No Words

I swore I would not write about this election. Everyone has already said everything and more. Some I agree with, some angers me, some saddens me. I suspect a majority of Americans have experienced similar reactions throughout this painful process, whomever they aligned themselves with. 

I’m on my way to visit my parents. I find myself standing at the airport kiosk waiting to buy some aspirin for this migraine that just won’t quit. And the cashier is all jovial. He asks me if I voted for Trump. I’m a little put off by this invasion into my travel bubble but I reply. He says he is asking everyone because he wants to know why people who didn’t vote for Trump are so upset that he is now our president-elect. 

And there it is. This young man, whose skin is darker than mine, is looking at me with a giant smile on his face, having no idea that his search for answers has ripped my soul open just a bit more than it already was. 

“It’s not like he’s a terrorist or anything,” he says. “Why do people think he is going to be so terrible”?  

I stare for a beat, hand him my card and clench my teeth. I cannot engage. I cannot explain to this fellow citizen that his not-so-terrible, soon-to-be-president scares the crap out of me. That he embodies every sociopath I have encountered in my longer time on earth. That his voice, sneer, smile, gestures and words trigger that survival instinct in me to run far, far away. That he has the very real potential to send the free world into a giant abyss. 

I sign the receipt and silently stuff the aspirin in my purse and drag my suitcase away. I am heavy. Waiting to board I wonder if I should have tried to explain all of this to the bubbly cattle prod at the kiosk. 

Maybe someday I will be able to stare across a glass-topped counter and share all of my hurt and fear with some stranger like him. Not yet. 

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Zero to Hate in a Flash

498296601_4f1f24bae4_zWhen my son was in day care years ago, he came home with bite marks all over his back.  I was shocked, outraged, disgusted.  Was he spending time with children or animals?  The caregiver patiently told me that it’s a phase that toddlers go through and that they were aware of it and working with the children to help them learn it isn’t okay to bite.  In a few weeks, my own son was biting other children and me, I suppose to vent his frustration. We got through it.  You can’t expect a small child to be rational, so you deflect and say no-no and wait for his little brain to develop some more.

I fear that our society is comprised of a bunch of toddlers, lashing out at-will and with great eagerness.  When news of the gorilla incident hit the airwaves this weekend, outrage instantly erupted against the kid’s mother, the zoo, the kid, the designer of the zoo and his or her mother, the manufacturer of the gun that killed the gorilla, the trees that line the road to the zoo … virtually anyone or anything was fair game for blame, attack, disdain and hatred.  Internet discourse is now the stoning of Biblical days. Kill the heretic that we only just heard about!  There is only Good and Evil and [insert here] is deigned by me to be Evil and must be beaten to a pulp.

We have heard all the theories about social media, the internet, video games, music, ISIS or  global warming causing our collective psyche to have a hair trigger, to go to the extreme on a moment’s notice, to riot at a political rally, to cyber bully just to get clicks.  All of those theories may have validity, but I’m sick of the excuses.  It’s time to take back our rationality.

Sometimes bad things happen and there is no one to blame.  I know, it’s shocking that I, an attorney, would be an advocate for the “shit happens” philosophy.  But sometimes, that’s what you’ve got to work with.  Tragedy occurs and there may not be a villain to attack.  Sometimes someone makes a mistake.  There is no bad intent, there isn’t even negligence.  It happens.  We may be sad and angry that a bad thing has happened, but there may not be a bad guy.

And get this, sometimes someone can have a viewpoint that differs from yours and it doesn’t make them a bad person.  It doesn’t make them stupid or irrational or bad.  It makes them human.  Here’s a shocker:  we can disagree without hating each other or threatening families and dogs. (Yes, this happens to people in the public eye everyday.  Their lives and those of their families and pets are threatened because they support a given candidate or cause.  What is wrong with this picture?)

Sometimes people do have bad intent.  Sometimes people are evil.  That’s why we have law enforcement agencies, a free press (well, if you roll all the news sources together we may approach some level of the truth) and a court system designed to ferret out people who do bad things or act recklessly and hold them accountable. I know, these institutions are not perfect and sometimes they make mistakes and are the wrongdoers.  I get it.  But let’s take a breath before attacking.  Let’s wait to learn some facts before assuming the worst.  Let’s consider that someone’s opinion is just that and not a plot to take our freedom.  Let’s turn our attention to mending the fabric of our society rather than leaving bite marks on each other.  Go to your time-out chair, people. 

 

 

 

An Ordinary, Average 9/11

Today, like many days, I got my kid off to his early morning workout before school, made coffee, watched some news, paid bills and headed out to do a little yard work.  I began humming “I’m just an ordinary, average guy … du du du du dup, du du du du da.” Joe Walsh’s lyrics danced in my otherwise empty head as I walked behind the lawn mower, and then I hit a wall of realization: how fortunate I am to have an ordinary, average life when 14 years ago I felt that anything ordinary had been blown up.

9/11 is my generation’s Pearl Harbor.  We all can relay exactly where we were, what we had on, what the weather was like and who we clung to that morning.  We all watched in horror as live TV showed the burning towers, first one and then the next crashing down, and people covered in ash running down the streets, sirens wailing in the background. More planes were involved.  The Pentagon hit.  Horrifying.

My son was a toddler.  I looked at his beautiful face and thought, his life will be so different.  We were under attack.  We didn’t know what else was coming.  I stayed home from my job in Denver that morning, because I thought maybe all tall buildings were targets.  We didn’t know.  Our world was rocked and forever changed that day.

