Archive | February, 2011

Civic Duty

10 Feb

I recall one of my recent forays into the realm of civic duty.  I was never called to the jury box.  My friend and I were on the same panel and both of us were not called.  Exultations! Celebrations!  My students were probably not as happy as I.  But the jury is “out” on that one.

Teachers and correctional officers comprise the vast majority of potential jurors, as evidenced by the number of people both grading papers and willing to state as much in the “Voir dire” interview phase.

But I have some serious “beefs” with the system that pulls out educators from the very areas within which the state has lofty educational expectations.

RAISE THOSE TEST SCORES, but serve on this jury panel, ok?  What is wrong with these people who are accused of all these crimes, anyway?  Don’t they realize that their crimes are hurting our test scores?  By removing all these fine educators from the classroom, their civic duty is in the way of state test scores.  What is the world coming to?

The fewer days that teachers are in their classrooms, the less “real” education occurs.  Substitutes normally do not have the same impact–but that is not true for all of them.  I can assure you when my classes think a sub is cool, that person is not invited back to my room.  I need task-masters stepping in for me.  After all, I am off doing my civic duty.  The least the substitute can do is make me look good when I return.

All kidding aside, a moral equivalent to my more serious complaint would be to require groups of attorneys, judges, or politicians to attend my classroom for their “civic duties” and sit in my room until I have had ample time to interview them about some issues that affect MY clients–MY STUDENTS.

Imagine that.  Those folks get a pass on having to serve.  One goofy judge said to one teacher yesterday, “Well the state is paying you to be here so there should not be any problem.”  Tell that to the districts with lower socio-economics as major concerns, and lower test scores on standardized tests.  Do they understand our presence in the classroom one any given day might result in the students avoiding the very “system” which calls us to serve?  They just don’t get it.

Also, what is wrong with some of these attorneys?  How in the world did they pass the state bar exam?  Let me quickly state that a criminal on a recent docket trial was first degree, premeditated murder–with no capital punishment possibility.  Sheeesh, serious business that is.

The defense attorney asked questions of such a personal nature (and so did the judge), that if this defendant WAS a murderer, it would be scary to let him know ANYTHING about one’s family, employment, etc.  Weird part also is that his family and “skin-headed homies” were allowed to sit in and listen to the voir dire.  Yeah, THAT’S really safe.  Imagine we did that is schools?

I can see it now:

Judge:  “Dr. Zarra, you work at ‘this’ school, right?”

Attorney:  “Your spouse works at this school, right?”

Judge:  “Where are your children and what schools do they go to?”

Attorney:  “Have you, your family, or anyone close to you EVER been convicted of a crime, done drugs, been accused of this, been accused of that?”

Do lawyers and judges actually think that declarative statements with question marks are REALLY questions?  Here is an example of what I mean:  “You are stupid, right?”

I had already made up my mind–and told my friend–that if called, I was going to have some fun with the defense attorney.  He asked the dumbest questions.  Here is a hypothetical interview between us.


Attorney:  “Dr. Zarra, have you heard all the questions I have asked the other panelists and do you have anything to add to their answers?”

Zarra:   “Yes and no.  No, I have not heard all their answers.  Yes, I have things to add to their answers.”

Attorney:  “What question would you like to be asked?”

Zarra:  “That one.”

Attorney:  Sir, I perceive you are hostile to this process.”

Zarra:  “I feel strongly about hostilities.”

Attorney:  “Tell me more, please.”

Zarra:  “More.”

Attorney:  “Hahaha.  How do you feel about guns?”

Zarra:  “I feel with my heart and my hands.  Sometimes, these are in conflict.”

Attorney:  “If you had to vote right now on my client what would your verdict be?”

Zarra:  “What’s a verdict?  “And what’s he running for, ir is that ‘from’?”

Attorney:  “A verdict, sir–and for all prospective jurors–is a decision reached after weighing all the evidence in a trial.  So, what would YOURS be right now, sir?”

Zarra:  “Well, since there has been no evidence presented, and no trial to this point.  There can be no verdict.”

Attorney:  “My client must be viewed as not guilty, sir.  Without the prosecution meeting ANY burden of proof, he is innocent.  You do realize this.”

Zarra:  “A moment ago, you told me about what happens AFTER weighing evidence.  How can I do that which is required under law, and NOT do that which is required under law at the same time.  That’s called a hypothetical red herring, sir.  Besides, innocent is a moral conclusion.  Not guilty is a legal conclusion.  Which one are we aiming at again?”

