four days after Parkland

Let’s talk honestly, rawly about what happened last Wednesday. Let’s talk about the students. Let’s talk about solution.

First, take a moment to say each of these names out loud. Take note, too, of their ages…

Alyssa Alhadeff (14), Martin Duque Anguiano (14), Scott Beigel (35), Nicholas Dworet (17), Aaron Feis (37), Jaime Guttenberg (14), Christopher Hixon (49), Luke Hoyer (15), Cara Loughran (14), Gina Montalto (14), Joaquin Oliver (17), Alaina Petty (14), Meadow Pollack (18), Helena Ramsay (17), Alex Schachter (14), Carmen Schentrup (16), and Peter Wang (15).

We need to know their names, see their faces. We need to make sure we humanize the process and allow ourselves to feel. We cannot simply stand back behind a policy; we need to stand most behind our people.

17 people died Wednesday afternoon. No doubt none expected to lose their life that day. And that could have been any our kids or any of us or any of our loved ones, too; we expect school to be safe. It was not. It’s seemingly, increasingly not.

So what do we do? What’s the solution?

Let me first say I have tremendous respect for those who shout and shame on social media. They are motivated by a deep desire to solve this problem.

I also have tremendous respect for those who cry out and pray, acknowledging we need help in this area. They are motivated by a deep desire to solve this problem.

What concerns me are those who see only one of the above as right, and therefore denigrate all others. “The ‘my way or the high way’ approach is rendering all of us incapable of rising up to a challenge that will continue to consume the most innocent and best of us,” says one wise friend. We need to address the challenge without attacking or dismissing the approach of another.

I do find comfort that even among the most passionate, shameful expressers, each of us is still motivated by a desire to solve this heartbreaking challenge in our country.

Friends, we can — and should, I believe — look at policy changes. So let’s do something that works. Let’s take the politics out of it and find what’s effective and works. There is no such thing as “there is nothing we can do.”

Do we need to limit access to semi-automatic weapons? Then let’s do it. But let’s limit more than just the scary looking ones.

Do we need to limit the lobbyist groups that are influencing policy and our legislators’ votes?

Then let’s do it. But let’s limit far more than the NRA. Let’s limit the AARP, AFL-CIO, and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, too. Each of those (and more) is affecting the way our legislators vote. As said here previously, the Intramuralist strongly believes that the eased restrictions on lobbyists and special interest groups — which occurred in the late 1970’s — is a primary origin of the divisive governance we sadly witness today.

But  remembering that we are talking honestly and rawly, is there more we need to do? After acknowledging the students and advocating for solution, let’s not ignore the also true realities…

  • What happened in Parkland was evil. We cannot legislate evil out of the human heart…
  • We are a society which is at best inconsistent and at worst arrogant regarding the sanctity of life. We care more about some lives than others… and…
  • We have become increasingly less compassionate and accepting of violence.

Let me make the last point a little more poignant. We have become increasingly more accepting of selective compassion, meaning we are not compassionate toward all — and we justify it.

Follow the perspective of one Florida middle school Teacher of the Year [with the emphasis being mine], “Until we, as a country, are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for the mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support when the schools are trying to control horrible behavior at school (oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it – violent video games that take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives – as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream up in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves, we will have a gun problem in school.”

So yes, we need to review policy change. Yes, we need to keep praying. And yes, we need to respect one another in their different approach. Let’s work together toward solution.

That’s love, friends. Let’s make love toward all lives — toward the victims, especially — be our loudest, collective voice…. for far more than four days after Parkland.

Respectfully…
AR

more than a game(s)

What are they saying about these Olympics?

Two great stories… first, from Dylan Hernandez, a sports columnist with the Los Angeles Times, including his editorial commentary:

“A more appropriate nickname for these so-called Peace Games would be the Geopolitical Public Relations Olympics, as North Korea has claimed gold in media manipulation with a contingent that has included Kim Jong Un’s sister, red-clad cheering sections and low-caliber athletes that have become the subjects of widespread fascination.

In the background of the cynical spectacle, however, the ideals of the Olympics remain very much alive, embodied by anonymous men and women competing in obscure sports, athletes such as Chris Mazdzer, who on Sunday became America’s first-ever male medalist in the luge.

You had probably never heard of Mazdzer, but that’s the point. His silver medal won’t make him an overnight millionaire and, at some point, the 29-year-old will have to find work that doesn’t involve him sliding down his back on ice-covered tracks.

