Reading Between the Behaviors

As part of my job, I am required to complete extensive training each year on a variety of topics but usually on the laws and regulations that govern the industry in which I work. This month’s training was on the topic of culture and identity, a slightly different topic from the norm but important nevertheless since my employer takes ethics very seriously and instills a culture of inclusion for all of its employees.

Two questions were asked to begin the training: What identity do you have? How many cultures do you belong to? Simple answers are the first things that come to mind but the real answers are much more complex. For example, in terms of identity I think of myself as a wife, mother, grandmother. Those are my first thoughts. But I also can identify as sister, youngest sibling, aunt, working woman, baby boomer, survivor, writer. Actually, there are many more labels that can be applied depending on the context I find myself in when needing to self-identify.

The culture thing was a little trickier for me. When asked how many cultures I am a part of, I naively answered one. As it turns out, I am a part of several since I am a white, college graduate, middle-aged, employed, married, hearing-impaired, female, American. Each one of those characteristics places me into a unique group. And each one of those groups to which I belong has its own rules and values that drive my behaviors. If a culture values hard work, behaviors will look like focusing on goals, being organized and determined, striving for success. If a culture values family, behaviors will look like respecting elders, honoring parents, offering support and encouragement to siblings.

As “one nation”, the United States is a diverse blend of communities and cultures, all sharing experiences and common influences. Our lives are governed by the same laws, systems, and processes, and yet we behave in ways that we learned from our cultural identities, based on who we identify as and how important certain values are to us.

Think of the community in which you live. How many cultures are reflected in that community? How different are the values and behaviors among all of the cultures that exist? Do you consider your community successful? Do cultures co-exist easily or is there a constant tension?

What happens when a culture is mired in despair and hopelessness, if common values are focused around the mere act to survive? How does a community blend that set of values with the values of its other cultures that don’t have to worry about survival and instead focus on achievements and success? Can members of “successful” cultures even comprehend the lives of those in other cultures just trying to live to see another day?

Cultural differences influence how we are treated simply in how others identify us or in how we self-identify. As a white person I never thought I would be subjected to profiling in America. It never used to matter that I was a woman. I was told I could grow up to be anything I wanted and I taught my daughters the same thing. But things changed during last year’s presidential campaigns and election. The Women’s March and other protests caused some men to start treating me differently, labeling me emotional, hysterical even, simply because I am a female and despite the fact that I didn’t participate in any of those events. As a citizen of the United States, I never thought I would live in a country ruled by a dictator. I still don’t, but the fear is real now when before I couldn’t imagine it. Right before my very eyes I’ve witnessed the man in the office of President of the United States knowingly lie and mislead people, blatantly and strategically breaking ethical and moral bounds if not legal ones. If a culture begins to allow lies and deceits and ambiguity, what rules and values do those behaviors create?

I am embarrassed to admit I am married to someone who defends Trump’s every word. I try to justify it by saying my husband doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand women, he’s from the “old school”. But what do my words and my behavior say to the culture of women to which I belong? When my husband defends Trump by saying it’s within the President’s authority to pardon anyone he wants, what does that say about the values and rules we have in our home?

I am an American. I am a woman. Nothing will change those identities. But I have fear today that I didn’t have a year ago, that I never imagined I would feel, ever. How do I stay a member of my cultural groups when their values and behaviors are changing in catastrophic ways that I disagree with? These sweeping changes carry the potential to destroy the America I love and crack the foundation of my marriage and my home. How does one maneuver through a minefield like the one that has sprouted up around us?


The Bully

There wasn’t any specific reason why I took a mental trip to the past, and yet there were a thousand reasons why. Usually I avoid thinking about any of the abuse I suffered, but sometimes thoughts just creep through like a spider moving in and out of a crack in the floorboards.

My ex-husband was a master at it. His bruises went deep to the soul but they left no marks on the surface. He worked the graveyard shift and I used to silently count down the hours until he would leave for work. I treasured my nights without him at home and I dreaded his nights off. After a while I used to dread any hour he was home when I or the kids were awake. I never knew when he was going to blow so I would run scenarios through my head. If he blows today, this person is off work and we can go there. Plan B. Plan C. Sometimes all the way to Plan F. The girls and I got so attuned to his body language that we knew he was going to blow before he did, and we could give ourselves a little lead time to get to a place of safety.

Once you learn to read that body language, you can’t turn it off unless you close your eyes. So without even thinking about it, you find yourself reading it in others who exhibit it. Perfect strangers even. Once I was grocery shopping and encountered a man who was oozing anger so silently that he was odiferous. Instantly I became ill and had to run outside to vomit in a garbage can. I so desperately wanted to go back and talk to his wife, to find out how I could help her break free. But I didn’t. I understood all too well that if she was in his presence, she could not be approached.

