Healthy Media Choices

From the Archives: Conversation with Lance Strate – The Academic Made Practical for Daily Life

Lance StrateThough I’m trying to post recordings and writings, mostly from my five years hosting The Healthy Media Choices Hour on Brattleboro Community Radio, on Mondays – hey! it was Labor Day! Hope you all had a great summer. 

This conversation with Lance Strate, professor in the Communications and Media Studies Department at Fordham, is one of my favorites from my time hosting the radio program in Vermont and Lance is the absolute best person to  speak with about what might be seen as the  arcane fields of Media Ecology which looks at how media and technology are environments that shape us as individuals and the culture as a whole and General Semantics which shows how linguistic formulations shape our world.  He reveals their fundamental practicality better than anyone else I’ve ever met, probably because he applies the principles in his own life and to his faith tradition.  The ideas have become understanding in the heart as well as the head. He just published a text on Media Ecology.  This conversation was aired in June, 2010 and published as a chapter: “Healthy Media Choices” in his 2011 book On the Binding Biases of Time


“It was the hard work and the lives lost in the pursuit of this, of untold generations to bring us to the point we’re at today. So we have to appreciate that, and in appreciating that, also preserve it—pass it on to the next generation, and not lose it in our own stupidity.” –Lance State

Rothschild: My guest is Professor Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies here at Fordham.  He is the Executive Director at the Institute of General Semantics, and one of the founders and past President of the Media Ecology Association.  He is past president of the New York State Communications Association. As a parent of an autistic child, he is involved in autism advocacy, and serves as an advisor for “Mosaic,” a northern New Jersey support group for parents of autistic children. He is also on the Board of Trustees for Congregation Adas Emuno He blogs (and I can tell you that his blogs are informative and enjoyable) about media, technology and communications. He’s a poet, and has a poetry blog. He recently began podcasting. Last, but not least, he is one of the partners that make up NeoPoiesis Press.


Rothschild:  Lance, you bring with you this incredibly rich understanding from your academic and your personal experience.  You are the father of two children, your son is seventeen, your daughter is younger.  I come from a totally different angle to the questions we’re going to look at today. I come from early childhood education and parent education.  I worked for years with young children.  It was from that experience that I started doing parent education, because I was seeing on a daily basis what was being done to children’s’ attention.  It has been a rich journey over the last ten years with Healthy Media Choices. And when you invited me to be on a panel co-sponsored by the Institute of General Semantics.  I thought “All these people are talking about the same underlying questions that parents and teachers have today.”  I want to focus on some of the aspects of General Semantics, so, first, why don’t you define General Semantics for our listeners who may not be familiar with the field.


Strate: Sure thing.  General semantics is a system and a field and an approach that is concerned with how we relate to reality and how we understand our environment, how we get information about the world, with particular interest in helping us to improve the accuracy of the maps we make of the territories that we encounter. That is one of the great metaphors in general semantics, the map, and the fundamental understanding that the map is not the territory.   By this, we mean that the way that we describe things, the way we represent things with symbols, the way that we communicate about things through our languages or media, is distinct from our reality, it is not the same as what is out there, it is non-identical.  And we need to remember that through our processes of perception and communication we only get part of the story, part of the picture of what’s out there.  Our maps can be more or less accurate, that is, they can be more or less similar in structure to the territory they describe, they can be more or less reliable in predicting what we will encounter, but they are always subject to error, and some maps may be completely erroneous.  But there are ways that we can make better maps or better understandings of the world, become better mapmakers, and reduce the errors that our maps contain. General semantics is particularly concerned with improving our ability to evaluate our surroundings, and to pass those evaluations on to others as well.


Rothschild – Would it be fair to say that a greater sensory palate with the environment is one of the ways that we get past a two-dimensional approach?


