with, rises from her seat and steadily walks up to him. The soldier’s head is down, and he notices her just as she reaches out her arms and embraces him. He leans on this seemingly fragile girl with the strength to take him in and confirm that, yes, compassion and understanding balance out all that we lack.

When the soldier, who has let us all know that he is studying for a master’s degree with his opportunity to learn more about the world, finishes his speech, everyone rises, not just that brave girl. And everyone applauds him for his courage not only to risk his life for all, but his clarity in speaking up for something all too hard for many to see — that a world that is free and fair for everyone is worth fighting for.

As a teacher, I was privileged to hear the soldier’s message and the embracing girl’s pure show of support. I was also moved to become ever more resolved to drive home the message of freedom and equality so that my children will flourish and advocate others to be able to enjoy the same benefits.

This message has never been more crucial than in this new year, with a new presidential administration at the center of debate over how this country can move toward unity in the midst of intense disagreement and, at times, hate. Intolerance has reared its ugly head in many ways, more unfiltered than I have seen in my lifetime. It worries me, upsets me, and occasionally has me at a loss for how to move forward.

Yet, I feel compelled to find answers for my children and even for the students I teach. One answer is to get my family out of the house and travel the city, state, and country to see and meet people with backgrounds that differ from ours, in other environments. Another solution is to put as many books, TV programs, and films in front of them that show diverse perspectives. And it remains more vital than ever for me to encourage and fund as much formal education as my children can handle because knowledge really is the power we need more than ever.

These may seem obvious ideas, but they provide the experience and information children must have to understand others as well as themselves.

One more tack I resolve to focus on is to listen more intently to my children. They have viewpoints that will influence the future I hope to live in for at least a couple of decades. Judging by the audience that heard the soldier speak, many of today’s young people greatly value diversity and tolerance. They are better than most of us older folks at listening to opposing opinions, and unafraid of expressing their own. I have much to learn from them and must be willing to do so. After all, if I am doing anything right as a parent, they will be part of the generation to help this country come together more than I ever could.

© 2017 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.

Posted in Adolescence, Boys to Men, Columns by Family Man, Ethics, Morals, Perspective, Social Action, Teens, Tweens, Values | Leave a comment

Mass Love in the Wake of Mass Tragedy

By Gregory Keer

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday, June 12, what heartens me are the persistent waves of love pouring out from all over the country and the world. I believe more than ever that love far outweighs the hate in this world, and that it is something we must show and teach our children now more than ever. I also believe that gun-control action is vital, and that we must address the loopholes in our laws in the name of expanding the safety that I hope we all agree is the goal. However, what I also want to emphasize is a greater consciousness toward connecting with each other on a daily basis, not just after tragedy strikes. We have to notice and care about the pain and anger in others, then be relentless in getting help for those who show it. I am not naive enough to think that we can head all killers off before they pick up a weapon, but I do think that we should do more than tolerate each other. Everyday acts of kindness can be drops of water that might eventually fill up oceans of support to keep more people afloat in an often arid world of disconnection. We don’t have to kiss and hug everyone we meet, but we can be kind, provide eye contact, say hello. This blog, which I struggle to find time to use in this crazy, busy life, is one tool of connection for me. Maybe it will reach someone new today. I hope it reminds any reader that I am, many of us are, wanting to make things a little bit better.

Posted in Blog, Morals, Social Action, Values | Leave a comment

Anti-Bullying Video “To This Day”

It’s Mother’s Day, so one reason I recommend viewing this anti-bullying video by the stunningly brilliant poet Shane Koyczan is for a line: “The definition of ‘beauty’ begins with the word ‘Mom.'” But you have to see the animated version of Koyczan’s poem “To This Day” because you need to hear and see and feel the context of what it’s like to be bullied, yet grow up to be so strong. Please trust me when I say that, even if you totally get that bullying is a problem and are making efforts to protect your kids and those of others, this video offers perspective so exquisitely presented that you will have at least a few minutes of feeling transformed. Shane Koyczan also has a Web site worth visiting to hear/see more of his powerful work.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Family Man Recommends, Social Action, Video | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Tips for Raising More Charitable Children

By Alison Smith

Children become more charitable when they believe that their actions have impact. A few small, yet tangible ideas, put into action early on in life, can set the stage for a more charitably spirited and rewarding future.

1.      Pass it On

Nothing is better than receiving a completely unexpected, delightful, surprise.  Next time when you are at your favorite coffee shop with your kids, let the cashier know that you would like to buy the person behind you a cup of coffee or a muffin.  No need to let them know. The cashier can let the person know that it was a gift from the person who just left.   Your child will see how nice it feels to put a smile on an absolute stranger’s face.

2.      Cookie Delivery

At some point in time, we all have friends who could use a hug or need a little lift.  Why not bake cookies with your kids, have them draw a “happy” card and deliver an unexpected package to a friend’s doorstep.  This act of kindness will allow you to have the compassion conversation.   Being aware that grownups have feelings too helps kids to think outside of themselves and be more aware of the world around them.

