Watching the heartbreaking drama in Syria unfold and President Obama’s reaction to the crossing of the “red line”, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the man I worked so hard to get elected. Seriously, Barry, what happened?
I know it would be too much to ask to agree with every single decision he makes in office, and I haven’t, but I do wish that on the big issues we could still see eye-to-eye. Although military strikes are looking less likely now that Syria has agreed to Russia’s plan to have them hand over their chemical weapons, the strikes have not been taken off the table. They are still being threatened if Syria does not act as quickly as the US would like or give assurances that the US would like to hear.
War and aggression only make for more war and more aggression, either immediately or down the road. Barack Obama knows this, I believe, but he is operating within a system that also knows but doesn’t care. Was I naive enough to believe that Barack Obama could change Washington and not the other way around? I think I wanted to be. If nothing else, his presidency has been a very clear reminder of how little a well-intentioned and completely reasonable person can get done within our current political system. And I’m not sure that Washington has changed him so much as broken him.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there in the world. Brilliant people with good hearts and a deep desire to change what needs to be changed are easy to find. The problem? They get funneled into and through these systems that simply cannot handle them. Old broken systems, when they are no longer serving the needs of those they are meant to serve, must be dismantled and rebuilt. After a certain point, they cannot be fixed. As a really smart guy is rumored to have said, ”you don’t pour new wine into old skins”. (Mark 2:22) The system can’t handle new wine so we need to build one that can.
Next week it will have been two years since protestors first occupied Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan as part of the worldwide Occupy movement. This movement has been a cry for new wine skins from a generation that has seen that our current systems do not serve the majority of the people. Their methods and message has been criticized but one does not need to look very far to see evidence of how right they are. Our financial, political, societal, and religious systems are not creating a fair, just, and peaceful world.
A book was just published last week, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, written by Dr. Rev. Matthew Fox and Adam Bucko. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It addresses not only the yearning of the current generation for systems that serve the people rather than people serving the system, but also highlights all the new wine that is out there, just waiting for new wine skins. The world is full of people using their creative energy and intellects in the pursuit of equity and compassion and justice, which if nothing else, is a great reminder for those of us who can feel so sad and overwhelmed by what we see happening in the world. It also talks about the importance of calling on our elders, the wisdom of the older generation, to guide us forward.
Building new systems, starting over; that too can feel overwhelming. Dr. Rev. Matthew Fox wrote something that I find very comforting in another of his books, Original Blessing. He writes: ”… compassion – interdependence – already is the universe. We do not have to make it anew. Compassion, one might say, is a grace and not a work. This is very good news indeed. Our work comes in entering into this truth and then struggling to rebuild or start anew in building human institutions that themselves relate interdependently and encourage interdependent relationships. “
Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. - James Bryce
Alas, I am a day or two or five late (depending on which time zone you hold me to) in getting this post up. I think since the 4th fell on a Thursday this year, and Thursday is almost Friday, and Friday is basically the weekend, this extends the festivities and turns the 4th of July into a weekend-long celebration + a few days of the next week. You with me?
I’ve spent about half a dozen 4ths of July abroad, but the last three have been the only ones where I’ve lived near a military base while abroad and have benefited from the adjacent fireworks show. The monsoon season has officially started here and there were a few hours of downpour followed by some very thick (fog? pollution? steam?) that somewhat muted the splendor of the colored explosions.
On this 4th of July I did something very American, which was sit on my ass and watch a lot of TV. The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, to be exact. It seemed highly fitting to be watching two American families feud in the setting of our nascent nation that was just recovering from the Civil War.
Feuding, over things both important and trivial, is as American as apple pie. Thankfully, in general, feuds are not longer settled with guns and knives and fire the way they were between the Hatfields and the McCoys. These days we fight with our words. The words we tweet, the words we post on Facebook, the words printed on our bumper stickers. Sometimes, occasionally, we still even talk face-to-face, but that is becoming rarer and rarer. Most Americans count themselves very fortunate indeed to be citizens of a country that protects the freedom of speech, and values both expression and respectful debate.
