Monday, November 5, 2012


Dear Political Therapy,

      Tomorrow is Election Day and we will find out who will be our President for the next four years.  But it's what comes 16 days after Election Day that has me worried. How can I keep political passions from ruining our Thanksgiving? If my guy wins, I'll want to gloat. And if the other guy wins, I might just toss my relatives out on the street if they try to rub it in. How can we keep the peace? And why on earth did they put elections right at the start of the holiday season?

Dreading the Holidays

Dear Dreading,
       I'm so glad you asked that question. First, let me assure you that your feelings are perfectly normal. Many American families across the country are facing the same dilemma---how to get along with someone they technically love, but can't actually stand at the moment. Thousands of worried mothers are wondering if their glamorous holiday tables will become impromptu boxing rings at the mere mention of Romney or Obama.

       This has been a particularly passionate election cycle. Both sides seem to feel that their candidate is the only hope for the country and that electing the other candidate will bring about the end of American civilization-as-we-know-it. Many people are wondering, "If my candidate loses, how can I continue associating with someone who voted to bring in the destruction of everything I value about my country? Sorry, Mom, Dad. You gotta go."

       In troubled times like these, it is important to remember the principle of perspective. It is not necessary to understand perspective in order to acknowledge it exists, any more than you must understand the ins and outs of gravity in order to keep from floating off into space. The principle of perspective is the understanding that others may look at the exact same facts that you do and come away with a totally different conclusion.

      The fact that they disagree with your conclusion does not automatically make them ignorant, uninformed, or malevolent. It doesn't automatically make them right, either, but that's beside my point.

     I first became aware of the principle of perspective through the process of adopting my 3 children. To some people, the fact that I opened my home to 3 kids who needed love, safety, and support seemed like a noble, unselfish act. To another section of the population (the biological family section), I was a heartless, baby-stealing witch. Both sides looked at the same set of facts, but took away totally opposite conclusions. Perspective.

     Now, I could have tried to convince the heartless, baby-stealing witch camp that I was really a nice person with good motives and that they had misunderstood the whole thing. I even did, for a while. But everything I did was viewed through heartless-baby-stealing-witch glasses and nothing I could do would ever change their minds. I had to simply accept that they viewed things differently than I, and move on with my life.

     This is the approach that I would recommend for you. It's a big enough world for everyone to have their own opinions; you don't have to change who you are, but then, neither do they. Try to avoid controversy over the mashed potatoes, but if it finds you anyway, just smile big and say (in an annoyingly perky and cheerful tone), "Well, I'll guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one." Repeat as often as necessary. If you should happen to completely annoy your cherished relative while demonstrating your accepting attitude and open mind, well, some things just can't be helped, can they?

Political Therapy

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Dear Political Therapy,

     If your daughter writes a pompous political advice column, is it permissible to send taunting messages to distant relatives when your candidate wins?

Anonymous in Westby

Dear Anonymous,
       Absolutely not.

Political Therapy

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Unintended Consequences

Dear Political Therapy,

       I have been hearing a lot about the new school lunch requirements. Lots of people don't like them. What do you think?

Hungry in the Classroom

Dear Hungry,

      I'm very glad you asked that question. This is a story that got a lot of press back at the beginning of the school year. Unfortunately, this columnist was too busy to make up your letter back when the news was hot. But better late than never with a column, even when it's as fresh as a two-day-old cafeteria meatloaf. 

      This issue is a classic example of the principle of unintended consequences. Last year, the USDA passed new nutritional requirements for school lunches. Now, that sounds like it could be a good thing. Kids eating healthier lunches, less over-eating and less childhood obesity, more fresh vegetables offered, less junk food on the trays. Those are all positive goals to have for someone who cares about kids' health. 

     But as often (some might say, always) happens with increased governmental rules, there turned out to be some unintended consequences. The new regulations came with new caloric caps on lunches for various grade levels. Student lunches grades K-8 must have no more than 650 calories, and lunches for grades 9-12 must have no more than 850 calories.

   That means that a 190 lb. 12th grade football player is bound by the same formula as a 95lb. 9th grade ballerina. This one-size-fits-all approach to regulation almost never works, for the simple reason that we are not a nation of one size. Nor do we fit all. We are individuals with individual abilities and needs.

