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

free (profane) & inconsistent

With multiple celebrities recently joining the known chorus of disrespectful communicators, it would seem wise to wrestle with what free speech is — and is not.

Let us first acknowledge that freedom of speech does not mean we can say whatever we wish, whenever we wish. We can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre nor use our words for slander, libel, perjury, or extortion, for example. The First Amendment does not protect such.

Let us also note that there is a difference between slander and libel as compared to ridicule or criticism. 

The challenge comes when the words becomes profane, as profane, rude as it is, does not legally equate to “wrong.”

What does “profane” mean?

— treated with abuse, irreverence, or contempt : desecrated; treated disrespectfully, irreverently, or outrageously.

Unfortunately, we live amidst a culture that seemingly, continually, allows and even encourages increasing irreverence and disrespect…

Rosanne Barr’s recent racist tweet about former Obama staffer, Valerie Jarrett, qualifies as “profane.” Samantha Bee’s recent vulgar insult about Ivanka Trump qualifies as profane.

But profane as they each are, both do not legally equate as “wrong” —  and thus still qualify as “free speech.”

Do Barr and Bee thus have a right to say what they said?

Yes.

Do they have a right to keep their job?

Also, yes.

Do ABC and TBS have a right to fire them? 

Again, yes.

And do the companies have a right to choose not to fire them?

Of course. ABC and TBS may treat Barr and Bee differently; it is up to them as their respective, individual employers.

The First Amendment allows us to “say what you wanna’ say,” but it does not provide the right to maintain employment, especially if working for a private employer. Companies have a right to expect certain behaviors from their employees. Such is the core challenge embedded within the NFL/anthem controversy.

… “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”

That law — tough as the manifestation of it can be for different ones of us at different times — is the protection our Founding Fathers provided, even for what is unpopular. 

We have a problem, no less, with what we feel is wrong or unpopular.

For some of us, that is only the words of Barr.

For some of us, that is only the words of Bee.

For some of us, that is only the reaction of ABC.

And for some of us, that is only the reaction of the NFL.

Friends, this isn’t fun. Good people think differently. Good people think differently in regard to what speech should be “free.” We have different  — and different valid  —  perspectives.

And because we think differently, our application of First Amendment protection is perhaps more than anything, respectfully inconsistent.

Respectfully… always…

AR

to kneel or not to kneel

When the NFL recently announced their new policy that will fine teams if players on the field fail to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, a rousing chorus again ensued in regard to whether or not kneeling during the National Anthem was appropriate behavior. In case any of us were somehow unaware, there seem some strong opinions on this issue. 

So let’s attempt to extract the emotion for a moment — an exercise that might be wise for our news sources to employ in order to reveal a little less bias. Let us simply ask relevant questions…

First, do players have to be on the field for the anthem?

No, players may protest and not incur a penalty by remaining in the locker room until after the anthem is finished.

How did this protest begin?

Former 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, told the media he sat to protest the oppression of people of color in the United States and ongoing issues with police brutality.

Is the reported origin of the protest accurate?

No one can say for sure. Kaepernick had lost his starting job and there were attempts to trade him in the off-season. His behavior also went unnoticed for two games before he mentioned any protest.

Does the questionable origin matter?

Excellent question — and the answer is subjective. The Intramuralist would opine “no,” as the protest has evolved to a point in which multiple players participate — and many others have fervently weighed in.

Why is the protest a problem?

Many feel the act is disrespectful to the United States, its flag, and its military.

What is our right to protest under the First Amendment?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Does the First Amendment apply to employers?

Unless we work for the government, the Constitution provides no protection for keeping our jobs based on what we say. Paraphrasing the words of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

Is there inconsistency in what employees are allowed to express?

You bet. (Ok, that was opinion there.) The point is that the deciding factor in maintaining current employment seems to be what rubs an employer the wrong way (i.e. see Barr, Rosanne).

Why might this particular protest rub NFL owners the wrong way?

NFL ratings fell 9.7% during the 2017 regular season, according to Nielsen. A typical game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people.

Can the ratings drop be attributed to the protest?

Not with certainty. Ratings were down 8% the year before.

What do we know in regard then to how the public feels about this issue?