Of course, it gets ugly sometimes. One only need turn on Fox “News” or MSNBC to see both sides of the political spectrum hurling insults and putting spin on anything and everything said by the opposite side. Respectful debate is actually a bit scarce these days.
I love a good old fashioned debate myself, hard to come by as they may be. I don’t argue just for the sake of arguing, though, because, god, I hate that shit. Besides, a distinction must be made between arguing, fighting, and debating. For a fight or an argument, both people generally come to the table positive that they are right. (Which is why all televised political “debates” should instead be called “fights”) I think that to debate well you have to listen and try to understand the viewpoint of the other person. If you don’t know where they’re coming from, how will you ever sway them anyway? (or be swayed yourself?)
A few months ago, while discussing the war in Iraq, among other things, I was accused of being unpatriotic. The phrase “America-hater” was thrown around. This because I questioned the willingness of my government to engage in an illegal war under false pretenses; a war in which my then-future-husband fought. My views on the Iraq war are not radical. I am among the millions of Americans who feel that it was wrong to sidestep the UN and invade a country that had not attacked us. And yet, here I was, in my own home, expressing myself in a way that was articulate and in no way unkind or cruel, and being called names. (I was also likened to the people who threw garbage and yelled “baby-killer” at veterans returning from Vietnam)
The experience was incredibly unpleasant and a bit shocking, really. Though I was aware that there are people who feel that expressing any dissent at all is unpatriotic, I wasn’t aware that I knew any of them personally. The shock subsided and I started feeling angry, which I soon realized was just masking the hurt I felt at being so misunderstood. Me, unpatriotic?
A few years ago I don’t think it would have bothered me at all to have been called unpatriotic, but I was really bothered by it now. What’s changed? Well, I’m an aging human, so lots. But specifically, I’ve had a child. My child was not born in the US and has never lived there but will someday soon. America has now gone from the country of my birth to the country where my child will be raised. And guess what? It’s not good enough. Don’t get me wrong – I know it’s better than a lot of other places – but it’s simply not good enough for my child or for anybody else’s. And the reason it’s not good enough is not because of it’s failing education system or it’s consumerist society or it’s devil-may-care attitude towards global warming. It’s not good enough because it’s not living up to it’s full potential.
I object greatly to the “greatest country in the world” bullshit. That is nationalism, not patriotism, and I do not support nationalism at all. America is better than lot of places, but calling any country the best is a bit ridiculous. America does have a lot going for it and it should be using every advantage it has to live up to the vision of its founders and to the ideals that it so loudly preaches. Right now, it’s just not.
I’m grateful to have been born in a country that protects the freedom of speech, among others. I’m proud to come from a country that ranks in the top 5 of charitable giving in the world. And I want my country to constantly improve and be the absolute best country it can be. I want less bullshit and more transparency. I want a better education system and better healthcare. I want to know that our country’s leaders will not be willing to sacrifice the lives of our men and women in uniform for reasons that will not stand the test of time.
One of the undeniably great things about the United States is our well-established democracy. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a voice. It provides us opportunity to express our dissent, to stand up for what we believe in, and to effect change. But we have to use that voice! Blind devotion does not improve anything! Insisting that your country be “righteous as well as strong” is, to me, what being a patriot is all about.
So, ‘merica, let’s get our shit together, okay? If we devote ourselves as a nation to serving humanity we will be great.
Happy belated 4th!
Before I get started I want to say the following: Paula Deen is a racist and her use of the N word is completely inexcusable. If you use that word, you are a racist. Period, end of story. To be sure, there are varying degrees of racism, but none of them are acceptable.
I’ve never been a fan of Paula’s, for no reason other than the fact that I am a vegan and a northeast liberal and find her recipes and her southern “charm” completely useless and uncharming. I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain (who refers to my ilk [vegans] as “hezbollah-like”) and because of his ongoing and vocal dislike of her, much of what I know of Paula Deen has come from his Twitter feed.
