On words and responsibility.

I’ll admit that I’ve been following the news coverage on the Arizona shooting with a mixed reaction of indignation and disgust and horror and anger. This post is not about the shooting as much as it is about the discussion of whether or not this senseless violence has been an inevitability given the vitriolic political discourse present in our culture.  It has been suggested by some people on tv that now is not the time for a discussion on the nasty tone of politics, but rather, we should be talking about gun control. While I do think gun control is always an important topic, I wholeheartedly disagree. I think that our nation must address the former issue as well. This is something I’ve written about before, and recent events is making it all too clear that if we do not begin to take a hard look at this problem now, then when?

At a certain point after the 2008 elections, I stopped watching a lot of the cable “news” shows. They seriously eroded my peace of mind. The facts were disturbing enough, but the tone was so ugly. There are some truly low and hateful people out there who talk long and loud, and for some reason–and I’ll never understand why–our culture can’t seem to get enough of it.

I did my best to unplug from it, but I still make an attempt to be reasonably informed. I always walk away disappointed, not necessarily in what is or is not happening in Washington DC, but for what passes for “journalism” and “reporting.”

For the past two days I’ve sat with my gut wrenched. I know that the shooting in Arizona was the act of one deeply disturbed man, but I can’t help but feel anger. Anger at those who are most certainly not crazy who have helped amp up the rhetoric and atmosphere to the point that this has “felt” like it could have happened at any time this past two years. Did Jared Loughner choose violence because of a particular website? No. But just as shit and filth foster the growth of disease, so does hate speech and fear-bating foster an environment of extremism and violence. I won’t say that Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly engage in hate speech, but they certainly feed the pidgeons enough berries to keep the shit coming. And I do hold them accountable for what they put out in the world, violence or no violence.

I’ve seen the “Take Back the Twenty” website. I am fairly certain that if I found something similar in one of my students notebooks–a list of students’ names or pictures with cross-hairs (or surveyors marks…but, please, let’s not insult one another’s intelligence. Her camps campain rhetoric has been laden with gun terminology for a long time) through those names–that it would have been considered threatening/hate speech. Plain and simple. Palin has an infuriating habit of answering her critics by wrapping herself in the flag and hiding behind troops, saying that she has the right to say what she wants, however incaccurate or just plain wrong, because troops have died for her right to free speech, and therefore a criticism of her is somehow an unpatriotic “insult” to the fighting troops. Regarding the assertions that her “Take Back the 20” website was perhaps inflammatory or inciting, she invoked the spectre of a suffering future generation saying, “our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this.” See what I mean? With that kind of posturing, anybody who criticizes the website’s cross-hairs graphics must not care about the peaceful future of children. Riiiight. If she stands by what she has said, and what her website has put out there, why even bring kids into it? BUT! We can’t criticize her–for the children. I call B.S.

So, yes, I am angry. I am angry that in our culture, the more negative a person is, the more he/she rewarded for being so. And yes, I am aggravated that good people continue to listen to these people. Why? Because they say something that “sounds” right? Because they say something that has a yarn, or thread, of truth in it? Nevermind that there is one thread of truth in a tapestry of hate and ugliness.

Here is where the rubber meets the road for me: We will never be able to stop one sick person from taking violent action, but we sure as heck can, and should, insist upon civility in political and public discourse. If or when the discourse can not be civil, it should either be conducted in private or it should be discontinued until civility is possible. But we have failed to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, I support their right to say whatever they want. I am angry that anybody is listening to them. I am angry that we have emboldened them so that their rhetoric of fear and ugliness has made them powerful and/or wealthy. I just. don’t. get. it. 

Paul Krugman expressed it perfectly in his column yesterday when he wrote:

“Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/opinion/10krugman.html?_r=1

Right now, I am more angry at those fear and hate mongers than I am at Jared Loughner . I realize that I’m probably wrong in that. Maybe my priorities are messed up, but that is how I feel. Maybe because this has been a personal issue for me for a long time, since I have been criticized by some of my own family for not listening to Limbaugh and O’Reilly. So, yeah, there’s definitely some personal baggage fueling this rant.

We need to start holding these people accountable. If not now, then when?

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In search of my people (revised as of 10:43 a.m.)

(Note: This post has been through multiple drafts before and after it’s first posting in the wee hours of 10/12/09. I feel like I’m really out on a limb finally putting this out here. It’s scary.)

I have tried not to write about politics on my blog. And I’m still not even sure I want to now.  I am 34 years old, and I’m not even sure where I land on the political spectrum. I find myself in this awkward in-between stage on almost every single issue. I’m even stuck in a weird place in terms of how important politics are to me. On the one hand, I care very much about the issues. On the other hand, I resist getting too wrapped up in it because it can seriously erode my peace of mind. I have to disconnect it out of self-preservation sometimes.