The public is divided, but discernment on what a majority of the public believe depends on how the question is asked. Borrowing from the wisdom of Kathryn Casteel, who writes about economics and policy issues for FiveThirtyEight, the public’s answer depends on whether the question posed focuses on patriotism, free speech, or race. When posing the question in regard to patriotism, “surveys tend to find that more people disapprove of the protests than approve.” When posing the question in regard to free speech, “a majority of Americans think players should be allowed to kneel — whether the respondents like it or not.” And when posing the question in regard to race, “it’s not clear.” Writes Casteel:

“Despite the many conflicting poll results, we can say a few things with confidence:

1. A plurality of Americans don’t like the NFL protests — at least if they aren’t told what the players’ goals are.

2. But Americans generally dislike protests involving the flag or anthem, so it’s not clear how much that might affect public opinion in this case.

3. Most Americans think racism is a problem in the abstract, but people are less likely to support the Black Lives Matters movement, which aims to stop police violence against African-Americans.

4. Americans are broadly supportive of the importance of free speech in general, though opinions are more muddled when people are asked about kneeling during the anthem in particular.

But looking at the overall numbers obscures an important fact: Opinions on these issues are incredibly polarized by party and race.”

So last question: how do we love and respect all people well when such a passionate issue is polarized by party and race?

And that is the most excellent and necessary question.

May we each humbly ask ourselves: how do we love all people well?

Respectfully…

AR

problem with the press

The role of the press…

The power of the press…

The freedom of the press…

And thus, the problem with the press.

Let’s be concise — respectful, as always, too…

The role of the press in a democratic society is to provide information to ordinary citizens.

The freedom of the press — declared in the First Amendment — is the free exercise and right not to be censored. This “Fourth Estate” (or “fourth power”) as some have historically referred to the press, denotes an additional set of checks and balances that an uncensored press provides for government.

The power of the press, as admirably articulated by Donald A. Ritchie in his 1987 critique of The Power of the Press: The Birth of American Political Reporting by Thomas C. Leonard, is “that time-worn cliché” that “often eludes definition.” Ritchie  referred to correspondents who “routinely crowed about their power to make and unmake the reputations of public men, while at the same time many of them bowed and scraped for patronage and wrote predictably partisan dispatches.” The power of the press is the ability to “make” or “unmake” any man or woman of their choosing.

Hence, then the problem with the press

The “press” evolved from the printing press, simply referring to what is published or put into print.

Journalism is something better and more. Emerson College, one of the nation’s top schools for journalism, promotes their degree as follows, “Although technology has revolutionized the ways in which we share and consume the news, the principles and values that govern journalism remain the same. At Emerson’s Department of Journalism, you’ll learn how to tell stories that increase public understanding and awareness.” 

So we increase understanding by the sharing and consumption of news.

Consistent with its etymological definition, “news” means new information; information means provided facts. That means that news is absent of partiality and bias. So when bias is added to news, news becomes opinion. Opinion and news are not the same thing. The opinions of the editorial page have migrated to the front page, disguised as news.

So question: where do you get your “news”?

Second question: are you instead listening to opinion?  

CNN, FOX, MSNBC… The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Washington Examiner… each (and more) is full of opinion. Opinion, as stated, is not news.

Allow me one, brief example — on a subject the Intramuralist intends to soon address. When the news broke in March that North Korea is now willing to talk to the U.S. about giving up nuclear weapons, I quickly surveyed the immediate “breaking news” on the three television stations mentioned above. One was glowing; one was glaring; and one was skeptical. Tell me the news, please. We don’t need the glow, glare, nor skepticism — none of which qualify as news. 

The problem with the press is that multiple media offerings insert their bias and still act as if such qualifies as news. 

Said Gary Ackerman, the former Democratic congressman from New York: “The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment.”

People get confused between news and entertainment. 

People get confused between news and opinion.

Intelligent people get confused.

Hence, the problem with the press…

Respectfully…

AR

the down syndrome abortion debate

Some days I simply pause, completely perplexed at what current culture feels a need to next debate. Intelligent people on all sides of the aisle or all sides of something wrangle about all sorts of issues, each seemingly, boldly declaring that they represent the moral authority in the land. I see a world which is morally confused. And our intelligence has gotten in the way.

As referenced here last fall, for example, in Iceland, doctors are now required to tell expectant mothers about an available screening test that can indicate the presence of Down syndrome in their baby. CBS originally ran this story under the headline “Inside the Country Where Down Syndrome Is Disappearing,” omitting the reality that only live birth stats were decreasing due to abortion — not because fewer babies had the genetic disorder. Close to 100% of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in Iceland are now aborted.

An entire people group is being eradicated because of who they are and how they are born.

With the Icelandic development combined with already high American abortion rates when a baby is identified as having a third copy of chromosome 21, there has been a push in recent years for state legislatures to enact law which prohibits abortion based strictly on a Downs diagnosis. Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Ohio have already passed such legislation, with Utah’s legislature currently debating such a bill.