Strate: Yes, it is only through our senses that we have anything approximating direct knowledge of our environment.  In general semantics, one of the concerns is that, on the one hand we have this great gift of language, and our capacity for symbolic communication opens us up to everything that we consider distinctive about the human species, but on the other hand it also opens us up to a great extent to misconceptions and delusions.  So we need to proceed much as scientists do when they talk about the empirical method, which means that they actually go out and look at things—they use their senses to check out the world and test their hypotheses. In the same way, we go around with our assumptions, our theories about the world. We need to go back to our senses and check them out, and then reexamine our assumptions and theories, and improve our hypotheses, and continue to do that, because the world is constantly changing. Nothing stays the same, we live in a dynamic reality.  But we assign symbols to it, and the symbols don’t change, the names stay the same, so we assume the world stays the same along with them. And that’s not the case.


Rothschild: That is such a crucial point, that we can so easily stop with a symbol, and think we know. This awareness that we don’t know, the awareness that we’ve abstracted meaning into a symbol, and that it’s not all contained there, is such an important thing that General Semantics brings, and I feel that it is behind stereotyping each other because of skin, all kinds of things


Strate: One of the great contributions that General Semantics has made in the 20th century has been education about stereotyping, helping people to understand the problems inherent in stereotyping, prejudice, and scapegoating, particularly in relation to race, religion, ethnicity, and gender.  But stereotyping anything at all can be problematic, not just people.


Rothschild:   This is a burning question, for many people who’ve worked with young children for a number of years.  There has been a radical change in the way children play.  When young children are exposed to a lot of screen media, there’s a deadening of imagination, a kind of stereotyping of play.  There are references to screen media, completely out of context, in the middle of the day when they are trying to be attentive.  This indicates a preoccupation with very strong images that come through media.  So this has implications for something that is another concept in General Semantics : “time binding.”  What it really means, is this passing of culture through language and symbol through generations.  So what do you see about that?  What’s your sense, talking about young children from birth through nine, the very youngest individuals, what’s your sense of that stereotyping of interactions with the world in terms of culture being passed.

Strate:  Let me start with the first point.  Children are already scientists of sorts.  They naturally probe their environment, they test things out, maybe it’s in a little thing like stepping on ants, or knocking over an anthill to see what happens.  But when left to their own devices, they engage in a kind of play that involves gathering data and forming hypotheses. A lot of that productivity from play can be short-circuited through audiovisual media, through television, if they passively accept what they see on the screen. So I think that would certainly be a concern. From a general semantics point of view, we would want to encourage their active probing of their environment, and also direct them to improve their evaluations as they are going about doing this.

As to time binding, that kind of opens up a fascinating door, because you go back to the roots of general semantics, and its founder Alfred Korzybski began by noting that what distinguishes the human species from other forms of life is our great capacity to preserve knowledge—that each generation doesn’t begin all over again, but that we build up a storehouse of knowledge, and we’re able to pass that on from one generation to the next, and in that way make progress over time. That storehouse of knowledge is dependent on our ability to communicate through language, through symbols, and especially through the very basic medium of writing, because that medium particularly allows for a tremendous buildup of knowledge. But even before writing, an equilibrium was achieved by building up knowledge through oral tradition.  We find quite often in the modern world that tribal peoples are a wonderful source of new medicines, because what they do is probe their environment, they examine and evaluate the plants in their environment.  The great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss pointed out that in oral cultures the individuals will have a name for every plant species in their environment. What they won’t have are the more abstract terms like “bush” or “tree,” that sort of vocabulary is missing, but they know every specific bit of flora and fauna in their environment. That knowledge is stored, is gathered, through a very painful and slow process, through many generations, and that is maintained very carefully by passing it down from person to person in a group-memorized, group-commemorated way. And when that process, that tradition gets disrupted, that’s the end. There is no way to recover that kind of knowledge. What we as literates have done is to go to these people, and in a sense, mine their traditional knowledge in the way that we mine oil fields (to use a bad metaphor) and generalize from what we find, so we can take what is valuable, evaluate it, and also figure out what is not valuable—such as other parts of an oral tradition that might just be superstition—so we can separate those two out and benefit by collecting knowledge from all of the peoples of the world, to bring that all together. There is an important place then, for oral tradition, and in fact all of our learning comes through in that way, from person to person speaking to one another across the generations. The general semantics position is that we can improve the ways in which we maintain our traditions, our cultural and intellectual heritage—it has never been in favor of eliminating our precious forms of time-binding.  But you might say that the hidden and unconscious agenda of much of our contemporary media and technology has been to eradicate traditions by short-circuiting the process of communication across the generations.