So, I’m not a fan of the woman and I really have no interest in the success or failure of her career. What I am fascinated by is the reactions of her sponsors, her network, her fans, and her detractors to she herself admitting to having used the N word in the past. In her very awkward and tearful apologies she has basically claimed that this was an error on her part and in no way indicative of simmering racism. I don’t buy the “I made a mistake” argument when it involves racism; either you are and do and say racist things or you are not and do not say or do racist things.
The fact that, in interviews, she is being asked if she is a racist is absurd to me. She is, but perhaps not by the standards by which many Americans judge racism. I know plenty of people who would also not claim to be racist but who make insipid remarks that prove otherwise. Casual racism in America is everywhere and wholly accepted, while blatant racism is overwhelmingly punished and condemned. Trouble is, the casual insidious racism that exists in all of our institutions is far more harmful than the minority of people who are still openly racist. Being openly racist is troubling. Being a closet racist – and even worse a denier of it – is troubling, confusing, and difficult to deal with.
The truly sad thing is that when Paula Deen claims to not be racist despite her deplorable use of the N word, she undoubtedly believes she is telling the truth. She thinks that as long as she is hiring black people, not lynching them, and is fine with them owning land and voting, that she is not racist. Of course, being in compliance with the basic laws of the land and doing the absolute required minimum does not a non-racist make, and yet many Americans who claim to have nothing against black people or other minorities believe that they have a leg to stand on because they don’t engage in the types of behaviors that were acceptable before the Civil Rights movement.
The other question in all of this is whether or not Paula should have lost her show and her endorsement deals. If I believed for even a second that the Food Network dropped her because they were horrified by her behavior and did not want to provide her a platform to make herself even more wealthy and perhaps to espouse her racist views, I would fully support their decision. Sadly, I do not believe that. I think they dropped her because they feared the backlash of advertisers and viewers if they didn’t. And could it truly and honestly be news to them that she is a racist? I have a hard time believing that after 13 years of working with this woman, they had never seen any other indications of her moral character. Also, she’s a woman from the South of a certain age. Let’s face it: loads of southerners her age are racists. Many are not, but many are.
Maybe, since she did apologize and claimed it was a mistake, the best thing to do would have been to treat her like a person with an illness. What if she was an alcoholic who fell off the wagon? They would have likely insisted that she go to rehab and then fully supported her recovery. What if Paula, instead of being exiled and allowed to now carry on her racism in private, would have had to get educated? How about some therapy? And maybe being on TV through all of this, knowing that people were scrutinizing her every word, would give her the impetus she needs to really look deep within and confront the racism that is so deeply embedded in her being that she can’t even see it.
The fact is, racism is a sickness. It is an illness that is passed on generation through generation and it needs to be stopped. It will never be stopped if it is allowed to continue to lurk in the shadows of people’s minds and hearts, only revealing itself in unguarded moments. If you believe that people are “less than” because of the color of their skin or the country of their origin, or if you think that using the N word doesn’t make you a racist, you are sick and you do need help. And if you are a wealthy white woman with a sudden influx of time, I suggest you go get it.
This past Sunday morning, Father’s Day, while my son and I made breakfast and a dazzling homemade card for his father, I found myself thinking about and appreciating all the ways in which my partner is a present and devoted parent to our son. And then I started wondering if I’d ever seen any representation of fathers like him in popular media or even in a TV commercial. I haven’t. On the contrary, I see lots and lots of commercials, television shows, movies, etc. that continue to portray fathers as well-meaning but hopeless buffoons when it comes to parenting.
If we were to believe the stereotypes we would accept that father’s cannot change diapers, get groceries, cook, clean, or fold laundry properly. And this is just the mundane stuff that, literally, a paid laborer could do. Which leaves out all the stuff that you cannot pay someone to do for your children; the real parenting stuff. Despite the fact that men everywhere are proving them wrong, why do stereotypes of men being incapable of nurturing and loving as well as mothers continue to thrive?
I recently read a blog post at Smithsonian.com about how fathers can recognize their babies’ cries just as well as mothers can if they have invested a similar amount of time caring for their child. That’s a big IF because society is not set up in any way, shape or form for fathers to be able to do that.
