Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The REST of the Dinner Party


I've only really begun...The meat of this "party" has been my backstory, that which frames what comes next...my musings on the topic of racism, particularly in light of the shootings which, separately, rendered two innocent black males and five police officers dead.

It goes without saying, or maybe it doesn't, that each of my bold-printed statements are really just opinions (based on the Life That Is Mine), so prelude each one with "In Tricia's opinion" if it helps remind you.

Also, since this blog entry was birthed after aforementioned events related to racism against black individuals, I am going to focus on the topic of racism as it relates to blacks only from this point forward.

1) Racism, like almost everything else (except really, really, really stretchy headbands), is NOT one-size-fits-all.

In my pursuit to better understand the broader understanding of the noun, I thought it'd be easiest to start with the definition of racism. But even that turned out to be frought with complexity; the definition varies from source to source. Just as I was beginning the effort to produce an exhaustive list of definitions, I abandoned the project altogether. I think the important thing to know is that racism appears to be viewed by some sources as a belief system that all members of a race possess certain characteristics of that race, while other sources limit the definition to action... as in, the poor treatment of people of a certain race based on their race. The difference - at least to me - seems to be between a racial stereotype and acting on a racial stereotype.

To me, this is a broad spectrum. Let's take swimming as an example. I know this is getting a tad uncomfortable, but I hope you'll allow it:

Is assuming that black people can't swim racist? By the first definition, YES. By the second definition only if you actively treat a black person poorly as a result of that belief, which precludes that you must think it inferior or a negative thing to not be able to swim.

The swimming example was a deficit example. Let's go at it from a different angle, taking rhythm as an example.

Is assuming that black people have rhythm racist? By the first definition, YES. By the second definition only if you actively treat a black person poorly as a result of that belief, which precludes that you must think it inferior or a negative thing to have rhythm. But what if your racial stereotyping paints the individual in a positive light, as in "Having rhythm is a superior quality!" Still racism or no...?

I was still thinking about this when I went to the playground with my little ones a few days ago and squeezed my body down one of their slides. Inside were sharpie-markered block letters "LOVE" and "PEACE" and colorful rainbows and such. It occurred to me that unsolicited graffiti, even if it's all unicorns and peace signs, is still not right.

If we discuss racism as it relates to the light-er stuff of how good or not good we are at hobbies or special interests, it could be argued that it's not that dangerous and far from crippling...let's call it non-malicious racial stereotyping... which I am defining with two key criteria a) the belief you have about a person's difference must be unrelated to his/her worth or character and b) the person housing the belief must have good intent. Non-malicious racial stereotyping, on the surface, may be not all that dissimilar from any type of stereotyping. Because I am from Kentucky, I don't wear shoes and my aunt is married to my brother. Because I majored in mathematics in college, I am either a man or wear a pocket protector. Because I'm petite and short, I am a rock-star tumbler on the gymnastics mat or jockey.

I'm not black, and even if I were, I wouldn't be able to say for sure just how offensive or insulting or dangerous non-malicious racial stereotyping is to the blanket black community. That would be racist. One black person might feel totally comfortable with those stereotypes and even embrace or exercise them (just as I may love being thought of as a gymnast). Another might be mildly annoyed (just as I roll my eyes when playful jest about back-country incest comes up related to my southern roots). Another could be totally insulted (I AM A WOMAN AND QUITE COOL and am good at math, PUNKS!).

I know I'm not alone when I say, as a white person, that I have trouble tending to my own place in it all. Talk about it? Don't talk about it? Give attention to race differences? Ignore it and by ignoring it be not-me (I'm kinda direct)? Push down curiosity? Try not to be curious in the first place? I talk to pregnant people about being pregnant. I talk to bearded people about their beards. So, is it OK to talk to black people about being black? When my cousin, Andrew, brought along his bi-racial girlfriend to our first family event, I was that dufus who thought it best to name and claim her black-ness rather than dance around the damn elephant (Kayla wasn't the elephant, to clarify, it was her race difference in our all-white family). In a quiet, light moment with just young-er cousins, I said: "Sooooooooo... you're black." And from there, I learned that her dad was black and her mom white... But I got a blocked feeling. She was shy, and maybe that was what I needed to pay more attention to for signals, not whether I was uncomfortable with the silence on the subject. People are not one-size-fits all, by the way, no matter what their race is. And maybe that's the answer for me... taking the conversations and questions and attention about race on a case-by-case basis. Isn't that what all people want, anyway? For their individual desires to be considered and honored? I've always thought the Golden Rule needed to be changed: Instead of "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You" shouldn't it be "Do Unto Others As They Would Have You Do Unto Them"?

