The value of a life

Can you measure it in ribbons, knickknacks or babies? TTers weigh in this week.

By Salon Staff

Published January 7, 2005 5:58PM (EST)

Social Issues

Yellow Ribbon Syndrome

Random Madchen - 11:51 pm Pacific Time - Dec 23, 2004 - #78 of 92

I've been trying to figure out how to make my own ribbon that says REAL SUPPORT MEANS TROOPS HOME NOW!! or some such thing. Now I think that a sticker that says RIBBONS ARE CHEAP, THEIR LIVES ARE NOT might be more pertinent. The whole ribbon phenomenon just seems like such a cheap and vapid means of supporting anything, except for the clever pockets of the person who is producing them. I thought the same of the POWER OF PRIDE stickers apparently put out by Lowe's.

As for people who sign up to be infantrymen and combat engineers, we need those people to help defend this country should we be attacked by an outside army. Keeping on the ready isn't a bad idea and if we don't need those skills of yours, well all the better. You should be simultaneously trained for something that is applicable to a normal, peacetime situation. I don't believe for a minute though that the lives of so many of our nation's young, middle and older persons should be used as they are being by this administration. Another thing ... what about the Peace Corps??

Why no ribbons of support for these tireless people who are doing every bit of the work to improve the lives and situations of the world's downtrodden? They and other relief workers put their lives on the line as well as their health to do good and represent the U.S. and our way of democracy, and yet they get no discounts, pins & medals, parades, salutes, or other reflections of patriotic fervor. Like the word "Christian," being "military" now implies a kind of über-citizenship or superiority that other methods of service aren't granted.

Quite frankly, I think this war has taken on the makings of a football game, and helping people develop clean water sources for their villages, teaching languages, or improving healthcare options for poor children just isn't exciting enough to warrant any sis boom bah from the stands.

Private Life

Childfree Table-Talkers

Vinca Minor - 07:46pm Dec 5, 1999 PST (# 44 of 47)

Megan Knight - 12:52 am Pacific Time - Dec 27, 2004 - #1072 of 1072

Part of the problem as I see it is that society (in the developed world, at least) is increasingly fetishizing childhood. Adults who may or may not remember their own childhoods fondly become obsessed with providing their children with the imaginary idyllic childhood they think they had, or think they were denied. They become reluctant to discipline their children because they think it is unfair; they give children whatever they want because, above all, children must be kept happy. Not for the sake of peace and quiet, but for the sake of some ontological security, some sense of meaning and purpose in the adult's life: if my kids are happy I must be doing something right. This results in a situation in which childhood, and by extension, children, are considered sacred. Children are considered more important than adults, and their happiness doubly so. I am not talking about the idea that children must be kept safe, that is a separate thing, but that they must be happy.

To paraphrase the expression, "it's never too late to give a happy childhood." The problem is that happiness is defined as consisting of two things, mostly: never being denied the right to do what you want, and having all the things you want. The idea that happiness can derive from a sense of satisfaction in your own accomplishments, from a sense of love and support from your family, from a sense of having contributed something to other people, and even from a sense of rules and boundaries doesn't seem to have penetrated. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that people who want their children to have the happy childhood they fantasize are often the same people who want to have it themselves. This results in families in which nobody is the grown-up, and everybody gets what they want.

My experience of these things comes from watching most of my friends and family members have and raise children. One of the things I have noticed most strongly: it is the people who so desperately wanted to have children who make the worst parents. All the people I know who found themselves inadvertently raising a child are good parents; they have a sense of the balance of things, of the fact that you can't keep a child happy all the time, just as you can't be happy all the time. Their kids are all well-adjusted and pleasant to be around: they know how to relate to people.

The friends I have who planned and coveted children, who went through fertility treatments, and hired designers to refurbish the nursery before the pee was dry on the home pregnancy test -- these people are not good parents, and their children are like gods in the home. These are kids who are growing up with a sense of entitlement which greatly outweighs their value to society, and whose parents think that by virtue of being parents their own worth in society has gone up.

My frustration as someone without children is not with all parents, but with all people who believe, somehow, that by having had a child they have somehow contributed something so valuable to the universe that they are now off the hook to behave responsibly, to discipline their child, or to pull their weight in society.

Private Life

Squirrel Club!

chili - 01:08 am Pacific Time - Dec 27, 2004 - #95 of 220

... I can't help thinking of my beloved elderly aunt, who went to a nursing home a couple of years ago at age 89. Until that time, she was pretty much compus mentus, but she had a fall, and thereafter became confused and unable to care for herself. She had moved to a tiny apartment in a retirement village some years prior to this, forcing her to get rid of a lifetime's collection of beautiful bone china, silverware, etc. She was every inch a lady, and had all the gorgeous ladylike objets in the lovely three-bedroom apartment she moved from, the kinds of objets you'd pay a fortune for now in an antiques shop. When another relative and I cleaned out her tiny apartment as she moved to the nursing home, we found the squirreled stuff. I loved it. The other relative turned up her haughty nose and dived in to pirate away whatever financially valuable other items she could unearth. Which she was going to do anyhow.

So now I have many of my aunt's squirrelings: ancient recipes clipped from fragile yellowed newspapers and magazines decades old, ancient bits of gaily colored ribbon and wrapping paper, myriad bits of fabric and thread, blank cards -- funny, earnest, sentimental -- ready for birthdays, ancient mysterious little cooking implements, a beautiful butter knife, a cheese knife, arts and crafts materials for making curtains and dresses, for adding frills, glitter, sequins, lace. All sorts of possibilities were stored there.

I loved the fact that even when she had to move to such a teeny-weeny space in the retirement village, she preferred to let go of most of the fancy bone china, elegant glassware, etc., and keep the odds and ends of the life she really loved, the life of possibility, where she could create whole new worlds out of the simplest objects -- recipes, ribbons, fabrics and thread; where she could be the producer, director and star -- and make others happy into the bargain, instead of being subjected to and subsumed by the rules and protocols of the big expensive object.

Three cheers for her, the gorgeous generous girl of her era, for her quiet creative spirit, and for her modest, loving squirreling.

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