something is always bigger

As is typical in our family, my spouse and I sat down the other evening to catch the day’s sporting events — bouncing between baseball’s league championship series and the start of the professional basketball season. Truth told, pro basketball doesn’t always keep my attention; it sometimes seems like defense is only played the last ten minutes of the game. But in solely the first six minutes of the season, our eyes were glued to the television. I wish they had not been so glued.

The Celtics were playing the Cavaliers in Cleveland, and not halfway through the first quarter, star free agent pickup, Boston’s Gordon Hayward, went up for a routine alley-oop — a play he’s probably made hundreds of times — and in one of the most grisly injuries to watch unfold, Hayward landed awkwardly, his ankle contorted underneath him, fracturing both his ankle and left tibia.

Happening in front of the opposing team, the Cavaliers’ bench responded in immediate, unprecedented queasiness, scrambling to look away. It was grisly and gruesome indeed… an injury that should be wished upon no one.

Note the immediate wishes from all over the sports spectrum…

For @gordonhayward. Come back stronger!
     — from Steph Curry

God bless you bro @gordonhayward ! help him thru this god!
 — from Paul George

Never like to see that. Best wishes to @gordonhayward
 — from soccer’s Jody Altidore

Praying for my guy @gordonhayward!!! NEVER want to see any of the guys go through anything like that.
 — from DeAndre Jordan

NBA | Heartbreak for #GordonHayward but beautiful to see the NBA Community come together for him. Our thoughts and prayers are with you
— from award-winning broadcaster Benny Bonsu

Lord , Carry Him Now @gordonhayward
— from Dwight Howard

No no no no no no………. praying everything is okay…
— from Jared Sullinger

Gordon and Robyn, our thoughts are with you and your family. All of Jazz Nation sending best wishes for a speedy recovery.
 — from the Utah Jazz, Hayward’s former team

Never want to see that man!#thoughtsandprayers
 — from Zach LaVine

@gordonhayward. Only God has ALL the answers.
— from Shaun Livingston

@gordonhayward prayin for u my brother.
 — from Odell Beckham, Jr.

Prayers to @gordonhayward @celtics hope people will understand better that NOTHINGS guaranteed in the game we love
 — from Bruce Bowen

Wow… that’s horrific… feel awful for Hayward
   — from Jeremy Lin

Can’t even put into words.
Gordon Hayward.
Feeling for you man.
Absolutely gut wrenching.
 — from JJ Watt

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Gordon Hayward. #BiggerThanBasketball
 — from the Cleveland Cavaliers

Absolutely gut wrenching. Never like to see that. Feel awful…
Injury should be wished upon no one. I hope we get that. I pray, too, we can always be graceful, wishing another well, even in opposition, realizing something is always “bigger” — in far more than basketball. I thus also pray our emotion and opposition wouldn’t keep us from extending the wisdom and warmth embedded within such beautiful (and beautifully contagious) grace.

Respectfully…
AR

ideology’s corruption

First, two definitions…

(1) echo chamber (n.) – An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.

And (2) dialogue (n.) – An exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.

Question: do we actually want to solve our existing societal issues? … the political strife, the racial tension, the ever-increasing list of socio-economic debates? Note that only one of the above pursues solution. The echo chambers — the social media circles, chat rooms, and Facebook threads that are only gracious and inviting to likeminded ideology — do not solve the problems plaguing us today. They only reverberate the sound of our own opinions, which encourages ideology adherence. From The Witherspoon Institute’s Randall Smith in his poignant discussion of “Ideology and the Corruption of Language”.

“… How do we recognize the language of ‘ideology’ and distinguish it from a ‘principled position’? One common clue is that those who hold a principled position welcome arguments; they welcome having their position tested and possibly corrected. A principled position always has room for increased subtlety and greater complexity. Holders of an ‘ideology,’ on the other hand, will tend to eschew argument or any examination of the ideology’s underlying presuppositions or premises, often refusing to concede that greater subtlety may be required to apply the principles to real-life situations. Ideology disdains argument; people with principled positions embrace it warmly and engage in it gladly.

Note, however, that ‘engaging in argument’ is not the same as a dual monologue or sharing complaints about opponents. If you’re unsure what a dialogue is supposed to sound like, read one of Plato’s. Socrates is as good a teacher of dialogue as anyone who ever lived. Personally, I suggest beginning with the ‘Gorgias.’

