Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on

Life Lessons

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me Denzel Washington’s 2011 Penn Commencement speech. There were many great parts to it… and I’m sure I will write more blog posts inspired by different sections, but for now I’ll focus on a quote where he describes an analogy Les Brown, a motivational speaker, made:

“Imagine you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life,’they say. ‘And now we go to the grave together.’ So I ask you today: How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes? You invested a lot in your education. And people invested in you. And let me tell you, the world needs your talents.”

Yeah, man. We all have ideas… restaurants, blogs, screenplays, novels, fashion designs, the next slinky… but so many of us dismiss them as something for someone else to do. We can’t possibly be destined to be the next Wes Anderson. Well, have you ever actually read about Wes Anderdon’s life? He wasn’t born into greatness… it’s not like his parents were Hollywood mavens who made it easy for him to be successful. He did it himself. He was born from a realtor and advertiser, who were divorced when he was a kid, loved philosophy and worked on his passion through college. He was just another guy… but he didn’t dismiss his talent as something for someone else to do. I love reading biographies and autobiographies of people who made it… you’ll find out that they were just as lost and confused as you were at your age. They’re people. Yeah

I was lucky. When I graduated college, I decided to move back to Connecticut. I packed up, said my goodbyes, boarded my flight and flew home… my time in Chicago was done. About a week after landing on the East Coast, I was back on a train to Chicago for a job interview that I would ultimately get. During my 28 hour train ride from NYC to Chicago, I realized that I went off to Chicago to pursue comedy but didn’t even try during my four years there. I didn’t take a single class. With my dad’s advice ringing through my ears, “Shoulda’s, woulda’s, coulda’s don’t make it on the scoreboard”, I started my job, saved up some money and took my first improv class in five years. There was something about coming back to Chicago that made me refocus on what brought me here to begin with. I figured that if I don’t make it, I don’t make it… but that’s for someone else to decide. I’ll do everything in my power to pursue my passion. At the very least, it brought so many good people and so much happiness into my life. When I’m on my deathbed, I can honestly tell myself that I tried.

Related to my earlier post, in line with Denzel’s last lines, I genuinely believe that people don’t hand out empty compliments. Well, not the people who matter anyways. You know the people whose advice you always take because it’s honest… your teachers, team, close friends… they’re investing in you because they see something. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t waste their time. There are so many thingsthey could be doing instead of boosting your ego and investing time in your progression. There are so many other people they could focus on. But they’re focusing on you.

Make a list right now. I know you have time so don’t try and make excuses. You’re making time to read this so clearly it’s not a busy work day. What ideas have you had that you’re too afraid to bring to life? What would you do if there was no one around to judge you, tell you that you can’t, or if the preconceived notion that it’s too ‘tough’ didn’t exist? One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Here are my ghosts that still need a good kick in the ass:

  1. Write a book
  2. Learn how to play guitar
  3. Create a nonprofit that awards vacations to families with children who had an immediate family member pass away

If you take even one of these ideas and at least try to make it happen, you’ll live a life of fewer regrets. How are you supposed to know what you’re capable of if you don’t at least try?

I’ll leave you with this… what would the world be if everyone thought [insert your passion here] was for someone else to do? That they weren’t meant to follow their passion? Have you heard the theme song to Weeds? Yeah, it’s boring as hell.

Now take the next 22:36 to watch this, it’s worth it.