Category Archives: Politics

The Loss of Humanity in Syria and In Ourselves

I wish I wasn’t writing this post.  I wish I was in bed sleeping at 1:45 in the morning, but then, I think, there are worse things than being kept up by words.

In fact, there is slaughter going on in Syria.  Annihilation of families including mothers and little children.  Including babies.

I think of my own two year old daughter, V and her funny antics.  I think about how she thinks it is hilarious to walk around singing “Plop goes the weasel!” and how she stripped down into her “naked clothes” to wash her little kitchen dishes because she didn’t want to get water on her “special ones.”  She keeps me laughing every day.  I know that the dead mothers in Syria were laughing alongside their little ones sometime recently, despite the conflict in their country, despite the threats to their lives and their homes.  Children are joyful; they are a reminder of what is best in us and a more innocent way of viewing the world.  We haven’t corrupted them yet.  Even in the darkness, they can bring a smile to light.

(photo by PML)

We haven’t turned them into murderers yet.  At least most of them.

Some people would like to dehumanize those that did the slaughtering, much like people dehumanize the Nazis or any other number of war criminals.  People might call them “animals” in an attempt to distance themselves from the fact that: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  In reality, all of us could be either the slaughtered or the slaughterers given the right circumstances.  All it takes is ignorance combined with a propensity for division and hatred and human nature can veer us right into the most destructive impulses imaginable.  We’d like to think we are different, but we still push the button on the electrical jolts in Milgram’s experiment when we are told to do so by someone in a position of authority, regardless of our own conscious.  We still stand by and watch ignorance perpetuated, silently, like global participants in the bystander effect, assuming someone else will solve our big political and social problems.  We still judge and dislike and in some cases, hate, based on differences or if someone has wronged us.  For many of us, if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is at least one person in the world we could see ourselves eradicating or some reason that we can justify taking the life of another.  If we can start down that path; we are capable of even more insidious atrocities.

I cannot pretend to have a great understanding of the political situation in Syria.  I am not knowledgeable enough to explain the dynamics of the division and unrest occurring there.  For me to lay claim to that knowledge, I would expect that I knew something of the area’s history, I would perhaps have travelled there to understand the culture and the people, and I would want to know the things that go unsaid and unexplained by the media, the power structure that ever has an incomplete public portrayal because we only ever get a portion of those dynamics in any country.  I don’t believe my cursory reading of a few online or print articles is enough to erase my ignorance of the situation.

But I do understand the loss of humanity, both the physical and literal loss of the good parts of the human spirit, when something like this occurs.   Where there is ignorance, power struggles, suffering, hatred and division, violence breeds.  Increasingly, I even see this happening in various ways within our own country.  People become complacent with easy explanations or become apathetic and victimized and give up their political power.  People are unable to consider any complexity of opinion beyond the sound bites fed to them by the media outlets they prefer and are comfortable with, media outlets that pick at differences and highlight divisions.  Those in positions of power abuse their roles and are insidiously self-serving.  People attack people instead of opinions or ideas.  People are unwilling to compromise or give any leeway because they are entrenched in their positions and the idea of being right or righteous.  People either feel powerless and angry or powerful and selfish.  People are intolerant and unappreciative of difference. People justify hatred.  Hatred turns to violence.  It is easy to see how relationships, groups, countries, and civilizations unravel.  And the same pattern happens over and over throughout history.

So I am up at night thinking about the relevance of the Syrian massacre.  I’m conscious of the relative safety of my own sleeping daughter in her little bed, and so privileged to not be in the position that the families living in Syria currently face.  I’m privileged to not have to take a really hard look at what layers of innocence would have to be destroyed before I might become the kind of person that would commit such atrocious acts.  I’m thankful to have some psychological and spiritual wholeness, but what scares me is how the little hatreds are only a step away from the big ones; how the little violent acts of anger and bitterness of resentment and ignorance leave us only steps away from being in a similar situation.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we are any different.  We are only fortunate and “they” are not.

