No Quick Fixes

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It’s in our human natures to want simple answers, and yet it is rare that we are able to alleviate complex problems with quick fixes. At best we might patch things together until the time at which we consider all facets of an issue and attempt to arrive at a solution that more closely resembles what we require. Even then there will ultimately be imperfections, instances in which our ideas don’t work as well as we might have intended.

Years inside a classroom taught me that I had to be flexible and ready to change course at a moments notice. Something that worked magnificently with one group of students might backfire with another. It is virtually impossible to have a one size fits all solution for the problems that daunt human beings. Nonetheless we often attempt to quickly cobble together ideas to deal with the challenges that we face. It is in our natures to want to be done with things that irritate us and then move on.

We long for an easy diet to help us lose weight. We desire healthcare that costs little or nothing and also provides world class medicine. We dream of finding the magic bullet of education that will turn all of our youngsters into little Einsteins. We hope to eradicate our debts without pain. We think that it would be great to simply dig into the pockets of the wealthy to fund programs that seemingly would allow everyone to live well. We want peace on earth with no real effort. We long to stop the chaos of the world without pain or sacrifice. We hope to find the magic person or pill that will make our lives almost perfect without all of the hard work that our day to day experiences now require.

Thus we have politicians on the right and on the left who are hawking plans that may seem so wonderful until we actually take the time to analyze them and to consider the many downsides of them. Knowing that we may balk when we use our critical thinking skills they play to our fears, our jealousies, and our prejudices. They cause us to worry and then unveil their solutions with the flourish of banging drums, little different from the traveling salesmen who entice us with promises of stress free lives if only we buy into their “flim-flamming.”

There is no free lunch. Everything that we attempt has a price in effort or emotion or money. We must decide which sacrifices we are willing to make for the common good even as we understand that we may not be perfectly happy with the results. We may have to revise and edit our decisions once we see the flaws. It is a rare thing to get exactly what we need on the first try. We must proceed with caution while understanding that there will be bumps in the road.

We are not that unlike our ancestors in attempting to settle our differences and lessen our fears. Most of us have little or no desire for power, but we do require a sense of freedom, safety, security for ourselves and those that we love. We invest time, money and energy into to providing those things for ourselves. We send our children to school each day. We travel to jobs to earn the funds to use for food, housing and our most basic needs. We agree to follow certain rules to alleviate anarchy in our midst. Mostly though we just want to be left alone to be ourselves, so we elect leaders who appear to reflect our views and then hope for the best as they represent us.

Of late there has been a style of governing that makes many of us uneasy. It is built not so much on certain common desires, but more on radical thinking that makes us uncomfortable and tears us apart. Many of our politicians appeal to our basest fears and divisions. They are more rabble rousers than diplomats. They are steadfast in creating chaos rather than compromises. They suggest simplistic ideas without research or data or logic. Thus we become agitated and then turn on one another only reinforcing their vacuous power. Each side wants us to believe that they are good and their opponents are bad. When we fall for their tactics we too become engaged in never ending battles with our own friends or we simply turn our backs on the whole tragedy and hope that by ignoring the rancor we will ultimately be okay.

If we are honest we will admit to the problems that concern us and also agree that neither side of the discussions has it completely right. We have work to do, but we will never move forward in the direction that we need if we settle for simplistic ideas. A wall will not solve our immigration problems any more than the Affordable Care Act has made healthcare more available to everyone. Our schools will not become better by throwing more money at them nor will the cost of higher education be mitigated if we make it free. Our planet needs our help and denying that fact will not halt the destruction that we have wrought on it nor will grandiose plans to eliminate fossil fuels without searching for other ways to power our industries and our homes. Respecting the freedoms and the diversity of mankind requires talents that far too many of our lawmakers lack. As long as we keep sending individuals to our nation’s capitol who are unwilling to budge and work together we will be wasting our time and our national treasure. If we can’t even get along within our own communities, we can hardly expect good outcomes in Washington D.C.

