The Insanity of It All

anger

So here we are in another election year and I’ve been a fairly good girl in my resolve to stay as neutral with regard to the political race as much as possible. I suppose that I have become numb to the whole situation because the campaigning and sloganeering has never really stopped for several years now. We seem to be trapped in an infinite loop of divisiveness, hyperbole, and propaganda which always reminds me of my seventh grade teacher who taught us all about the methods that people use to influence our thinking. I recall that we argued that only the Soviet Union did such things and she insisted with a sweet and knowing smile that we were constantly being subjected to rhetorical methods designed to persuade us to accept one side over another.

Somehow her lesson stuck with me because it seemed so shocking at the time. Since then I have found myself watching for the methods that people use to bend us to their ways of thinking. Like some paranoid cynic I see them everywhere, and most notably in the political arena. The voices of reason and honor seem to be so small while slogans and soundbites rule the day. I’ve taken refuge from them by avoiding the furor as much as possible, but it has become increasingly difficult to find a source of news without a tinge of political commentary. I’ve had to attempt to ferret out the facts and ignore the hysteria. It has become an ever more difficult task and I have actually grown rather weary of it all, even as I know that one of the tricks of propaganda is to wear people down.

I honestly don’t know how I will endure the political season this time around. I suppose that what worries me most is that it will not end regardless of who is actually elected. The fighting will go on and on and on. It’s like being caught in a middle school food fight that nobody is able to control. We can’t even enjoy a sporting event or a nice night of entertainment without the injection of politics and protests. It has grown so tiresome.

I realize all too well that we have many problems facing our country and the world as a whole. They will only be solved when we begin to address them together which seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. There is so much emotional manipulation on our minds that many of us have become hypnotized into walking in tandem with one political philosophy or another. Actually discussing ideas has become virtually impossible, and being the voice urging caution results in political suicide.

So we just go back and forth, topsy turvy, without a sense of security because we know that whoever wins the elections will undo anything that their opponents accomplished or go all in for their own side even when it is ridiculous to do so. Meanwhile we are stuck on a ferris wheel that never stops, and while it might have been fun for a time, I for one have grown weary of the posing and preening and warfare.

I remember a conversation that I had long ago with a priest who was a dear friend of our family. He told me that every difficult situation required an adult in the room, someone willing to logically and emotionally make reasoned and fair decisions. I spent most of the rest of my life attempting to be that person. When my mother was in the middle of a mental breakdown I had to be the steadying force. Inside my classroom I needed to stay calm and not allow my personal feelings to rule me. I took hope from leaders who demonstrated honor and thoughtfulness in times of chaos. I found diplomacy and compromise to be powerful tools for bringing disparate groups of people together. I accomplished wonderful things by knowing when to be firm and when to bend.

Dividing ourselves into one side or another without respect for our varying opinions, desires, and worries is a zero sum game. It will only lead to an increasingly virulent standoff. It will take great courage for someone to break the loop that has us so entangled in vitriol. If we support such a person when we see him or her we just might be able to signal to all the rest that we are done with their antics. We have to be the ones who push back on the rhetoric. If we become the adults in the room those who long for our approval will follow because their only goal is to win. That means that we cannot praise childish behaviors from anyone regardless of which side he/she represents. Wrong is wrong and we should be able to point to it without being pilloried by any person or group. When our basic rights to an opinion are heckled or degraded by a mob we should always wonder if we are being victimized by propaganda.

I suppose that some may view this blog as a screed given the political environment. They will believe that my remarks reflect only on one party or another. They will not understand the idea that I am looking at all of the arguments and philosophies and sifting the good from the bad. In that process I have seen that nobody has all of the answers or best plans but everyone has a few very good ideas. It’s time for each of us to be more discerning. If we accomplish that, the poisonous partisanship will subside, but sadly I think that we are still a long way from being able to bring ourselves together. For now I will just have to continue to find ways to endure the insanity of it all. 