I have no clear political philosophy. No camp in which I hang my hat. No group with which I most identify. No real way to even articulate what my politics are other than to say that my guiding principle, when trying to come to any kind of conclusion about the world around me, is to have compassion for others and to watch out for the “little guy.”  I don’t know if that makes me blue or red, a donkey or an elephant, one of us or one of them. The truth is: I don’t know. And I wouldn’t care, except that it feels like it’s not okay with a lot of people.

I think it is relevant to say, in the interest of being as honest as possible, that most of my current political persuasions is more of a shying away from certain aspects of one side rather than a full embrace of the other, if that makes any sense. To me, that distinction makes a huge difference, but unfortunately it seems that in order to be in either camp, you have to agree with, and be willing to defend, everything the party does.  I’m sorry, but no can do on that one. I will admit my bias: I was no fan of the George W. Bush administration. I am more than thankful that he went after Bin Laden.  But this “you’re either for us or against us,” bull in a china shop method of (non) diplomacy stopped being appropriate, in my humble opinion, about 1 year after 9/11. Yet, it drug out for seven more years.  I was not a fan. Yes, there is a time to make it clear that you’re not going to allow someone to kick you around, but I do not think that it is an appropriate way to govern.

The whole point was to make us safer. Are we safer? Perhaps. I don’t know. I’ll tell you this though: the idea that somebody would put a facebook poll asking whether or not the President should be assassinated scares me a heck of a lot more than terrorists do. The vitriolic tone of the political discourse in this country erodes my peace of mind much more than any foreign threat does. The hatred that chills me to the core is right here among us.  There are some who would have us believe that our neighbors, our friends, or perhaps even our own parents, siblings or children are evil, are baby-killers, are broken, are war mongers, are racist, are crazy because they are republican or because they are democrat, because they are pro-life or because they are pro-abortion, because they are homosexual, because they are pro-second amendment, because they pro-death penalty, because they believe in civil unions… and the list goes on and on.

How can anybody feel safe, really truly safe, in a climate such as this? I don’t feel safe posting this up on my own blog, because I fear judgment by the people who know me and love me. Because the climate of discourse here says I have to think one side is horrible, evil, and wrong, lest I be a horrible and evil person myself. Why do we listen to the people who perpetuate this kind of thinking?

I’ve been saying for years that perhaps the number one problem with the political climate today is the way politics is presented and reported. And I’m not talking about the “liberal media” either.  There is plenty of biased reporting going on for both sides. The cable news networks are little more than popsicle stands with tailor-made programming to appeal to their viewers’ preferences. Here’s your blue raspberry sno-cone (she shoots animals from helicopters!). Here’s your red cherry pop (he’s not even an American!). Increasingly, the programming is not even about their viewers’ preferences, but rather their neuroses. And you know what? We eat that crap up every. single. time. It drips and spills all over our lawns and sidewalks; we drip it all over the common spaces we share with others, and it makes everything sticky, and gross, and ugly, and all the dirt we kick up over the stuff that should matter the least just sticks all over everything and makes us all look filthy.

My strongest distaste is for those who command so much attention, and make a heck of a lot of money, by making people feel afraid. I don’t want to listen to anybody who clearly hates the other side or who is an alarmist.  I don’t want to listen to anybody who encourages me to assume the worst about people who do not see things the same way as I see them.  And I just can’t understand for the life of me why so many people, truly good people, would listen to such hateful people say detestable things.  It makes me very sad that I cannot simply say the following without real fear of harsh judgment:

I believe that health care reform is a good idea because I believe that EVERYONE should have access to good health care. I do not think that the government needs to be INVOLVED in my health care decisions,  just as I do not think that some cost-benefit analyst at some HMO should INVOLVED in my health care decisions as they are under the current system. The idea that the patient has some kind of ultimate control over their own treatment is an illusion. So rather than scaring me into thinking I’m about to lose something that I actually don’t have, why don’t both sides right that wrong? Clearly both sides know that patients and doctors should be the ones to decide because that is the carrot they are dangling above our heads… so let us fix the system so that it really does work that way, shall we?  I would be grateful if the government could ensure that if I lost my job, or my husband lost his, that my kids, my spouse, and I could still get good health care. If the government plans to systematically shut down all health insurance companies by penalizing them into closing, as I have heard some conservatives say it will do, then that is wrong. I have no idea WHAT is going to happen, but I am willing to bet that the high-paying insurance executives will walk away with a sickening amount of money before they allow themselves to go bankrupt. The current system is hardly honorable. Just as there are horror stories about what WILL happen if health care is reformed, there are horror stories about what DOES happen with the current system.