If anything, the absence of money and fame have made the 29-year-old’s journey to the podium all the more meaningful.

‘It’s all about passion, it’s about heart,’ Mazdzer said. ‘That’s what luge is.’”

And second, in the words of newly-donned Pyeongchang gold medalist, Shaun White, reflecting on one, experiencing a serious crash/injury on the slopes, as he prepared for these games:

“… By saying I want to continue on in the sport means that I’m looking at myself in the mirror and saying, ‘if I’m out on the snow again, that means that I’m willing to have that happen again. I’m ready to take that risk.’ And it was a big decision.

From that moment in the hospital in New Zealand ’til like winning the competition, making the [Olympic] team, and a perfect 100 score — I mean, that was truly the comeback story for me, and it just felt so amazing — and so incredible to make that jump back and overcoming the fears and get that score. And now I’m still fired up for this Olympics. This is really icing on the cake, if things go the way I hope they go…”

And two, on disappointedly, not medaling four years ago, and later deciding to train and compete once more:

“People ask, ‘When are you going to get over it?’ You know, the loss or whatever. You don’t, you don’t really ever get over it. It’s kind of like you have a scar from falling off a bike; it’s just with you forever. But you learn from it. So it’s a part of me now, which is great. As hard as it was, I’m thankful that it happened because it taught me a lot.”

Passion.
Dedication.
Thanksgiving.
Redemption.

Being taught a lot… learning from it… even in heartache and loss.

There is certainly something about these games that is beautiful…

And far more than just a game.

Respectfully…
AR

coin flips & comparisons

Every two years — in winter and then summer — one athlete is honored with the privilege of carrying the American flag, leading his or her peers in the opening Olympic ceremonies.

Last week, in a process “fully driven by the athletes,” America’s eight winter sports federations voted to determine who would receive the prestigious honor. When coming to a 4-4 tie between speedskater Shani Davis and luge athlete Erin Hamlin, to break the tie, the predetermined procedure called for a coin flip, which was won by Hamlin.

Davis was mad.

Tweeted Davis in the immediate aftermath:

“I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #PyeongChang2018”

Davis is black. Hamlin is white.

So allow me to share with you now, that this post will have zero answers. It will, however, raise multiple questions. The older I get, in fact, the more I profoundly realize how I don’t have all the answers — nowhere close. And sometimes — no, often — I realize asking instead of opining leads to greater wisdom.

Was it wrong to flip a coin?

Davis is quite the accomplished athlete; he’s a five-time Olympian with two golds and two silver medals in his collection.

Hamlin is a four-time Olympian, winner of one bronze, a two-time world champion and winner of 23 World Cup medals.

In other words, both are accomplished athletes and each seen as deserving of the flag bearer honor in the eyes of their peers. Also true is that Olympic success is not the only factor in the consideration of their peers.

So was it wrong to flip the coin?

Hamlin indeed felt honored by the selection. ESPN said she “beamed about the opportunity.” She told the story about how her parents always wrestle with the money necessary to attend the opening ceremonies. She said, “I think they’re going to be really glad that they made that decision. They’re really pumped. I’m sure my brothers will be. We’ve grown up watching the Olympics and we’re always like, ‘Who’s going to be carrying the flag?’ And to actually be that person is insane.”

Her luge mates were also reportedly thrilled — both for the honor of Hamlin and the attention given to their sport.

And so again, I ask: was it wrong to flip the coin?

The oft-outspoken Davis has a great story. Hamlin, too, has a story.

How often in life do we compare our stories — and then decide who has the one that’s better? … who is most deserving?

How often do we compare?

Is it wrong to advocate for self?

And what happens when our self-advocacy is disrespectful to other people?

Ah, what an excellent, most complicated question…

Respectfully…
AR

I may be wrong

Every four years, at this time of year, we seem to get visions of sugar plums or ice skaters (or something) dancing in our heads, and I’m reminded of how enjoyable the Olympics can be… athletes coming together for fierce but friendly competition, regardless of nation, ethnicity, etc.

I think of so many who’ve gone before… Apolo Ohno, Franz Klammer, and Kristi Yamaguchi, to name a few…

… and to those we have our eyes on this February… Nathan Chen, Chloe Kim, and the “Shib Sibs,” Alex and Maia Shibutani.