3.      Plant Seeds and Give Them Life

What could be better than watching a little garden grow (especially in the dead of winter?) Give your little ones a pot, some earth and seeds to water and nurture.  Seeing the progress take shape before their very eyes shows kids that when they are patient and nurturing, beautiful things occur.

4.  Allowance is for Sharing

One of my personal all time favorites is encouraging kids to give a small portion of their allowance away.  Setting aside a small amount each week can quickly turn into to a sizable amount after a few short months.  Together you and your child can discuss where that money can go. It begins the dialogue of giving and sets your child on an early path that places giving as a party in their everyday

Alison Smith, a mom and  former kids furniture and clothing designer, is co-founder of ECHOage.com, a company that does good for children and charities by splitting birthday gift money between the two.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Charity, Featured Moms & Dads, Morals, Social Action, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

Acting From Within: Thoughts on Preventing Tragedy

By Gregory Keer

As hard as it is, the only way for me to sort through what happened in Newtown, Connecticut is to put myself in the middle of the tragedy.

Because I am a parent, I imagine I am the perpetrator’s mother, who looks at her son in the instant before he shoots her. I die before I can even think.

I am a teacher, and I shudder at what those charged with caring for those children must have thought in their last minutes as they sacrificed their lives in a desperate attempt to stop a madman.

I am a child in one of those first grade classrooms. Perhaps I have a fleeting blip of time to fear this man. Maybe I am the first to die, or maybe I am one of the other 19 children. In this case, I think, “Will he shoot me? Can I run away? He hurt my friend! Will someone save me?”

Now, I am a parent who hears my child has died. I feel blinding pain, hopelessness and anger, among so many other emotions — all of them searing. I think, “My child is gone forever? I sent my child to school, and he never came back. How can that be? How can I keep breathing? Please tell me this is not real.”

I am none of these participants. Yet, I am still a parent, a teacher, an American, a human being. And I feel so many things.

As I write this, the news is still horrifyingly fresh. There are so many unanswered questions. Some things, we will never know. What could have been in the mind of a young man, barely out of his teens, that would prompt him to slay 20 innocent children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary?

Even though we may never understand, I feel motivated, more the ever, to work to prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again. I fiercely believe this requires long-term thinking, and I worry too many people lack the patience and dedication to commit to that. Already, we are caught up in debates over whether better gun control will thwart a violently disturbed person from doing what he wants to do. While I believe we must improve background checks before selling guns to anyone, I want to focus on something we can all agree on.

As adults, we have a duty to fashion a world that’s safer and healthier for our children. We must make things better.

We have to care more about the well-being of people than we do now. We may never be able to stop a lunatic hellbent on destruction, but we can try much, much harder to do better as a society. We have to turn the discussion around so that we are not intent on preventing tragedy but working to promote goodness.

I know that to some, this may sound Pollyanna. I know I am flirting with idealism and optimism. So be it. What good is constantly reacting defensively to what is wrong in the world? Let’s go on the offensive to crush the kind of disconnection that makes outcasts of the mentally ill and socially misfit. We do woefully little to help those we cannot understand, and then we cry and shout when they hurt us.

Among the strategies are making mental health check-ups as normal as physical check-ups. They need to be affordable and not stigmatized. As a society, we are so averse to having anyone question whether we’re equipped to handle the ups and downs of life. We’re still supposed to fight through it without well-trained health professionals, and that’s not working — especially in an age where the resources exist but are not nearly as accessible or socially accepted as they should be.

Then, there are even more painstaking tasks we, as parents, must tackle with firm commitment. As President Obama said days after the shooting when he announced an interagency federal effort to combat violence, “Any actions we take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.”

On a regular basis, we need to talk with our kids about their friends. We need to teach them how to be fair and caring. We must work with them on the nuances of resolving conflicts and understanding each other’s feelings. We must help our sons and daughters recognize and reach out to those who seem alone, and educate them about physical and mental differences that make people unique but no less worthy of our attention. In these ways, we might help our kids at the ground level to improve society’s connectedness.

We need to speak with the parents of our kids’ friends and classmates about their children. We should take notice when they are in need of support. We often get so wrapped up with our own needs, we fail to reach out the way our parents or grandparents did when society seemed smaller and more manageable. We have to create a village-like atmosphere where we help each other so that no parent or child feels outside the circle. If we encounter parents or children that resist social connection, then we should seek counsel or assistance to ascertain what might be causing it and do something to assist them.

We must rely on each other and on the professionals who can make our lives better, and be willing to seek help. Children come with a wide range of emotional and physical challenges. What matters is that we be proactive. This may result in our children needing therapy or medication — or even in us needing those things ourselves. If we make the effort to get help and act in our children’s best interest, we will not only be aiding them and ourselves, but the society around us.

It could take years, even decades for these strategies to take effect. But I have to believe that if we work together, we can create a better world for our children. The alternative is just too horrible.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Health, Perspective, Protecting Children, Social Action | 3 Comments

A New Hope

By Gregory Keer

When it comes to donating money, I want to be impressive. Every December, when I send most of my biggest donations during the season of giving, I gather my children around and show them the websites and brochures of all the organizations I choose to support. In this way, they see what I value in the world and, hopefully, they think I’m a pretty nifty guy for sharing with those in need.

