Wednesday, August 12

Thinking about "nasty" women with ambition: We have to change the narrative

Kamala Harris has been selected by Joe Biden to be his VP on the Democratic presidential ticket. Almost immediately Donald Trump said she is nasty, among other things. That seems to be his go-to insult. Guy needs to work on his vocabulary.

Pundits and others are jostling to be the first to get our eyes and ears to try to influence our minds. Though I'm a moderate Republican, I'll be voting for Biden-Harris. And even more so now that I know a bit more about her background.

For several days now I've been thinking about strong women who break stereotypical molds, who spent much of their early years trying to appease the patriarchy and others because it wasn't just men who were trying to keep them from spreading their wings. I've been thinking about women who have tied themselves in all kinds of knots trying to please all of their critics until they figured out they needed to be who they are, the way they are, and critics be damned.

Over the past few months I've read Michele Obama's Becoming, Melinda Gates's The Moment of Life: How Empowering Women Changes the World, and Alicia Keys's More Myself. What strikes me about each of these women is how they keep sight of where they came from and how they lived, grew, loved, lost, and learned, recognizing that all of that informs who they are and who they are still becoming because growth and learning don't stop, or shouldn't.

I'm currently reading, nearly simultaneously but not quite, Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect and BrenĂ© Brown's The Gift of Imperfection (I'm late to the BB club and following the recommendations posted on her web site). The titles themselves speak to what challenges women.

What keeps ricocheting in my brain is that women repeatedly, and in spite of everything we know about each other and ourselves, put ourselves in a corner. That's probably one of the reasons some of us still love that classic line from Dirty Dancing: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Or no one gets to deny someone else the opportunity to shine. And yet we do. To ourselves.

When people compliment us or want to celebrate us, we wave it off. We murmur something it being nothing, about it being a team effort, about whatever other nonsense comes to mind because we have been taught that humility, even false humility, is the way to play the game. 

I think there is a difference between being humble and denying our successes rather than embracing them. We risk being called "ambitious," which seems perfectly fine for a man but not so much for a woman. We risk being called "confident," which is an attribute for men but seems to be something forbidden in women. We risk being called so much more when we don't fit into a prescriptive mold and stereotype.

As a Christian, I wrestle with this a lot. When I start to feel confident, I often choose to check myself to make sure I'm not bordering on over-confidence. There is a subtle difference for each of us and I think women feel this more profoundly than men. I don't know that most men feel confidence is ever an issue even though I think it's a very small step between confident and prideful behavior, and that isn't attractive in anyone.

Well, I don't want to get into theology here and for a lot of reasons, so I will refer to this 2016 article in Success about the attributes of healthy humility. I think the key word is "healthy." The 6 attributes are:

  • They acknowledge they don't have it all together.
  • They know the difference between self-confidence and pride.
  • They seek to add value to others.
  • They take responsibility for their actions.
  • They understand the shadow side of success.
  • They are filled with gratitude for what they have.
This is what I think unnerves a lot of people. Most women seem to be more capable of navigating this humility obstacle course most of the time.

And when we don't, the critics pounce. It's as though they have been waiting for whatever misstep we make so they can accuse us of not being who and what we say we are or hope to be.

Here's another thing about women: we are often less afraid to admit when we are wrong, to show what and how we are learning, to acknowledge when we fall short and to talk about how we might improve. Somehow much of that is a sign of weakness.

https://www.girltalkhq.com 
That is a narrative we have to change because asking for help, acknowledging we need support, demonstrating we have capacity to learn and grow are actually signs of strength. On the other hand, we also have to remedy that so many of us struggle far too often and far too much with imposter syndrome

And we are not alone. Women we think of as successful and who have "made it" struggle with the same sensibility because they are women whose lives have been informed by what they have experienced growing up and into womanhood, and how they have navigated the very treacherous waters of adulthood and success.

Some years ago I was working in a school district and a teacher I admired very much told me I should write a book about the things I was talking about with her and her colleagues. I told her I really didn't know very much and, after all, who would listen to me? I've never been a certified teacher though I have taught at the college level and I've worked with K-12 teachers for over 15 years now. Even so, I often feel as though I'm an imposter in the world of education. As I recall, that particular teacher threatened to smack me upside of the head in that gentle threatening way Southerners have. I've not forgotten that moment. I'm always a little shocked and more than a little pleased when veteran classroom teachers and administrators speak highly of what I know and what I know how to do. Even with all of that, I often feel like I'm not a "real" teacher though education is a deep and abiding passion for me.

For each of us, "success" looks and feels different. How we gauge the level of our ambition, the depth of our desire to achieve certain goals is very different.