I think, too, of Tonya Harding.

With the new movie “I, Tonya” undoubtedly, intentionally timed for its recent cinematic release, we are reminded of the disturbing 1994 event…

Prior to Olympic hopefuls Harding and Nancy Kerrigan descending upon Lillehammer, Norway for the XVII Olympic Winter Games, Kerrigan was intentionally clubbed an inch above the knee during practice by a man associated with Harding. The man was attempting to break Kerrigan’s leg in order to prevent her from competing in the games.

Harding was then hounded by the media during all public events at and leading up to the Olympics. CBS, in fact, notoriously assigned Connie Chung to follow the skater’s every move in Lillehammer. There, Kerrigan would physically recover and go on to finish second — Harding eighth. Two and a half weeks later, Harding pled guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of the attackers; she also received a lifetime ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Tonya Harding became one of the most hated sports figures in America.

“I, Tonya” chronicles this account. It also shares more — about the abuse she says she received from both her mother and first husband… about her “white trash” reputation… and about her fluid vulgar mouth, for example (a representation Harding denies). Harding — now Mrs. Tonya Price — is said to be pleased with the film.

As I read reviews and subsequent interviews with Harding, I was reminded of a few details.

First, the FBI found that the attacker had been hired by Shawn Eckardt, a friend of Jeff Gillooly’s. Jeff Gillooly was Ms. Harding’s ex-husband at the time.

Second, Harding’s guilty plea acknowledged that she knew who was responsible for the attack but only after it occurred. She then did not report it immediately.

In other words, even though the prosecution believed Harding was guilty of far more than her plea encompassed, Harding became hated for both what she did and didn’t do. The media mocked her — again, for what she did and didn’t do. The media encouraged us to hate her, even though the courts did not find her guilty of encouraging, planning, nor executing the attack.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner recently did an excellent interview with Harding for the New York Times Magazine. Harding claimed that no one had ever sat down with her before and listened to her side of the story. She believes the media in particular had only lied, tricked, and attacked her previously. In response to Harding discussing the media’s abuse, Brodesser-Akner writes:

“I told her about the essays I’d read about how we should have been kinder and protected her back then. She doesn’t want to hear it. What do we know about her? We never asked…

She doesn’t need our protection now, thank you very much. She needed it back then. Where were our think pieces then? ‘You all disrespected me and it hurt. I’m a human being and it hurt my heart.’”

And so it made me wonder…

According to Brodesser-Akner’s perspective, there are all sorts of contradictions in Harding’s account. But sitting with Harding, asking good questions, listening to her, trying to understand what influenced Harding’s behavior, and being willing to acknowledge that so much of what the public believes is inaccurate, Brodesser-Akner found herself having compassion instead of hate for the former Olympian; she had compassion on Harding, even though there is no denial that Harding did do something bad.

Where have we allowed that to happen to us? … where have we justified hatred because we are no longer willing to listen to another’s perspective? … where have we justified hatred, not realizing some details of our perspective may be wrong?

Respectfully… always…
AR

returning to a great era

And then there was this on Tuesday on the Senate floor, as calmly spoken by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)…

“So with that, I’m going to sign the pledge. It says here:

‘Pledge to Return to Era of Bipartisan Cooperation and Agreement

In order to restore civility to the United States Senate and our political discourse, we must pledge to return to an era of bipartisan cooperation and agreement.

I, Joe Manchin (signing his name), pledge to the people of West Virginia (the state Manchin has been elected to represent) and to the American people that I will:

Not campaign against a sitting colleague.

2) Not directly fundraise against them.

3) Not distribute direct mail against them.

4) Not appear or endorse any advertisements directed at them.

5) Not use or endorse social media campaign that attacks them.

I would hope that each one of you all would consider this.

I think we have to take this into our own hands right now, and make sure that we look at each other — we look at each other with sincerity.

You’re my friend.

We might disagree but we can work through this.

We can work through this, Mr. President.

We can definitely work through this — and remember our purpose in being here.

The people want us to succeed. They depend on us to succeed. And that’s the policies that they need… whether it be in Indiana, South Dakota, West Virginia, they all want the same. They want America to be the hope of the world.’”

How many of us would encourage our representatives to follow the lead of Sen. Manchin?

How many of us would not?

Let me also ask:

How many of us want to be part of the solution?

