Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wearing the button

So I was having lunch with a young white woman in a cafe today, and a middle-aged white man leaned over and interrupted our conversation.

"Excuse me. Can I ask you a question? I see you're wearing a Black Lives Matter button and can I just ask you one question?"

I glanced at my companion who looked as startled as I felt and told him, "Yes."

"What does that button mean to you?"

With as bland an expression as possible, I said, "It means there's racism against Black people, but I like them."

He said, "I was active in the civil rights movement in 1964, 1965 and 1966. And I find the anger today that Black people feel towards white people disturbing."

I just looked at him.

He continued, "So do you mean that you like Black people in preference to others..?"

I said, "I like Black people, too."

"Okay." He thought for a second, then said, "Okay. Thank you."

I nodded and went back to my conversation. He looked like he wanted to say more, but wanted to keep his word that it would only be one question.

It was the first time someone had commented on my button besides to compliment it or ask where I got it. Of course it apalled me for this old white man to give me his Baby Boomer bona fides before he questioned my politics, and I could have said more, but I was in the middle of a conversation and didn't think he was worth it. Later the African-American server told me he had been rude to her. Yup. (Get your Black Lives Matter button at PeaceButtons.info.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How to apologize properly

Do you know someone who needs a lesson on how to give a true apology? We hear a lot of false ones in public life. Here's how to say "I'm sorry" properly.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

No such thing as evil

Slaveholders, rapists and serial killers are evil.

No, they're not.

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker argues that defining people as evil is not only unproductive, it's dangerous. It's dangerous because we conceptualize evil as being so pervasive that you can see it in someone's eyes, you can sense it just by looking at them, etc. This is dangerous because it causes us to watch out for people who "look evil" while people who look perfectly ordinary swindle, rape, rob and kill us. De Becker tells us to stop looking for evil people because most murderers, torturers, robbers and rapists are just like everyone else, which is to say that we all have the capacity to do awful things. All of us do, so there's no point in trying to distinguish the good people from the bad people.

Michele Obama's recent reference to the White House having been built by slaves has resulted in renewed discussion of American slavery. I've heard people call American slaveholders monsters, but when we do that we falsly distance ourselves from them. How long does it take us to learn that the worst of human nature happens because ordinary people go along with what everyone else is doing? American slaveholders and their wives and children were regular people just like us. They believed their treatment of Blacks didn't count in the eyes of God. They didn't think Black people felt pain or love or fear the way whites did. Their monstrous treatment of slaves resulted from the culture in which they lived. They weren't evil. They were ordinary men and women motivated by ordinary desires to take care of their families, prosper in their vocations, put in an honest day's work, contribute to the community and be good Christians. They had the same hard-wiring we have. They just happened to live in a racist culture. They just happened to live in a climate that brought out their worst tendencies.

Here are some other people we call evil: a police officer who panics and kills an innocent person, a woman who drowns her children, the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, murderers, embezzlers, kidnappers. Some people do these things because they suffer a break from reality, but others do them with clear minds. And every time we call someone like that evil, we know we would never do anything like that, never, ever, not in a million years.

But that's bullsh*t.

When it's our family that's in danger, when it's our life on the line, when we stand in the truth that someone must be handled and we know how to do it, we reveal how capable we are of terrible things. We can't know how we'll behave in a situation until we're there. Most of us will luckily never face the circumstances that test how truly monstrous we can be. We will continue to enjoy the privilege of believing that we don't have evil tendencies and can pretend we're better than those who do. But we're not.

The list of groups of perfectly ordinary, nice, loving people doing inconceivable things is endless. From American slavery to the Nazis to the Cambodian killing fields to American enhanced interrogators, perfectly normal people find themselves doing things they might have never imagined. There is no such thing as evil. There are only ordinary people doing horrible, nightmarish things.

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the ethnic Hutu part of the population slaughtered a million Tutsi Rwandans. Were the Hutu men who swung their machetes day after day, hunting down whole families, monsters? No. Jean Hatzfeld's Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, Hatzfeld shows us regular men who had to overcome their own emotions on their first kills, but who adjusted to the "work" because if they didn't do it, they faced their own murder. A Hutu man married to a Tutsi woman was ordered to slaughter a family of Tutsis in order keep his own wife alive, so he did it. And so on. To prevent the death of ourselves and our loved ones, who isn't capable of going beyond their usual capacities?