This is what we do know: if we show that we want something that seems to be more than we deserve or that others have deemed above or beyond our abilities or capabilities, that word "ambitious" becomes pejorative.

Eons ago I was working as an administrative assistant for a small software company. The man I was working for had become the president of the company through what seemed to be machinations; something felt off but I didn't pay much attention to the office politics. In the grand transitions, I had discovered something about the work the programmers were doing and I was fascinated. Some of the guys gave me little projects I could work on in my spare time--and I did actually have some. I decided I wanted to learn more so signed up for a couple of programming classes at a local community college. I figured this was well beyond me because I was an English major who had opted not to go to law school and was just kind of trying to figure out what was next. So this admin assistant gig was fine. But I really enjoyed it and grew more fascinated. So much so that I thought I wanted to try my hand at programming on a more full-time basis.

I asked the president of the company something about being an entry-level programmer or maybe doing something that would help me learn more about the work. He got so angry with me and told me I could never be anything more than an administrative assistant and if I didn't want to do that job, I could clean out my desk.

I was in my early 20s, only a year or so out of college. I didn't process all that he said for a while; in fact, it was some years later that I really parsed between the lines although, in his defense. . .  Nope, I'm not going to do that because there is no defense--and that sort of capitulation is part of the imposter syndrome/"I'm not good enough" problem. Anyway, I was so shocked and hurt and insulted, I cleaned out my desk. He was equally shocked that I opted to leave. That was completely beyond his comprehension. My "ambition" was clearly an issue for him.

I have more stories, of course. We all have stories. So many of us are "nasty" women with varying degrees of ambition who have found success, have lost our way, have regained our dignity, have fallen flat on our faces again, and have continued to muddle through. Many of us are successful and have been successful even though we consistently worry our success is a house of cards and likely to collapse around us at any moment.

So I'd like to invite you to tell your story. Tell me your story. I'm creating a blog for our stories: WOMEN RISE, though I'm open to suggestions if that doesn't resonate.

If you'd like to tell your story, let me know by completing this Google form.

In the mean time, remember that you are enough. It is okay if you are ambitious; it is fine if you are not. It is okay if you show your strengths; it is fine if you choose when and how and to whom you show what you can do. And let me leave you with these two quotes:


Friday, June 12

Rethinking policing

In the wake of the heinous murder of George Floyd, the world--and I do mean the whole world--has suddenly become aware that #BlackLivesMatter to the point that they have gathered for peaceful marches and protests. That's not fair because there are white people who know and have known that people of color matter. Even so, it has taken far too long for the world to become more than just aware.

Along with the peaceful marches and protests there has been violence. Provocateurs who have incited violence and looting, and then those who have taken advantage of a situation and have chosen to break windows and trash stores without regard to the individuals whose livelihoods have been equally trashed.

With the calls for defunding the police, some more radical and extreme than others, I realized how little understanding I have of the police and its history. I'm trying to balance all of what I see, and trying to remember that it's more advantageous to show the moments that are most fraught with emotion--so the police officers kneeling in solidarity as well as the cops lounging around an office allegedly while looting was occurring or the cops who pushed a 75-year-old man and then walked away even as he was bleeding from his ear. Then there are the mostly white cops who are angry because they are being lumped in with the bad cops--and I'm thinking that's what it feels like to be a person of color in the United States. But I'm also realizing that it's far too easy to slap a broad brush of accusation across all police departments and officers when that is not fair and not reasonable.

So, I decided to do some research because that's what I do. This is some of what I learned.

It wasn't until after the American Revolution that the then nascent United States had any sort of formal police department.
In 1838, the city of Boston established the first American police force, followed by New York City in 1845, Albany, NY and Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and Newark, NJ and Baltimore in 1857 (Harring 1983, Lundman 1980; Lynch 1984). By the 1880s all major U.S. cities had municipal police forces in place.

According to The History of Policing in the US (Potter, n.d.), the trajectory of the police departments in the South were a sort of evolution from the Slave patrols, the first of which was created in 1704. I don't think "slave patrol" needs much explanation.

Dr. Potter asserts that modern police departments were in response to disruption and disorder, and what constituted disruption and disorder was defined by the mercantile class. You can well imagine where this is going and already it does not bode well for individuals of certain colors and those of particular ethnic backgrounds.
Three compelling issues faced early American police departments: (1) should police be uniformed; (2) should they carry firearms; and (3) how much force could they use to carry out their duties. 
What is clear from Dr. Potter's research is that police departments were an extension of the politicians and bureaucrats who seemed to use the police for their own agendas and didn't seem to much care if the police had their own agendas as long as there were no conflicts.

