Wednesday, June 3, 2020

I'm Not an Activist, but I'm Learning

I don’t pretend to be an activist. Activism, by definition, is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. I admire those close to me for their passion and desire for knowledge as they engage in protests and blanket social media with articles, op-eds and hashtags. I support them in their efforts to bring awareness and change to our broken country.

Honestly, right now I am just trying to catch up, read up and learn - then write about it. I think – I hope – we are all incensed by not only the senseless death of George Floyd, but of all those whose lives have been tragically and needlessly taken as a result of police brutality.

I know the protests take it further than that. It's not just about George. The killing of George Floyd was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – but this is certainly not the first time the hump has been broken.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about all of this – how can you not? And after my first questions of “Why is this even happening” and “HOW is this even happening," my next question is, “So what do we do?”

Seriously. I mean, I know what we WANT for black Americans. Justice and equality. I know what black Americans DESERVE that they aren’t getting – basic human rights. But how do we get there?

I do not pretend for a moment to have the answer. But, in my readings and research, I keep coming across one name: Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD. The self-proclaimed “justice nerd” is the president and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), a university research center that diagnoses the roots of disparate policing in an effort to eradicate it.

I first watched Dr. Goff's TED Talk from October, 2019, which is below. Note that at the 7:00 mark, he talks about working with the Minneapolis Police Department in 2015 to help “remedy the moral failings of race and policing.” Clearly they need a refresher course.

I then found another article, also from 2015, entitled “Why Cops Lose Control”, where Dr. Goff talks about the need to correct what he calls implicit bias, which is described in the article: “Unlike blatant racism, implicit bias is not an individually held belief but is one generally shared by everyone in a society. Because our brain naturally makes sense of the world by grouping things into categories, we all generate unconscious stereotypes based on the generalizations we absorb through experiences that include movies, television, music and the news.”

As it relates to policing, the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice wrote, "[The work of Phillip Atiba Goff] has shown that it is possible to address and reduce implicit bias through training and policy interventions with law enforcement agencies. Research suggests that biased associations can be gradually unlearned and replaced with non-biased ones. Perhaps even more encouragingly, one can reduce the influence of implicit bias simply by changing the context in which an interaction takes place. Consequently, through policy and training, it is possible to mend the harm that racial stereotypes do to our minds and our public safety."

Dr. Goff’s organization, the Center for Policing Equity, offers promising research, tools and policies to help elicit change in implicit bias and implement more just policing.

And I think it could – and is – working in some cases.

But I think we need something else that we don’t have: consequences. I know the police profession is a "brotherhood", and I get it. You can’t be in a profession like that – soldiers and first responders included – where you don’t feel like your coworkers have your back.

BUT. That protection needs to end when a moral code is breached – the breach in this case being murder.

No profession should be above the law. All people should be held accountable for their actions. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged and will hopefully be swiftly convicted for the murder of George Floyd. As of this post, the other three former officers will also be charged.

That’s a start. You’d think we would be waaaay past using this little police gang as an example – I mean, it's not like this is the first time – but apparently the justice system has a few too many loopholes that continue to unravel faster than we can close them up.

I have no real conclusion to this post. I just want a plan. I will not hide the fact that I do not believe we will make much (any) progress under the current administration, but that is a whole other can of worms. To me, the man currently occupying the White House is just a political flashbang thrown into a country of protesters who are just looking for peace and equality. But make no mistake; if we can just hold to our convictions, keep fighting for justice and VOTE, we’ll get there. I'm going to continue learning so I can do my part. I encourage you all to do the same. 


Sunday, May 17, 2020

My Message to the Class of 2020: The Pandemic is Just a Primer

To the Class of 2020: Congratulations! You’ve just gone through what could be the worst situation you’ve experienced in your life so far – the COVID-19 pandemic and everything it took away from you during your senior year. 

For all intents and purposes, this is your primer for some of the experiences you’re going to come up against as you embark on the rest of your life. Unexpected events. Necessary pivots. Indecisiveness. Disappointments. Surprises. Grief. Celebrations. All this is simply a compressed crash course in what to expect in as you step into the real world.

So as you go out into the great beyond, here are a 12 life tips/advice from a 53-year old who has had her share of ups and downs and learned from them all. As with anything I write, take what you want and leave the rest.