Rothschild: for me, this is essential. This very commercialized message, certainly in the past twenty-five years since the deregulation of advertising in children’s programming, is coming in through children’s programming, through even the most treasured programming stations.  It is going to lead to some toy to buy.  The average child spends over four hours a day with this.  So just by replacing the time with people who might be telling them, modeling for them, another story, that commercialized story is short-circuiting the passage of culture. Is that your perception?  Do you see that?


Strate: I’d even hold commercialism aside, because that is a separate issue and an added concern. Even without commercialization, our media quite simply short circuit the process of traditional time-binding. That is, if there is a song or a game or a story that is passed on from one person to another, it’s flexible. Each time we sing it or play it or tell it, it’s at least slightly different. You may learn different lyrics, or a variation on the lyrics, the outcome of the game may change, the story may be condensed or elaborated upon.  And part of what the child learns is that flexibility. But when you encounter the same thing in a mass-mediated form like on television or in a recording, it’s always the same. It becomes fixed in a way that it is no longer part of our tradition, a tradition that we can use as we see fit or change as we see fit or modify. It becomes their property, and it becomes fixed, and that becomes our problem. Then, on top of all that, bring in  a commercial imperative, and that adds a whole other set of problems, as the story or the song is tied to products that are being sold, there are ulterior motives, and that also changes the content. But still, I would go back to the primary problem, which is the short-circuiting of person-to-person communication.


Rothschild: — That is so important on so many levels, Louis Cozolino’s book Neuroscience of Human Relationships, points out that that there is this social-synapse that happens between us, as people.  We are actually forming our brains as we are speaking and as our impressions of each other happen, and that doesn’t happen with a screen. The work of Patricia Kuhl and others at the University of Washington, where a child has a caregiver who speaks another language, and the child will pick up the cadences of that language and begin to mimic and understand.  But, if a similarly aged child sees it on a screen, they don’t pick it up. We think of screens as delivering something, but they also block, because that personal interaction isn’t there. I think that is one of the things that even the most wonderful content—content is very educational, or very stimulating, or very beautiful—the medium of the screen is not the ideal one for a young child, or probably for any of us. So where do we go from there?  If we communicate in this uniquely human way, between generations, through language, symbol, and story and the story is being usurped and truncated, then how do we bring awareness to that? I think General Semantics is in a great position to do that, but how do we raise awareness and not be alarmist?  So many people think that if you wish to cast light on this, you are saying “Its evil, it’s bad,” this whole alarmist thing which manipulates parents as much as anything does, how to not do that, but say, “Let’s look at what is actually needed and healthy here, and let’s look at what is actually going on, and make some informed judgments.“ There is this sense that we’re like Prevention Magazine thirty years ago, and now you can’t find Wonder Bread, that we’re trying something very difficult against the mainstream. But how to bring these questions in a way that isn’t “he said, she said,” “yes vs. no” conflict, which from my point of view is not what’s needed.  We need to come in an impartial way, which is what I value about General Semantics, it brings this kind of wonderful impartiality, and says, “Let’s look at it.”  Do you see anything emerging around this?


Strate: I think one area that is hopeful has to do with what we call new media, and digital media, at least in the sense that they open up more possibilities for user control, at least teaching about the fact that there are camera angles that are chosen, that the point of view that you are getting is not necessarily the point of view. I think we can do a lot more to bring out the understanding of how things are produced. It helps to be able to produce things by yourself. That is one side of media literacy—to learn how to control the production side of the process. It is also what’s been hailed as the wonderful thing about the new media—the fact that you can create video fairly easily, you can create your own podcast, you can create all the things that once we could only consume, and we can create what we ourselves want to consume, rather than be limited to what commercial interests are willing to provide for us. Clearly this is not enough in and of itself, but this addition is certainly one step in the right direction. And while it’s true that technologies open up that new possibilities, there is still an ongoing battle between people who want to skew the technologies in a consumption orientation, and those who want to open them up so that everyone can take part in production.

