Making us great…

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about “making America great again”…along with suggestions from some about how to do that. Many of those suggestions seem to look back to some undefined time when the world basically seemed to revolve around whoever is speaking. I’ve often heard it said that that “time” was when we were children–when we were not aware of the complexity of the challenges that surrounded us…

I’d like to suggest that rather than worrying about making America great (again), we might be better served by doing what we can to make humanity great. We’ve never really succeeded at that–and I think it’s because we’ve been too focused on (1) our own personal need / desire to be seen as “great” and (2) our need / desire to separate the world into “us” versus “them.”

So what would it take to make us (meaning humanity) great? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some suggestions and ideas (not presented in any particular order).

  1. Seek to understand. That comes from Stephen Covey. There’s more to the quote–“seek to understand before being seeking to be understood.” How do we do that? By listening…really listening. We were given two ears and one mouth for a purpose–and if we listened twice as much as we talk, we might make some good progress toward finding common ground. We all make our decisions based on our experiences, and until we try to understand someone else’s life experiences, we won’t be able to understand why they make the decisions they do.
  2. Recognize that we are stewards of the earth. We all live on this planet…we all depend on this ecosystem for our very existence. If the ecosystem fails, we will die. It’s that simple. We’ve already seen some species die out either because we hunted them to extinction or because they were unable to adapt to a changing climate. We need to take care of the earth, not just use it to death.
  3. Delight in the diversity of creation–animal, plant, and human. We seem to find it fairly easy to do that with animal and plant, but not so easily with human. We’re not all the same…we never will be. But there is so much to learn from each other, so much to enjoy when we are open.
  4. Be willing to understand the complexity of our human bodies. We used to think our bodies were simple, but they’re not. Our brains and bodies are complex…when they work together, things are good. But when they don’t agree, life gets really complicated! Our bodies don’t always reflect our gender identity or our sexual orientation…there is so much more to learn.
  5. Stop saying that it has to be either faith or science. They can complement each other. Science helps us understand the “how”; faith helps us understand the “why.”

Obviously there are a lot more ideas that could be added to this list, but if we make it too long, it would be overwhelming. And obviously I’m not giving a lot of specifics as to how to implement these ideas, because each of us can implement them in our own unique ways.

But maybe…just maybe…we can make humanity great. We have to…or we may find ourselves going the same way as the dodo bird.

 

Seek first to understand…

While I was working, I was involved in some time-management and leadership training from Stephen Covey a couple of different times. Since I’ve retired, I no longer use that particular calendar material, but there is still one item from the training that remains with me. That is one of the steps from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People…”Seek first to understand.”

I’ve been particularly aware of the value of that statement the last couple of weeks as the news in my faith community and my state (as well as in the national news) has been full of responses to a couple of very difficult situations.

The first is the LDS decision to deny sacraments to the children of same-sex couples until they are 18 and deny the behavior of the parents. I have to confess that as I have sought to understand the rationale behind that decision, I find it very difficult. I have read a number of comments and stories from both sides of the issue and–again, quite honestly–I am grateful not to be a member of a faith community where I would have to make that kind of choice. Seeking to understand is a challenge, but unless I am willing to try to do that, I cannot effectively reach out to those who have been wounded, regardless of their faith stance.

The other is the situation that has been playing out in the university in Columbia, Missouri which has culminated in the ouster of the university president and chancellor. Concerns and issues dealing with racism are apparently behind that situation and, again, there are widely different perspectives.

In reading comments and stories from those differing perspectives–as with those dealing with the LDS situation–it is clear that our backgrounds (i.e., faith understandings and race) have a significant impact on what we see. And I have to confess that I’ve heard some comments from people I consider friends that have disturbed me…

Some of those comments imply that there is only one way to look at a situation–and that is the way that person sees it. If they have not experienced bias–as expressed by those of a different color or faith–then surely that bias does not exist.

Other comments have downplayed the significance of the triggering event as being too trivial to cause someone to go on a hunger strike or to spark a protest. Perhaps…but that ignores what happens when those “trivial” events occur over and over again, building up a climate of fear…of anger…of resentment. I think about the event that sparked the fight over civil rights–a black woman who was tired refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Trivial…perhaps…but when one’s worth is negated time and time again, there comes a point when one will finally say, “Enough is enough.”