What is also evident from Dr. Potter's work is that as long as police departments were in any way connected to or somehow extended from any political office, reform was going to be difficult if not impossible. Never mind how poorly that speaks to the integrity of any politician (and that phrase "integrity of any politician" seems like an absurd joke in 2020).

In the 1950s there was a move towards police professionalism, which seems like a good idea until it wasn't. What was deemed professionalism seemed to lead to a more military model of policing, which created greater tension and rancor. In the 1960s more police departments were looking toward unionization to protect the officers from whatever was going on to try to "reform" police departments which also seemed to yield a greater number of inexplicable and contradictory regulations. At the same time, developments in forensic science were encouraging people to think of the police as "scientific crime fighters," especially those who were part of detective squads.

The 1960s and 1970s showed us the complexity of policing during the Civil Rights and anti-war demonstrations. The militarization of the police and likely how they were trained to think about and combat--and I use that word deliberately--protestors and demonstrators could only lead to police action that meant civilians--also known as citizens--were going to get hurt.

I should like to note that the Korean War was actually designated a police action by President Truman, a conflict that is technically not yet over. And when we see notable police action today, police officers are wearing riot gear which includes an impressive array of protective wear and weapons.

I appreciate the men and women who want to protect and serve also wanting to protect themselves, but I can see how such gear would lead me to be frightened of their actions should they misinterpret my actions or should they themselves find it difficult to restrain their own fears and emotions when tensions and tempers run high.

There aren't a lot of experts in the history of policing though there are plenty who have written about how to improve or reform police departments.

So then I wondered about the history of the role of the police because police or some sort of constabulary preceded the discovery and the establishment of the Colonies, what we now know as the United States. According to Jeremiah Mosteller (and yes, I know he was writing for the Charles Koch Institute and I'm well aware of the conspiracy theories and controversies surrounding the Koch brothers even as people don't take the time to learn more about them), about a third of Americans 
now view their local police as serving an enforcer role instead of a protector role. Public confidence and trust in law enforcement has also decreased since the early 2000s. Public perceptions of police will only continue to erode as departments increasingly assume roles more akin to an occupying military force or tax collectors rather than supporters of peace and safety in the community.

Huh.

Mosteller goes on to write: 
The purpose of law enforcement in a free society is to promote public safety and uphold the rule of law so that individual liberty may flourish. Trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect is essential to advancing these goals. The government holds the power to exercise force in achieving its ends, but must do so in a way that protects the rights of community members and upholds the rule of law. Proper policing practices require that law enforcement build positive relationships with their community, respect civil liberties, and avoid tactics that encourage the use of excessive force against citizens. 
 
I found this image online as part of a 2011 piece on the evolution of police riot gear. And, oddly, I think this goes back to the first three questions asked about police departments: 1) should they wear uniforms?; 2) should they carry weapons?; and 3) how much force should they use?
But I also think this has a lot to do with what we believe should be the proper role of the police, and that's where this work gets very hard. 

People will view the roles and responsibilities of the police very differently depending on their neighborhoods and their experience with the police. Some will believe that neighborhoods that have more crime will need more armed police and I can appreciate a police officer wanting to wear a bullet-proof vest and carry a weapon in situations that may warrant it.

I don't know enough about all of the reasons the police are called though we know that one of the reasons so many cities and towns have a 311 number is because not everything is a 911 emergency, even if it may feel like it.

Too many have become accustomed to calling the police in any situation that people don't think about the appropriateness of a police call. To a minor accident? No, but what's minor? Is my definition of "minor" the same as the other person? I don't mean to mock, not at all, but it's almost as though we need to follow Mom's rules that if there no blood or broken bones, the accident is not a police matter.

How does that play with domestic violence calls? I don't know. I've no doubt there are degrees but I can also imagine that if someone I know is getting beaten or threatened, my instinct would be to call the police.

What about police resource officers? I was working in a high school in a fairly small community and the police resource officer seemed to be a nice guy. He made a point of not fraternizing with the staff, which made sense. There were no metal detectors at the doors and his role seemed to be more about a position that was filled than actual need. One day there were four police cars in the front of the school. My heart rate went up. When I asked if there was any reason for concern, the usual officer said there was none, that he was just giving other officers a tour of the building, which would have been believable if it weren't for the fact all of those officers were present all day. So clearly there was something that was concerning people. In fact, I heard the officer say, "If anything is going to happen, it will be this afternoon." So the additional officers were a deterrent and, apparently, an effective one.

What I don't know, of course, is who made the call to have more officers present. Was that the principal who was aware of some potential threat or was that the school resource officer?

I've worked at other schools that have had metal detectors at the door and people to sign in visitors and make sure they wear their badges, and even places where my bags have been sort of searched (if sticking a baton in a bag constitutes a "search"). The officers were clearly there as a deterrent, until they weren't but when I asked around, there hadn't been an incident of any note on campus in months if not years.