There are answers to each of the concerns that we may have but they will require a level of calm and rationality that is in short supply these days. We the people have to admit that we will often have to compromise, give a little to get a little. This is the message that our leaders need to hear. This is the reality that we must all understand.

  

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Working On The Inside

Tricia's Podcast

I have a dear friend, Tricia Miller, who is a brilliant and talented woman. I met her when she and I taught together at KIPP Houston High School. I eventually became the Dean of Faculty there and she became one of the College Counselors. We shared a special kinship from the very first and became close friends. Even after we had both the left the school we worked hard to maintain a close relationship with one another that has only grown stronger over the years. At first we mostly got together for celebratory occasions with other women who had also once worked at KIPP. Eventually Tricia and I called upon one another for advice, knowing that together we usually found the wisdom that we needed to tackle the problems that invariably crop up in everyone’s lives.

Tricia became a licensed therapist and did private counseling along with continuing to work with students while I began living the life of retirement. I know from personal experience how good she is at seeing both the pain and joy that lingers in people’s hearts either propelling them forward or holding them back. On more than one occasion she has helped me to find answers that I was seeking and encouraged me to have the courage that I needed to be my personal best. She is what I call an active listener who knows how to pose important questions and then sit back and truly hear the true meaning of what is being said. She is quite good at understanding the essence of people, sometimes even more than they do themselves.

This past summer Tricia decided to develop a podcast that would feature short stories of people who had overcome daunting challenges. I was honored to be one of the guests that she chose to interview, and so I one day found myself sitting in her sunny kitchen talking as friends while she posed guiding questions and recorded my answers. I had been a bit nervous about speaking into a microphone and I worried that I might stumble and stutter as I spoke, but Tricia created such a relaxed atmosphere that I soon forgot that my words were being saved for posterity. I was able to speak from my heart and not worry about how I might sound.

Tricia worked with intense dedication for months to interview individuals, edit their responses, and create a series of quality podcasts with topics intended to inspire listeners. Her efforts resulted in thirty minute episodes in a podcast called Working From the Inside that is currently listed on Google Play, Spotify and Apple iTunes. Her guests are diverse and earnest in sharing their stories of overcoming challenges and finding empathy and support in sometimes unexpected places.

Tricia decided to launch the episode that featured my interview as a gift to me just before my seventieth birthday. The theme of the spot focuses on the mentoring and compassion that I encountered in the sometimes winding journey of my life, particularly with regard to my career. Happily she edited my chatter to include the expressions gratitude that I have always felt for certain individuals who helped to guide me in my work and in navigating through the difficulties that invariably arose along the way. I was able to honor important people like my English teacher, Father Shane, the members of my neighborhood, school and church community, professors who inspired me, principals who helped shape me into a real educator, and elders who demonstrated sacrifice and love when I most needed it.

I hope that the listeners will be able to look past my soft, slow drawl that comes from my Texas background as they hear me speak. It is a trait that sometimes marked me as someone who was insignificant and perhaps also weak. I wanted people to know that even a seemingly shy and sheltered female is able to find grit when given enough encouragement from caring people, and I certainly had my share of kind souls who helped me to become the person that I am today. My story is one of countless moments in which I found good people who understood me and helped me to overcome my weaknesses and fears. Of course, Tricia Miller is one of those very special souls who took the time to really “get me.”

I’d like to invite everyone to look for Working On the Inside with Tricia Miller, M.Ed.,LPC on Google Play, Apple iTunes, or Spotify. Subscribe today and then sit back and enjoy Tricia’s creative talent and the stories of her incredible friends. I have little doubt that you will be inspired and will become a fan.
Tricia has created a kind of oral history of the life and times of our era. Her guests are diverse and from many walks in life. The common thread that binds them together is a determination to overcome even the most horrific difficulties that life throws at each of us. Tricia has such genius and empathy that she is able to bring uncommon honesty to each episode. I’m certain that listeners will find nuggets of wisdom and hope from meeting Tricia and her guests.

A Chance Meeting

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Maybe I’m just a cockeyed optimist but I am slowly but surely seeing signs that there are more and more folks who are ready to ditch the incivility and fighting in our society and join together in bipartisan ways to repair the wounds that plague our society. I can only hope that we are about to turn a corner, and I don’t want to get overly excited just yet. Still I like some things that I am observing.

