Monday, July 20, 2009

Introducing my 1st Guest Blogger - Cody Sanford

Cody is my oldest daughter. She just graduated from high school where one of her main activities was participating in Speech and Debate. This last year she qualified for the National Speech & Debate competitions in Oratory and CX. You debate types will know CX stands for cross-examination. If you still don't know what type of debate that is then you'd better Google it. I just know that she and her CX partner did well and were fun to watch in meets. You see, my daughter is extremely talented and smart and gifted. And, I, her mother, am not. I'm okay with that, though. I thoroughly enjoy being the proud mom even while secretly wondering if this amazing creature who calls me Mom was somehow switched at birth. On the off chance that she really is mine I say a prayer of thanks every day that God brought her into my life. I know that it is only through His intervention that she has turned out as amazingly well as she has.

So, enough gushing over my baby. Let's get to the point of this post. I asked Cody if she would be willing to let me post her Oratory speech on my blog - because it is wonderful!! And, you don't have to just take MY very biased word for it. Obviously it must have held some merit for others or she wouldn't have qualified for Nationals with it. Of course, it would be much better if you could actually watch her present it in person, but I never got a video tape and she probably wouldn't have let me post one if I did.

So, now, please enjoy this guest post from my daughter, Cody Sanford. (You may hold your applause until the end.)

Cody Sanford
Cheyenne East High School
Original Oratory
April 27, 2009

Beyond the Box

When I was in first grade, I remember recess as being a very sacred block of time, and I always used that time very wisely doing the same things. Slides first, then monkey bars, and then swings. It was a routine that was not allowed to be changed, however that spring they put in a new piece of equipment - A balance beam, with little rings to hold onto as you went across. And I was fascinated by them because they were new and AWESOME. I was scared, but I put my foot down, and went for it. The first thing I did: fall off and scrape my knee. But I was proud of that scar because it proved that I went for it, and the next morning I fought with my mom that I could not wear tights and a skirt because I needed to show it to my friends.

As I begin to grow older, I can see that so many of us are becoming so entrenched in our daily lives that we’re losing that sense of wonder in new things, and in reality that means a sense of the world beyond just ourselves. We can see the world that we live in, but how many of us have an idea about the world beyond? What would happen if we were to look at that world? Marshall McLuhan once said, “Once you can see the boundaries of your environment, they are no longer the boundaries of your environment.” Once you’re willing to put one foot forward toward trying something new, it then becomes a part of you, and your limits are pushed that much further. So, we need to push the envelope. First, we need to consider our boundaries today and what we lose by never looking beyond them, then we’ll look at the possibilities of the world beyond, and finally we’ll discover some of the ways to get there. But what if you’re saying to yourself, “I like the world I’m in? What if I don’t want to change?”

The truth is there’s nothing wrong with being happy with the way things are. It’s much better to be happy than not, but there’s always room to be curious. Too many of us spend too much time doing what we’re supposed to do, or expected to do, rather than what we’d actually like to be doing. We’re given a simple list of instructions: graduate high school, go to college, get a job, work. Now, that’s not a bad plan, if you find something that you love to do, but according to a 2005 study conducted by the Conference Board less than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. The Mayo Clinic recognizes this trend and says that some of its causes could simply be that for many people work is boring or it doesn’t match their skills and interests.

That may seem decadent to say in a time of economic turmoil, when unemployment is climbing and we are being told that the few things that we understand could be crashing down around us. But out of the darkest of times bloom some of the greatest opportunities. But when you hit rock bottom, the only place you have to go is up - so make it a new direction that you control. If you never even try to find something new, what you have now is all you’re ever going to get.
When things seem difficult, it may seem easy to become apathetic and accept the mentality there’s nothing I can do about it. But our curiosities and our discovery are too important to allow that to happen. We’ve become resigned to the monotonous duties of things we have to do, rather than discussing our latest discoveries of what we’d like to do. This trend of apathy is eliminating our curiosity and stifling our innovation. Paul Takayanagi, a holistic gerontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, states that rather than suppressing our natural curiosity, we should be encouraging it.