Will armed school resource officers prevent school shootings? I don't think so. Not if history is any guide. Will they reduce the likelihood of the shooter gaining entry or being able to inflict more harm on innocents? That is a question I don't think anyone can answer with any confidence although I know there are plenty who believe that armed officers and/or armed teachers will make a positive difference.

My question is almost always this: As I am not a trained professional, how would I respond in a moment of high alert with adrenaline pumping at an unimaginable rate and my fear/protection reactions off the charts? And I have no idea what I would do or what I could do. In my actual dreams, I cannot land a punch when threatened so that doesn't bode well for what I might do in real life.

Another question is this: How are police officers trained--and I mean really trained and then really retrained and recertified--to react in threat situations? Why is it that some can restrain themselves for that extra split second and others begin firing the moment they think they see a weapon? And why do they keep firing when it's clear the individual is down? That's got to be adrenaline as well as fear, and how are officers trained to learn to master that? Or are they? And if they're not, why not?

I don't think there are any easy answers, unions notwithstanding. But I do believe we need to rethink policing in the United States. We also have to realize that one size does not fit all when it comes to policing either. That what might be necessary in larger cities probably isn't as necessary in the suburbs or exurbs and probably isn't as necessary in rural communities.

Regardless I think that one thing is clear: the militarization of the police hasn't been a solution that works, so we must reconsider what policing needs to be and should be in the United States, and that should lead to changes in the way we fund our police departments.

Monday, June 1

The Summer of COVID and George Floyd

This is the year the world convulsed. Today, June 1, I read about experts being concerned about the spread of COVID-19 because of the George Floyd protests. I doubt the protesters--the legitimate protesters who have something invaluable to say about systemic racism in this country--care quite as much about COVID-19 as they do about being heard.

I cannot imagine the pent up frustration and rage felt by black and brown people. I cannot imagine the fear experienced by some members of law enforcement when confronted by angry protesters when emotions ran even higher. I applaud those who marched peacefully and respectfully. I'm in awe of the members of law enforcement who knelt in solidarity and of those who kept their wits about them and did not further inflame anyone who was trying to incite any sort of violence.

I do not have any answers though I know I can do more in my own small way to help make a difference for our shared futures. 
http://sojo.net
These issues confronting people of color are not new. This is not a broken system. Please note: If this is a systemic problem, it is because the system was built to that there are the marginalized who are viewed as other, as less, because they are not White. Further note: This is a systemic problem. Sure, laws have been passed to try to manage the flaws, but many have served only exacerbate.

It really should not be that hard to see human beings as human beings, and yet somehow we manage to make it incredibly complex because we insist on labeling people by color, by gender, by sexuality, by religion. Yes, I understand the need to differentiate and I know we are long way from being able to identify people without using labels. But I cannot make any assumptions about anyone because of the way the way their clothes, the length or color(s) or style of their hair, or anything else.

I need to be more careful about examining by reactions to anyone. As a woman, am I being smart about a situation or am I being fearful for dubious reasons? As a human being, am I making assumptions about someone's behavior because of projected cultural interpretations?

If you are interested in knowing more so you can do something, anything to help bring out systemic change, you might start here: "For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies" (2017). You don't have to agree with everything is this article, but you have to be willing to open your mind and read it, and then think about why you don't agree with any parts of this piece. If all of it is too overwhelming, pick one thing that you know you need to address and start there.

I can't speak from the perspective of a person of color, but my heart tells me that a place to start is to stop suggesting that being colorblind is a good thing. I understand where that comes from as I know I've had that position in the past. But I also learned from some very dear African-American colleagues and friends that being colorblind is, in my words, stupid. They are people of color. Gorgeous and complex hues of black and brown. I dishonor them if I refuse to see the color of their skin because that is part of who they are.

I think about some of the Muslim women with whom I've been able to work and some of what I've learned from them about the worlds in which they live and worship.

If you want to try to take a step further, investigate what it means to be an ally or an accomplice. I think "accomplice" may make you feel uncomfortable because that word now means to be involved in a crime, but it used to have a stronger meaning of being associated with. So you don't have to be an accomplice, but at least think about being an ally.

I know I'm not alone in talking about what White people can and should be doing, or sharing posts about what our brothers and sisters of color have been talking about for decades. And more of us need to be talking and, more importantly, doing. I'm not talking about marching with protesters. I am talking about working within your spheres of influence to help insist on change, to help on dismantling a system that overlooks and undervalues children and adults of color, and to ally with those people to rebuild and reinvent what could and should be.

