I always try to write something more or less upbeat on this blog, but this month I had a terrible time. I had opened the paper to see that the administration was gutting EPA, where I have so many friends and colleagues doing such important work. Every story – local, national and global — was filled with despair and foretold the end of more than a healthy environment. I saw our moral fiber crumbling, our values in a shambles, our caring and empathy for each other in rapid decline.
The next morning in that half-sleep and half-awake state I had a vision of a postcard I received many years ago. I have found that these flashes from the elusive land between conscious and unconscious are worth paying to attention to. And this one came with a message. Here it is.
When my younger son was 7 he went to a music summer camp in the mountains a couple of hours from home. That’s young, but he went with his older brother who had filled him with exciting stories from the year before. Nathan was eager to have those adventures, spend time with all the big kids and learn to play the drums. Halfway through the two-week camp session every kid wrote a postcard home. It was required and we parents looked forward to that reassurance that our child was alive and having fun. (more…)
As we age there are inevitably fewer and fewer “firsts.” At some point we have done, at least once, pretty much everything we wanted or needed to do.
But I am proud to say that I just experienced a big one – my first Democratic Party Ward Meeting. Roberto and I decided in these times of “What can we do?” to start at the grass roots and see what this work-in-progress called democracy is all about.
We pulled into the community center parking lot early and were surprised at the number of cars. And inside there was a mob. We greeted friends, got in line to be certified and receive our ballots, and found seats. In a few minutes there was standing room only and the current ward chair addressed the crowd.
“My name is Terry Rivera and I am the chair of Ward 4a. I have been the chair for 54 years…” At this point I was sure I had heard wrong but Roberto confirmed, 54 years. “My father was ward chair and then I took over. I want to welcome everyone but also I can’t believe what I’m seeing – so many people! Usually I have to bring my children and grandchildren to make a quorum of six!” Her expression was a mixture of pleasure and shock, with a trace of apprehension.
If you are lucky enough to be a New Mexican you will probably grasp this immediately. If you are from elsewhere and have never had the chance to spend a few hours at a Pueblo feast day, let me introduce you to something very special.
Pueblo culture and religion run deep. In New Mexico, each of the pueblos has certain days of the year they celebrate. It may be to honor a patron saint, a time of harvest, or something that we non-pueblos don’t need to know about. A feast day includes traditional dancing in the morning and afternoon with a break in the middle when the dancers and cultural leaders retreat to the kiva and observers retreat to someone’s house for one of the best meals you will ever have. I find myself reluctant to say more for fear that hordes from around the country will come flocking and ruin the experience.
In 2010 Roberto and I spent a month in Bali with the Bali Art Project. We went with friends who founded this remarkable program that takes eight lucky high school students and eight adults to spend a month in Bali, studying music, dance, painting and puppet making. For everyone who goes, it is life-changing, and I was no exception.
That first hot and humid morning, we all piled into our van and crawled through the clogged traffic to our gamelan lesson. The classroom was more like a temple, beautiful, ornate, with high-ceilings. And our teacher, we had been told, was not a mere teacher, but a master; we were very fortunate that he was willing to take us on. He was dressed traditionally and welcomed us with a smile full of the most brilliant white teeth. There were four rows in the orchestra, with gamelans of different sizes and different numbers of xylophone-like bars. He invited us to sit where we liked. I chose a mid-size model and slid onto the low stool facing my gamelan. (more…)
Remember the occupation earlier this year of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge building in Oregon by the Bundy brothers and friends? They had come to the rescue (in their opinion) of locals who had been convicted of burning forest land and were protesting. They saw these rural Oregonians as fellow victims of the federal lands policies — policies that deny them free use of public lands. They were not welcomed by most locals who preferred to handle the situation in their own way and resented outside interference.
Not long after Malheur, the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline project began at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Thousands of sympathizers, Indian and non-Indian, flocked to the encampment to ally with the Sioux. The Standing Rock Chairman expressed thanks to all who are raising their voices with the Sioux against the actions of the pipeline company and what they see as the complicity of the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for permitting the route under the Missouri River just upstream of the tribe.
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I read Glenn Beck’s recent commentary in the New York Times. “The only way for our society to work is for each of us to respect the views of others, and even try to understand and empathize with one another,” he wrote. He took the words right out of my mouth. I nodded vigorously again as I read on. Grassroots movements, including the Tea Party, Bernie Sanders’ followers, Occupy Wall Street and others, he said, share the same feelings of not being heard, of not belonging, of having no control over their future.
So where did this revelation come from, I wondered? He explains that following the shooting of the five police officers in Dallas, he saw the parents of the gunman interviewed and was struck with their grief “as parents, as Americans and as human beings.” He invited several Black Lives Matter activists on his radio show and got to know them on and off air, he says, and found them to be decent, hardworking, patriotic people. Although he disagrees with them on many things, including politics, he says, “are we not more than politics?” Good for Glenn. He took the initiative and reached out to listen and learn.
He goes on to say, “We are a country in trouble and we have only one way out: reconciliation. We must follow the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and method and move away from a pursuit of ‘winning’ and toward reclaiming our shared humanity…cultivating empathy for one another, in our communities and in the news media, …and in our politics. [This] is the path we must choose as nation. If we don’t, what we have seen this year will be just the beginning of the hate we are about to unleash.”
I couldn’t agree more with my new strange bedfellow, and I am excited (perhaps a poor choice of words in this context) to hear my dearly held sentiments coming from such an unexpected place. But this in itself is interesting. I realize that I expect to hear what I believe from those like me. I expect those that aren’t like me to say something contradictory. I expect that only liberal, progressive, bleeding-heart, peace-seeking folk like myself will expound on empathy and reconciliation.
But Glenn shows me that this concept that we are all human beings and need to show each other respect and empathy is not exclusive to me and my kind. He and I are polar opposites on so many social, economic and political issues of the day, and yet there he is, standing with me, defending my most fundamental belief. This means that there be many more of these believers out there in places I never dreamed of exploring. And it means that I have been a real isolationist when I didn’t need to be. If people who disagree on all kinds of issues can at least commit to respect and empathy….wow, there may be hope!
And so, Glenn and I, together, urge our friends, neighbors, countrymen and leaders to reach across that aisle, that backyard fence, that workplace cubicle – whatever separates you from the other – and offer a little respect and empathy and see what happens.
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.