A Facebook post from one of the local television stations reported a chance meeting of Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz at a Houston airport as they were both traveling to Washington D.C. for the current session of Congress. A young woman from Texas A&M spotted them in the encounter and was overjoyed to note that Beto walked up to Cruz and offered his congratulations on his reelection to the Senate. It was a grand gesture given that Cruz’ opponent had been Beto himself. The two men than conversed pleasantly without any sign of recrimination. They young woman sensing the importance of the moment even persuaded the two leaders to pose together for a photograph with her.

There was great joy on social media that such an occurrence had transpired. Folks commented that it was refreshing to witness old fashioned manners, something that has been sorely missing for some time. The level of support for civility indicated to me that most of us are truly fed up with the ugliness that has so dominated discussions and attempts to tackle our current problems. It is as though we all understand that rigid partisanship gets us nowhere.

Mitch McConnell claims to be ready to work with Democrats. Nancy Peolosi says that rebuilding infrastructures and relationships is a great place to start. Fox News joined in efforts to get Jim Acosta readmitted to Whitehouse press briefings. There is a kind of quiet revolution attempting to take hold and I for one pray that it will become the new wave. I seriously think that it is bad for everyone to have a combative environment festering front and center all of the time. We have to rebuild trust and demonstrate that we understand that in the end we are all connected by the same desire for good lives for ourselves and our children. The main differences are to be found in how we hope to achieve things, and those are the areas that can be made to work as long as we understand that compromise is not an innately bad thing. Sometimes it is the means of incrementally changing for the good of all.

Progress and change is often slow, and perhaps there is a reason for that. It is in some of our natures to be cautious. While others want to be “gung ho” risk takers in getting things done. What we have surely learned is that some values are grand and to be cherished and others become outdated as we learn more about the world around us. Surely there are ways to move forward, but with some circumspection. We know from our individual lives that nothing is ever perfect, and sometimes we have to adjust because of that. Clinging to old ways can be lethal, but so can running headlong over a cliff without thinking about the consequences.

We really do need many types of people shepherding our decisions and our laws. There is nothing wrong with questions or suggestions that maybe we have been wrong in our thinking. It is possible to debate for all the right reasons rather than destroying simply for the sake of power. We need fewer waves of agreement and more willingness to back away in order to view the big picture. We don’t need Democrats or Republicans as much as we need the best people who want to work for all of us.

In the most recent elections something rather sad occurred. Because of the current tendency to judge the quality of a political candidate more on party than beliefs there was a great deal of lever pulling. Many voters disregarded the individuality of each person running for office and instead voted only on party lines. A very good man was caught up in that trend in Harris County Texas. His name is Ed Emmett and he had done a yeoman’s job as the County Judge for many years. In particular he was brilliant during both hurricane Ike and hurricane Harvey. Even those of us who do not live in his county relied on him for leadership, and he never let us down. Sadly he was defeated by a young woman who is only twenty seven years old and has not even lived in Texas for very long. Her resume only includes degrees in Political Science and a few ideas about flood control. She has no experience looking after millions of citizens during a disaster and yet she won mostly because so many of the voters pulled the Democrat lever without even thinking that they were unseating a very qualified and good man from a position in which he had consistently performed well and without partisan considerations. I now worry about what will happen if and when another disaster comes our way.

We are weary as a nation. We know that the way we have been behaving feels very wrong. It’s time that we understand that it is good to see Beto and Cruz talking with one another. Working together for the common good has been the secret to the success of our nation throughout its history. It’s time that we return to the days of bipartisan thinking. I hope the small signs that I am seeing will lead us that way. 

“Adulting”

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The conversation was with a young man in his early twenties. He remarked that he was struggling with the act of “adulting.” I told him that if that was the case then he is rather normal. In fact, it’s not all that unusual for even a senior citizen to sometimes long to run away from adult responsibilities.

