No box for me!

Another march this week. Another round of demonstrations, and people holding signs with angry words to get their message across.

What if we held people in our arms, instead of signs in our hands?

We’re a divided culture, in so many ways. Identity politics are everywhere, and personally, I’m just weary of it all.

We’re so flooded with messaging to stand up for this group, stand with that group, to self-identify by race, gender, nationality, cultural heritage, faith, political party, etc., etc., etc.

Can I just be human?

I’m a woman, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend, a college graduate, an employee, a writer, a Christian, a voter.

I’m all of these things, and more. I’m subtle. I’m nuanced.

I don’t like being pigeonholed, put neatly into any box.

Because I don’t fit neatly into any box.

I don’t want to compete with any group, or feel myself in opposition to anyone. I don’t see myself in a woman vs man world, in an “I win, you lose” life model. I hope we all win. The reality is, though the ideal is to make everyone equal, the words and attitudes displayed by militants in movements reflect more hate than hope. I hear angry demands and harsh rhetoric.

There was a time in this country, and in the western world, when marching for rights was important. Raising awareness was important. Workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, children’s rights…there was an era when all those groups had to fight to be seen, to be heard, to be represented at the table of democracy, citizenship, and human rights.

And there are still many countries and cultures throughout the world that need to change, need to see all humans as people of value, of worth, and show that care of the most vulnerable in society is a mark of the strongest society. Because when we care for the weakest among us, we show how brave we really are. We show our integrity, as a whole, as a society, as a culture.

I don’t believe we in the United States of America, or in any western country, have it all figured out. We’ll never get it all right; we’re human, and we’re flawed. But can I just say, rather than encouraging people to march, can we encourage people to work?

If you want to make a difference for any group, do something more powerful than taking a day to march for your cause. Show up at a school that needs volunteers, show up at a retirement home that needs people to sit with residents, at a homeless shelter that needs help cleaning or doing of anything useful, at a park that needs cleaning up…you pick your place, choose your gift.

But show up to work.

Every time I see a group marching, I wonder what all that energy and those hours could do if the time was given to productive work? Volunteer work that didn’t charge for service?

What couldn’t we do? What couldn’t we change?

Or better than a one-day commitment, what about showing up every week?

You know, I never valued teachers more than when I subbed in school systems during our early years in Alaska. I saw for myself, first-hand, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on the teaching community. I saw their world in a whole new way.

I never understood the world of health care, until I began to work in primary care clinics, and got to see, up close, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on health care professionals. I saw their world in a whole new way.

What I’ve learned is this…you don’t march your way to understanding injustice and need.

You work your way to understanding.

You have to see to understand. You have to show up, get involved. You can read about all sorts of issues and problems, you can watch documentaries on TV. But until you see for yourself, you won’t really get it.

Want to understand the plight of immigrants? Find a way to work with immigrants. Want to understand the impact of illegal drugs on our society? Work with people struggling to overcome their addiction, and with families trying to survive the blows to their homes, to the children of addicts.

Want to understand the nightmare of the sex slave industry? Connect with organizations who are working to free people caught in that trap.

The point is, awareness grows when you get out in the community and see, for yourself, the hurts, the losses, the weak, and the vulnerable, the gaps in community and government.

Want to understand how building healthy families strengthens the whole society? Work with children bounced from foster home to foster home. Want to understand the health care crisis? Spend some time in under-funded, under-staffed clinics.

When statistics become faces and names, you’re beginning to understand.

I wish we were color-blind, gender-blind, status-blind, and kind.

I wish we were all just willing to be kind: to give a cup of cold water, to lend a hand; to understand that life is hard, and we’re here to make it easier. If we do that much, we’ve done so much.

Know what I love to see in my FB feed? I love to see positive, to see people doing good, to see people being the change. I love to see people sharing their time, their faith, their talents, their money, their energy.

I challenge you to work rather than to march; to act rather than falling back on mere words; to contribute, rather than criticize.

There’s a story I love. Maybe you’ve heard it?

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer and called out ‘Good morning! May I ask what you’re doing?’

The young man looked up and replied, ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean.’