What We Need

common-ground-dove

There were horrid things happening across the globe before I was born. There were horrid things happening across the globe when I was a child and a teen. I have witnessed horrid things happening as a young adult and now that I am in my seventies I still see horrid things happening both near and far. For a cockeyed optimist like myself it can be quite distressing to admit that there is something in our human natures that is sometimes violent and cruel. I always wanted to believe that mankind has been slowly evolving into a better version of itself, and I still think that is indeed true, but sadly it is such a slow process that it’s difficult to define the progress at times.

On a more personal level I see goodness in each of my friends and family members, people striving even sacrificing to be kind, loving, wise. Each individual has small moments of imperfection but on the whole they are grand examples of what mankind might aspire to be. They give me hope for the population at large because I do not believe that they are the aberrations, but rather that it is in the hateful and violent members of society that we find the outliers. Normal is good, abnormal is an unusual data point removed from the cluster of morality that defines most of the people in the world.

There are those who believe that the current times are somehow worse than other eras, but I would urge them to more carefully and thoughtfully study history because there is little that is actually new in the ways of our relationships and our politics. People have been lead astray by demagogues and tyrants for all time whether it be in a family, a friendship, a neighborhood, a town, a state or a nation. You would think that we would be more circumspect given all of the information about past troubles that we have, but in truth most of us are busy taking care of ourselves and those that we love. We tend to only have time to react rather than to reflect. Besides, with so many ideas and ideologies being thrown at us at once it is daunting to determine what is actually best. Instead history has often been a vast experiment of trial and error with some decisions enhancing mankind and others being dangerously abysmal failures. All too often hindsight becomes our teacher.

We can indeed learn from past mistakes but even then it’s important to realize that we are different from our ancestors. Times continually change and we are influenced heavily by our environments, what we love and what we fear or even hate. Making choices that will affect us and the people around us can be a gamble. Because each person on earth is unique there is no one size fits all way of educating or governing and yet we try even as we know that it is impossible to exactly meet everyone’s needs. Someone always seems to feel left out, abandoned either by family or nation. Such is the conundrum of our human attempts to make sense of the world and the reason why it is so difficult to enact solutions to the problems that plague us.

Freedom is a word with many meanings. Taken too far it can lead to trouble. Constricted too much it creates hostility. The key to a healthy person and society is providing just the right dose of fairness which may mean that the balance will sometimes seem unequal. Even within families a wise parent understands that no two children are identical, not even twins. So too it is with societies that attempt to be fair and just. It is difficult to know the best course of action.

As a school administrator I learned that some of my teachers wanted to be free to be themselves without much direction while others actually desired to have precise sets of rules by which to guide themselves. The trick in working with them involved crafting individual plans that took their specific needs into account. Allowing for differences sometimes created tensions because there were always those who insisted that everyone had to be treated exactly the same. The trouble with that logic is that it does not consider our human uniqueness and sounds good until it is executed in a real situation.

I find myself becoming increasingly disturbed by the urge of various forces to make us all think and act the same. We become enraged when we witness someone deviating from the thoughts and actions that we find the most appropriate. We harangue or shame those who disagree with us in the false hope that we might force them into submission to our way of looking at the world. Such has become a national pastime with celebrities being lauded or ostracized based on what they believe. In truth it is a kind of nationalized bullying that we need to abandon. We should be extremely careful that we are not ruining people’s reputations based solely on a desire to force agreement to our individual thoughts about how things should be. 

Propaganda and unwillingness to allow freedom of speech is growing all around us. Such efforts to control beliefs has been tried throughout history but it has never worked. We should be wary of those who would insist on conformity and resistance to divergent ideas. Right now we have people on both the far left and far right attempting to shut down our freedoms. What we need is for those who treasure liberty to lead by example which means acknowledging that we must make more efforts to consider the needs of each voice, not just our own. We must curb the outrage and find ways to understand and respect the very natures of our humanity. In doing so we might find the common ground that we both desire and need. As long as we keep censoring one another we will escape from the current cycle of outrage.