  1. Don’t measure your success by the success of others. Man, I wish I would have learned this sooner – I would have been a lot easier on myself. Case in point: I’m a writer and I’ve always wanted to be one. I know of people my age (and younger) who are much more successful than I am. VPs of companies, entrepreneurs, etc. For a long time, I thought I should be grinding in my career so I could achieve the status of others my age. Turns out – I want to be a writer. I don’t want to be a VP. That doesn’t make me less successful – it makes me happy. 
  2. Be smart with your money, no matter how much you have. I cannot stress this enough. I don’t care if you make minimum wage or $100,000 a year. Live within your means and pay attention to your finances. When my kids used to ask me to buy something, I would tell them to check back in 30 days. Nine times out of 10 they no longer wanted that thing 30 days later. Pay off your credit cards. Buy used cars. Don’t buy more house than you can afford. Start saving early – even if it’s a tiny, tiny bit. I assure you, even if you are struggling financially, you will at least feel like you have some sort of control over what is going out of your wallet. (Dave Ramsey is a good resource for this!)
  3. Your hardships can be your blessings. You are going to have shitty things happen to you, and how you respond to them early on will serve as a benchmark for how you get through life. Hardships show you what you’re truly made of. They teach you to process feelings. To make decisions. To pivot. To learn and accept that life is not fair. That loss is a part of this life. And when the next hardship comes, you will be that much stronger than before. I promise you. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I got through (insert problem here); I can get through this.”
  4. Stay in the present – don’t “futuretrip” (I love this word) or look in the rear-view mirror. I’m a worrier with regrets, which means I worry about what’s going to happen in the future and I feel guilty about decisions I’ve made in the past. As I get older, I’m learning to “forgive and forget” the things I regret and try not to look too far ahead of me, knowing full well that futuretripping is nothing more than gazing into a crystal ball. Now, it’s OK to look TO the future. To build TOWARD the future. But don’t spend so much time worrying about tomorrow that you don’t enjoy today. And yesterday, well, it’s yesterday. Today's a new day. Insert any other cliches here. 
  5. Don’t wait on others to do things for you, complete you or keep you from moving forward. This is YOUR life. Take it by the balls, man! Don’t wait for anyone else to help you. Don’t wait for that other person to come around and make you “whole.” Don’t wait to take that next step because you’re afraid you might fail. The more you do for yourself, the more confidence you'll have and the more accomplished you'll feel. I assure you that you can do more on your own than you ever thought possible – that’s why God made YouTube videos. 
  6. Get a little help from your friends. You’re probably going to find in your life that you have a friend for all reasons and seasons. You’ll have your high school friends, your college friends, your work friends, your mom/dad friends, your gym friends …. so many friends. But there will always be your “person” – or “people.” Don’t let life get in the way of keeping those friendships. Those friends are the ones who you can call when something incredible happens, something awful, or anything in between. And be there when they need you, because trust me, you’re gonna need them. 
  7. Hold boundaries – be tolerant yet know how much you can tolerate. You probably had a teacher you didn’t particularly like in high school. You might have thought he or she had it out for you and that’s why you got a bad grade … whatever. Guess what. Some of this stuff you just have to deal with. You might have a mean boss. Your kid might be a complete handful. Your mother-in-law might make you feel like shit. Fine. Figure out what your boundaries are as far as what you can tolerate and what is just going too far. And don’t let anyone tell you that the boundaries you set make you “sensitive” or “selfish”. It’s not their call. They’re YOUR boundaries. 
  8. You’re going to make a shitload of mistakes. Oh, my God, so many. Because you’re learning. Every single day, you’re learning. Some mistakes are going to be dumb. Some will be serious. Some will make you look like an asshole. Some may be just because of ignorance. I say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” If you screw something up because you didn’t know how to do it right the first time, you should get a pass. Just figure out what you did wrong, learn from it and you’ll know better for next time. 
  9. You (usually) get a second (or third) chance. Not everyone gets it right the first time. I am a perfect example. I went to three high schools, four colleges, and have had probably six or more jobs since I graduated. I’m divorced, sort of got married a second time and have had a few serious relationships since then. You know what? Screwing things up sucked, but I’m not a failure. Maybe I’m a slow learner. Who cares? I eventually figure out what works for me and I go from there. It’s all you can do.   
  10. Do your life on your timeline. If you’re not ready for college, that’s OK. If you don’t want to go to college at all, that’s OK. If you want to get married, that’s OK. If you don’t want to get married, that’s OK. Now I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do these things, nor should you see this as a pass to live in your parents' basement and do nothing. But don’t let anyone tell you that you have to graduate with a certain degree, with a certain GPA, in a certain period of time. Don’t let society tell you that you won’t be successful unless you are married and have a baby and a house by age 25. Don’t go into the family business if you really want to do something completely different. Don’t let people say you can’t do anything if you in fact think you can. And even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do (which I don’t expect you to), take this time to try some stuff on for size and see if it fits. Now is the perfect time to do it. 

