Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kids Show Review; Justin Time a.k.a. Facing fears of the new and different

I think that all of us, adults and children, are scared of new and different things. When I'm scared I make poor decisions. So I'm always looking for new ways to face the fear of the unknown.


My kids watch this show, called, "Justin Time". It's about this kid named Justin. When he has a problem, he goes into an imaginary world to solve it. Usually this 'other world' is in another time, but sometimes just in another part of today's world. He explores different cultures and learns lessons about how to deal with issues. You can see clips of this show on YouTube, here's one:

Although there are several aspects of the show that don't make logical sense to me*, what does make sense about this show (and the reason I'm sharing it with all of you) is the method this show uses to teach kids. It's tied to fear, and safety.

Most people (kids) won't accept something new and scary unless it's presented in a way that's palatable. For this show, they make it palatable by having everything new introduced by his imaginary best friend, Olive. Foreign languages, new animals, new foods, new ways of doing things; all made less scary by Olive's accompaniment. She's the grown-up among the kids, the friendly ear when things get a little confusing, and she always has ideas on how to help. Mostly the role she plays is to be comfortable; he knows her, so he won't get scared about what he's seeing. He knows it's all going to be okay. For a kid she's kind of like a security blanket, or a caregiver.

Most of us don't have such guides in our lives who can bridge the gap between ourselves and the new and different "other". When faced with a person of a different culture, or a new way of doing things, we have to be our own guide. I think part of the allure of saying "I'm a grown-up" is that I get to make my own decisions. One challenge of being a grown-up is that I have to be my own security blanket.


*My kids are obsessed with this show right now, which means I'm seeing it most days, sometimes multiple times in one day. As a result I've started to come up with some wild theories for how the show could make 'sci-fi' sense as a way of entertaining myself through the shows. 

One of my theories that amuses me greatly is that Olive is actually an alien or a time traveler from the future, who has taken it upon herself to teach Justin the 'ways of the world'. To accomplish her goal, she sent Justin a key (a toy pot of clay, who comes alive, named Squidgy) who she uses as a tool to temporarily enter his mind and teach him lessons. These lessons take no real time because of her time traveler abilities.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

At the pool; ignoring the fear impulse

The other day I was at a public pool. It was hot, and there were many other families there enjoying the summer sun.

I wear a wedding ring, and whenever I end up somewhere where random crime is more likely to happen (a NY City train, for example) I turn the ring around* so as to hide the center stone, and to avoid unwanted attention. To me, doing so is a means of protection, but I know it's also a sign of defensiveness. I'm scared, and I'm showing it. 

By the poolside, I caught myself several times turning my ring around. Every time someone of another skin color or culture walked by, my hand moved to my fingers. I believe that I was doing it unconsciously but I was determined to figure out why.


I was definitely uncomfortable being at this pool. I was in an unfamiliar place surrounded by people I didn't know. Where I used to live (New York City) I was always among people of different cultures and races. People mixed in offices and sat together on buses and walked down the street together and I wasn't scared. Sure, there were neighborhoods that I wouldn't want to walk through on a dark night alone, but mostly I felt safe there. People of color were just people.

Where I live now is fantastic; but most of them time I only see people of one color. I've been living here for a few years and I guess I've gotten used to it. I remember when I first moved here it was a bit of a shock how 'white' it was. Now at this pool it was another shock to be surrounded by different-looking people again.


The first time it happened I turned it, then thought, "Why did I do that? We're all just families here. Parents and kids and groups of friends. Nobody's threatening me."

The second time I turned it, then immediately turned it back. I was thinking about how one of these other people might feel if they saw me do it. They might feel judged. Unfairly so. 

The third time I caught myself in mid-reach. I was going to break this habit!

It took a lot of practice, but at least for that day, I didn't turn it again.


I firmly believe that all people, no matter how they look on the outside are just people (amazing people, as I've said before). I have habits (I think we all do) that communicate messages to others that they are not welcome. Even if my emotions tell me 'be scared' when my environment changes, that doesn't mean I have to act on them.

What habits do you have that send the 'wrong' message? What about the 'right' message?


*I grew up in New York City, and I learned several other 'habits' that have to do with protecting myself in public against unwanted threats or attention. The 'turning the ring' habit is just one. I also know that I lock doors whenever driving in unfamiliar neighborhoods, I look down and don't make eye contact when walking on a public street.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I hate bad news - empathy for all

I hate bad news. Today I heard one of those horrible stories about people hurting each other. A terrible, horrible story of pain inflicted on other people. I just wanted to run away. I got mad, mad at the people who told me the story, mad at the reporter telling the story, and mad at the people who had committed these vile acts. Mad ma mad.

I stomped around my house, shouting at nobody, "how could they"?!? I may have even broken a drawer I opened it so fast and hard.

Then I calmed down. I remembered this story recently, about how psychopaths can turn on and off their empathy like a switch. 

They don't have any empathy for their victims, I thought. They could, if they chose to, but they don't.

One of the reasons that I practice empathy is so that it's natural for me. So that it becomes a part of who I am. So that I can live this life without hurting other people.

I also practice empathy every chance I get so that when I hear someone talk about hurting others, I won't turn away from them in anger.

So what does empathy mean for me?

It means that every time I meet a new person, I smile, I make eye contact, I say hello. I practice putting myself in their shoes. I make effort. I try not to judge.

It's about keeping my mind ON empathy, and not letting myself turn it off. Even for the most evil among us.