I agree with the fact that there are non-malicious and perhaps even innocent ways in which an individual's beliefs about an individual in a different race based on their race result in that individual being treated differently. I do. And I hope people of color believe this to be true, too. But then there's the other kind... the mean-spirited, sinister, malicious forms of racism exist and, much more than I want to acknowledge, are thriving. And, just like so many other things, there's a spectrum of racism forms inbetween non-malicious and malicious. There are the ones that manifest as a result of lack of exposure to black individuals, showing up more as unwanted attention rooted in curiosity. There are the ones that show up with non-black people asking a single "token" black person questions about All Black People. There are the ones we indirectly hear on secular sitcoms and movies and comedy sketches, understated but powerful. There are the ones learned from the narrow-minded ways of one's family of origin or the rhetoric of a region's ignorance or a historical bad blood that cannot be overcome or the belonging found in a supremacist gang's belief system, or a government group's convenient misplacement of blame. There are clueless forms of racism (NO IDEA) and well-intended forms of racism (A WRONG IDEA) and automatic forms of racism (A PROGRAMMED IDEA), and malicious forms of racism (A HATEFUL IDEA)...

So, while I am the swirling little white ball of confusion often contributing to the matter, I refuse to dismiss or leave unanalyzed any form of racism because it falls lower on the "bad" scale. That is like telling a sick person that, since the diagnosis is not a terminal disease it warrants no care. I, just a couple paragraphs above, explain that many argue racial stereotyping (definition #1) is not far different from stereotyping, without poor treatment, of any kind. But isn't that wrong as hell? Doesn't the racial kind have bigger negative potential, because of how much more deeply imbedded and historically rooted it is, to be more malicious...even when it doesn't start that way? It's tricky. And it's often dangerously subtle. And institutionalized. And culturally normalized. And WE NEED TO SHINE A BIG FAT LANTERN ON IT. BEFORE I say, BEFORE the action piece of definition #2 turns the quiet into loud.

2) One of my particular flavors of racism 

Have you ever smiled extra-big at the trash collector or the custodian at the mall in an effort to send the message that you are not one of those people who under-appreciates their work and believes themselves to be "above" it? I have. I do. I even give strangers who are smoking a slightly more animated grin, because - even though I hate cigarette smoke and think the habit is disgusting - I figure they get it enough from others and I want them to not think that I am just another person shaming them.

Am I sounding crazy yet?

This is my "ism" - the people I treat differently (for the better, but still differently) are those for whom I assume good treatment is not always guranteed. I'm not saying it's right. In fact, it's profiling, really, based on my stereotpying. Who am I to decide which of those subgroups really are not receiving universal guaranteed good treatment, first of all. And second of all, who am I to assume that - even if I nail it with the first assumption - members of that subgroups all want to same thing (extra TLC from random stranger Tricia). Even IF I nailed it on both accounts (I was right both about the person being in a subgroup which is often mistreated and I was right about this particular individual wanting TLC from random stranger Tricia), isn't it maniacal and egocentric to think that I could over-compensate for all the ways those individuals have been collectively wronged? It's ludicrous, truly. And yet I do it. I do it, in fact, all the time.

I don't know if it's because of my collection of experiences with people of color as a younger kid or because in church or at home I absorbed the repeated message of erring on the side of over-kill kindness or because as a firstborn I am a pleaser and want people to like me... But I do the same thing that I do with janitors and smokers with minorities. I find myself smiling bigger and looking for ways to connect more and being maybe even kinder than normal.