After all, that’s the way we learn as children, is it not? To a 2-year-old, everything is fascinating and they are willing to explore EVERYTHING. They are willing to try new foods – like play-doh and dirt. They’re not afraid to explore new places – like the top of the fridge. (No seriously, that was my sister.)For some reason we grow out of that natural curiosity, but Mr. Takayanagi says if we were to inspire it, we can prevent dementia later on in life.

What happens when we look at the rest of the world? When I was in second grade, my teacher wouldn’t let us ask, “What if?” questions. She said it wasted too much time. But I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with anything more. Now more than ever is the time to ask, “What if I want to try something new?” and the truth is you don’t know what will happen. But that’s what makes stepping out of your box worthwhile. Dr. Michael Ungar, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, says, “To grow, we need to experience challenges.” “By bubble-wrapping our lives, we may inadvertently be taking away opportunities to experience the building blocks of physiological growth” It’s scary to step out of your comfort zone, but for many of us, that’s what we need to do the most, because on the other side of that fear awaits opportunity.

Growing up, my parents always told me that if I encounter something new I need to give it a chance and try it at least once. If I don’t like it in the end, at least I know for sure. Many times, this was applied to food. My dad is an excellent cook, but an experimental one, and not everything ends up tasting great. But on the flip side, I’m glad that I’ve discovered that I have a very wide palate, and that it does not include cantaloupe, French toast, or Middle Eastern fermented milk. It’s a mentality that I’ve tried to carry with me to other areas, and last year when I had the opportunity to be an exchange student in Finland, I jumped at the chance. It was something new that would bring new things to try. However, as I was preparing for my trip I began to second guess myself. This is a place 9 time zones away, with a language I’ve never heard (much less know how to speak), and a completely different environment. “Why am I doing this?” But in the middle of this internal debate I got an e-mail from my host sister, Noora. We began to write back and forth (always in English – she at least knows some English as opposed to my Finnish) and before I’d even met her, I was able to realize that Noora may come from a different place, but deep down she’s a teenage girl too. We had similar tastes in music, did similar activities, and shared a passionate distaste for cantaloupe. Just talking to her helped me to overcome my fear and realize that people are people no matter where I would go.

Dr, Ungar says that this is the approach we need to take when we encounter something new. He says, “The best learning happens just beyond our comfort zone.” To psychologists, this is “the zone of proximal development.” Research has shown that those who enter that zone are more likely to feel accepted, responsible, trustworthy, and capable. I know I won’t forget the sinking pit in my stomach, when Noora had me try black sausage dipped in jelly – a local delicacy. However in hindsight I can say that I’m thankful that I’ve tried it, and in the future I will be able to say with confidence and with good reason, “Ei, kiitos.” No thank you in Finnish.

Beyond the social benefits of stepping outside your box, neuroscientists have proven that it is a fun thing to do. New, challenging, and risky activities release dopamine – a feel-good neurotransmitter. In addition to the initial dopamine release, the Journal National Academy of Sciences reported in 2005 that when you find and practice something that makes you happy, you have less of the stress hormone cortisol, a lower heart rate, and less of the blood clotting factor fibrinogen. Who would’ve known that our bodies are made to reward us for trying new things?
Whether people are happy or not with their cycle of their daily routine, they stick with it because it’s familiar. You don’t have to change the world to be happy, but open up by doing something new for yourself. Take a different route to school or work, order something new in your favorite restaurant, or do I dare say sleep on the other side of the bed. Why not? These little acts of everyday habit are what create our comfort zone, and by going beyond them, we expand our boundaries and open up more to the rest of the world.

Once you’ve allowed yourself to ask, “What if?” it’s time to move one step beyond that, and ask yourself “Why not?” The people that we celebrate in history are the people who were willing to leave their comfort zones and show the world something new. We live here today because the pilgrims risked everything they had to come to a new world – they said why not?, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. could have stayed at home within their comfort zone, but chose to say why not? History does not reward apathy. It is only after great risk, that we achieve great reward.

Why not try something new? At worst it fails, you fall down and get a scratch – but then at least you have a story to share. We live in the country with some of the greatest opportunities for discovery in the world, but in order to take advantage of them, we need to lose our habit of apathy, reach out, and hold on.

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