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  • Reverend James Squire

A Three Years Old in a Car Seat

I have just read that a three- years old child in his car seat was crying uncontrollably because of the Eagles’ loss. The child said that it was the Eagles fault. The mother tried to calm the child down by singing the Eagles’ Fight Song. I also saw that a school district in Kutztown had banned The Bluest Eye by Pulitzer Prize winner, Toni Morrison, because it would make children feel uncomfortable and guilty for having a problem free existence. Last night I really enjoyed the evening news highlighting that the positive psychology class at Yale was the most subscribed course in the history of the university. The news didn’t indicate that Yale was not the first to claim the relevance of this course of study. A Harvard course taught by Tal Ben Shahar was first. Dr. Santos, who was pictured in the news clip at Yale taught the online course that Vicki and I took during the Covid epidemic. I taught a unit on positive psychology in my ethics class. The student evaluations of me and the course gave the unit high marks as it changed students’ ways of thinking about happiness as well as how to pursue meaning and purpose that is real and long lasting. Purpose is something that you don’t get when banning books and protecting kids from real life.

So, what does all of the above have to do with a crying child in a car seat? There are times when we can see what’s right or wrong with a situation or person. The microcosm can help us see what is happening in the macrocosm of what is occurring in individuals and in society. One of the ways that I was taught about how to help people in counseling was to see every day struggles in the extreme. If you want to learn how to help people with their personal madness spend time on a psychiatry ward where you can see depression in its crippling form. You can understand people who refuse to leave their isolated world, you can see that in its extreme as well. Seeing the extreme helps us to unpack the normal.

We need to see life not as something that doesn’t need deletion but something that benefits from value added. If an adolescent does something wrong, some parents first instinct is to take something away with the attitude “that will teach them.” It’s one of our human instincts.

The Three years old child in the car seat it is mirroring the behavior of the parents. The parents are mirroring a group dynamic known as Philia. It is important to understand why the fans climb poles, celebrate with a level of alcohol lubricating their disposition as well as in gatherings where everyone seems to have one goal that is a victory for the Eagles. The same dynamic which creates the Eagles’ fan, long after three years old, is what makes group dynamics such as in teams, political parties, AA groups and cancer support groups to name a few. In essence, the Eagles’ fans had an extreme response that can tell us a lot after the loss. We can tolerate life’s ups and downs if we understand them.

When the Eagles lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, it was literally every fan that lost. The news kept referring to the Philly fans as being in grief. What happens when an individual connects with the identity of the group, they no longer are Jim and Jane. They are an Eagle. Their sense of being an individual is less present than their identity as a fan. If asked in a bar or the streets of Philly who are you this past Sunday night, a person would most likely not give their name but say I am a Philly fan of the Eagles. Philia is a powerful emotion because it gives the individual two things that mean a great deal to him or her. It is like the emotional equivalent of buy one, get one free at the grocery store. They are the emotions of elevated self-esteem and a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself. What we experience is “I may be inferior, but we are magnificent.” If we see self-esteem and a sense of belonging as food, by virtue of being a human being we want those two foods like a person who is hungry for a great meal. To complete the image, Philly has been starved for a winner in sports. Fans tend to make good people better and bad people intentioned people worst. Fans or groups tend to scapegoat people as a common enemy. In this case it was the Chiefs and the referees.

So how do we help Philly move forward. You don’t!!! This is where positive psychology and faith enters the picture. First, let the parents of the 3 years old, live with the experience. Stop protecting kids from upsetting news. See things as temporary and not permanent which was the basis of my book, This Too Shall Pass, both the good and the bad. Know that when young people make big mistakes, they really do feel worse than you as the parent. Learn to fail or fail to learn. We need challenges that will test our will. A book should make your child uncomfortable so that you can talk to them about the content of The Bluest Eye. That is what a teacher does. That book was taught at EA, a school with stellar values.

Shouldn’t you be wondering why so many kids are signing up for a positive psychology course? They focus on meaning, purpose, being part of something greater than you, gratitude, engagement, and happiness. They aren’t getting that stuff at home or in school. What they are getting is important things being removed. Allow them to see what is happening in Ukraine. When I first saw my father after his stroke lying in a bed not moving with spittle coming out of both sides of his mouth, no one said, “Now Jim this maybe too upsetting for you.” Comment about the child who is seen on the TV screen who is in deep uncontrollable grief because she didn’t make the cut to get Taylor Swift tickets. Give me a break! This is what happens when you protect a child from the harsh realities of life.

We can learn a lot about life and human nature from dog training. When we took Sadie the Wonder God to be trained, the first session had nothing to do with the Sadie. The trainer made it pretty clear that she was training us. Sadie is still an opportunist. She lives for when I am sitting down to lunch and one of two things happens, the doorbell rings or my office phone rings, and I have forgotten about the devious side of those deep brown eyes of hers. Halfway to the front door or office, I know that my sandwich is gone. I have the world record on lost sandwiches. Should I take her dinner away from her? Her awareness doesn’t need to be raised. Mine does.

If I were a parent who was banning books and running for school boards to put their stamp of approval on everything that they can, you may what to raise the question of why all these students are taking a positive psychology class in college. It isn’t about punishment or “taking away things.” It is value added. For example, it encourages a parent to ask three things that has happened in their child’s day that they are grateful for. It looks for what are strengths for their children and how they can use them each day. That is what is important because that is what they will need for a happy and purpose driven life.

I wish I could say that Sadie has had her last sandwich on me, but I can’t. I am slow learner who needs additional training or maybe I just don’t think it is a big deal. It says more about me than it does about her. Likewise, the parents who advocate banning books says more about them than the content that they want removed. That’s something that DeSantis just doesn’t want to understand for he is on a roll in Florida with his eyes set on the presidency.

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