Win Win

920x920Houston has been looking like a winner of late, which is quite grand given what happened a little more than three months ago. We’re still celebrating our World Series championship and to top everything off we got a lovely dusting of white flakes last week that literally made everyone smile. The landscape that had been covered in a different kind of precipitation back in August look like a picture postcard with every rooftop and tree glistening with just enough snow to create a winter wonderland.

We’ve really needed those little bits of joy because there is till so much recovery work needed. It breaks our hearts to know that there are still people not yet back in their houses. For some the journey home has been long and hard. Many were turned down for relief funds and others are being told that they will have to raise their foundations before getting permits for repairs. Families have wiped out their savings and in some cases spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for which they have had to get loans. While the rest of us have been getting ready for the holiday season, they’ve been consumed with worry. Still, we are all Houston Strong and the viral photo of a Houstonian cheering on a plastic lawn chair during the final game of the World Series inside his stripped down home seems to represent who we are.

You can imagine how wonderful we felt when we learned that not one, but two of our hometown heroes had won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award. Both J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve are beloved figures here in H Town and their twin win was glorious, because there are times when we wonder if anyone even knows where Houston is or that it is the fourth largest city in the nation. It sometimes seems that Cleveland is more identifiable to the world than Houston, but much of what is best about our city has put us on the map this year. Watt and Altuve are among our finest treasures and we are swelled with pride in knowing that they have been duly honored.

J.J. Watt is the kind of man that everyone mom wants her son to become. Aside from his tremendous talent on the gridiron he is a truly fine and generous human being. We’ve all come to realize that he is a gift to our city both on and off of the field. He’s perhaps our most reliable player when he’s not injured and so he is undoubtedly the fan favorite. When he immediately stepped up to help raise funds for those affected by the floods we were not surprised, but we were definitely grateful and humbled by his efforts which paid off beyond all of our wildest expectations. This was one of J.J’s most public moments of largesse, but those of us who live here know that he has been constantly and often very quietly doing wonderful things for the people of Houston.

J.J. Watt has been known to show up at hospitals and nursing homes. He even takes the time to attend high school sporting events to encourage local athletes. He is a superstar who has somehow managed to maintain his sense of humility. We are in awe of his towering presence, but we also view him as the guy next door because that is the way he wants to be. He’s our neighbor, one of us. His pain is ours, and so when his leg was shattered fairly early in the season we were heartbroken for him. It was as though one of our own sons had been sidelined. Now that he is enjoying the honor that is so well deserved we find ourselves celebrating with him as well.

Jose Altuve has played his heart out all season long on the Houston Astros. When our city was so devastated he became a man with a mission. He was determined to work harder and better to bring a win to our town. He made it known that he and the team were unwilling to let us down. In perhaps the darkest hour that Houston has ever experienced he was a beacon of hope, a bookend for J.J. Watt.

Altuve too is a young man who works hard to be his very best both on and off of the baseball diamond. He is a team player who understands what he must do each time he walks up to the plate. Somehow he appears to be less concerned with personal acclaim and more focused on sharing his athletic brilliance with his fellow players and his fans. He understood all too well how much we needed the championship that had eluded us for decades, and on an evening when many were watching in rooms with concrete floors and only studs for walls he and his teammates took us to the Promised Land. We were as united as we had been back in August when we were working to help those affected by the storms, only this time we were deliriously happy. He gave us an unexpected gift and demonstrated that his heart was bigger than his entire body. In stature he is the exact twin of J.J. Watt.

Sometimes the universe appears to align in such a manner that the most deserving receive the awards. In a year punctuated by a great deal of suffering and ugliness it is refreshing to be reminded that there are still exceptionally talented and noble individuals in our midst. J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve are the role models that we need for our young. They are the heroes who rank with the legends. All of us in Houston are proud to embrace them as our own.

The Christmas lights in H Town are burning a bit brighter and with a bit more hopefulness. The world has been set aright for once. In their great wisdom the editors of Sports Illustrated have chosen two individuals who represent the very best of the human spirit. Our congratulations will never be enough to thank J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve for all that they have given us. They are heroes whose stories will be enshrined in the crazy history of this incredible town. The mere mention of their names will bring smiles to our faces as we will always remember how much they meant to us when things seemed so bleak. All of Houston will be forever grateful and strong.