Damn. There it is. I just said it. Out Loud. That's my racism. My racism is wanting to assure that I do not come off as racist. Ooooooo, that sounded bad, too. It reminds me of a comedic sketch written about by an author who is a recovered drug and alcohol addict. She writes about the ironic position she has found herself in by attempting to look reputable (i.e. SOBER). She says "Have you ever tried acting sober when you really are sober around people you believe think you to be drunk?" Try it, she says. There is no more sure-fire way to appear high than when you attempt this feat. In the hyper-focus of trying to walk upright and straight, you inevitably trip. In the slowing down and annunciation of syllables while talking, you come off as loopy.

In other words, it's worse. Wanting to assure that I do not come off as racist totally fits definition #1 of racism. I am stereotyping that every black stranger in the world thinks me racist. Because I am white. And daggone if I'm not gonna overwork to defy that (false) reality.

I'm REALLY outing myself in the following story. Just a year ago or so, Scott and I went to a special event benefitting cancer research at an outdoor venue. The event did what events do: drinks and mingling, seated and speaker, dinner and conversation, then PARTY. This particular PARTY involved a dance floor, music by a DJ, and night sky. I love all three. I'll let you in on a little secret that I am a dance-instigator. It's obnoxious, I know. I actively notice at a party, during that interim period of nervous energy after structured formalities end but before bodies find themselves making their way to the dance floor, who is tapping their feet or bopping their knees or looking around. I find them, all those folks for whom the dance floor is calling. I find them and I tell them it is time. I had been doing just that at this event, making my rounds to the feet-tapping pods, telling them that we needed to get this party staaaaaaaarted and that the signal to make our way out there was a certain song I had coordinated with the DJ. But, once out there, it was going to be Our Collective Job to keep feeding the DJ good song choices, for in order to bring the even more reserved dancers out of their chairs, one needs to be strategic. So, it worked. And one of the pods I had convinced was composed of three black young women, three of only a handful of black individuals present altogether at the event. When I approached them on the dance floor, asking what they suggested for the next song, they discussed together and asked, "What would you think about blah-da-blah-da, that popular country song?"

I AM ONE WITH YOU, BLACK PEOPLE... I wanted to communicate. I am not a stiff, white person. I SEE YOU, BLACK PEOPLE. And I see how few of you there are here tonight. I am not racist, SEE?

Except for I was. Because what I said was, "Well, we got a slew of white people here, so that oughta work."

Country music = white, is what I communicated. You are black, so it's nice of you for thinking of us white country-loving people. Thanks, black people. Y'all are good sports for being here and choosing white music, is what I said.

I had no idea that I wasn't being cool. Not cool at all. Until their looks expressed it. Their looks said, "Why you gotta go all 'color of skin' on us? We just like the damn song."

I was and am embarrassed about this story. In fact, my heart is beating hard as I type it. I couldn't have tripped and fallen on my face any harder for 'acting overly sober when I really was sober' a.k.a. "acting overly not-racist when I really am not racist" which, of course, yielded acting racist... because it is racist.

3) People and their equal worth.

I knew that one of my dad's core values was looking at things from as many perspectives as possible. Although they weren't crosstitched on a pillow anywhere in our house, the following clich├ęs may as well have been: "There are two sides to every coin."  and "Have you taken a turn walking in their shoes?" My dad believed in examining things instead of just resting in common assumptions about them. He believed in applying reason and weighing circumstance instead of trusting in any legalistic thinking alone. Basically, he believed in the gray. As early as an adolescent (way before I learned to drive), I remember that he would propose the following, "If you were in a super-middle-of-nowhere place driving at a time of day when there were no cars ANYWHERE and a red light stopped you, would you stay stopped or drive through it?"

OBEY THE LAW, DAD. Geez, who did he think I was? An outlaw? I knew the right answer. Easy test. Next, please.

He didn't like my answer and I didn't understand when he challenged it. What was his point? 11-yr-old me would wonder. He poised that scneerio over and over again over time until I became a less-self-righteous version of myself when I finally said, "Hell, I'd BLOW RIGHT PAST that light." I think he always secretly hoped he would raise a principled rebel, weighing off-the-beaten-path sensibility and sometimes-unpopular notions of what the right thing is higher than the rewards of being a rule-follower. He was always pressing the limits with questions. Damn, all those questions.

