Friday, June 15, 2007
"Good job!" How often do parents heap praise on their pre-schoolers for their incredible skill at catching a ball or helping to set the table? We've all done it, continue to do it, but can we praise too much? Extravagantly encouraging a toddler or a pre-schooler is part of our job as parents, building the little person's self-esteem; that praise becomes more measured and directed as children age and mature.
All children are and deserve to be told they are special. But when does praise become excessive and potentially harmful to those egos we're trying to nurture? Is it at the Little League or Soccer League end-of-season event where every player gets a trophy just for showing up? That was the scenario at my seven-year-old grandson's final soccer game in California, where the coach praised each child as "one of the best players I ever coached." No wonder our children are, in Garrison Keillor's words, "above average."
Excessive praise for everything from cleaning one's room to getting an A in calculus is being blamed, rightly or wrongly, for this generation's self-absorption and sense of entitlement. Teenagers and their younger siblings spin out their likes and dislikes on MySpace and Facebook and boast of having thousands of "friends." Except for the Internet component, this self-fascination evokes whiffs of the "Me Generation" of the 1970s whose cohorts were also accused of celebrating themselves all the time. It's reassuring that some psychologists find that most youthful, inflated egos also deflate over time.
Some social scientists condemn the "culture of praise," which has infiltrated corporate America. The Wall Street Journal recently termed the twenty-somethings now flooding the marketplace as "the most-praised generation." Managers are encouraged to, in effect, thank their new employees for coming to work through praise and tangible rewards. The young employees feel entitled to such commendation, although they haven't yet delivered a project on deadline or developed a new software tool. Like their inner children, they are praised just for showing up.
But giving justified praise is always appropriate. Last Saturday 268 students graduated from Concord-Carlisle High School. Every graduate deserves praise lots of it for their accomplishments as they march into their future. Most are headed for colleges and universities where, despite their praiseworthiness, students will likely confront a praise-deficient environment except when they call home for a much-needed jolt of self-confidence.
Next Tuesday, 91 eighth graders will leave the safe familiarity of the Carlisle Middle School, diplomas in hand. They, too, deserve praise for their achievements as they move from the leadership of their middle school to the high school world.
To all Carlisle graduates, congratulations and good job!
June is here again, at last. It is the time of the year when real New Englanders can begin to think of real food again. It is gardening season when smart gardeners might tuck a little Swiss chard, kale, lettuce or broccoli into their ornamental borders so that they can feel quasi-virtuous about playing "Martha."
Now far be it for me to belittle or denigrate the places we consumers have to shop in the off-season, never mind what happens to pop into our shopping carts in a moment of weakness. But summer is the time to forget the sins of seasons past and wallow in the glories of now.
I am sure that most busy Carlisleans would say, "Let's be honest here. Who really has time to go hunting about for whatever you think I ought to have on my table. Aren't you a bit of a food snob?" Well, no, I am not. And here's why.
Our government in Washington, DC has so distorted the concept of what is good for us that most Americans do not know the difference between "food" and "feed." The Farm Bill, which sets price supports for agriculture and funds school lunch programs among other things, does not even support the USDA's own "food pyramid."
Feed is what livestock eat. Usually that consists of corn and corn by-products, soybean and soy by-products, and a few other grains, supplements and antibiotics. (It used to be okay to feed animal by-products back to livestock.) Perhaps this is a bit simplified, but if you read the food labels carefully when you shop at your favorite market, you may recognize that you are being fed pretty much the same diet. Of course, what Farmer Ike in Peoria fed his hog does not appear on the pork roast label.
Shoppers should be able to distinguish between food and feed. For example, Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes and Lunchables are not food. They were engineered in a food lab to make the by-products of big agriculture appear palatable. This is common in supermarket food displays as our shopping venues become less like markets (communities of good taste) and more like food (read "feed") warehouses.
Carlisle is fortunate to have a lively farmer's market every Saturday in season. It is, in fact, a community of good taste where people gather to shop for fresh, local produce and other products (viz. eggs, cheese and meats) that have not traveled halfway across America. Here, shoppers who take the time have an opportunity to understand the daily vicissitudes of food production, and select from several unusual varieties of lettuce and other crops from several different vendors. How much more reassuring can it be, knowing the person from whom you bought those beets, how they were grown, and that 101 gallons of diesel fuel was not built into the price?
This summer, when you are in town, you should visit the Carlisle Farmer's Market at Kimball's Ice Cream Stand. There probably isn't a nicer way to spend a few minutes on a Saturday morning than knowing that you bought some really fresh food for yourself or your family. After you begin to feel virtuous, Kimball's is open for business and you can reward yourself with a few scoops of dairy delight!
© 2007 The