‘Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’ asked the somewhat startled man.

The young man replied, ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’

The wise man was stunned. ‘But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!’

The young man bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said, ‘It made a difference to that one.’

Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

The other thing you can do? Look for root causes. See what you can do that gets to the source of the problem. It’s great to throw star fish back into the ocean, or to help people with their most basic needs. But what if you took the time to understand cause and effect, to look for ways to make a lasting impact? That’s how you create real change.

I don’t do heroic things…I’m not saving lives, or teaching children who’ll be the leaders of tomorrow. I bloom where I’m planted, and for me, that means making a difference in small rural communities by helping with health care staffing, helping with loan applications, helping with grants, helping new people transition into the community. I encourage, I feed, I build up. And I write. I try to make a difference by planting seeds, and ideas, and by saying: I will not be put into a box, be made to feel guilty that I don’t embrace identity politics or focus on pieces of myself, as though I can be neatly sectioned.

I beg you, celebrate your life, and the lives around you, by working, not marching. By doing, not just speaking out. By seeing for yourself, first-hand, the issues and causes, before you judge what should be, or should not be. Open your eyes to the needs around you. They’re everywhere, and you don’t have to be a hero to make a difference. You don’t even have to risk much. You just have to be willing to work, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

And please, don’t put yourself, or anyone else, in an identity box. That’s not who we are. We’re all so much more than “just” gender, race, ideology, profession, economic status, nationality.

We’re human. And humans don’t belong in boxes.

 

 

My country, ’tis of thee…

It’s been a while since I wrote on this site. Life has been full of travel, recruiting, day jobs, and family.

I had intended to do a post about fish and chips, a follow-up to the last post on fishing. I wanted to be light-hearted and fun.

But today I don’t feel light-hearted, and I want to say why.

I like to think I’m patriotic. Not in the grating, super-power-proud-gloating sense, but in the tear-up-when-I-see-a story-of-American-heart-and-American-goodness sense. Whenever I’ve been out of the country and I feel the touch-down of the plane’s wheels on American soil, no matter the point of entry, I always breathe a little welcome sigh, a recognition of being “home.” I love so many of the things that Americans sheepishly acknowledge…speaking generically, we really are a melting pot. We love corny things, little guys winning uphill battles, we value fairness and people standing up to challenge wrongs. There’s a segment of the population that’s sophisticated, by the going standard, for sure, but I think the majority of us are still focused on the basics…family, making a life for our kids, being part of communities that need good people and good ethics.

Which brings me to my moral dilemma. As the events of the last few days have unfolded, I’m reminded, again, that we have two candidates for the highest office in the land, and I can’t vote for one, and won’t vote for the other. The order of which names fit with “can’t” and “won’t” change from time to time, but the bottom line is the same. No options.

I would love to see a woman in the office of president, but not this woman. I can’t get past the enormous sums of wealth this candidate and her family have accumulated in public service, with no visible sign of creating anything of value, other than influence and favors. I’ve seen estimates of net worth from $30 million up to $111 million. Add that to the decades of scandal and charges of corruption that have followed this family, and I just can’t vote for more of the same. I’m sure there is some truth and some hype, but really, can’t we do better? From the beginning of this election cycle, through the primary season when so many of the contests looked unfairly rigged, there’s been a sense that this was a choice made for voters, rather than by voters. There’s nothing right about that.

A lot of my distaste comes from exhaustion. I wish politicians had the grace to move off the stage after a few years, but it seems almost no one does any more. I am fiercely opposed to political dynasties. I believe allowing multiple family members to milk the political system off name recognition and shared influence gives unfair advantage and access to a process that should be based on merit and work, not who one is married to, born to, or otherwise related to.

And the other candidate…well, I just can’t go there either.

I understand we’re electing a president, not a pope (I read that little nugget recently). I understand we’re all human, we all have faults and flaws, and who am I to judge, anyway? I’ll tell you who I am: I’m a voter. And while I accept that any human being is far from perfect, I want to elect someone who has aspiration toward high standards, who I can look up to and feel that at least they’re attempting to be a person of honor.