What is the answer?  It is not simple and it is not easy.  In fact, it is the hardest thing we might ever do as humans, which is why war and violence persist.  It is an inner battle we must all fight to keep our hearts loving and compassionate in the face of hatred and violence.  It is in the cumulative choices we make as individuals, groups, and nations to pursue connection and solution finding rather than power seeking and self-benefit.  It is in not giving up our responsibility to be active, involved, and aware citizens when we have the gift and privilege to have a voice in our government and society.  It is in our choices to overcome our aversion and discomfort with differences and to seek compromise and solutions that benefit the many rather than an elite, powerful few.  It is in holding onto the good parts of our humanity and not succumbing to the destructive impulses we all possess when we are threatened.  It comes from seeking inner peace and peace with others rather than power over them.  These are steps we all must collectively take if we want to ensure we do not end up like the perpetrators in Syria, so full of hatred and violence that we could destroy the most precious symbols of light and laughter and beauty and innocence:  our own children.


Returning Ripples: What Happens When You Can’t Argue

Given the recent political discourse during primary election season, I thought this post should be dusted off for a repeat.  I have some other things I’d like to say on the topic, but as you can see, I’m posting a day early due to the fact we have the plumber arriving tomorrow to complete repairs after our water heater expanded blowing out the hot and cold water lines in the basement.  Sigh.  It could have been worse, but still not the most fun experience.  At any rate, I wish that our politicians could manage some form of civil discourse and stand up as leaders modeling how to compromise and demonstrate respect for each other during this election season.  Relationships between groups reflect relationships between individuals within the groups; we can all start making changes somewhere to resolve conflict and move toward cohesion. I know another post on this topic is simmering, so I’ll leave it be for now. 

My husband, M, recently said to me after a minor marital spat, “We are both passionate, spirited people; we are going to argue. We just have to be respectful and mindful of each other.”  While he was spot on in his assessment of our relationship, it reminds me of an ongoing cultural phenomenon that is most apparent in our political discourse.  I believe that any healthy relationship promotes room for differences of opinion to be felt and expressed.  The most challenging relationships I have experienced in my life are the ones shut down because the ability to effectively and respectfully deal with conflict is failing.  I see a lot of failing relationships these days on this very basis.

We have all gotten into an argument or debate with someone that clearly is going nowhere, the ones in which each person is tuned in only to the voices in his or her own head, and the voices get louder as if volume alone will be sufficient to force the other person into listening.  After a while, you learn that certain people are incapable of having a reasonable conversation, and intimacy comes to a screeching halt.  True intimacy arises from an established pattern of disclosure, trust, and acceptance.  Intimacy requires trust that the other person prioritizes you as a person above needing to be right or the “winner” of the debate; you can disagree and know that other person is not going anywhere.  It requires graciousness of spirit to listen and care more for the individual than scoring the point.

I admit myself that I often do not have that graciousness.  Sometimes the issue at hand is so close to my heart and the frustration level so high that someone I care about cannot agree with me, that I feel the familiar flood of emotions in the situation override my general care for the other person.  This seems to most often happen with the people I hold most dear to my heart.  I want to reconcile my strongly held beliefs with my belief in their ability to discern and judge similarly to me.  But what I remember when I am thinking more clearly is that I love that person, despite their dissimilarity to me and in some cases, because of it.  Occasionally, I even can get out of my own way enough to find merit and rightness in another’s perspective, and I am always glad of it.

My relationship with my friend Julie is an example of how people with often opposing viewpoints can have a satisfying and close friendship.  We hold political and religious positions that in many ways cannot be more divergent.  What sustains our relationship through numerous debates is the respect we have for each other as people.  While I disagree with Julie’s positions on many things, I think she is one of the most gracious people I know.  She is thoughtful and intelligent and caring and I am often amazed by her ability to listen to my point of view, even when she knows it is likely to differ from her own.  She is one of those rare individuals that seeks out other opinions, just to hear them and critically think.

Being fixed in one’s own viewpoint to the detriment of relationship can be a sign of emotional and intellectual immaturity.  It can mean that an individual is too threatened by the possibility of another way of thinking or feeling to listen thoughtfully.  It can mean that honesty cannot exist within a relationship where people cannot speak their minds without being criticized or shut down.  When someone consistently overpowers you with their opinion and thoughts, and allows self-righteousness to override relationship, it can become disrespectful and abusive.  It does not allow for natural and healthy conflict to be effectively resolved.  Either one or both parties abandon the relationship, or many issues that need to be addressed are stifled and fester.  When communication and conflict resolution shut down, the relationship has deteriorated.

I see parallels between the interpersonal and the national political conflicts we are currently experiencing and have touched on this issue in previous blogs.  However, the solution can only be found when two individuals choose a different way to handle conflict.  We cannot change the way we handle conflict in our country without first dealing with it interpersonally.

