Sunday, July 15, 2012

Yes You Can Play; Being "Part of And Belonging" Changes The Context.

The recent loss of life in Northbrook by current and former Glenbrook North students Billy Garrity, Ryan McCarthy and Kyle Caraher (among others) has cast a pall over the Community.  So much so that a special program was held at GBN on July 11th titled "Tools for Coping: Helping Northbrook and Glenview Families Deal with Sudden Losses."  I support the Community's effort but I remain skeptical and concerned that it falls within the "too little, too late" category of reaction as opposed to proactive prevention.  Allow me to explain.

I often try to look at things from the perspective of an adolescent and, as a parent.  The first perspective is why I chose the profession I am in and the second is a role I've occupied for 25 years.  What I wanted was the truth but what I received was appearance.  The truth is that there were other tragic deaths within this time period that most of the kids knew about but the deaths weren't out in the open so to speak.  One was in the obituaries and one wasn't.  Families have the right to privacy so I won't cross that line here but the kids knew and know so the message is already clouded in their minds.

As a parent I also wanted to know what, if anything, could be done on a community level to support my efforts.  There was mention of a "coming together" (I'm paraphrasing here) and an email by Northbrook Village President Sandi Frum in which she was quoted as writing ""The Coping With Loss event is just a beginning," Frum wrote. "Northbrook can and will recover from this."  I know Sandi and I know she means it and makes situations this like this a priority.  But what I also heard was the tired rhetoric about depression and adolescents as well as some quote suggesting that 1 in 10 High School students have attempted suicide within the last year.  As a scientist I'm skeptical of these types of statistics and you should be too.

In any event what I didn't hear about was much of anything to do with the context of suicide or the environment that our young people grow up in.  As a parent and former Glenview/Northbrook adolescent, that is where the heart of this matter resides.  As an individual of any age, what is my role and where do I fit in?  Do I belong and am I part of the "right" groups or am I simply fringe; accepted by some but outcast by others?  Or maybe even worse, do I not fit in and just float aimlessly within the Community?

The heart of the matter here in the Northbrook Glenview area , as it is in Lake Forest or Barrington before that, is do I belong and am I part of?  Vivian Paley is a former kindergarten teacher who had an idea and acted on it.  In her book, "You can't say, you can't play" she discusses what happened in her classroom and on the playground when everyone was welcome to be part of the social fabric and no one could be left out.

PBS - The Cruelty of Children.  11 enlightening minutes. 

The issue on the North Shore is and perhaps always will be appearance.  My house, my car, my clothes, my job, my attractiveness, my club, etc (in relation to others of course).  Where do I fit in the pecking order?  Or perhaps more directly, where don't I fit in?  If we are to alter the statistics on suicide and mental health in general, diversity has to be more than a word.  We have to say that you can play and that everyone can play.  Acceptance and tolerance have to be more than the subject of a sermon repeated ad nausea by our religious leaders in hopes that someday we will actually understand and practice it.

At this point, if you don't fully understand, let me tell you where to observe it in action.  For as long as I can remember Ron or Bruce (among others) have stood at or near the entrance of Sunset foods and personally welcomed shoppers; all shoppers.  The result is a feeling of belonging and being part of the Sunset Foods shopping experience.  You'll see it in action after Church in almost all of the entry ways where, as people depart, the Priest, Rabbi or Minister is there to greet you and to thank you for coming.  Translation - We want you here and are glad you came.

In our schools, park district programs and other public entities, this is not the case.  If you are not among the privileged "in group" or you don't excel in some fashion, you simply are present.  Worse, if you tend to squirm in your seat, get bored with the same old "talk at you" learning model, or aren't athletically inclined, you are ostracized.  In both Northbrook and Glenview, in almost every social entity there are those who are welcome and those who are not.  It is subtle but it is apparent and it is way too strong.  It needs to change and everyone needs to be welcome to play.

If, at this point, your response is yes but..... then I fear you'll continue to maintain the current status quo.  If your response is I agree and it just seems so hopeless......, then we have a chance.  Both Northbrook and Glenview are sincerely concerned about Village cohesiveness and a positive sense of Community.  Support their efforts by attending their commission meetings and be part of their efforts to turn diversity into a positive resource.  Much can and needs to be done.  The glass is half full now and can be even fuller with openness and honesty regarding our real Community ills as well as strengths.  Make these communities where kids and adults feel part of and have a real sense of belonging.

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