… or the problem?

Thank you, Joe Manchin III.

Please keep talking; please do not be silent.

Respectfully…
AR

learning from the Super Bowl…

So first, ten things we learned from Super Bowl LII…

  1. Minnesota is cold.
  2. Justin Timberlake rocks.
  3. Eagles really do fly.
  4. Sometimes a backup player makes all the difference in the world.
  5. Marketers determined they would make more of a difference by omitting the political statements during commercial timeouts this year.
  6. Tom Brady may be a “goat,” but he’s still very human.
  7. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. do an excellent Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey routine.
  8. #BleepDon’tStink.
  9. The NFL really needs to clear up the “what is a catch” rule. And…
  10. A 29 year old quarterback catches a pass better than a 40 year old one.

But better than all of the above, in my semi-humble opinion, was the poignant lesson in leadership so sweetly articulated by Philadelphia QB Nick Foles. The backup — a man who was never expected to play in this year’s Super Bowl, much less be named the MVP — said it better than most leaders, with a mic in front of them, than most people ever do…

Said Foles in the post-game press conference:

“I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman. I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me. And all I had to do was just go play as hard as I could, and play for one another, and play for those guys.”

Heed that briefly once more…

No need to be Superman…
Just play hard…
Play for one another.

That humility is demonstrative of effective, contagious leadership.

As written yesterday by Justin Bariso, author and encourager of emotional intelligence, on Inc.com:

“… As Foles so beautifully demonstrated over the past several weeks, true leadership isn’t about position, or trying to get others to follow you.

Rather, true leadership is about action: It’s putting your head down, going to work, and trying to lift up those around you. That’s what inspires others to follow because they want to, not because they have to.

Despite putting on a performance for the ages, Foles recognized that football is a team game.
There is no Super Bowl win without the protection of his front line.

There is no Super Bowl win without the amazing play-calling of Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

There is no Super Bowl win without the defense that forced Tom Brady to fumble in crunch time, those final minutes when New England’s favorite footballer typically plays with the laser focus of a machine, programmed to dash the dreams of hopeful opponents, much as he did last year.

Foles recognized all of this. He knew that great teams aren’t only about who’s on your team, but about how the team works together. By showing humility, setting the example, and praising his teammates, Foles demonstrated emotional intelligence. In doing so, he inspired trust — the deep, long-lasting trust that requires connecting with others on an emotional level.

That’s the lesson Nick Foles taught us over the past several weeks, and the lesson he reminded us of last night, as he stood before the podium reserved for the newest Super Bowl MVP — a place no one ever predicted he would be, perhaps not even he himself.

But that’s exactly where Foles deserved to be. A reward for putting his head down, going to work, and trying his best to lift up those around him.

Now, that’s what I call leadership.”

What a wonderful thing for us to learn.

Respectfully…
AR

criticism, questions & the ending of life

Some situations just make me pause. The circumstances are hard. There is no criticism, no judgment… just hard. But I admit, from afar, it’s often easier to criticize one or more of the key players rather than standing back, asking more questions, recognizing that our judgment is secondary to our prayers.

In a story covered last week by a wide array of media— from CBS to People Magazine — note the following circumstance regarding an especially fluid situation, as reported by Great Britain’s “The Guardian”:

“Doctors can withdraw life support for an 11-month-old boy against the wishes of his parents, a judge has ruled.

Specialists at King’s College hospital in London had argued that giving further intensive care treatment to Isaiah Haastrup was “futile” and not in his best interests. They say he is profoundly disabled but believe he might be able to feel pain.

Isaiah’s mother, Takesha Thomas, and father, Lanre Haastrup, both 36 and from London, wanted treatment to continue. Neither were in court for the handing down of the judgment.

In his judgment, Mr. Justice MacDonald said: ‘Examining Isaiah’s best interests from a broad perspective… I am satisfied that it is not in his best interests for life-sustaining medical treatment to be continued. That, with profound sadness, is my judgment.’

The judge said it was a ‘grave and difficult case’ and discontinuing the treatment would, on the evidence before him, ‘lead to Isaiah’s death.’ There was ‘a stark difference’ between the views of the medical professionals and parents regarding Isaiah’s medical condition and prognosis, he said.