I continue to reflect on this topic as I am one of those people who can be self-righteous and judging at times.  I hope to challenge myself to deal with conflict in a more open and healthy way, and I invite you to join me, because as we all get control of our inner lives, we are more likely to effect change on a broader scale.


Remembering the Lessons of 9/11: Today AND Tomorrow

Fallen... (Photo by PML)

I remember.  The morning of our one month wedding anniversary, my husband M, and I woke to a beautiful September day, all wrapped up in our love and the significance of the 30 days we’d spent as married folks.  Then the phone rang and the TV went on and we watched the second tower fall.  We were living in Philadelphia at the time, and as the reports of planes crashing all around us, New York, DC, near Shanksville, PA, came in, we first felt the fear that comes along with an unfolding and uncertain crisis situation.  Then the horror sunk in as we realized all the lives that were lost, smothered under rubble and soot and snuffed out in a field.  We grieved with the rest of the nation, in a singular moment of connection that will never be forgotten by those who lived through it.

Beloved...(photo by L)

A week later, M and I ventured into NY City to visit our musician friend, A, who had been in the towers buying shoes the day before they fell.  As we entered the city via train, we saw the billows of smoke rising from the collective gravesite of our fellow Americans.  We smelled the char in the air.  Candles and handmade memorials were everywhere.  Posters seeking lost loved ones papered the streets.  In one of the busiest, most bustling cities in the world, the silence was reverent.  The hush told of unspeakable loss.  I will never forget.

Less than a week later (photo by PML)

Today, on the 10th anniversary of that day, I know we remember the lives lost.  I know the family and friends whose lives were forever changed that day will be grieving still.  Love never dies, and though the pain dulls, senseless, brutal, wrenching loss tenderizes the soul.

I was nursing my daughter to sleep tonight, when she hopped up, ran in the living room to cuddle her Daddy, requested that “bof” of us snuggle with her in her big girl bed and then fell asleep after stroking my husband’s face and throwing her arms around us.  I lay there, thinking about how precious this moment was, about how I wanted to savor every second of it, how in the stressful moments of parenting and everyday life, I wished I would draw upon moments like this, remembering how none of us are guaranteed the time we expect to have with each other.  I thought about what I wanted to write for this post, and wondered how I could ever hope to write about unimaginable loss with sensitivity.  What I felt after 9/11 and what I felt cuddled, safe and loved with my family, is a deep appreciation for the fragility of life, and a recognition of the overwhelming power of love to transform life into something of meaning.  When tragedy befalls us, as a nation or as individuals, all of the frivolous concerns are shed, and we are left with acute awareness about what is essential to our lives.  Love remains.

Message of love...(Photo by PML)

As a nation, we have weathered a lot over the past decade.  Today, I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, but I worry that we have lost that sensitivity, the heightened understanding we seemed to have in the days following 9/11.  We remember the people. But I worry we’ve lost sight of the connection; that we leave the important message of 9/11 to anniversaries rather than carrying it into our daily lives.  While it is hard to live each day with the intense awareness of the value and vulnerability of life, when we are in a situation where we can choose connection over conflict, forgiveness over vengeance, love over hatred, we would do well to remember the courage and grace that so many Americans demonstrated after 9/11.  We have it in us to be a people of dignity and honor, a people who hold up love as the highest ideal.  We just have to choose it, every day, not just when we take time out to remember.  Until every individual, every nation learns to do this, we will not have peace.   This is not an easy challenge, it requires great sacrifice, struggle and forgiveness; it requires us to be our best selves.  For today and tomorrow, let us remember, and honor those we remember by bearing peace and love into a world that can often threaten to bury us under the rubble of pain and discord.

Remembering...(Photo by ML)


Balanced Budget: How Do You Do It?

Hi all,

I am writing an unusual blog…for me, today.  First of all, I’m posting on a Tuesday.  Second of all, this will be more of a  query than my usual style.  But I think this topic is relevant for all my readers, whether they are parents or penny pinching poets.  Today, I want to talk about the budget.

With so much current discussion surrounding balancing the federal budget and as we are, at least those of us in my SES, tightening our own belts, my husband and I were moved to take a closer look at our personal finances.   After all, how can we  expect the government to achieve balance and savings with billions if we do not get our own house in the tightest possible order?

