Street Smarts

What would your rather be, school smart or street smart? I am lucky enough to say that I have a little bit of both. I am not sure if I can really equate street smarts to common sense, but I believe that to be street smart you have to begin by having common sense. I think you learn to be street smart by learning common sense the hard way.

Colombia is a country that is portrayed as dangerous and full of violence. While some of those reports are over inflated and at times misleading there is true to some of the insecurity in the country. There are a lot of people that are living in very precarious conditions. Some are simply thugs; some are people that need to steal to survive. Living in an environment where you have to always be alert changes things about your world perception. The Unites States is no different. There are places where people struggle or chose a life of crime. There are neighborhoods where you also have to watch what you do and how you do it.

The big difference between the US and Colombia is that there are pockets of innocence all over the US. There are plenty of communities where the “Pleasantville” atmosphere still lives. Is this a false sense of security? Or Are their communities really that safe? I am not sure, but I believe that in today’s age, everyone can do with a little street smart.

Is it something that can be taught? I don’t know. Let me tell you a little story of how I learned to be street smart. Before I moved to the US I had a fascination with baseball caps. Here in the US they are both cheap and attainable, but in Colombia they were kind of a hard to get accessory, especially if they were team licensed. I was about 12. I was painting the fence in our front yard when a couple of guys in a motorcycle approached the fence. I was wearing one of my baseball caps. The guy pretended to ask for directions and kept on lowering his voice so I had to get closer… I wanted to help him out, so I kept on getting closer… when I got within an arm length he reached for my cap and took off. At the time I felt safe, I was behind the fence inside my own front yard, but I still got mugged. That thought me a valuable lesson about talking to strangers even in my own house.

I also believe that knowing street smart also encompasses being able to talk to people from all different backgrounds and social statuses. Being able to roam around different social circles has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I attribute a lot of it to street smarts and respect. Knowing what to say and what not to say can open door for you everywhere you go.

I’ve had plenty of people make fun of me for the use of the word Sir. I use it quite often during conversation specially when I don’t know a person. I also use it with my friends when I greet them. A lot of people from past generations still regard that as a sign of respect, even if some people from my generation might see it as a way to put myself down or kiss butt. I believe that my elders should be addressed as Sir or Mam in most situations.

There are plenty of other stories that I can tell you about learning lessons from just being in a tough environment, but would you really learn from them or do you have to live in a city to really learn street smarts? I think it is a good skill to have.

So the Easter bunny is gone

I hope everyone had an excellent Easter. I did, great food, better company, enjoyed the weather… what else could I ask for?

I could talk about how a bunny has nothing to do with the real meaning of Easter for Christians… or how the whole lent, lets not eat fish on Friday began as a monetary driven thing… but I would like to talk about religion.

Are you still reading? Good. I am not going to get too deep, I just want to talk about the resurrection theme. Christians do not believe in reincarnation, but I believe is a pretty cool concept. Having the opportunity to start over in some cases with a better foundation in some others as a bug to pay for bad karma. Some Christians believe in the concept of being born again via accepting Jesus as your lord and savior. The theme over and over is change, a clean slate of sorts.

Lent is all about that too, we give up something we really like for a period of time so that we can reflect on what is really important in our lives. At least for the followers of Cathol (isn’t that we Catholics are 😉 ) we tend to let Easter pass by and forget about so many things… we can again eat Chocolate or drink pop (some of the popular things people give up for lent), but what change have we really made in our life? Did we really reflect on what changes should be made? Why not start a new life today, the day after Easter?
For those of you that don’t believe on an imaginary friend, what about thinking of Tax day and making it a catalyst for change. I believe we can all make a difference in the world if we commit ourselves to looking inside ourselves and changing something.

This weekend I watched a couple of things that actually moved me. One was Born into Brothels, a documentary about a group of kids that through the art of photography change their lives after being born in the red light district of Calcutta. Kids with Cameras was born from that film and I believe we need more people like Zana Briski to change this world. Do you think you can be one of the people that will help the world become a better place? I also watched Oprah do a show on the new documentary by the guy the brought us Super Size Me. He and his wife lived for a month on minimum wage, and while the documentary itself does not show me anything new, I have lived in a household that was bellow the poverty line of income, it did bring up a good point. Is this the America we want to live in?

