#MeToo: what now? (and four examples from my mundane life)

#MeToo

#MeToo

I had not yet chimed in on the #MeToo movement. I am not sure my experience adds to the discourse. It is a lot to share for someone like me, as run-of-the-mill as I feel like my experience has been.  Mostly, I have been mulling over what precisely I think about the movement.

There are clear examples of outrageous behavior that require improved accountability- the college student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, for example. Someone being drugged and waking up to a nightmare.  In addition, though,there are also ambiguous encounters every day between young adults who are figuring out their approach to sex and to relationships. Who are experimenting with drinking, perhaps, or with drugs. Learning where their boundaries are.

Speaking as a mother of a college age boy, I do hope we remember those early and confusing days as we move toward better understanding each other. It takes a long time to master the language of intimacy. We give and receive mixed signals while we learn.

Setting aside force, which is never okay, there is also a learning curve when it comes to the difference between flirtation and seduction. Persuasion and coercion. What we’re comfortable with and what feels like violation. I’ve been married for over twenty years, but that was not a clearcut and straightforward journey, as I recall.

 

Anger feeds anger.

The tone of some of this wave of #MeToo feels like it may unintentionally swamp the need for frequent acceptance of the shortcomings of our life partners. It may replace that necessary understanding with reasonable, righteous, yet damaging anger. I wonder what this current outrage might do to the concept of lifelong relationships.

I am fortunate to be in a long-term, healthy relationship, however. If he demeaned me, insulted me, or hurt me, that would devastate me.  The balance with which I write this would disappear.

I would not presume to speak to the role of forgiveness in abusive relationships. I’ve written about the tragic connection between childhood abuse and its likely effect on a convicted adult abuser.  I implore anyone who’s being demeaned or threatened to get counseling and get to safety.

Not minimizing the harm done.

This may sound like I am minimizing the toll sexual harassment and sexual assault take on us as society. It may seem like I am trying to excuse it. I definitely am not.

I am emphasizing the need for us to forgive our loved ones when they let us down – not when they assault, demean, belittle or abuse us – but when our relationships momentarily derail. When their – or our – behavior is less than it could be. Within healthy limits. When a lapse is a forgivable event, not an abusive trend.

It is not my place to set that boundary for anyone else. It’s imperative to be vigilant about what healthy limits are. To protect and value ourselves. Many men are not aware how pervasive the belittling is that can lead us to undervalue ourselves or our gender. It’s difficult to hear if you’re not female.

Be an imperfect but necessary example.

So, I am speaking up. We need to teach our daughters, our friends, and anyone we influence how to value themselves. How to respond to harassment. How to guard against abuse. We need to immunize them against feeling powerless. That’s not solved by policy. although thoughtful laws about harassment and sexual assault are essential. Confidence, appropriate response and self-defense are taught, modeled, and hopefully absorbed by future generations.

Tell your #MeToo story. Here is mine.

So, with that in mind, of course, #MeToo. Harassment. #MeToo. Assault. #MeToo. Here are four examples from my life.

#MeToo: the socially inept harasser

Some encounters and offenders are simply unpleasant, inconsequential gnats who should not affect one’s otherwise happy life. For example: after college and before graduate school, I worked as a waitress in addition to my day job to better make ends meet. A guy who was a regular customer came in one night and had dinner. At the end of his meal, he said, “Will you come home with me?” I laughed and said, “Thanks, but no.” He said, “You might as well. I’m just going to go home and jack off thinking about you. So, why not come along?” I looked at him with irritated disgust and said, “And that’s why you’ll probably always eat dinner alone.”

That guy owns his abysmal, shameful, repulsive behavior. He does not deserve to have any effect on my life except to be justifiably mocked for behaving in such a gross way. It did not cross my mind I was in any way at fault. This was not in any way my problem. I thought what a sad little man he was to say such awful things to someone he barely knew.

#MeToo: the mentally ill harasser

Some harassment is scary, unpleasant, even dangerous, and a consequence of that person’s significant issues, such as mental illness. When I was in graduate school, I was followed through a drugstore by a homeless man who fondled himself while mouthing obscenities.