Death is a funny thing, because it really presses the family to consolidate a person's EVERYHING into a potent little package. When my dad died, although I thought I already had a clear picture of What He Was About, it wasn't until we sat for three hours with the pastor who would preside over his memorial service that I would clearly be able to pinpoint what He Was About. As I heard my own stories and that of his wife bubbling up, I heard the following echoing each time: my dad was about treating people with the same respect and courteousy regardless of ANYTHING you knew or didn't know about them. And, with that primary belief as a foundation, he then attempted to learn EVERYTHING about them. This is why he chose sales for a career. This is why he would go to the grocery store for a gallon of milk and come home two hours later with M&Ms. He could get LOST talking to people, learning their stories, gaining insight into their circumstances. And for no apparent agenda except to grow in compassion and understanding by doing it.

I know that I cannot attempt to top Dad's purity in his belief in all people's worthiness. Nor his conviction to the habit of looking under rocks and both sides of coins for as many clues as he could about a person's situation before making judgements. But I try. Every day. Add to the Dad-ness that is in me the teachings of Jesus I learned from an early age... those of unconditional love, inclusivity, grace, meeting people where they are, defying rules and legalisms and barriers and sharp edges that separate people or groups of people from one another...and there is the childhood of me.

This is why I am sleighed by the childhoods of others that could lead to believing anything other than, "People are all inherently and equally worthy." I recently watched a woman give a one-minute speech crystalizing, in no uncertain terms, the solution to racism in our world (It's called "Racism Destroyed in One Minute," and the woman is anti-racism educator Jane Elliot). I have heard her speak more than once in the past, and I can tell you that she has very good things to say. But the particular link leading me to her one-minute spiel caught my attention on Facebook, in the aftermath of Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas last week, and it immediately struck me as over-simplified... missing the bigger, more complicated, mark. Elliot says, "There are no races in this world. If you think there are, you're wrong. There is only one race. That's the human race." I thought, "No shit, Sherlock. Got it and agree, but this does NOT solve racism. It doesn't even TOUCH racism, lady."

It took several days of meditating on her words before it came to me...A lot of people need to hear and internalize that information. It's not the no-brainer that, growing up the way I did, I believed it to be. This one-minute spiel, although basic, is a prerequisite. PREREQUISUITE for anything beyond it. Of course racism is complicated. Of course it takes more than a minute to begin sorting it out. But, I kid you not, it wasn't until I wrestled with my hasty judgment of her speech that I realized the necessity of starting with its simplicity. I didn't even realize we needed to start there as a country, since I had started there with my upbringing. But. We. Do.

4) The majority/minority dynamic

On the topic of the multitude of complexities playing into racism (the ones that, even if we all believe and acted on what Elliot said in her 1 minute, still tie us in knots), I cannot stop thinking about the role of majority/minority thinking and how it enters the fray.

While at Manual, I developed a handful of tight-knit girlfriends. We happened to be all white. But the following story doesn't really have, in contrast to the previous anecdotes, ANYthing to do with color of skin, except in a metaphorical sense. There were six of us. Five of us lived square east of the center of Louisville, in varying degrees. And one of us lived square south. As high school girls do, we would organize often for movies, dinners at restaurants, sleep overs, and supporting each others' personal events - athletic games, church stuff, family stuff. Whenever we had to pick a place for a gathering, say dinner, the five of us who lived east-ward would inevitably toss out restaurant locations that we knew well and liked in our frame of reference... in our part of town. Julie, my south-end friend, was always so patient with us when she kindly inserted, "Hey guys, can we go with something a little more in-between us?"

DUH!! She wasn't asking five of us to drive 20+ minutes right into the heart of her southend neighborhood. She wasn't suggesting restaurant names so local to her neighborhood that we didn't even recognize them. She was just asking for all of our selections to not be solely based on proximity to the majority. We still made her drive all the way to us often. And then we'd do a half-way spot here and there, too. Thankfully, we sure-as-heck knew that farther east restaurants made no sense at all and were off the table. But, I remember having to be reminded EACH TIME to consider Julie. To consider the minority presence, as minority as it was. We weren't a knuckle-headed crowd (ask me where they pursued their undergraduate degrees) and I'd say the four other east-ender pals of mine might rank as some of the kindest, most empathetic, and thoughtful women I know, so we as a whole weren't terrible people either. I still don't know whether we forgot or chose to forget about Julie. Regardless, I'm embarrassed to say, we did, time and time again.