Attorney:  “So, then how do you see my client?”

Zarra:  “I see him like the rest of us see him.  With my eyes.  But we were just talking about evidence a second ago, and I have not seen any of that.  He is wearing a nice tie, though.”

Attorney:  “Your honor, I am getting nowhere fast with this prospective juror.”

Judge:  “Yes, I can see that.  Sir, please answer the questions.”

Attorney:  “Mr. Zarra, would you please answer one more question?”

Zarra:  “It’s Dr. Zarra, sir.”

Attorney:  “Excuse me.”

Zarra:  “No problem.  I was hoping that same phrase would also be my reality in a few seconds, anyway.”


Judge:  “Quiet please.”

Attorney:  “Dr. Zarra.  Do you feel you could put aside all preconceptions and give my client a fair trial?”

Zarra: “Sir, I am not giving anyone a trial.  That’s NOT my job.  Besides what do my ‘feelings’ have to do with weighing evidence?  To be honest with you, if your client ripped off his shirt, and showed me the large tattoo emblazoned across his back, I’d know exactly what local gang he was in, what their signs and colors are, and might have even had some of his “homies” in my classes.

How do I feel about drug use, murder, shooting someone at close range multiple times, and have seven prior arrests for similar actions?  How do I feel?  I’d be happy it was not me, my family, or someone I know.

Feelings aside, here is what I think.  I think he is presumed not morally culpable until the evidence so compels me beyond a reasonable doubt.  In all honesty, I applied this very principle to evaluate your skills in questioning this very day.  I must say, you are compelling, and there is definitely reasonable doubt, sir.”

Attorney:  “That’s enough, sir.”

Zarra:  “Am I free to go?”

Attorney:  “Yes, no further questions.”

Prosecutor:  “Pass for cause, your honor.”

Attorney:  “The defense would like to thank and excuse juror, 2, Mr. Zarra.”

Zarra:  “Dr. Zarra, sir.”

Attorney:  “Again, my apologies.”

Zarra:  “Mumbles . . . Tell that to your client after he is convicted by your shoddy defense.”

Attorney:  “What was that?”

Zarra:  “Oh, nothing . . . I was just singing, “Feelings, nothing more than feelings. . . . Feelings, whoa, whoa, whoa, feelings . . .”

Free at last, free at last, thank GOD ALMIGHTY, I am free at last.

Teenage Maturation

8 Feb

Mention teenagers and maturity in the same phrase, in the midst of a room full of adults, and watch the reactions of these same adults.  The result will be everything from snickers to smiles to outright laughter.

Have you ever asked a teenager why he did “something,” or why she said that “those certain shocking words”?  Remember their responses?

Mom:  Why did you do that?

Son:  “I don’t know.”

Dad:  What were you thinking when you said that?

Daughter:  “I don’t know.”

Part of you thinks, “This kid knows exactly what he or she did.”  Another part wonders whether or not that hopeless look is genuine, or not.  Whatever the case, we have to stand back and greet these wonderments with reality:  Welcome to teenage maturation!

The emerging field of neuroscience is providing answers to explain many typical teenagers’ behaviors.  It turns out that teenage impulsivity has its roots in brain development.  Yes, teenagers have brains, despite rumors to the contrary.  If they didn’t where would we have found that we had ours?  Gotcha on that!

The frontal lobes of our brains are those areas where impulses are controlled.  Scientists are telling us that the frontal lobes are not fully developed until well past the age of 20—and up to 25—according to some studies.  Ever wonder why some teenage females seem to have their impulses under control earlier than some males?  There are different degrees of biological development for females and males, all which have interesting implications for educators and parents.  This kind of puts into perspective why some males in their early twenties are not mature enough for females of their same age group.

Researchers at Radford University (William Hudspeth) and Harvard Graduate School of Education (Kurt Fischer) have discovered that the teenage brain is still “wiring up” and that there are certain growth spurts that mark this wiring.  The three general periods of brain growth spurts occur (1) between the ages of ten and twelve, (2) fourteen and sixteen, and (3) eighteen and twenty—the latter may extend into the mid-20s..