Several months ago I encountered another bully, an influential person who liked his ego to be stroked often. It bothered me to have a bully rise to the top and be in the brightest spotlight of all, caught on video nearly every day and appearing in my living room on the evening news. I watched in horror as he mocked a disabled reporter. Even more horrifying was watching others defend the bully, trying to tell me he wasn’t making a mockery of the disabled person. I watched the bully knowingly lie, escalate falsehoods and advance conspiracies, manipulate a mob, and incite violence. He called others names to their faces. He publicly falsely accused others of breaking the law. He was disrespectful to his wife in public, caught twisting her arm to cause pain. And she, like the woman in the grocery store, silently spoke just as loudly with her body language. Even my grown children could hear their body language. Sadly, many people could not hear it or would not.

And now it appears some people, some very smart and conniving people, played with that bully, manipulated that bully, to the point that now the bully is desperate and paranoid. On one hand, it’s a welcome sight to watch a bully get a taste of his own medicine. But on the other hand, there is no escaping the fear of what is to come when he blows.

Six or Half Dozen

Six. A finite number. Definitive. While it’s more than one, it’s a singular entity. Six. Complete logic and order. Monochrome. You know exactly what you’re getting. Six.

On the other hand, half a dozen is ambiguous. Do you have exactly six, or do you have a little more than five or slightly less than seven? There are multiples with half a dozen. Is there chaos? Were there more and now you’re on the downslide? Or are you on the upswing, gaining more and more? Assumptions are made with half a dozen, but they depend on the context. Do you see potential or failure? And while one person may assume a positive grouping in half a dozen, another might see a doomsday prediction. Dichotomy. Half a dozen.

I asked for six. Half a dozen were served.

All Politics Aside…

In full disclosure, I used to be a public official. I served for 17 years in local government and then I thought I was good enough to run for the state legislature. Well, I was good enough but my opponent ran a smarter, nastier campaign and I lost by four percentage points. Having experienced all those elections probably has something to do with the fact that I am interested in the whole process of elections, especially elections for U.S. President. Or maybe I’m just an election junkie.

But I have to tell you, I’m absolutely fascinated by what is happening in our country right now. Think about it. Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a master marketer. A couple of weeks ago he gave a speech and told everyone the cell phone number of one of his opponents. That opponent was furious! And several days later, the opponent, seeking revenge, gave out Trump’s cell phone number. But Trump had planned on that all along. When people called Trump’s number, they were greeted with a campaign message and directed to Trump’s website. And, in the process, Trump’s cell phone recorded every single one of those caller’s phone numbers. What an interesting way to build an election database!

Candidates for election are held tight by all kinds of rules, and one of them has to do with “advertising”. If you appear on a TV or radio show, then that show has to offer “equal” air time to your opponent. With 17 GOP candidates right now, it’s very challenging for TV and radio shows to offer up equality to all the candidates. But if a candidate makes “legitimate” news, well, then, that falls under the category of covering the news, not advertising. And every time Trump appears in the news, he’s getting the best of free advertising. Given our country’s extreme dislike for established politicians right now, Trump is loving every minute of it. He doesn’t care if it’s positive or negative news. He just cares that his name is being spoken (or heard) in households every day.

Another rule candidates have to deal with has to do with fundraising. The rules are many and complicated. However, if a candidate is rich and can finance his own campaign without having to raise enormous amounts of money—which Trump is—then that candidate can pretty much do whatever he wants. He doesn’t have to cater to special interest groups. He doesn’t have to make any pledges or promises. He can do whatever he wants. And anyone familiar with Trump knows that’s the way he likes it.

Honestly, I think Trump is having a blast and laughing every minute. Will he be the GOP nominee? Probably not. But, there is a slight chance that he could still win the election. As I wrote above, the majority of voters are totally fed up with establishment politicians. They could very easily vote for Trump. Stranger things have happened. If you doubt me, check out the Minnesota 1998 election for governor when a pro-wrestling lunatic was just as shocked as everyone else when he was declared the winner. Jesse Ventura ran as a reform party candidate and he won! Trump could do the same thing as an independent party candidate. Just saying…

Crossing over to the Democrats, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of 26,000 people this week in Washington State. Hillary Clinton barely gathered a crowd of 6,000 on her East Coast home turf. At this time in 2008, someone else from the non-establishment ranks was drawing big crowds—then-candidate Obama. And just like Trump (and Obama in 2008), people are drawn to Sanders because he’s not an established politician. People are clamoring for change.