I’m sure that all people in places of leadership have their bad moments, lapses in judgment, and say things they regret. I do all that too. We all do. But I’m not proud of those moments when I fall short. I don’t go around bragging on myself that I got away with bad behavior, or find myself expressing remorse because I got caught at something and now have to try to look sorry, whether I really am or not.

I understand that in many ways, culturally we’ve done away with moral standards, with the traditional “rights” and “wrongs” of past eras. Or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve told ourselves we’re all grown up now, so sophisticated we don’t pass judgement on anyone anymore. Live how you want, say what you want, just don’t get caught on camera or mic, right?

I think our culture has an up-close view of what that looks like in a potential leader, and we’re disgusted with what we see…and who we’ve become, to some extent. Maybe the reason so many are outraged with this candidate is that he is a self-indictment, in many ways.

After all, morality either matters, or it doesn’t. Crude language is either acceptable, or it isn’t. Politicians either have private lives, or they don’t. We can’t really have it both ways.

Personally, I believe when someone offers themselves up for the highest office in the land,  for that time, they don’t have a private life. Their children should be off limits, but anyone running for the office of president should be prepared for every word and action to come under a microscope. And if they’re not, maybe they should not invite the scrutiny of the world. I’m not saying that’s fair, or even right. But in this day of ever-present media, and no subject off limits, that’s the way it is.

Honestly, I would be glad to not be privy to the personal details of candidates’ lives…I don’t want to know all the nitty-gritty. But that’s not the culture we live in, when anything and everything is fair game for dinner table conversation and social media posts.

I wish the wise people who founded this nation had given us a blueprint for this scenario: what to do when we want a do-over, but don’t want to create a constitutional crisis or a revolutionary change. I don’t want to see anything like that happen. I do want a way out of this dilemma.

Personally, I would be happy to see the vice-presidential candidates take over the top of the ticket.

Or if we can’t take that approach, maybe we can launch a write-in candidate via social media to win the most votes? Who will step forward to save us from these two? Anyone? Anyone?

Going forward, I think we need to create constitutional amendments that provide two things:

Term limits to two election cycles…I don’t care if you run for dog-catcher, two terms and you’re out. Whatever benefit accrues from having people in office who know the system are far outweighed by having people in office who corrupt the system.

Only one family member can be president, period. This may seem unfair and arbitrary, but I think we could go a long way toward fixing the political dynasty issue if we took the top prize off the table, once someone in the family has had it. Enough already. Go home, go away, just go! There’s a whole country full of people who are potential candidates. Let someone else step up to bat.

I know there are people who believe in both these candidates, who will vote for them for various reasons, and I understand that…we all have to vote our own consciences. For me, this is a year of none of the above. I’m not excited about the third party candidates either, and realistically, we’re not at a point in our politics where that makes a difference. No third party candidate has enough traction to matter, at least not yet.

Maybe the lessons of this election cycle, on both sides, will be that choosing candidates wisely is important. By the time we’re at this stage of the process, it’s too late to get picky…we’re stuck, voting for undesirables, or voting for no one.

It’s rare that I feel much angst politically. Usually I just tell myself that things will work out, and of course, life goes on, as I’m sure it will, whatever the November election brings. But after such a season, I hope there’s a national call for change to some of our process so we don’t find ourselves here again.

Surely, we can do better than this. We deserve better, our children deserve better. It’s time to look in the mirror, and face what we’ve allowed.

 

 

Political discourse

I’ve never used my blog to express political opinion. That isn’t my focus here, and I don’t want it to become my focus.

But I must say, this year: I’m disheartened, saddened, disappointed, by both major parties, and the candidates.

What has happened to our process? How have we allowed candidates to become so coarse, so small and petty? Where is the dignity the highest office in the land should inspire, and demand?

How can we have candidates for the office of president who are there as much for who they’re related to as for their own achievements? We’re not a country founded on political dynasties. I don’t think that’s what we should seek or allow now. Political dynasties are bad for the country: too much influence peddling, too much opportunity for unfair advantage and cronyism.

What is wrong with our political process when the major parties can manipulate the use of party delegates, “super delegates,” to offset the voice of individual voters? And why is the process so convoluted and complex it seems few can really understand it, much less navigate it?