In the ‘Gorgias,’ Socrates defends ‘dialectic’ (the question-and-answer method he engages in with interlocutors) and distinguishes it from ‘sophistry.’ What Plato especially disliked about sophistry was its corruption of language: the belief that language was not primarily for the expression of truth but for the acquisition of power. Sophists bragged that they could convince the ignorant masses of anything, even better than people who were experts on a subject. How did they do this? By twisting words and using language to inflame the passions rather than to engage the logic of the mind. Appeal to fear and play on people’s anxiety, never asking them to think about the evidence for your claims or reflect on the possible unintended consequences of a course of action.

This corruption of language is a characteristic sign of ideology. Throughout the Platonic dialogues, Socrates spends a great deal of time trying to clarify words, attempting to get clear on what people mean when they use terms such as ‘good’ or ‘just’ or ‘great.’ Ideologies want to skip over all that hard work. Asking what someone means by ‘good’ or ‘just’ or ‘fair’ is, to the devoted ideologue, like the greengrocer refusing to put the sign in his window. It suggests you’re not a party member.

Watch out for this. Refusing to discuss one’s terms because the point is ‘obvious,’ insisting on using euphemisms rather than plain speech, relying on a very specialized vocabulary and being unable to express one’s thoughts without it, using speech to vilify persons rather than to clarify positions: these are all clues that you’re dealing with ideology, not principle.”

Ideology’s corruption of language does not pursue solution. In fact, while justifying loving treatment toward some, it is accompanied by the unintended consequence of unloving treatment toward some others.

How many times have we heard or said, “I cannot have one more conversation in which they don’t realize the point is obvious!… I cannot have political debates with these people! Our disagreement is not merely political; it’s a fundamental divide on what it means to be good!” And with that we label the other person as either arrogant, ignorant or compassionless. We justify no more dialogue, assuming only we are good.

As an advocate of respectful dialogue, allow me to encourage the hard work. Allow me to encourage the investment in dialogue, the sincere wrestling with unlike opinion, and the exit from echo chambers. Echo chambers are easy, as the reverberation of like opinion never challenges us to consider the wisdom of another approach. Think about the evidence for our own claims and reflect upon the possible unintended consequences of a course of action. Encounter others sincerely, selflessly. Clarify. Don’t vilify. Listen well. And do nothing that justifies loving another less — such as refusing to have “one more conversation.”

Respectfully…
AR

something’s wrong

“He said it all the time… when we left the car, heading to school… arriving home from something — anything… both a greeting and a goodbye… it was a signal, a statement, an awareness of peace…”

Some words are difficult to fully define, be that because the application is so vast, the history so rich, or the concept so huge.

I speak of something that affects us all. Regardless of where we come from, what we believe, what we have in common or what we don’t, we can’t deny that this affects us.

“Shalom.”

It’s a word that transcends both generation and geography… religion and relationship…

Shalom.

In English, shalom refers to peace between two entities or the peace, well-being or welfare of a person, group or circumstance. The Hebrew definition adds in the concepts of harmony, tranquility, wholeness and prosperity. In Arabic, it’s called “salaam,” and the Maltese say “sliem.” Shalom affects us all.

Take note, for example, at some of the more significant, current issues, events and developments…

  • A man murders the innocent masses from his luxury hotel room…
  • People argue about the right to life, debating gun control — or abortion…
  • People argue about the right to protest when America’s anthem is played…
  • An “A-list” film producer stands accused of decades of harassment…
  • North Korea festers…
  • Politicians fight…
  • Others join in, justifying insults in the fight…
  • There are tumultuous hurricanes — sometimes even in the weather…
  • There is tension…
  • Poverty… hunger, too…

Something is wrong.

In a phrase coined not by me, it seems we are witnessing “the vandalism of shalom” right before our very eyes, played out daily in the mass and social media. Something has pierced our peace. Something has disturbed our overall welfare and well-being. This is clearly not the way it is supposed to be.

And you know what strikes me most profoundly here?

You don’t have to know God or even believe in him to feel the vandalism of shalom. In other words, it takes zero faith to realize there’s something wrong. Shalom seems nonexistent.

Let’s be clear then that with the hugeness of its meaning, its vast application and history so rich, shalom is far more than the absence of conflict.

If not, we could simply silence all dissenters. We could arrest all who disagree. We could embrace the principles of dictatorship or despotism, where a single entity holds absolute power and authority, and we could demand everyone act and think like we do so we never, ever must wrestle with alternate perspective or unlike behavior again. But the squelching and thus complete disrespect of others has never proven to be an effective pathway for peace. Likemindedness — obtained via demandingness and disrespect — is not fruitful, effective nor wise.

