On My Mind…

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As I write this blog post on a Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting at adaptive gymnastics and chuckling, because somehow my daughter managed to get herself appointed Demonstrator, Boss Lady and Chooser-Of-The-Next-Activity. There are fifty people, between kids, siblings, and volunteer “coaches,” gathered in a huge circle following her every instruction. And she’s so ebullient, so eminently comfortable. How does she do that? She didn’t get that from either of us.

Image by MissCaraReads, via Pixabay

I start with that because I have so much on my mind today, and a lot of it is troubling. Some of it involves self-flagellation. But I like to focus on the good, partly because I don’t think anyone wants to read wailing and gnashing of teeth, and partly because the more I focus on what’s wrong, the more it becomes the only thing I see.

I’ve always been opinionatedpassionate, but I also really, really, really hate conflict. So I tend to sit and stew in my own pot of frustration and resentment. For years, sometimes.

Yet recently I’m discovering within myself a nearly irresistible pull to do something. To engage with others or to approach the relevant authorities when I find something troubling.

Not everything. I mean, I find the sheer amount of time people spend on smart devices at the expense of real human interaction tremendously troubling, but it’s clear I’m not going to affect that. (You can sit there reading this on your smart devices and shake your head with pity for my husband, who is caught between a job that requires him to be available 24-7 and his wife, who bares her teeth if he pulls the phone out at dinner or during conversations.) I find the dependence on pharmaceuticals for family planning extremely troubling and birth control in general bad for the earth and for women–especially when there’s a really good alternative–but at the same time I am coming to recognize that many of the things that have made life better for women simply wouldn’t have happened without it.

Generally, wrestling with irreconcilable realities is not something I do in public.

Plus, sometimes it’s not appropriate to get on a soapbox. If there’s a relevant authority responsible for what’s troubling me, complaining about it on a blog or Facebook is passive-aggressive at best; at worst, it’s a deliberate choice to be angry rather than try to improve a situation. (Can you tell I’m contemplating one of those right now?)

And in almost every situation, there’s a need to stop, to think, to go looking for actual facts to back up–or negate–my adverse reaction. The last four months have been particularly fraught in my circles; as I said on Facebook one morning last week, I’d gotten into three arguments–two on one side of the political spectrum and one on the other. “Clearly,” I said, “today I’m feeling like planting a flag on the Centrist hill and dying there.”

The thing is, people are going off half-cocked a lot these days. I mean, is TrumpCare actually going to cut 24 million people’s health care, or are a bunch of people just going to decide to forgo health care?

The fact that both these claims are being splattered across my Facebook feed, without anyone there or in any news report I’ve heard saying, “Hey, maybe we should do some critical analysis of this, because these two claims simply can’t both be true”?—that fact is probably the thing that troubles me most right now. I mean, why doesn’t somebody ask the left-leaning Congressman to directly address the right’s claim, and the right-leaning Congressman to address the left’s claim? I think those two answers would illuminate an awful lot. This business of firing message points past past our opponents’ shoulders is only making everyone rattle sabers.

Recent conversations have caused me to evaluate my own reactions. On the spectrum of online activism, I lean heavily toward “control thy trigger finger.” And yet, I develop opinions as quickly as anyone else. The fact that I don’t fling them around Facebook doesn’t mean I’m actually properly informed. And that’s not okay. I have to do better.

So I guess, after wandering for 700 words, I have finally identified my point. I want to beg everyone I know, regardless of your political, religious, or philosophical bias:

Think before reacting.

Research before sharing.

If what you’re reading has exclamation points in the headline, go find a less biased source.

If it has obscenities in the headline, the text, or the URL, go looking for a more credible, less emotional source. Because there’s no way it’s giving you a clear picture. It’s just not.

If you get angry reading something, take a deep breath and analyze why—what fact or words caused that reaction—and then go do some due diligence to see if there’s more to the story. (Usually, the answer is “yes.” It might not change your opinion, but it will often clarify that it’s not Armegeddon.)

Spreading propaganda—left- or right-leaning, either one (I’ve seen plenty of both recently)—is inherently disrespectful not only to the system we all depend upon in this country—it’s disrespectful of human dignity.

We can do better.

We should do better.

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Easy/Hard

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Image by ELTMAN, via Flickr

Why is it so easy to see or hear one detail and leap to the worst possible conclusion about a person’s motivations?