Opening Hearts and Minds

peacemaker

I am what is sometimes known as a people pleaser, not so much because I want to impress anyone with my goodness but because I have an uncanny ability to sense people’s feelings. I have spent most of my life striving to help others to be their best selves and making great effort to see differing points of view. My work has included titles like mother, teacher, peer facilitator, dean of faculty. In those roles I focused on walking hand in hand with my charges rather than being an authoritarian. I prefer being a diplomat to executing orders. To my utter dismay I more and more often find myself in a kind of new world order in which I am constantly challenged to choose a side or be considered outmoded and ineffective. The middle ground where I have long stood so that I might extend a hand to each side is now considered the choice of wimps, those unwilling to take a stand. I find it more and more difficult to please anyone and I am often accused of being the kind of person who has actually caused most of the problems of the world.

We appear to be in a phase during which manners and decency toward all is considered passé. Tough guys, bullies, those willing to hurl insults are thought to be the new saviors of the world. Being polite and soft spoken is out. Being brash is in. Passive resistance and peaceful assembly has lost its lure. Instead shouting and insistence that all agree to a kind of tandem manner of thinking is the way of the new heroes. Sound bites have replaced thoughtful discourse.

As a teenager I read John Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage with an almost reverential mindset. I saw the heroes that he described as role models for my own life. I liked the stories of fortitude in the lives of the saints that had so fascinated me as a child. I wanted more than anything to be a fair and just individual who held tightly to the belief that each of us has an important purpose in this world. I read and reread tales of men and women who changed the world without harming others. I came to believe that the most glorious aspect of living where I do is the unalienable right of individuals to have the liberty of their own thoughts. I enjoyed the idea of bridging gaps between diverse groups. It is who I am and what I do.

It seems as though a perverse stubbornness has invaded the world. We are at an impasse with one another. Society has become judgmental without taking the time to analyze situations devoid of prejudice. Our favored leaders often hurl insults at one another. We blame entire generations for our problems with sweeping pronouncements. Some taunt the “snowflakes” while others dismiss the “boomers” as the lot that has destroyed the earth. Anger is even invading families and rending friendships in two. There is a kind of worldwide psychosis that is making all of us sick.

It has become almost impossible for me to use my diplomatic skills. Of late I seem to anger everyone whenever I attempt to consider all sides of a discussion. My efforts are derided as useless and perhaps even counterproductive. I am reminded of how souls like Mitt Romney are not the heroes I think them to be, but spineless cowards who are of little use to the world. People are demanding action and those who attempt to broker compromise and peace are thought to be a large part of the world’s problems.

As a student of history I know how dangerous such thinking can be. While mankind divides itself into winners and losers suffering prevails. The power brokers unwilling to give an inch one way or another wreak havoc on innocents. Problems fester and grow in an atmosphere unwilling to consider compromise. When people no longer listen to one another grave mistakes are made. Divisions like north and south, left and right, red and blue, Christian and atheist, Sunni and Shia, Israeli and Palestinian, educated and uneducated, rich and poor are the sources of conflict and war. It is only when we truly attempt to work together that solutions begin to arise.

I was quite taken by an image that one of my friends posted on Christmas Day. In the photo were two women, sisters from a loving family. One of them stood in front a blue car with a “Warren” sticker and the other posed by a red car with a “Trump” sticker. Both women were laughing and obviously quite happy with one another, unwilling to allow their political differences to change their feelings of warmth and affection. It was a hopeful sign for me, a reminder that when all is said and done we humans may have differing opinions of how to solve problems but we are united by love.

I’d like to believe that our current state of rage is only a temporary phase and that the peacemakers will come into fashion again. In the meantime I pray that relationships that have been broken by differences in points of view may be mended. We need each other now more than ever. Life is far too short to spend time quibbling when we might be better off finding ways to get along. All it takes is a willingness to open our hearts and minds. Perhaps that is the best resolution that anyone might make for the new year and new decade of 2020.

Can We Just Laugh?