Speaking of change, I think this election cycle is going to bring about a lot of changes once it’s all said and done. I won’t be at all surprised in January 2017 when Congress takes up a bill dealing with election reform. With Trump self-financing his campaign, both parties will be eager to establish some firm rules about how much money a candidate can spend. And once election financing is on the table, you can bet on a Pandora’s box being opened. PACs and Super PACs will have to reach deep into their bank reserves to lobby for the status quo since all their money will have been spent on the election. And I won’t be surprised if people demand rules requiring term limits to do away with established politicians once and for all.

Just think, we have another 15 months of this before we head to the polls. Sit back and relax. Toss aside your hatred of the other party. Stop listening to the rhetoric and start thinking like a marketing manager. Consider this all a learning moment. How would you run a campaign?

What exactly does it mean?

Black lives matter. That phrase has been bothering me for some time. I try very hard not to see a person’s color or gender or race or sexuality. I can’t imagine what some people would do if I stood in a pack of protesters holding up a sign that said White Lives Matter! It’s not about us versus them. It’s about all of us. It’s about being treated with respect and being respectful of others. ALL LIVES MATTER!

One day last week I’d had my fill. I had heard on the news that high school students in Minneapolis walked out of classes in protest/support of what was happening in Baltimore. To me, those kids were just looking for an excuse to leave school on a rare beautiful Minnesota spring day. I expressed my frustration on Facebook and quickly a friend pushed back. She politely suggested that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sometimes I don’t, and I have no problem with someone helping me to understand. My friend quoted some statistics from a Washington Post article that certainly helped me to understand the depth of frustration some people are feeling in Baltimore. But it didn’t change my feelings at all.

I believe most of the Baltimore protesters are people feeling hopeless about their lives for many reasons and the Post article backs that up. But what I cannot understand, and I’m reading/hearing similar thoughts from many others across our country, is why destroy the very town you live in just because you feel hopeless? Why resort to violence at all?

Today I saw my friend shared someone else’s post on Facebook, suggesting that some of us are saying, “Black lives matter, but….”

To my way of thinking, those protesters broke laws and should be disciplined accordingly. I don’t care one bit about the color of skin those protesters have. Anyone who sets fire to a building is an arsonist, and that is against the law. Anyone who steals from a store is a shoplifter, and that is against the law. And, for the record, I believe every police officer is held to a higher standard and must obey the laws too. No one is above the law. No one.

My friend wanted to argue that residents of Baltimore have it bad. I won’t argue against that fact. But what frustrates and irritates me is that so many of the protesters think the rest of us have it easy and that we should be more compassionate and understanding of their emotions, wants, needs. I’m sorry, but I can’t justify rioting, looting, setting fire to buildings for any reason. And I just have to ask, did they really believe doing those things was going to make their lives better?

For the record, I don’t have it easy. I haven’t for many years. But because I have a job, have a house, have a car, people assume I have an easy life. I worked very hard for the things I have and I know that a major illness or another job loss would take away all that I have. Many days I fight off despair, hopelessness, depression. I am not alone. Those protesters are not alone. I don’t know a single person in my life circles who has it easy. We are all struggling. And so, I believe we ALL matter.

The really sad part about what’s happening in Baltimore now is that it reminds many of us of what happened in Detroit in 1967. Research history (or read this article in today’s StarTribune ). The 1967 Detroit riots incited reactions across the country, just like the protesting in Ferguson and now Baltimore. In the Detroit riots, many people died, thousands were arrested, and more than 2,000 buildings were burned to the ground. It took years for the area to recover, and some people believe Detroit still hasn’t recovered. I’m wondering about Baltimore now. How long will tourists stay away? How long will businesses planning conventions go to other cities? Given all the bad statistics in the Post article, I have to wonder if Baltimore will ever recover. Is it really true that we haven’t learned anything in nearly 50 years? Or, even worse, did we, as a people, think we knew more than we really do? Did we think we had learned and took some action but now it turns out it’s not enough action, and we’re right back at square one?

I don’t have the answers. But I do know the answer isn’t in protesting or robbing or burning down a store. Instead we need to talk to our elected leaders and candidates running for office. We need to use words, not violence, to let people know we are hurting and we need change. And then we need to work together to make that change. We cannot sit back on our laurels and expect change to miraculously happen. It’s going to be hard work. And it’s going to be filled with frustration and despair. But it’s work that must be done. If we keep dividing ourselves, us versus them, black versus white, we’re only going to perpetuate violence and despair and powerlessness. We’ll just keep reliving 1967 again and again until we destroy our very selves.

Who are we to rewrite the past?