    So, as the new regulations began to be implemented, there began to be some unhappy people. The cafeteria workers, while glad to be able to offer better options to their students, didn't like having to turn away still-hungry kids who wanted seconds. They also didn't like the trash cans full of food that students were tossing because they didn't care for the healthier fare. However, if the schools didn't comply with the requirements, they would lose all government subsidies for their meals. Caught between a rock and a salad bar, cafeterias across the nation are forced to comply.

   Remember how all this started with good intentions? A plan to benefit the student and improve their health? Students are responding to the new regulations by bringing more lunches from home. The new lunches cost more for less food, and parents see no reason to pay for lunches their kids are going to throw away. The home-lunches may---or may not---be healthier than what the cafeteria used to offer.

     Other students are handling it by skipping lunch and getting a quick fix at the vending machine before class starts. A candy bar and soft drink are definitely less healthy than the old lunches! And those students who are old enough to go off campus are leaving to eat elsewhere at lunch. At our local school, seniors were actually meeting for a barbeque every noon hour rather than eat the pickings at the cafeteria.

    I asked my own son for his reaction to the menu changes, and in spite of having the caloric requirements of a bull moose, he hasn't noticed anything different. Sigh. But plenty of students have, and have handled their discontent in ways that leave them worse off than before. 

Cafeterias with greatly reduced clientele. Unintended consequence.

Kids bringing less-healthy options from home. Unintended consequence.

Students grabbing snacks from the machines instead of eating lunch. Unintended consequence.

Parents refusing to pay increased cost for decreased value. Unintended consequence.

     A great many government programs were begun with the best of intentions, but sometimes it's not enough to have good intentions.You can start with the best motives in the world and end up accomplishing the exact opposite of what you set out to do. Because of this, I believe it's best to err on the side of liberty and individual choice where possible.

    In conclusion, dear Hungry, I advise you to pack a sandwich.

Political Therapy

Why The World Needs Another Political Blog

Oh, wait, it really doesn't.

See, isn't it refreshing to find such honesty? But, while the world may not need one more political blog, surely there's room for one. Isn't there? Actually, this blog won't be strictly political; it's going to be my place to share thoughts on some of life's more serious topics, ones that would be a little out-of-place on my other, Pollyanna-type blogs.

I'm going through some rather trying times in my "real-time" life and facing difficulties that I have very little power to fix---I can only choose how I respond. 

Don't you just hate that?

All this has left me with a *slightly* fractious attitude and a lot of energy wanting to go someplace. Aren't you lucky to be the recipients of it all?

I've decided that this blog will take the form of an advice column, mainly because I've always wanted to write one. It also helps create the soothing fiction that there is someone, somewhere in the world that will actually listen to my advice. With the spirit of a true columnist, I am going to totally make up the questions depending on what I want to talk about that day. Convenient, huh?

Now for our first question....

Dear Political Therapy,
       Why did you choose Political Therapy for your title?

Wondering Reader

Dear Wondering,

       I am so glad you asked that question. After several months of observing the increasingly acrimonious political posts on Facebook, I realized that no matter what the results of this election should be, that there would be families with strained relationships, friendships shattered along party lines, and colleagues struggling to work with someone they can't stand.

      I realized that all those dear, wandering souls were just waiting for someone to come along, to bridge the gaps of misunderstandings, and to heal their relationships through mutual tolerance and respectful dialogue. Naturally, I was prepared to step into that gap.

    Actually, while I want the blog to serve as a springboard for finding a reasonable understanding of---well---at least my point of view, it is also intended as a therapeutic release for me. It can't be healthy for me to have so many perfectly good opinions bottled up inside. I might rupture something.

So, therapy for the masses, and therapy for me. (And no, it's not nice to hint that I'm the one who needs therapy the most.)

Political Therapy

I hope that all of you will pop on and read once in a while. I do welcome actual real-person comments and questions, but please keep them civil. I want this to be a place that readers of all political stripes can access without being personally offended. It's fine to disagree (or agree!) with the opinions expressed, but let's keep it about ideas and not get personal.

I'm actually a person of pretty strong opinions at times (I know, I know. It's a big shock), but I do recognize that there are people who see things differently than I, hard as it may be for me to believe. This is only intended to be a forum to express my own unique mix of beliefs and values. I am probably not right about everything.