The New York Times just published an interesting piece, The Unspoken Stigma of Workplace Flexibility, in which it discusses the fact that while many companies do have policies on the books for new parents to take advantage of, in terms of flexible work schedules and parental leave, it is understood that to take advantage of these policies is to accept the fact that you are likely to be seen as a less valuable and dedicated player in your company. This is true for both men and women, but may be even more acute for men, since they are traditionally valued for working hard and providing for their families.
Don’t even get me started on how “working hard and providing for your family” should include things that nobody pays you for. Childrearing is hard work. Being present and available to your children is hard work. Providing a safe and peaceful environment for them to thrive, no matter how much money you make, is effing hard work. The NYTimes article rightly points out that if we want the work/life balance choices to be better for women, we have to make them so for men. It is an unfortunate function of the patriarchy that women only get what men get after they get it. As long as we allow the marginalization of men in parenting, we continue to feed the beast that makes it virtually impossible for women to have both satisfying parenting and working lives.
There’s one commercial in particular that really gets my goad. The one for Tide where the couple is sitting there folding their triplets’ laundry together talking about how buying the pricier detergent actually saves them money because it cleans better. The mother is refolding everything the father folds and in the end she just kind of grabs a shirt from him, as if even allowing him to continue to fold is a waste of time.
For me, this commercial perfectly encapsulates a huge problem. Okay, several problems. What is the value of perfectly folded laundry? I’ll tell you: there is none. If your laundry is folded well or folded poorly, it will still be clean and your clothes will still cover your body and provide you protection from the elements. You may have a few more wrinkles, but who cares? Yet, there are plenty of mothers who think it is important to fold laundry well. But why do they think that? Is it because they feel so marginalized and powerless in a society that doesn’t value mothering that they put immense pressure on themselves to do these things so well that somebody might find them valuable? Is a good mother one whose children have perfectly folded clothes and fewer wrinkles? Or is a good mother one who spends more time with her kids and less time worrying about perfectly folded clothes?
We could ask these questions about perfectly clean floors and tidy homes and beautifully presented meals. Women, either through internal or external pressure, feel the need to live up to IMPOSSIBLE standards of perfection and then we all get a good laugh about making fun of dads who just can’t seem to do it the way mom does. When really we should be asking ourselves, why is anybody in this family worrying about or interested in doing anything perfectly?
I must admit that I am the queen of “good enough”. Nobody could ever say of me that I allowed the “perfect to be the enemy of the good”. Just ask my darling husband. That said, I think I have a valid point here. Dad’s get shit on for not being “as good as mom” at any number of things that mom shouldn’t really be focusing on doing with such precision. I have often wondered if women, knowingly or not, as a reaction to being put into a box for so long and feeling so under-appreciated and stifled by the expectations heaped upon them, take a certain type of insidious enjoyment in making fathers feel like they are incapable of nurturing their children in the same way. It’s as if they’re saying “this is my box, you put me in here and now you have to let me rule the box”.
If we -society, employers, partners – give fathers the permission to be tender and nurturing with their children, they will be. They do not need to learn it, they only need to unlearn all the messages they’ve been receiving since birth; that to be masculine means to earn money, act tough, and accept that your wife will always be better at you with the children. How well a person does at parenting has less to do with gender and more to do with their experiences with their families of origin and the work they’ve done on themselves as grown-ups. Also their interest and commitment to being a parent. There’s that.
One of my favorite things in the whole world is to watch my husband and son play together. Their bond is secure and getting stronger every day, same as mine with our son. He’s not a perfect father, but I’m not a perfect mother. And it is this lesson – imperfections are not failures – that is among the highest on my list of priorities to teach our son. My hope is that when he grows up he can see the choices we made as parents to ensure that we both had as much time as possible with him in these early years, and feel something akin to appreciation. We both have made sacrifices to make parenting our priority and we have both reaped the benefits of an intimate and special bond with our son. He may not have a single picture of himself in tidy, unwrinkled clothes, and the background may always be a bit messy, but he is loved fiercely by two adults who are allowed to make mistakes and who are every day trying to shed society’s expectations and just focus on doing their best.