So, in conclusion after my various tirades. Let Easter or Tax Day be the start of internal changes within you. Take a little time to reevaluate what could make you a better person, a better family member, a better friend. If you are perfect and need no changing, then help others by supporting the cause of the less fortunate, the least you can do is contact your representative and tell them, we should raise minimum wage.

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Trained Killers

Besides all the innocent people that are losing their lives right now in the middle of the war, one of the things that worries me the most is the generation of young people that are fighting it. I am not talking about just the ones that are losing their lives, or the ones that are going to come back without a limb, I am talking about all of them. War changes people. Boot camp changes people.

Boot camp is a process that is designed to strip you of individuality, make you programmable and able to respond not to your conscious though but to either directions or programmed behavior. The worst part is that it takes away your natural aversion of taking another human life and replaces it with the ability to kill others. People become targets and killing without hesitation is the ultimate goal of your training.

Not only do we have one of the deadliest armies in the world, it is growing every single day. I am guessing that, as much research that is being place into creating the best soldiers in the world is not being balance to reprogramming. I have talked to veterans of the first Golf War as well as some from this one, and let me tell you that I feel really bad for them. While I am extremely proud that they defended our country and did their duty I am sadden by the empty look in their face and the horrid images that they are not even able to share.

One of the first things you learn while in basic training is attention to detail. In the age of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) your survival depends on your attention to detail and changes to your environment. This is all necessary knowledge that will save our soldier’s life, but what happens when they come back home? Do they shed that thought skin? Are they still paranoid about a car backfiring?

I read an article in Rolling Stone about a soldier that came back from the war and ended up dead after taking the life of a cop. The story is not conclusive and does not really point fingers one way or the other. I also watched True Life: I’m coming home from Iraq. It was really sad to not only see the young people there having changed so much that they are even uncomfortable around their own family, but watching their fear build as the shadow of redeployment was cast over them.

The military offers services to help with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), but I believe that is not enough. I am truly afraid of the amount of soldiers that are coming back to our country and their mental state. Are we losing a generation of our young people to this war?

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Being a parent was something that was always in the back of my head as something that I wanted to accomplish some day but not something that I would ever be ready for. Being a parent to Ty has been one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my life. While it does have its rewards, it is a hard job and probably the biggest responsibility that I have ever carried in my life. Every single action that I take around him has consequences, and at times it feels like I don’t have a clue, it makes me feel very powerless.

Sometimes I also feel too strict, but I end up not thinking is a bad thing. Now that I have to be a parent to a child I can get on a high horse and while it only has been for the past year I can start calling myself a parent. At least I feel a little more comfortable with the title.

I am very old fashion when it comes to a child’s upbringing. I believe that they should never be involved in adult conversation. I believe that they should never talk back and that they should always listen the first time. I also believe that children crave discipline and are in a never ending struggle with boundaries and trying to push them. It is our nature as humans to find our identity. Granted not all of us are leaders and some of us take identities given by society or others, but in the search of it we create a personality and become “ourselves.” I believe parents are a huge influence on what a child becomes, while still knowing that each person will become what they chose.

I believe that rules are important; I also believe that rules should never be broken. Rule breaking becomes a vicious cycle. If we tell a kid not to do something, but for whatever reason we allow it, we are losing credibility by making rules flexible to situations. Kids are smart and will try to see what other situations allow for rules to be broken. At times I really become too much of a disciplinarian and I am trying to balance it out with love. Giving and showing and much love as I can. I hope that it will reach a happy medium.

I recently read an article that I believe has excellent advice…

Jacobsen’s tough-love solution clarifies the difference between rights and privileges. Rights include an abuse-free environment; adequate shelter, clothing and food; and access to education and basic health.

To your child’s horror, everything else is a privilege. That includes television and phone time, computers, in-line skates, dinner at McDonald’s, laundry service, $150 athletic shoes and copious amounts of soda per week. “Control over your child’s privileges is key to better behavior,” writes Jacobsen, an expert in child guidance and developmental psychology.