The security camera would have shown me hotfooting it through the pharmacy area looking for nasal spray at a frantic pace while throwing exasperated looks back at the foulmouthed irritant. Perhaps I should have been afraid. I was not. I was in a well-lit store surrounded by (regrettably oblivious) employees. Had I been worried, I would have asked for help.

Encountering someone like him was a not uncommon occurrence in New Orleans in the 90s, where people living on the street were sometimes in various states of intoxication or mental distress. In my mind, he was not a threat. He was a sadness.

At the time, I did not think of his action as harassment. I thought of it as a lack of self-control on his part, a blindness to boundaries brought on by whatever demons he faced. It did not cross my mind I was at fault in any way for his behavior. I was clear that in his mind, I was vaguely female and that sufficed for whatever odd script he was following in his head.

I did not think about other women being frightened of him. I thought about him needing medication. I thought about getting home. I may have been wrong to respond like that. I probably should have tried to get him help.

#MeToo: harassment in the workplace

Then there are the men who love power and don’t much like or respect women. A CEO at a company where I worked in the 90s hosted regular marketing offsites to report on what worked and did not and strategize on what we planned to do next.

He had a private plane and flew many of us to and from these meetings. The marketing managers were primarily women. Upon our return from one offsite, he walked up to us as we were lined up to leave and gave each of us a kiss. On the lips.

I’m no shrinking violet. Yet I let it happen. Words cannot express how repellent that man was, and still is, to me. But putting my job on the line by calling out his behavior was a risk/return ratio that, at that time, was not in my favor. Each of us knew he did that because he could. Not because he was attracted to any of us. It was an impulse, completely impersonal and completely about him. A casual expression of what he thought of, were he given to introspection or analysis, as dominance.

It never happened again. None of us would have let the opportunity present itself. That’s how women used to handle situations like that. They might happen once, but we would be intrepid about making sure they could not again.

I definitely mishandled that incident. It is obviously not enough to have avoided being in the situation again. Because a guy like that was not just saying his desires were more important than his employees. He was also saying that women are inferior. Less powerful.

My colleagues and I let that perception remain. I knew I could go somewhere else, continue my career trajectory, and finesse any future encounters like that one. That’s precisely what I did.

But people like him should not be in charge of companies. Unfortunately, narcissists can be really good at building companies to a certain level, so they’re rampant in upper management.

#MeToo: the assault

Then, there is assault. A young man broke into my apartment in New Orleans when I was in graduate school. I awoke to him standing over me, telling me he had a gun and he was going to rape me, then kill me.

I was lucky. The calculus in that situation went thusly. “I’d rather be dead than be raped by this man.”

So, I asked to see his gun. He told me to shut up. I repeated, “Show me your gun.” He said “No.” I said, “You don’t have a gun.”

Driven by adrenaline, I jumped up, picked him up and held him against the wall. It turns out the powerful, menacing shadow in the middle-of-the-night darkness was actually a skinny teenager, probably 110 pounds dripping wet, who’d likely taken something to give himself courage he should not have had.

Unfortunately, I lived by myself, though. Once he was up against the wall, I had nowhere to put him. So we scrambled and scuffled toward my front door of my small apartment, and he pushed the screen door open and escaped.

I called the police, then woke my neighbors up. The 90s New Orleans police were not particularly sympathetic. They actually laughed and told me “You should have beat the shit out of him.”

He and his buddies came back that night, slowly driving up and down the street. In the early morning hours, they slashed my neighbor’s tires.The police did not come back. They were a busy bunch, and, as I’d seen, rather indifferent.

So, I moved to Metairie ten or so miles away, to a secure apartment complex. I finished my time at Tulane commuting instead of walking.

#MeToo: the consequences

That incident changed me. I reflexively lock my doors now. I know how to use a handgun. I am wary.

But I am not afraid. I was lucky because the violence I encountered was not overpowering enough to rise to a level I could not overcome. Thousands of women have endured so much worse.