Why do we need more than a year for our election process? Other countries seem to be able to have an election within a few weeks or months. And why do we need to pour massive sums of money into whole thing? Isn’t there a better way to spend money? It’s so expensive to campaign for office. Have we allowed the Presidency to be reduced to a prize that can be bought? Or to become an office that only the wealthiest and best connected can aspire to?

I enjoy political theater, and it’s interesting when the unexpected happens or a dark horse candidate suddenly breaks free from the pack.

But I’m appalled to see our political process has become just one more reality TV show, full of immature and narcissistic egos, insults, false statements, and bluster. Such conduct belittles us all. How can we as a country expect to be taken seriously by other countries and leaders when our politicians act as they do? When what they say in the setting of national debates sounds like talk from middle schoolers? And they expect voters to believe in them? To believe in their wisdom, their insight, their ability to be calm and collected in times of stress and threat? Do we want these people directing our military?

In election seasons, people often refer to the Founding Fathers, going back to the vision they had for government and the structure they put in place. When I think of the leaders of that time and compare what we have now, the people we look to as leaders, I’m shocked by how far we’ve fallen.

Those people weren’t perfect. They had flaws too, often obscured by the veil of time and the romantic haze of sentiment that colors our view of that era.

But…

They were articulate, educated, thoughtful, far-seeing, and principled. They cared about more than personal gain or risk. And for whatever faults they had, they accomplished a Herculean feat. They designed and built a new country.

They had honor.

Maybe we expect too much from our leaders…we expect them to please all of us, to have the right background, the right education, to be attractive, personable, charming, witty, good in front of the camera. Maybe honesty and integrity are dispensable characteristics, but they must be entertaining to watch, able to generate ratings. That’s the message we seem to send to the candidates we approve by vote tallies.

At the very least, I would like my leaders, specifically the leader in the role of President, to be an honest person, someone of integrity.

I don’t expect to agree with the President on every front. That would be impossible, and even unfair. This person has to lead a huge body of people, and we’re all going to be on the losing side of decisions from time to time. No one can please us all.

I don’t even have to like the person who is President. That would be nice, but what I really want is to look at this person and believe they’re doing the best they can, acting out of principle, and conscience, and strength.

I don’t care if we have a male or female as President. Other countries have had women leaders, decades ago, and they did very well representing their countries and their parties. But I don’t want this office to be a prize given for the sake of historic gesture. I don’t care about color or gender, spouse or no spouse, career achievements or alma mater. I care about choosing the best person for the job. Period.

I do care, very much, about the character of the person we elect. For those who say character doesn’t matter, I say, it is almost the only thing that matters to me. I don’t expect perfection. How could I? No one could meet that standard. I don’t expect that candidates have mistake-free personal lives…in fact, I don’t want to know all that much about their personal lives. I think they have a right to some privacy. But I do expect people who aspire to the office to have integrity, to do their best, to lead with dignity. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is, at least this year.

Maybe this will be the cycle that helps us to reset…to pull back from the abyss, to say, “what have we done?” Maybe this election season will open the door to serious election reform, to significant and intelligent change.

If that happens, good. We need to give up our addiction to political drama, and reclaim a political system that functions in the interests of the citizens; we need leaders who are serious, who respect the office and the responsibility entrusted to them; and we need to be able to trust our elected officials. We may not agree with every decision, but it would be encouraging to believe the person in the Oval Office acts out of principle, courage, and conviction, rather than playing to the polls, or political posturing. This is not a game.

Or maybe the whole thing has become a game . But it shouldn’t be.

Maybe this is the year to write in “none of the above,” and ask our parties to go back to the starting line, give us better choices. In a land of 300 million plus, surely that’s possible? What does it say of us, the citizen-voters, that we don’t demand better?

We need change at many levels of the process. We need informed voters, and a better way to express our opinions than going through antiquated and convoluted systems, controlled by party elites who have hidden motives and agendas. We need to allow voices to be heard that we disagree with. But we also need to assure everyone that each vote matters…that votes aren’t nullified by party rules and back room deals.