As often stated here, friends, the Intramuralist is an advocate for community. I believe wholeheartedly in the value of community. I believe we are to grow up in it, invest in it, and sharpen one another. Note that I didn’t say a “likeminded, look/feel/think/act alike community.” There is so much we can learn from those who are “unlike me.”

That said, grieved by the current state of community around us, I have been profoundly challenged in recent days to seek shalom in my community. How do we do that? How do we contribute positively to the peace, wholeness, and harmony of where we live? … in our nation? … in our neighborhood? … in our homes? … in our hobbies?

And… humbly… in a post that offers more questions than answers…

How are we contributing to the vandalism of shalom?

“…He said it all the time… both a greeting and a goodbye… it is a signal, a statement, an awareness of peace… so vast, so rich, so huge…”



So necessary, too.

Respectfully…
AR

you don’t know!

I’ve heard it a lot as of late…

“You don’t know what it’s like to be a black man…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be gay…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with only one parent…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be adopted…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be divorced…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to have a disability…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to lose a child…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to experience chronic pain…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to not be able to make ends meet…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to file for bankruptcy…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be bullied…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be fired…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be in combat…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to watch your best friend die…”

You don’t know what it’s like.

Many have noted the division in this country — a division that seems to sprout in almost any societal subject, subjects that used to be solidly safe for finding conversation and common ground. While many have theories in regard to the reason, part of me wonders if the division is due to our continued proclamation that “you don’t know what it’s like.”

As long as we contend “you don’t know what it’s like,” we give ourselves full freedom to dismiss another’s perspective… in it’s entirety.

Let us acknowledge the wisdom of walking in a mile in another’s shoes. In reality, it’s true that we don’t know what all of the above is like. And so when we are willing to walk in the shoes of another, we see a different perspective… a different, valid perspective. When we are willing to see that —to put those other shoes on, so-to-speak — our potential for empathy increases exponentially.

My desire is that we see the “you don’t know what it’s like” not as a unending, wounding source of division, but rather, as an avenue for empathy.

Let’s get a little more personal… I am the parent of a son with Down syndrome. That means that he is at a significantly higher risk for hearing loss, sleep apnea, ear infections, eye disease, heart defects, intestinal blockage, hip dislocation, thyroid disease, anemia, iron deficiency, leukemia, blood disorders, Alzheimer’s, a lower life expectancy, and as most know, a significantly lower IQ. The list goes on.

In fact, as many are also aware, Joshua was born with a congenital heart defect; he was missing most of the wall in his heart where the two flaps come to meet. Prior to scheduled surgical repair, however, he came down with a serious respiratory virus which threatened his life. We spent most of March 2002 in the cardiac ICU wing, praying to God to heal our son, as we watched him lay fairly motionless, the respirator breathing for him. That was an incredibly challenging, painful time.

Now, since only 1 in every 700 babies is born with Down syndrome, that means 699 of you cannot relate to what we experienced. You don’t know what it’s like.

But if I choose to fiercely adhere to you not knowing, then I will miss other aspects that you have the potential to offer…

Support.
Respect.
Community.

When Josh laid motionless in that hospital, I needed support, respect, and community. I needed the physical help, emotional encouragement, and spiritual support of the people around me. I needed the countless number of people who didn’t “know what it was like” but still chose to be present… who brought us meals, filled our thermos, cared for our other kids, gave us a break, cleaned our house, and offered fervent, selfless prayers on behalf. I needed those people… all “699” of them.

Rather than see our lack of knowing what it’s like as source of division, it seems so much wiser and beneficial to view such as an avenue for empathy — a way through which we can build authentic community. That is so much healthier than division.

Respectfully…
AR

climate conversations

One of the things I’ve long appreciated about my parents is their consistent encouragement to sit down at the table, with me, and talk about everything. Let me be clear… as a kid, I didn’t always like it. I wasn’t always fond of it. And often it was either (a) incredibly inconvenient, (b) significantly painful, or (c) just something I’d rather not discuss.

But with sincere prodding, knowing some of the topics were especially not easy, they each encouraged my siblings and me to engage, sharing what we were feeling and thinking. The Intramuralist thus learned the value in processing together. Some of that was good, bad, and ugly. Sometimes some of our thoughts and beliefs didn’t make any sense. But the freedom to process what we were thinking proved to be an invaluable, growth opportunity — for all of us — even when my perspective was illogical or untrue. It would have been far easier for my parents to simply shut the conversation down or invite no more. Yet they were wiser than me; they knew we would grow from the processing.