My husband, M, and I have similar philosophies about money.  We like to be debt-free, have a cushion for emergencies and for the future, but also have some freedom for fun built into the budget.  We try to balance planning for the future (with it’s potential good and bad prospects) with living in the moment, and for the most part we are managing.  But, as every perfectionist knows, you can always do better, right?  So, right now, we are reviewing our monthly expenses (already tight without cable, Internet, and other frivolities) to try to find additional ways to save for our future and that of our daughter, V.

In thinking about possible ways to manage what few ducats we have after the bills are paid, we are considering a small contribution to a retirement fund, a college fund for V, and possibly saving for a down payment for a house.  We have read different philosophies about how to go about doing this, and plan to meet with a financial advisor at our bank for additional perspective.  What I’m curious to hear from my readers is what strategies you use to keep your house in order?  After all, the more ideas on the table, the more dishes there are to choose from…

So if you are interested in sharing your success (or learning through failure) stories, please do!  We’d love to know everything!  From how much you budget for groceries, entertainment/eating out per month to what your priorities are for saving.  If you have a helpful tip or reference, please share in the comment section and thanks in advance for your thoughts!


What Happens When You Can’t Argue

 

My husband, M, recently said to me after a minor marital spat, “We are both passionate, spirited people; we are going to argue. We just have to be respectful and mindful of each other.”  While he was spot on in his assessment of our relationship, it reminds me of an ongoing cultural phenomenon that is most apparent in our political discourse.  I believe that any healthy relationship promotes room for differences of opinion to be felt and expressed.  The most challenging relationships I have experienced in my life are the ones shut down because the ability to effectively and respectfully deal with conflict is failing.  I see a lot of failing relationships these days on this very basis.

We have all gotten into an argument or debate with someone that clearly is going nowhere, the ones in which each person is tuned in only to the voices in his or her own head, and the voices get louder as if volume alone will be sufficient to force the other person into listening.  After a while, you learn that certain people are incapable of having a reasonable conversation, and intimacy comes to a screeching halt.  True intimacy arises from an established pattern of disclosure, trust, and acceptance.  Intimacy requires trust that the other person prioritizes you as a person above needing to be right or the “winner” of the debate; you can disagree and know that other person is not going anywhere.  It requires graciousness of spirit to listen and care more for the individual than scoring the point.

I admit myself that I often do not have that graciousness.  Sometimes the issue at hand is so close to my heart and the frustration level so high that someone I care about cannot agree with me, that I feel the familiar flood of emotions in the situation override my general care for the other person.  This seems to most often happen with the people I hold most dear to my heart.  I want to reconcile my strongly held beliefs with my belief in their ability to discern and judge similarly to me.  But what I remember when I am thinking more clearly is that I love that person, despite their dissimilarity to me and in some cases, because of it.  Occasionally, I even can get out of my own way enough to find merit and rightness in another’s perspective, and I am always glad of it.

My relationship with my friend Julie is an example of how people with often opposing viewpoints can have a satisfying and close friendship.  We hold political and religious positions that in many ways cannot be more divergent.  What sustains our relationship through numerous debates is the respect we have for each other as people.  While I disagree with Julie’s positions on many things, I think she is one of the most gracious people I know.  She is thoughtful and intelligent and caring and I am often amazed by her ability to listen to my point of view, even when she knows it is likely to differ from her own.  She is one of those rare individuals that seeks out other opinions, just to hear them and critically think.

Being fixed in one’s own viewpoint to the detriment of relationship can be a sign of emotional and intellectual immaturity.  It can mean that an individual is too threatened by the possibility of another way of thinking or feeling to listen thoughtfully.  It can mean that honesty cannot exist within a relationship where people cannot speak their minds without being criticized or shut down.  When someone consistently overpowers you with their opinion and thoughts, and allows self-righteousness to override relationship, it can become disrespectful and abusive.  It does not allow for natural and healthy conflict to be effectively resolved.  Either one or both parties abandon the relationship, or many issues that need to be addressed are stifled and fester.  When communication and conflict resolution shut down, the relationship has deteriorated.

I see parallels between the interpersonal and the national political conflicts we are currently experiencing and have touched on this issue in previous blogs.  However, the solution can only be found when two individuals choose a different way to handle conflict.  We cannot change the way we handle conflict in our country without first dealing with it interpersonally.

I continue to reflect on this topic as I am one of those people who can be self-righteous and judging at times.  I hope to challenge myself to deal with conflict in a more open and healthy way, and I invite you to join me, because as we all get control of our inner lives, we are more likely to effect change on a broader scale.


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