Saturday, July 30, 2016

How Could I Forget?

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
~Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I woke thinking of this quote over a week ago and have been wrestling with what I wanted to say as a result.  I have heard myself saying to myself and others, far too often, that I am afraid.  But afraid of what, of whom, why?  What happened to my commitment to realistic optimism?

So, for days now, I've reflected on this.  Asked a group of women whose values, and intellect, whose thoughtfulness and honesty I respect if they are fear-full.  Deliberated on their responses.  Written pages in my personal journal.  

This is what I've concluded:
  • I've been afraid, very afraid of the hate and venom that Donald Trump has unleashed, even more than Trump himself - and that's saying a lot.  
  • I've been afraid of the environment of exclusion and pessimism, of blame and relentless attack promoted in Cleveland.
  • I've been afraid that people who see the world differently than he does might not stand up for their beliefs, might retreat and retract rather than engage.
  • Most of all, I've been afraid of my own fear, aware that I wanted to retreat, saying I would move to Costa Rica if he is elected.  
And, then, yesterday,I remembered.  A friend had posted an appreciation for the speech made in Philadelphia by the father of a fallen Muslim American soldier.  The response from, I am assuming, a Trump supporter, dismissed this father's message by pointing to Bengazi.  My response..."what if both views are valid."  Both/and - a concept I have tried to live by for years.  How could I forget?  Is this what fear does - block out what we know is better for us?
Make us deaf and blind to anything other than what we believe?  

What if, instead of "either/or", we could consider "both/and."  There is hate and venom out there, and there is compassion and consideration. There are those who will retreat and those who will engage.  There are those who will seek exclusion and pessimism and those who choose inclusion and optimism.  There are significant problems in this country and there has been significant progress over the past eight years.  One does not negate the other.

Isn't realistic optimism an example of both/and thinking?  Surely I can be both aware of and acknowledge  the negative and work to promote what's positive.   And with that, the fear has morphed into concern and commitment.  A relief for my husband, I'm sure.  And much healthier for me.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Staying Sane in an Insane World

"We have met the enemy and he is us."
~ Pogo

Although Pogo uttered these words in l970 as a commentary on environmental concerns, almost 20 years ago, I woke with these words tumbling in my head during the early hours after news of the Dallas killings.  For, the issue of terrorism aside (not to discount it, but to stop focusing on it for awhile) we seem to be doing an effective job of attacking ourselves from within.  And from my vantage point, as an aging moderate committed to developing and applying critical thinking skills to my own thinking and to what I hear and see coming from others, I am more concerned about what we are doing to each other than what some terrorist might do to me.

Today, I ask that you consider what I am observing and if you do, too. let me know. Let me know how else and what else you think.  Let's start an on-line conversation that leads to something better in our communities  Invite others to discuss these issues, not just lament or defend, but discuss.  We need to talk, to think together.  Or we will surely end up in the direction we are headed.

This is some of what I see, too often, contributing to the distrust, anger, fear, polarity and ultimately to the growing proclivity for violence:
  • Either/or - in its many permutations, right/wrong, good/bad; all/nothing; black/white. No room for a third alternative nor even the possibility that both views could contain valid points,
  • Gross generalizations - even if challenging it when aimed at oneself, an unwillingness to challenge it in one's own thinking.  Consider pro-police representatives who, rightly, say most police are to be respected and the few "bad apples" don't represent the majority who then say Black Lives Matter is a racist group because of the behavior of a few.  Or vice versa.  All (fill in the blank) are racist, stupid, naive, the enemy., etc., etc.
  • Name-calling and labeling to a degree I can't recall since a youngster on the playground.  Or a teacher of elementary students.  Outrageous accusations, belittling, demeaning, crude labels.  The resurgence of pejorative terms in public discourse we thought we had eradicated.  When did their use become a badge of honesty? 
  • Emotions used to justify behavior, rather than even considering the underlying thinking that fosters the emotions.
  • A demand for rights while disregarding the rights of others. 
  • A defense of one amendment to the exclusion of others.
  • Belief trumping reason.  Assumptions unchecked by data.  
  • The declaration of faith, better yet, the "right" faith as a test for decency or leadership, rather than character or experience.  As though no one of faith could be a liar nor anyone who doesn't proclaim a faith could be truthful.
  • The constant search for one person to blame rather than consider shared responsibility.  Data and facts dismissed as irrelevant or the domain of elitist intellectuals.
  • The demand for immediate, simple solutions to complex problems.
  • A media that provides a platform for the above and too rarely challenges it.  
  • News as entertainment.  If it weren't for local news, PBS and NPR, and an occasional Sunday or holiday program, we would rarely see positive stories, stories of true heroism and compassion on the airways.
  • The explosion of social media that allows for outrageous, even fallacious things to be said and spread with full anonymity.  At least we knew who our bullies were.  And while stories can be checked for authenticity, I have to wonder what % of people who pass something on have checked it first.
  • What feels at times as the marginalization of moderate voices, while demanding that moderate Muslim voices come forward.  When moderate voices do step up, what degree of media coverage do they receive?  What % of time did Gov. Kasich receive I wonder.
  • Compromise too often perceived as losing; the critical thinking and communication skills required to bridge gaps not only not valued, but distrusted, demeaned and dismissed.  
  • The alarming proliferation of guns.  Those of us who remember the 60's and the wrenching apart of families, communities and the nation can only wonder how much worse that would have been were there access to the weaponry on our streets today.
  • A growing sense that we are like the frog, who in a pot of water that gradually gets hotter and hotter, remains until he is boiled, unaware that he can and should get out before it's too late.
I do know this is not true of everyone.  I talk to folks who are aware of these issues, some who try to present a question or distinction to challenge any of the above whenever and wherever they can in the hopes of at least interrupting  the escalation.  I see people across the spectrum of opinion who are trying to interject a voice of reason, to try to calm the alarming volatility.  I know whites are standing beside blacks in peaceful demonstration and blacks are shielding police.  It is what keeps me from hiding in my bedroom with a blanket over my head. 