64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals

The Saudi Arabian government has cracked down on freedom of expression. Those who speak against the government often find themselves being questioned, jailed or worse. One noted journalist left his birth nation out of fear and then felt compelled to write about the events that he saw unfolding with his fellow countrymen who voiced their concerns. His wife became so afraid of what might happen to her because of her husband’s views that she asked for a divorce to protect herself and her children. The man nonetheless continued to speak out about abuses of freedom and ill treatment of dissidents. Eventually he found new love and decided to remarry. When he visited the Saudi embassy in Turkey to complete the necessary paperwork he was never again seen alive. Eventually his dismembered body was found, leading many to believe that he had been silenced by the government that he had been criticizing as a warning to those who dared to speak their minds.

In Hong Kong citizens have been protesting the prohibitive excesses of the Chinese government. The once democratic and free city that operated under the wing of Great Britain now struggles under the excessively restrictive rules of China. Those who dare to defy the government are being publicly beaten into submission. While here in the United States those who dare to side with the demonstrators in Hong Kong are finding that doing so can bring unexpected consequences. 

It’s seemingly unthinkable for those of us who live in the United States to imagine living in a place where we have to watch every word that we utter or write lest we be chastised or ostracized or imprisoned. We live under the assurances of our Constitution and the free speech that our Founding Fathers thought essential to a healthy democracy, and yet there is a kind of shadow hovering over our public interactions that is ruled by mobs intent on controlling what we believe. In the world of tweets and social media comments those who stray from conformance with certain opinions are sometimes figuratively pilloried in the public square.

Much that occurs on the platforms of social media worries me. I am appalled by the rush to judgement that occurs with the flick of  the fingers on a keyboard. The anonymity that we believe we have often leads to cruel and bullying behaviors from perfect strangers who somehow delight in raising our ire with the things that they do and say. Luckily a true hero emerges now and again from the sound and fury of the ether.

I have been an avid fan of Ellen DeGeneres from the time that she first emerged as a talented comedian. I find her to be an honest and loving person with a heart of gold. She’s also quite funny which makes her daily program a fun way to spend a bit of time escaping from the stresses of the world. She is lighthearted and one of those people who mostly stays away from controversy which I appreciate because I have grown weary of encountering everyone else’s political commentaries wherever I seem to go.

On a recent weekend Ellen was invited by her friend, Jerry Jones, to attend a Dallas Cowboys football game where she shared Mr. Jones’ private box with former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura. Ellen admitted that she had a good time even though she is more of a Green Bay Packers fan and to her delight her team actually won. Like any average person being treated to such a grand afternoon she took selfies of herself cutting up and laughing with President Bush and posted them proudly on Twitter.

What should have been an innocent bit of fun turned into a controversy as people excoriated her for daring to even talk to someone like Bush much less have a good time with him. The process of raking Ellen over the coals went berserk despite the fact that she had done nothing wrong other than be polite and appreciative of the hospitality that she received at the game. She behaved in a perfectly respectful manner but so many thought she should have instead ignored the Bushes or even expressed her disdain for having to be with them.

To her credit Ellen used the platform of her television program to clarify her feelings. She courageously told her audience and those who had criticized her that her friends do not have to agree with all of her views to be embraced by her. She admitted that she actually likes George Bush and that his beliefs have nothing to do with their relationship. Once again she proved her mettle in standing up to her detractors and in the process she demonstrated the content of her character. In that moment she became a role model for all of us who are weary of the often illogical and violent divisiveness that is tearing our society apart.

This is not Saudi Arabia nor is it Hong Kong. It is the United States of America and heretofore our nation has mostly been tolerant of different ideas. Sadly many among us more and more often choose sides and steadfastly ignore and despise any thoughts that diverge from their own to the point of insulting and even ostracizing those with whom they disagree. There is so much anger in the public square that many American citizens have grown wary of expressing themselves and often rightfully so because there are extremist groups who actually believe that certain ways of thinking should be illegal.

Our country is treading a very thin line that must never lead to the muting of individual opinions and actions. We must always be free to associate with whomever we desire and to freely state our points of view. It would be wise for everyone to remember that it is never a good idea to strive to be of one voice. We need our dissenters and our revolutionaries. Who knew that one day we would also realize that we sometimes need a brave comedian to remind us of the importance of respect and tolerance and the power of a good laugh?