In recent weeks, I’ve overheard multiple conversations — especially regarding the enormity of calamity…

Hurricane Harvey… the massive storm that meandered over Eastern Texas for no doubt way too long, causing catastrophic, unheard of flooding…

Hurricane Irma… Harvey’s sui generis sister, which wrecked havoc on the Caribbean and much of the State of Florida, reportedly destroying at least 25% of homes in the Florida Keys…

Fires in the Pacific Northwest… multiple cataclysmic blazes in Montana, Oregon, and Washington, shaping up to be what the Associated Press calls “one of the worst in U.S. history in land burned.”

Add to such reports from my sweet friend in the Galápagos Islands, where the unsuspecting La Cumbre volcano erupted on Fernandina Island after a decade of dormancy.

It’s no wonder those concerned about our Earth’s climate have been increasingly vocal. With repeated refrains echoing from Houston to Key West, persons are seriously, genuinely concerned about the state of our planet. I deeply respect, appreciate, and share such concern.

Please note I am no expert. No scientist either. Like many of you, my limited perspective comes from reading and research and talking to those who know more than me. I try to talk to far more than partisans or the likeminded. Such a practice helps me grow.

I am also committed to being a wise steward of all that’s in my possession. That means I believe in treating our Earth well. Because you and I both live here, I want us both to treat it well. We are in this together. Always. The challenge arises, no less, because treating something well inherently includes a variety of approach.

With the recent perceived uptick in calamitous events, I’ve noticed a promoted change in the allowance of varied approach. Allow me to quote a current, promoted school of thought:

There is only one right way to think.

In last week’s The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard, the investigative editor at large, sincerely responded to some of the disasters mentioned above… “The horrors hurled at Houston and the Himalayan lowlands in late August were heartbreaking.” I so agree.

Hertsgaard went further. He concluded Hurricane Harvey, etal. were the result of man’s lack of implementing more protective, climate change measures; he holds “climate change deniers” and “other powerful know-nothings” responsible… “How long before we hold the ultimate authors of such climate catastrophes accountable for the miseries they inflict?… It is past time to call out… all climate deniers for this crime against humanity. No more treating climate denial like an honest difference of opinion… The first step toward justice is to call things by their true names. Murder is murder, whether the murderers admit it or not.”

The Washington Times then followed this week with a report that in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma, the calls to punish skeptics is rising [even though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says attributing hurricanes to warming is premature].

In other words, any who deny climate change is committing a crime. In still other words, no other opinion is allowed. There is only one right way to think.

Friends, I don’t know exactly what is true. I don’t know with certainty the exact causes and proportion of those causes and the exact extent of any future effects. My desire, therefore, is to process wisely, together, so our “one nation under God” can figure it out and be wise stewards of our planet. But right now I am uncomfortable with the self-profiting and contradictions from various perspectives… I am uncomfortable with the insults and intimidation… and I am uncomfortable with any analysis that omits that “under God” part… especially since as the Creator, he would seem to have way more insight than we.

What I also believe, with all passion and respect, is that we have opportunity to learn from the totality of our processing — listening and learning from one another… if we sit down at the table, together, with the freedom to share what may or may not be true. Wisdom is found in the processing — not in shutting the conversation down.

I’m thankful for my parents. They indeed taught me well.

Respectfully…
AR

 

{Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash}

perspective… after Irma…

perspective |pərˈspektiv|
– n.-
— true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.

One the many things I frequently ponder is whether my perspective is solid or skewed. And if my perspective is skewed, what makes it that way? What has contributed to me being “off”? … especially when perhaps via passion, opinion, or extenuating circumstance, I can’t see it.

While my intent is never to be callous nor cruel, my strong sense is that each of us is capable of possessing either angle. Each of us can possess a solid or skewed perspective, and each of us is capable of not knowing it.

Do we have a true understanding of the relative importance of things? Especially, for example…

When we are shaken…
When we are shocked…
When we are fearful…
When we are wronged…
When we are mad…
When we are hurt…
When life is tough…

When any of those valid emotions becomes most prominent within us, do we understand the importance of what we feel or what we’re going through in relation to all else? … in relation to all others? Or does what we feel rise to the top, so-to-speak? Does what we are going through become the absolute most important and everyone else should so obviously get that, too?