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from an iconic movie that came out long before your time:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
                                                                                                            -Ferris Bueller

Now go. Get on with it. And have an amazing life.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

"The Giving Tree" Has New Meaning Now

Once there was a tree ... and she loved a little boy.

And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.

He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. 

And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.

And the boy loved the tree ... very much.

And the tree was happy.


In 1970, my aunt gave me a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In it, she wrote the date and this inscription: "May your enjoyment and understanding of this book grow with your years."

I had just turned four years old.

Once I had children, I read it to them occasionally, explaining to them that this tree loved this boy so much she wanted to do anything she could for him, even if it left the tree as a mere stump in the end.
I had no idea at that point in my life how long it would take to finally understand that book.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone.

Then one day the boy came to the tree 
and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play," said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money."

"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy."

And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.

And the tree was happy.


I am the tree. My son is the boy. I have given him almost everything I have - sometimes I feel it's not enough; sometimes I know it's too much. I've never been neglectful, but I've certainly enabled. 
Like the boy, rarely has he come to me and directly asked for my branches, or my leaves, or my apples. He has mused about what he wants to do, and it's usually been my idea of what I can give him to make it happen. Here's a place to crash when you come home late at night. Here's food for your belly. Here's gas for the car. Here's a list of jobs I found for you. Here's a cell phone so we can stay in touch. Here's a check for your rent. Here's the cash to pay off who you owe. Here's money for this so you can spend money on that. 

The tree and me – we just don’t know when to stop.


But the boy stayed away for a long time ... 
and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy."

"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

"I have no house," said the tree. "
The forest is my house, 
but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.


I'd like to think I'm more cognizant of my enabling, and therefore can control it. But can a mother ever really stop giving?

Like the tree, won't she always find SOME way to give just a little more - even if in her mind she knows she's only doing it to alleviate the debilitating pain and despair for her child that's in her own heart? Am I becoming so desperate to see my child - to have him talk to me, visit with me, hug me, love me - that I will give anything? Does the fact that I don’t want to see him suffer completely override the fact that he will never learn for himself unless I stop? Because the tree keeps giving, and that boy is still not happy.


But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play."

"I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"

"Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away ... and be happy."

And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.


Right now, I feel like the tree on one of the last pages. I'm down to my stump - and my kid is still young. I've learned what enabling does to both of us, but it doesn't make it any easier to sit here and wait - hoping that one day he will come back to me - my little boy who used to just swing from my branches and eat apples.******************************

And after a long time, the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - my apples are gone."

"My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy.

"My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them ... "

"I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy.

"My trunk is gone, " said the tree."You cannot climb ... "

"I am too tired to climb" said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something ... but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump. I am sorry."

"I don't need very much now," said the boy. "Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."

"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting.
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."

And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.


Would the boy have come back to the tree if she didn’t keep on giving him something? Was sacrificing everything that made the tree a tree worth it in the end? To the tree, it was. I could like on my deathbed and feel good about the fact that I did everything I possibly could for my kid. But what did that do for him? 

The tree spent her whole life waiting for the boy so she could give him more, and the boy went on about his life not thinking about the tree unless he needed something. And it seems like whatever the tree gave the boy, it was never enough for him – and in the end he was sad and alone. I don’t think I can lie on my deathbed knowing that my enabling made my son’s life worse. The hard part is going to be telling him “no” and still hoping he’s going to come back – and that I can grow and flourish in the process.


"The Giving Tree: 2020"