It is also what has given me pause to consider what else I can do to speak out for a more civil discourse and a more collaborative effort to solve problems.  This is what I am doing and what I am committed to do.
  • I challenge overgeneralizations when I hear them.
  • I ask for evidence when I hear or receive information that feels questionable or especially incendiary. 
  • I offer an alternative point of view when asked for an either/or opinion - and one of my favorite responses, is "it depends."
  • I try to listen to another point of view thoroughly and acknowledge that I've heard it, before offering my own.  Admittedly, this is the hardest thing for me when I deeply disagree and especially, when I suspect or even have evidence that the other person will not grant me the same consideration.
  • I am commenting more frequently on Facebook, something I thought I would never do.
  • I am writing to my Congressional representatives to remind them that they are (or most often are not) representing my views and values.
  • I am going to write to certain channels and moderators to support those who are calling out irresponsible, disrespectful behavior of interviewees and panel members and to let those who do not know why I will not watch them.  Turning off the TV may help my personal morale, but it doesn't let anyone else know why.  That could help my morale even more!
  • I volunteer time and energy to two local non-profits that are making a difference in my community.
  • I will be on the campus of our local university this fall to help register new voters.
  • Above all, I listen to myself and examine my thinking.  I try to remain alert to my biases and prejudices and defenses.  And I apologize when I have forgotten.
And finally, I thank you for whatever you are doing to insert some sanity into this insane state of affairs, and to encourage those of you who feel it wouldn't make a difference anyway to reconsider.  I particularly encourage those of us who are retired, who have more time and memories of how dangerous this rage and irresponsibility can be to step up and let our voices be heard.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

That's What Friends Are For

Having just reread my last post, I wish I had concluded it with this cartoon - 

For younger readers, this is Joe Btfsplk, Al Capp's little carrier of doom and gloom, an inhabitant of Li'l Abner's town of Dogpatch.  I see him at the periphery of my vision whenever I feel the degree of dismay I was expressing some nine days ago.  Fortunately, he doesn't visit me very often, and fortunately, he has returned home.

What's changed?  Not much out there in the world, sad to say.  In fact, there's been more stories of terrorist attacks, more non-sense, continued murder and mayhem, vile and bile, even in this short period.  What has changed, however, are my mood and morale in spite of it all - thanks to some help from my friends.

Friends take many forms and I've been blessed to be visited by a few this past week.  There are the old friends, one that I've cherished for over 40 years and another for almost 30.  The old and tried relationships that have been there through divorce and illness, the passing of parents, the challenges with children.  The friends with whom I can pick up a conversation after a gap of months, even years, and it's as comfortable and comforting as though we just had a slumber party.  The friends who remind me that I have overcome obstacles and crisis and am stronger and more resilient than I may think I am.  The friends who called just to check in and who listen through filters of shared history and memories and values.

There are the new friends, friends who seem to enjoy and value who I am today, wrinkles and warts and all.  One who, by sending a book with a slightly sacrilegious and wholly hilarious inscription , brought a belly laugh in spite of my mood.  One who shared a morning with bright and eager eighth grade girls, reminding us both that opportunities are so much better for them than they were for us at their age...progress!   Or another, who listening to my litany of dismay reminded me to return to what I know works for me - turn off the news, watch something pleasant and uplifting, read a good book, look and listen for the positive, focus on what I can control, remember to be grateful.

And the three I cherish most - my husband who accepts me just as I am, cheerful, anxious, upset, remote, frustrated, angry - room for it all, without a shred of judgment or criticism.  My 'baby' sister who has become close friend and trusted confidante over gaps of distance and age and circumstances, and my brother who knows better than anyone alive today why I am so committed to being optimistic, especially when it is challenging to do so.  Each was there this week.  Each listened and each cared.

I'd like to think I have long appreciated the importance of friendship, been grateful for the men and women I am blessed to call friends, but this week has added a new depth of understanding.  Friends, old and new may never be as important as in these last years of our lives, when the impersonal insecurities of a changing, tense and frightening world intersect with our personal physical and emotional challenges.  

So, I have declared a recess from the news.  I have been watching musicals and reruns of The Golden Girls and Murder She Wrote.  I'm reading a good book, focusing on what I can control - and being grateful for good friends.