Six weeks ago, my family moved to Florida. Two days ago, we found ourselves in the path of one curvaceous, stormy woman named “Irma.” As a brand new Florida resident, I must say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled that Hurricane Irma would be the one to welcome us with the widest of arms. Sunday night was awful.

The winds howled; the dog barked; and trees and debris went continuously airborne outside. For ten hours, we huddled underneath a dining room table, topped by a mattress, adjacent to two inside walls, which were the two walls that seemingly shook the least. At one point on the constant hurricane TV coverage (and I do mean “constant”), the weatherman said, “Everyone in the viewing area should just assume there’s a tornado near them right now!” It was serious and potentially severe.

And so we huddled. It was a tough experience accompanied by tough emotions.

We were not, however, the only ones to huddle. We were not the only ones going through a hurricane. We were also not the ones to face the worst of Irma’s wrath, and we were certainly not the only ones to ever experience tough circumstances.

One of the many things the Intramuralist increasingly realizes is that we all experience tough things; the tough things come via varied circumstance — things from which we can each learn — but we’d be wiser to glean the available wisdom than to instead spend more time and energy comparing ourselves to others, attempting to discern who has it worst. There will always be someone who has it harder than we… regardless of who actually experiences a hurricane.

Some respected friends in Irma’s path, with solid perspective, chimed in:

“Winds still howling, not sure of outside damage, but we never lost power and we never lost hope.”

“Feeling overwhelmingly grateful for those who stayed in contact with me, assisted me, sheltered me, and most importantly made laugh during these past few days.”

“In times of crisis, we rise and help each other.”

“Our prayers remain stronger than Irma.”

“Made it thru Irma. Made it through cancer. Irma doesn’t come close. Perspective.”

Amen.

It’s amazing how encouraging solid perspective can be.

Respectfully…
AR

 

{Photo by Lily Lvnatikk on Unsplash}

what I love about disasters

Please read that title again. I want to be fully clear. Note that I did not say, “I love disasters.” “What” is the key word. There is something within disasters, when they unfortunately happen, that I love.

Disasters get our attention. They make us stop, reflect, cry out to God, and reach out to one another…

Disasters make us stop. Years ago I heard someone say that “if satan can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy.” (Yes, I realize I didn’t capitalize that proper noun; satan doesn’t deserve it.) Sometimes we get so busy with our work, routines, and “to do lists,” that we fail to take time to do what’s most important — listen well, invest in others, build community, etc. Those things take time. While we might not be susceptible to adopt and embrace evil, we are susceptible to not doing good. When we’re too busy, we aren’t doing good.

Disasters make us reflect. Because we are busy, we miss the wisdom that comes with intentional pause and self-reflection. Often we are busy with good things. Yet when we get so wrapped up in even a good thing — an interest, initiative, ambition or activity — we often fail to reflect upon where we are off, where we need to grow, or where we need to be more humble and kind. Reflection has the unique, necessary potential to keep us humbler. Kinder, too.

Disasters make us cry out to God. Often I wonder if our greatest sin is self-reliance. We become so dependent on ourselves and so confident in our own abilities that we fail to acknowledge the great big God of the universe. We fail to acknowledge who he is, what he has done, and his role and presence in each of our lives. I know that’s a huge conversation, and it’s one I am most willing to have. My point, no less, is that often the only way we cry out to God — acknowledging him, asking for help, or even expressing our gratitude — is when what’s happened in our lives is too big for us to control. Disaster makes us realize what we cannot control. We need far more than self.

Disasters make us reach out to one another. One of the things that has most disturbed me in recent years is the number of things we allow to get in the middle of relationship — all the things that we allow to divide us. Let me be clear: we allow it. We justify an incident, offense, or difference to love someone less… to stop talking to them, to think worse of them, to disrespect them. We choose to love them less. We divide. Disasters have the potential to help us realize that those incidents, offenses, and differences that we have put in the way of relationship are not as important as we made them.

The reality is as I write this, I’m standing in the predicted, calamitous path of Hurricane Irma. I’m not certain of the extent of disaster as of yet, but we are prayerfully prepared to face what’s next. It’s tough, especially not knowing how bad this is going to be. We just witnessed Hurricane Harvey, and the recovery there will no doubt be costly, painful, and long.

But Harvey and Irma afford us the opportunity to more fully comprehend community — to respect and value others in spite of perceived differences and to recognize we have all been divinely created equally. As a friend also awaiting Irma said, “Sometimes people only understand ‘we are one’ during a time of extreme humanity needs.”

