Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reality Check at Wilson High

A recent student-administered study at our local Wilson High School revealed that teens think their student peers are using more drugs and alcohol than they actually are.

The organization Positive Action Concerning Teens (PACT) is using the study’s results to give teens a reality check and to counter peer pressure.

The results show that Wilson students believe that more than nine out of 10 of their peers consume or have consumed alcohol. The actual number is six out of 10. The results also show that those who do drink, do so far less than is believed.

The study also revealed similar misperceptions about marijuana use.

The June issue of the Southwest Community Connection describes the results in a front page story.

One study's conclusion is that teen social norms — and sense of reality — are askew as it relates to drugs and alcohol. What kids THINK is happening, isn’t.

One thing is missing from the story — and presumably the Wilson study: The answer to the question “Why?”

Why the disconnect between perception and reality?

The question begs for an answer.

Here’s one: The media. How is teen behavior portrayed in the media, which consume roughly eight hours of the average teen’s day?

More exactly, how are teens themselves portrayed in the media? Screens are distorting mirrors. What do teens see when they become immersed in a screen world.

The late George Gerbner conducted a classic study of what heavy TV watchers thought the crime rate was and compared that to what “light” consumers of TV thought the rate was. He called the result “The Mean World Syndrome.” Heavy consumers of TV fare thought the world was a much more dangerous place than it in fact is. Those who used less TV, had a better sense of the crime rate.

I imagine that the same is true with perceptions of drug and alcohol use among teens.

One final point: Why didn’t the study include tobacco “drug” usage. Nicotine is as dangerous, or more so, than marijuana and alcohol.

Clearly peer attitudes and perceptions regarding tobacco usage are important at Wilson.

My own perceptions of teen tobacco use are likely distorted as well. I tend to not pay attention when I see teens NOT smoking, but when I do see teen smokers, I find that my reaction varies from anger to depression. It makes a distinct and influencing impression.

There’s a larger point to be made too. Just how well do our perceptions ABOUT ANYTHING, coincide with reality. And if there’s a disconnect, how do we explain it?

BIG topic alert.

Without getting into a philosophical discussion about the nature of “reality” and “knowledge,” the question is worth pursuing — if only to ward off delusion, distrust, paranoia and — peer pressure, whether among teens or adults.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

A perfectly mediocre dinner out

We went to one of those so-so Chinese restaurants the other night.

The menu consisted of the usual suspects. A nothing special hot-and-sour soup. Doughy pot stickers. Mu Shu pork. Orange chicken. A sizzling vegetable/tofu stew in a clay pot. A combination seafood “special” that wasn’t.

And tea and water. LOTS of tea and water.

The decor was Chinese Lanterns over Formica and Naugahyde.

It was the best dining-out experience I’ve had in months.


See above.

The place was half full. Or rather, half empty quiet.

We four old friends in our cozy booth could actually hear each other. No din of the munching multitudes.

Since no gourmands restlessly clamored in line for our booth, we stayed three hours chattering away about family, friends and Rand Paul.

The matronly waitress, who took our order in authentic Chinese characters, kept our water glasses full and relished seeing us enjoying ourselves.

When we asked her whether it was okay to inhabit the booth another half hour, she smiled and pushed down her palms. “Stay, stay.”

When the bill came, we had spent $12 each for a grand time. That’s four dollars an hour per person for the rare chance to hear each other in a city of noisy, trendy, pricey restaurants.

Least we forget, our bill included food.

And the food was actually not bad. Okay, it was good. Fortunately, it wasn’t great.

Where is this place?

I’m not telling.

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Yesterday, our Quaker meeting and a Quaker Church across the Columbia met again, this time at our Meeting House. In April, we met at the Friends Church in Camas, Washington.

The meeting was part of a movement in the larger Quaker community. After dividing in the 1830s over doctrine (or lack of it in the case of traditional, unprogramed Friends), some of us are exploring ways to come together again.

It's an inspiring dance of beauty and the occasional misstep.

Yesterday, Christian churches celebrated Pentecost. Friends in our meeting likely wouldn't have noted it (we consider all days as holy). But the pastor of the Camas Friends Church, a wise young man, told the story of Pentecost.

How appropriate for our gathering of different Quaker voices made one by the spirit!

In the silence of worship, I was led to my own "text" and rose to speak of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken." Frost famously writes of two roads diverging and how, by taking one, his choice has "made all the difference."

He writes of his choice and the difference:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence

Frost purposely does not describe or judge the difference that the choice has made. He leaves us to judge our own choices.

I suggested a companion poem about two roads converging, and how that too can make all the difference. And we, Quaker pilgrims on a now merged journey, may not sigh about it, but rejoice in it "ages and ages hence."

In a discussion that followed our worship, some of us shared that we had feared what might become of exploring our views and beliefs. So far, our fears have proven groundless. Instead, we have found much to embrace in the light of the spirit.

For all Quakers, of course, the embracing of the spirit comes in the silence. In seeking the "leading" in the "Light" beyond words where there is nothing to fear.

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