The bottom line is: there are sick kids, poor people, and hard working folks who are out of work  and who don’t have health care and desperately need it. That should be fixed. I don’t care if the person who does it is blue or red, republican or democrat, or whatever. It just needs to be done. Anybody who doesn’t agree with that basic principle may cause me to wonder about their compassion for others; it depends upon their reasons for opposing it. But I will resist jumping to a conclusion, and I certainly won’t call them evil. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they are concerned with how the financial implications of reform may affect the coverage of millions of people…. just as I am concerned about the non-coverage of millions of others. Yet, there are those on both sides that will say that the other is evil. There are some who try to alarm people that such a positive change is the downfall of democracy.

There are some who would say that I am naive at best or anti-American because I said this would be a positive change. Honestly, that fills me with a cloud of sadness and anxiety that has been with me for years. Particularly because some of my nearest and dearest friends and  family listen to those who would label me as such. I cannot but help to take it a little personally, because their opinions of me matter deeply to me. It feels similar to when you knew somebody was talking trash about you in school, and even though it wasn’t true, your friends did not speak up and defend you. I just don’t understand how something that, to me, is so clearly hate-filled and divisive can be seen as right and appropriate by people whom I believe to be good. And the rhetorical heat only seems to get cranked higher and higher. I find it in places where I don’t want to see it. It makes me feel defensive and sad… and yes, vaguely fearful.

When, exactly, did we begin to allow people to verbally bully those whose politics don’t jive with our own? And while I’m being brave, I’ll just come right out and say it: Who will be the first truly influential Christian to censure some of these voices, strongly oppositional voices (on both sides), whose profit is in the controversy and the fight? Honestly, how any Christian can listen to Rush Limbaugh and not cringe at his ego, his blatantly racist and unloving, unkind remarks is beyond me. I am a Christian, and for that very reason, I cannot align myself with certain current aspects of conservatism is this country. And obviously, I cannot align myself with many aspects of liberalism. But BOTH will say I don’t belong in their camp.

I do not believe that God will smite me for my political viewpoints. I do not believe that our country is going to hell in a hand basket because of who is in office.  I believe that democracy is most in danger in the hearts of we the people, who are suspicious, who are jaded, who would rather believe the lies that make us feel good or the good punchline at someone else’s expense, rather than do the hard work . I believe God is most saddened when we leave compassion, love, and charity of spirit aside, or allow those who so obviously lack it to influence our thoughts.

I once heard somewhere, and I have no idea where, that hell was like a group of people sitting around a huge pot of warm, nourishing soup. Everybody’s hands are stuck to the ends of the very long ladles. They try desperately to get the ladels to the mouths, but the handles are too long, and their hands cannot be moved from the ends. Their bodies are emaciated and starving, the smell of the food fills their nostrils, their anguish is unbearable, and they dispair. And yet, the real hell is that they are so singularly focued on satisfying their own hunger, that it never occurs to them that they could be nourished if they would only lift their ladle to someone else’s mouth, and allow someone else’s ladel to reach their own. It seems to me that this is the condition of politics in our country. And it makes goodness, kindness, compassion, sympathy, charity, understanding, forgiveness, and love so much more difficult.

Where is the voice for peace, compassion, and understanding for everybody, not just those with whom we agree, as it pertains to politics? Where is the voice for collaboration, prudence, and moderation that does not count the political cost?

Would we even listen to such voices? Or would they be shouted down? Would they even make it on the news or the radio?

Again, I don’t know.

Baby, this ain’t a celebration blog.

I’ve had so many thoughts and emotions over the past week. It makes me wish I was more connected and still in the habit of writing poetry. My mind can barely wrap itself around everything that has happened. When I’m really honest, I ask myself, so what if my candidate was elected? There are still causes for concern. There are still reasons to hope. And isn’t that always the case regardless of who is in office? I think it is, but what do I know?

It’s not so much the outcomes that have encouraged me, it is the dialogue that I’ve had the privilege to engage in since the election with people from all over the political spectrum. Why couldn’t we all be this calm and reasoned before the election? Some of the best exchanges I have had about the issues have occurred in the last three days. Perhaps it is because before winning was at stake, and darn it, we want to win. And while I will readily admit that my immediate emotions on election night were visceral and came from a “win” mentality, something more sobering, more substantive, and ultimately more valuable and hopeful has taken its place.