So, a belated Happy Father’s Day to all. Society may think you’re dumb, but I don’t (and I’m not alone).
Not a single day has passed since I became a mother that I have not, in one way or another, felt completely inadequate. Something about taking on the wonderful blessing and responsibility of parenting a child has highlighted for me all the ways in which I fall short on a daily basis. Not just as a mother but as a partner, a friend, a neighbor, a writer, a teacher…
I wouldn’t say that I was unaware of my inadequacies before I had a child, only that having a child really makes them very obvious and unavoidable. There is this sense that the stakes have never been higher – and they haven’t – so I better not fuck it up. I’m no longer a kid; I’m someone’s mother. I am the standard by which the whole world will be judged until my kid reaches the age where he realizes I’m actually just another person doing my best and that most, if not all, of what I’ve taught him can be taken or left as he sees fit. Some days, I long for him to reach that age, even as I fear his assessment of me as Mother.
Most days, though, I struggle to, if not embrace, at least sit with these feelings and make sure that I never veer into the territory of false humility. We all know the folks who put on a good show of being humble in hopes of camouflaging what are actually excuses for not trying. The trick with motherhood is to strike that delicate balance between not being too hard on yourself while being fully committed to improvement.
One of my greatest strengths as a human is that I know that I am just that: human. I am not a unique and beautiful snowflake and as such my experiences on planet earth cannot be mine alone. Thinking that you are the only one who has ever felt or experienced something is very isolating and entirely unhelpful. Perhaps due to my tendency to share my feelings and deepest thoughts with friends and strangers alike, I’ve been made aware over and over again how completely un-unique my experiences are as a mother.
Those of us who are committed to seeing what is rather than what we would like to see will readily admit that motherhood, while exhilarating and miraculous and rewarding, is not unlike getting punched in the face over and over and over and over again. It’s painful and shocking and requires the ability to quickly get back on your feet and brace yourself for the next round.
Some days I pop right back up. Other days, I’m lying there on the mat, hearing the count in my head, face to face with all the other mothers who, like me, are bloodied and bruised and exhausted and digging deep to find the strength to stand back up. And then we do. We stand up, we smile, we breathe, and we tell ourselves it’s all worth it. We’re not perfect, but we’re adequate, and we refuse to let the ’perfect be the enemy of the good’.
Because it is all worth it, right? Riiiiiiiiiight???
Loving must be as normal to us as living and breathing, day after day until our death.
Choosing to love, day in and day out, is hard. If it weren’t, Mother Teresa’s above quote wouldn’t be so profound. As a yogi, this quote makes me ponder the connection between love and breathing. Breathing is something we do to stay alive each and every day and though we can do it mindlessly, the act of paying attention to the breath in our yoga practice transforms it into not only a means of survival but a tool for thriving.
So too with how we love. We need a minimum amount of love to survive, but giving and receiving love that is mindful and also given and received without a second thought makes us thrive.
The kinds of love that is emphasized in our society – romantic and familial – is relatively easy to do without thinking about it. Though being in relationship is always challenging, we generally find it doesn’t require much effort to love our spouses and children and extended family. But how are we loving them?
I think sometimes we confuse “loving” with “not actively hating” or perhaps “tolerating” or “providing for”. But, it is an all-encompassing love of ourselves and others, the very love that Mother Teresa so beautifully embodied throughout her life, that must be learned (or rather, re-learned, as I believe we possess this ability at birth).
The very heart of this love is profound and radical acceptance of what is. Loving with no conditions attached, no ifs or whens. We learn to do this by simply doing it, day after day, until we die. Choosing to accept, to forgive, to embrace, and to give without expectation of receiving anything in return. The more we do it, the easier it will become.
Like breathing, first we do it without thinking, then we focus our attention on how we’re doing it thus transforming the act entirely, and then we continue in this way until the habit is formed and we no longer need to think about it. It is when we reach this place that we can become a source of healing in this world.