the hottest of messes

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #4 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…]

 

Police cars sound in the distance. A look of sheer panic flashes in her eyes as she begs her teacher to know if it is yet another bomb threat.

An over-the–road truck driver’s family learns of his whereabouts when he does not return home at the end of dropping his load. No one would have guessed he would never make it home alive.

“If I could ask my son one question, I would ask him how it felt, after he pulled that trigger, to fall into the arms of Jesus,” sobbed a grieving Pat, the father of a colleague who committed suicide at the end of school last year.

One common thread binds these three stories together. One consistent — dare I say, “friend” — proves to be there. 

Tragedy…

Tragedy… those events, which cause each of us great suffering, destruction, and distress.

Tragedy comes in many shapes and sizes. You know those moments… those that nearly do us in, leaving us breathless. 

The truth is stingingly real. Not a one of us is immune to tragedy. Each of us is impacted by the tragedies that touch our lives. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a something that changes within us. Whether it is our thought process or our coping skills, I am not sure.

Or maybe it is our hearts. No one can answer that question for us. We must each take the time to look at who we are from the inside out.  

Another profound aspect of tragedy is that it plays no favorites. It does not concern itself with demographics or statistics. It comes when it comes…

Maybe it is a mass shooting such as Sandy Hook or Columbine. It could be a bomb threat at a school in rural southern Indiana “where things like that just don’t happen.” It could be the events that push a college friend to see no other way out but to take his own life. Or, even more surreal, perhaps it is that over-the-road truck driver who is your brother that was out of your life more than he was in and is now gone far too soon.  

Hear my heart. Regardless of what your tragedy may look like, it is okay to own it and be real with exactly where you are. If a struggle is there: say so and then let’s figure out how to rise up. We are all in this boat together friends! We are all a HOT MESS!!  

At the very least, we all have the great potential of becoming a hot mess. 

Just think how much sweeter this world of ours would be if we could only recognize that place in each other. We have to start within ourselves. We have to allow ourselves to walk in the freedom of knowing that we are all on level ground; we are not so different from one another.

Tragedies and joys alike are going to come. We will each face these moments in our lives. And we can all rise above. 

So this is my challenge to each of us… 

Can we strive to walk this road together? Can we walk beside each other, leaving room only for love, grace, and respect — and the freedom to do so regardless of what that looks like for each of us? … knowing it will look differently for each of us?

With you in the fray… respectfully…

The Hottest of Messes

living simply

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #3 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…]

 

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

This is a difficult statement because it requires us to define the word, “simply.”  

It does ask us to decide the difference between two very different words: NEED as in “must have… survival, you know” — and WANT as in “sure-would-be-nice-to-have and-fun, too”!  Of course, the internal argument that goes on in determining an answer is easier if we can quickly convert the “wanted” to the “needed.”  But that truly isn’t a solution, is it?  So why is it such a challenge?  

Well, one word suggests we may need to give up something or maybe make a change in lifestyle or abandon the “I-deserve-it” mentality. And does less make any sense (almost un-American?) or is having more really being self-indulgent? Tough questions if we really want to be honest with ourselves. Now some of you may have stopped reading now because no one likes thoughts and ideas that make us uncomfortable. But I will share a small personal example. 

This want-need struggle of mine first became apparent when I moved into a different house, one which I did not own. Along with all the possessions moved into the house were just the loveliest set of bath towels that were ideal in the former house… but now they were completely incompatible with the decor of the new bathroom, a total aesthetic nightmare in my eyes at least. Now I know any reader will have an immediate solution: “Paint!” Remember I said it was not my house, and it was inappropriate for me to get the permission of the owner. And then there were the realistic positions which I confronted literally and figuratively: The budget is tight.  We can’t afford this. Just get over it. And finally, the last straw, will the towels still do what a towel is supposed to do?  

Now this may be a trite example, but for many of us this “want-need” struggle still affects our lives, especially if we are trying to follow the Biblical truths that address the acquisition of “getting” and the teachings on “giving.”  But what if those truths mean we would really have more, not less?  

More of what, you ask?  

Here are only a few answers:

MORE room in our closets (… shall we have a shoe counting contest?)                                                         

MORE resources to help those who really do have needs… food, clothing, shelter…

MORE time to serve others, not just stuff that keeps us busy or on the go.

MORE rest not invaded by worry of bills, keeping up with the Joneses, etc.

MORE sharing of words that express appreciation, compassion, kindness.

So, make your own list of MORE’S…

And by the way, that opening statement — “Live simply so that others may simply live” — was written by Henry David Thoreau… I think Jesus would agree with him.

Respectfully…

DL

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]

state of civility

[Intramuralist Note: Today features Guest Writer #1 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. Enjoy!!]

 

A Respectful Dialogue of Current Events… a guiding principle of the Intramuralist is to express one’s opinion while respecting those who hold an alternative perspective. Such is the essence of civil discourse. If the mission of this website is to lead by example so that others will debate the issues of the day in a civil manner, is anybody following that example?