As an educator, I now know a little more about those moments when the light bulb goes on in a student’s head.  What is actually happening is that there is a connection being made cognitively.  What this connection is and where it is going to be manifested are separate events.  What is true, however, is that the teenagers have made emotional connection in their brains, which is naturally the way most teenagers contextualize their world.  Music places them somewhere.  An event categorizes a period in time, etc.  Think about it.  When you hear a song, or have an emotional reaction as an adult, there is a context to this event.  Without context, here is no emotion.  This leads to my next point.

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on “emotional intelligence.”  The research has caused educators to sit up and take notice of some things, like never before.  The major factors involved in emotional intelligence are intrinsic motivation, impulse control, empathy, and social competence.  There are many things educators and parents can do to facilitate teenage brain development, resulting in emotional intelligence.

Intrinsic motivation “emerges out of an environment that encourages the discovery and exploration of personal interests and abilities” (Sylwester 2003).  So what can teachers and parents do to encourage and stimulate growth of their student’s internal motivation?  First, we must find ways to produce relevance to what we are teaching.  Students must see how their learning fits their world.

Second, we all have experienced the teenage challenge questions: “Why do we have to learn this stuff,” and “When are we ever going to use this in the real world?”  The answers to these two questions have been simplified.  In the first instance, the reply is “brain research shows that you need this in order to continue onto cognitive and emotional maturity.”  They will stare at us, providing the very rationale needed.  In the second instance, the answer to when it will be used in the real world is NOW.  The fact that students even ask the question is proof enough.  What I am saying in “their” language is, “You are being graded on this stuff.”  Grades make things relevant to their worlds in a hurry, both cognitively and emotionally and immediately.  Grades contextualize learning.

Impulse control is something very few teens have a handle on.  In fact, I could point to a few of us adults that need some extra attention here, as well.  Isn’t this what we mean when we look at our friends who have never really “grown up?”  Teenagers often act without giving themselves any time to think through, or reflect on their actions ahead of time.  Adults are more choice-oriented before acting.  Teenagers simply act a lot before thinking.  This is the way they are wired, reiterating the “I don’t know” response addressed earlier.

As neuroscientist Jay Giedd puts it, teenagers “have the passion and strength but no brakes” (Stranch 2003).  Teachers can help students to learn to control impulses by providing opportunities such as discussion, journaling, and places to vent.  Students will learn over time.  So those long-term projects, and things student do not yet see as relevant for their lives, delay gratification and cause necessary reflection.

Empathy is an important aspect of emotional intelligence, again found in the developing frontal lobes.  Empathy allows students to act in ethical ways, and demonstrate altruism.  High schools and even junior highs are requiring many hours of community service, in order to assist in the development of empathy.  Teachers can help by allowing students to share their thoughts, and allow their expressions to connect with those of others.  These expressions must be tempered with proper classroom, decorum at all times.  Writing is a way for a student to express even the more bizarre of thoughts that come to him or her.

Social competence is that which allows students to “read” social contexts and respond adequately.  Many teenagers seem socially awkward, particularly when singled out, or in relationships with the opposite sex.  This is why they find such identity by looking the same as their friends look in attire, hair style, taste in music, youthful language, etc.  When it comes to respect, consideration of others, and development of manners, adults can play a large positive and negative role.    According to Robert Sylwester (2003), “Manners do not come naturally but must be taught.”  Teachers can assist in the development of manners by allowing students to work in groups and debriefing afterwards.  The same works around the dinner table at home, as we set aside time in our busy lives.

In closing, if we want students to learn to make good decisions and become the leaders of tomorrow, let us allow them the opportunities to fall short, learn from their shortcomings, and work with their brains—right where they are at, while anticipating where they are going.

Celebrate each phase of their development and be thankful one leads to another.  Learning to use their brains more deeply is what maturation is all about.  My dad used to think that my teenage my brain was connected to my backside.  After repeated attempts to “kick-start” it, I finally figured out a few things.  But I guess science has a great distance to go to prove this empirically.

It’s Rough Growing Up In The Entitlement Age

7 Feb

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be young, again? Really, really, young again? George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  I read that and I wonder, did he work for Toys R Us?  Was he a teacher?

A discussion that prompts adults to consider going back to their youth is met with many responses.  I can hear groans now. Puberty, emotions, biological clocks and interpersonal issues?  Are you kidding me, Zarra?  Outcries are deafening and certainly do get my attention — but wait a minute.  How about we let teachers go back to their youth?  In some ways, teaching keeps teachers young.  We all know, in reality, it’s not true, but teaching is a profession that thrusts youth and adulthood together in unique ways.