Please stop calling people evil. Don't even call certain actions evil. To do so is to fool ourselves into thinking we can recognize a certain kind of danger and insulate ourselves from it. And especially do not call racism evil. Racism isn't evil. It didn't come from the devil or get cast out of heaven. Our racism today is the result of our nation having been built on treating human beings as property without rights, agency or even feelings. Americans learn racism from infancy, just as other countries pass on their prejudices to their children. This is why I sometimes insist, "The nicest people are racist!" We must uncouple racism from the idea of evil. As long as racism is evil, it's easy for us to believe that we can't be racist because we aren't evil. In fact, what we call evil lives in all of us, and although it's usually dormant, it can be activated under circumstances most of us will be lucky to never face.  (Post on heroism HERE.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

No such thing as heroism

Yes, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was much more upbeat than the Republican National Convention (RNC), and it focused on positive things like love and togetherness. But last night I burned out on convention-watching and noticed that Amazon Prime now offers the movie Hotel Rwanda. It's based on the true story of a hotel manager who shielded 1,268 people from certain slaughter during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I couldn't resist watching it (for my fourth time). What I'm drawn to is that the protagonist is motivated by a very simple drive: to take care of others' needs and make them happy. Hutu Rwandan Paul Rusesabagina is an excellent hotel manager because he derives personal satisfaction from providing the best service to his guests. He simply lives to take care of others. We look back on the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis and marvel at Rusesabagina's heroism to stand up to soldiers, police and Hutu murderers, but his motivation is simply that these are his guests and he must take care of them.

Hotel Rwanda shows that the simplest of drives can take you very far. We almost worship people who risk their lives for others, who give when we can't see them getting anything in return, but actually the mechanism that causes people to act in these ways is usually very ordinary. Rosa Parks was tired of giving in and tired of being on her feet. Captain Sully wanted to land his plane safely, just as he'd done hundreds of times before. Animals who we call heroes (dogs and cats) act on instinct. None of these people or creatures considers that their actions might set off a chain reaction that will have far reaching effects across the decades, or make them famous or will prevent a death that would have devastating ripple effects. They just do what they're hard-wired to do.

Moments of heroism happen when an unusual situation both activates and challenges someone's regular, everyday response and that person follows through on that response regardless of risk. We think it's amazing because after the incident is over, we can see all the risks and stunning outcomes and unforeseeable results. We weigh all the things the hero didn't have time for and that forms the basis of the myth that this person has a bravery we don't. But that's not true. They weren't being a genius or a saint. They were just doing what came naturally.

We all have unremarkable drives that, under the right circumstances, cause us to act in remarkable ways. If we de-mythologize the idea of heroism, we can stop thinking that some people are brave, but we are not. We can stop excusing ourselves from taking action because that's not us.

Between April and July 1994, Paul Rusesabagina did what he was hard-wired to do. Remarkably, he kept doing it even when he knew his life was in danger, but his motivation was quite ordinary. When we find ourselves in a situation that challenges us, and we don't waver from what comes naturally, we are similarly being as heroic as Rusesabagina was. Human beings have all the same instincts and responses. We are all just as capable of what we call heroism as of what we call evil. (Post on evil HERE.)

Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda (2005)
P.S. Part of the reason I've watched this movie four times is that the character of Rusesabagina reminds me of my ex-husband, who has spent his life in hospitality and has some of Rusesabagina's character traits.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

50th Birthday

As of July 24, 2016 I am 50 years old and I feel like I've finally reached my prime.
(Cake was yellow layers with buttercream frosting on the outside and mango mousse on the inside. It was from Swedish Bakery in Chicago.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump, immigrants and the RNC

Now that I'm building a new blog for my business, Welcome Dialogue, I choose between my two blogs, depending on the content. Today's post is here: http://wp.me/p76ImY-6h.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I love turning 50!

As I get closer to my 50th birthday on July 24th, I'm getting tired of people trying to tell me I'm not old. They obstinately don't understand that for me old is good. I have always been happy to get a year older because I experienced no great benefit to being young, even as a child. After that, my 20s and 3os were years of low self-esteem, weak confidence, painful family dynamics and fear of almost everything in the world. In my 40s I finally began to build self-esteem and feel more hopeful about my life. At 50 this is the best I've ever been.

When a ten-year-old declares on her birthday that she's all grown up now, no one tries to take that away from her. They don't say, "No, you're not. You've got a long way to go. You're just a little kid." No one says that to a ten-year-old because they understand the context: compared to how old she used to be, being 10 is a big deal! Please give me a similar response. When I say, "I am now officially old!" respond with a statement like, "Congratulations!" not "You're not old. You're still a youngster." When people say things like that to me, it feels like they're dumping a bucket of discouragement over me.

Being told that 50 isn't old also sounds very patronizing, especially when it's said to a woman. The stereotype is that women want to stay young forever and we require constant assurance that we are succeeding. F@#$ that. (And don't give me that "50 & Fabulous" crap either.)

I suspect part of the problem is that my peers take my claim of "oldness" personally. They worry that if Regina is old at age 50, how old does that mean they are? This is just insecurity and overfunctioning. If a 10-year-old calls herself "old," does that make a 25-year-old think, "Damn, then I'm ancient. Oh, no!" No, the 25-year-old knows the 10-year-old's statement has nothing to do with her. Please, people. Let's keep in mind that we're all separate.

So I thank you in advance for not trying to talk me out of my age and wisdom and I leave you with this list.