Not so much, I’m afraid. Take a look at these events over just the last 12 months since the last Guest Writer Series:

  • An employee was fired from his job for a memo he wrote challenging the effectiveness of his company’s diversity programs.
  • A white separatists rally in Charlottesville, VA turned deadly when a man intentionally drove his car into a crowd of protesters.
  • Football fields turned into political battlegrounds pitting players against fans over protests during the National Anthem.
  • A tenured law school professor was removed from teaching mandatory first-year courses after challenging racial preferences in college admissions.
  • A left-leaning magazine hired a writer away from a right-leaning magazine and then fired him after one column due to backlash from its readership.
  • Protesters hounded a cabinet member at a private dinner and another restaurant refused to serve the White House press secretary.
  • A congresswoman advocated for further harassment of administration officials.
  • The congresswoman herself was harassed in response.
  • A comedienne used vulgar profanity on her TV show to insult the president’s daughter. (She apologized, but only to women.)
  • An opinion website was hounded into deleting a column defending an actress cast to play a transgender role, leading to the columnist’s resignation.
  • Trump supporters organized a boycott of a retailer for selling “Impeach 45” clothing on its website even though it was placed online by a third party.

I could go on. It seems we can’t even get to “live and let live.” Not only do we feel the need to tell those with the opposing viewpoint how wrong they are, many of us want to hurt (either physically or financially) those on the other side. They need to pay a price for disagreeing with us. It should go without saying that is not a healthy attitude to have.

So what to do about it? A few humble suggestions:

  1. Recognize that we are all part of the problem – Your incivility may not be as bad as others’, but are you as civil as you could be? If not, you are escalating the rhetoric which can lead to harmful outcomes.
  2. Acknowledge that everyone has biases (even you) – We are all inclined to focus on (or ignore) certain data points based on our perspective. As such, we don’t always see the world as it really is.
  3. Admit that you are not always right – Even if you think you are right 99% of the time, maybe this time is part of the 1%. Allow for that possibility, and it will be easier to retract your words if you have to.
  4. Disconnect from social media – Personally, I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts a couple years ago. I find myself to be a much happier person. Even if you don’t want to totally disengage from those platforms, try going without it for a few days and experience how little you miss it.
  5. Don’t type anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face – Why is it that we are much crueler when we type things than when we’re speaking in person? Imagine that the person you’re communicating with is in the room with you when you type.
  6. Read some opinion you disagree with – Find some civil writers from the opposite side of the political spectrum and try to understand the issues of the day from their point of view. It may not change your mind, but it should change the way you interact with those you disagree with.
  7. Be honest with your self-assessment – There are some people who get an emotional high from arguing. There can be an addiction to adrenaline that comes from debating controversial issues just like any drug. If you think that might be you, seek professional help to preserve your personal relationships.
  8. Consider that Trump is a symptom, not the problem – I know, I know… some of you really, really hate Donald Trump. I’m not a big fan myself, but here’s the thing. He could not have risen to power were it not for the toxic political environment that existed before he was elected. He knows how to take advantage of uncivil discourse, but it did not start with him, and it will not go away after his presidency unless we do something about it.

Bottom line… before you speak, THINK! Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?

Respectfully…

PJM

the voices of others

When the Intramuralist began nearly 10 years ago, there were some baseline principles we vowed to embrace, such as:

All people are created equal.

Everyone’s voice is valid.

Everyone deserves respect.

Disagreement does not equate to disrespect.

How we handle disagreement matters.

Listening is a virtue.

We are each endowed by our Creator.

None of us have life all figured out (… especially since we are each endowed by someone other than self…).

Focusing on what is good and right and true is best.

Dialogue leads to both solution and growth.

Insults, ridicule, and judgment kill both solution and growth.

I’m certain there are more than the above top ten, but these are principles to which we have consistently attempted to adhere.

Have we always done so? 

Great question. Probably not.

There have been times I did not listen well. There have been times I played the judge and pointed fingers more than shared well-thought-out perspective. There have been times I, too, unfortunately, have chosen to rant and rave and perhaps even ridicule. There have been times I have thus been hypocritical. 

Such is not my desire. But I — just like you — am very imperfect.

This side of heaven — even though endowed by that Creator with certain unalienable rights — I will sometimes fail, screw up, and royally fall flat on my face. Such is the nature of being human; is it not? 

But I will not quit striving — striving for what I deeply believe to be good and right and true.

That said, one of the principles embedded in the above, is that you need not always hear from me. Other voices are valid. Other voices are pertinent. We do not all agree on all things, but that doesn’t matter. We must listen to — and learn from — one another. We are sharpened by the one who thinks differently than we. That, my friends, is part of the beauty of diversity… a beauty that too often contemporary culture fails to acknowledge.

Beginning Sunday, therefore — and continuing for the next 3-4 weeks — you will hear from some trusted, articulate friends of mine. Yes… it’s time for our 10th annual Intramuralist Guest Writers Series!an opportunity to hear from multiple individuals from multiple perspectives… men and women hailing from varied ethnicities and demographics. Please know: the opinions shared may or may not be held equally by me… but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that we listen well to one another.

We can learn much if we actually listen to another; hence, this thought-provoking series will feature multiple guest writers sharing unique perspective regarding what’s going on in our world. You will hear about the Supreme Court, civility, some alarming suicide statistics, and far more. Feel free to agree, disagree, engage, and ask questions of them. Simply, as always, be respectful in your response.

Respectful…

Indeed… may our respect for one another — imperfect as we each are — always be intentional and clear. It is both a privilege and joy to be on this journey with you.

Blessings, friends…

AR