“Without Forgiveness There Is No Future”

Desmond-tutu

“If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”– Desmond Tutu

“Without forgiveness, there is no future.” – Desmond Tutu

During the summer months a nice breeze finds blows into my backyard along about dinner time,  so my husband and I usually enjoy our dinner outside each evening. We talk and enjoy the birds that find their way into the trees on our property and onto the fountain that they use as their personal birdbath. We hear the voices of neighbors who are bustling about on walks or doing a bit of work while the temperature is bearable. We linger at our seasonal dinner table until the sun is about to set and then we go back inside to end our evenings with reading or a television program before we retire for the night.

The big three channels are filled with silly summer offerings that are of little interest to us, a waste of our time. We search instead for more riveting fare and for that Netflix and Amazon Prime are difficult to beat. Recently we encountered a movie starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana called Forgiven that proved to be both entertaining and enlightening. It was set in South Africa in the days just after apartheid became illegal and Nelson Mandela had been elected President of the country.

In a spirit of unity Mandela had insisted that it was a time for reconciliation between all of the people so that they might all move forward together. He appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, a group tasked with examining crimes against humanity that had taken place in the past and determining how to deal with the both the victims and the perpetrators in a fair and compassionate way. Archbishop Tutu was a brilliant choice for this endeavor because he had worked tirelessly for social justice for most of his life, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

The movie uses a fictional character played by Eric Bana to portray the racist and murderous nature of those who had previously inflicted murderous treatment on the native peoples of South Africa. The film creates a storyline to demonstrate the intent of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in which Forest Whitaker as Desmond Tutu is frustrated by discoveries of mass graves and extreme violence. In the process Tutu becomes personally interested in the tragedy of one mother whose daughter simply disappeared on day never to be heard from again. He promises the woman that his commission will find the answers that she is seeking even while he struggles to fully understand what happened.

Archbishop Tutu receives a letter from a prisoner, the Bana character, seeking amnesty for his crimes. The convicted murderer is vile and violent, unrepentant for the horrific things he has done, virtually challenging Tutu to maintain his composure and his belief in the ultimate goodness of all people. The movie is a thoughtful and well acted commentary on mankind itself.

As I watched the plot unfold I found myself contemplating the differing schools of thought regarding how to deal with violence, racism, and other evils in the world. Some like Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela chose models of kindness and reconciliation as a tool to bring people together. Others in history have eschewed such behaviors for aggressive militancy. Today we appear to be in a time in which passive resistance is out of fashion, and instead an unwillingness to even consider alternate points of view is the more popular problem solving methodology. Those who find ways to expose flaws and judge without understanding are winning the day and I find the trend to be difficult to stomach. My personal heroes are people like Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Archbishop Tutu.

In my own country I find it difficult to watch the ways in which we are tearing one another apart. The trend has been simmering for some time and now it is in full blown mode. I was certain that President Donald Trump would be rejected for his bullish ways, but instead he has been viewed by many as a kind of hero for his brash insults. Now we have some candidates for the Democratic nomination for President vying to bring down even those who mostly share the same points of view as they do.

Frankly I was quite embarrassed when Kamala Harris chose to publicly chastise Joe Biden for his past even as she insisted that she did not really think he is a racist. If that is true then I wonder why she felt it necessary to even bring up the matter. I was stupefied when the very person who began the “food fight” of the debate condemned what she saw as the childish behaviors of the other candidates. Even more confusing to me is the fact that her popularity has suddenly increased as many see her antics as a breath of fresh air rather than the bullying that it is. 

I am quite saddened by today’s political environment. It seems to be propelling us backward in time rather than pushing us forward. I do not believe that it will bring us to solutions to our problems nor will it heal the divisions that are growing like an ugly crack in the windshield of a car. We desperately need a peacemaker to step forward to lead our country back into a place of forgiveness. As Archbishop Tutu so brilliantly contends without it there is no future.