Finding a "fair restaurant" for my friendship group was not done by saying, "We are all inherently equally valuable, so that's the end of it." We each had an address. And five of us had eastern zip codes and one had a southern zip code. So the "fair restaurant" solution had to consider more than the fact that we were all equally valuable members of the group.

It takes a grand amount of intentionality to be fair. I would argue, as a parent in the thick of parenting young ones, it is not a natural skill but a learned one. We don't pop out of the womb considering FAIR. Even as adults, what benefits ourselves can blind us from what is fair for all. When I told this story of my friends to my father-in-law recently, whom I love for being mathematical, he said, "Well, wouldn't it have made the most sense, because there were five of you, to make 20% of the total restaurant location selections be in the favor of Julie, and 80% be in favor of the majority?" I told him YES... BUT WE WERE TEENAGERS. Not robots... Imperfect little attempts at humanity. And, as good as we each were, we still screwed up.

Now, complicate that storyline with a bunch of other layers... Julie doesn't have a car or Julie has a car but no gas money. Public transportation makes her area of town easier to access than the other. How would we weigh these factors into the equation? Would they all change the simplicity of the 20%/ 80%  solution? Would treating the minority fairly mean giving Julie a bigger percentage of the decision-making, since she was not coming to the decision-making table with equal circumstances? But then what if one of the others of us can't stay out past a very-early curfew and therefore a long drive to a restaurant means we can't hang out with her? And what if another is vegan and gluten free and another has only $10 budget and there is only one restaurant that fits all of those requirements and it happens to be lopsided? I'm making these scenarios up IN MY OWN HEAD and even I am confused.

I was talking with Scott, hubby, and a neighbor about race the other day and I wondered aloud what the percentage of black people in our total US population was. Scott said, "Something like 10-12%, right?" I said, "NO WAY, DUDE!!! It's gotta be more like 30-35%!" A quick cell phone search indicated that Scott was way closer to being right than I: 13.2%

That's it.

I do think that there are places in our country more concentrated with black people than others. Yet, still, 13.2% of our entire American make-up is black. How do we fairly consider, in our collective decision making about our governance and our economics and our housing and our justice system and our employment and our leadership, minority populations? After learning this statistic, I started fantasizing about how much easier it would be if each minority group, blacks included, instead made up the exact same percentage of the population as the majority race, white. If we removed the majority/minority layer, how much better would we be at "fair?" I love us imperfect humans, but I don't have much faith in us. I'm guessing we'd still suck at it.

5) Presumed innocence

During a teaching inservice one day, the speaker centered her entire presentation around a metaphor, "Baby in the back seat." She painted the picture of a line of cars stopped at a red stoplight. Whereby the light turns green, one of the cars at the front of the line does not go. In rush hour, backed up unnecessarily, the cars behind the stopped one LOSE THEIR SHIT. She says that the losing of the shit (which she called "flooding" i.e. emotional elevation i.e. RED ZONE) usually looks like this: Outward blame ("She is probably texting on her dam cell phone!" "People don't know how to drive!""Can't they see they are holding up ALL of us!" "Get it together!" "YOU ARE MAKING US ALL LATE!") followed by inward blame ("Why didn't I take the interstate instead?" "If I'd just left a little earlier... ""I should have known this would happen!"). Then, the beeping and honking and yelling profanities out the windows and middle fingering and dangerous swirvy manipulating happen.

It is then that the presenter explained that this was a real story, one that resulted in the stopped-car driver writing a letter to be posted in the newspaper the next day. She was idling in park when that light turned green, because her baby in the back seat had choked on something and she had crawled over the front seat to rescue him.

Oh, how this changes EVERYTHING. One piece of information, or rather a changed lens through which to look, can change EVERYTHING. And that was her point, to treat every presumed "injustice" by another individual as though there was simply a choking baby in the back seat on board. Look what results looking through this lens: You don't take the other person's actions personally; in fact, you can see that it's not about you at all. And, therefore, the event no longer necessitate an adult melt down in you. You can, calmly, see that there is a better response than a judgmental one.

