It has been a long year! I suppose what we could think of as the new New Year falls in mid-March. I remember my last full day in my office prior to the COVID shutdown was in March of 2020 – Friday the 13th to be exact. Now, barely over a year later, it seems there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Most of the people I know have already had their first dose of the vaccine, and our new President is not only doing the things necessary to beat this scourge virus, but also talking about the prospect of finally getting beyond it.
I have two children – two boys, aged 12 and 16. I talk to them fairly often about the state of the world, and I inquire about how they feel and what they have experienced. I feel incredibly grateful that they don’t report fear, agony, depression, or anything of the sort. They seem to have weathered the past year – and in fact, the general state of divisiveness in the nation over the past four years – pretty well. Still, I wonder – it’s hard to know for sure, because anyone with teen children knows they are not always so forthcoming with their feelings.
When talking with them, I tend to steer the conversation toward hopefulness. I say things like, “You may not have experienced it lately, but life is really good. This country is truly a good place. People generally enjoy each others’ company and like to cooperate and collaborate in interesting and creative ways. Don’t let this time paint life as a labor. Much has been taken away, but much will also return. Hang in there.” I hope they believe me because they have a lot to look forward to.
In the meantime, I’ve been taking advantage of the extra time together to teach them about some other key life qualities, especially resilience. Resilience, I tell them, is like being big and strong – except not just big biceps or washboard abs. Resilience is having mental and emotional toughness. It’s hard to teach kids about this stuff, but I try nonetheless.
I tell them about levels of self-awareness, where we can tune into what’s going on inside. Just as we can be aware of a bruise on our skin, we can be aware of our afflictive emotions as they arise, such as anger, jealousy, or sadness. Being aware of such inner-movement allows us the option to do something constructive with these emotions rather than just mindlessly acting on them.
I tell them that another level of awareness is to understand that, most often, our thoughts generate these afflictive emotions, and that we can be aware of our thoughts in the same way. Thought-awareness can promote well-being in our lives. Just as we can benefit from not always acting on our emotions, being aware of our habitual though patterns can rob afflictive emotions of the fuel they need to survive.
As we explore these heady notions together, I feel like I am seeding their future with tips and tools that will make them smarter and happier. Deep down, as I teach my boys about these lessons, I concede that I may also be doing it to remind myself of these same lessons. Life is really good. This country is truly a good place. Hang in there.