By Pete Chalos
When my children were young, my wife Ulla and I would often take them on journeys to visit museums, zoos and parks around the state. We also took them to St. Louis, Dayton, Cincinnati and Chicago. Whenever we took a vacation to Florida, Washington, D.C., or South Carolina, we loaded the kids into the car and made it into a road trip. I doubt there was ever a family that spent more time together in a car.
At the beginning of each trip, we would double check to make sure everything was packed, nobody left the iron on and everyone had been to the bathroom several times.
We couldn’t get three blocks down the street without someone asking, “Are we there yet?” Sometimes we weren’t even out of the driveway when the back seat chorus started. No matter how long the trip was going to be, the kids ran out of patience by the first stoplight.
Enjoying an early morning drive to Chicago was nearly impossible with all the tension between neighboring regimes in the back seat.
“Quit hogging the seat!”
“Turn the heater off!”
“Quit looking at me!”
“Stop touching me!”
“He’s breathing my air!”
“He’s in my aerospace!”
“I gotta pee!”
My wife finally found a way to deal with the little rascals. Three miles north of Terre Haute she unveiled her game plan. She produced a two-dollar roll of nickels and placed one on the dashboard. “Whoever sees a yellow car first gets this nickel.” Instantly, the kids began quietly scanning the road for yellow cars. I encouraged Ulla to spend freely.
Our first rest stop was usually about 100 miles north on U.S. 41 in Newton County at The New Joy’s Café. By then we’d have to add a new game — one we could use both in the car and in the restaurant.
The game we came up with was called, “What’s On My Mind?” This game consisted of one person thinking of an object that was animal, vegetable or mineral. It could be solid or liquid or gaseous. Everyone else would ask questions to try to determine what the object could be. Three “no” answers and you were out of the game.
These games were more than just tools to keep the kids busy enough to stay out of trouble. The game with the nickels helped our kids sharpen their powers of observation while the guessing game helped improve their listening skills and their ability to formulate the type of questions that get you information rather than a “yes” or “no” answer.
Each year, billions of dollars are spent worldwide to influence our behavior. Money is spent by movie studios, advertising executives, political parties, armed forces recruiters — companies and organizations of every sort — in order to gain influence over our choices, manipulate our emotions, direct our spending, create fears so we can recognize the need for their product, tell us what is in style, convince us which lawyer is the best, etc. They even tell us where to send our charitable contributions.
Our powers of observation and our ability to ask the type of questions that get us information rather than a “yes” or “no” answer have been stifled by these many forces of influence. People today are lacking in the ability to carefully analyze information and ask the type of questions that bring more information rather than dogmatic answers meant to influence us.
This year, controversy over whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” was a hot issue. I’m left wondering whether it became a hot issue due to public outcry or whether the public even knew it was a hot issue before the media made it one. These days, controversies are created by political machines and marketing departments to help bring attention to their agendas. Those seeking to eliminate the name of Jesus Christ from public use create controversies where there are none in order to bring attention to their cause.
Nobody was offended by the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” last year. There wasn’t a public outcry when it was used for the entirety of the 20th century or the 400 years before that. This year, it became a hot issue because certain organizations wanted it to be a hot issue.
Our country is on a journey. We are heading down the road together. Make sure you know who has the wheel and where they are taking you. Keep your eyes on the road, scanning it for information. Ask the type of questions that get you more information instead of dogmatic answers. Practice using your powers of observation and analysis.
Don’t get duped by the political machines, fashion gurus or entertainment moguls into thinking you can’t live without their products or guidance. Learn to think for yourself and make decisions without the influence of CNN, MTV, HBO or The New York Times. Ask questions when you watch the news. Don’t settle for dogmatic answers but instead examine the source and ask to see the process they used to get their information and ask to see the raw data. Don’t just scratch the surface, dig deep to the heart of the matter. Keep digging deeper.
Express your freedom to celebrate, worship, speak and believe what you’ve decided — not what Dan Rather has decided. Do your own research and make up your own mind.
Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send e-mail to email@example.com.