Are there certain personalities that you just can’t stand? For me it’s a righteous, haranguing fanatic who is not interested in any other point of view and unwilling to even entertain the thought that he or she might not be right. I run into these people occasionally in my work as a facilitator. They are strident and angry. They insist on speaking first and frequently. They ignore everyone else in the room while pretending to ask a question which is really a thinly-veiled attack of some kind. They have no sensitivity and no awareness. I picture them going home and kicking their cat and slamming the refrigerator door.
So, you can imagine my horror when I found myself being one of those people. Here is my confession.
I was at a book launch for a friend who has written “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains.” It is a fine and important book about the destruction by frontiersmen, traders, hunters and recreators of huge numbers of bison, pronghorn antelope, grizzlies, grey wolves, wild horses and more on the North American Continent. I found myself (more…)
There is actually so much to talk about at this moment – presidential contest, race relations, gun violence, natural disasters, homeless refugees worldwide – that I am paralyzed. I just can’t go there.
And so I am going to look to the upcoming holiday, Labor Day, and say something in praise of laborers, something that I have been meaning to say for a long time. “I love bureaucrats.” I’m not saying that I love them all. The ones who give the word “bureaucrat” a bad name are running Tupperware businesses out of their desk drawer, playing hours of Candy Crush or Words with Friends on their smart phones, shopping for a pop up tent or a set of golf clubs online, or just putting in time waiting for retirement.
But the ones I want to talk about are true civil servants, committed, even passionate about being that critical link between government and citizens. They could be working elsewhere, in an office with a window even, making more money, receiving more admiration, but because they care and believe in the system they are squirreled away in a cubicle, doing their best for the rest of us. They are committed to making government run smoothly and efficiently. They know they are tiny cogs in a huge machine, but they also know that every cog is critical, every cog is connected to other cogs, and the whole depends on these well-oiled parts humming along. (more…)
When I pull together a group of warring parties to begin a mediation my first message to them is about respect. No matter how you feel about those across the table from you – the rancher, the mining company, the environmentalist, the federal agency, the local business, the community activist – I insist on a level of respect. Number two is listening. If you are to sit at my table you must be able to keep your mouth shut, and hopefully your mind open, long enough for the “others” to explain their needs and wants. That may sound simple but it is actually asking a lot of people who may have been battling each other in court, in the press, or on the streets for a long time, and who may be so frightened and/or angry that their passion is almost uncontrollable. Sound familiar?
These two rules – respect and listen – have been trampled by both sides in the current political debate. I’m disturbed by friends and those I respect who call the “other” despicable, crazy, irrational, evil, believing with every fiber of their being that they are right and reasonable. Why won’t they listen to us, they ask? What more facts, intellect, and moral outrage can we throw at them?
I received an email recently with the subject line: “One More Reason to Hate the GOP.” I deleted it and sunk further into depression. Is that what this is about, piling up reasons to hate? I put myself in the shoes of the “other.” For me the “other” is a Trump supporter, but it’s an exercise for anyone on any side. How would it feel to be scorned, insulted, and laughed at for decades as low life, white trash, rednecks, uneducated ignoramuses who watch reality tv and don’t know what’s good for them, not to mention being victimized by an economy that is making it harder to survive? I’d be mad as hell at those liberal snobs who think they know what’s best and don’t seem to care a hoot about me or want to listen to what I have to say.
A few months ago my husband and I were watching TV and a mouse ran out from under the console, across the carpet and disappeared behind a bookshelf. Mice are a chronic problem, but this brazenness was too much. We suddenly felt the balance of power shifting; we were in danger of losing control in our own house.
“Animal shelter. Tomorrow,” we said in unison. We had been talking about getting a couple of cats, good mousers, for awhile. Our previous pair of shelter cats, Fluffy and Party Boy, were unrelated and never got along. It pained us that they shunned each other, and that when the aging Party Boy disappeared into the arroyo and never returned, Fluffy showed not one trace of sadness, but acted vindicated, as if the house was finally all hers.
Now catless for several years, we had strong opinions about what we wanted: two female sisters. They would love each other. And they would not display some of the undesirable male traits like spraying the sofa and the geraniums. Yes. We had our bottom line. We would take any cats — any age, any color, any length of hair, any number of toes, tail or no tail — as long as they were sisters.
In spite of the Hallmark card nature of Father’s Day, I am glad to have a day to think about my dad and his qualities that I hope are flowing in my veins as well.
My father was crazy about politics. Although he made his living as a stock broker in Seattle, he always had his hand in a campaign, supporting a candidate, advocating for civil rights, the end of the death penalty, better treatment of animals, and a host of other passions. And when he retired he ran for, and was elected to, multiple terms as a state senator in Washington state. He was, as he said, “in hog heaven,” wheeling and dealing on behalf of the underdog. (more…)
I have been irritable all day. This morning I saw road rage where it probably didn’t exist, I dropped a bag of apples at the grocery store and was sure it was someone else’s fault, I was suddenly no longer amused by the radio coverage of the political scene, but enraged. Random thoughts of violence are roaming my mind like predators. Where is my usual tolerant, easy-going self?
