America could learn a few important coping skills from my Texas upbringing.
Growing up in Texas, all the boys I knew were taught to deal with their emotions privately. They were raised to either stuff it all inside or take it out on the football field— or maybe have a few beers with friends. (Yes, there was a bit of teenage drinking back then…) Crying or whining about their problems in public was never an option with any of the Texas boys I grew up with and to this day I still respect them for that.
When my best friend’s father died, I don’t recall seeing any signs of sorrow when he came back to school. He was very quiet for a while, maybe a little withdrawn—but soon after he was completely back to normal (although maybe hitting a little harder on the football field).
I have an image of those Texas boys as strong, independent, and exceptional. They all worked hard during the summer–bailing hay, working at the local ore mining company or at T & N Railroad, and they worked just as hard in school. Those young men are now even stronger, exceptional adults, all living a standard of life everyone should aspire to.
As for us Texas girls, we dealt with our problems in the usual ‘girly’ way by talking to friends, crying on each other’s shoulders, or in extreme cases (when talking wasn’t an option) we suffered silently.
Of course “suffering silently” is probably an unimaginable concept with today’s youth. Every tiny thought bubble of emotion that pops into their heads is immediately blasted throughout social media to be commented on, liked, and/or retweeted. Kids are told, via media and the educational system, that their problems and feelings are everything. They are made to believe that the entire universe revolves around their emotions. And with the new Feelings-Oriented style of parenting, not crying in public is now something to be ashamed of.
In this new myopic world of today, people are encouraged to look at the trees instead of the forest. They are told the Big Picture is completely irrelevant and in fact, the only thing that matters is the way the little things in life make them feel. They have no understanding that so many “news” items are false flags meant to distract them from seeing the real problems of the world. Instead of stopping to think, “Hey, are these politicians using me to further some nefarious agenda?” they fall back on that giant, slobbering monster they were raised to pay attention to above any and all else in life: their Emotions.
When it comes to virtually every issue in the world today (other than ISIS and Iran, which actually need our attention), Emotions take over. It doesn’t matter if something doesn’t make sense logically—it’s all about how it makes you Feel. For example, this sentence alone has the ability to send many Emotions-driven folks to the brink of an all-out conniption: “Illegal aliens are here illegally.”
Why would this sentence make them go insane? For one, the word “alien” bothers Emotional people. It doesn’t matter that the literal meaning of the word “alien” is “foreign”—which they are. The other word that makes them angry is the word “illegal,” implying that the foreign people broke the law to live here–which they did. But again, things like facts don’t matter because the word “illegal” makes them feeeel bad.
As for my Texas friends and me, the way we coped with our problems as children helped pave the way towards making us the strong adults we are today. If we had an issue with something, big or small, we dealt with it the best we could and we moved on. We didn’t sweat the small things because there were so many big things to actually sweat about. Speaking of sweat, here are a few things this ultra-emotional America could learn from my Texas upbringing.
We didn’t call Child Protective Services if a scalding-hot Texas classroom didn’t have air-conditioning, and let me tell you, an un-air-conditioned room in Texas is hot like you can’t imagine. But out of all my years in Texas no one ever died from being too hot in a classroom. If an out-of-state kid moved to our town and asked, “Why is it so hot in here?” the answer would be, “Because we’re in Texas, you ______” (insert preferred derogatory cuss word). How do you cope? You drink lots of water between classes. End of the issue.
In the summer we played outside, all day and into the night. We didn’t have iPhones or cell phones to keep us busy, we found things to do on our own and didn’t complain about it. We walked miles in the woods or rode horses all day without adult supervision and none of us died from snake bites (and none of our parents were worried about it because we knew how to deal with snakes). We rode our bikes on rocks and dirt without bike helmets and if we fell or got hurt, we dusted ourselves off and got back on that bike.
If we did get hurt, our parents didn’t freak out and call an ambulance (not that we had an ambulance service back then). If you had a bleeding gash, you got a squirt of Bactine, a Band-ade, and went back out to play and you didn’t sit around crying about it all day. (And if you did sit around crying, you’d be shunned and rightly so.) No one ever died or became emotionally traumatized from scrapes and scratches.
We didn’t call our local news channel and threaten to burn things down if a kid got paddled, which they did, and often, myself included. When we got paddled, we knew there was a darn good reason and sometimes we’d actually weigh the odds and risk it. We chose the difference between right and wrong, and paid when we chose the latter. Our feelings weren’t hurt, just our bottoms for a few moments. We all lived. No scars. No police involved.
In the summer we swam at Daingerfield State Park or went water skiing at Johnson’s Creek from sunup to sundown largely without parental involvement. Instead of SPF 5000, we slathered our skin with baby oil and/or cooking oil to get as tan as humanly possible. As far as I know, none of us have died from skin cancer.
