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Cultivating change

| June 6, 2010 9:00 PM

Over the last month, Americans have watched in horror as a drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico has produced the largest oil spill in our nation's history. Given that British Petroleum hasn't been able to stop the leak, we have no idea how many gallons will stream out of the ground or the magnitude of the accompanying environmental and economic disaster. Because the petroleum industry apparently hasn't invested nearly enough money in clean-up technologies, there is no way to gauge how long the gulf region will be adversely effected.

However, there is a silver lining to this cloud, even if that cloud is as dark as the crude coming out of the ocean floor. The lining is the discussion that can be generated in your family, asking your kids what they think of this disaster, the state of the environment, the role of government at such times and what they feel is their responsibility to take action, if any.

Have a family discussion, taking care to ask your children what they think and take an active interest in their answers. The "rightness" or "wrongness" of the answers is far less important than you valuing what they have to say. If you want them to care what you think when they are teenagers and beyond, you have to care what they think while they are growing up.

Ask plenty of open-ended questions that require them to expound upon their opinions and ask the source of their information. Are they solely spouting opinion or is there teeth to their argument?

If you have little ones who espouse an unpopular or less sophisticated argument, you should buttress their argument to older siblings. It will make the little ones feel valued and will challenge the older ones to think more clearly and argue

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a point more effectively. I must have been in my 20's before I began to figure out what my dad really believed on the finer points of politics and policy because he was always my "devil's advocate," continually sharpening my reasoning skills and rhetoric.

After you have had your family fun, (what can I say, I grew up with a weird sense of family fun) turn this energy and passion into action. Make a plan to write or call your political officials or the CEOs of Corporate America based on your debate topics. Taking this kind of action will show your kids the correct, effective and peaceable way to work for change. If you ever complain about the apathy and malaise that seems to grip our nation, this is the only way I know of to inoculate your children against it.

As hard as this may be to carry out, I urge you to allow your children to hold different political or social positions than you do. You will know you are on the right track when they can make a cogent point at a family gathering or a city council meeting and you are on the other side of the issue!

Demonstrating polite discourse is the best you can do to insure they will have the capacity to passionately, yet politely, discuss the thorny issues that face us today, and them tomorrow. Demonstrating social activism instead of private griping is the best way I know of to produce another generation of social activists and another step forward to a better, brighter tomorrow.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on Amazon.com. He can be reached at mark@leadright.net.

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