Don't be distracted by the looters and the ones inciting violence. Those aren't just black and brown faces involved in that fracas. There were and are plenty of White faces, too.

Don't be distracted by the "what about. . .?" arguments because those are just too numerous to count and are generally used as a reason not to do anything. 

Yes, these days are unprecedented and we are at risk of being exhausted by the convulsive nature of these times. Now is the time, however, to rise about our collective anxiety and often incoherent thinking to do whatever we can, however small a step or action.

Any step forward, no matter how small, is still a step forward. We just need to be brave enough to take that first step.
  • Educate yourself. Understand what it means to be an anti-racist and why white fragility is a thing.
  • Acknowledge that if you are White, you are privileged. Period. The end. Full stop. No matter what I've experienced as a woman, I've experienced those challenges as a White woman. My struggles are my struggles, but not at all like those struggles of my Black friends and colleagues.
  • Figure out at least one thing you can do to make a difference and realize that you may lose some friends over your actions, so that will mean deciding what is more important to you. Maybe you will decide it's time to show up for racial justice or maybe you'll find something you can do in your church or your community.
I am not alone in sharing a number of resources so we can all learn more. From John Spencer, A.J. Juliani, and Jennifer Gonzalez by way of Dr. Pamula Hart, Erica Buddington, Ken Shelton, and others. Hear their voices. Pay attention to their words.
Like many others, I am still on this journey. I have not done enough in the past and need to do more or at least other. If I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. 

Wednesday, May 27

Gauging a return from quarantine

I have a theory based on absolutely no scientific data. In fact, my theory is supported by no data at all. Nothing other than my own weariness with the lockdown, my own confusion about what really works vs what might really work.

Bettmann Archives/Getting Images
I've been reading about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic because I was curious about how it ended. Millions died. There were many who took precautions by wearing masks, washing their hands, etc. Hygiene was different then. There was a war going on so that certainly didn't help. There was no concept of social distancing then. 

Apparently then, as now, there were "slackers" who didn't want to wear masks because they were unfashionable, uncomfortable, hot, or they just didn't want to. Then again, many masks were made of gauze so they were incredibly porous and one can only imagine that the effectiveness was minimal.

What I've also learned is that virus pandemics are not new: "[h]istorical records since the 16th century suggest that new influenza pandemics may appear at any time of year." So the FACT that pandemics arise is something about which every health organization and every government should be aware and for which they should all be prepared. Period. No excuse. None.

Loss of life due to illness that is preventable or somewhat controllable when precautions are taken is not acceptable. This graphic puts COVID-19 in stark perspective

I am NOT saying don't wear masks (though there is at least one bar owner in my state banning masks), don't social distance, and don't take other precautions. I am saying, however, that we need to be educated about why we do what we do and we have to be intentional about those actions.

I'm also noting that the world is much cleaner in 2020 than it was in the 14th century. Yes, there is still overcrowding in some areas and those who live in poverty may not be able to take all of the precautions that many of the rest of us take for granted.

I did some further reading about 20 of the worst epidemics in history. So we know--and have known--that disease can wipe out and devastate entire communities. In some cases, the plague or epidemic forced a change or even several changes in response to and because of the toll and the ravages of the disease. Cholera, for example, caused city designers to create more green space.

What is interesting to me is that there is a pattern of quarantine--an attempt to contain the virus--and then insurrection or rebellion when people tire of being quarantined. What is particularly striking to me is that there is no clear reference, no discussion to the end of some of these pandemic. It's though the virus simply stops infecting people or there were enough people with an immunity of some sort that the virus weakened and went dormant. If anyone has more information about that or legitimate sources I might go to--and sorry, I don't really trust the CDC right now.

Yes, in some cases a vaccine was developed, such as in the case of smallpox, cholera, diptheria, typhoid, and polio. But not all: Ebola is still a threat as is scarlet fever, HIV and Zika.

So what's my theory? Within a few weeks of re-opening some businesses, whether there is a spike in positive cases or not, many will simply stop wearing their masks. It will be hotter for those of us in the northern hemisphere as we approach summer. We won't want that fabric on our faces. And if we don't know of anyone who has been sick or if no one or few people in our communities have been sick, we won't see the point.

Many of us have started a countdown from Memorial Day weekend when revelers in different parts of the United States chose not to social distance. We have no idea where those folks live and if they left festivities to carry the virus back to their homes, and we won't know for a couple of weeks. 

And if we get to mid-June and there are few spikes anywhere, people will push harder against phased re-openings and demand we re-open everything now and dispense with masks and social distancing. We will see a slow creep back to whatever felt or seemed normal before COVID-19.