Advertisements

The Silence Breakers

person-of-year-2017-time-magazine-cover1In what has become an anxiously awaited tradition Time magazine selected its Person of the Year last week. Much as has often happened this year’s winner of the cover spot was a group of women known as the “Silence Breakers.” In bold moves that have toppled the reputations and careers of a host of powerful men, women both famous and unknown have stepped forward to reveal acts of sexual harassment and violence long hidden from the public eye. In a veritable deluge of accusations the stories have dominated the news cycle for weeks and pointed to a societal problem that has generally been unspoken but well known. The tales of mistreatment have included men of all stripes and have initiated a national dialogue that heretofore existed mostly in the shadows.Many wonder how and why so many women are suddenly speaking of incidents that they kept secret for decades. Particularly among doubters there are questions about why it took so long for them to reveal what happened to them and what has made the present time so different that the #metoo movement that has gone viral.

I suppose that for some the first thoughts go back to the story of the boy who cried “wolf” so many times that when the sheep were really being attacked nobody was willing to listen. Some wonder if the number of accusations has been exaggerated by a kind of mass hysteria, and I suppose that it might be easy to go to that place. Instead I would venture to suggest that the very reason that so many women have been silent is because of the doubt that is historically associated with such incidents, particularly when the man involved is a powerful person. We only need to consider the denials and insults that ensued when a number of women spoke out against former President Bill Clinton. Paula Jones was described as trailer trash. Monica Lewinsky was defamed. Kathleen Willy was thought to be unhinged. Such are indeed the reactions toward women who have the audacity to reveal acts of personal degradation that have been perpetrated on them. It is little wonder that there is great fear when it comes to speaking of such things. When a man who brags of highly degrading behavior with women then goes on to be elected to the highest office in the land it makes all of us fearful of being heroic.

There is also the strange psychological phenomenon in which the victim actually wonders if somehow she either imagined the abuse or brought it upon herself. I can attest to such situations myself that I did not discuss for a very long time because what happened was so shocking that I was unable to know for certain that it even took place. One of those times occurred when I was a young adolescent at the beach with my family. As I walked along a fishing pier my gaze was suddenly averted toward an old man with a smirky grin on his face. He pointed downward and that is when I saw that he was exposing himself to me. I turned and ran away, but I was so embarrassed that I said nothing to anyone. Instead I stayed close to my aunts and uncles and told everyone that I was feeling sick. I have since learned that my reaction is very typical. My mind twisted the shocking event into something for which I felt responsible.

Even as an adult I hesitated to admit to a situation in which one of my coworkers frightened me with highly suggestive language. I kept it to myself for many days before speaking of my discomfort to my husband who insisted that I inform my boss immediately or he would. I felt a great deal of relief when my employer believed my story and began to investigate other whispers that he had heard about the man. In only the space of a couple of days the offender was fired from his job and a number of us felt immediately safer. The news of the man’s departure was greeted with applause.

Sadly not all such situations turn out so well. On another occasion in which I informed the Human Resources Director of the highly unprofessional behavior of a supervisor I was accused of attempting to foment a rebellion. It was long after I had decided that my only recourse was to leave that job that it was determined that everything that I had said was true and that the reality was even worse than I had described. It had felt horrible to be deemed a trouble maker and someone who might be stretching reality. While I treasured the fact that I had done the right thing, I also understood why so few women are willing to endure the humiliation that I suffered at the time. The pain associated with being a witness can be quite real.

My mother was a beautiful single parent, someone who was quite attractive to men. She often told me of situations that became very difficult for her. In her infinite wisdom she taught me how to proactively avoid the pitfalls. She instructed me to watch how much alcohol I drank when I was out at night so that I might be in control of my faculties. She noted that I would be better served if I did not dress too suggestively. She taught me how to sit and stand and carry myself around strangers. She cautioned me to never ever meet with a man alone in a hotel room. She even worried about the moments when I was in a car at night with a male that she did not know well. At times I thought that she was overly paranoid or that she only imagined her allure, and yet over time I realized that she knew exactly what she was saying to me. Her intentions were profoundly protective and effective in a world that can be hazardous for women.