Note the joint video announcement from all five living former presidents this past week, appearing together to raise money for relief efforts following Harvey. “One America Appeal” is the name of their initiative. As Pres. Bill Clinton said in their video, “Hurricane Harvey brought terrible destruction — but it also brought out the best in humanity.”

True.

Also true is that those five men — Carter, Clinton, Bush 41, 43, and Obama — have lots of differences. They have all sorts of incidents, offenses, and different ways of thinking that if they allow, could impede any good. But the disaster has prompted them to prioritize what’s most important.

That’s “what” I love about disasters. We stop, reflect, cry out to God, and reach out and respect one another.

That’s important.

(Time now to hunker down.)

Respectfully…
AR

 

{Photo by NASA on Unsplash}

[Note: Tuesday’s post will depend on power after Hurricane Irma passes our area. We’ll post on schedule if able.]

bumper sticker diversity

Search for the meaning of “diversity” and one will find multiple answers…

… the variety of characteristics that make people and communities unique…
… a broad spectrum of demographic and philosophical differences…
… more than one of something…

As I recently attempted to more fully comprehend the current manifestation of this word, I simultaneously heard the call to appreciate, respect, and understand. The call is not to appreciate, respect, and understand only one or some of something; the call is to appreciate, respect, and understand all.

As recently noted, over the last 6-7 weeks, the Intramuralist has driven approximately 5,914 miles. Recognize that utilizing that same number of miles, I could have driven from Broadway to Beverly Hills and back again to Broadway — and still had 328 miles to spare. Hence, I decided to entertain a most unscientific study. I observed our diverse expressions in arguably the only avenue offering smaller space than Twitter. Yes, I observed the ever-expressive bumper sticker. My sense is if someone feels a saying is worthy of sticking on their automotive derrière, then it must be highly important to them. I found diversity in what’s highly important.

Let me first acknowledge, I did not notate the adhesive identifications that seemed primarily of local value only (i.e. “my kid is an honor student at…”). Instead I wrote down every sticker that publicized or promoted something bigger, so-to-speak.

Some expressed themselves via only a singular letter… “L”, “A”, “T”, and “M”…

Others were succinct through a single word — first, those encouraging exercise… “Skate”, “Swim”, “Run”. But still more chose a word of seemingly increased imperative… “Love”, “Coexist”…

There was a strong contingent of proud students and alumni… “Villanova”, “Virginia” and “Virginia Tech”, “Texas”, “Tennessee”, “Boston College”, “Purdue”, “Penn State”, and many more. Prouder, perhaps, were the parental units… “West Virginia Mom”, “Ohio State Mom”, “Clemson Mom”, and moms from UCF and Florida, too (… question: do dads don stickers?).

I will admit, I was somewhat leery of the plethora of political messaging I would encounter; our messaging as a nation has been pretty poor in the respect category this past decade. The political stickers were less prominent than the collegiate crowd, but still vocal… “Trump”, “Yes We Can”, “Stop Obama”, “She Persisted”, “Not a Liberal”, “I Am a Woman and I Vote”, “Make America Great Again”, and perhaps most poignant, “Don’t Assume I Like Your Politics”.

Granted, there were some who focused instead on the issue… “Abortion Is a Slaughter of the Innocent”, “War Is Not the Answer”, “Our Nation Is Open”, and “Police Lives Matter”. Let me add that the latter was one of the few messages frequently repeated… “Back Blue” or “Back the Blue” were the most popular refrains.

I was struck, no less, by the refrain I saw most — that which displayed pride and support for our veterans, troops, and uniformed services… “Army Vet”, “Vietnam Veteran”, “U.S. Marines”, “United States Navy”, “Coast Guard”, “God Bless Our Troops. Especially Our Snipers”. The following humbled me more… “Army Mom”, “My Son Is in the US Army”, “Pray for My Soldier”, and maybe my favorite, “Heroes Don’t Wear Capes. They Wear Dog Tags.”

“God Bless the USA”… yes, another repeated refrain. There were additional comments here… “In God We Trust”, “Jesus Saves”, “Life. Faith. Freedom”, including multiple calls to pray.

Some stickers were less solemn, such as the declared love for Labradors, Westies, Steelers, Patriots, nurses, Eagle Scouts, and even Dr. Who. Then there was this whole “life” advertisement… “Mom Life”, “Christ Life”, “Salt Life”, “Walt Life”, and “Band Life”. I realized there are some “lifes” I don’t totally understand. (Insert “Marathon Freak” here.)

