My Mom used to have this medical dictionary.  And when I was younger she would reference it to try and identify what was wrong with me when I was sick. But instead of making me feel better by helping identify my malady, she would locate something in her dictionary that my illness could be, and it was usually the worst possible scenario.  By the time I was in my early teens I was, without a doubt, a hypochondriac. The thought of getting a deadly disease triggered so many anxiety attacks that those in themselves created many mental and physical issues I’ve had to deal with in adulthood. As I sit here reflecting on those fragile moments I uncovered a stark realization. We all have those “it could be” thoughts but I took it one step further. Those little thoughts became troublesome “it could be” ideas.  I realize now I always thought the worst and I never imagined the best. Could it really be my upbringing?  Or was it something more?

I am most assuredly a product of negative conditioning. As sure as I sit here I recall Mom prophesying, “Don’t do that you don’t know what might happen?” Or “You know what happened to him when he did that?” Or even “Oooh, he had that same symptom and died six months later!” Those types of things were said to me by other friends and family members as well. When I consider those poison words now I question, “Why in the heck would you ever tell someone those things?!” Not only did they help create hypochondria but it also trained me not to trust my own judgment.  Even my Dad would say things like, “You only feel that way because you’re young.” I was even encouraged not to feel a certain way because it was wrong. Even then I wanted to yell, “But I’m feeling it! How can that be wrong?” In the end my resolve usually crumbled because I eventually became convinced that the people telling me these things were adults. They were older, wiser and smarter so they were probably right and I was wrong. At least that’s what I thought then.

Earlier this year I have the privilege of performing in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”. One song in particular speaks to this idea of what is said to young people when they are becoming adults.

Guide them along the way
Children will glisten
Children will look to you
for which way to turn
to learn what to be
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”
Children will listen

Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell
that is the spell
Children will listen

The tale that was told me wasn’t all negative of course. My parents spoke of compassion, charity, morality and love. And I know they did their best as all parents do. But unbeknownst to them they also taught me other things; things that grew into nasty phobias, feelings and emotions.

Let me pause for a moment to say something important. I loved my parents very much and there was never a doubt they loved me. And although their words and actions were meant to make me a better person much of what was said and done had the opposite effect. It’s taken me years to rid myself of extreme hypochondria, anxiety and frequent bouts of depression. And that was after decades of self reflection, education and even therapy. As the song in Into the Woods says, “Children will listen.” So we must be very careful what we say to them. And I will add we need to be careful of our actions.

This entry was inspired by wonderfully insightful conversation with some of my younger cast mates concerning the state of humankind; specifically here in America. I have strong opinions on that subject but I was very interested in what our younger generation thought and felt about things. I started with the question, “Why there is so much anger, hostility, hatred, fear mongering and sadness in people today? What is the root cause?” One cast mate said ignorance was at fault. And yes, it is true that people seem to fear what they don’t know. Another of my young cast mates said she felt isolation was the key. Yes, so many young people don’t get to experience this great, big beautiful world with its incredible diversity because of economic, geographic and sociological factors. We continued our fruitful conversation and crossed generational gaps to agree that the lack of education was also an incredibly important reason much of humankind is so easily offended, fearful and often times hostile. And we all agreed that education isn’t just what is learned in public schools.

My public education on the whole was a good one. But my life education was sorely lacking. Yes there was plenty of love but because my most of my life mentors lived stifled lives that was what I was expecting my life to be. When I say stifled it’s because I saw so few people loving what they did for a living. My parents were excellent examples of people who were some of the hardest working individuals you ever saw. But my Dad was only truly happy when he was fishing, or watching football or eating ice cream. My Mom, although a loving, moral stalwart who would have given her life for her children, never seemed truly happy. Lesson learned for me. Add to that my Dad’s lackadaisical behavior and my Mom’s hypochondria and I’m learning a lot. I finish high school and enter college incredibly unprepared for what lies ahead. I had no idea how to be a happy adult. All I knew was to study hard, not party because it was sinful, graduate after four years, get a job that paid a lot of money, get a house I couldn’t afford, get married, have kids, be miserable at my job, retire at 65 if I lived that long, and hopefully have fun for the last 15 or so years of my life because I deserved it. That’s what I believed. That’s all I knew. But when I got to college all didn’t go as planned. And that’s what this is all about.

Before someone comments negatively about what I just wrote please understand this issue is MUCH bigger than what I just outlined. I’m completely aware of that. My cast mates understand that too! But I was reared in isolation like so many other people in the world. When I got to college I was unprepared for what I was exposed to. I started learning things that made me question deeply entrenched stereotypes that I’m ashamed to admit I carried. I met people with carefree attitudes who weren’t hypochondriacs like me. I became friends with people of all sexual orientations, religions and races. And I traveled to other states and countries and immersed myself in different cultures. But even then, the imprinting I underwent when I was younger always made me question all that was different. And as I said before, it has taken years for me to reach the point I am today. My childhood imprinting still rears its ugly head once in awhile but at least now I am able to recognize it when it does.

I can honestly say when I started this entry I never intended for it to be this wordy. Looking back, I rambled quite a bit too. But despite my ramblings I hope you can make some sense out of what I’m trying to say. As children we are exposed to so much input. And unfortunately much of what we see and hear is not good. As we watch our parents, our siblings, our friends and those people we admire we inadvertently take on those behaviors and beliefs. Add to that socioeconomic and geographical factors and we begin to create, in part, the society of human beings we are today. I thank my Creator each day I had the experiences I’ve had in my life. Even the negative things I adopted as a youngster and the relative release from those things helped make me the person I am today. But if we are ever going to truly change humankind, we need to be more educated. So much of the animosity, anger and violence humanity is facing right now stems from fear; fear from things some human beings know nothing about. There must be some way to teach children about diversity, acceptance and unconditional love. And we adults can learn a thing or two as well.