Our leaders did the best they could in the face of this ghostly evil.  Be strong.  Never forget.  We will not be shaken.  Here are some of the words from President Bush’s speech that evening:

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Whether you agree or disagree with his policies, decisions or actions, President Bush said what we needed to hear.  He also foretold our country’s return to normal.  Perhaps it is a new normal, but today we Americans live our daily lives in relative peace and we are not looking over our shoulders every minute.  Thank God for those who stepped up and lead our country, and for those who sacrificed and who continue to sacrifice every day for us to live our ordinary lives.

We cannot become complacent.  Our world continues to generate hate and terrorism is not defeated.  Back here in our ordinary lives, it’s so easy to focus on the ups and downs of our economy, China’s economic stupidity, el nino weather patterns and the cost of cable. We are numbed by cat videos and clever quips on Facebook and Instagram.  Our dogs need to live mindfully and our pics are #nofilter.

Stay awake, people.  Appreciate your everydays, your normals, your averagenesses.  But also pay attention to what’s going on in the world.  Evaluate carefully just who you trust to lead our country.  Are they focused and can they lead with strength and make decisions thoughtfully?  Or are they under the dulling influence of mainstream hot topics and polls.  Say anything or say the right thing?  Be aware.  Ask questions. Read the entire article and not just the headline.  Talk about what matters with your kids.

Finally, let us never forget what it is to have the foundations of our lives rocked, and let us find compassion for those who face terror and uncertainty every day.  I cannot fathom living in a war zone.  Millions in Syria have lost their ordinary lives.  They look at their children, like I did 14 years ago, and fear for their future.  Some decide to flee their homes to give their toddlers an opportunity to live a normal life.  Some decide to stay and face the unfolding horror.  I pray that they will find peace soon.

I’m heading back out to finish mowing the lawn.  I’ll be going to the store later for groceries and then up to a friend’s for an “Oh wow, our kids are graduating this year” party.  An ordinary, average day.  Never forget.

Got votes?

Here in Colorado, it is hard to ignore the fact that an election is coming.  We are one of the lucky states with a Senate seat that both parties are fighting hard to win.  We have been polled to death, and the local TV ads are relentless.  Sadly, I again am faced with a choice of which is the least bad candidate.  In response to the pollsters’ question, “If the election were tomorrow, who would you vote for?” my response is I don’t know.  I don’t want to vote for either one.  The fight for the Senate seat in Colorado has deteriorated to the single, polarizing issue of abortion.  Are we, the constituents, really the sheep they think we are?  Do we knee-jerk react when one hot button is pushed? I guess so.  Otherwise the campaigns would be a bit more, what?  Meaningful?  Broad?  Informative? Not to diminish the importance of that one issue, but there is a lot of other pretty important stuff that we expect our Congress to legislate.   I’d like to hear about a candidate’s views on some of those things, too.

In our local election for the state Senate seat, one candidate has relentlessly attacked the other as a “Denver liberal.”  <Shudder>  The libertarian candidate has decided to center his campaign on attacking her too.  So, the race is down to two candidates attempting to disassemble the third.  Pathetic.  (I’ve often wondered what kind of person is willing to put their lives and families out there for attack by running for political office.  Completely altruistic or completely egomaniacal?)

Along the lines of my earlier blog, it’s a vicious circle.  A candidate who soundbites the polarizing “evil” of the other seems to gain traction better than the candidate who presents her views in a coherent, well reasoned manner.  So they win.  And then we don’t like the way they behave when they get into office. . .

When Did Pro and Con Become Good and Evil?

We Americans love to hold up the constitutional right to free speech with a sense of righteous piety.  “Look at us,” we say.  “We are so awesome because we can criticize our own government and not go to prison.  Yea us!”  And then on Facebook or cable news, we are quick to vilify anyone whose viewpoints vary from our own.  As in, “you are evil because you believe X.  I will use any means at my disposal to undermine, ridicule and belittle you and your offspring to the end of time.”  It’s become a national pass-time to watch “the correct” network/website/political party rant about the demons on the other side.

Our media today, social or otherwise, has become our town square.  We hastily evaluate the whole of a person’s value within tiny little squares of time, text and sound bits.  And it seems that our politicians who move into positions of power do so because they manage to craft tiny squares of themselves that the masses can glom onto and “like.” On the flip side is the launch of tiny vitriolic squares out into the virtual universe to attack the “other guy” for his soundbitten, evil opposing views.

One of the best things I learned in law school was the importance of understanding perspectives other than your own.  We were trained to be zealous advocates, and the basis for an effective negotiation or litigation strategy was to understand the views and motivations of the other interested parties.  As Sun Tsu in the Art of War said: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”  But how can we know our enemy (or the guy whose viewpoint is so clearly “wrong”) if we are not open to discussing more than what we can hashtag?  For that matter, how can we establish a sound belief system of our own if we aren’t willing to research and test our position, in part by bumping it up against those who disagree?

“Coffeegate” was just the latest example of our devolution toward low effort discourse.  Why, when the greater looming issues of global health crises, peace and war, hunger and plenty deserve our thoughtful attention, was so much energy placed on the President’s really dumb move. Because some who disagree with his politics have labeled him an evil, bad person.  Therefore anything that he does to reinforce that persona will be tweeted and posted, ranted and raved, for all the world to focus on just how horrible he must be.  “Look, Look!  He disrespected everything our country stands for just now.  He is SO EVIL.  Let’s rerun that clip another hundred times and express our shock and outrage a few more thousand times.”  Ugh.  How did we get here?

Let’s talk about policies by using more than 160 characters or a 15 second clip, and let’s not make sweeping designations of good and evil based on whether someone agrees with us or not.

There is evil in this world, and there are evil people.  But just because someone takes the con to your pro, or the pro to your con, does not, necessarily, make that person evil.