He said the parents’ evidence on Isaiah’s level of responsiveness was ‘both understandably and sadly heavily influenced by the flattering voice of hope’ and was not reliable evidence. ‘I am satisfied on the evidence before the court that Isaiah has no prospect of recovery or improvement given the severe nature of the cerebral atrophy in his brain.’

He was satisfied Isaiah would remain ‘ventilator dependent and without meaningful awareness of his surroundings,’ adding: ‘Having as I must Isaiah’s best interests as my paramount consideration, I am entirely satisfied that it is no longer in Isaiah’s best interest to receive life-sustaining treatment.’

The judge paid tribute to the devotion of Isaiah’s parents. ‘It is trite but true to observe that the court cannot imagine the emotional pain that the conclusion of the court will cause to the parents. It is my hope that, in due course, the parents will be able to derive some small measure of comfort from the knowledge that they have done all that they can for their much-loved and cherished son to seek an alternative outcome for Isaiah’…

The specialists and Isaiah’s parents disagreed over his level of responsiveness. His parents said they believe he responded to his mother’s face and touch…”

And so in my desire to ask more questions than assert any claims of knowing best, I wonder:

Who does know best?
Is hope a valid enough defense?
Can hope be reliable?
What is the meaning of “in his best interests”?
Who gets to decide those best interests?
Who would pay for the infant’s continued care?
Does money matter?
Should it matter?
Can we trust the giver and taker-away of life?

And…

Am I more prone to criticism of any involved than asking good questions from afar?

Respectfully…
AR

if we were united…

As we await yet another Super Bowl, we await yet another appearance by none other than the New England Patriots. This is the tenth time the Patriots have played in the NFL’s annual championship game — the most of any NFL team. It is also the eighth appearance under the tenure of head coach Bill Belichick. Led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, the Patriots’ dominance on the gridiron has been unprecedented.

Much of that dominance seems evident in the decades-long unity both on and off the field; in order to be consistently victorious, the coaches, players, and all those associated need to be on the same page…

What’s the game plan? … where do we need to be when?… let’s do this together!

Successful sports teams are “together” teams; they are unified. Unity — combined with talent, hard work, and giftedness — equates to strength.

So as we live amidst a culture that seems to crave unity yet struggles to find what is lasting, I find myself pondering what exactly allows for the potential of permanence… what unity has the potential to never be undone? Where does true unity lie?

Like ambition and uniforms are simply not big enough to cover us all. Like life stories and demographics can also fade in time. Like gender only covers half of us.

Hence, we must ask: what’s big enough? What’s big enough to never go away?

“Isn’t there one father for all of us, one God who created us?”

Unifying under anything other than that profound yet oh-so humbling realization that there is solely “one God who created us” will at some point glean a few cracks, as in anything lesser, individual differences and thus competing desires will eventually come into play.

Note the Patriots’ challenge as they move forward after Super Bowl LII…

Brady will turn 41 in 2018 — Belichick, 66. Each wants to win, but also… totally understandably…

… Belichick wants to keep his job.

… Brady wants to play as long as he can.

… and owner Bob Kraft wants to keep winning after Belichick and Brady are gone.

Competing motivations would thus seem to serve as potential for cracks in the unity — whether in football, politics, you-name-it. Recognizing we are each created by God, however, is the only aspect big enough in which there exists no individual difference wherein a competing motivation could lie.

Interestingly, a senior writer for ESPN questioned New England’s unity at the onset of this year’s playoff season. Said Seth Wickersham:

“Brady, Belichick and Kraft have raised expectations and possibilities so high that virtually no other team in the Super Bowl era could truly comprehend what it’s like to be them. Brady and Belichick weren’t only pushing the boundaries of what a team could accomplish. They also were challenging basic understandings of how a group of high achievers escape the usual pulls of ego and pride. For 17 years, the Patriots have withstood everything the NFL and opponents could throw their way, knowing that if they were united, nobody could touch them. Now they’re threatening to come undone the only way possible: from within.”

While the team disputed much of ESPN’s perspective of coming “undone,” the question remains how they best move forward, knowing preparations must be in play, without allowing for cracks in their unity… “if they were united, nobody could touch them.”

… if we were united, what could we do together?

Can we simply speak unity into existence?

Can we ignore our individual limitations and thus eventual, competing desires?

Or… could we pursue something more authentic… recognizing that the only lasting unity rests in a truth that is bigger? … that there is one father for us all and God who created us?

Respectfully…
AR