You can see how this translates to public education. She was not saying that we detach consequences from student behaviors in schools. Or that we go soft to the point of anarchy. Or that kids aren't ever in the wrong. It's that if we presume every time, even while disciplinarian action is being taken, that every single child is living with a baby in the back seat, likely several, and that we can look at their bad choices, good choices, mediocre choices as none other than the cumulative product of all those back-seat-babies. It's doing what Walt Whitman said, "Be curious, not judgmental." There is no such thing as "bad" and "good" kids, just kids with a variety of reasons playing into their "bad" and "good" choices. So many times, in my teaching days, I have said a variation of the following to a kiddo caught in deceit or a naughty situation, "I don't believe you right now...But I believe IN you every day." I told myself, and still firmly believe, that even the toughest of exteriors is penetrated by repeated spoken recognition (preferably by an authority figure) of that soul's sometimes deeply imbedded GOODNESS and INNOCENCE. I see you. I don't know how many babies you have in the back seat or how they got there, but I see you doing the best with what you've got. Even if that's not so good.

There is no such thing as "bad" and "good" people, just people with a variety of reasons playing into their "bad" and "good" choices.

Scott, my husband, created and stands by four core values at his place of work. All staff members on his team know them, use them, and make most decision about how they conduct themselves - big and small - by them. One of them is "presumed innocence," the notion that in their work environment, instead of policing one another, awaiting for a colleague's next wrong-doing or slip-up, each member of the team has committed to assuming innocence in the other. Someone comes in later one morning? Assume that it was because of a sick kid at home and that they worked over their laptop. Someone leaves someone out of an email? Assume it was an innocent mistake to be remedied, not a mean-spirited manipulation technique. (P.S. Transparency is another core value, and - since the two work hand-in-hand - team members also have permission to respectfully "call each other out" when mistakes are made. Since integrity and character are not on the line and only an innocent mistake is, claiming mistakes is a heck of a lot less painful, too).

I have heard, time and time again, by Scott's co-workers how the core value of "presumed innocence" has set a markedly improved tone in the culture of that office. I'm certain it's not bullet-proof; there are probably still the sneaky (and they'd be there anyway). But, what I'm hearing more is that this value, mostly, rises the standard of excellence... not lowers it. But only if done right (read: reminded of daily, acted out on by leadership, posted and lived) will there by buy-in and therefore pay-off. People, overall, want to be seen as trustable. People, overall, want to be believed in. People, overall, want to be worthy of presumed innocence. Treating them as such brings out the very thing they seek.

In 2nd grade I had a teacher named Mrs. Muskett. Nobody liked Mrs. Muskett. But I suspect a boy named Isaac liked her the least. Isaac was a kid who everyone knew as "the bad kid." If his behaviors didn't secure him that title, than the placement of his desk surely was an indicator. Mrs. Muskett had his desk nudged right next to hers for the majority of the school year. EVEN AS AN 8-YR-OLD I remember thinking, 'Well, that's about the dumbest idea ever... we are highlighting his acting out. CENTER STAGE. There he is, set apart for all to notice. BAD KID. "BAD KID is who I am," Isaac needn't shout.'  When you single out a student for his/her poor choices and expect only from him/her what he/she has been in the past, he/she will not disappoint you.

The Isaac story popped up in my mind after recently watching Zootopia, a funny Disney film many believe to be more than funny. Parallels, some claim, exist between the film's animal characters and groups of people in our country. In the movie, foxes in general and specifically one named Nick Wilde are viewed by the rest of The City of Zootopia and most definitely the main bunny character, Judy Hopps, as not-trust-worthy, sly shady types. After Judy and Nick get past their ugliness towards one another (which takes awhile as Nick doesn't exactly exemplify integrity and character with his thieving and conning), Judy asks why he's become the way he is. Funny-guy Nick gets honest and describes a moment in his childhood when he attempted to join a group who didn't have any foxes among them and who pranked him into believing he was One of Them until they back-stabbingly black balled him saying, "If you think we are going to trust a FOX, you've got another thing coming." Nick then says, with his head hanging down, something to the effect, "If the way people think of you isn't going to change, there comes a point when you grow weary of trying to prove them wrong."

