race, in the airport…

“F- – – YOU!”

“F- – – YOU!” (…a little louder than the last…)

And as it was said at least three more times each, my African-American friend in-line and I looked at one another, grimacing, disheartened by what we had sadly just stood between.

My respite this summer included a variety of interactions and travels… some with family, some with the familiar, others still to a foreign land.

On one such venture, I was traveling alone, attempting to grab a quick bite before catching my next flight. I stopped in the airport at one of those make-your-own, fast-fire pizza joints, hoping to grab something quick and be distracted by nothing else. Unfortunately, I was distracted immediately.

The pizza place was packed. The lines were long, the pace was fast, and the workers were seemingly drowning, attempting to simply keep up. 

It’s tough when you’re drowning; you’re trying to keep up at a minimum, survive it seems, maybe do the best you can; but at the very least, the desire is simply to hold all things together. The staff here was trying, but it was challenging at best. Smiles were at a minimum. Scarce, in fact. Ok, nonexistent. The chaotic pace had zapped any otherwise present joy.

I met a young African-American male in line; our conversation was brief but solid — each in search of a brief respite before our connecting flight.

The pizza place staff was very ethnically mixed — black, white, Hispanic. The manager was a middle-aged white male, who by all accounts, was also in a pretty steely mood; in restaurant terminology, he was totally, completely “in the weeds.”

Prior to placing my order, there was a 30-something, African-American woman who placed her order. In addition to her pizza, she purchased an empty cup. She and what looked like maybe her mother took a seat a row behind my in-line friend and me, while her male counterpart stood at the counter awaiting her order… and yes, her cup.

So amid the crowd stood my newfound friend and me and the man who was retrieving the order for the African-American woman. We stood between the woman, the counter, and the store manager.

When the pizza was finally retrieved for the woman, the manager forgot to give her the cup. Her friend retrieved the pizza but failed to realize the importance of the cup. The woman started yelling — a semi-silent yell at this point. Her friend looked at her confusingly; he didn’t understand. She responded semi-loudly, “My cup! Don’t forget my cup!”

Her friend turned to the manager behind the counter, saying nothing, but politely gesturing and pointing to the cup. The manager — trying to manage at least 7 other orders simultaneously — was seemingly aware something was happening, but was unsure of exactly what it was…

“Get my damn cup! I paid for that damn cup!” the woman more loudly reiterated from a row away.

At this point, the manager seemed unaware of the specifics but very aware that one of his customers was annoyed with him and his marketplace. He looked up, seemingly stupefied at the perceived annoyance. He obviously didn’t care for the ratcheting up of emotion, and then started to get gruffer with those in his immediate presence, not realizing the cup was of chief importance. It mattered not… the woman continued…

“I paid for that cup! Check the frickin’ receipt!!” (Note: “frickin” is a substitute for the actual, so-called “French.”)

The manager proceeded to get hot. He grabbed a cup, gave it to the woman’s friend, but clearly, disrespectfully mumbled vulgarities under his breath. Meanwhile, the woman continued, dissatisfied at the lack of expedient service… 

“I am not a poor Nigger! I am not a poor Nigger! I can afford anything I want! Want to see my bank account?? I am not a poor Nigger!” 

She said it over and over again. My heart hurt for her.

The manager at this point was clearly, increasingly irked. He started shouting at her. Who said “f-you” first,” I do not know. They both just kept shouting at one another, focused most on their own circumstances, irritations and inconvenience.

My newfound African-American friend of mine… well, he and I just looked at each other, and sadly shook our heads. I was so thankful for him — for our bond amidst the discomfort. We both hated being there… being in the middle. If either of us could have made a significant difference, we would have done so. But here were two people who were clearly upset, and could see nothing other than their own circumstances. They could not see any other way.

I was thankful for my new friend. We shook our heads, nodding a sober goodbye, both wishing for something better and more.

We realized the absence of authentic communication — more so, the absence of any actual desire to communicate. We walked away, grimacing, disheartened by what we had sadly just stood between.

Respectfully…

AR

fixing the world

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #9 in our annual summer series; the opinions expressed may or may not be held by me, but I value the writer’s expression and their commitment to respect…]

My wife and I are very social. We love having friends and family over. We live in a tourist destination, so we have been fortunate and only once, unfortunately (it was the guest from hell – another blog post will detail that encounter), to host many of our family and friends in the 22+ years since we have lived here. Apparently, our adult girls have acquired or learned our social graces. Our house was always the home where apparently parents felt safe enough to leave their kids with us. We have watched our girls and their friends grow up to be mostly mature and productive young adults. Most have managed to get some college and vocational training. In fact a few not only have degrees, but advanced degrees. So I’m pleased where they seem to be headed. 