I was also lucky because my parents raised me to assume I could resolve whatever difficulty I encountered. To not to be afraid. To defend myself. To overcome. To always be thinking about solving the problem.

To avoid situations that put me at needless risk – advice I did not always follow when younger, I’m afraid. Many of us have to learn common sense.

Even with that confidence and eventual common sense, though, the main reason I am not afraid is because I have not yet encountered a situation I could not resolve. That is just the luck of the draw. Which is why #MeToo is important.

Great parents and subsequent good judgment provide tools for a woman’s defenses and her ability to assess whatever happens to her from a healthy perspective.. They do not, however, stop sexual violence.  They do not stop sexual harassment.

We need to address the impetus that drives some men to act this way. (And some women – I have seen the men saying #MeToo.)

Men, wonderful men

I’ll close this by noting that I respect and adore men. I treasure the deep connections that are my most sacred relationships in addition to my bond with my mother: that of husband and wife, son and mother, daughter and father, brother and sister. I have spent my life surrounded by extraordinary men.

Old-fashioned strength, protectiveness, gallantry are honorable and precious things. #IHearYou – they say, and they really do hear us. They listen. We should not throw them out because we want to get rid of the toxic behavior of violent men. The puerile behavior of immature men. The predatory behavior of sociopathic men.

The dance between the sexes is an essential treasure worth preserving as well. The subtle, sensual mutual admiration that is flirtation at its best: respectful, mischievous, complimentary and harmlessly entertaining. It is an art worth keeping.

We can have all of that and still fix this. So, with a focus on solving the problem in addition to just calling out the scope of it, and with an abundance of love and respect for the fineness of the men and women in my life – #MeToo.

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Thoughts on the horrifying shooting of Republicans in Alexandria, Illinois today

Words to think about after the shooting in Illinois today

Words to consider after five people are shot today, including majority whip Steve Scalise, in Illinois in what appears to be an attack targeting Republicans.

We’re all in this together

The violence in Illinois this morning, when Republican majority whip Steve Scalise was one of five people shot as they practiced for a Republican vs Democrat charity event that will take place this Sunday, was inevitable. It’s the natural outcome of our insistence of defining who’s “us” vs. who’s “them.” We need to remember we’re all “us.”

My thoughts and prayers go out to Congressman Steve Scalise‘s family; Zachary Barth and his family; Matt Mika and his family; Special Agent David Bailey and Special Agent Crystal Griner, along with all others affected by today’s shooting. The shooting was apparently motivated by political antipathy. Reports say the gunman asked if those practicing were Republicans or Democrats before opening fire.

It’s not us vs them: it’s unity vs division, progress vs regression, overall gain vs overall loss

We’re buying into a false narrative when it comes to our choices. The division is not rich vs poor; black vs white; men vs women; LGBTQ vs straight; Republican vs Democrat; Christian vs Muslim; or gun owners vs gun control advocates – though there are those in each group who would make it so. The real contest is between anger and logic. Peace and violence. Self-centeredness vs open-mindedness. Unity and connection vs division and indifference. Thoughtless heckling vs useful problem-solving. Openness vs sneakiness (because if you don’t discuss your ideas in the open, you cannot hear opposing views that may challenge and enrich or even change those beliefs.)

This kind of overheated, exaggerated rhetoric needs to end on both sides. Verbal personal attacks have become the norm. Many of my friends - people I love and respect - regularly say things on Facebook I know they would not say in person. It's not political activism - it's the online equivalent of a middle school slam book.

The attacker’s Facebook page indicates he was vehemently anti-Trump.

If you flame people online, you’re encouraging the dysfunction

The kind of overheated, exaggerated rhetoric found in James T. Hodgkinson’s social media needs to end. Vicious online personal attacks have become the norm. Many of my friends – people I love and respect – regularly say things on Facebook and Twitter I know they would not say in person. That’s not political activism – it’s the online equivalent of a middle school slam book.

Those verbal attacks call to those who are unbalanced enough to launch physical attacks. The physical attacks lead to outrage from most, but chilling indifference, like this from others.

Online attacks call to those who are unbalanced enough to launch physical attacks. The physical attacks lead to outrage from most, but chilling indifference, like this, from others.

Don’t assume everyone who reads your posts is as balanced as you are

The real choice is always between love or hate. The worst – and easiest – choice is corrosive indifference. If someone doesn’t matter to you, you may more easily opt to call them names online, revile their intelligence, reject their beliefs, diminish their humanity, and, eventually, be indifferent to their fate. 

People who are unbalanced for whatever reason may hear this rhetoric differently than the rest of us. You and I hear snark. They hear a call to action. They do not have the same boundaries. People get hurt.

Perhaps victims are “only” shamed and vilified online. What’s the harm in mockery, a meme, a rumor, a misrepresentation that is repeated over and over? Their reputations may be damaged, but hey – it’s legal so it must be moral. Everybody else does it. Except we don’t. Plus,the blame-and-shame mindset, along with the idea that one person’s immaturity makes mine okay, should be discarded by the end of elementary school. In extreme cases like today, people are physically harmed.

Time to move forward

Let’s stop this. It is purposeless to gin up strangers’ anger, to rally people around personal attacks and accusations, to ratchet up the emotional volatility. We have to stop the drama and come together. It’s a lot more boring to intentionally decide to respect each other and have occasionally tough discussions from a basis of mutual respect, but let’s do it anyway. We have to commit to discuss issues, not people. We have to pressure our news outlets to simply report the issues and quit making politics so personal.

 

Deterrence

So, how do we stop similar future occurrences? First, we have to detox the environment that allows the hate to thrive. In order to do that, we need to ratchet down our political antipathy toward each other. Republicans and Democrats need to work together, find common ground, and quit tearing each other apart. Elections, local to national, need to quit being so viscerally personal. Otherwise, we will not ever get a diverse pool of qualified and motivated candidates – who wants to run for public office only to be vilified and possibly have their lives genuinely threatened?

Some genuine geniuses undoubtedly voted for Trump. Some voted for Hillary. Some voted for Bernie. Time to find points of agreement.

We start by leaning toward each other, rather than draw further away. Though this may be obvious, here’s some truthiness for you. People who voted for President Trump are not a monolithic bunch of racist, homophobic, sexist misanthropes. They had a wide variety of valid reasons for voting for him. Likewise, people who voted for Hillary Clinton are not all ignorant, arrogant “feminazi” liars. They thought she was the best and most experienced candidate for the job. Nor is every Bernie Sanders supporter a “commie” or a “snowflake.”  They saw him as the best candidate to lead the change they wanted. There are areas where we each agree. We have to talk to each other and find that common ground, then move from there to work on the areas where we disagree. 

Five ideas for personal change

  1. Talk more about what we each support, less on what we are against. It is easy but not that useful to protest the status quo. It is very difficult but infinitely more useful and lasting to work to enact meaningful change.
  2. Focus on making the changes we can. It’s easy to bemoan things that are beyond my control. It’s harder to commit to work to make things better than I know I can affect.
  3. Personally commit to discuss issues, not people, especially online. 
  4. Pressure our news outlets to simply report the issues and quit making politics so personal. Post requests on their Facebook pages. tweet to them. Less editorializing, more unbiased news, please.
  5. Ultimately, define each problem statement – poverty, violence, mental health, health care, terrorism – and find common ground on solutions rather than deliberately moving further apart.
So, perhaps, we should consider this. I have intentionally not posted the wrongs of others, the insults to Hillary Clinton, the ridicule of Bernie Sanders, and on and on. It's all wrong. It all has to stop. The idea that one person's immaturity makes mine okay should be discarded by the end of elementary school. We are so much better than this. Please, let's encourage the greatness in each other. We are all connected. (Hat tip to F W Rick Meyers for the though-provoking slide show he posted yesterday, which is where I found this slide on change and perspective.)

So, perhaps, we should consider this.  (Hat tip to F W Rick Meyers for the though-provoking slide show he posted yesterday, which is where I found this slide on change and perspective.)

