Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A boy's flier shows promise

My friend Steven Miketta is a sixth-grader at Paradise Canyon Elementary School in La Cañada. Steven adds credence to Charles Dickens’ assertion, “A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” Dickens had a way of finding and expressing the height of noble attainment through the varied stages of life.

I’ve watched Steven grow, and I am amazed by his indomitable spirit. He has a unique and inquisitive nature, which is driven by the pursuit of novelty.

Last evening, I was at a celebration for the birthday of his mom, Lynette. Eons ago, Lynette met her husband, Brett, in my wilderness studies class. I typically call such fortuitous encounters, “Dr. Joe marriages.”

Steven handed me a scripted flier with a bold heading that read, “Steven’s Survace [sic].” He concocted an advertisement denoting a rather entrepreneurial spirit. He listed assorted tasks from “cleaning windo’s to mow’ lawn.” At the bottom of the flier he added an encompassing subscript, “anything els’ you need help with.”

All those qualities that we think so important to transmit to our kids: enterprise, self-reliance, initiative, fiscal responsibility, creativity and teamwork were depicted in Steven’s flier. Well ... contrary to Jefferson Starship’s perspective, this city wasn’t built on rock ‘n’ roll, it was built on an initiative.

Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget’s “Theory of Cognitive Development” explains that during the later stages of childhood, children develop initiative and self-direction. Piaget implies it is the ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions. Initiative directs our attention toward challenging goals and helps us overcome the inevitable obstacles of life. It encompasses both an inner energy and an outer action. Initiative is developed through internal rewards like creativity, dignity, autonomy, making a difference for others, and activities that help kids create their own futures. It is not developed through external rewards like grades, winning, awards and money. As motivators, external rewards are fleeting. When kids develop initiative, they learn to believe in themselves.

As a kid, initiative was foundational to my development. Like Steven, I concocted a flier advertising a window-washing service. I’d affix the fliers to the apartment doors in the high-rise buildings in my neighborhood. I’d sit on the ledge of a window and hang precariously in space. With a bucket of soapy water and ammonia I could wash a window and dry it with a newspaper in five minutes. At the end of the day, I’d amass a small fortune of $10 and then lose it pitching quarters against the stoop.

It was never the money. Initiative is self-reinforcing. One never knows where it will lead.

Is it nurture or nature? Although I’ve read all the literature, I’m still confused. Perhaps not knowing is a blessing, for in this case uncertainty may initiate self-responsibility. But there must be a design and a prescription that promotes initiative and self-discovery. As children, Steven has sought his own challenges, and by doing so, he has grappled with the complexities inherent in the real world. His inquisitive nature is not dependent upon winning or achieving other external rewards. I sense he is lucky enough not to view life as though it’s about to begin. To some people, there’s always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through, some unfinished business. Unfortunately, time is a debt to be paid, and after that debt, life would begin.

You might think how can I garner all that from a simple flier advertising “Steven’s Survace.” I read between the lines. Somewhere between “put Christmas stuff up” and “great with tools” I found the answer.

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JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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