It isn’t so much that the candidate that I voted for has been elected that has my mind stirring and my heart thumping. Regardless of how this man governs (and I don’t mean to minimize that because it is important), I am more moved by the major shift of our nation’s political sensibility. There’s more to it than just a promise of “change.” There’s more to it than moving rhetoric. Before the election even started, polls indicated that the Americans had finally had enough of negative campaigning and had finally stopped allowing themselves to be manipulated by fear-mongering in order to illicit a knee-jerk, reactive vote. Americans finally said, “Enough. You’re gonna have to do better than that.” And I am so very happy for it.

Now here’s the really important point that we absolutely cannot fail to make to ourselves: We’re gonna have to do better than that, too. Much has been made of the economically pinched middle class and the struggling Main Streets across America. No doubt about that. But we do have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and the way we conduct our lives and ask ourselves what we’re willing to do bring about the change we all hope for. Democrats often criticize the notion of “trickle down” wealth. But as a nation, we should not expect such a thing as “trickle down” change, either. We can’t look to our government and expect them to make life easier for us without some real, significant changes on our part.

I know this hits closer to home for some people than it does for me. Some people have been forced to make extremely difficult choices and had to change under trying circumstances. And so I want to acknowledge that I don’t have a relative fighting in a war right now. No one in my family or circle of friends has lost their job because of the economy. I’m not close enough to retirement to merit alarm at Wall Street’s dive. Did our retirement take a hit? Absolutely! But we’re far enough away that there is time to recover. Have rising food and gas prices effected our family budget. Of course! We certainly have felt a financial squeeze. But, we’re settled in a home that we can live in for a very long time, and we won’t be needing any major purchases for quite a while. We have been very blessed, and I realize that. And so, I think it is right that I expect more of myself… to expect myself to really work for that which I hoped for when i cast my vote.

And now is a good time to do this. I don’t mean to sound preachy, so I’ll just give you some insight into what I’ve figured out this week as I took stock about what my vote meant, and what the outcome meant, and contemplated how we can really harness that which we are hoping for, and ease the fears and anxieties of those who wanted for a different outcome. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I love this idea. It’s actually on a poster in my classroom. But outside of my job and my friendships, this idea is an idle notion in my life. My daughters have never seen me volunteer in any meaningful way to benefit strangers less fortunate than us. Fiscally, I have not been as good of a steward as I should be. We don’t recycle. I have failed to instill the concept of merit and working for something rather than it being given. They simply do not see me give of myself very often.

It is very hard to put this out there for the world to read, even if “the world” is about 15 people. I feel naked. But I think if we just can grab hold of this momentum, if we seize this wonderful opportunity to contribute something to this new volume of history that is being written as I sit here where I am and write and you sit where you are and read, if we simply ask ourselves the question: what can I do to help bring about the change that America is begging for? I think if we will do that, the change we all hope for will come regardless of who is sits in our highest office.

And so, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Groceries $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

When we first moved into our house eight years ago, if we bought over $100 in groceries it was difficult to fit all of it in the fridge and cabinets. Tonight I did the normal, two week shopping. Not a lot of extra treats… no bottles of red wine… no tasty pastries… I did have to buy a little extra meat because we were completely out… but maybe 3 more packages than usual. Also, I bought generic cereal, soda, potato chips, juice and cereal bars… Two weeks worth of food. The damage: two-freaking-hundred dollars!!!!!!!!!!! And I even went to Shop ‘n Save, NOT Dierbergs. And my cabinets are not filled to the brim.

To be quite honest, I’m pissed. Please don’t get me started on gas. I know, I know. We’re all feeling the same pain.

I honestly get ticked because I have been pretty much working my brain into slush for the last 3 years trying to earn an advanced degree to help my family attain a more secure financial position. I’m six months away from finishing, and our household budget has gone up by $100 a week in less than a year. My salary increases are not keeping up with that… even with the progress on the advanced degree. It’s a good thing I’m not only doing it for the money… but it sure is discouraging to sacrifice so much time with my family and see the purse strings getting tighter and tighter.

Sigh.

The worst thing is (and I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, and my husband will verify this), I knew four years ago that this was going to happen. All the signs were there. And then G. H. W. Bush & Cheney (who my husband and I believe to be truly evil) was re-elected… seriously one of the most disappointing days in my adult life. Please oh please oh please Lord, give us a president and congress who will be able to usher in a responsible economic policy. Someone who will not set up the system to only benefit the wealthy. Someone who will watch out for the teacher, the factory worker, the hourly food service provider. Someone who will hold big business accountable. Well, maybe I should pray that the good people of America have the good sense to elect such a candidate. This year’s presidential election should be the democrats to lose, yet McCain polls at over 40%. I don’t know if that is sad or funny.

Sorry for the rant. My patience is wearing thin. I’m just a frustrated, politically independent, hardworking gal who’s just looking for some better days to come, and not so sure they’re coming anytime soon.