To answer your question in another way, there was a well known Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire, who wrote a book that was very popular, and insightful, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  Part of his argument is that education cannot be truly liberating if it’s done in a hierarchical top-down manner.  Rather, it has to be approached in an egalitarian manner, with students and teachers participating as equals.  So, Freire would go around and give lectures, and people would often ask “Aren’t you violating exactly what you are advocating in lecturing to us?”  And in a way, that is part of the question. Can you raise awareness, can you teach people about what we’ve been talking about, other than by doing so person-to-person? It may not be possible; it may require that we do it face-to-face, voice-to-voice, that may be what’s needed. Once again, just to look for signs of hope, one of the great things about the internet, in its early iterations, with email for example, and more recently with social media, is that it’s opened up channels of interpersonal communication. It’s not quite as good as face-to-face communication, but it has allowed people to connect who were otherwise unable to connect. That at least creates some possibilities for awareness and for education. We’re not going to get it by having promotional spots; we’re going to get it by having people connect on a one-to-one or small group basis.


Rothschild: I certainly can attest to the fact that Twitter, and Facebook are great gathering places for teachers and parents who have these questions. There are lots of conversations happening there about what’s going on: how to have our children be freer (why are we so afraid when statistics actually say that children are safer now than they used to be?)  And getting back to your point about using the media, one of the things we advocate at Healthy Media Choices is telling the family story through media. Having the child see media tools being used intentionally can counterweigh a lot of other things because then they have a firsthand experience of how it’s done, how it’s manipulated, how it’s edited, but also they are seeing the story evolve, they are maybe participating in telling it.  There’s a whole delicious mix.


Strate: And they are seeing what’s being left out. They are seeing the editing process, they are seeing the selection process, and that is a key element in general semantics, to understand how we abstract, how we select, and leave out different elements as we create our messages. That is so vital.


Rothschild: It would make a big difference if people who did children’s programming were required to do some family media literacy.  Who made this?  How is it made?  This is basic media literacy.  Why did they make it?  What was left out?  How were the camera angles chosen, what would it have been like if it had been slightly different, or only one camera?  All of those things can really be part of the family conversation in an informal way, it doesn’t have to be negative, it could be interesting.


Strate: And actually, just recently, I got approved for a grant by the Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications, together with my colleague Lewis Freeman, and we want to create a plan for how children’s television in the future could incorporate media literacy education, how it could use digital technologies to allow for exactly what we have been talking about here. That is, instead of the child just passively watching a television program, make it possible for him or her to rewind and replay in different ways, choose camera angles, get information about the production, etc., and that would make children’s programming not just educational, but encouraging media education, and media literacy. I’m very quick to say that is only part of what can be done to improve our current situation, because the other part is to bolster family communication, direct communication. The problem with is that it’s not just a matter of saying, “You should talk to your kids more!”  That is somewhat obvious, but the problem is to a large extent situational, it is subject to the economy, to social issues and interpersonal issues like divorce.  There are so many factors that feed into this, and we really have to look at the big picture, at the ecology of all these different factors. You can’t just have media literacy in isolation to everything else that is going on.