God help us all. It’s a scary world out there, and we need someone we can believe in…someone worthy of trust, worthy of sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

 

The little guy

It didn’t take long for the decision made on the other side of the country to reach across the miles and time zones. Today, the small town where we sometimes work announced that agencies operated by the community government will be impacted by the federal government shutdown. Beginning this week, employees are cut to 32 hours per week, and if the shutdown is not resolved in two weeks, layoffs will begin.

This is a community of Alaska natives, and a significant portion of their town budget comes from various government agencies. The clinic we work in is operated with funding from Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency. How ironic that in a government shutdown focused on a fight over national healthcare, healthcare is already being affected with clinic hours cut; patient referrals cut (with the exception of patients requiring medevac); and a freeze on numerous social and peripheral services.

At the moment, I’m not interested in placing blame. Really, I believe both sides in the debate have made mistakes and used poor judgment. But as usual, the little guy will pay the price, literally, with hours cut from pay, limited services, and stress and anxiety over the whole episode.

If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?  ~ Thomas Jefferson

As I hear about services cut throughout the country, I wonder what the real price is for this impasse? I’m sure the crisis of the moment will be resolved. But what does it do to the national psyche when small town America, through no fault of their own, is at the mercy of politicians a continent away?

The little guy is usually the hero of the movie, coming through at the last minute to save the day. We need leaders with vision. I think the ones in office have lost their way.

We could use some little guys right now. Sure hope they make it before the end of the movie.

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.  ~ Mark Twain

I love Election Day!

I live in Alaska, and because I haven’t had TV for the past year, and because Alaska is not a battleground state, I’ve not been barraged with political ads. We recently buckled and installed satellite tv, so we’re once again plugged in (as much as we choose to be) to current social culture, as offered by the plethora of available channels. Mostly, we don’t watch, or we watch movies. I still prefer to get my news from internet sites. The beauty of internet is that I can read in-depth pieces on the topics I find interesting, rather than depending on headlines that feed on drama. And I avoid the really depressing flow of celebrity-itis.

But I’ll be tuned in tonight as polls begin to close. I can’t resist the front row seating to our national story as we add the next chapter, written by everyone who is eligible, and cares enough to vote. As citizens, we get to write the first line of the chapter. Where it goes after today will depend on the outcome of our choices: whom we select as the winner, and the many twists and turns that will occur in the coming four years.

Of course I have a preference. But beyond my personal point of view, beyond my personal voice in the election, I desperately hope that those who take opinion and passion to vicious levels, to hateful personal attacks, threats and lies, will stop. I hope that win or lose, we all step back and recognize that no good can come of gridlock, and demonizing those with whom we disagree. I’m appalled and saddened by some of the extremes I’ve heard of in this election cycle. And I think we, the voting citizens of this country, should commit, regardless of party affiliation, to throwing out elected officials who demonstrate that they are not capable of working with those in opposition parties. We do not have the luxury of sitting on our hands in this economy, and with the political issues which are swirling throughout the world. If someone is elected to make a difference, and spends their time in office refusing to reach across the aisle, then we should help them to exit, and move on to someone who will reach out.

On national election days, you get a real sense of national community. Not national unity, certainly not that! As a country, at least according to polls, we’re pretty evenly divided. But we’re still all part of one big community. And there’s something heartening about a group leap across the line of decision. I get an image of everyone joining hands and stepping across a chasm. We hold hands, even if there are some of us that would prefer not to have to reach out. The system forces a a level of cooperation to accomplish the task of choosing.

Tonight, after I’ve voted, I’ll sit up, watching the results, listening to the projections, and drinking it all in. Some years have been more fun than others, and this evening will likely be a late one. But this is one drama I enjoy, all the more exciting because I have a stake in the outcome.

So here’s to politics, to exercising our right to vote and to speak. And here’s hoping that however things turn out, at the end of the day, we’ll be big enough to accept, to move forward and play nice. May the voting be fair, and fairly counted. May we be good citizens, regardless of party affiliation. May we do our part to maintain our national freedoms. And God bless us, every one. God bless America!

“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”            ~ Winston Churchill