So here’s the deal.  Although we can never really go back in time, teaching the same age group and grade level every year somehow circumvents the reality that we are getting older.  It perpetuates a perception that the time clock is somehow in neutral and that our relevance and vibrancy still exists.  The strange part is that as teachers age we are aware that students appear the same age, year-in and year-out.  Each new group of students that comes my way is about the same age as the previous year’s students.  It is in this sense that teachers perceive themselves as youthful — literally and figuratively.

Today’s young people have it made.  They work daily on typing skills and literary interpretations.  Text messaging is essential to them because they have to be in touch with friends in other classes.  It makes little difference that a teacher thinks they might be sending photos, messages or answers about a quiz or test.  Text messaging has done away with the need for writing notes to fellow students.

Typing skills are up.  Writing skills are taking a nose-dive.

Keyboarding teachers love it.  English teachers, not so much.

With the spell check option on every computer, anyone can be virtually as smart as Bill Gates.  That can’t be a bad thing.  Besides we all know today’s youth can be trusted with many things and would never try to get away with breaking any rules—I am smiling because I know what I was like in high school.

While in class, all anyone needs is an excuse to go to the restroom and then a student can make all the phone calls desired with no one around.  They’d have to check in with Mom to be certain she didn’t leave a very important voicemail that must be heard right away.  If there are other students in the restroom, one could also test out the phone’s camera and video to see if its pixels are adequate for immediately uploading to a YouTube, MySpace or Facebook account.  A person could even check a digital calendar to see what activities were occurring that day.  That would make Mom happy, in terms of responsibility.

Gone are the days of pagers, gigapets, Furbies and other toys.  Thank goodness we have technology and communication at the touch of a key.  Waiting and developing patience was the pits.  For that matter, who needs an imagination when one has virtual reality?  This technological “reality” just might cut down on daydreaming, which teachers hate.  Everyone might be more focused in class, much to the delight of teachers.

The wonders of technology would make youth so much fun.  If only we could be young again.

Think of the possibilities, parents!  Think about being young again and how fun it would be to be banished!  The words “go to your room” would be an invitation for an awesome time.  We would have our own cell phones, computers, instant messaging, cable-television, iPods, DVD players and video games.  Now that’s what I call being grounded!

Another cool thing about being young is that parents and teachers are virtually clueless when students copy and paste documents together from the Internet—along with sharing files and pirated music and other cool things.  Just think, no typewriters.  If we all became young again, we would be taught to work together in groups and turn in assignments derived from collaborative efforts. Mom and Dad always wanted me to get along with others and learn to share, anyway.

Being young also means being stylish.  We could wear our hats and hoods in class, claiming our heads are cold, while listening to our favorite tunes.  If our parents let us have cell phones and iPods, what is so wrong with using them whenever we so desire?  We must be entitled to them.

Whatever happened to vinyl 45s?  There is something to be said for that “pffffft, pffffft” noise with each turn of the record.

Shaw concluded that “Youth is wasted on the young.”  Couple that with another of his famous sayings, “I want to be all used up when I die,” and students might begin to understand just what parents and teachers have in common.  We are gigabytes in a terabyte world. 

Mind Your Manners

7 Feb

Assemble a large group of people together in one location and watch the displays of manners.  At times when my awareness is heightened, I ask myself, are things really this bad? Are people, young and old, really this rude — and must we tolerate these behaviors in our schools? 

Could it be that I am alone in thinking that manners, those cultural and behavioral norms of the past, are irrelevant for today? Has neo-American culture replaced politeness, neatness, wholesome language in public and even chivalry? Have we encouraged our next generation to practice boorishness and crudeness?

I am curious as to when things changed enough to tolerate the wearing of baseball-type caps inside of buildings, in restaurants and in school classrooms?  Also, would someone tell me why T-shirts and bare feet are allowed on golf courses? I have seen my share of each of these. 

Where are manners, these days?  When people burp, others think it’s funny. Children scream in stores and are allowed to roam freely.  Are we teaching our young people to think of anyone but themselves?  Are families so stressed out that precious little time is spent actually drawing contrasts in culture for children? 