Rothschild: –That is why in our workshops we talk about the household as an ecosystem.  It isn’t just family.  There are children who are there part time, there are caregivers who come and go.  Who is in that ecosystem? What are their needs?  If you have an elderly person living with you, who feels they have to have the television on all the time, that is a very different situation from a couple with a new baby who has nobody else living with them; there’s carte blanche to control the environment somewhat. So we’re really looking at who you have in the household and what the needs are. If you have a teenager, there are some very real needs that can be just as serious as those of a young child.  So to balance all of that as many of those people as possible need to come into the conversation about how to spend time together, what the priorities are, and then make some informed choices and be intentional. I think the thing that so many of us are seeing is, with the demands of the economy, people are working a couple of jobs, kids are in so many activities very often.  There is a lot of stress, and the kids are stressed about school, tremendous stress even on very young children.  So then leaving time, leaving space, finding where there already is time spent together is so important.  There’s a wonderful story from Keith Frome who wrote a book What Not to Expect, A Meditation on the Spirituality of Parenting. And he tells this story about how he used to drive his son to school.  He was the headmaster of the school.  His son was late, not coming downstairs,  one morning. Keith had a meeting, so the caregiver for his younger child said, “Why don’t you leave him, you’ll teach him a lesson, he can walk to school.”  So he left, and it was only when he was in the car that this feeling of mourning came over him, that he realized that this was the one time when he and his son were consistently alone during the day, and it was a ritual that had value that he hadn’t seen before.  So, it’s more or less mining our days for that time, and making our choices about turning everything off, or being more intentional about actually communicating with each other.  It’s not about reinventing the wheel, so what you’re saying is so important.  All of these things: culture, information, media literacy education, are, essentially, one on one, most effectively, and then, as it grows, it can become a larger societal conversation. I noticed that you are on the board of trustees of your synagogue, and I am interviewing people from different faith and community organizations, about what communities are seeing about children, and the culture of the communities, because so often stories of culture are in our faith communities, in our humanist communities, and they have an imperative to pass that culture on to the children.    What I’m hearing is, not so much from the people I’m interviewing from the communities, but from educators, for instance, in Jewish private schools, is that even though there is this tremendous culture of care – the families are there, the values are there -there is all of this commercialization coming in and it is such a strong dynamic on the children, that it is very difficult to get them to be attentive to stories of their culture.  what I’m seeing in my interviews is that this concern about media, children and culture doesn’t seem to filtering into the faith and humanist communities as an imperative.  What do you see about that?


Strate: It is extraordinarily different these days.  When I was growing up it was so very different, because there was this strong sense of “you have to do this, you have no choice!”  And that created a tremendous backlash, it’s certainly could be alienating, but you definitely knew where you stood, and you knew this was important to your parents, to your family and your community.  I grew up in the tradition of Reform Judaism, and was in place even in that relatively liberal movement, but now, in the Reform congregation that I am involved with, you find people almost apologizing for asking young people to take part in the tradition, saying, “maybe you’ll want to do this in the future.” There isn’t this sense of “this is important,” because no one quite knows what is important anymore, no one is quite sure of how they feel about things. Obviously in more orthodox traditions that is not the case, and then it is quite easy to enforce the separation, and even hostility and rejection that you see in many of the fundamentalist faith communities towards the mainstream media. For those of us who are on the progressive side of things, it’s a very difficult proposition.

Actually a colleague of mine up in New Paltz, Donna Flayhan makes a wonderful point, that what we all need is a Sabbath, in particular a Sabbath from media. She points to the Jewish Sabbath, her background is actually Christian Lebanese, and the Jewish tradition is to take a break from electricity and from work, which in turn forces a break from much of our media, and we need that. We need to say, “Let’s not watch television for a day, and let’s not go on the computer, let’s not check our email and Facebook.” And I do think that is something we need to think about; we need to reconnect with that aspect of our religious tradition. And there’s that problem again, going back to time binding, that if you follow the strict path and say we have to reproduce the past as faithfully and traditionally as possible, then you don’t make any progress, and you don’t adjust for changing circumstances. The great challenge is how to maintain a tradition while adjusting for changing circumstances, and it is tough because what is offered by media like television and the internet in the place of our traditions is so seductive. We are offered such wonderful entertainment and distractions from the more arduous processes of intellectual development and spiritual growth. But I think most of us know, most of us sense the emptiness within our media offerings, not that they are evil, but that they’re not enough for us, that we need something more, and we are not sure how to get it, how to find it. And that is where a progressive faith tradition needs to step in and say, “this, this is what you are missing, this is what is not there, this is where you find meaning, and a connection to something greater than ourselves, something greater than just working and buying stuff and playing around. This is the place to look for it. “