Each of my girls have their own places; in fact, my youngest is now a homeowner. My eldest is still working towards that. Somehow, however, our home is still a gathering place. Many Sundays, holidays or days off they seem to find a way to their old nest. My wife and I still refer to their rooms as “the girls’ rooms.” Even though they have not been in those rooms for at least 2 years, we still have memories that are mostly great for the 18 years or so they lived here. Some of those years had absences for both away schooling and a small military experience (another day’s article on that military experience, as well).

The interesting thing about their frequent drop-ins is that their friends seem to know when they are here and also drop in. So my food budget is seemingly ruined week after week. Most of them are pretty good eaters. They also don’t mind enjoying a few adult beverages. I still have some trouble handling that, as I am not a drinker, but they do drink responsibly, so I am comforted by that.

What my wife and I get from this obviously uneven exchange is we get to have a dialogue from 20 somethings. They are very vocal about likes, dislikes, social issues, politics, and entertainment. Thanks to them I can span the conversation from artists as diverse as Ed Sheeran and Elton John, from Beyonce to Kelly Clarkson to Drake. I have a playlist — thanks to my nephew — that rivals any top 40 station… did you know the groups Imagine Dragons and The Killers are both local Las Vegas bands? … did you also know the group Florida-Georgia Line actually originated in Nashville, Tennessee? … pretty cool, eh ? All these things I learned by listening or engaging in their dinner conversations.

So yes, we enjoy the dialogue, but what, do you ask, troubles this writer?

It seems this generation is looking to solve all the world’s problems in one swift stroke. They are concerned about climate change, political discord, racism, whether our food is from Non-GMO sources or not… we’ve discussed gun control, Black Lives Matter, the MeToo movement and other issues at our kitchen table’s version of the United Nations. All these issues are worthwhile causes to discuss. Every single issue represented here is worthy of its own blog piece. In fact, I wrote on climate change last year. AR, who is responsible for this space, must have also enjoyed it because she invited me to return this year.

The main difference that I explain to my children and their friends is that as mentioned, while these causes are worthwhile, their generation seems to want to solve every issue today. Today. In fact, it seems as if today is too late; these should have been solved yesterday. I have explained, for instance, that an issue like racism has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. Using Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example, I have shared that in his iconic, 1963 “I have a dream” speech, he begins each stanza by saying, “I have a dream that one day…” In other words, MLK knew that to change minds and legislation, it would be an involved process. To say we have not seen any change to race relations would not be truthful. To say there is not still much work to do would also would not be truthful. My advice is to acknowledge and embrace the positive changes that have occurred. 

I still encourage them to continue to push for changes in racial equality and other issues they embrace, but to understand it will change only through smart, strategic methodologies. Shouting down people you disagree with politically or otherwise just makes a lot of noise and prompts sound bites on the evening news. Saying that, I don’t suggest people should be passive, but instead seek out likeminded people and organizations and craft ideas to truly help — not solely incite and inflame. 

In speaking with the younger folks, I see the passion in youth desiring change. What I don’t always see is full knowledge of the issues. Their understanding is often at an emotional level and not necessarily fact-filled, as a frequent response is “well, I heard this” or “saw this or that.” When pressed, superficiality is often apparent.

With no desire to embarrass for not grasping the depth of the subject matter, I usually say, “Let’s pick this conversation up another time.” Usually, the subject matter is not brought back up, but it seems a new norm to have multiple issues and causes that our young folks focus on. Or perhaps it is a lack of focus. 

My focus — my passion — is about hunger. Not only work in an industry that helps the situation, but my money and attention are focused on that cause. In my church, the food pantry ministry is the largest single, itemized contribution to which I give time and money. So while I realize there are a zillion-and-one causes in the world, I concentrate on one that not only can I speak about, but actually, also, do something to help.

While solving all the world’s issues by the younger generation seems noble, it is actually doing a disservice by not focusing the needed attention on something they can actually affect. I would love to see less shouting and name calling of those they disagree with. I would love to see smart action on their part. All those causes not being solved, can only lead to frustration and inevitably disillusion. I would rather see us work together on singular issues where we can get closer to the solution we seek. I, too, would love to push a button and fix everything, but this is not going to happen. The world is not a perfect place and never will be, but we can chip away at some of its problems one chip at a time. That is how we can all sculpt this world into the masterpiece we desire. 

Respectfully…

DG

Hillary was my choice

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #8 in our annual summer series; the opinions expressed may or may not be held by me, but I value the writer’s expression and their commitment to respect…]

Hillary was my choice for President…

She was my choice for President of the United States because she had a sense of duty, was articulate and thoughtful in her delivery and had weathered many storms both personally and professionally. Hillary had a long history of fighting for people outside the mainstream society who weren’t recognized as equals. Hillary had changed, mellowed and become more reflective through the years. She was a trailblazer in many ways as she had years of work on children’s, women’s and other issues for those without a voice. Yes, she had flaws and years of unfavorable press that were both justified and unjustified. Many people just didn’t like her.

Yet, it was her “lack of likability” that I respected the most in her. Hillary demonstrated to me she could distance herself from the emotion and separate the politics of situations, allowing her to not only analyze situations in isolation but to recreate multiple potential scenarios to find a creative solution. She understood complex relationships. She was criticized for staying with Bill, but she survived being humiliated beyond what anyone deserves and still raised a poised daughter. This spoke to me greatly. I have profound respect for her as the “comeback kid.” I especially admire the number of miles she logged internationally. The fact President Putin didn’t trust her or “like” her told me she was able to stand up to foreign powers. She was never given credit for her role of taking out Bin Laden.

It bothered me that many voters questioned her faith. To have survived the many positions she had that were not traditionally held by women, her husband’s indiscretions, and the amount of negative press she had, I found her resiliency to be a result of having great faith. How else would you continue to find the strength to go forward?

Admittedly, she was not an effective campaigner and didn’t have the likability factor that many voters need to feel a connection with a candidate. Voters want to feel as if they can sit down with a candidate over coffee to tell their story. They want to like the person. If they “like” the candidate, they turn a blind eye to the issues. Hillary could never get over this obstacle. Bill Clinton had to learn how to be personable with voters. He learned from his first loss as Governor. Hillary was always too academic in her approach for many voters. Simple sound bites resonate with voters; the bites allow people to make connections. Hillary always explained things beyond what was necessary. 

Ironically, knowing her, she is very personable and warm when you speak with her one-on-one.  She is probably one of the best listeners I have ever known. She has an uncanny ability listen to your words and translate them in the way you intended to be heard. Hillary hears you and is intrigued by opposing viewpoints and tries to incorporate them into solutions. Voters rarely saw this side of Hillary.

This last presidential election was very interesting. There seemed the perfect storm sociologically. It was reflective of many changes, fears and lack of hope in the American society.  As previously “dismissed” groups like those in the LBTBQ community, African-Americans, newer groups of immigrants and women became acknowledged as equals and “white privilege” became a discussion topic, the heightened amount of cognitive dissonance challenged many “norms” and values. Couple this with declining blue collar industrial opportunities due to increased technology impacting manufacturing jobs and the decline of the coal industry, the perfect storm was created. Whether you liked or disliked candidate Obama, he created “hope” for many voters. For many Americans, I think candidate Donald Trump did the same in his direct attacks and simple messaging. Hillary never found a way to “connect” with the very voters she could have helped through policy changes and administrative practices. She didn’t create a sense that “we can do this together” in areas where she needed the electoral vote.

She was hurt by Bush and Clinton fatigue and by the fact she was female.  Americans had many issues and wanted a “change,” for good or bad. I would argue that Hillary would have brought stability to the Presidency by having been one of the most experienced, qualified candidates who had ever run for the office of President. She had been First Lady, a U.S. Senator, U.S. Secretary of State, and a mom who had protected her child from cruel taunts; she was a survivor of an unfaithful husband who brought shame to the family and was as well-versed in policy as a person can be. To me she understood global issues and had the ability to make a difference in how the United States was viewed worldwide. 

Hillary understands policies and how they are translated into everyday life. I am disappointed that we will never know what type of President she would have been, but I do believe since she took so many “hits” that the next woman candidate for President will find that the Hillary blazed the trail for her. I also believe she gave many young women and girls the hope that they, too, could be the leader at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It just wasn’t her time.

Respectfully…

Eve

why I voted for Trump (shhh…)

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #7 in our annual summer series; the opinions expressed may or may not be held by me, but I value the writer’s expression and their commitment to respect…]

When people in the room begin talking about Pres. Trump, I immediately begin praying that the conversation does not make its way over to me. I am terrified to admit to another human being that I voted for Trump in 2016, but not because I think he is failing at his job. It is because the people who oppose him seem filled with such anger, spewing vitriol at him, that I honestly believe they might never look at me the same way again after discovering this newfound information.

I fear being judged as a human being because I cast a vote to put this man into the highest office in the land. I fear that informing another person that I voted for Trump will produce an automatic, superficial link between myself and the President in their mind, one in which they are convinced that I support every decision he makes, policy he enacts, and that I align myself, utterly, with his beliefs, morals, and ethics. In doing so, I am just like him and represent the very things that his opponents despise. After all, those who voted for Trump are “deplorables” and “toothless hicks” who “didn’t like black people getting rights” and “women getting jobs.” 

Psychologists and sociologists are performing experiments, evaluations, and psychoanalysis on Trump supporters as though their brains have never been seen by mankind. Recent research suggests that we (Trump voters) are driven by racial resentment, authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation. We are easily tricked into believing falsehoods because we suffer from a condition in which we believe we have surpassing knowledge about a particular topic, but, in fact, have little to none (Dunning-Kruger). Because of this overconfidence, we do not fact check what our fearless leader tells us and fall prey to his lies, leaving us forever uneducated as we do not believe there is anything new to learn. In polls released last year, nearly half of liberal Democrats admitted that if they found that a friend of theirs supported Trump, it would create a strain on the relationship, and nearly 70% of Democrats find it “stressful and frustrating” to talk to Trump voters.

Let me share some insight into the mind of a “deplorable.” I did not vote for him because I like him. I did not vote for him because of his impeccable moral character, his unquestionably ethical business dealings, or his incomparable integrity. I did not vote for him because of his race (as some did for Obama), gender (as some did for Clinton), sexual orientation, or education level. I did not vote for him because I thought he was faithful to his wife. I did not vote for him because I thought he would be fun to have a beer with. I did not vote for him because I thought he was a religious fellow, just like me. I voted for Trump because it is time for Washington politics to die. 

Politicians talk in circles, leverage people’s welfare for political gain, waste taxpayer’s money, and speak to us in political language about solving our problems as though they understand what our problems are. They do what they must in order to maintain power and influence. As I watched Trump offer unhinged, ill-advised, outlandish and seemingly nonsensical rhetoric at rallies, debates, and interviews during the his 2016 campaign, I realized that this might be the only way to light a fire under — not only under government — but people. Trump established that he was ready for a fight – for anyone ready to tag him in. Reasons for his fight be damned. I could care less if he is fighting for me. I could care less if he is doing it out of a less than developed sense of patriotism. I could care less if he honestly thought he would run just to see if he could win.  

He has gone to Washington and done what people expected. For his voters, it has taken less than two years of his presidency to fulfill numerous campaign promises (exiting the Paris climate accord, tax cuts, moving the Jerusalem embassy, reviving oil pipelines, withdrawing from TPP, enforcing aggressive action against illegal immigration, nominating a conservative Supreme Court justice, defeating ISIS, etc.) and many others have been addressed and are ongoing (renegotiating trade deals like NAFTA, dismantling Obamacare, eliminating funds to sanctuary cities, etc.). He even issued an executive order to fulfill his promise that for every new federal regulation delivered, an existing one must be removed. 

For his opponents, he has been their worst nightmare. For establishment Republicans, he has brought them to account for their apathy and forced them to make difficult decisions and answer to the people that put them into office. On the left, he has exposed multiple, ideological contradictions within the Democratic Party. Many preach love, but discharge hate when the office holder is not in their camp. Many preach tolerance, but end relationships because of political views. Even Trump’s own debacle of separating children from parents exposed the lunacy of immigration policy-making, as a significant number of Democrats now advocate for abolishing ICE, reinforcing sanctuary cities, and enabling illegal immigrants to vote in US elections. That disregards United States law for political gain. It is Trump that has brought it all to fruition.

This essay is not an argument for the purposes of convincing Trump opponents why they should get on board the Trump train. It is simply intended to demonstrate that just because I voted for Trump doesn’t mean I like him. It doesn’t mean I agree with every policy he puts forward. It doesn’t mean he has my unwavering support. I am, however, a satisfied voter, because he has done what I put him there to do. He entered office with nothing to gain and nothing to lose and put Washington, and the world, on its heels. Why? Because he could care less about what anyone thinks about him. And that is the single disposition that the Oval Office desperately needs. Hillary Clinton would not have gone to an international summit as president, chastised world leaders for not upholding their agreements as part of the NATO alliance, and demanded immediate change or the United States would leave the accord. Being president has nothing to do with likability and everything to do with results. I do not like the idea of separating families at the border, but immigration has now become too large an issue to be overlooked. This is what Trump is doing.

Is Trump the first president to lie to the American people? Obama lied about healthcare and Bush lied about WMD’s in Iraq. Is he the first president to have an extramarital affair? Clinton was impeached for perjury relating to his affairs and Warren G. Harding impregnated his mistress in a closet in the White House. The office of the President of the United States is not a radiant beacon of purity. It is a public position held by a human being who has as many faults as you and me. We do not elect someone for that office to be our philosopher-in-chief. We elect someone to that office that will make difficult decisions to help check and challenge an indecisive federal government, ensure that our country is not taken advantage of on the foreign platform, and enforce the execution of the laws of the United States. If we want a lesson on morals, let’s go to church next Sunday.  

Respectfully…

David

you can do anything around here with 5 votes

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #5 in our annual summer series; the opinions expressed may or may not be held by me, but I value the writer’s expression and their commitment to respect…]

 

Every year on January 22, throngs of people march up Washington’s Constitution Ave., past the United States Capitol, and improperly demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court Building, yelling and screaming either their opposition or support for abortion rights and the Roe v. Wade decision that established them. This exemplifies everything that is horrifically wrong with the American judicial system.

SCOTUS, the Supreme Court of the United States, does not make laws. Congress makes laws. But these demonstrators stride right past Congress on their way to the Court Building. If they were doing their job properly, the Supreme Court justices would not pay any attention to what these people yell and scream. But they do.

Just look at the media. With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, CNN, CNBC, The Huffington Post, Politico, and The Hill are each reporting that “64% of Americans support the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion” and  “they would not like to see it overturned.” NBC now claims it is 71%.

This is completely irrelevant. It is not the Court’s job to pass laws that people want. That is Congress’ job, which is why our Congressmen and women are elected by the people. It is the Court’s job to determine if those laws are Constitutional, or to interpret them if they come under dispute.

This is basic civics. According to Article I of the Constitution, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Article III says, “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and…shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution.” Lastly, in the Tenth Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Though controversial, let us use the abortion issue as an objective example. Reasonable people can have different opinions about abortion, and it is not my intent here to argue for or against it. But there clearly is no right to an abortion in the Constitution. Harry Blackmun based his Roe opinion on the “right to privacy” in the Fourteen Amendment. Read the Fourteenth Amendment. The word “privacy” is not there. These are the words upon which the Court based their decision: “No state shall… deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” At face value, those words would seem to support life more than choice.

Furthermore, Blackmun made up an admittedly arbitrary trimester framework where in the first three months, the decision lies completely between a mother and her doctor, the second three months laws can be passed only related to the mother’s health, and in the last three months, the state’s interest to protect the unborn becomes more compelling. While that may be the most brilliant compromise ever decreed since Solomon suggested cutting a baby in half, where in the world does the Constitution say anything about trimesters?

To have a staunch position on Roe, you have to read it. It is an opinion so devoid of solid foundation that it took Justice Blackmun 51 pages to explain it. There is not a single sentence in it that qualifies as a legal argument. He simply wrote his personal opinion about why he thought this would be the best way forward, then tried to justify it.

He may have been right. But that was not his job. Supreme Court justices are not wise old sages to be consulted for their wisdom on difficult issues. They are to determine whether laws passed by the legislative branch are Constitutional. Their personal opinions are irrelevant, even worse for them to be imposed upon us.

Justices quote other cases, which is appropriate, considering the importance of legal precedent. But sometimes they quote other writings of legislators who passed laws to help define what the laws mean. The problem with this is that the legislative process involves a countless number of compromises, and regardless if one side wrote about their personal opinion in some other context, only the words in the legislation that were agreed upon when the law was passed should be law. The infamous “separation of church and state” principle, for example, came from a personal letter of Thomas Jefferson’s. Thomas Jefferson’s personal letters should have no more force of law than Donald Trump’s tweets.

When justices are not bound by the words of The Constitution in their authority, they can do whatever they want. Sitting Justice Stephen Breyer is on record saying that the “Court cannot do its job without a careful understanding of foreign law and practice.” What do other countries’ laws have to do with the American Constitution? Do any of us want to be ruled by other countries’ laws? The late Justice William Brennan was even more transparent when he candidly remarked, “You can do anything around here with five votes.” That was a man who believed there were absolutely no limits to his authority.

Therein lies the problem. When SCOTUS issued its opinion on Roe, there were 32 states that banned abortion, 14 that restricted it, and 4 that had repealed bans that were previously in place. That’s how the democratic process works. Elected officials, accountable to the electorate, pass laws and sometimes repeal them. And the Tenth Amendment clearly says that all powers not given to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the states. So when five or more justices think they know better based on any reasoning whatsoever except for what the Constitution says, that is not democracy. They are overruling the democratic process, throwing out democratically passed laws. That is dictatorship, or in this case, oligarchy, “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons.”

As one legal scholar put it, “We are increasingly governed not by law or elected representatives but by an unelected, unrepresentative, unaccountable committee of lawyers applying no will but their own.”

Back to Justice Kennedy’s retirement. There are factions of society that would have you believe that this is the end of the world as we know it. Why? Because there is a long list of initiatives that in spite of not surviving the democratic process have been imposed by doing an end run around the legislative branch and getting five justices to dictate them upon us.

You may be happy with the results of the Court’s edicts thus far, but what if you were not? When Congress passes laws we do not like, we can vote them out. When SCOTUS dictates their personal opinions upon us, we have no recourse.

If Roe were overturned, that would not outlaw abortion in America. What it would do is properly return that decision back to the states. The issue could be debated, and rightly so. And officials who are elected by their people to represent them could make whatever decisions they want.

That is democracy. And that is what America is supposed to be.

Respectfully…

MPM

who will make a difference?

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #2 in our annual summer series; the opinions expressed may or may not be held by me, but I value the writer’s expression and their commitment to respect…]

 

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States…

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016: Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).”*

The first time I heard of Thirteen Reasons Why I was looking at a long list of titles to be read in a very short time on a syllabus for a graduate class in adolescent literature. I knew nothing about it. Fast forward some years later and I heard Netflix was turning it into a series. I wondered how they were going to turn a single adolescent novel into a series with adult appeal. Being an avid reader, I am familiar with the concept of censorship and controversial subjects. Being an educator, I am aware of being sensitive to subjects that might be better addressed at home than in a school setting. The subjects tackled in the novel are hard and frankly not something I was sure I wanted to watch. Somehow reading the words on a page wasn’t as difficult as the thought of viewing the story acted out. Being an adolescent isn’t easy, and being the parent of adolescents isn’t any easier. For those of us who have been touched by teen depression in ourselves or someone we love, the thought of watching a story about a teen who chose to end her life hits a little too close to home. 

Thirteen Reasons Why is a novel by Jay Asher. It tells the tragic story of a young teenage girl named Hannah who committed suicide and left behind a series of audio tapes explaining her reasoning behind her decision to take her own life. The tapes are delivered in order to thirteen people with whom Hannah had a relationship. Hannah tells each individual how he or she impacted her life and her decision. In the TV series, each character is shown trying to come to terms with how Hannah’s secrets could impact them and deciding whether or not Hannah’s accusations were true. 

The story raises many more questions than it answers. The producers of the show decided to tackle many teen issues in this series. Due to its popularity, there was a second season in which the story is extended and the characters continue to deal with the loss of Hannah and testifying in the trial in which Hannah’s parents try to make the case that the school should be held responsible for allowing a culture of bullying and sexual harassment to exist and for neglecting to see that Hannah was assaulted by the star athlete.

Controversy has surrounded both the book and the show. It has caused much discussion and debate around the topics brought up and how the producers decided to tell the story. Some mental health professionals were concerned that the story glossed over the need for mental health intervention. The kids interact with each other but avoid seeking adult guidance. There was concern that the show glorified suicide and used graphic seasons to gain ratings.

It took me a long while to get up enough nerve to watch the first season. I was hooked. The actors and actresses are compelling and took me right back to what it was like being awkward socially and trying to navigate the minefield of popularity and social pecking order. I remember how intense every interaction was and how it felt like every decision seemed to hold your future in the balance. I remember being the bystander when one of the social outcasts was verbally and physically assaulted in the hallway by a popular football player for the crime of being different. I remember being torn between not knowing what to do to stop it and at the same time fearing the ramifications of standing up to one of the popular people. I remember the girls who gave in to what the boys wanted in an effort to be liked and popular. I remember getting laughs by making fun of someone to the point they got someone to threaten to fight me to shut me up. Most of all I remember how alone I felt when it came to a support system for decision-making in the teen world. Some things are just too hard to talk to your parent about, and turning to fellow adolescents for advice doesn’t produce the best wisdom.

At the end of each season there is a follow up episode in which the producers, actors, and consultants are interviewed. The producers get a chance to explain why they chose to tell the story in a particular way. The audience asks questions about various aspects of the show. I wonder how many people skip those episodes? I really get the feeling that the producers of this show do a lot of research and take their job very seriously. Some may question their motives. I believe their intentions are sincere. Do they get everything right?  No. Do they make us start talking about topics that need to be addressed? I think so. Do teens have all the answers? Of course not. Do they make bad decisions? Of course they do. Do we need to do a better job of checking in with each other? I think so. 

The bottom line is we all play a role in each other’s lives. We have to ask ourselves how we can be a part of the solution. In America, suicide is one of the top ten causes of death. Among people aged 10-34 it is the second leading cause of death. How can we change this alarming trend? Can we check in on each other more often? Can we check on the strong, silent types who may be struggling quietly and go unnoticed because they aren’t drawing attention to themselves? Can we look beneath the behavior of the class comedian to recognize when humor is used as a mask for pain? Can we be slower to anger and judge, offering grace more freely? Can we do a better job of including the odd kid and checking on the lonely? Can we change the way we view mental illness so we remove the stigma surrounding it and make access to mental health as quick and affordable as medical care? Can we be brave enough to stand up to those who bully and offer support to the bullied? Can we listen without judging? Can we notice what is right with a person rather than constantly being critical? Can we do our part to make the world a little more loving and a little less scary for the souls we encounter daily? If we don’t make changing this statistic a priority who will?

Respectfully…

AST

[*https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml]

ethical?

We’ve entered a key stage here, friends. Emotions are heightened. The environment seems to be intensifying, almost by the hour. People are noticing; they’re talking.

Individual observers are reacting in individual ways. Individuals vary in the ways they respond. There is not one sole, correct perspective; the Intramuralist believes in the allowance of varied perspective.

It’s the 2018 World Cup Round of 16!!

Sports journalists have posted their previews; the games have begun; Messi and more, unfortunately, have already been eliminated.

Here, no less — albeit slightly tongue-in-cheek-ly — is what we ‘most’ need to know…

First, as offered by Lewis Krell in yesterday’s Huffington Post [emphasis mine]:

“Anyone who has ever taken an Economics class knows that there is only one universal truth; we all respond to incentives. What it is that motivates us changes from person to person but we are all willing to change our behavior to get whatever it is that we want. In soccer (brace yourself for a shocking statement) what everyone wants is to score a goal. When Americans watch soccer we have a tendency to get angry at the players on the field for embellishing contact, whining and in general following Coach Bombay’s advice perfectly. To remove flopping you need to remove the incentive to flop. Currently, the perverse incentive structure of the sport makes flopping and diving far too rewarding to the elusive pursuit of scoring and therefore diving runs rampant, becoming a distracting side-show to an otherwise beautiful game…”

In other words, “flopping” in soccer is a player’s exaggerated expression — when all eyes are on him (or at least the referee’s eyes) — in order to produce a competitive advantage. The player acts as if he has been significantly/seriously injured/offended by an opponent — only to be fully capable of all amazing athletic acts seemingly less than thirty seconds later. The player thus either lied or amplified what happened to him.

Flopping is faking. The motive is to gain a competitive advantage. The reality of the situation is secondary to the player’s desire to win.

Krell continues:

“The problem lies with the current way that penalty kicks are awarded. In a sport where it is so difficult to score, it is sheer insanity that a penalty in the box is rewarded with such a monumental advantage as the penalty kick. The ease of scoring a penalty kick compared to the difficulty in scoring during regular play leads to these objectionable actions that are far too prevalent in soccer…”

Note: we are speaking of objectionable, exaggerated expressions that are far too prevalent.

So if flopping is deliberate, my question to all centers upon whether or not it’s ethical…

… talented people… maybe truly good people… perhaps even highly intelligent people… but people faking their response…

Is the faking ethical?

The sincere challenge, friends, is that some are floppers and some are not — but the floppers and actually-injured are all mixed up together. It is often impossible to discern the difference.

Speaking candidly, the next layer of the challenge is that often we know a person’s expression is exaggerated, but they’re on our team, so we don’t necessarily refute their expression; we don’t question their exaggerated means because we identify with the cause they are attempting to advance. 

So again we ask: is that ethical?

(… in soccer, of course…)

Respectfully… always…

AR

the current immigration problem

Today is World Refugee Day… how fitting, as we find ourselves currently in the middle of a troubling, muddled mess — a mess where so many are shouting, it’s hard to actually hear. I get the shouting; passions often elicit a strong response. Also true is that political positioning is rampant; and such, too, often  impedes solution. This is a problem we need to solve.

Heard frequently here is the primary encouragement to love one another well.  

That includes the refugee.

That includes the children.

Separating children from their parents at the border is the core issue of the current, much-publicized controversy. As objectively explained by pundit Rich Lowry and retired professor Marie Aquila — first from Lowry:

“… For the longest time, illegal immigration was driven by single males from Mexico. Over the last decade, the flow has shifted to women, children, and family units from Central America. This poses challenges we haven’t confronted before and has made what once were relatively minor wrinkles in the law loom very large.

The Trump administration isn’t changing the rules that pertain to separating an adult from the child. Those remain the same. Separation happens only if officials find that the adult is falsely claiming to be the child’s parent, or is a threat to the child, or is put into criminal proceedings.

It’s the last that is operative here. The past practice had been to give a free pass to an adult who is part of a family unit. The new Trump policy is to prosecute all adults. The idea is to send a signal that we are serious about our laws and to create a deterrent against re-entry. (Illegal entry is a misdemeanor, illegal re-entry a felony.)…”

From Aquila:

“How did we get here? It appears to have been on a road paved with good intentions.

A 1997 settlement in a class-action lawsuit, Flores v. Meese, required immigration officials to ‘place each detained minor in the least restrictive setting appropriate’ and release children ‘without unnecessary delay.’

The Obama administration opened detention centers along the southern border in 2014 to accommodate an increase of immigrants. This move generated lawsuits, which argued that the detention centers undermined the Flores settlement by not quickly releasing children. In addition, in 2016 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government did not have to release the parents.

The Trump administration has cobbled these decisions together to support a policy that sounds both lawful and cruel. And here we are. Or are we?

The Flores settlement handed the government the right to determine how to treat these minors. But the very fact that they are minors undermines that authority. These are children. They travel at their parents’ direction. On their own, they did not violate immigration law.”

Friends, if we are going to love the refugee well, then we need to fix this. While the policy was created years ago, the make up of those attempting to enter the country illegally has changed. Hence, “zero tolerance” also needs to change; it is not a wise nor compassionate approach with the current demographics. Let’s navigate through both the intense socio-political climate and through a media which often inflames more than informs, and let’s put our hearts and heads together in order to solve. Let us love all kids well… on far more than World Refugee Day. Our immigration system is broken; we have to find an effective, cost-efficient, but still compassionate means to enforce what is legal and what is not. My prayer is that solution comes soon through a nonpartisan way.

As Laura Bush wrote so eloquently earlier this week:

“… People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer. I moved away from Washington almost a decade ago, but I know there are good people at all levels of government who can do better to fix this…

In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.”

I’m with the former First Lady.