If we had the sniffles, our parents didn’t coddle us and keep us home from school. In my house you had to have 104 degrees fever and vomiting non-stop to miss a day, and even then you were thoroughly questioned (“Is there an important test you’ll miss today?”).
We were not only required to say ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘yes sir’ we were publicly reprimanded if we didn’t. Even if someone was only a few years older than us, they were ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’. It was a matter of respect and dignity, and every child I grew up with understood the importance of this. When I first moved to California, barely 20, I was often scolded when I called someone ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. Even if they were 90 years old, they were angry that I was perhaps accusing them of being old. Which they were. (By the way, I raised my son to call his California teachers ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ even if they asked him not to.)
Speaking of reprimands, if we acted up in public it was dealt with then and there. If we dared to act like petulant brats in the grocery store, our parents didn’t wait until we got home to put us in “time out”. Matter of fact, we would have PRAYED for time out back then. Worst case scenario we were given a good swat on the bottom–or my mother would give my sister and me her most effective threat: “You better stop it or I’m going to pinch a plug out of you!” No one ever took videos of parents reprimanding their children to give to the police, and no once called them ‘bad parents’. The only disapproving looks came from people who saw parents ignoring their screaming kids, and in many cases they’d not only say something to the kids but they’d also fuss at the parents, too.
No one called the ACLU when we sang Christmas carols at school and no one demanded we change the lyrics to accommodate atheists. Period.
We were raised to unconditionally respect our flag, our country, our American history, and the great state of Texas. (And the Dallas Cowboys, back when Tom Landry was coaching. True story.)
We didn’t blame our coaches (or football field conditions or weather) if our football team didn’t win. Winning football is very important in Texas but you win by being the best team. Period. Texas football players and all us cheerleaders knew this and worked hard to make it happen every season. Or not.
If we did get mad at our coaches or teachers, we’d roll their house with toilet paper (aka ‘TP’). And in many cases, we TP’d the houses of the coaches and teachers we loved the most. No one ever called the police or put us in jail for this, and many times we even helped clean up after. (As the daughter of a favorite teacher, I had to clean a lot of toilet paper out of our front yard…)
During Homecoming week in high school we made huge bonfires (without any firetrucks nearby) where we held our pep rally. One year, while in the middle of our Fight Song (and yes, that’s what we called it), a spark landed on my polyester cheerleader uniform and it started to catch fire. I didn’t scream for help and I didn’t try to sue the makers of the uniform—I quickly patted it out, rubbed off the pain, and continued cheering. (I still have the uniform with the giant, blackened hole in it.) We were also never reported for threatening violence when we made signs like ‘Kill the Lions!’ because we never killed any Lions other than on the football field. Oh–and my Senior year during Spirit Week we had a “Hunt the Lions” day and we carried around guns and knives all day. During school. Toys or real? Good question. No one died, no one called the police, and no one was Emotionally Damaged…
As a child in Bishop, Texas, all us kids used to ride our bikes behind the trucks spraying out billowing white clouds of DDT. None of us got cancer and/or died from this, and of course none of us got MALARIA from the ginormous mosquitoes, either.
The national news networks never came to our school to report that every truck in the Hughes Springs High School parking lot had a gun rack and a rifle in the back window. (Unlocked trucks with possibly loaded rifles, mind you.) The reason the news never covered this is because no one ever used any of those guns for anything other than hunting and protection. And, needless to say, no guns or trucks were ever stolen from said parking lot.
Speaking of, every boy I knew in Texas learned to shoot as soon as they were old enough to hold a rifle. They were taught to respect their firearms and knew how to take care of them. No one ever questioned this, or thought of it as “violent” or dangerous, because no one I grew up with considered God-given rights “dangerous”.
Yes, there were gay people (which I found out years after graduation) but there were no “gay issues” in our school. No one demanded special treatment, or preferential bathrooms, or threatened to sue anyone for not calling him or her by the correct terminology. All we knew was that some people were different; some people got teased. In fact at different times, all of us felt ‘different’ and we all got teased for various reasons. You either learn to cope, or you don’t. If you do, you’re set for life. If you don’t, bless your heart.
And yes, there were both white and black racists in our school, and everyone knew who those racists were—but we never called them out about it. Most of us just prayed for them and hoped they’d someday see the light. And most of them did.
Every time I find myself going ballistic over any single topic—whether it’s flags or sex-oriented issues or politicians—I remind myself to look at the overall picture, Texas-style. Is there maybe something bigger I need to focus on rather than the way this one issue makes me FEEL? Is there something lurking behind that issue they’re trying to prevent me from seeing? Am I being manipulated by a media–and a political system– that thrives on stirring up my EMOTIONS? If so, I step back, take a big breath, maybe drink some Sweet Tea, and refocus. Because folks, we can’t save a country as big as America if we keep watching those shiny, sparkly things the media keeps throwing at us. It’s time to toughen up and start looking at the big giant forest, because those tiny little trees might distract us and make us cry.
(First published July 2015.)