Still other comments have implied that because the individual who went on a hunger strike in Columbia comes from a wealthy family, then he had no right to claim bias. Wealth does not necessarily protect one from slights and insults.

When I read the news…or listen to news stories…or hear statements from those who are running for political office that negate the life experiences of others, then I fear that we are building higher walls that will continue to divide us. We are never going to experience life the same way, but we have to start figuring out how to really listen to each other or we will never be able to make the kind of change that will allow us to value each other and live in peace.

“Seek first to understand…”–a good lesson to live by.

Gone with the Wind….?

A while back–before the most recent shooting and the furor over what the Confederate flag symbolizes–I decided it was time to re-read one of the books considered an American classic…Gone with the Wind. It had been many years since I had read it or seen the movie, so I didn’t have strong memories of it. I requested the electronic version at my library, and it took a while before it became available…ironically about the time memories/history of the “Old South” were hitting the news.

I’ve been finding it difficult to read.

Not because it is poorly written. Far from it. Margaret Mitchell had a wonderful way with words. Her dialogue is realistic, her characters–her white ones–much more than cardboard caricatures, and the story draws you in.

But I find myself cringing at her portrayal of plantation life and the “happy darkies” before the war and the paternalistic view expressed by some of the characters with their doubts about whether or not the slaves could be trusted to take care of themselves if they were freed. And while the speech of the white characters is realistic, the “patter” she gives to the African-American characters portrays them in many ways as less than children.

Interestingly, the further I get into the book, the more I find myself comparing her portrayal to that found in the movie Glory, the story of the United States’ first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. That movie also deals with former slaves during the Civil War, but it treats them as real people, with the ability to become more than they had been allowed to under slavery.

The soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts are not perfect…far from it. But Col. Robert Gould Shaw expects them to become soldiers…believes they can…and they do. In one scene, he and his men are commanded to go on a foraging expedition with another regiment of former slave soldiers under the command of an officer who–even though a Yankee–treats them as Margaret Mitchell treats her African-American characters…as children who don’t have the potential of being any more than children and who need to be taken care of by superior whites.

While I enjoy the story of the “romance” between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I am realizing just how deeply the paternalistic racism that Mitchell expressed has seeped into our society–and how the baggage from the Civil War still has not been dealt with.

Yet it must be. We have to be willing to take an honest look at ourselves and how we see “the other”, whatever our racial background., Until we are willing to have those difficult conversations, we will continue to be a divided country, still stuck in the 1860s in many ways.

I think we can do better than that.

How do we learn?

I have an almost-2-year-old granddaughter who spends a lot of time with us, since we do a lot of the babysitting. When she was a baby, life was reasonably quiet. She was content to just be held, fed, and changed.

But then something triggered in her mind, and she started to actively learn. Actively…as in on-the-go almost all the time! Actively…as in me thinking “I’m tired!” when she goes home. Actively…as in wanting to figure out what those funny squiggles on a page in a book mean. Actively…as in demanding to spend time working with shapes on my tablet.

It’s an incredible experience to watch.

I wish I could be inside her mind, watching how she makes connections…how she figures out how things work…as she puts the puzzle pieces of this world together. I don’t know how she does it.

Everything around her is part of the learning experience. Everything and everyone becomes part of this whole process. And at this point in her life, she doesn’t separate people or things into “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” based on anything except for whether she likes the taste of a specific food or whether someone is too noisy or too rough. It’s all just part of her world.

She has an older sibling who she has adored. She doesn’t see D right now, because D is living with biological mother, trying to get some things sorted out…including gender identity issues. That didn’t matter to Ladybug. D was (and is) someone she adores…who spent a lot of time playing with her. There’s enough difference in their ages that D will be experiencing life as an adult before Ladybug begins school–but I think she will still have positive memories of this older sibling.

As I watch her grow, I am reminded again of a powerful song from the musical South Pacific. Lieutenant Cable has fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of Bloody Mary…but he realizes that he can’t take her back home with him, because she would not be accepted. Why? Because she isn’t “like” the folks back home. He sings this song in agony before he heads out on a mission that he will not survive:

What a tragedy…for people–all of us–to be taught to be afraid of people who are different from us!

But I think there is hope. If we can be taught to fear and hate, then surely we can be taught to love…but it takes a willingness to get to know each…to get past the barriers we’ve put up to keep us separate.

All I have to do is to watch Ladybug in her interactions with this world. It’s a fascinating place to her…and me.