A few more wise encouragements and notices… “Disconnect & Drive” and “Stay Alive. Don’t Text and Drive”, and “Baby on Board”. Granted, a witty friend sent me a copy of the sticker stating: “Adults on Board. We Want to Live Too.”

More that made me laugh out loud?… “Bach Off”, “Do You Believe in Life After Death? Touch My Truck and We’ll Find Out”, and (sorry ahead of time) “If You Are Riding My (bleep) This Close, You Might as Well Kiss It.”

Obviously, we are a diverse country, a country in which “God blessing us” is far more than a bumper sticker, but rather, a humbling, wise, and potentially powerful prayer. Maybe we start by learning to appreciate, respect, and understand our differences… even through often sticky expression.

Respectfully…
AR

 

{Photo by Frankie Guarini on Unsplash}

a sick health care system

Most of the news coverage about Congress’ attempt to rewrite the Affordable Care Act may as well be on the sports page. It’s all about who’s winning and losing. Similarly, most of our elected officials stick to their shallow talking points because they are focused on winning politically, too. To talk forthrightly about health care means to acknowledge there will be trade-offs whatever public policy we pursue. Both parties are hesitant to face these realities head on.

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees, but for some reason many of us seem to think that health care does, and we can have as much of it that we want or need. That is not the case. Health care is like any other good or service. There is not enough of it available for everyone to have as much as they desire. One way or another, there will be rationing. It’s just a question of how.

For most items in our economy, prices are the mechanism to determine who gets what. Some are able to afford the health care they desire at market rates, many can afford it only if they forgo different purchases, and others can’t afford it at all. We are a compassionate people and we don’t like to see others suffer. And so, through our government we have developed programs whereby costs are shifted from one group of people to another: from the poor to the rich (Medicaid), from the old to the young (Medicare), and from the sick to the healthy (Obamacare).

(Actually, the biggest cost shift is from the living to the unborn. All of these programs are financially unsustainable and are loading down future taxpayers with untenable amounts of debt. But that’s for another column.)

Taxes are just one way these costs are shifted. At least with taxes, though, we know who’s paying what. Increasingly, health insurance has become the vehicle by which costs are shifted. This method is particularly insidious, because the degree to which some are subsidizing others is not transparent.

Health care and health insurance are two different things. Traditionally, insurance is something you buy, but hope you never use. If you file an auto, home, or life insurance claim, that means something bad has happened. We willingly pay a relatively small amount of money to share the risk in the unlikely event something catastrophic occurs to us.

Health insurance is structured differently. You would never use your auto insurance to pay for an oil change, yet we use health insurance to pay for a routine check-up. Furthermore, it is common toward the end of the year when deductibles reset for a glut of elective procedures to get scheduled because that way someone else will pay for them. That creates upward pressure on premiums for everyone.

Also, both the federal and state governments require that health insurance policies cover a variety of treatments. At first glance this appears to be a benevolent gesture to force the big rich insurance companies to share some of their wealth. In reality, these costs get passed along to all customers, even those who wouldn’t buy that particular coverage if given a choice.

The regulation that has truly caused health insurance to not be insurance any more is the requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Consider if you didn’t have auto insurance and had a car accident, or if you didn’t have home insurance and your house caught on fire. If you called an insurance agent the next day and said you wanted to buy a policy and file a claim, they would likely laugh and hang up on you. However, if you didn’t have health insurance and were diagnosed with a costly disease, an insurer has to sell you a policy under current law. That’s crazy.

The Democrats’ answer to this conundrum was the individual mandate. Force everyone to buy insurance and nothing will be pre-existing. It’s hard to keep track of all the Republican reform plans put forth this summer, but some GOP proposals would have kept the politically popular requirement to cover pre-existing conditions but ditched the politically unpopular individual mandate. How about being honest with the American people? You can’t have one without the other.

Ultimately, we need to let health insurance be insurance again. Allow people to buy catastrophic coverage only and pay for routine procedures themselves. For those who can’t afford routine care, use public funds to pay for basic services, and reform malpractice laws for free clinics who provide charity care (again, a topic for another column). Don’t wreck the entire system in pursuit of an unattainable, utopian goal.

Health care is not a right. The irony is that treating it as such actually results less care for everyone, including the poor. How compassionate is that?