1. Define and agree on the problem before insisting there’s only one possible solution. 2. Problem solve rather than self-promote.

Today, many in the Twitterverse did not stop to mourn but immediately started debating gun control.  “If the Sandy Hook massacre had been GOP congressmen instead of children at school, we’d have had #GunControl a long time ago.” versus “Today, good guys with guns bravely prevented a mass political assassination. Let that be your only take away from the events today.”

Instead of moving immediately to a solution that we may assume is best for all based on our individual experience, let’s define the problem we want to solve. Neither of those posters wanted this guy to shoot those people.  They could find common ground on how to prevent future incidents if their goal was to do that rather than to score points with like-minded people.

 

A final prayer

Last, my thoughts and prayers also go out to James Hodgkinson’s loved ones. I just saw a gentleman on television who was his childhood friend, who said he was a nice guy, and that he did not think was capable of such an act. It’s much easier for the rest of us to revile the sinner than the sin, because then we can hope the sin dies with the twisted, unknown individual. But the hate that infected James “Tommy” Hodgkinson lives on and continues to corrupt. We have to each decide to actively discourage the environment that encourages it to fester. We have the choice to be so much better than this.

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Keeping the dream alive

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What if a racist called for a race war, and nobody answered?

Did you hear about the racist who murdered nine       innocents, called for a race war, and caused  an         outpouring of love and unity instead?

We’re living in interesting times. A young man slaughters nine innocent people in the hope of starting a race war. What happens instead?

I wonder what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would think of this. Cynics may say that we should be further along when it comes to racial equality than we are (although those same cynics are often silent about how to create that change. Perhaps it’s easier to sit in the stands and throw “criticism popcorn” than do the work.) There’s an understandably vigorous debate about the emphasis on the Confederate flag. And yet, I marvel at this speedy and broad response.

I think that, while we mourn the senseless loss of the wonderful people who were murdered in Charleston last week, we should also note with some quiet satisfaction the complete and utter failure of the young man’s call to hate. His day is done, as is the day of racists like him.

When those extraordinary family members in Charleston came to the murderer’s arraignment and spoke with forgiveness and compassion to the man who killed their loved ones, the noble content of their character easily outshone the shabby racist lie on which the murderer based his short life’s work. In their time of grief, they gently and courageously showed us a positive way through this difficult dialogue about race, faith and violence. I find that heroic.

Their powerful example has inspired a notable, respectful response from all over the south, the nation and the world. It’s different – infinitely more immediate, unambiguous, united and supportive – than any we’ve seen to tragedies in the past fifty years. We can keep the memories of these loved ones alive as well if we, too, choose to live our lives with love, free of fear and hatred, minimizing anger and ignorance.

Those of us who are not part of the AME Emanuel church community will soon have the privilege of moving on, with sorrow and respect, but with our lives largely unchanged. We also have the option to forget this happened. Let’s not. Instead, let’s honor the lives that were cut short by building on the positive, sustainable change we can already see happening around us. It is often slow, not always visible in the moment. But it is happening, and it is the very antithesis of the race war the murderer hoped to ignite.

So, we different sorts – black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Jewish, Islamic…whatever your individual makeup is in this wonderful melting pot we call the United States – have the opportunity to grow closer, to truly be united.

We are, after all, one. On this, science and faith agree. Everything began as a single entity, whether you believe in the big bang theory, the story of creation, or “a world without end.” We evolved from a common ancestor. We are related.

The inspiring lives of the church family in AME Emanuel are thus connected to the possibly largely wasted life of the murderer, which is connected to you. You are connected to me. We’re all judged by the content of our character. I hope, myself, that I can live up to the shining example of Marcus Stanley.

“I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of 9 living & breathing people. Children do not grow up with hatred in their hearts. In this world we are born color blind. I love you Dylann…”

So, I hope you will choose love. I hope I do. It’s so much easier to choose anger, to indulge in snark, to snipe at the person who cuts you off in traffic, who schemes for that promotion at work, who posts that obnoxious screed on Facebook, whose politics disagrees with yours, who’s just different in some strange and disturbing wayand then that disconnection simply escalates.