However, if I were the owner of a salon, restaurant, bowling alley, bar, theater, or any place that people might gather in close proximity, I would put all of my social distancing measures in safe storage and not too far from my place of business. For at least 6 months I would closely monitor my employees, for sure, and ease into relaxing my own social distancing policies. At the end of those 6 months, I might stop taking the temperatures of my employees, but I'd still keep my social distancing measures in safe storage and not too far from my place of business because I would want to pivot to protection the very moment it seemed there might be a spike or recurrence of the virus.

At home, I'll keep my excess of latex gloves and be sure I know where my masks are. I'll be sure I always have plenty of appropriate wipes and any other precautionary resources.

Because when the next virus comes--and it will--I'd want to be ready as a business owner and I will be ready as an individual.

Wednesday, April 22

Earth Day 2020. Don't stop the celebration.

Thrive Global
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Organizations have all kinds of ways for us to celebrate the Earth. Today. And yet. . .

I read a few interesting news stories today. The first from The Guardian about how we might finally, finally start recognizing the importance of taking care of and protecting the Earth, the environment.

We are at an interesting inflection point. Many of us have read or seen stories about clearing air and clearing water. New Delhi skies free of pollution. Water clearing in Venice. Sea turtles being able to nest in peace. . . as long as Florida beaches were closed. I'm sure there are dozens of similar stories.

The fact is that with the pandemic, the Earth has been able to take a break. Less noise. Less movement. The world is a lot quieter. It seems as though the lockdowns around the world have had a startling impact on many things, and mostly in a good way.

Not economically, I know. People are suffering. There are no easy choices when it comes to managing a pandemic. I cannot even imagine what state and city government personnel are going through as they weigh all of the challenges, watching state budgets crater and knowing the people in their states and in their cities are in dire situations. Not everyone will agree with Dan Patrick's assertion that "there are more important things than living and that's saving this country."

Meanwhile, in the Great Lakes region, where I live, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided that protecting the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Michigan from which thousands of people get their drinking water, isn't all that important.

The EPA, charged with protecting the environment because it's, you know, actually in the name of the agency, has loosened restrictions around "a class of cancer-linked chemicals." Nice. There are two stories on that: one from the Chicago Tribune and another from The Hill. The former bends liberal and there are a whole bunch of Democrats in Chicago.

This isn't the first rollback of the EPA rollbacks and I doubt it will be the last. It just seems so unfortunate that we have such grand opportunities to make significant positive changes on so many fronts and it seems we are likely to miss nearly every one of them.

Even so, every opportunity to celebrate the Earth is a good one. And may you sustain and maintain those celebrations for days to come.


Sunday, April 5

Wondering about "normal"

I had to laugh out loud, and literally out loud, when I skimmed this article. The one thing that stood out is that everyone wants the world to return to normal. And, to be honest, I stopped even skimming after that.

I'd jut gotten back from going to the bank and the grocery. I wiped down the ATM keyboard and screen before I used it and then wiped it down again after I used it. Not normal. I put on gloves when I went into the grocery store, made sure I had a two-cart distance between me and other shoppers, pondered those who were wearing masks or some facsimile compared to those of us who weren't, wondered if the people behind the deli counter should be wearing masks (they probably should), noted the store workers who were wearing gloves and/or masks and those who weren't, took note of what shelves are still relatively empty and those that aren't, and offered up several prayers of gratitude that most of what I wanted and needed was on the shelves and that I can easily get to the store. Most of that not normal.

I thought about how empty the streets are. Not normal.

I noted how friendly people are even as they maintain their distance and even as there distinct degrees of quiet and sombreness.

I find I think a lot about what the world will be like once we emerge on the other side of the pandemic. I wonder, too, about other parts of the world and how isolated I feel from really knowing what's happening in other parts of the world. It's as though the media is no longer able to get information from other parts of the world. So I worry about the locusts in Africa and have to go find that information myself. Did you even know about the locust plague in Africa?

In truth, the locust plague in Africa is of less concern to me than the thousands of kids who aren't eating in the United States because schools are closed. And yet I see there are school districts that have found truly creative solutions through the monster efforts of their cafeteria staffs who prepare meals and get them loaded on school buses to be distributed to families.

I do wonder about education and if we'll be able to take advantage of this situation to really rethink what education is and how we should do it. I wonder if we'll take serious notice of the depth of the digital divide and how many of our children don't have access and what we should do to ensure they do have access.

I wonder if teachers and parents and administrators will think differently about the work of teachers and what should really be their responsibilities and what should really be the responsibilities of parents and guardians.

I wonder about the future of work and the nature of work. What jobs will change? What jobs will disappear? How will the work place have to evolve and not just because we might worry about another pandemic, but because we should be less complacent about the possibility of tragedy.

I wonder how long it will take for us to become complacent again.