Why is it so easy to give our past hurts permission to control our present reactions, and block out reason when it urges moderation?

Why is it so easy to skip over grief for lives cut short and families in pain, and spend all our energy pointing fingers and hurling accusations?

Why is it so hard to listen to reason when it’s trying to keep us from demonizing others?

Why is it so hard to empathize with people who are different from us?

Why is it so easy to paint them as inherently evil in our minds and hearts?

Why is it so hard for people of faith to recognize when we are doing exactly what we accuse others of doing?

Yes, I am reacting to Orlando. And I’m sending out these questions in every direction—toward shooters and those who are arguing about gun control vs. gun rights and those who are anti-gay and those who are steadfastly, even stubbornly, refusing believe that a Texas politician’s tweet wasn’t a response to this tragedy at all, despite the fact that we’ve all experienced the agony of having said the wrong thing in the wrong moment and not even known it until it was way too late to take it back.

Which is not to say I support the man. I have a feeling he and I don’t see eye to eye on a whole bunch of issues. And I do think tweets like that are kind of self-righteous, and probably do more to drive people away from Christ than invite them in.

But I don’t believe he posted it as a “nanny nanny boo boo” in the face of the LGBTQ community, either. Speaking rationally, it doesn’t even make sense to read it that way. It’s saying you sow what you reap…so the only way it could be a jab at LGBTQ community is if he’s suggesting that the LGBTQ community has been going around shooting people. ???? I’m just not seeing the connection. Although as always, I’m open to being corrected.

All day yesterday, I watched Facebook explode with anger and bitterness and nastiness. It went every possible direction. Terrorists, Republicans, Democrats, Trump, Obama, liberals, conservatives, gun-control advocates, gun-rights advocates, gays…everybody got bashed. It made me want to cry. You have this calling to blog, and you know your reach is small, but you keep hitting the same message over and over: listen to reason, listen to each other, think about how you talk to and about people, think about human dignity…and a situation like this comes up, and emotions erupt, and you think, “Is there any point in me writing at all, if it’s going to make no difference at all when it’s really needed?”

Why is it so easy to think the worst of people who are different than us?

Why is it so hard to see them with the eyes of Christ, who loved and accepted and challenged all at once?

Why is it so easy to give ourselves permission to become a mirror image of what we most despise?

No Easy Answers

Consent is NOT Sexy

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Photo by ctrouper, via Flickr

“Consent Is Sexy.”

That’s what the t shirt said. And clearly, the woman wearing thought it was a good slogan.

I do not.

First of all, I have to preface my comments by saying: I get it. The state of relations between men and women sucks. The way we talk to each other sucks. The way we talk about each other sucks. The humor about sex and relationships sucks. The idea that women even have to worry about being violated? Sucks.

But really? “Consent is sexy”? That’s the standard we’re shooting for? As long as they get permission, that’s enough?

Just how low are we going to set the bar?

There’s a truism about expectations. I’ve mostly heard it in the context of education: that people will live up to your expectations, or down to them. If that t shirt is any indicator, the bar we’ve set for how we expect to be treated is so low, it might as well not exist. As long as a guy doesn’t rape us, we’ll flatter their ego and call them sexy.

Really?

On the scale of sexual attractiveness, consent doesn’t even register. Consent is a prerequisite for claiming to be a man. If we women, in the name of sexual liberation, have chosen to fling ourselves at the feet of men for nothing more than “consent,” then we have brought ourselves very, very low indeed.

Consider this:

Among men who are part of a couple, 75% say they always have an orgasm, as opposed to 26% of the women. And not only is there a difference in reality, there’s one in perception, too. While the men’s female partners reported their rate of orgasm accurately, the women’s male partners said they believed their female partners had orgasms 45% of the time. (From WebMD)

So not only do the men get more out of sex, they’re also clueless about how little their partners get out of it.

And this is okay because…?

If a man wants to claim the moniker “sexy,” he needs to do way, way more than just ask permission. I realize this is a radical concept in the modern world, but sex is the capstone of a relationship, not an audition for it. Relationships between men and women have always been troubled because we’ve failed to make the effort to understand and respect each other for what makes us different from each other. But in the modern world we’ve taken it to a whole new level by making sex the end-all-be-all of existence.