Has anyone else noticed fewer and fewer people actually hold doors open for others?  What about the phrases, “Excuse me,” “Thank you” and, “You are welcome?” Apparently, these phrases are becoming parliamentary dinosaurs.  Also, few people return lost items to those whom they know, let alone to strangers. If they do return an item at all, most people feel entitled to lift anything of value, because of their “good deed” as some jaded “finders-keepers, losers-weepers” notion.

Do parents really want their young people filling their minds with abusive talk about women, especially preached by today’s rappers? When was the last time we looked into the music downloaded on our child’s computer, on his or her iPod or CDs? I am sad to report that any manners and respect we might be teaching are probably being undone by other forces. Are these neo-American cultural norms?

Thomas D’Urfrey, reasoned: “He that hath more manners than he ought, is more a fool than he thought.” 

I don’t agree.  All stuffiness aside, can we have a little couth please? And while we are at it, might we add a little more of the Golden Rule? 

“Do unto others as we would have them do unto us” seems to have changed meanings today. The current meaning reads more like “Do unto others before they do unto you.” I could be wrong, but the general sense among today’s students is that self is held in higher esteem than the feelings of others. How about a little common good?

Ralph Waldo Emerson noted: “Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.” I think Emerson was onto something. What is sacrificed by not burping loudly in a restaurant?  Who is a loser by allowing someone to select a food item first, or check out first at a store? The incivility of some adults at sporting events, fundraisers and various competitions indicate that lack of manners is not endemic only to young people.  Add alcohol to the mix and things get worse.  If parents, teachers, coaches and other adults do not model acceptable, positive manners, where can we expect the younger generation to learn them? Seriously, what is lost by wearing a belt, pulling up one’s sagging pants, or speaking without profanity?

Now where do we place the blame for what many see as a breach of manners in our culture today?  We would all like to pin it on one group or another, and maybe some of that might be justified. However, there is no discounting the reality that there just seems to be a spirit of rudeness that stretches across our culture. 

So here’s the challenge: How do we correct ill-mannered behaviors? Specifically in schools, do we simply overlook the profanity? Do we allow students to be on their cell phones or listen to their iPods in class — both of which are in violation of school rules?

Should schools teach manners directly and positively, or indirectly as a corrective measure when a young person gets out of line? Manners, like character and morality, are best discussed at times when openness and peace exist. There is a greater acceptance in times of peace. These are what educators call “teachable moments” and they exist for us all. Teachable moments must begin at early ages and be practiced consistently and from within the fabric of the family. But difficulty exists there, too, when standards of behavior on weekends differ from weekday standards.

In closing, where can we look for help? Is it the media? Schools? The entertainment industry? 

Certainly, we can continue to blame the traditional whipping posts. There are no easy pinpoints on this one. But we can begin to shape the world one person at a time.  Answers do lie in the possibilities of all of our cultural agencies working together. But we must ask:  Is it possible that the cultural wealth of America’s past can once again become valuable over the present culture of selfishness and material wealth?

Storms Are Blessings

7 Feb

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  (James 1:12)

Life is such an interesting pilgrimage.  The moment we think we possess it, it turns back around to illustrate the reality of its possession of us.  There are people we come in contact with in this life whose inconsistencies of friendship are extremely tiring and trying.  There are others who come into our lives for a season, due to life’s hardships, a connection through empathy, or some other personal challenge.  There are still others whose purpose in life is to fight, argue, and play power games, mostly in “thorny” ways.  I am hard pressed to find things that occur in life that are purely circumstantial and happenstance.  Normally what happens is the result of issues with people.

I guess I am “purpose-driven,” “passion-focused,” and even spiritual in many ways.  But I am as human as the next guy, and admittedly just as prone to error, if not careful.  Even with the best of care, I will fall short in some way or another.

In terms of the storms of life, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or interpersonal . . . it’s nice to know we all have a “rock” to which to cling.  It is quite obvious to the perceptive ones when people disregard their safety and security and place it in areas where the footing is wobbly, or unstable.  I understand this well, as I’ve been there myself.

When people persecute you, it is not YOU they persecute.  The persecution is aimed AT you, but is truly directed at your spirit, your heart, and your integrity.  If there was nothing in you or your character that was worthy of destroying, no one would waste the effort.  No one is a hero to the masses for persecuting anyone.  Yet, in one’s own eyes, he is deified, bolstered by just a few with louder voices.  These louder voices overtake those who are quiet.  During storms, the wind seems overpowering, true.  Yet, as well as know, there is more calm and peace than there is storminess.