And hence, we debate. We debate what’s right. We debate who is right. And yes, sometimes intelligence seems to get in the way.

A week ago, longtime, well-known Washington Post journalist, Ruth Marcus, addressed the issue. Marcus is a woman the Intramuralist has long read and respected, as she is articulate, witty, and bright. She identifies as liberal with the Democratic Party (… and friends, for a more balanced perspective, please be reading people from both or multiple parties…).

While I respect Marcus’s support of abortion law, it was the following expression that made this parent pause:

“… I respect — I admire — families that knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives. Certainly, to be a parent is to take the risks that accompany parenting; you love your child for who she is, not what you want her to be.

But accepting that essential truth is different from compelling a woman to give birth to a child whose intellectual capacity will be impaired, whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised. Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment, meaning an IQ between 55 and 70 (mild) or between 35 and 55 (moderate). This means limited capacity for independent living and financial security; Down syndrome is life-altering for the entire family.

I’m going to be blunt here: That was not the child I wanted…”

As a person who made the choice not to abort my child with Downs, I appreciate Marcus’s admiration and respect. Now let me be blunt in response.

My child with Downs, Joshua, was not the child I wanted either.

I didn’t want a son whose intellectual capacity was impaired, whose life choices would be different than mine, nor one who had to deal with a life-threatening heart defect. I didn’t want that. For him or for me. In fact — let’s get real here — I actually prayed that Josh would not have Down syndrome.

But thank God sometimes His answer is different than we ask. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much this young man — who yes, is different than me — would teach me. I didn’t know how much I could learn from one whose IQ is significantly lower than mine. I didn’t know how impactful it would be to do life and raise a child with a disability. I didn’t know how much it would change me — and yes, how much I would grow from being changed. I had zero clue how vibrant the life and amazing the impact a person absent of high intellect could be.

The reality is that Josh is thriving. The reality also is that if I was not given the responsibility to parent young master Josh, I would know no more of life and God than I already do.

Thank God He did not answer my prayer the way I asked. Had Josh been any different, I would not be different. I would have grown less.

Instead, I’ve grown to be humbler, wiser, and far more empathetic and compassionate for others — for who they are and how they are born… all because of that one very special Joshua… that one extra chromosome… and a God who knew better than me.

Respectfully… always…
AR

are you virtuous?

In the 2004 “Character Strengths and Virtues” handbook, six classes of core virtues are identified, made up of 24 measurable “character strengths.” They are as follows:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

To every positive, there exists a negative; to every good, there exists an evil — every synonym, an antonym. So what are the antonyms and opposites of each of the above?

The opposite of “wisdom and knowledge” is folly and ignorance.

The opposite of “courage” is cowardice.

The opposite of “humanity” is hate.

The opposite of “justice” is partiality.

The opposite of “temperance” is rashness, brashness, arrogance, and unforgivingness.

And the opposite of “transcendence” is unimportance and inferiority.

It’s not rocket science to suggest that most of us wish to be virtuous — to be men and women of strong, solid, and uncompromising character. But why is it that in so many of our dialogues — we are marked more by our opposites above than by our strengths?

… we might claim to love humanity, and yet we show openly show hate toward someone…

… we might claim to be men and women of great temperance, and yet, we withhold forgiveness toward at least a few…

… and we might claim to be wise and knowledgeable for our years, and yet, we are not open-minded in sincerely listening to the person who comes from a varied angle.

It seems, therefore unknowingly, that our society has been lured into believing a complete lack of virtues and strengths is acceptable… especially when talking about any dicey or difficult matter; it’s why an increasing number choose never to discuss money, politics, religion, or sex.

Consistent with the Intramuralist’s advocacy for always embracing what’s good and right and true, we would be wise to remember when we are most tempted to disguise the wrong for a right — to accept the total lack of virtue.

I was reminded again this past weekend of the “H.A.L.T.” theory…

When am I most tempted to act inappropriately? When am I most tempted to withhold love, forgiveness, fairness, and far more? When am I most tempted to lash out, forgetting my deep desire to treat and love all people well?

… when I am…

Hungry…
Angry…
Lonely… or…
Tired.

When I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, I am most tempted to forgo what I know to be good and right and true.

In many of the recent Intramuralist discussions, one observation that repeatedly arose was the increased levels of anger in our country — manifesting itself in various ways, but typically, often destructive.

HALT.

May we attempt to remember what’s virtuous… and pause when the temptation to do otherwise is lurking.

Respectfully…
AR

Photo by yatharth roy vibhakar on Unsplash