Readings and Insights on Charleston

This Fathers Day, while I am musing how grateful I am for the long and loving relationship I have had with my Dad, my heart aches for the lives lost in a hailstorm of hatred and bullets in Charleston last week. The world has lost nine beautiful souls because a young, misguided man decided that it would be a good idea to use the firearm that he received for his birthday from his father. I can’t help but wonder at the kind of father who raised this child to be a man who would do such a thing, and I despair that we can change the world when gun violence persists.

I have been obsessing about the massacre and the world’s reaction to it, struggling to find my way through the chaos of fact and opinion to understand what happened and why. Here is a collection of some of the better responses I have encountered since the terrible incident:

A Hate Crime in Charleston – From On the Media. A brilliant piece that names each victim and delves into the media’s coverage of the story and the constant denial of what is undeniable, that racism and the easy access to guns is what enabled that awful moment. I loved this reference to the Ralph Waldo Ellison novel Juneteenth:

“Nothing ever stops, it divides and multiplies, and I guess sometimes it gets ground down superfine, but it doesn’t just blow away.”

The piece concludes that we must continue to grind it down and maybe someday it will blow away.

Only white people can save themselves from racism and white supremacism – Written by a native of South Carolina, calling for individual people, specifically white people, to take responsibility to confront their own prejudices. In the wake of this shocking horror, too many white people in positions of leadership and influence are denying that the problem is racism. This is the superfine dust that won’t blow away. The racism is there, but it’s ground down so fine that it’s invisible to those who are not victims of its ugliness and destructiveness.

It’s not about mental illness: The big lie that always follows mass shootings by white males – I suppose one could make the argument that racism is a form of mental illness. But making the claim of mental illness relieves people of any responsibility for their actions. It is beyond frustrating to hear the continued denials of racism in the face of difference between how black and white suspects of violent crimes are treated, even in the face of a crime that was committed by a self-declared racist. In the dominant paradigm, black criminals are thugs who deserve to be physically abused, and white criminals are mentally ill who get bullet-proof vests and taken to Burger King. This issue runs deep, and it is WAY beyond my expertise. But there is a lot to say here about the prison industrial complex and how black men are over-represented in the prison population. Angela Davis has been teaching the world about it for decades.

Further, my friend Carrie shared some righteous anger and brilliant insight on Facebook about the excuse of mental illness in this and like contexts,

“We’re assuming that mental illness equals violence–and this is simply not true. Guess who’s mentally ill? Like, everybody. People in your family, people in your classrooms, your workplaces, everywhere you hang out. If they haven’t told you yet, it’s because you’re a dick about mental illness and they’re embarrassed to talk to you. Seriously. And how many of these people, say, open fire on schools and churches? About .0000000000000000000001% of them. The rates of violence are NO HIGHER among the mentally ill than they are in the general populous–unless you count certain antisocial personality disorders, which the f^#%!&*@ judicial system does not. You know why? Because people with antisocial personality disorders know what they’re doing is wrong, they just don’t care. Despite what Law and Order may tell you, the insanity plea is rarely used and even more rarely won– because you need to prove that you are so mentally ill you are living in another reality and have no idea that what you were doing was wrong– not a faulty moral compass, not “I’m so racist it’s crazy” but literally hearing voices and hallucinating and stuff. Mental illness is an extremely rare cause of violence, while racism, which is what this is, is a painfully common one.”

An NRA board member blamed the pastor killed in Charleston for the deaths of his members – Really? REALLY!?! By this logic, it will be my fault if I get shot because I choose not to pack heat. That is not acceptable, and I don’t want to live in a world where people only feel safe if they carry a gun.

Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now – It has no place on government property. The Confederate flag is universally read as an endorsement for white supremacy, and flying it on government property sends the message of state-sanctioned racism. Period. Say what you will about Southern heritage, the cultural and historical meaning is undeniable. And yet people do.

White Supremacist Linked to Charleston Suspect Donated to 2016 G.O.P. Campaigns – Isn’t it interesting that a white supremacist thinks that these politicians represent his views? They are the same ones denying racism and supporting gun rights over civil rights.

Terrorist targeted historic SC church on 193rd anniversary of thwarted slave revolt planned by its founder – The date and location of the attack was no coincidence. It was a premeditated murder spree on a significant anniversary for this storied institution that has represented the struggle for freedom and civil rights for black Americans for generations. We all need to be responsible to know our history.

