Wednesday, August 16

A Nation of Adult Toddlers: Can We Stop the Slide into Chaos?

Like many others of all color shades of skin, I am appalled by what happened in Charlottesville. I am revolted that it took so long for 45 to say anything in response and then he waffled, and then he spoke more forcefully (no doubt coached by others and saying words written by others with no actual emotion behind the words), and then he waffled again. I am not surprised that former President Barack Obama's tweet is one of the five most shared tweets of all times.

His words are true. We learn to hate a person's background or skin color or religion. We are taught that hate by our parents and our families, by our friends. Sometimes we are taught this hate by our church.

In Matthew 22:37-39, Scripture states: "Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (NIV)

I've said in other situations and places that I think these are two of the hardest verses in the Bible. God is talking about tolerance. God is talking about love. Hmm. What is love? You know, even if you're not a Christian you've been to plenty of weddings during which at least part of 1 Corinthians 13 is quoted or read.

Love is hard. This biblical love is hard because we want what we want when and how we want it, and regardless of anyone else. Our culture teaches us the strong survive, that we should not be milquetoasts or doormats. That we should fight for what we want. That we need to be brave. That we have to have the eye of the tiger. That we need to say what we want to say. And somehow, those of us who believe these words of Scripture strive to find balance so that we can be loving but not constantly relegated to the overlooked pile.

As a culture, Americans started on this slippery slope ages ago. If I were a social scientist, behaviorist, or investigative reporter, I'd do the research to see if I could try to figure out when it all began. But I think the kinds of behaviors we're seeing now have been simmering for a long time and we just haven't recognized how often those small explosions have occurred.

Last spring there was a little article about plans to remove Confederate monuments. I found the article in newsela, a resource used by thousands of teachers. One of the social studies I work with in upstate NY was getting ready to start her Civil War unit and I thought it might be a good way to talk about why that war remains a sensitive topic in this country. The kids were passingly interested. After all, they lived in the North and the Confederacy isn't an issue for them. This is an issue, though, that has been simmering for months in the South; this conversation about removing or moving Confederate monuments has been on-going.

According to a story in The New York Times, removal of that particular statue of Robert E. Lee was broached in 2012. Since then we have witnessed the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. We have witnessed the rise and subsequent controversy of Black Lives Matter. We have witnessed Ferguson, MO after the shooting of Michael Brown. We have read and heard on-going stories and instances of profiling. We have read and heard on-going stories of treatment of people of any color other than white. We have read and heard stories of whites trying to support a White Lives Matter movement. We have read and heard about white nationalists, white supremacists, and others who believe they are fighting for a particular way of life. We have read and heard stories about immigrant rounds-ups, and I'd wager most if not all of those immigrants have a skin color that is not deemed white.

I'd suggested to that social studies teacher that it might be interesting for her students to debate if there might come a time that some monuments should be removed, and why they should be removed. I think it would be helpful for middle school students to think about why monuments are built and what they represent, and how they might have been viewed at the time of their building and how that might no longer be appropriate or true.

And, because I'm an English teacher as well as a coding/tech geek, I am reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem, "Ozymadias." I'm also reminded of Chinua Achebe's brilliant book, Things Fall Apart, which has a link to W.B. Yeats's poem "The Second Coming." Both remind us that the tighter you try to hold on to something, the more you try to control something, the more you have to hold and try to control. Eventually, well, things fall apart.

from "The Second Coming"
A FB friend mused what I've see others muse: are we headed towards another Civil War? The rational part of me says that's not possible, but I thought it impossible the American people would elect Donald Trump so clearly I have to adjust my thinking about the American people.

There is something else compelling about these lines from Yeats's poem. "The ceremony of innocence is drowned." We can no longer pretend we do not and cannot know. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook as well as online media, radio, and TV make sure we can know and do know. I'm intrigued by his cynicism that "the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity," though that's how I read it and maybe because that's how I feel.

I want to stand up and be heard. I want to fight against the insanity of the Tweeter-in-Chief who responds with such a petty response when Ken Frazier resigned from that president's council, especially since there seemed to be tweet silence when others also resigned. But they weren't men of color or because you can post bully tweets about a topic so often?

This morning I read an op-ed in The New York Times about why confederate monuments must fall. I read about the Baltimore, MD mayor who had confederate statues removed overnight because it needed to be done and because she didn't want a similar violent response as occurred in Charlottesville. I read about a group of people who pulled down a statue in Durham, NC. I read that someone had scribbled on the remaining stand that it was a remembrance to the boys in gray who died fighting for what they believed in. How we can we honor those whose very beliefs we denigrate? How can we honor that they were willing to die for their beliefs? Should we honor those who were willing to die for their beliefs? That is the more provocative question.

I'd want to say that before anyone answered with a quick and heated, "No!" and with a stream of reasons about how their ideas, ideals, and beliefs were so wrong, I'd want to ask them to think also about what has happened in countries and cultures where there has been a dramatic swing by the people or by the government. That once was true and beloved by millions of people was suddenly no longer true and no longer beloved. "Ozymandias." Such a quiet little poem, and yet so profound.

I am reminded of a scene in Game of Thrones. The Mother of Dragons is about to have her dragon annihilate two men who will not bend the knee to her. As Tyrion pleads for them to reconsider, that their house will be effectively ended (he doesn't know one son of that house still lives, but that's not the point), it occurred to me that such is the case for the defeated, even those who fought honorably because of their beliefs and allegiances. They live on only through history and we depend on how well, or how badly history treats them, or how accurately history depicts them.

As I think about the Nazis and today's Neo-Nazis, I find nothing defensible. Their message is one of hate and a misguided belief that skin color indicates superiority when pretty much everything they do is demonstrably counter to their message only they are, apparently, too stubborn and too stupid to realize that.

As I sit quietly in my kitchen and ponder these things, I realize how hard it is to have a rational conversation about anything any more. The petulant tweets of 45 doesn't help; it makes his base, even if it is dwindling, even more defensive and more resolute. Like the alt-right that believes it is defending a righteous lifestyle even though it's clear they haven't been paying attention to worldwide demographics over the past decade, though they probably think all of that is "fake news."

Because we want what we want when we want it and we don't want to have a conversation about anything because someone might try to convince me to change my mind and I don't want to change my mind. Ugh.

So. What do we do? Especially about these huge problems that are often so far removed from us. We need to acknowledge that we are a nation of adult toddlers and we need to grow up. Now. Fast. And because of the leadership vacuum in the White House.

As a nation, pundits and anyone in the media has to STOP responding to 45 at his level. When he does something absurd, measure its consequence and, when appropriate, ignore it. So stop reporting on every little tweet. We are distracted by his tweets and our obsessions fuels our own toddlerism.

For me, speak up more and be more empathetic. Whether it's on Facebook or any other social network channel, or all of them, align my voice with those who protest appalling behavior. We ARE better than that and we should start to act like it.

For me, support my friends and colleagues, even if in small ways. The small acts of kindness and support I can perform any time can and will make a difference over time.

For me, when I encounter adult toddler behavior, I need to pause and thoughtful to see how I can moderate the situation. Perhaps an act of kindness and empathy will help defuse the situation, and maybe even changes the course of thought and action.

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