On My Mind…


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.



Image by twicepix, via Flickr

For weeks, I’ve been debating stepping into the online political fray. I have a lot of opinions, and I’ve been driving around town distilling them into a collection of pithy one-liners that, as a Catholic rather than a Democrat or a Republican, would be certain to offend virtually every single person I know.

Conventional wisdom for writers says “If your professional thing isn’t politics, then shut up about politics. You’ll only shoot yourself in the foot.”

But if we don’t talk about the most important subjects, how can the world ever become a better place?

I began planning my post, and simultaneously praying whether or not I should go forward with it.

On the first day the Spirit reminded me of the importance of quiet.

On the second day, a fiction writing friend told us she was going offline until after the election.

On the third day I read a post, titled “I’m Pro-Life, and I Don’t Care About The Supreme Court“, and made the mistake of continuing on into the comments, where I found multiple examples like this:

“You just want an excuse to continue the racist and genocidal America Holocaust to include partial birth and full birth infanticide and the sale of lucrative murdered baby parts. Give Mrs. Clinton her money back.”

This man signed off with, “God bless, (name),” as if he hadn’t just spewed a mouthful of anything BUT blessing. Worse, he didn’t even seem to recognize the inherent contradiction, or the fact that he was giving the entire prolife movement a bad name.

At the end of Day Three, I got involved in a Facebook conversation preceded by the instructions “be polite and reasonable, please,” in which a particular individual lit into me for what I was saying without even stopping to read it carefully enough to hear what I was, yanno…saying.

And I realized:

It’s time to bow out of this crap.

Since the primary season, I’ve been following, reading, listening, and interacting, and it has done nothing except impoverish my spirit. I am far more anxious; I am constantly grieving the state of humanity. This political season has made it very difficult to cling to my belief in the ability of humanity to approach the world with reason, honesty, good intentions, and empathy.

I still believe that at heart, human beings are good. But we are not showing ourselves to be so this year. Actually, any time politics comes up, the worst parts of ourselves come out to play. But it’s so much worse this year. And it helps nothing, all this vitriol, all this angry, half-thought-out, buy-into-and-regurgitate-whatever-half-truth-mostly-lie-suits-your-political-color. It only hurts our ability to be what we were called to be. It doesn’t just damage the human dignity of the people we’re ripping to shreds. It damages ours, too.

I will vote, of course, although there’s little satisfaction in it this year. But I’m done being a political consumer. Nor will I be adding my collection of pithy one-liners to the fray. It’s bad for me as a human being, and being a good human being is what I am supposed to be doing.

Care to join me? #Boycottpolitics2016

A Post For All Who Call Themselves Prolife

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A year and a half ago, I was working on legislation to ensure that children with disabilities weren’t denied therapies because of their disability. Our sponsor (my mom) was approaching her term limit, and we needed a new one. We knew we had to find a Republican, because the legislature is Republican-controlled. We also knew that putting mandates on insurers could be a tough sell. Still, we felt sure people on both sides of the aisle would recognize that this issue was bigger than political philosophy.

I contacted a former Republican state senator who was well-connected and reportedly supportive on disability issues. I told him what we were hoping to accomplish, and asked him to suggest people to approach as sponsors.

His reply raised my blood pressure for weeks afterward. (Eventually, its presence in my inbox became such an open sore that I had to just delete it. Just thinking about it still gets me going.) However he intended it, it came across as condescending: a man clearly much wiser than this do-gooder little girl, and determined to teach me the error of my ways. His philosophy went something like this:

Insurance is not meant for ordinary care. It’s meant for emergencies, for extraordinary circumstances, cataclysmic events you can’t anticipate. Therapy is normal, ongoing care for kids with special needs; thus, insurers shouldn’t have to pay for it unless they want to. And the government certainly shouldn’t be putting a mandate on them. It’s the responsibility of the families to provide for their children what they think is important. He understood how tough this was for families to accept, but nonetheless that was the way it was.

I’m sure you can appreciate why I hit the roof when I read this email. Never mind that raising a child with special needs is extraordinary circumstances and something you often can’t anticipate. I had the good sense not to respond at all, because there wasn’t one polite thing I could have said. But believe me, I’ve composed many, many responses in my mind. And the more time passes, the more convinced I am of the grave flaw in his argument.

Because this man calls himself prolife—by which he means that he believes abortion is wrong. But respect for life is so much bigger than abortion. It’s an attitude that should permeate all of life, in all its forms and manifestations. Prolife politicians are very good at being outraged by the systematic termination of “imperfect” children. But if you’re going to ask people to shoulder the responsibility of caring for children with disabilities, you can’t abandon them once the child is born.

Missouri has a great program called First Steps, which provides these services. But in rural areas, it’s hard to find providers to come to the home. And First Steps ends at age three, after which kids enter the school system. We’re lucky—we have a great early childhood program where I live. But we’re in an urban area. What about families in small towns without the resources to provide for kids through the schools?

When I was serving on the Children’s Therapy Act committee, we heard stories of people who had to sell their homes to pay for their kids’ treatment, people who deliberately stayed in low-paying jobs so that they would qualify for Medicaid, which does cover these therapies.

How dare politicians stand on a soapbox, claiming that all life is precious, that children with disabilities have a right to live, and then turn their backs on families who actually have them? Do they not realize that, unlike insurance companies, parents can’t negotiate reduced rates? Do they not realize how crippling the expense of therapy becomes? Or do they just not care?

Political philosophy is all well and good, but it cannot be so rigid that it leaves behind those it purports to serve. I happen to think that minimizing regulations is a sound principle—within reason. But the reality is that power companies aren’t going to implement environmental reform if it’s going to cost them money. CEOs aren’t going to give up their huge bonuses just because the economy’s rough on the little guy. Some things MUST be mandated, or they won’t happen at all.

Doesn’t it make more sense to get these kids the treatment they need to become productive, (tax-paying) members of society? And if we don’t, if we shove the disabled population into a corner, behind a wall where their lack of function doesn’t make everyone else uncomfortable—if we don’t show them the respect they are due as human beings by providing them the tools necessary to integrate into society—then how can we be horrified and outraged by the eugenics of aborting the “imperfect”?

I share this example today in the hope that it will open people’s eyes to the many ways besides abortion in which life is disrespected. We’re accustomed to hearing about certain issues: death penalty, abstinence education, end-of-life issues—but respect for life is everywhere, all the time, in every single issue we face as voters. As we head into an election cycle, I beg you: challenge your candidates to man up and be consistent. If you’re going to respect life, you have to respect life in all its forms.