Jon Stewart expounding on the “Gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.” What will we do without him when he goes? Who is going to hold up the mirror and help us to laugh at ourselves…or cry, as in this case?

“In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named after Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. You can’t allow that.  The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guys are the ones who feel the country is being taken away from them.”

I forgive you. Hate won’t win: This video brought me to my knees. The family members of many of the victims offering, through their tears, their blessings forgiveness to the killer. This. THIS is how the world will change.

Those of us who are moved by this tragedy should be inspired to make something good will come from this senseless, hateful act, something that will honor the lives of these nine precious souls that we lost, and honor those of us who continue to walk this earth and are responsible to make it a better place.

Someday We’ll All Be Free: 100 Hours Of Soulful Protest Music – The massacre illustrates why this music continues to be relevant.

Paradoxical Readings – April 2014

Recently I’ve read a couple of different articles that went viral about the wisdom most of us gain by our 40s. What You Learn In Your 40s and This is 45: The Eye of the Life’s Storm. The latter particularly resonated with me. In sum, the premise is “The emotional drama of growing up is behind you, the physical perils of aging are still to come.” Both articles speak to mid-40s being the age of perspective, of knowing exactly what it means that you are responsible for where you’ve been and where you’re going, for being wiser for having learned some of life’s hard lessons, and enjoying the present moment with gratitude. I can’t relate to everything in this article, as I am not straight and I am not a parent, but there are many nuggets of wisdom and humor that express what I feel, such as:

Your brain has reached capacity and to retain any additional information, some things leak out.


At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies.


You begin to realize that granting yourself permission to just “be” is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt.

At 45, we’re all a little softer around the edges, literally and figuratively, and that’s kind of nice, actually.

This article in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was an interesting read. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve talked to enough folks who have read it and found valuable nuggets of wisdom in it. This piece claims that “leaning in is killing us.” The author says that before she took Sandberg’s advice, she had more time for a personal life. All of this seems to speak to the old question of work-life balance that is never satisfactorily answered. Again, I’m not a straight woman and a parent, and I do think that is the audience for Lean In and this article, so I can’t relate to everything here. What strikes me as I read this and think about my straight female colleagues and friends who have careers and children is that, with exceptions, their male partners assume the stereotypical role of secondary caretaker of children and household. I do try not to be judgy, but it looks to me like as a culture we still have a long way to go towards gender equality in our professional and personal lives.

This article from the New Yorker about self-help books is a little depressing. The author posits that the positive thinking that these books teach their readers tend to have quite the opposite effect. I guess I don’t find this surprising.

The most effective way I have found to combat depression is to be pro-active, actually do something, as opposed to just thinking positively. One thing I do when I’m depressed is practice gratitude. I intentionally think of all of my blessings and offer up a prayer of thanks, meditate on the abundance in my life, or even send a thank-you note to a friend who has done an act of kindness for me. Practicing gratitude is included on this list of 19 Ideas to Start & End Your Day With Joy. On this post I found a few new things, and was reminded of a few I already know, to help me stay soft around the edges. These are all practices of self-loving, and good ways to stay mindful of all of the lessons I have learned by mid-life, and to stay open to continue learning.

More stats on what you can do proactively to combat depression: The Science of Happiness.

I love the Brain Pickings blog. A recent post about The Benjamin Franklin Effect tells the story of how Ben Franklin won over a a troll and a nemesis with kindness. In this story is the lesson for all of us to stop hate in its tracks by fighting it with love.

Speaking of fighting hate with love, there were a couple of really nice examples in the last few weeks. On the heels of the death of Fred Phleps, some local folks staged a demonstration of his funeral in the style of the Westboro Baptist Church, only with a compassionate twist.

In another loving response to hate, Honey Maid responded this way to hate mail that they received in response to ads depicting diverse families, including a same-sex couple and their son. I think I might be craving graham crackers!

What are you reading?

Thanksgiving Observations, November 11-17

This week I am observing gratitude about the following:

  • Every grief, every frustration, every disappointment, every pain, every heartbreak that I have experienced has led me to who I am right now. They have made me stronger, given me perspective and wisdom, and make me appreciate even more the blessings and joy in my life.
  • The opportunity to learn from my mistakes and past (and perhaps present) arrogance.
  • For laughter that is always essential for getting through challenging moments.
  • The litany of values and abundance of privileges that my parents bestowed upon me, and the sense of responsibility to enjoy and share those gifts.
  • After decades of loving city life and declaring that I’ll always live in an urban area, I have discovered the virtues and loveliness of life in a Philly suburb that resembles Mayberry. 
  • Always learning and experiencing new things. Life is never dull. 
  • Mentoring others, which has afforded me the chance to share my experience and continue to gain wisdom.
  • The presence of my faith. though I may wrestle with it and not always be mindful about it.
  • Everyday reminders to live presently. 