But then, stop and think: if a young, hate-filled man with a gun walks into your building tomorrow, will your life serve as an inspiration to your children, your friends, and total strangers?

With deepest sympathy and respect for the loved ones of The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson, and The Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.

 

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From St. Paul’s in Mobile to Christmas in Castle Rock

Christmas in Castle Rock

Christmas in Castle Rock

“What a long, strange trip it’s been…”

I just finished a volunteer project for my church – a website called Christmas in Castle Rock.  My idea was to invite others into the joy and creativity so evident in the Christ’s Episcopal Church community – an invitation particularly meant for people who are new to the Castle Rock area.

I vividly remember how homesick I was my first Christmas here, despite how many times we’d moved before. I loved Snoqualmie, Washington, where we’d lived before. I felt bereft at starting over once again. Meeting people at Christ’s Church helped me start to put fresh roots down here as well.

Creating the site took me back to my spiritual roots, and I found it a happy journey. So, I thought I’d share those.

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A good time for a great cause

October 19 11-3 at Festival Park in Castle Rock, Colorado: The Manasi Project's first annual festival fundraiser to help children get school supplies

October 19 11-3 at Festival Park in Castle Rock, Colorado: The Manasi Project’s first annual festival fundraiser to help children get school supplies

What: Music, food and fun in support of The Manasi Project
When: Sunday, October 19, from 11-3
Where: Festival Park, downtown at 300 Second St. Castle Rock, CO 80104 (Across from Daz Bog between Perry and Wilcox on Second Street)
Why: raise funds for school supplies for the children of Hopkins Village, Belize
How much: brown bag lunches for a suggested donation of $5.00; soft drinks and Krispy Kreme doughnuts available as well
More information: www.manasiproject.org; phone 720.364.6875; email (infoplease…at…manasiproject.org)

I’ve written about my son Nic’s experience with the Young Entrepreneur Academy of Douglas County, a program sponsored by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce. It was transformative. In just 30 weeks, Nic created a not-for-profit to help children all over the world obtain educational supplies. He was mentored by area business leaders and Chamber personnel, which simultaneously strengthened his self confidence (“These successful business people think my idea can work!”) and made him aware of areas he might need to bolster his knowledge (“I really need to get organized.”)

It began with SCUBA

YEA brought an idea Nic had nurtured for a long time to vivid life. For several years, we spent every Thanksgiving in Hopkins Village in south Belize. We live in the very center of the United States, and I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so I miss my warm water and sugar white beaches. When Nic turned ten years old, we took him to a class at Planet SCUBA in Castle Rock and got him certified in SCUBA diving. Rob, whose approach to diving is as close to Zen as I’ve seen, taught us carefully and thoroughly, and we all three did our dives with him at the Blue Hole in New Mexico. (We’ve been on several trips with Rob and Planet SCUBA since, to Mexico, and they are world class. We are so lucky to know them.)

The first trip to Hopkins Village

For our first series of dives, Ryc had already found Hamanasi, in Hopkins Village, and we took Nic there for his first SCUBA trip in 2008. It was – also – transformative. The local divemasters took care of him like he was their own. They joked with him, initiating him into that wonderful brotherhood of men who love being on and in the ocean water. He felt like he belonged.

Floods damage the area

We came back each Thanksgiving for several years. One year, the area had sustained some ruinous flooding. Houses were profoundly damaged. The school had been affected. The roads, basic by nature, were rutted and washed out.

Nic asked about what we could do. The manager of guest services, Karina Martinez, suggested he concentrate on school supplies. Life intervened back here in Colorado, and we were unable to visit for awhile. But he never forgot. He stayed in touch with Karina.

YEA provides a welcome impetus

When Nic decided to sign up for the YEA, he opted for a not-for-profit to help those kids he so vividly remembered. We talked about what to name the organization he wanted to found. We discussed the idea of charity. Nic said that charity sounded nice, yet somehow condescending. He wanted something that emphasized the respect he felt for the people in Hopkins. So, he asked Karina for various ideas in the local Garifuna language, and she suggested Manasi, which means respect.