Nick's baby in the back seat was that prank by "the insiders" (i.e. the majority) gifting him with no presumed innocence, rather presumed guilt, likely time and time again. And he made a series of bad choices, a life of crime in fact, as a result.

This sounds all too familiar. Yes, I'm saying it.

The racial event of last week begs the question: Is the black community treated with presumed innocence? Is the black community dealing with ghost-like back-seat babies that no one can see but -through learned behavior - have altered belief/expectations about the world and their place in it? Are authority figures in our culture saying, "I believe in you" and "You ARE trustworthy"?

The racial event of last week also begs the question: Are people in our culture telling authority figures, "I believe in you" and "You ARE trustworthy"? Are we treating them with presumed innocence? 

7) The Relationship Between hurt, anger, and burnt toast

I have come to use the following imagery for my understanding of certain emotions: there's a Hurt tank inside of each of us that funnels to an Angry tank. Hurt comes out as "sad," "wounded," and "vulnerable." Angry comes out as flames. There are lots of tanks; hurt doesn't have a monopoly on angry. But, there's a pretty well-worn pathway our emotional fuel travels from one to the other, hurt to angry. Just stub your toe, and watch it flow. When I stub my toe (literally and metaphorically), and no one wanted my toe to get stubbed or set me up to get my toe stubbed or laughed when it happened or ignored it when it did, usually I experience pain, then feel primal madness, then observe flames come out in the form of four-letter-words. But, usually, both my Hurt and Angry tanks are emptied in a relatively short amount of time, and remain empty until the next isolated time I experience pain. But when Hurt tank is filled up with emotional fuel over and over, and in the same way, and invisibly with no one taking note or talking about it -- each recurring incident means the fuel spends less and less time marinating in the Hurt tank, where healthy Sad or Wounded or Vulnerable would normally have the chance to emote. The highly flammable, potent stuff funnels faster and faster into the Angry tank where exorbanent amounts of it store up. It becomes a hot-bed reservoir, so large in size and extensive in depth that it starts swallowing up space from the other tanks (compassionate, kindness, love). And what results is more than four-letter flames. The product are flames of rage and hate.

Kinda reminds me of the toaster phenomenon. When I'm making toast for my family in the morning, even the 4-slot doozy of a toaster doesn't prevent me from having to make a second round. Please tell me I'm not the only one who struggles for toast satisfaction with increased failure the second and third and fourth times around? Toasters work on timers and, since I'm too dense to remember, I don't change the setting with subsequent depressions of the lever yet the starting temperature is warmer and warmer at the start of each go around. What results is a more-toasted, at best, and charred, at worst, set of toast. I don't give the toaster time to return to neutral before I pound it with more toast to make.

Remember when I was called a "cracker?" Racism against me was like putting a lit match on a bubble. With no stored up emotional fuel in Angry tank waiting to ignite, it was easy for me not to ignite. And with my other more-positive-emotioned tanks fully in tact, it was well within my reach to choose an option other than FLIGHT or FIGHT. (refresher: Nice Proximity was the option I took). My toaster was cool to the touch when this event happened, so I was nowhere close to the capacity to burn toast.

I do not condone the violence that happened after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed. Dallas happened. Baton Rouge happened. Although most protesting has been done legally and civilly, some of it has resulted in arrests and monologues of disgust and hatred towards officers... hearts rageful and hostile. I do not believe this does OK things for the heart. I do, however, understand how it happens. I understand how toast gets burnt.


8) Short-sighted mostly doesn't know short-sighted is short-sighted. Ignorant mostly doesn't know ignorant is ignorant. Self-righteous mostly doesn't know self-righteous is self-righteous. 