Rothschild: For so long the very conservative religious groups have owned the issue of media’s impact on children, or are perceived to own it.  It is one of the difficulties of speaking with people now.  There is a hesitation, a fear of being identified with that.  For those of us who are trying to find a third way into the question without setting up the backlash that you are talking about, that’s a difficulty.  With Witness for Childhood we are clear – these are progressive voices.  It is not about passing on orthodoxy, in fact I would say one of the basic things is just passing on the ability to be silent, the ability to be still at all and come to ourselves.  (We use a metaphor about attention being a muscle we use to come into ourselves.) In all religious traditions use this ability.


Strate: Certainly, one of the significant aspects of religious traditions involves the structuring of consciousness, and developing consciousness.  Absolutely—meditation, prayer, these are exercises in expanding consciousness.  Working at Fordham University, I’ve become familiar with the Jesuits tradition in Catholicism, and the founder of their order, Ignatius Loyola, introduced a set of spiritual exercises.  And I think this sort of thing extends to all faith traditions, facilitating a form of personal growth; in the negative sense, we could talk about cults that manipulate and brainwash, and all that, but in the positive sense it is about raising consciousness, bringing about a higher state of awareness and equanimity.


Rothschild: –That’s the essential aspect.  And when you look at a child’s day, x number of hours at school, and four hours in front of the television or computer, where is that child ever still?  The Sabbath would be a huge step.  There are a lot of people who aren’t associated with any community, but who could still share that with their child, a time, a Sabbath – perhaps another word – a time when everything extraneous is shut down.  Perhaps the time is spent in nature, we do an exercise in our workshops where we try to remember a time as a child when we knew we were there, and nine times out of ten it is an experience in nature.


Strate: I think that is very important, especially today with so much grave concern over the environment.  We need to include the natural world as the medium for spirituality.  Quiet, and patience is part of it, silencing ourselves, externally and internally, so that we can truly listen to what our environment is telling us.  And seeking, understanding that we are seekers.  On the progressive side, we don’t claim to have absolute truth. There are great mysteries out there, and we are all seekers on a path towards greater enlightenment. I think it goes back to the idea of probing our environment. We do that in a scientific way, but we also do that in spiritual way—through meditation, through prayer, through communion, or spiritual activity. We are probing, we are seeking, we are trying to understand. And that is what it is all about.


–You know what comes to mind from some of the things you said is Bill McKibben’s work The Age of Missing Information. It’s not just information from the world around us that we are missing, but information about ourselves. And so much we can learn about ourselves is from communion with nature, and being still. But I can tell you that children, even as young as three years old,  can be in nature for a long period of time, and suddenly they’ll say something like “The Lion King Video is too loud.” And you can say, “Where are you hearing the Lion King Video?” And they say, “In my head.” The sensory information about themselves and the environment is intercepted by these strong images. Mary Catherine Bateson mentioned something like Sabbath when I interviewed her recently, so I hope this idea is starting to get some tread.


Strate: Well it’s kind of like when the toddler learns the word “no” and then goes crazy for a while, going around saying, “no, no, no.”  In a sense. that is when we become fully human, by which I mean that “no” is the most abstract of terms. There is no way to depict no, no picture we can use to represent nothing or negation, no way of acting it out. It only exists as an abstract concept. Whether it is in the word “no” or the circle with the line across it, or the nonverbal symbol of shaking your head, you can’t show it, can’t demonstrate it. So just saying “no” is an essential part of what makes us human. I don’t want to go to the extreme of the strict “no!”, but we do need the idea and practice of self-discipline, knowing that we are capable of turning things off and saying “not now.” That really is the key to much of what we’re talking about here.