(Just Some) Reasons It's Great To Be 50 Years Old:

1. You have more authority to talk about things that happened, even in the distant past, because you were there.
2. People can no longer give you that patronizing “Wait until you get older. You’ll change your mind.” (For example, when a 50-year-old says "I don't want children," you have to believe her!)
3. Your opinions count more because they’re based on actual experience and not speculation (such as managing employees, child raising, running your own business, divorce, surgery).
4. The cost of auto insurance goes down.
5. It's easier to rent an apartment, get a loan and do other things that people size you up for based on your appearance.
6. You have more confidence to not put up with the same bullshit as when you were young.
7. You're closer to the end of that annoying, painful, expensive process called menstruation!
8.  It's the age when the senior discounts begin.
9. Salespeople who think you have more money (than young people) are often nicer to you.
10. Women have a brief window of time during which we're neither too young to be taken seriously nor too old to be taken seriously. When we're 50, we're in our prime for being seen as authorities!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

American currency is changing

I missed the announcement a few months ago that not only will the American twenty dollar bill be updated, but the $10 and $5 bills will be, too. Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 (even if it's not for 14 more years), and although Hamilton will stay on the face of the $10, on the back of the $10 will be Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul and Sojourner Truth. On the back of the $5 will be Marion Ross (famous contralto), Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pretty good.

How did I find out? This is interesting. A stranger from a website called Invaluable emailed me asking if I'd be interested in posting some content from Invaluable's blog called In Good Taste. The website looks to me like an upscale Ebay, which I have little interest in, but the graphic he sent is interesting. Here it is:

It's hard to read in web view, so I wrote the person back and asked for a graphic that could be easily zoomed in. He sent the ones below.

I confirmed this information (this New York Times article lists the new faces) and decided to share it. If you ever wondered how currency goes from the design state to the finished product, now you know.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Against no-kill animal shelters

Sabine Heinlein's essay, The Cruelty of Kindness, poses the question of whether no-kill animal shelters have gone too far in saving every life. It comes down to the question of whether any kind of life, no matter how painful, is better than death.

Maybe I'm all alone in this opinion, but I don't think death is always worse than staying alive. There are many conditions that make life a questionable advantage over being dead. This is at the core of discussions of euthanasia (choosing death because the quality of life has sunk to a certain point). I think as people get older and the prospect of living in extreme pain looks more like a possibility, they tend to support the idea of euthanasia. They want the freedom to choose whether nor not to keep in living in a state they find intolerable.

Animals under the care of humans don't have this choice. We choose for them. We can't know what shelter animals think about their situation or if they would consider death a more humane option than a dog living for years (and years) in a place where it doesn't have the human companionship it was bred for. Sure, dogs are physically capable of surviving the most miserable, inhumane circumstances indefinitely, but should they?

When I've discussed this with friends, they've insisted that the best option is for a dog to find a forever home, and they remind me that shelters hold that hope. Yes, shelters do provide the possibility that a dog could find an owner at any time. But is that hazy prospect enough to keep a dog indefinitely in a structure with inadequate heat/cooling capacity, minimal nutrition, no medical attention, almost no contact with humans, in a constantly soiled and cramped space? Most shelters keep their animals in either a cage just big enough for the animal to pace in or in a room filled to capacity. Many of these shelters can't keep up with standards of health and cleanliness. No-kill shelters run on shoestring budgets and they can't all maintain a decent quality of life for their occupants. Why not let the worst of those shelters put their dogs down peacefully?

Once again, I know the mission of no-kill shelters is help dogs find owners. I know the reason to keep dogs alive is to give them a chance to find a new life. Yes, of course, that's the best case scenario. But take off your rose-colored glasses. Imagine living for years in a lonely cage with the constant smell of shit, surrounded by miserable creatures, and you'd have no loved ones or anyone who even knows you exist and no hope of escape (dogs can't plot their exit or appeal for parole).  I'm sure you can't even imagine living like that. Being a shelter dog isn't like being in prison. It's worse. Those dogs probably didn't do anything to deserve that fate, often don't get treatment for medical conditions, can't relieve themselves when they need to, have no way to comprehend why they're there, and are unable to get anything close to the level of companionship we've bred them to need. Many are constantly hungry or in pain. I wouldn't want anyone -- human or animal -- to live a single day in that situation. Again, I know that experience includes the possibility of being rescued any day, but still: doesn't the peacefulness of death sound better than years of that, especially since dogs can't conceptualize hope?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hammacher Schlemmer lifetime guarantee

I bought Hammacher Schlemmer's Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Sandals three years ago, but one of the soles started to detach. I went on their website to replace them and noticed that they have a lifetime guarantee on their products. I decided to try it. 

I called and got my original order number, shipped back the sandals and in two weeks they sent me a brand new pair for free! Apparently I can do this any time I buy one of their products and it wears out/breaks/falls apart. Excellent. From now on, if I can find it on their website, I'm not buying it anywhere else.