I really need to write about some current events, but not for the reason everyone else is talking about those events. There’s a reoccurring issue in these events—again, not the one that everyone is talking about—that isn’t sitting well with me, and it’s been gnawing at me for quite some time. I had planned on posting about my month-long exercise in gratitude, but that will have to wait for another day. Today, I have to set free these thoughts that are troubling my mind.

Bill Cosby. I do not condone his actions by any means. Tiger Woods. I don’t condone his actions either. Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach while Jerry Sandusky was on staff. Richard Nixon. There are many other names I could add here, but these will suit my purpose.

These four men achieved some very great accomplishments in their lives, but they will forever be remembered for the bad choice(s) that they made.

Bill Cosby served in the Navy. He was the spokesperson for Jell-O products for twenty-five years, a remarkable achievement in the world of advertising. He has 17 Grammy Awards nominations and has won 9. He has 8 Emmy Awards nominations and has won 4. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and he received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award.

Tiger Woods was the youngest man (at the age of 21) and the first African-American to win the U.S. Masters. He has been world number one for the most consecutive weeks and for the greatest total number of weeks of any other golfer. He has been awarded PGA Player of the Year a record 11 times. He has won 14 professional major golf championships, the second highest of any player (Jack Nicklaus leads with 18), and 79 PGA Tour events, second all-time behind Sam Snead, who had 82 wins. Tiger has more career major wins and career PGA Tour wins than any other active golfer.

Joe Paterno was one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football. His career with Penn State spanned 62 years, and during each of those years he mentored more than 100 players. Do the math on that. He ended up with 409 wins, more than any other collegiate coach in history. Over the course of his career, nearly 350 of his players went on to play in the NFL.

Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and created more new national parks than any other president. In three years he reduced the deficit by $17 billion, nearly 70 percent. He was the president who ended the draft. He fought for (and won) the right to vote at age eighteen. He opened up trade with China. He was the first president to go to Moscow, and he negotiated SALT.

Bill Cosby will likely spend the rest of his life being remembered as a serial rapist. Tiger Woods will always be an unfaithful husband. Joe Paterno will forever be linked to his staffer Sandusky, who committed unspeakable crimes against young boys. And former President Nixon will be known as the president who resigned before he could be impeached and was pardoned before he could be tried and serve time for his crimes.

Again, let me emphasize, I don’t condone their actions. But I have to wonder, how can we rewrite history and no longer talk about the great things these men did? Do we erase all mention of Tiger’s record wins? It doesn’t change the score of golf rounds on those past days. What point is there in naming someone else as the college coach with the most wins? It doesn’t negate the fact that Joe coached all those games that his teams won. Do we forget that President Nixon essentially halted nuclear war? Since he did such bad things should we no longer honor him with the title of President?

I don’t want to minimize the wrongs these men did, but I also don’t want to erase from history all of the good things they accomplished. We all need to learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others. And we all need to celebrate achievements and strive to be the best at something. Just because we don’t like the actions of someone, that doesn’t mean we should erase that person from history as if he never existed. What would happen if we erased all mention of Hitler? It’s bad enough that some younger people today don’t believe Auschwitz ever existed. Just think of the atrocities that might occur if we forgot all of those horrors. We must learn from our past. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”


November Thanks #11 | 3 Gifts of Remembrance

A thirty-day exercise in pausing, reflecting, appreciating, and giving thanks for simple things.

Yes, it’s fitting to talk of remembrance on November 11. The year was 1918, and the end of “the war to end all wars” was officially declared at “the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” No one ought ever forget the horrors, sacrifices, and deaths, everyone was told at the time. Sadly, some forgot much sooner than anyone expected when World War II erupted in 1937.

While the United States calls this day Veteran’s Day, some nations call it Poppy Day, some call it Armistice Day. No matter the wording, the sentiment is the same over all the world: Do not forget. Always remember. More than 16 million died, more than 20 million wounded, soldiers and civilians alike, in the four-year war. Thirty-thousand died in a single day.

Leaders at the time believed the fight would be swift and strategies would be successful. They all learned war is unpredictable. Thirty countries were involved. More than 25,000 miles of trenches were dug, to protect soldiers on all sides. It was the first time tanks, planes, and naval aircraft carriers were used in war. Explosions in France were heard in London.

On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers fighting on opposite sides put down their guns and sang carols to each other across the trenches. The next day, some even exchanged greetings and food items and cigarettes. It was the only such Christmas truce throughout the war.

The three things that easily turn my thoughts to this war … red poppies …“trench warfare”… and “Christmas Truce.” Whether these three things are gifts of remembrance can be debated. But for me, they always give me pause and I remember.

We ought not to forget.