I’d like to believe that there is a movement afoot that will make things safer for women in both the workplace and private life, but when a politician who is accused of child molestation is ahead in the polls I lose heart. When the members of his party are unwilling to speak out for what is right, I become cynical. I realize that we have a very long way to go and that mothers still need to school their daughters in how to take care of themselves. I also understand how brave the “Silence Breakers” are, because I know that even now there are those who doubt their motives and perhaps even think of them as liars.

I believe that we all have to be silence breakers to the extent that we have to condemn the actions of men who sexually harass women. The process of reeducating our society begins with each one of us. It’s critically important that we teach our children the importance of mutual respect and individual dignity. Our actions will be more important than our words. When we condone sexual abusers by ignoring their grievous actions we are guilty of creating an environment that accepts the degradation of women as simply locker room antics. Instead we must send the loud and clear message that such behaviors are wrong and that those who cross the line of propriety will be duly punished.

We must take this movement seriously, and be just as angry with anyone who falsely accuses a man as we are with the perpetrators of indecency toward women. It is well past time that we make the relationships between the sexes less fraught with dangers. It is obviously possible because the numbers of men who treat women with the respect that they deserve far out distance the predators. We have the capacity for making incidents of sexual harassment less and less frequent if we all agree that we have reached a watershed moment, and if we honor the women who finally took the first step in regaining control of their lives. 

Update: In a dramatic election decency won last night. Thank you, Alabama.

A Whole New World

hqdefaultGrowing up with a single mom in an era when such situations were quite rare gave me a different point of view than many of my contemporaries. I was raised to believe that I was capable of accomplishing anything that I chose to do. My mom was liberated out of necessity and she was a feminist out of choice. She was also as American as apple pie, someone who cherished freedoms and served no masters other than her God. She never wanted me to clean houses or wait on tables. While she saw such jobs as honorable work, she often noted that her own mother had done such things in order to lift up her children, and it should not be our fate to be at the beck and call of either the wealthy or the powerful. She believed that we were as worthy as any other humans and that we must never bow down in submission to anyone, not even a queen or a king or a president. I suspect that she would have enjoyed seeing the Obama family approaching Queen Elizabeth on equal footing. She truly saw the United States as a place where each man or woman had the potential to rise into the higher echelons of power. She viewed education and the use of intellect as the most direct pathway to individual success, but she never pushed me or my brothers one way or another. Part of our liberty lay in the ability to make our own choices.

Mama adored the Queen of England, not so much because of her royalty but mostly because she carried herself with such dignity. She had the same kind of affection for Eleanor Rosevelt and Jackie Kennedy because she saw them as distinctly American royalty, women who were equal in every way, and sometimes even a bit superior, to their powerful husbands. She truly saw these two as being more regal by way of their accomplishments and in the manner in which they carried themselves than most of the blue blooded royals throughout the world. She was inspired by both of them, particularly after they proved themselves to be such strong individuals after the deaths of their spouses. Because of my mother’s philosophies I suppose that I  grew up without the traditional female filters that had so defined women for eons. I quite arrogantly understood my own capabilities and simply forged ahead, announcing my plans to my husband rather than conferring with him to get his approval. Luckily I married a man whose own mother was strong-willed and he saw nothing unusual about my way of doing things.

My brothers are in turn married to incredibly independent women who have always marched to their own drumbeats. Their partnerships, like mine, are based on mutual respect. Neither of them feel that they or their spouses should play a dominant role in their marriages. They have loving and faithful wives, but always coequal partners who share both the burdens and the blessings of married life. There is no competition in their roles, but rather a strong sense of mutual respect and support. They are as thoroughly modern as my mom was.

Women everywhere are breaking stereotypes and punching holes in glass ceilings. In some corners of the world they are sometimes held back by cultures and traditions that do not deem them to be as worthy as men. Even here in the United States we still struggle to understand and encourage the female half of the world. Recent news developments have proven that we have a long way to go before we see the universal acceptance of women as fonts of power in their own rights. Still the evidence of their abilities and potential has always been right before our eyes. Everyone has a story of a remarkable woman that carried her own weight even when it was thought that doing so was crude and maybe even rude. Our minds regarding women are indeed changing even if the pace is slower than we wish it to be.