Regardless the storm, here is my early morning set of deductions.

1.  People are hurting and lonely and so they lash out in attempts to either latch on, or try to bring down those whom they think have it all together at the moment.

2.  Storms pass, head into other areas, and those who have endured can send out warnings and survival guides.

3.  Persecution is not personal, it is issue-oriented, philosophy-attached, and normally is the result of confrontation.  People who find it difficult to separate issues from the people sharing them, have deep-seated personal issues.

4.  The manifestation of hatred means there is an inability to come to terms with deeper issues in a person’s life.  Most are aware of the wreckage left behind, yet pretend to move on like, receiving “It’s all going to be ok” from a group of “adjusters.”

5.  Persecution leaves real damage, some recoverable, and some not.

6.  It is fruitless to scream at persecution, inasmuch as it is wasted effort to yell at the storm.

7.  Knowing where to make one’s home and the conditions which cause storms are essential.

8.  Emotional hurts and scarring are forever, but living with them, through them, and beyond them is all right.  I call this condition the tattooing phase.  Persecution is art for the soul.

9.  Storms batter in the same way that fire refines.  Sometimes cleansing and purging are taken to extremes.

10.  The storm clouds always dissipate to yield the bright, blue sky, and the golden rays of sunshine.  It is at these moments, when light hits the wreckage, can we begin to rebuild and regain the confidence of outward actions, which stem from the assurance of the spirit within.

Who or what is YOUR rock during times of persecution, or stormy trials?  Also important:  WHO ARE YOU?

Death Technology

7 Feb

Anyone who knows me well understands my interest in some of the deeper and more controversial cultural issues emerging from daily living.  This piece is no exception. 

I can be sort of an iconoclast, at times.  I wish to open a discussion on something just a bit different here.  I hope to cause us, the Baby-Boomers, to reflect on what is known today as “Death technology.” 

In the article, I will be introducing broader concerns with respect to (1) Physician-assisted suicide (or aid in dying vs. active suicide), (2) Death technology in culture, and (3) mercy-killing, or euthanasia.  It might present challenging reading for some, but hopefully not.

In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s last journal entry into his Notebooks 1914-1916, the author questioned the nature of the relationship assumed between suicide and morality.  He wrote:

“If suicide is allowed, then everything is allowed.  If anything is not allowed, then suicide is not allowed.  This throws a light on the nature of ethics for suicide, so to speak, the elementary sin.  And when one investigates it, it is like investigating mercury vapour in order to comprehend the nature of vapours.  Or is even suicide in itself neither good nor evil?”

Here are some working definitions for the article:

~Physician-assisted suicide (or more popularly called ‘physician-assisted aid in dying.’) is defined by me as “the making available of the medical means by which a person may choose to end his or her own life.”  [This is what the Germans called “Bilanz-Selbstmord”]

~Death Technology, a technological medium specifically created for, or used primarily as a means to end the life of a human, or animal.

~Active suicide can be defined as “death by one’s own hand.”

~Euthanasia is defined as “mercy killing,” or death by the “hand of another.”

Assisted suicide (generally euthanasia) has a lengthy history.  People of ages past were given hemlock to drink, or weapons to end their own lives.  Today, we can see this “type” of practice within the ranks of terrorists’ actions.  However, a major difference is that terrorists also seek to take the lives of others, which is suicide-homicide (murder) by definition, along with their own.  Some people are no longer intent on taking their own lives, especially for political purposes.

The subject of suicide has appeared in literature throughout the ages.  Sophocles, Shakespeare, and a number of other prolific people of history “have depicted suicide not as a major philosophical problem, but simply as one of the realities of human existence.” (Weir, Death in Literature, p. 27)

It was Homer (ca. 8th century) who referred to “Thanatos, the Greek god of death, as the brother of Sleep.” (Bardis, History of Thanatology, p. 25)

The stoics had a fascination with suicide.  They admired the willingness of one who would take his own life.  They deemed it “an aspect of Stoic courage.” (Tillich, in Dyck, To Live and Die, p. 101)

Plato addressed the topic of ending one’s life, in the “Phaedo,” when he wrote:  “There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away; and this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand.” (Plato, “Phaedo,” The Oxford Book of Death, p. 88)

Aristotle was in favor of a variation of euthanasia.  He argued for “compulsory euthanasia for all deformed children.” (Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 90)  In addition, ancient Greek and Roman societies allowed for euthanasia suicide for the aged (p. 90).