I wonder how long it will take for us to be noisy and raucous and focused on ourselves again. 

I wonder if we will spend so much time yearning for a return to whatever seems normal that we won't take advantage of this amazing opportunity to change and change for the better.

I wonder if having this time to think and reflect, having this time to appreciate the Earth, will get swallowed back up into the need to return to whatever we thought normal was and is.

I wonder how long it will take to get back to devastating levels of smog and pollution once industries do their best to return to whatever they think is and should be normal, though the Earth is vibrating less and pollution levels are down. . . for now.


I wonder how many of us are and will be more traumatized than we realize as we gauge the distance between us and strangers, as we find ourselves counting cars in a parking lot, as we pause for that split second if we happen to cough to assess how our lungs feel. I wonder how much our social attitudes and behaviors will change and what will really be most important.

I wonder how many of us are thinking about the nature of our relationships and, if we don't have much family, how much we counted on work colleagues and even moderately good friends with whom we used to get together periodically. I wonder how much more effort many of us are making to connect in various ways--social media, texts, email, even letters.

I wonder if we'll be able to see the world differently because the pandemic is affecting the world. I wonder if we'll be able to see beyond our borders differently, if there's a chance we can all be more compassionate or if we'll find that even more of us will be victimized by the power players who think only about the themselves and how much power and money they can grab because of other people's misery.

I want to have faith in people and our ability to connect, be empathetic, be compassionate, but too much of what I read seems to be about those who are grabbing for headlines, grabbing for power, grabbing to shape the world in whatever narrow way they see it, which is one of the reasons I read less news and tend to skim a lot of the stories I read regardless of the source.

I wonder if we really have an idea of what "normal" is or if what we think we want is whatever was before and that we'll consider normal to be whatever comes after, but I wonder if we realize that whatever happens after and whatever we become and do and are after will never, ever be like what was before. That normal will be different, no matter what.

Saturday, January 4

Student (and other) activism: Not for the faint-hearted

I learned about Sophie Scholl around 3:30A several mornings ago when I couldn't sleep. For some reason I decided to check Facebook and found a post about Sophie Scholl, which led to a bit of wee hours research followed by more research when I was more alert and fortified by coffee.

I've done more reading on her and reflected a bit more in light of several things. First, the response to the Christianity Today editorial by Mark Galli.

Second, the response to the policy of a school in Northern Virginia which will allow students one excused absence for activism.

Third, the groundswell of response, both negative and positive, to Greta Thunberg that soon became something of a tsunami that has now become a tiny wavelet barely lapping at the shore. Which has led me to thinking about the ebb and flow of outrage that becomes indifference or limited outrage about something else that attracts our attention. (ICE? Immigration? Children in cages? Stephen Miller? Anyone? Anyone?)

But I have to start with the kneejerk reaction that some conservatives seem to believe that everything that is not in lockstep, a word I've chosen intentionally, with their way of thinking is "far left," "liberal," and/or "snowflake," or all those combined. Good grief! The way some of the conservatives respond, they are the snowflakes--triggered by the slightest thing that seems to be outside of their slowly shrinking comfort zone.

So this young woman, Sophie Scholl, began her activism while in college. She didn't seem triggered in the way its meant as an insult. She seemed triggered in a more powerful sense: her triggered response was one of outrage and action. There are different accounts of her last words--just before she was beheaded--but we do have this:
In the People's Court before the notorious Judge Roland Freisler on February 21, 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did."
"Somebody had to make a start," and she decided she would be one of those somebodies. And those somebodies chose to do so publicly. And it cost them their lives.

"What we wrote and said is also believed by many others." Yes, and we believe such things quietly in the privacy and safety of our homes and heads, where we cannot be attacked or shamed or trolled in a toxic social media environment. And that is because we often do not dare to express ourselves as others have.

That led me to think more about the editorial written by Mark Galli. He is on the brink of retirement, though some news outlets have written that he was forced to resign because twisting the facts seems to have become a journalistic norm for an opposing viewpoint. In October 2019, Mr. Galli announced his retirement effective January 3, 2020. It's possible he felt compelled to take advantage of the platform while he had it and perhaps being mindful of his own failings.

I should note that I found a piece by Julie Roys who published her own scathing article in which she seems to applaud Galli's editorial but then seems to want to take down CT, Mark Galli, and others because of their past hypocrisy, because she didn't get an apology, because she didn't get whatever it is she thinks she deserves. I followed up on her accusations and there is likely some fire among that smoke, especially with the Harvest Bible Chapel/James MacDonald connection. I don't dismiss it but I have to say that her outrage about Christians being hypocritical is disingenuous. Christians are often hypocritical. We are human and humans aren't fallible. I mean, look at so many of the evangelical right just now. They are hypocrisy writ large. Which was one of the purposes for Mr. Galli's writing in the first place, I think, And perhaps his own need to reconcile whatever is happening in his heart, which is between him and God. Or maybe he felt like his "somebody" moment is now.