He put together a business plan; asked people he respected to serve on his board of directors – including Karina, because having a local contact in each area is integral to his concept;  got his tax id and other paperwork in order, and his not-for-profit was born. Every step took longer than we thought it would.Every step, though, he met new people who offered help, expertise, encouragement and – once he is set up to accept it – money.

And now…we shall see what happens next

Finally, though, his first fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday, October 19. Nic is taking his first set of supplies to Belize in November. He is going to try to  make a difference for people who were kind to him when he was so young. The local business people here in Colorado have also made a difference for him by encouraging his dream. Someday, the children he helps may make a difference for someone else. That’s pretty much what life’s about, when life is good, when we share our goodness, when love and respect abound. Manasi.

 

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Speaking…for my friend

I have a friend, Pam Mazanec, who serves on the state board of education here in Colorado. She wrote an inelegantly phrased post on a Facebook group called SPEAK for DCSD about how the U.S. decided to end slavery. SPEAK is decidedly against the current school board here in Douglas County. Pam supports that school board. We’re having a locally lively debate about, among other issues, the high school Advanced Placement US History curriculum, as you may have heard. Our neighboring county, Jefferson, has seen teacher and student walkouts. Pam’s post was intended to support the idea that the US History framework should analyze the factors that make us great and the factors that weaken us as a country.

She said we ended slavery voluntarily, and at great sacrifice – and that we should teach about the nobility of our country’s intrinsic willingness to endure the necessary sacrifice to end a given evil. Her phrasing was understandably objectionable to those whose ancestors had no say in the matter. However, I am increasingly appalled by the way people who disagree with her political views are treating her.

Her casual post has offended the historical scholars (and grammar Nazis) among us. I am not sure why, since she was writing a casual post on a Facebook page that was clearly not meant as an historical treatise. I’ve not seen a single post that says, “Hey, I am having trouble understanding what you mean.” “Not sure what you’re thinking.” “Let’s talk.” But I have seen her thoroughly skewered by a media outlet that disagrees with her politics, and another is now linking with ironic disbelief to the first.

(By the way, if every Facebook post I’ve ever done is going to be subjected to a scholarly review, I am in so.much.trouble. Let’s just say that now. Go find those impulsive posts, or the ones with the magnificent typos, because I’m sure they exist.)

As for Pam, though, I understand what she was trying to say. Because I know her. She is intelligent, educated, compassionate and downright nice. She was calling out the heroism of the people of all classes, races, and walks of life who helped end slavery. She was saying that our country is, at its heart, wonderful. She was saying that, when the chips are down, she believes we do what is right. In this case, ending slavery cost our country as a whole millions of lives – black, white, slave, soldier, Union, Confederate. We persevered, even then, because we do what is right. And I still understand why the way she put it was not well received.

Because, in part, we don’t. We don’t rise to our best selves when we are not inspired to be exceptional. We don’t when all we want to do is sit in the stands and throw verbal popcorn at the people trying to make meaningful change happen. Most of all, we don’t when we are focused on scoring political points and increasing our polarization. So, the question we should each ask ourselves is whether we are on the side of mediocrity and polarization or we are on the side of dialogue, consensus and progress.

Moving apart, refusing to find common ground, belittling and insulting those with whom you disagree, leads to that sobering statement that Martin Niemöller made

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

My friend Pam is being called a moron and an idiot – by other people I consider friends, or at least friendly acquaintances – on social media. Pam is not a moron. She is, however, a conservative. An increasing number of people in social media think that it is fair play – productive, even – to insult and deride conservatives. I am not a conservative. I am somewhere between a moderate and a libertarian. That means I don’t support polarization on either side. At this point, if you’re engaging in the public vitriol, if you are coming for Pam, you are inevitably, eventually, coming for me. You either don’t understand history and consider yourself as someone fighting for the vulnerable – or you do, and you’re a political opportunist. As Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk”? Because, if we can’t, we’re in trouble.

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