It’s not really so difficult to help young girls to become as strong as we hope they will become. All we have to do is allow them to make their own choices and to understand that we support them regardless of which direction they want to go. In our typical folly we sometimes think that we have to throw the baby out with the bath water to foment change. In other words we go from swathing baby girls in pink and showering them with thoughts of being princesses to insisting that they eschew fashion and all study to become engineers. It’s important to understand as my mother did that the key to raising mighty women lies in encouraging them to follow the destinies that lie within their own hearts, not ours.

Even the staunch and staid monarchies are slowly but surely changing. This week Prince Harry announced his engagement to a woman who might have been scandalous in a bygone era. She is a divorced biracial American actress, but none of that appears to matter as much as the fact that she is an amazing woman or that she and Harry are very much in love. She has established herself as a success in her own right, and she has been honored for her compassion and the causes that she supports. In the new frontier she does not have to be of royal decent to forge an alliance with a prince. While she is indeed quite beautiful, I suspect that it is her generosity and openness that captured Harry’s heart. I think that my mother would be quite pleased to hear of this remarkable development.

I have great hopes for society even though we women still have miles to go. More and more often we are being accepted in the halls of commerce, academia, manufacturing, and politics. Right here in my own little corner of the world a tiny young lady kicked the winning field goal in this year’s gridiron rivalry. Women are winning seats in local, state and national government at a faster rate than ever before. More than half of today’s college graduates are female. We go places and do things that were once taboo. We still have a long way to travel, but there are positive signs that women are finally enjoying more and more of the kind of freedoms that my mother so appreciated and desired. We have some kinks to iron out and bad thinking to overcome, but the future looks brighter for young girls all of the time. 

I have only one granddaughter. She sometimes has to fight her way to be part of the group of six young men who are my grandsons. She is all too often unfavorably compared to her twin brother by well meaning teachers and relatives who have not discerned how truly remarkable she is in her own right. She has very special talents that will no doubt take her far. She is unafraid to take risks and she works twice as hard as the guys to reach her goals. She is determined to make her own individual mark on the world, and I believe that she will find the success that she seeks. Like the female trailblazers who have come before her, including her great grandmother, she is on a mission to change the way we do things. If she maintains the courage to focus on being herself, she will be able to ignore the naysayers and the slights and find her way. If my mother were still here she would remind my granddaughter that she is just as important as a queen, maybe more so. She would urge her to hold her head high and follow her dreams. After all, even a girl from an ordinary family who has proven to be quite competent on her own may soon be a princess. It’s a whole new world and it is good.

The Art of Discourse

Quotation marks

I’m going to let my age show a bit like a tacky slip hanging out from under a skirt. My commentary has to do with how people sometimes react fearfully to the idea of being with their relatives on holidays. I was listening to an NPR interview and callers were complaining about relations who annoy them. They actually spoke of dreading gatherings and even wishing that they did not have to attend them. Most of their comments focused on discussions and comments with which they do not agree that invariably seem to come from certain family members whenever they re gathered together. The respondents made it clear that they don’t want to hear anything that is contrary to their own thoughts. They expressed strong feelings of wanting to leave when such discussions occur.

I actually found their ideas to be a bit strange, mostly because my interactions with my own extended family when I was young were laden with loud pronouncements, many of which lacked any form of finesse. The truth is that I loved witnessing such familial debates. They taught me several things. One was that there are a number of ways to consider a particular point of view, and the other was that two people can disagree and still love each other. None of the discussions that I observed ever resulted in one person feeling so hurt that he/she was left unable to forgive. In fact, one minute the two verbal opponents might be expressing opposite philosophies and the next they were laughing and hugging.

My father and grandfather were particularly prone to expressing points and counterpoints. Both of them were exceedingly well read so there were few emotions presented as arguments, but rather tons of facts. Their verbal sparring was fascinating to me instead of frightening regardless of which side of an argument each chose. Rather than feeling uncomfortable in the presence of such disagreements I learned the art of debate. I respected both men intensely, but I always mentally chose one as the winner over the other. I was fascinated by their intellectual prowess and mutual respect for each another, and I noticed that my grandmother always listened to their words with a look of pride on her face. She seemed to enjoy that the two most important men in her life were so knowledgeable. Like her it never occurred to me to be upset that they brought up controversial topics. I liked the freedom that such temporary disagreements implied.