I just celebrated my fiftieth wedding anniversary. I was not quite twenty when I walked down the aisle on my brother’s arm. I made a number of pledges on that day that I soon enough found were easier to voice than to actually follow. Before my first anniversary my mother had a nervous breakdown. I attempted to lay all responsibility for her care at the feet of my aunts and uncles, but they were as befuddled by her illness as I was. They passed the torch back to me. I found that not even the pastor of my church was willing to assist me, so I took a deep breath and accepted the challenge of finding care for her. In the process I was transformed from a shy naive childlike young girl into someone able to argue for my mother’s cause and ultimately for my own. I found strength that I did not know was there, and I was all the better for my baptism by fire.

In the meantime my husband was struggling with being a full blown adult in his own right. He was not yet fully ready to become the hard working person that would ultimately emerge. He was in graduate school and often stayed out late with his buddies. He was unhappy with his classes and the arc of his future. He found himself feeling confused and wanting to just chuck it all. It was when he saw me struggling to accept and meet the challenge of my mother’s care that he rose up to support me, a habit that would become his forever crusade.

Often it is in meeting the trials and tribulations that befall us that we find our inner selves. All humans suffer in one way or another. We are beset with problems that force us to make choices about how we will live. That is when “adulting” often feels the most painful, but it is also the moment when we have the most potential to find out who we really are.

Throughout my life of almost seventy years I have encountered difficulties from which I wanted to flee. Most of the time running away was not an option. I sometimes initially reacted by screaming or crying in frustration. I literally begged God to take away the pain I was feeling.  I vented the anxiety that I was experiencing, but over and over again faced whatever demon was attempting to bring me to my knees. On most occasions I made I through with a sense that I had made all of the right choices. In others I knew that I had made terrible mistakes. Even then I learned that there are few decisions, no matter how poorly conceived, that cannot be corrected.

None of us are perfect or capable of always demonstrating maturity. We become tired or frightened and “lose it” as the saying goes. I’ve had moments as a mom, a wife., or a teacher when I’ve done or said things that later embarrassed me. Most of the time this resulted because I had simply had enough of stresses that seemed to pile up higher than I was able to stand. Our coping mechanisms are wired to only take so much before we blow a gasket. As long as our explosive moments don’t become habit, we are actually entitled to a loss of control now and again. Nonetheless, if our comments or actions have hurt someone, we are obligated to reach for our adult sides and fix the damage.

When I was in high school one of my teachers cautioned us to have as much fun as possible while we were still young. He advised us to sow our wild oats in our youth rather than waiting until we were middle aged. He pointed out that there was nothing quite as pathetic as a forty year old suddenly going through a second childhood. He spoke of individuals who eschewed their parental or marital responsibilities simply because they felt entitled to more “fun” than the day to day grind was allowing them. He painted a picture of how pathetic such people might be. We had visions of a balding guy riding around in a red convertible with a blonde woman young enough to be his daughter while his long suffering wife and kids were left behind. I have to admit that it was indeed a disgusting image.

I would not want anyone to have to deal with the difficulties that I faced at a very young age. There are other ways of slowly but surely becoming a responsible adult than having to face tragedies. My advice is to enjoy the freedom of youth as much as possible while also building a foundation that will ultimately support a strong sense of responsibility. The early twenties are a time for exploring and even making mistakes and learning from them. It’s when we begin to understand ourselves and the world around us, and when we develop the skills that will lead us through even the toughest trials. At the same time it can be one of the most enjoyable and liberating eras of our lives. In the end, if we have kept a balance between having a good time and building meaningful skills and relationships “adulting” will almost naturally come to pass.

My Hybrid Feminism

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If there is one thing of which I am certain it is that politics have become toxic, and there is no such thing in most cases of a rational conversation about beliefs. While there are multiple points of few, most of them are immoveable. The idea of possibly changing someone’s way of thinking is ridiculous for the most part, and yet so many continue to try. Their posts and rants litter the commentaries of social media essentially for naught other than allowing the world to see where they stand. Those who agree with them rally in support and those who are at odds often condemn them for their ignorance and even ugliness. For those of us caught in the middle it can become a kind of irrational nightmare as we too struggle to enforce a bit of diplomacy which never quite gains traction. Instead we are accused of being without moral compass, cafeteria citizens who pick and choose what we support. We independents are seen as the worst form of persons because we don’t appear to be guided by a philosophy that might describe from whence we form our opinions.