So as media outlets are trying to say that Galli was forced to step down because of his editorial, on the flip side, digging through the morass of hysteria about Galli's non-resignation, I found an open letter from CT friends who affirm Mark Galli's editorial. I've also read that while CT lost about 2,000 subscribers, it gained about 5,000 subscribers; I'm not (yet) among them.

Let us now consider the school policy causing its own wave of outrage about conservatives. Starting January 27, Fairfax County Public Schools will "permit students in seventh through 12th grades one excused absence each school year for loosely defined 'civic engagement activities'" that might include marches, sit-ins, trips to lobby legislators. Here's the thing: if parents want to haul their kids out of school to take part in their civil liberties, no one can stop them. What this school district has done is acknowledge that one of the best experiences students might have is to really learn about democracy, about what it means to be a citizen, about what it means to participate in something that is bigger than themselves, about what means to stand for something. Shame on them? Nope.

This article notes that the district has already faced some "backlash online from conservative critics who charge the policy is the latest instance of the left coddling its too-liberal, too-sensitive youth." What are those conservative critics afraid of? And how dare they assume that these are the actions of "the left" and that the youth are "too liberal" and "too sensitive." Who is being triggered now?

And so to Greta Thunberg, who is going to be interviewing Sir David Attenborough. The 16-year-old climate activist says what's on her mind and for that she gets both lauded and excoriated. Thunberg is TIME magazine's 2019 Person of the Year. She seems to take that and all of the criticisms and snide remarks in stride and to continue the work about which she is sincerely passionate.

I recently had dinner with a friend and we talked about how we are reluctant to join any online conversations for fear of the herd turning on us if we dare to disagree with the crowd. That has been on my mind as I think about Sophie School, Mark Galli, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Greta Thunberg--none of whom or which are perfect, without any kind of blame, and without any degree of hypocrisy or failure in something or another--just like the rest of us.

That led me to wondering about what I'm willing to stand for and how willing I am to stand for it, which led me to, yes, the internet. I found this 2017 piece by Ken Wert: What do you stand for? It is a provocative question, and one I need to answer as I think about my willingness to express myself and perhaps be that somebody to say what others are unwilling or unable to express. As do we all.


Wednesday, January 1

This is. . . 2020

You've seen the Barbara Walters montage of "This is 2020" as she introduced the TV show 20/20. And you've been deluged, as have I, with the various collections reflecting on all the good, bad, and ugly of 2019--that which we should have seen, done, or eaten and that which we did well to miss. You've read and heard about peoples' resolutions.

For me, the day dawned with clear skies and a shining sun, which was especially nice after days of winter dreariness. I'm grateful for a new day and that the turn of the page on a calendar, the change of digits at the end of a year, can mark a new and fresh beginning.

January 1 always feels like a reset.

I marked the day with some errands, but also a lovely, long walk in the glorious sunshine, the air crisp and cold. Other than a few other intrepid souls, there was little noise other than the crunch of snow under my boots and the occasional call of geese as they flew overhead. It was a good start to the day and to the year.

Like some others, I resist resolutions because I know how easy it is to fall short within, I don't know, maybe 48 hours? That could be generous. But this year I've opted for a few resolutions and not just because I think I can keep them. I've chosen these three because I think three is manageable and because I believe I'll be a better person if I can have any success with these.

Herewith:

  • I hereby resolve to be as kind as I can as often as I can. I'm not talking about being some sop or milquetoast, but a genuinely thoughtful and kind person.
  • I hereby resolve to do my best with whatever I undertake and to try not to undertake more than I can manage. I can assure the second part of that one will be harder than the first.
  • I hereby resolve to be more conscientiously attuned to God. That one likely speaks for itself.
There is a lot of ugliness in the world and all kinds of ugliness. I won't ignore them, but I won't let them consume me. I won't make that a resolution because I know how hard it is to resist railing against indifference and ignorance as well as flat out, outright stupidity and ugly, violent, and cruel behaviors. But that means leaning more on my first resolution of being kind and making whatever difference and impact I can in my small spheres of influence.

So perhaps I have a fourth resolution and that is to resolve to be aware of and informed about the chaos but not to let the chaos overwhelm me. And if feels as though it's starting to overwhelm me and starts to grip and wither and blacken my soul, I'll go for a walk and rejoice in fresh air and God's beautiful creation.

And so the adventure of 2020 begins. Yes, this is. . .2020.