And if WebMD is right, women haven’t gotten much out of the deal. Why are we so concerned about our God-given right to have sex with as many people as possible? What are we getting out of it? Has no one else ever stopped to ask this question?

Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about sexual activities such as premarital sex and their actual behavior.

I can’t say for sure, but I think that means women say they recognize that sex is the capstone, not the audition, but their behavior says they’re willing to let men dictate the terms of the relationship.

So much for women’s liberation.

Down deep, I don’t think any woman really thinks this is okay. The focus on romance in fiction aimed at women indicates that we are all seeking authenticity, understanding, and dare I say it, something holy in a romantic relationship. Or perhaps a better word would be transcendence: something in our partner that gives us a glimpse of a reality beyond what we ever thought was possible.

To my fellow mothers–and fathers, too–I say this: we are the ones who form the next generation of men to view women with respect…or not. And too often we shirk our responsibility to point out what is wrong in the world, simply because it’s awkward. We’re so uncomfortable with our own brokenness where sexual matters are concerned, we feel unable to address the subject with our children.

But we have to get over it. We have to confront the ugliness within, look for healing within ourselves, and summon the courage to tell our children–beginning at a very young age–how the world is supposed to look.

Because they deserve better. And so do we.

 

The Way We Talk To Each Other Matters

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In the spring and early summer of 1994, I was a sophomore in college. I spent the late semester gnashing my teeth about who got which solo parts in the orchestra, and my summer working on the farm. I was aware enough of the world to know something awful was going on in a country I’d never heard of on the other side of the Atlantic, but it was hard to get worked up about it, especially since there was nothing I could do.

Fast forward twenty years. Someone somewhere on the internet mentions a book called Left to Tell, a memoir of the Rwandan genocide. I check it out of the library and suddenly I am carrying it around the house reading while I prepare food and unload the dishwasher, because I cannot put it down.

It’s a horrible story, and Immaculée Ilibagiza doesn’t pull her punches. This story is compelling and so nauseating because of the way people turned on neighbors and friends. People they had been interacting with, going to school with, working with, worshiping with, for years. Ilibagiza tells of kids who grew up as friends suddenly hacking those friends to death. And over what?

Photo by billadler, via Flickr

An ethnic distinction so subtle, they had to have ID cards to make it clear, because they simply couldn’t tell by looking.

We can’t imagine something like this happening in America. We have free and open media that doesn’t spew the kind of ugliness toward groups that she describes in the leadup to the genocide. Our open elections and diverse population prevent us from ever falling down this kind of path.

Well, sort of.

Photo by cobalt123, via Flickr

See, it was language that stirred up the hatred. Propaganda that was so outlandish, reasonable people didn’t give it credit. They just ignored it, figuring nobody could possibly be swayed by language so dehumanizing, so polarizing, and so obviously not based on reason.

And a huge amount of the political, philosophical and religious discourse in America also fits that description.

Photo by tuaussi, via Flickr

The political fundraising letters, written in cataclysmic terms full of bold-face and italicized language, making sweeping generalizations about the motivations and even the worth of those who think differently from you and threatening apocalypse if you don’t act RIGHT NOW.

The Facebook diatribes beginning with the words “I’m sorry, but…” (or any other number of inflammatory openers).

The anonymous (or not anonymous) comments left on blog posts and news articles, ripping into previous commenters with scathing derision.

The email forwards whose only purpose is to stir up self-righteous indignation and “mobilize the base” (which translates to “move to the extreme position and dehumanize everyone who doesn’t come with you”).

Photo by Les_Stockton, via Flickr

Political ads of all stripes, narrated in a tone of voice full of derision and scorn while using half-truths and skewed facts to bamboozle a lazy electorate into thinking issues are black and white, when really they are very nuanced and can only be prised apart by–gasp–the application of REASON.

What I’m listing is not at the same level as what Ilibagiza describes. But it is definitely on the same spectrum.

We do not want to be on that spectrum.

So I’m just asking everyone to stop and think before you react. Before you make any statement about gays/Muslims/Catholics/Protestants/damn liberals/damn conservatives/whites/blacks/cops/municipal leaders/homeless/poor/fat cats/fill in the blank. What sort of tone of voice are you using? What sort of descriptors? Are you using your God-given intellect, or are you expressing bigotry and prejudice through an emotional reaction?

Think about the human dignity of whoever you’re tearing into.

The stakes are too high not to.