I’m a combination of many different political persuasions. As a woman I am a hybrid feminist, part progressive and part conservative. I grew up in a world when most women stayed home to care for their families. My mother was somewhat unique in our neighborhood in being a single parent due to our father’s death. She was the child of a woman who was unable to either read or write. Mama’s high school diploma was considered a great achievement, and she might have been content with stopping her education there had she not suddenly found herself responsible for supporting a family. She worked hard to hold down a job and earn a college degree, but at the same time she urged me to always put my husband and children first because she believed that nothing was more important.

I grew up surrounded by friends with large families because birth control was still somewhat unreliable. My mother cautioned me to be “ladylike” and to save myself for someone who loved and cherished me. While she emphasized the power of education and urged me to go to college, she also maintained that all of that was secondary to building a strong foundation for the family that I would one day have. Once I was married, she urged me to be respectful of my husband, and sometimes criticized the amount of time that I spent on my job when I would become involved in projects that kept me away from my family far into the night.

I rallied around the feminist movements of the sixties and seventies. I planned my family by carefully using birth control. I earned two degrees and moved up the ranks in my profession. All the while my always enlightened husband supported every single idea that I had for living my life both in conjunction with his, and independently at times. I fulfilled my own wishes while also somehow balancing the many duties of family life. To this day, my husband and I see each other as equal partners, and we confer with one another in all of our decisions. He is as proud of my accomplishments as I am of his. As a woman I have enjoyed the freedom to be the person that I want to be.

Sadly, for the most progressive women, my brand of feminism is not enough to satisfy them. When I note that I struggle with the concept of abortion because in my heart I believe that it is a form of murder, they maintain that I am ignorant and that I obviously don’t care about the plight of women. When I mention that I did not work full time during my daughters’ early years so that I might build a strong foundation for them, I am told that my thinking is old fashioned and quaint. If I suggest that all women should allow each other to form their own opinions, I hear that there is only one way on  “ the right side of history.” If I complain that the rhetoric about men is often too generalized and damning, I am met with derision and disbelief. I am often made to feel that I am not a feminist at all, but an ancient throw back to a time when women were degraded and made to be prisoners of a male dominated society.

I’m not an angry woman. Perhaps I have been lucky in my interactions with men and the world of work. I have found boorish “male chauvinist pigs” to be the exception rather than the rule. I have been supported again and again by amazing people both male and female. I have enjoyed a freedom of mind and action that might have amazed my female ancestors. I don’t want to have to walk in tandem or be dominated by any form of group think. I take each issue individually and after study and contemplation form my own personal opinions. I firmly believe that this is the way feminism is supposed to be. I support my sisters by allowing them to think however they wish, but ask them to respect my philosophies as well. We need not argue because I know that we react to the world based on a lifetime of experiences. We form our conclusions depending on who we are and who we have been.

I suppose that many women are still trying to determine what their places in society should be. To attempt to create a one size fits all way of doing things is ridiculous. Neither do we need to destroy the men who live beside us with insults and slurs that demean them. Ours is not so much a fight as a process of discovery. Each girl child should be encouraged to approach life in a way that feels right. She should understand that men need not be her enemies. There is good and there is bad in both sexes. We must teach our daughters and granddaughters how to discern who is who, and that it is always okay to have personal beliefs and preferences, even when they diverge.

I like being a hybrid. I like being independent. I have had a very happy experience as a woman because the people closest to me have allowed me to be the person that I choose to be. In turn I hope to always honor the choices that my “sisters” decide are best for them. True feminism demands that we understand that there is no one pathway, and our quest is doomed if we demand that it be so. Our journey has to include a wide range of views and the other half of the human race known as men. Our power will come only when we see ourselves as individuals with all of the rights that such and idea implies.