Rothschild: And it’s not just the child we’re talking about here. The research from the people at the (now defunct) Center for Screen-Time Awareness, the TV turnoff people, showed that at the end o the TV free week, it was the parents  who turned it back on. The children were having a great time.  They want the attention of the parents.  I totally understand that, there are so many demands on parents.  In the back of your head, you’re thinking about the bills you have to pay and the chores that need doing.


Strate: Sure! There is so much stress in our lives. I said we need a lot of help, and I don’t mean that in a mean way, things are very hard for people today, at least in some ways.  I know the “Greatest Generation,” they went through the Depression, and then went off to the war and were very heroic in facing up to that, but they also had tremendous support, community support, family support, and that just doesn’t exist in the social structure today. Everyone is off on their own, and we don’t have the resources to deal with a lot of things coming out way, and that turns us towards television and towards the internet instead. There are great benefits from having these sources of information available to us, but we’re missing something, it goes back to the fact that we’re missing something.


Rothschild: –We’re missing, from my point of view, the ability to look at it. Taking the time to look at the situation, see what you want, and brainstorm strategies with other people, which is what we try to offer.  So many people say: “I plug her in because I have to make dinner.”  Well, that child can be along side doing something age appropriate to help prepare the dinner.

Strate: And the irony is we spend less time making dinner than past generations.  And it used to be that making dinner was something children could be a part of, or at least be connected to in certain ways, but now they are disconnected from it, or alternately, just told to go heat something up in the microwave for themselves. But the last thing I want to do is blame the parents, because that’s so easy. You always know the people without children because they are the ones blaming the parents, not the folks with children of their own.


Rothschild: –The difficult part is not to have parents feel blamed or feel guilty when they look at what’s happening, because they might be horrified if they actually calculate the number of minutes they spend with their child.  We’re trying for a more impartial look—this is what is, this is what I want, what can change?  Where can I affect something? There was one woman who stands out in my mind. We make these refrigerator magnets in our workshop that remind us about what we thought we were going to do. ( I don’t know about you, but  I can go to a workshop and when I walk out the door all my habits meet me and it all goes out the window.) And this one woman, she lived in a very small apartment with a partner who was not going to turn everything off, and she said, “Just go for a walk once a week together.”  She felt that was something everybody would buy into, and I thought that was a really successful move for that woman, because she found something that she thought was doable for her ecosystem, something they could build on.  They can build from those sensory experiences and conversations they would have alongside each other.  So the last question I wanted to ask you is, if you were speaking to faith community, they came to you and said “With your understanding as a parent and an academic in this field, how could we approach these questions with our parents, and also, what role could we have in a larger society to bring this kind of question to light?”  What would you say to that?


Strate: I’d like to talk about my tradition if I may.  Judaism is a tradition that we’ve been maintaining, that goes back about 4,000 years.  And that’s really something, it’s really astounding when you think about being part of a continuum of four millennia. And I raise the question, isn’t that something that is meaningful and something that we would like continue to be a part of, in and of itself?  The vastness of it boggles the mind, and I think that kind of perspective, and that kind of understanding is worthwhile, because it’s also presenting us with a historical context. What is going on today is not everything. It reminds us that we owe a tremendous debt to the past, that most of what we have today we did not earn, it’s an inheritance. We didn’t create it, we didn’t make it, we would be helpless without it, if we had to come up with it from scratch. It was the hard work and the lives lost in the pursuit of knowledge and an improved way of life, it was the efforts of untold generations that brings us to the point that we’re at today. So we have to appreciate that, and in appreciating that, we also must preserve it—it is an obligation, not an option—and pass it on to the next generation, and not lose it due to our own stupidity.

Rothschild: This is a good place to end.  In my view,  in a family where the adults have that kind of appreciation and passion, the children will absorb that directly and in the future, the question the progressives have about it possibly not being forever,  that will take care of itself.  Something will be implanted in the child that values the essential actions of ritual and actions that connect us with our higher selves, and with each other. Thank you so much Lance, I hope we can speak again.

Strate: I’d like that.


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