I honestly don’t know why people take comments with which they are at variance so personally. I have always been able to simply shrug them off and laugh inside. I see little reason to become upset. I know every member of my family would literally do anything to assure my safety and comfort. Their love is real, and so it doesn’t matter to me how they think about things. When we get together the liberal Democrats mix right in with the ultra conservative Republicans. I listen to what each has to say and then form my own opinions. It’s something that I learned to do from the time that I was very young. I also became well schooled in how to be respectful even when I heard something that seemed outrageous.

My Uncle Paul often made shocking statements. I had to catch myself to keep from rolling my eyes when he spoke, but I also knew that when all was said and done he was one of the most generous and forgiving people in my world. He would complain about so called worthless people in almost vile language, and then provide the family of a homeless drug addled young man with a place to live, a job, and food. When my mother first showed signs of mental illness he quietly paid her bills, insisting that there be no fanfare for his largesse. He did not want her or anyone else to learn of his good deed. I learned from him that judging a book by its cover is often tempting, but not always accurate.

To this day my family’s get togethers are laden with vigorous discussions of all sorts of topics. Sometimes the younger folk don’t quite understand that it is all just good sport. My favorite occasion was when my two brothers were arguing over evolution. At one point there was a brief interruption of their discussion. When they finally came back to the topic they had seamlessly changed sides, something not everyone even noticed. It made me giggle to realize that they were just having a good time practicing the art of discourse.

Of course at any family gathering there may be the older relation who has primitive points of view regarding any number of ideas. While they may be annoying, I have always approached them with a sense of understanding. I know that they grew up in a different era and that it is no doubt way too late to change the way they view the world. My mannerly ways tell me to just listen and smile. I know that they don’t intend to hurt me and they are not threatening me in any way, so why should I grow angry?

Of course I am not talking about someone who is either emotionally or physically abusive. I don’t think they should be invited to family occasions at all unless they learn to curb their violent tendencies. Nobody should have to submit to anger or insults. That is a different issue altogether, but if it’s just someone voicing an opinion on the latest news I see no harm.

We live in a world in which we get way too hot under the collar whenever someone expresses sentiments with which we do not agree. It’s much easier and in keeping with a spirit of love to just allow the commentary and then walk away unscathed. There is also the possibility that we may actually learn something new if we just listen rather than immediately preparing a refutation. I personally think it is great fun to find out what people think about various situations. As a student of human nature I am never disappointed by the great variety of ideas.

Perhaps the biggest problem that we face in our country today is a stubborn unwillingness to hear each other’s ideas. Maybe a good place to practice being more responsive is to do so in the safe environment with family members who will love us no matter how crazy they may think our notions are. So keep an open mind if someone decides to bring up politics or religion or any of those highly charged topics that seem to drive people away more often than not. If we can’t be honest with family, where can we be? It’s time to enjoy those discussions for the value that they provide us rather than viewing them as triggers for negative thoughts. My father and grandfather had the right idea when they turned their differing beliefs into intellectual exercises. We all learned from those moments and always walked away better for having witnessed them.

A Habit That Bears Repeating

c2ebannerWe are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. —- Aristotle

The best among us are real. They are people who do not just seem to be good, but are. Most of them quietly live the entirety of their time on earth with little fanfare. They repeatedly strive to work hard and be nice. We know that we may implicitly trust them. While they may have small weaknesses as all humans do, their flaws are incidental and insignificant with regard to the totality their character. They are generally humble and unlikely to seek glory. They are the kind of people who inspire and make a difference, expecting no thanks for what they consider to be just the way we should all behave. They are men and women of principle who do not judge but instead set high standards for themselves that they strive to follow at all times.