I believe I was kidnapped by a rough cut documentary I saw last night. “Once a Marine” is a brilliant one-man creation by Stephen Canty, a veteran of the Afghan war. Having enlisted when he was 17 and serving two deployments, he found himself back home, like so many veterans – past and present, and future, I’m afraid – depressed, angry, confused, and misunderstood.
In an effort to understand himself and what had happened to him, he toured the country visiting and interviewing guys he had served with. These interviews are the centerpiece of the film, along with footage shot during firefights by fellow Marines. Canty lets the vets speak for themselves, and because he is the one interviewing them, drinking beer with them, reminiscing with them, they are remarkably honest. To see these trained “warriors” struggling to find words to describe the current battle they are waging as returning vets was so moving. Whether or not they found the right words, their courage, their vulnerability, their determination to communicate said it all.
A couple of weeks ago I scrolled through my 50 some emails of the day and was struck by one from Crowdrise. The subject line read “Have you saved an animal from extinction?” It was a 24 hour emergency campaign to save the Greater Bamboo Lemur in Madagascar. I glanced, saw there was video, and hit delete. The world is too big, I told myself, and I know too much already about the suffering of humans, animals and the planet itself. But the question has hung in my mind and led me to think about activism. How do we choose what to spend our time and energy on? How can we be most effective?
If I ask myself Have I saved an animal from extinction? the answer is obviously “no.” Would I like to? Of course. How should I choose among the thousands of animals that need saving? One from the World Wildlife Fund’s top ten? The one that is the closest to home, the most exotic, the cutest? Or, the one that appears in my inbox? What should I do to save it? Take a trip to Madagascar or Alaska or wherever? Send money? Watch the video and click “like,” instantly bombarding all my Facebook friends with the same problem?
It was this time of year, several years ago (thank God), the most perfect spring day, bright, clear, warm, peaceful.
All was right with the world, and Roberto and I had come back from the Farmers Market with flowers to plant. We walked into the back yard and found a good spot under a big pinon tree. One of the plastic pots of flowers I was holding slipped onto the ground with a small thud. I leaned down to pick it up, and as I did I heard movement in the tree above us. I looked up, anticipating a bird, maybe a cat, maybe a dead branch. Roberto looked up, too. In perfect unison we inhaled sharply.
“Oh my God!” he exhaled.
My first sounds were not intelligible. In the tree, moving horizontally, very fast was a huge, pink snake. It shot from one tree to the next, trying to escape my shrieks which had found words.
“It’s pink! It’s pink!” was all I could say. I was frozen, wailing, “It’s pink! It’s pink!”
The snake flew from limb to limb and finally landed on the ground a few yards away. By consensus, we later agreed, it had been at least 8 feet long, relatively thick, about 6 inches in diameter, and very, very pink, as pink as bubblegum. Back at the scene, it was now rising up off the ground four or five feet, like a cobra weaving and lunging at branches trying to escape.
“2.5 million dollars! You’ve got to be kidding!” I could hear my husband on the phone in the kitchen. I jumped out of my desk chair and hustled in to see what was going. Yes, “hustle” is the operative word.
“Wait I have to tell my wife. Lucy! We just won 2.5 million dollars!” I looked at his face. He was having a good time. I looked at the number on his cell phone display screen, It was an 876 area code. Kingston, Jamaica. “She is so excited!” I leaned toward his phone, now on speaker, and made excited noises.
A slightly accented voice on the other end said that all we had to do was send $500 to a charity via Western Union, and he would make sure that the money was on its way to us immediately. “And,” he added, as if this was just because we were such nice people, “you will also receive a 2016 Mercedes Benz, a gold one!” I made swooning noises, and Roberto ratcheted up his excitement and disbelief. “Yes, yes, my friend,” our benefactor went on, “The car will come to you tomorrow on a UPS truck, and the driver will also have the check for 2.5 million dollars, and he will take you to the bank so you can deposit it.”
Much of my work as a mediator involves the question of who owns what. Who owns the water in the river? How much can they divert and at what time during the year, even during the day? These are conflicts that can lead to blows and/or end up in court. Who owns the right to a piece of public land and for what purpose? This raises questions of who is the public – ranchers, loggers, hikers, birdwatchers? — and how multiple users can share the resource without clashing.
But there are other kinds of property clashes that are more thorny and for me more intriguing.
Around 1990 I facilitated a meeting that I still remember vividly because of the passion and the honesty on both sides. It’s funny how I can forget glorious moments of technical prowess on one side of the table or a critical legal argument that swung the day. What sticks with me are human encounters like this simple discussion between National Park Service archaeological staff and several Native American tribes. The Park Service wanted to talk openly in a safe environment with tribal representatives about legislation that was working its way through Congress. It was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, now known as NAGPRA. Tribes had been lobbying for decades for the right to determine the final disposition of skeletal remains, cultural artifacts and sacred objects of all kinds found on public lands and put in the curatorial hands of federal agencies. These items were taken from their homelands and displayed in museums, visitor centers and universities all around the country. Now it seemed there would be a legal process for their return. The Park Service wanted to better understand how this could be done.