Brain drain?

There was an article in our local paper this morning that saddens me. I understand that our immigration policy is broken…that we need desperately to make some changes to fix it. But I would like to see us try to find ways of doing that with as little damage as possible to our society, our schools, and all the individuals involved. I’m not sure the bill that our legislature is considering does that.

According to the article, children whose parents brought them to this country illegally would be denied the option of federal financial aid, state aid, or in-state tuition. For many that would make it even more difficult than it already is to gain further education–since the legislature has already blocked funding to any public college or university that gives these children in-state tuition.

I understand that these parents brought the law…but I also am aware that sometimes that situation is not as black-and-white as we would like it to be. There are many factors that go into causing individuals to leave their own countries in order to try to find a better life for themselves and their children–and without having walked in their shoes, I’m not at all certain that I can make a righteous judgment.

Beyond that, these children had no choice. They were brought here–many of them–before they were aware at all that they were born in a different country. They have called this country home for their entire lives…have dreamed about the ways they can contribute…about possibilities that might be open to them.

Often the first knowledge they have of their illegal status comes when they are beginning to make real plans for their future…and suddenly life is turned upside down.

Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to visit the sins of the parents on the heads of the children? Do we really want to force them out of the country they have considered their home for their entire lives…and give them no assurance that they would be able to return?

Many of these children have gifts and talents they want to sure with their country…and that we need.

Can’t we work together to find ways that would be beneficial to us all?

Graduation

It’s graduation time in the US. Lots of young people ending one phase of life and beginning another. Lots of excitement…lots of nervousness…lots of wondering what lies ahead. There are lots of graduation speeches–full of advice. They’re not always listened to with as much attention perhaps as the speaker would like–it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment…and to wonder if the speaker really knows anything about our own desires, hopes, circumstances.

So I started wondering. My first college graduation was many years ago. I don’t remember who the speakers were or anything about what they said. But I also love science fiction–and so I thought: If I could go back in time to see my younger self at those graduation ceremonies, what message would I give myself? Here’s what I wish I had known then:

  • Don’t settle for “safe.” Listen to your heart and dream big.
  • Take one or two of those dreams that really resonate with you–and make them goals. Don’t just say “Someday I’m going to…”, but decide what it will take to make them come to pass–and set a timeline for each step.
  • Don’t be afraid of failing. Each failure brings knowledge. It doesn’t mean YOU are a failure; it just means that you’ve learned something that doesn’t work for you.
  • Be willing to listen to those you disagree with. That’s part of maturity, and you may also be surprised by what you learn from them.
  • Compromise is not a dirty word. Don’t compromise on your values, but do be willing to give and take in order for everyone to work together.
  • Trust in someone/something bigger than yourself–whatever name you give that Source.
  • Love yourself.
  • Take time to really look around your world, to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. When you see that beauty, you will also appreciate your responsibility to be a wise steward of that creation so that it will be there for your children and grandchildren.
  • Things aren’t important. People are.

So, graduates…whether you’re graduating from high school, college (for the first, second, or third time!), or whether you’re simply graduating from one stage of life into another…good luck! Enjoy life–and God bless.

 

Truth…the whole truth…

I’ve been disappointed the last couple of days because of the allegations that surfaced on 60 Minutes related to Greg Mortenson and his books (Three Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools) and his foundation’s use of the money he’s raised.

Any time someone has as high a profile as he does–and captures the public’s imagination–there is the possibility (probability?) that someone will start digging to make sure things are exactly as they say they are. I also know that memory is not always as accurate as we would like to pretend it is…and sometimes when we revisit events that happened a number of years ago, stories can get jumbled.

I heard Greg Mortenson speak about a year ago–and I was impressed. I appreciated the way he interacted with children; his passion for education–especially for girls–and his encouragement for it as a way of changing societies was exciting; the stories of his experiences in Pakistan were challenging.

These allegations are troubling, and I am not sure where the truth lies. Perhaps somewhere inbetween…I don’t know. I hope that the situation becomes clarified…but I also hope that we do not throw his challenges aside. The challenge to provide education to those who would otherwise have little or no chance of being able to change their lives and their societies is still valid–still important.

Perhaps another challenge for each of us is to judge wisely–not in the context of condemnation, but in determining the wisest and best use of our resources. And…to be honest in our telling of our stories.