Respectfully…
Pete

questions from an old(er) woman

Like most adults my age, I have adopted social media along with the rest of the world as an efficient way to reconnect and stay in touch with my distant family and friends. This time of year is the best time of year to be on social media, in my opinion. The pictures! Wonderful, happy, pictures of end-of the school year events, summer fun, and WEDDINGS (honestly, my favorite!). I think it was around the end of May, as I was gazing upon all these posts that questions started popping up in my head.

As a more, ahem, mature woman, I can’t help but think about how things have changed from when my children were growing up to now. My questions here are sincere because it seems growing up in the U.S. has changed quite a bit in the last 20+ years, probably as it changed in the 20 years prior to that and so on. I wonder if growing up in the U.S. right now is better than it used to be?

Take into account while you’re reading that most of my social media “friends” have enough food in their bellies, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their back. They earn the means to raise their children and thus, I think there are less basic worries and perhaps a greater desire to celebrate the joys in life. I totally get that. My husband and I struggle to keep the balance. Should we go on vacation or sock that money into retirement? The answer is not always clear to us. Too often, we see friends and family “waiting” for retirement to enjoy their life and something devastating happens before they get there.

Back to my question: is it a better experience growing up in the U.S. right now than it was 20+ years ago? I’ll tell you why I have that question. Pre-schoolers are wearing caps and gowns in order to graduate from being 4 to being 5. Pinterest-inspired (and definitely Pinterest-worthy) birthday parties are being given, starting with gender reveals during pregnancy and continuing until children say “stop, I’m too old for that.” Children receive cell phones, video games, and other traditionally “adolescent” privileges at younger and younger ages. Kids today have experiences! Activities! Travel! One friend took her elementary-age child to Disney’s Art Institute because he likes to draw. Fifth grade proms. High school prom-posals. Oh my. The prom-posals. Kids are traveling internationally and experiencing other cultures and ways of doing things. Truth be told, I didn’t even travel outside the U.S. until I was 45.

It also seems to me — and I stress the “seems” part because I am beyond the active childrearing years — that teenagers are not working at jobs outside of schoolwork and chores at home. I read an article the other day that addressed the joblessness issue among teens today and it surprised me to read that the findings revealed that teens aren’t working at part-time jobs because they are using summers to continue to prepare academically and experientially for college applications. Wow. That’s some added stress to families.

So. These are my observations from social media. Downright objective, I know, but question-generating for me nonetheless. Part of me thinks this is a natural process of growing older. Comparing generations. Another part of me, though, sincerely questions the differences. I know now how important it is to travel and experience other cultures, environments, and situations. Do today’s young parents already get that? It seems that more have than when I was growing up. A trip to the beach was downright glamorous and highly anticipated once a year (or less) when I was young(er). Do today’s parents realize how fleeting our time is here on earth and work to make as many special memories as possible before their kids move away and begin lives without mom and dad? I can get behind those ideas. Honestly, I wish I had had some of those realizations 20 years ago when my kids were small.

Let’s also look at the other side of the coin. May I insert here that the element of competition might be at play? Mommy wars is a real thing. Women striving to outdo other women through their children. It happens in the workplace. Isn’t it logical that it also happens in the family and childrearing context? Is that what is driving the “uber-childhood experiences”?

That leads me to my next question. Are today’s children programmed to be disappointed adults? There has been research done in this area. Some note that today’s young adults experience anxiety and depression at greater rates than previous generations. How do young adults continue to experience life events when parents aren’t around anymore? Don’t you suppose that there is a bit of shock and letdown when they realize that there won’t be a parade for them when they start their first job? Is there a transition of the responsibility to create joy? To whom? Spouses? What does that expectation do to young marriages? I would imagine that it takes a while for people to figure all this out. How long does it take for young adults to find their own, sometimes less sensational, ways of celebrating or simply experiencing life? I rarely see pictures of “twenty-somethings” throwing Pinterest-inspired parties for themselves.

As with most interesting life situations, there isn’t a black and white answer. Is this trend good or bad? I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s a shade of gray (no, I haven’t read the books). It’s one of those things where it’s up to moms, dads, and kids to make sense of it all and pull the good out of it and use it to lead fulfilling lives. Likewise, the not-so-good should be weeded out and discarded along the way. Easier said than done, eh?

As noted at the beginning, this old(er) woman has a lot of questions. I’m still not sure of the answers, but I have confidence that all will work out for the good of American families. In the meantime, I’m considering asking some of these families to consider me for adoption! I’d LOVE to go to a Disney Art Camp.

Respectfully…
SLL

 

[Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash]