What Are We Teaching Our Children About Power and Self-Control?

What are we teaching our children about power and self-control?

Why do so many young men value respect above life and liberty? How far has the prison culture value system penetrated our collective psyche? Is our obsession with respect really about respect or is it about delusions of power that are reinforced by our society?

Many evenings, a dozen 11-14 year-old boys play street hockey in the cul-de-sac in front of my house, which means I need to drive through their game to get home. The boys don’t get out of my way as quickly as I’d like and some stare at me with a look that seems to say, “yeah, whadda you lookin at.” Sometimes they fight, play rap music, and leave their equipment in the street but none of these boys has ever shown overt disrespect to my family or me.

In prison culture (not that I’ve been there – I’ve just read about it) there is a slang term called “slow-playing.” Slow-playing is when a guard commands a prisoner to do something and he complies, but he does it as slow as possible. Most 4-year-olds slow-play their parents daily. Prisoners and toddlers slow-play for the same reasons – it gives them the delusion of power and control in an imbalanced power structure. The next time someone slow-plays you remember it isn’t about you, it’s a warning sign that the person slow-playing you feels subjugated and powerless in relation to you. They aren’t doing it to make you feel bad, they are doing it to make themselves feel powerful.

So why do some boys in my neighborhood feel the need to resort to infantile tactics to feel a sense of power in their lives? Maybe a better question is… Why do so many young males feel powerless? They’ll never admit that they feel powerless, but they do, and powerless young males are at the root of most of our social problems.

I love the boys playing hockey in the cul-de-sac – I’d like to join them – I want my boys to play hockey in the cul-de-sac – that’s why I bought a house on a cul-de-sac. Fighting and rap music don’t bother me… when I was 13 it would have been fighting, cigarettes, heavy metal, and hardcore punk, so in some ways they’ve made a step forward.

But at least one neighbor finds the fighting, music, and slow-playing unacceptable. She is in constant conflict with the boys. Yesterday when she backed out of the driveway, a drama unfolded when the boys cleared the cul-de-sac running to the curb and hailing her like a queen as she drove by. When she saw the sarcasm, she stopped and lit into them.

I agree with her that the boys should be courteous and respectful, but treating them with more disrespect only digs the hole deeper, escalating the conflict and providing them with further justification for feeling powerless. Smiling, laughing, and winking at them may have been a better reaction. What do you think?

I’ve concluded that believing you can control others is delusional. The only control that exists in reality is self-control. Yes, your parents, the police, the government, or your God may be authorities in your life, but that is only because you have granted them the authority. Ultimately, they can’t make you do a thing. They can give you incentives to do something or they can threaten, detain, torture, or kill you if you don’t do something, but the choice is still yours, albeit under duress.

I once read a study of parenting styles by economic class. It found that poor and working class families stressed blind patriarchal obedience, while upper middle class and wealthy families stressed self-control. At first glance, it appears that obedience and self-control are almost the same, but they aren’t. Obedience acts in blind fear of a threatening external power structure, and treats the individual as inherently flawed and incapable of self-restraint. Self-control is intuitively making the right decision in a situation regardless of external incentives or threats.

How do we instill self-control in young people? Where does it come from? I don’t know. I’d like to read your thoughts.

Who is Steve Olson and What is This Website About?

I’ve picked up thousands of new visitors and hundreds of new subscribers over the past ten days, so I am going to take this opportunity to share with you who I am and what this website is about.

I am a 38 year old father of two boys ages 2 and 4. We live in a suburb of Minneapolis Minnesota. I have been with my wife Christine (also 38) for almost 19 years.

I work in the tech field and currently manage one of the finest Oracle e-business teams ever assembled. Am I bragging? Yep. But they are that good! Several days ago Oracle called one of our developers to solve a problem. I have a great job working with great people at a great company.

During the dot com era, Christine and I founded, operated, and sold music1search.com (no link – there is nothing there anymore) to CDconnection.com.

Some readers have asked about my educational background:
I attended a mix of public and religious schools for 12 years. My educational experience was a nightmare. Authorities threw me out of school several times and I barely earned a diploma. Every skill that has led to financial or personal gain I learned outside of the classroom. I am not a fan of traditional schooling.

Christine is an entrepreneur and runs a home-based internet bookselling business. She has recently expanded outside the book niche and into collectables and purses. She has realized 100% annual growth each year since she started the company in 2003. She sells her wares on eBay, Amazon Marketplace, Albris, ABE, and she recently set up her own website at www.soconik.com. When we started this blog, I hoped she would write frequent posts about her growing home based business, but she doesn’t have the time and passion for writing that I do, so her posts are infrequent, but I will keep you updated with any useful information about her growing company.

Christine and I have goals for our personal lives and for our family.

We plan to keep our children out of government and religious school systems.

Over the next several years, Christine plans to expand her business into a warehouse and multiple retail locations and I plan to help Christine grow her business while transitioning from corporate work to freelance content creation.

This website doesn’t serve a specific niche like some sites. This site is about life and the reality I see around me everyday. One post may be philosophical and another may be about parenting. I have strong interests in entrepreneurship, personal/financial growth, personal/political freedom, mysticism, and education. Most of my posts are anecdotes meant to provoke thought. Right now I am studying Zen Buddhism, so some of the current posts have a Zen flavor. Sometimes I make a post about something trivial but valuable to visitors, like the popular piece on automobile check engine lights. Many experts tell me to stick with a niche, but this site isn’t like that, it’s eclectic.

As passionate as I am about freedom, I am equally passionate about responsibility, so some posts are about achieving personal freedom by accepting responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Since I am working full-time and writing part-time, I only post 2-4 times per week.

Thanks for visiting, reading, and supporting this site!

You can learn more by reading Why I Blog and about steve-olson.com (which I will update soon).

Please support steve-olson.com by buying books from Christine.

Answers to Reader Questions About The Frightened Americans Post

The post about frightened Americans, generated over 500 emails, 160 comments, and 35,000 visits.

Many of you asked for the context of the post and I will give it to you, but first I want to share what I learned from your response.

Except for a small minority, most respondents agreed that we are indeed losing our freedom and that few people stand up and challenge authority.

But what is far more surprising is that the post resonated across political lines. Many people of different political classifications responded – Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Capitalists, Environmentalists, Socialists, Communists, and Fascists.

While almost everyone lamented our loss of freedom and the apparent cowardice in the face of oppression, the most interesting thing is whom we blame.

The Republicans blame the Democrats
The Democrats blame the Republicans
The Liberals blame the Conservatives
The Conservatives blame the Liberals
The Socialists blame the Capitalists
The Capitalists blame the Socialists
The Fascists blame the Socialists
The Socialists blame the Fascists
The Environmentalists blame the Capitalists
The Capitalists blame the Environmentalists

Can you accept the possibility that all of them are right? Imagine the implication of that. We are all trying to take each other’s freedom away because we have our own agenda, but the law of unintended consequences takes over, and we all lose our freedom. Is it possible for us (the human race) to stop trying to control others and become more accepting of one another?

You asked what inspired the post
1. A conversation about a victim of a botched no-knock police raid, her problems with PTSD, and how she has lost all trust in the system.

2. A story about K-9 police conducting a random sweep of our local public High School while the kids were in class. What really needled me was how they searched six lockers because they smelled like tobacco. When did we decide to violate a teenager’s civil rights because her locker smelled like tobacco? This is police state insanity. If we don’t speak out about these small violations, why do we believe we will have the courage to speak out about the big violations?

3. My office mates and I had a lunch conversation about the fun we had with Lawn Darts as children. Everybody at the table had played with them. Later I realized – our parents clearly saw that Lawn Darts were dangerous, but they trusted us and accepted the risk, something too many parents refuse to do today. Many parents believe they can eliminate risk without eliminating freedom. How will our children learn that responsibility is the cornerstone of freedom when we don’t trust them with real responsibility?

4. My recent immersion into the writings of Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Robert Pirsig, and Brad Warner reinforced just how insane our laws have become. Allan Watts talked about how young people in the 1960s were criticized for taking risks, but he countered the fear saying almost everything that is fun, creative, or worth doing is risky. Our attempts to eliminate risk result in more fear and paranoia not health and safety. Can’t we allow our young people to be brave explorers and stop conditioning them to be fearful automatons? Reading about and remembering the 60s, 70s, 80s, put our current situation into context. In daily life, the change seems subtle, but if you compare today to the past the loss of freedom is dramatic and it isn’t working – even with the recent growth in Minnesota’s prison population, people do not feel safer. As Nneka wrote at the Balanced Life Center, we can be safe and free. When will we realize that we need to be responsible and conscious if we are to have both?

You asked for details about the no-knock raid in which the police removed a school teacher from her home:

Our local paper reported the incident.
The article doesn’t have first hand accounts of the raid. I heard those while listening to people in the community. The repairmen told the police it was a misunderstanding before they entered the home, but the police still raided the home! There was no cause for the action and there was no recourse for the victim. It’s baffling.

I didn’t list the details about this event simply because I knew it would destroy the flow and readability of the original post.

With the recent events in Virginia, either we can sink deeper into fear or we can view this tragedy as an opportunity to stand up proud and free showing courage in the face of terror. I pray we do not overreact. Attempting to find a rational answer to this insanity is like arguing with a drunk. Our rational minds are wired to make sense of events. And as we try to make sense of senseless things, we will find there is no sensible reaction to madness. Reaction to madness usually leads to more madness. We could work toward eliminating madness, but is that possible? Isn’t that like working to eliminate the nighttime because we prefer the daytime?

Best Stuff of the Week 4-15-07

Out of the Mouths of Babes – Like I’ve said before… kids see through all of our BS and tell it like it is… when we let them.

You Grew Up Playing Shoot’em-Up Games. Why Can’t Your Kids? – Clive Thompson gives a fresh angle on the vid game debate.

Being Discovered vs Slow and Steady Blog Growth – Darren Rowse writes about how his blogs grew.

Proof That Buying A House Is Impossible In Some Local Real Estate Markets – Curly Tree tells us what is happening to the housing markets

Why are we afraid of the Truth? – John Wesley asks an insightful question.

The Top 50 Productivity Blogs (most of which you haven’t heard about) – Thanks for including me, Leo!

High School Sweethearts – Can It REALLY Last? (Video) – I find this topic interesting, because Christine and I have been together since we were 19. While we weren’t High School Sweethearts, most experts would say it shouldn’t have lasted because we were too young and we would grow apart. Instead we grew together, and I couldn’t imagine trying to build a life with someone I didn’t know until I was 30. I think getting together so young is one of the biggest strengths in our relationship.

20 Tips for Getting Your Security Deposit Back – This is good stuff to know if you are renting. When I was a renter, there was no internet, and I got screwed out of most deposits. Thankfully today there is Wise Bread.

Need to be Debt Free – I discovered this blog today. It is a fascinating look at family’s struggle to free themselves from debt.

Random Good Stuff – Another blog I discovered this week. It is fantastic. I can’t decide if I like this post or this post more.

When did America become a nation of frightened wimps?

It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority – Benjamin Franklin

When did America become a nation of frightened wimps? When did we cross the line from courage to cowardice? Was it sometime in the 1990s? After the Oklahoma City bombing? After the Columbine shootings? After 911?

When did we decide to allow the police to smash into private homes without knocking and identifying themselves? Recently, in the suburb I live in, a special police force dressed in black Nazi style uniforms busted into a suburban home without warning and dragged a school teacher out of her house with an automatic weapon at the back of her head. They forced her to the ground, handcuffed her, and hauled her away while her neighbors watched. They did it without a warrant and without consequence. Why? A misunderstanding. That is precisely why we need checks in place, to avoid misunderstandings and abuses. The police chief said, “When we realized it was a mistake, we all had a good laugh.” If a group of unidentified men dragged his wife away at gunpoint, I wonder if he would still think it was funny.

When did we decide it was okay to strip search an old lady at the airport because the pin in her hip set off the metal detector? When did we decide it was too risky to take a cup of coffee on an airplane? When did we decide it was reasonable to make a nursing mother drink her own breast milk to prove she wasn’t a terrorist? When we impose such extreme levels of security, haven’t the terrorists already won? Haven’t we willingly given our freedom to the government and the terrorists in the name of security?

When did we decide it was okay for policemen in combat boots with German Shepherds to patrol High School hallways?

When did we decide to allow routine police roadblocks? Why weren’t we outraged?

When did we decide it was too dangerous for our children to ride their bikes to school?

When did we decide it was okay for the government to seize property without a trial, without due process, at the whim of a government agency?

When did we decide that our government had a right to the fluids inside our own bodies? Or a right to the very breath in our lungs? When did we decide that it was the accused’s responsibility to prove they hadn’t been breaking the law? When did we decide that drug testing High School students was reasonable? Hell, why is it reasonable to drug test anyone – ever? Why would anybody, for any reason, have the right to invade your body without your permission?

When did we decide to give 10 year prison sentences to adolescents for having sex? Was it before or after we decided to put them in jail for smoking cigarettes and drinking beer? If my memory serves me correctly, when I was a teenager, almost everyone I knew either was doing it or wanted to do it. Why did we make what is biological and natural, criminal?

When did we decide it is too risky for 20-year-olds to drink but reasonable for them to kill and die overseas? Does that make sense to anyone?

We’ve justified every one of these injustices by claiming that it was necessary to preserve health and safety. I say bullsh!t. What is the point in being a safe slave?

I think we crossed the line somewhere between 1984 and 1988, around the time we outlawed lawn darts and every mini van in America had a ‘baby-on-board’ sign. While lawn darts and baby on board signs may seem trivial, they were warning signs of a mass shift in American values – a shift away from freedom and liberty as predominant values to health and safety as predominant values. There will be no end to the loss of freedom if we believe being healthy and safe trumps all else.

I believe there was day when most Americans accepted that life was risky. They accepted that bad things can happen to good people. They accepted that risk was an inherent part being free. They didn’t need a new law or government program every time something bad happened.

It is sad to watch our freedom slowly disappear in front of our eyes with so few people taking action.

But I have hope. I sense a shift. Something is blowing in the wind. I can smell it. I can feel it. I can see it in young people. A move away from authoritarianism – like the people that run The Free Talk Live podcast, one of the most popular podcasts in the world. The Free Talk Live podcasters make no apologies and pull no punches in their love of freedom. They tell it like it is.

He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither – Benjamin Franklin

Why Reaching Your Goals Will Never Make You Happy

Have you ever considered the possibility that reaching your goals won’t make you happy? That achievement and accomplishment won’t satisfy you? Do you ever get a sneaking suspicion that you are cheating yourself out of your own happiness? Like you’re missing something important. I’ve felt this way most of my life, but I believe I found a piece of the puzzle and I want to share it with you. Let me give you a clue…

Accomplishment isn’t what you really want. It’s a hoax.

You’ve probably heard someone say life is a journey not a destination. A worthless platitude, right? But I had an experience yesterday that seemed to give the idea freshness.

Why do children see things so clearly? A respected programmer once told me it was easier to teach a child Object Oriented Programming concepts than to teach a 20-year veteran. I didn’t think much of his comment at the time, but after the last 4 years with my son, I am certain he was right. Children see things as they are, not how social conditioning demands that we see them. If each adult could see the world through the eyes of a child for a day, it would shake the foundations of civilization. But our society doesn’t value the thoughts and opinions of children. Our society views them as destructive little monsters that we need to hammer into shape.

As I wrote in “Are video games bad for kids?” – my 4-year-old son is obsessed with Spyro 1&2 for the PS1. He has completed both games, finding every gem, beating every boss, and discovering every secret. He knows every corner of every map, the strengths and weaknesses of every opponent, and conquers the obstacles with a speed and precision I never imagined he possessed.

After working at it for a week, he finished Spyro 1. He collected 14,000 gems, dozens of eggs, 80 dragons, defeated hundreds of bad guys, and solved multiple puzzles. As he was reflecting on his accomplishment he said, “Dad, you know, I don’t like that part. You know, the part when it plays the movie and the music and the words (credits). The fun part is doing all the stuff in the different lands. Getting the gems and dragons is the fun part. Not the end. I don’t like the end.”

A light went off – pow! This is what people mean when they remind you to live in the present. Enjoy it now because now is all you have. When the end comes, it’ll be too late.

Let me give you a better example.

In Minnesota, boys ice hockey is God. They start out around 5 or 6 years old and the ultimate goal is winning the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. Minnesota ice hockey is like Texas football, it means everything to some towns. Each season thousands of boys begin playing hockey but only 20 boys will win the championship game.

At the end of the championship game, when the clock expires or someone scores in overtime, the winning team erupts in celebration falling all over each other on the ice while the losers sob crocodile tears about how close they came. But in that instant – from that split second before victory occurs to the fleeting emotional moments afterward – the ultimate goal passes from the future through the present and becomes history – never to be experienced again. The actual experience of winning only lasts a few seconds! After that, it’s just a memory.

For many of the boys, that moment is the culmination of 13 years of living and breathing ice hockey. What did the previous 13 years playing hockey have to do with that brief moment of victory? Everything – it was the essence of the victory. It was the real fun. But if you spent those years obsessed with the goal – living for the future – you missed all the fun. In this case winning the tournament is the end. Winning that final game is the peak, the pinnacle of success, and it ends there. Even Neal Broten who went on to win the NCAA Championship, the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal, and the Stanley Cup said those experiences paled in comparison to the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament.

So what’s my point? My point is that the end result of your work or goal isn’t where you really want to be. Once you are there, it’s over. You really want to be where you are right now. That’s why once you reach a goal you always set a new one. Happiness does not lie in accomplishment; it lies in the act of accomplishing.

Do not think I am dismissing accomplishment and goal setting. I am not. I have spent most of my life fiercely competitive. Set goals, accomplish great things, but remember the fun part is happening right now – right this minute as you work to achieve your goals. If you wait to have fun until after you reach your goals, you will have missed the point because it will be over… gone… poof… and you’ll be standing there asking… what will ever make me happy?

The Best of the Interweb (sic) Easter Sunday 2007

Is Your Blog Biased? Effin Right it is! And it ought to be! That’s why I blog. By Aaron Wall posted on Problogger.net

The Personal MBA meets the NoBS – Seth Godin and Josh Kaufman on Traditional MBA programs.

Why You Won’t Be Rich – You really don’t want to be rich. Don’t worry, most of us don’t want to be rich we just think we do.

Is There a Blogging Backlash? – at Qmusings. Many blogs are becoming incestuous. Blogging has bubble written all over it. I’ve heard the best way to make money blogging is to blog about blogging. Think about that… It’s like saying the best way to make money on Real Estate is to sell Real Estate to Newbie Real Estate agents. How long could that last? Pretty soon there will be a lot fewer newbies, which means – no audience. Sure Darren Rowse and John Chow will be around for the long haul, but we don’t need 25,000 copycats.

The World’s Most Surprising Shortage – Afraid of outsourcing, think again!

Finally Some Supreme Court Justices with Intelligence – Don’t ever give up your freedom in exchange for safety. It’s a Faustian bargain. LOSE – LOSE!.

Outlawing the Incandescent Bulb – You aren’t getting the whole story. Many people get horrible headaches from fluorescent lighting. Does anyone care about them? What about the environmental damage? I bet you didn’t know there was any.

Many Americans see little point to Web – With most of the crap I’ve seen on Reddit and Digg lately, it doesn’t surprise me.

Can you see God? My 4-year-old can.

My 4-year-old son was sitting at the table yesterday having a snack.

Out of the blue, he asked, “Dad, where can I see God?”

Surprised, I said, “Huh? I don’t know.”

He asked again, “Is he in another state or country or something?”

I said, “I don’t know if you have to go anywhere to see him, look around, maybe you can find him.”

His eyes darted around the room, he looked at me, looked out the window at the pond, the geese, and the ducks, looked up at the oak trees and said, “Dad, I get it, I see him, God is everything.”

Today, I told this story to Christine and she asked, “Did you ever tell him that?”

I said, “I don’t think so.”

I looked at my son and asked, “Did I ever tell you that God is everything?”

He said, “No dad, I taught you that.”

Happy Easter Everyone! Thanks for reading!

The Olsons

Discovering Zen

Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it. – Alan Watts

I woke up one morning last week with a strange idea in my head. I don’t know where it came from, but it led to one of coolest “discoveries” I have made so far and I’d like to share it with you.

What’s strange about “discovering” something is that you aren’t “discovering” anything at all. You just think you are “discovering” something because it is the first time YOU noticed it. You are just noticing what was already there and chances are someone else already knew about it. Like Columbus discovering America – he didn’t discover anything. Millions of people already lived in America. To Columbus it was amazing and new, but I’m sure his “discovery” was quite annoying to those that didn’t know they had been “discovered.”

So at the risk of annoying you, I’m going to share my latest “discovery”.

I love the movie Fight Club because I identify with the characters at an intuitive level – I understand them. I used to think the story was about some sort of twisted violent schizophrenic self-improvement program (which is analgous with my life). But Thursday morning I thought, “I should google up Fight Club and Zen.” I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I was reading Zen Habits and Copyblogger just before bed.

To me Zen was just another modern pop culture buzzword. From my Midwest American Christian upbringing, I had no concept of what Zen really meant (I still don’t, but I’m working on it).

After “discovering” this article on Violence as Yoga by Dzintars Dzilna I was hooked into an obsessive mission to understand something strange and foreign.

Then I “discovered” the English born Zen Master Alan Watts. I have never found a man’s ideas more thought provoking. His essay on The Value of Psychotic Experience is outstanding – if you like to think about consciousness and existence. It challenged my conventions so thoroughly I felt a twinge of insanity, which is really fun, you should try it sometime. Check out this series of mp3s of Watts talking about the Pursuit of Pleasure.

Links to content by Alan Watts:
Lectures and Essays

I also “discovered” author Brad Warner who wrote Hardcore Zen. Be sure to check out his list of articles at the bottom of his home page. I haven’t read his book yet, but I have it on order from Amazon and I plan to review it.

That’s what I’ve been doing since Thursday, “discovering” what many of you may have already “discovered.” But if you haven’t already “discovered” it – check it out – it will make you think.