Sometimes, though, the philanthropic gestures of the dude they see eating potato chips in their living room at night is not impactful enough to truly teach how powerful giving to others can be.

Which is why, this year, I called upon the example of a hero my children and I have in common – the Star Wars navigator himself, George Lucas. This is a guy my kids relate to because he has entertained them with light-saber-bearing protagonists, wild alien creatures, and lots of swashbuckling space adventure.

So when I told them he is giving the entire $4.05 billion dollars from his sale of Lucasfilm to an educational charity, they were suitably impressed. Just think about what this says to the countless people influenced by the righteous rebelliousness of Luke Skywalker, the elegant leadership of Princess Leia, the daring bravado of Han Solo, and the Zen-like teaching of Yoda.

Lucas has dealt a serious blow to the dark forces Darth Vader represents by demonstrating that some people who hold great power really do want to heal the world. Already committed to education innovation via his Edutopia company that researches and promotes learning strategies, Lucas makes an even bigger statement about his belief that education must be a priority.

“I feel honored that he cares about kids even though they’re not his children,” my 11-year-old, Jacob, said. “He cares about how kids are going to be in the future.”

Through his donation, Lucas follows the Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Although my wife and I have yet to find ourselves with a multi-billion dollar windfall to play around with, we do put a lot of thought into our philanthropic approach. Last December, as we gathered our sons around the table to select charities we wanted to emphasize, my kids were most taken with Save the Children. Not only did my boys like the idea of giving to other kids, they loved the catalogue that equated certain donation amounts with funding classrooms, buying goats and sheep, purchasing medicine, and making micro-loans for small businesses. These options helped my boys see the direct impact on families in America and throughout the world. So, instead of giving money, which often seems intangible to my kids despite all our best efforts to explain the value of it, my children gave animals that provided dairy products for a family and books for a village library.

During the year, my sons wondered how the recipients were doing with the animals and books. We discussed how the children would learn to milk the goat and sheep we bought for them. We imagined them laughing and being caught up in the adventure of the stories we made possible for them to read. The children we donated to were not “those poor people in underprivileged areas” — they were kids like our sons who got some important stuff because we shared with them.

While my sons and I can’t donate billions like George Lucas, we are inspired to continue giving to children so that they have a brighter future. This year, we’ll once again select gifts that will educate and sustain young people in need. In this way, we hope to ensure there’s more than “a new hope” ahead.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Education, Ethics, School, Social Action, Values | 1 Comment

Ellis Paul – The Hero in You

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

The music of folk singer-songwriter Ellis Paul is frequently in our lives, especially because, whenever my family hops in the car for highway journeys, my youngest requests “Road Trip” from the 2008 The Dragonfly Races album. Although I love that tune, it was time for some new Paul music, which is why The Hero in You is such an appreciated addition to our vehicular playlist.

On this new recording, Paul digs deep into America’s past to enlighten children about some of our nation’s greatest contributors to culture, civil rights, science, and lots more. Paul’s full-bodied vocals and poetic turns of phrase warm up the often cold, hard facts of history in person-titled tunes about intrepid female journalist “Nellie Bly,” African-American ice cream innovator “Augustus Jackson,” Native American icon “Chief Joseph,” baseball color-barrier breaker “Jackie Robinson,” and late-blooming painter “Georgia O’Keefe,” among others. While most of the music rides the folk-sound train, the New England based performer varies things up with a spoken-word detour for “Thomas Edison” (about the prolific inventor) and a smooth hip-hop rap on “Martha Graham” (celebrating the brilliant choreographer).

All this singing of U.S. heroes’ praises comes from Paul’s feeling that our country needs to take more pride in its unique leaders. At the same time, Paul – who pays homage to one of his musical inspirations on “Woody Guthrie, Working May” – tells his young listeners that each of us is capable of great things, as suggested by the title track.

Pair this album with The Deedle Deedle Dees’ equally educational Strange Dees, Indeed. and your car stereo will turn into quite the rolling edu-tainment system.

www.ellispaul.com – $15 (CD) – Ages 2 to 11

Posted in Education, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Music, Social Action | Leave a comment

New Social Action Book Series for Kids

A couple of years ago, Tracey Serebin interviewed me for a number of segments on her Internet radio show. Tracey also mentioned she had a dream of publishing a book series geared for 7-12 years olds to help raise the social consciousness of kids. Like too few of us, Tracey has been steadily working on making her dream a reality and she is now raising the capital to publish her just-finished first book in the Daisy Button Adventure Series. The initial volume is about building a community garden, something that is growing in importance in a world in which a lot of kids do not get enough fresh produce in their diet. Tracey is already making agreements with schools around the country to use the book series in their curriculum. If you are interested in the book, take a look at the Web site linked above. If you’d like to contribute funds to get the book into its first printing, click to the Kickstarter.org site.

Posted in Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends, Social Action | Leave a comment