Thursday, February 16, 2017

Politics and Other Animals

Shame is a spell others put on us to control us … It is a spell many of us have learned to put on ourselves – Melody Beattie

I was born a Democrat. I don’t know how it happened, and it certainly wasn’t by choice. That’s just the way it was a way back when.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s our family didn’t talk much about politics. There was an unwritten rule that polite people didn’t talk about sex, religion, or politics, and boy were we polite. The only thing I knew is that my folks always “voted Democrat” whenever there was an election, but I didn’t really know what the difference was, because we never discussed it.

In terms of temperament, I think I would have been an Eisenhower Republican. I would not have voted for Kennedy in 1960 because rumor had it he would make us kids go to school six days a week “because he was Catholic.” That was the buzz on the school-ground, and that’s all I needed to know about him.

I suspect many of us gained our political identities as much from our families of origin as from our personal temperaments. Entering high school, I became more aware of the disparity between America as we talked about it (land of the free, home of the brave) and an America that could be quite ugly at times; police dogs attacking black men and women who were asking for what? A chance to be treated as equals – in practice and not just in theory.

The 60s were a scary time in which to grow up. There was a lot of violence on our own streets, and if that wasn’t enough, there was the escalating violence taking place overseas in some place called Viet Nam. I began to learn some of the differences between the political parties, although my knowledge was still pretty thin – about as deep as the average bumper sticker. I came to perceive that Democrats tended to represent the “working class” while Republicans tended to represent small businesses and more rural interests. I don’t recall there ever being talk of Liberals and Conservatives, as each party seemed to have a ready mix of both in their ranks.

After elections, folks in Congress put aside their party labels and worked on bills that addressed the many varied needs America was facing. They may have approached those issues differently, but neither seemed to regard the other as an enemy, and neither seemed quite so ideologically set in their ways.

I remember Kennedy’s challenge for America to be first to the moon; I remember Johnson’s desire to form a Great Society; I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing a humungous crowd on the Capital Mall and sharing his I Have a Dream speech. I remember the assassinations that shook America to her core: JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Malcom X, MLK, Jr. I remember tear gas; men, women, and children being beaten and chased; church bombings and burning crosses; black men dragged down streets, chained to truck bumpers.

I was born a Democrat, leaned conservative, but came to embrace those who’ve worked and fought for progressive ideals: expanding voting rights, erasing red lines and ghettos, treating people with respect regardless of race and judging folks based upon “the content of their character” (as Martin Luther King put it).

By the time you read this, we will be in the middle of Black History Month. There are some who decry the fact we even have such a thing, after all, there is no White History Month (they say). But until we re-write our history books to reflect the contributions people of color (and women) have made throughout our nation’s history, and face the honest ugliness betrayed throughout much of our past, we’ll need to take some time to learn about our brothers and sisters as they continue to struggle in ways the rest of us cannot imagine, and would never tolerate if that shoe was on our feet.

I do not write this to convert you – God is neither Democrat nor Republican – but to share with you parts of my own journey. We’ve come a long way, you and I, yet I feel like we’ve got so much farther to go in this, our valley. May we travel in peace, striving for liberty and justice for all.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Serendipity of the Serengeti

… We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5

What are we to do about bullies?

That’s what my great niece wants to know. That’s what reporters want to know. With voices emoting grave concern, the talking heads tell us bullying is a problem in and out of school, and schools everywhere have made it clear bullying is not to be tolerated; that bullies will be dealt with – severely, if need be.

But what can we do?

Bullying has moved from the school yard to the internet. “Social” media provide many more outlets for identifying, targeting, and tormenting victims. When a bullied child looks in the mirror, they don’t see themselves. They see the disfigurement of a thousand torments. They see each and every flaw that’s been pointed out. They see weakness, stupidity, and clumsiness – and what’s worse, they see the face and body of someone they hate – someone they can’t stand. They see the lie and the lies and they want to die.

What can we do about bullies?

Well, you can’t start with the bullies. Like some steamy pile of manure in the desert, they take the Name of God in vain: I Am Who I Am; I Will Be Who I Will Be. A bully has no sense of “other.” They live only for themselves and for their own needs and wants; their own sense of worth and power; their own ego and place in the universe.

The refrain we hear commonly sung is that bullies are really cowards, that we just have to stand up to them and they’ll run away. Experience often says otherwise. Punch a bully in the face and odds are pretty good they’ll come back at you with something more devastating. But does anyone really want to play Russian roulette with a sociopath?

So don’t start with the Bully. I suggest starting with the one who can benefit most by changing: the “victim.” I put victim in quotes because the first change I would suggest is eliminating that word from one’s vocabulary. You aren’t a victim; you’re a person; you’re a child of the divine. It’s true. You may not believe it at first, but write it down on a piece of paper and put it under the pillow or under your mattress. Keep it for future reference. Whether you believe it or not, it’s true, and the truth will set you free.

Next, take action. If the abuse takes place on Social Media, block the abuser. You don’t have to let someone into your house if you know they’re going to defecate on your living room rug, do you? So block them. If your friends tell you what is being said, tell them you’re not interested.

Not interested? That’s right. What others think or say about me is none of my business. When people want to spread gossip, I tell them I don’t want to hear it. It’s none of my business. If you want to report a crime, call the police. But if you want to tell me someone said something unkind about me, I don’t care (or want) to know.

Why? Because to care is to give air to the fire the bully is trying to start. The turmoil and the chaos and the tears are what give the bully his or her reason for being. So put a lid on it; snuff out the fire; trap it on the stove and don’t let it leave the kitchen.

If you’re confronted by the person IRL (in real life), learn to walk away. Again, you don’t need to stand there and take the abuse. You don’t need to be drawn into their drama or a fight on the ground they have chosen. They chose it because they feel safe. So, withdraw with a firm, “Thanks, but no thanks” – or silence.

Finally, find your tribe. Surround yourself with friends who value and appreciate the uniqueness that is you. In the Serengeti, lions, cheetahs, and jackals attack those on the fringes of the herd, while those in the heart of the herd thrive, finding their safety in numbers.

So, find your tribe and make your home. You’ll find strength and courage there to help you weather many a storm in this, our valley.