Can we not find a kinder, more compassionate solution?

Can we not love the refugee better and well?

And how about being kinder to one another while we’re at it, too?

Respectfully…

AR

so what’s actually in the Bible?

Amazing how one of this past week’s most trending topics focused on what’s in the Bible… 

What’s biblical? What’s not?

And how does that apply to me?

Do I know what’s in the Bible?

Have I ever read it myself?

And what things can I — or can’t I — know for sure?

Allow me, no less, to thus share one of my all time favorite passages, a piece of scripture that I find humbling, profound, insightful, challenging, life-giving, and encouraging all rolled into one. And yet it’s a piece with which I think our society currently, significantly struggles. Let me change that… I’m thinking we’ve struggled with this for centuries…

From the book of John…

“… Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came to the temple courts again. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?’ (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him, so that they could bring charges against him.) 

Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, ‘Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground.

Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 

Jesus stood up straight and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’

She replied, ‘No one, Lord.’

And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’”

There is so much in this sequence that mirrors our culture’s current rhythms…

  • First, there was a person who engaged in behavior many thought was wrong.
  • The crowd then moves to harshly condemn her.
  • Jesus then asks the crowd who among them is “guiltless.”
  • With the recognition that none of us are guiltless, no one is capable of administering the consequence.
  • Only then, in the context of the relationship — with no shame nor condemnation — Jesus acknowledges that the behavior is wrong — and calls for the woman to grow and change.

Our struggle seems twofold…

We either are (1) quick to condemn or (2) in effort not to condemn, we deny the existence of any wrongful behavior.

When I read this passage repeatedly, I find myself quietly asking more questions…

  • Where have I been quick to condemn?
  • Where have I felt capable of administering the consequence?
  • Where have I failed to recognize that I am not guiltless — that I screw up, too?
  • Where have I been so harsh in my words to another?
  • Where have I thought, “I’d never do that,” and then justified treating someone with lesser grace?
  • Where have I denied the sin, because it was easier than wrestling with the reality that there’s an area in which I might need to grow?
  • And where am I inconsistent in how I apply scripture?

Indeed, humbling, profound questions…

Respectfully…

AR

Spade/Bourdain & the questions we should answer

Kate Spade.

Anthony Bourdain.

Two celebrities who were admired by many.

Two celebrities who “had it all,” so-to-speak.

And two celebrities who hung themselves within days of one another.

Spade was 55. Bourdain was 61.

This is hard, friends. This is really hard. For any who have lost a family member, friend, or loved one to suicide, you know the grievous struggle it is to attempt to make sense of it all. It doesn’t make any sense. 

And yet, when they are gone, our love for them does not end. We hurt because we love them… so we find ourselves seemingly endlessly racking our heads and our hearts in the middle of our grief in desperate search for solution — for any solution…

Why would someone we love choose this? 

Why would they intentionally end their life?

I wish I had some profound, good answer… an answer that could somehow smooth over the wretched remnants we’re left to deal with. I keep thinking of actor Booboo Stewart’s character in the excellent “Hope Bridge” movie (released in 2015) — in the young man’s quest to find answers and understand why his father took his own life. The answers are so hard to come by. Again, it doesn’t make any sense.

With Spade and Bourdain in particular, no less, I find myself wrestling with two questions… 

Let us first acknowledge the response of Bourdain’s mother, in an interview with NBC News. Gladys Bourdain, a former editor at The New York Times, said that there was never any sign that anything was wrong with her son.

Let me repeat that: there was never any sign.

As we rack our heads searching for answers, we look for those signs… what did I miss? … why didn’t I catch this?… And then we often settle on the thought of mental illness, as our search ends in unsettling ambiguity. 

I wonder if there are deeper questions we could be asking — questions about loneliness… self-worth… and fulfillment.

We see in Spade and Bourdain, for example, two people who had it all… 

Spade was a world renown fashion designer. She founded the euphonious “Kate Spade New York” in the early 90’s and came to be known as an incredibly creative, successful, and sophisticated businesswoman. She had been married approximately 24 years and has an adolescent daughter. Her net worth is estimated to be around $150 million.

Bourdain — a celebrity chef — “built a business outside the kitchen,” coined Town & Country. He was a successful author, travel documentarian, and TV personality, and he was considered articulate, insightful, and keenly influential. The Smithsonian Institution once declared Bourdain as “the original rock star” of the culinary world. He has one adolescent daughter, and leaves an estimated net worth of $16 million.

Both Spade and Bourdain seem to have “had it all,” as one might say, and yet for both, “all” was not enough.

This is heartbreaking, friends; there is zero judgment. There was an emptiness in Spade and Bourdain that celebrity and success could seemingly never fulfill; wealth and influence were nowhere close to enough. Hence, left with more questions than answers, today I ponder only two:

What are we pursuing that is potentially unfulfilling?

And what can we fill our heads and hearts with that is of greater, lasting value?

Respectfully…

AR