We have all known such individuals. The best within our personal circles have been relatives, friends, teachers, coworkers, neighbors. We recall the kindnesses of people who impacted our lives in ways great and small. I see a parade of beautiful faces belonging to those who taught me by their actions how to enjoy an exceptional and purpose driven life. Excellence was indeed a habit for them, and even when death or circumstance revealed the innermost secrets of their lives there was no shocking news or evidence of hypocrisy in their stories. They were exactly what we thought them to be.

I suppose that there is nothing more disheartening than finding out that a person believed to be admirable is in actuality a fake. It is more than a stab in the back. It is a blow to the heart. We fill with anger and even grief when a personal icon’s shadow life is discovered. It is betrayal of the highest insult and even though we may find it in our graciousness to forgive such persons, our trust in them is never quite as complete as it once may have been. It is a hurt that leaves permanent scars.

Our humanity is so complex. Each of us falters. We have weaknesses, flaws that mar our search for perfection. We understand lapses now and again but we generally cannot bear hurtful actions that are repeated. We feel that they become the defining habit of an individual and make it difficult for us to believe them even when they tell us that they will change. Thus we may wish a Harvey Weinstein success with his publicly vocalized intent to seek help for his egregious behavior, but his history tells us that we need to be wary. We may want to believe that someone like Donald Trump is in reality a good Christian man, but his hateful public comments indicate that he is not as loving as we wish him to be. We may not desire to judge such men, but we certainly should be wary of choosing them to lead and represent us.

I was reading an editorial recently in which the writer spoke of our recent tendency to choose our leaders on superficial characteristics that she called “the personality of bling.” In other words more and more often these days we are drawn to people who are just shiny objects rather than persons of high character. We are more concerned with winning than doing the right thing. We overlook horrific traits in the name of gaining power, rather than calling out wrong even when it may mean that we will lose. We look away even in our private circles allowing bullies to operate with impunity. We are afraid to stand up for what is right lest we become the outcasts. We berate men and women like John McCain and Donna Brazile for speaking the truth because we don’t want to make waves that might result in upheaval and change. Our silence and tacit approval of men and women that we know to be egregious only encourages them to repeat their bad actions again and again. It also sends an horrific message to our children.

As a teen and young adult my generation fomented rebellion against a system that was wrought with hypocrisy and even hate. The head of the FBI, the chief law enforcer, hid personal secrets while invading the privacy of others and spreading false rumors to bring them down. One of our presidents obstructed justice. Much of our society was segregated and unjust and racist. We were taught one thing and then observed another. Our instincts told us that we had to rise up against the evils that we saw. When we did we were characterized as spoiled and lazy, a label that would haunt us for the rest of our days.

For the sake of our future and the education of our children it is imperative that we repeatedly represent ourselves with habits that are honorable and worthy of respect. This means that we cannot make excuses for behaviors that are harmful. If we want excellence to be our defining characteristic as individuals and as a nation then we can no longer advance false and insulting arguments that defend horrific actions. We must condemn anyone who distorts truth and goodness whether it be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or a member of our own family. We simply can no longer afford to cast stones at those who sacrifice their own reputations to reveal the underside of anyone who is manipulating us. To allow ourselves to be abused by heroes or relatives or bullies is akin to self harm. Our silence and acceptance only allows the bad behaviors to grow. As generally very good people we must begin to heal again and head in a positive direction by removing the fears associated with speaking out.

Long before the terrible shootings at Columbine High School there were teachers and students and parents who reported concerns about the two young men who ultimately became mass murderers. The individuals who stepped forward were questioned and harassed more than the boys who were the objects of their worries. In journal entries one of the killers laughed at how easily he fooled everyone with his charms and bragged about twisting their stories to make it appear that he was being beset upon rather than being the real bully. He might have been stopped if his accusers’ stories had been accorded more respect. Instead the school administrators and even the police suggested that the behaviors were just typical teenage antics.

It’s time for all of us to truly honor character once again. There are many moral people in our midst. In fact I believe that such individuals are the majority. Sadly we are lacking in leadership from the best among us and instead honoring those who fool us with empty promises and bombast. We allow hateful people to proclaim their Christianity even while lying and espousing harmful and selfish ideas. We have permitted ourselves to accept a double standard all in the name of winning. It is time for each of us to insist on excellence of character once again. It is a habit that bears repeating.