In the Jewish Talmud, the Jews maintain their belief in a “tehiat hametim” (a resurrection of the dead).  To the Jews, death is a gate to the word to come (olam haba).  However, euthanasia was rejected by Talmudic teaching, even for the terminally ill.  Even the ill were considered “complete living persons” (Shabat 151a).  Furthermore, the practice of suicide came under strict condemnation.  The Old Testament was clear, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Robert Weir discusses the view of the western monotheistic religious traditions:  “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam . . . have considered suicide wrong because of the general beliefs, as argued by Augustine and Aquinas among others, that human life is a gift from God and that self-destruction in an inappropriate way of exercising stewardship of that gift.” (Weir, Death in Literature, p. 226)

It gives me pause that Weir is unaware of the radical jihadist faction in Islam.  Suicide-homicide bombers are told that what await them for their actions is 70 mansions, with 70 beds per mansion, and each bed adorned with 70 virgins.  First, where are all the virgins coming from?  Second, if a bomber is a female, what does she get?  Last, this ridiculous belief is nowhere found in the Koran, or general teachings of Islam.  This would be equivalent to a Christian faction telling people that to take his life in the bombing of an abortion clinic would mean instant “this or that” in heaven.  Taking lives to gain eternal life . . . duh!  I say, line up all the skankiest, disease-infested prostitutes of history and let them adorn their beds and mansions.  Sorry. 

History records that immediately upon the formation of Christian societies, “suicide was formally forbidden in them.  In AD 452, the Council of Arles declared suicide a crime” (Durkheim, Suicide:  A Study in Sociology, p. 327).  Most interesting is the fact that a person committing such a crime might be prosecuted and punished.  Anyway . . .

This all leads me back to the issue of technology used in ending human life.  It is one thing for a culture to allow, encourage, or even promote the taking of one’s life.   But we live in a wider society that celebrates youth, seeks to promote longevity, while at the same time elevates the ending of our lives as a valid choice. 

I am at a loss over this.  If this is such a good thing to incorporate into our culture, why is it I have never heard parents counsel their children from the early years, on how to end their lives should they choose to do so, alter in life.  Wouldn’t THAT be good parenting? 

The very fact that medical advancements seek to prolong life, heal people, and keep them alive, should teach us something about the ethic we have in this nation.  It is most contrary to those advocating death by choice, or by help.

What does it say about a society that speaks of the value of life and death in the same breath?  What does it say about people who argue that the ultimate choice is the ending of the very life of the chooser? 

What will future generations conclude when they read that so and so valued economics, and inheritances over life?  Just curious.  I have heard this latter argument a lot, lately. 

Suffice to say, since 1973 we have witnessed a rise in death technologies.  Abortifacients, various abortion procedures, such as saline, D & C, partial birth abortion (PBA), embryo destruction for harvesting of stem cells, and other life-ending procedures–and these are even before birth.  It gets worse after we are born and we age.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian stated that he wanted “physician-assisted aid in dying” added to states’ laws.  Reminds me of the late crooner, Frank Sinatra:  “I stood tall, and took the blows, and did it my way.”  Imagine EVERYONE doing it their way?

Dying has been glamorized as the most autonomous, dignified act a person can commit.  Culture deifies and glorifies those icons who are forever “young” in our memories.  Think about it.  Elvis and Marilyn Monroe in their late seventies, or eighties?  How sexy is that?  And isn’t this the issue?  The sexualization of death?  There are people even tempting death by “sexual practice” of asphyxiation at the point of orgasm. 

If a culture based on Judeo-Christian principles seeks to protect life at all levels, why then is this same culture allowed to remove these protections?  Who has been asleep at the wheel? 

The way I see it is that death is going to greet us all sooner or later.  We have some options, yes.  But are they all valid options for people of faith?  Here they are:

1.  Allow death to catch us as it will (I kind of like surprises anyway).

2.  Hasten death because we somehow think we have lost control of our own choices.

3.  Ask a physician to act contrary to his calling and give us something so that our conscience is not bothered by considering the taking of our own lives.

There is a fourth option, and for this option I turn to one of my favorite comedy teams, Abbott and Costello.  When asked how he wanted to die, Lou Costello replied, “Old Age!”  Not such a bad idea, in my mind.

Hey Abbott!

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