When my brother was going through a 28-day alcohol and drug treatment program out of state, the facility strongly encouraged family members to participate in a weekend training designed specifically for loved ones of the addict. We were not to visit or spend time with Justin, my brother. This training was for us... to learn how to be healthy and strive to be the best supporters alongside our loved one's battle with and recovery in the disease of addiction. The presenter was young, maybe early thirties, and shared that he himself was a recovering alcoholic. He shared that in his previous life, his career was in restaurant management, and his specialty was opening up restaurants around the country. He was on the scene when the fryers and the ovens and the ice makers were installed in the kitchen... when the original staff were trained...when the glossy new menus arrived in boxes... when the food was tested and retested. He said that the night before opening day of each restaurant, he would gather everyone - from greeter to server to salad prep chef to bar tender to cook - in the kitchen and ask them to spend a good couple minutes just taking in the scene. After some silence, he said, "This is the cleanest and most perfect this kitchen will ever look. I want you to remember it the way it is now. THIS is the example of what it ought to look like. THIS is what we strive to return it to. The wear and tear and grease and gunk will happen, but I want you to remember THIS, not anything less."

I believe that people are like a kitchen. I think even those whose kitchens have every tool and gadget and pot and pan in place can lose sight over time of the sauce spot on the backsplash or the melon baller's out-of-place-ness. For the rest, those of us who start with missing measuring cups and dinted lids and gaping holes where Stuff.Ought.To.Be on supply shelves... imagine how a steady decline from the starting condition could make that kitchen a disaster of a work place, yet still spinning out food left and right. If your actual, real kitchen is anything like mine, if my family lets it slide one or two days, not returning it to it's already imperfect neutral, then the new neutral becomes where we left it after those couple days, which is really dump-like but becomes normal and therefore acceptable, relatively speaking.

Our Understanding Of Life can get smudged and sullied by misunderstandings and misguidance and misteaching. And then layered upon that "messiness" it can get smudged and sullied more, until Understanding of Life is all screwed up. I don't know what a crystal-clean kitchen/Understanding Of Life ought to look like, mainly because mine is nowhere close to being there. It has taken a lot of work for me to realize that's the case, and it has taken a lot of work to prevent it from worstening.

C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, "When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right." I don't think it takes a thoroughly bad person to not realize she is not alright. I guess I just believe that just means she isn't very awake. Perhaps what C.S. Lewis means by "bad" is "asleep" and what he means by "good" is "awake."

Awake is HARD, dang it! Awake requires some serious kitchen cleaning gizmos, those of Self Examination and Check Yourself. Cooking without them can yield lots of food, but, unknowingly by the cook, it's tainted with some ick. And how would those cleaning tools be in your kitchen if you hadn't been exposed to them or someone hadn't taught you about them? It is not lost on me the fact that my lifelong intentional seeking after racial diversity for myself and my children could, in itself, be a self-serving ambition, one that exercises the using of others to benefit me. But, I look at it as a pursuit to help keep my kitchen clean... that, by attempting to keep my social life diverse - racially and otherwise - my cleaning supplies are ON IT, so that me and my kitchen don't slide into comfort with sneaky scum.

I don't know how a bigot gets to become a bigot. I don't know how a KKK member gets to become a KKK member. I don't know how people of all professions, police officers included, grow racist. But I am guessing it doesn't happen in only a couple sessions of cooking with only a couple missed cleanings. Just, as the presenter at that family training was trying to communicate - it is missed cleaning after missed cleaning after missed cleaning that an addict's reasoning can become distorted into thinking that his slowly deteriorating body and mind and relationships and finances and morality are OK, even normal.

C.S. Lewis goes on in the same passage to say, "You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either." (again, in the last sentence, switch out "good" and "bad" for "awake" and "asleep")

In the wake of What Just Happened In Our Country (and what happens, less publicly, every day in our country), let's all strive to be more clear and awake and have compassion for those who are confused and sleeping but don't know that they are, let's all buff up our interior kitchens often and use the cleaning tool of Self Examination often and with great detail, let's all approach individuals with curiosity instead of judgment about what babies are in their back seats, let's all presume innocence and by leaving room for folks to meet that expectation encourage their inner good, let's all acknowledge the privelidge of majority-thinking and the disadvantages of being a minority, let's all wonder more about whether we ought to stop at abandoned stoplights just because they are there, let's all wrestle with the concept of "fair" and check ourselves against it, and let's all write really, really, really long accounts of our own life stories, then lose ourselves in the questions of it all...

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