Thanksgiving Observations: November 4-10

My observance of gratitude this week:

  • Finally being legally married to my wife. We have been trying to be married for ten years, and we finally were able to make it happen at the end of October. Even after all this time it feels different. It means a lot, and it’s going to make a huge difference in our lives.
  • The generous community that has supported our marriage from the beginning. Through all the hard times, friends and family have had our backs and shown us nothing but love.
  • My father, an amazing and generous man who continues to inspire me each day. In his retirement, he has discovered that he is an artist. He’s painting, and creating a website to promote his art. He’s even selling some with my sister at her studio in St. Paul. This week he sent me a package of prints of some of his recent creations.
  • A job and career that provide me with meaningful work. I work with wonderful colleagues, in my office and across the country. I get to promote philanthropy, help build meaningful relationships, and have fun doing it.
  • The change of seasons. I confess I don’t love winter, but I love the transitions of one season to the next. I thoroughly enjoyed an extraordinarily beautiful summer turn into a lovely autumn. On a recent morning walk, sunshine was coming through a hazy fog to light up the bright yellow, orange, and red trees that line the streets of my neighborhood.
  • Having multiple delicious meals throughout the week that my spouse and I cooked together. Oh, and leftovers for lunch!
  • Invitations from our neighbor to let Jack run in their yard and play with their dog. He had a great time, and he will be calm and content for the rest of the afternoon while I get some work done.

Thanksgiving: November 1 – 3

It’s November, and while I’m not likely disciplined enough to post something I’m thankful of every day, I’m going to try to practice gratitude during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. Noting at least one thing I am grateful for each day, here goes:

November 1-3

  • Old friends who show up when I need them, even when we haven’t seen each other for 14+ years.
  • Beautiful dates with my spouse that enable us to experience and learn about things in our region. This past Friday, we went to the National Consitution Center in Philadelphia to see an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winner photographs. We didn’t have time to get through the whole exhibit, so we’ll have to go back. We then had a lovely walk through the city, up Spruce Street to 13th, where we dined al fresco.
  • Sleeping in on a Saturday morning and having a leisurely morning in our sweet little town. Jack and I started the day with a lovely walk. After that, the wife and I ran errands, meeting up after at the French pastry shop for coffee. We then went to the local grocery where we were greeted with hugs by the proprietors.
  • Practicing yoga with Jack, who always reminds me of the fundamental importance of breathing and unconditional love.  He has pranayama breathing DOWN.

Jack 20120429

On Civil Discourse

Don’t Feed the Trolls, and Don’t Be a Troll

I despaired after the Trayvon Martin verdict came down because the national conversation on race in this country has devolved to a state where reconciliation seems impossible. People feel passionately about the issue, and there is a lot of anger being expressed and not much listening going on. On one side, people are claiming that we live in “post racial” society and racism is not a problem any more. On the other side, folks say that racism in America is alive and well, and we as a society still have a lot of work to do to change. The way this issue is playing out in the media and popular culture, people on all sides are not engaging in any sort of productive or civil discourse.

Race is just one issue among many others that divide the nation, that divide progressives and conservatives. I continue to despair because I see little hope for productive dialog across the left-right abyss. Until a critical mass of citizens commits to truly listening to and respecting diverging opinions, we’re not going to be able to make progress towards building a more just and civil society. The priority has to be civil discourse and respecting one another, not winning the debate.

In the days after the verdict in Trayvon Martin’s case came down, I posted a couple of opinion pieces about the Trayvon Martin verdict that I thought were well written on my Google Plus page. One article in particular prompted some debate in the comments of the post. I am decidedly on the progressive side, and believe that justice was not served in the case. Since I posted it publicly, anyone can comment on the post, unless I block you. A couple of readers whom I don’t know posted their opposing points of view.

The exchange started out okay, and they just expressed their opposing views. Another progressive friend posted a comment (in response to the article, not to any other comment in particular), and one of the folks with an opposing view angrily lashed out at her, calling her stupid, and her ideas bulls***. To me, that crossed a line, so I deleted the offending comment, blocked him from my page and from further discussion. I did so with a statement to everyone following the thread that I don’t tolerate trolls and incivility.

