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No matter which way you lean ideologically and politically, American ideals and values are under threat, some already destroyed. I don’t need to remind you of what policies have been initiated, and my hope is that this piece attracts people who would normally close it if I were to include anti-Right triggers. When (some) Conservatives and Liberals are in agreement, as many now are when it comes to the current state of, well, the State, you know something uniquely perilous is happening in government.
But we the people are not the government and there are ways to let American values thrive despite the increasingly difficult political paradigm. One of the easiest? Enjoying the outdoors. Being public people.
As a teacher, I notice my 5th and 6th grade students are fixed in their views as they are glued to their screens. Under helicopter parenting, it is even harder to wrench them from such fixation. When they arrive in my class towards the end of the day, they just want to be zombies in front of a phone or TV and have no interest in any new ideas. When I request phones be put away they become like Gollum of Lord of the Rings fame, like pained addicts on day one of going cold turkey. It’s troubling.
Only my students who have not been gifted phones excel in class, and it’s no surprise that they are also energetic, not overweight, and open-minded. What is intriguing though is how humble, helpful, and happy they are as well, in direct contrast to their peers. When pencils and materials inevitably fall to the floor, my non-tech savvy students help clean up. My other students don’t even notice, or worse; they refuse to tidy up a common space.
If you’re the type who looks backward to a ‘better time,’ then look at some of the great parenting tips of olde, but apply them to realistically, not nostalgically. Picnics and barbecues are delicious and fun. Have a catch with your child, son OR daughter. Ride bikes with your whole family. Support your child’s travel sports team or little league, have them come to your company softball game. Maybe they’re not into sports? Bring the creativity of the indoors outside. Books at the beach, join them in a game of pretend or even share your favourite music with a boombox on the lawn. The point is to expose your children to as much as you can that doesn’t need a Wi-Fi connection.
Most importantly, apply all this to yourself as well. Parents deserve to be as healthy as their children, and vice-versa.
When pencils and materials inevitably fall to the floor, my non-tech savvy students help clean up. My other students don’t even notice, or worse; they refuse to tidy up a common space.
Unlike the artificial appeal of the internet, actually going outside truly exposes you to the world. Even if you have little time in a busy workday, take walks. Meet your friends in the park instead of a bar or home. Join pick-up games or club teams. Ride public transportation and relax in public space. These activities are mostly all free, social, and a great way to gain a sense of the world around you.
People believe going to the gym is a perfect replacement for activity, especially when it’s cold out. This is a false impression. Working out is not playing, it’s an impersonal task.
If there was one thing I noticed while briefly employed at a gym, it was that people become very insulated when they work out. Instead of enjoying physical activity and the company of other humans nearby, they power through motions. Most members just increase their self-consciousness and poor self image, adjusting their work out clothes in the mirror more than actually adjusting the pace on their treadmill. In the outdoors there are no mirrors to keep you fixated on yourself. There are only destinations.
Playing outside and staying active is not just good for your health, it’s an American tradition that defies the barrage of media and angry bickering that’s become commonplace. As a man prone to YouTube binge-ing, I feel nearly hypocritical writing this, but I do activate my love of sport, camping, and the outdoors as best I can. When I do, it’s genuine and inspiring.
In the outdoors there are no mirrors to keep you fixated on yourself. There are only destinations.
When you truly play, not just run or do yoga, you interact with the world beyond your perspective and you grow. Team sports exercise mental and emotional skills that fall out of use when video games, group chats, and conference calls become one’s only cooperative activity. Even if negative, interacting with strangers (in a safe way of course) in the physical, tangible, and stimulating real world trains and improves your social habits and emotional know-how way more than Twitter and Facebook. Social media gives a false illusion of friendship and cohabitation, but the truth is only a power button away. Push it!
Positive outlook, productivity, and plurality are American values and I know I won’t let the current White House stomp on those. Together we can rekindle the American flame of liberty that is incessantly being smothered in this day and age. One of the simplest ways to do it? Step out our front doors and have some safe, friendly, invigorating fun. Together.