Her system teaches parents to allocate privileges on a contingency basis. Good behavior means privileges are “on”; bad behavior means they’re “off.” The all-or-nothing approach will have a dramatic effect on your youngster, she promises.

We have actually tried a similar approach and it has had some positive effects. Like anything else it is about consistency. Another approach that works if used correctly is timeouts. They have to be done as a form of cooling and not punishment. To have the child stand in the time out spot until they are ready to discuss the behavior that needs to be corrected. They pretty much stay in the time out until they get to the right frame of mind.

I know I don’t have all the answers, I know that I need to learn a lot more. All I know is that being a parent is a hard job and people need to take it seriously.

Respect Revisited

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.”
-Laurence Sterne

I have already written a post about respect, and I mentioned on that post how the respect topic for me cannot be contained in a single post. I think respect is a trait that can really reflect who someone really is. Learning respect is probably one of the hardest things we have to do in life, because if we don’t learn about it early on we are going to hit our heads against many walls.

Everybody has his or her own definition and levels of respect. While someone might not find obscene words disrespectful, someone else might. It is all a matter of your environment. I have very high standards for the respect that I expect and it constantly causes me to be hurt. I find it offensive when people talk about people of other races being inferior, and I feel personally disrespected when people do it. Ignorance at times can hurt and when someone around me says, “People that come to this country should learn how to speak English,” it hurts me. I still have plenty of people in my family with limited knowledge of English. It is not that they don’t want to learn it, it is that they don’t have the capacity.

I feel that is a lack of respect to talk about subjects that people don’t understand. While I do believe that someone that wants to become a part of society in America has to learn English, it is easier said than done. Some people because of their age, money or time constraints do not have the ability to learn how to speak proper English. Should those people not be allowed to have a place in the Land of the free?

Something I found interesting about a linguistics class was that a child could learn up to 10 languages before the age of 10. Mentally it is not a challenge at all. The importance of the age was actually more physiological. After your vocal chords, nasal cavity and larynx are developed to a certain point, some sounds are very hard to produce. That is where accents come from mostly. Some people can learn English very well, but their physiognomy will prevent them from truly being able to pronounce certain sounds.

At this level respect involves being able to think about what we say before we say it. A word that for most of my life I never spoke was the word “retarded.” I found the word to be offensive. I always thought, “I never know if someone in the room has a relative who is truly retarded.” The word now a days has a new meaning and it is more often associated with the word dumb that with its true meaning. I have used it on occasion, but I still don’t like it. It might be foolish or extreme of me to think so much about a simple word but to me it comes down to respect. If I can potentially hurt someone’s feelings, it is easier for me to choose the words I use.

I know that I cannot even begin to think that I would never offend anyone. A simple misinterpretation can lead to someone being truly offended by something said with the best of intentions. Last week I was a guest speaker at a Psychology class. The teacher invited me to talk about my experience as an American with two cultures; he also wanted me to talk about racism. I began my speech with a little background about me, and then I said, “When I moved to the United States I had to learn 3 different cultures and not just one.” I went on to say that I attended high school at a school that was 90% black. While this was a fact, the audience, which was racially mixed, responded quite differently to what I had expected. I believe that even some of the black students took offense to what I said. While my remark carried no negative connotation to it, I felt it necessary to explain during the chat that I was more accepted by the black people in my school than even the other Latinos. By the end of the chat everyone was participating and it seemed like no one came out truly offended by anything that I said, but I still wonder if some of my words were found to be disrespectful in any level.

I don’t think it is foolish to care too much. I believe that the basis for any strong relationship comes from respect. As a relationship grows and we become comfortable with other people, respect should begin to grow and never diminish. I think that just because we want to be frank with people we should never disrespect them, more importantly we should find out what those people find disrespectful and truly care about them being hurt. We all have lines that we don’t like anyone to cross, while some might have broader lines than others, I believe we all have them. I think the world would be a better place if we learned that to not cross those lines it is to respect others.

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