After that, another reader stated his disagreement, and accused me of banning the previous offender simply because he had a different point of view. He posted a few things that were angry in tone, but not yet bullying per se. I rearticulated my position that calling someone stupid and using offensive language is enough for me to shut someone down on my turf. He continued to assert his belief that I was shutting down dissenting opinions. Finally, he too, called my friend stupid in another angry rant, so I blocked him from further comment.

I welcome friendly debate and differing opinions. I strongly prefer diversity of all kinds – including political and social perspectives. I don’t want to live my life only socializing with like-minded folks. I want to understand why people arrive at such starkly differing opinions. However, I have yet to encounter anyone, online or otherwise, with an opposing opinion who is willing to debate without intimidation or insults. I would like to build bridges, not walls, but I will not engage with people who are mean and hurtful.

Taking a note from Ta-Nehisi Coates, I claim the prerogative to curate my comment feed as if it were a dinner party: If you’re going to berate and insult one of my guests, I’m going to ask you to leave. I welcome disagreement, not abusive and uncivil behavior. I’ve taken a stab at writing my own ground rules for civil behavior in public debate. If you are on my turf, any blog I manage, and social media feed that I control, here are the rules of engagement. And if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t play at all:

  1. Come to the table with good intentions, seeking understanding and common ground.
  2. Assume that everyone, like you, also comes to the table with those same good intentions.
  3. Listen openly. When you don’t understand something, ask clarifying questions.
  4. Prioritize respect for others over being right.
  5. Stay focused on the issues being discussed and debated. Don’t distract and bait with insults and unrelated topics.
  6. Take a breath, especially when you feel yourself getting upset.
  7. Don’t take disagreement personally.
  8. Take ownership. You are responsible for what you do and what you say.
  9. Be nice. Be cordial.
  10. Do not feed the trolls! Don’t engage in debate with anyone who treats you or anyone else disrespectfully. Walk away, or you risk becoming a troll, too.


The Thorny World of Online Comments – from On The Media

How to Creat an Engaging Comments Section – from On The Media

Trolls: A Field Guide

Internet Trolls Wikipedia Page

Cutting Internet Trolls Down to Size

On Responsibility

My reflections on the George Zimmerman verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin

While I’m not surprised at the verdict of this trial, I am outraged and despairing. This is a miscarriage of justice, and one of the most appalling thing to me is the admonition from the judge that racial profiling not be considered in Zimmerman’s behavior on that fateful night. Racial profiling is central to this case, and it seems to me that Zimmerman is now alleviated of all responsibility of his actions on the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman is not being held responsible for assuming, prejudging, that Martin was “up to no good,” and then pursuing, and confronting an innocent kid. Ultimately, Zimmerman is not being held responsible for the consequences of his actions which his own prejudices drove: Zimmerman, while losing a physical struggle that he instigated, fired his own weapon and killed an unarmed teenaged boy, a boy who arguably was defending himself, standing his ground.

There is a double standard in the application of “stand your ground” laws, revealing that the lives of brown people are valued less in our culture. And apparently women, too, now that the verdict of Marissa Alexander’s trial, sentencing her to 20 years for firing warning shots as her abusive husband was threatening her. Why does Zimmerman get acquited when an innocent boy died at his hands, and Alexander goes to prison when she was legitimately defending herself?

I’m trying to see threads of hope in this. There is an opportunity for communities to come together about how to conduct an ethical neighborhood watch, how to truly look out for one another instead of suspecting one another, and to value all lives equally. This incident may get more people to really think and talk about prejudices that we all hold.

We are not color blind, as much as we want to believe we are. We see color and we assume differences. We all act on prejudices, and those actions have consequences for which we are personally responsible. Until we take responsibility these grave tragedies and injustices will continue. So I hope we can forgive each other when we act on prejudice, and I really hope we can take responsibility for our own actions, and learn from those mistakes and change.

I’m trying to be optimistic, though it is difficult when we are so divided as a nation. Oddly, knowing that I am not alone in my despair is giving me hope.

RIP, Trayvon. May your life and death inspire us all to take responsibility for our own transformation.


George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood On The Leaves

Is There Racial Bias in “Stand Your Ground” Laws?

Florida ‘stand your ground’ law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how law is applied