For the Greater Good

fire-bucket-brigadeI’m a parent. I’m supposed to be teaching my kids, guiding them, yet I’m continually humbled by how much I learn from them whenever I stop to watch and listen.

Recently we took a trip to the local science museum–because science is real, and fun, and interesting, and because my kids always do better in museums with hands-on experiments about centrifugal force than they do in museums with hands-off paintings on the wall. Nevertheless. Toward the end of the day we made our way to a large space dominated by a Rube Goldberg structure with balls and pulleys, chutes and ladders. More than anything, it looked like a life-size version of the game Mousetrap we used to play as kids. The true purpose of the From København to Singapore exhibit, which involved push and pull cargo ships and lots of plastic balls, was lost on me. But just by watching, I learned a lesson.

The space was packed. There were parents on the sidelines, some, like me, continually checking their phone for news about the downfall of western civilization. Ok, maybe that was just me. But those very adult worries were swallowed up by what was going on in the room. What was going on in the room was this: a room full of about forty kids–all working together–in order to make things happen.

There was a hodgepodge of languages, Danish, English, Spanish, Russian. There were toddlers pulling little cargo boats and kids in their early teens loading them up every time they ‘docked’. There were boys unloading and girls shoving more balls into the chutes to start the process all over again. And yet somehow these kids, who’d never spoken to one another or met one another, all worked together to move those balls from the København side of the room to the Singapore side. They were all working together for the greater good.

Kids seem to get this idea naturally. Never mind that the greater good in this case was a hands-on experiences in a science museum. You put a bunch of kids together in a room and give them a task, and more times than not, they’re going to figure out how to make it work. They don’t give a rat’s ass about what the kid next to them looks like or what language they’re speaking or whether they’re a boy with long hair or a girl with overalls on. You give them a job, and they figure it out. They’re not concerned with the who, only with the how.

assembly-line

The larger message wasn’t lost on me.

There used to be a lot more working together for the greater good, for a common goal. Sure, there are always those actively seeking to undermine others, just as there is always going to be the one kid who crosses his arms and refuses to budge until he gets a turn with the cargo ship. But overall, there was a sense that to keep things working the way they’re supposed to, whether it’s an exhibit in a science museum or a country, there has to be push and pull, loading and unloading toward a common goal.

After 9/11, as a New Yorker, I witnessed the real life version of that science exhibit. A city coming together for the greater good. First responders weren’t going to leave someone buried under the rubble because of their religion or because they didn’t have documentation. Blood banks weren’t going to turn away donors because they spoke a foreign language. In a time of crisis, we reverted back to the same instincts I saw in those children. We worked together for the greater good.

Something’s changed. A lot of things have changed. There’s no one thing to put your finger on, no smoking gun, no one cause and effect. But it’s impossible to deny that at the moment, we seem to have two distinct groups, both convinced they are acting for the greater good. But instead of actually moving those balls from København to Singapore, they’re actively working against one another until all we’re left with is a giant mess of balls in the middle of the room going nowhere fast.

women-wwiiI’m sure there were kids there yesterday who were tired of loading balls who wanted to steer a toy cargo ship. But the whole thing would have come to a standstill without everyone working together. Those kids instinctively knew that. They knew they couldn’t do it on their own. They couldn’t do it with only the people who looked like them or spoke the same language. If they did, the balls would stay in their chutes, on their own side. Blue with blue, orange with orange and never the twain shall meet. Going nowhere fast.

I don’t have any answers. But I’m starting to think I should just ask a room full of kids what they think we should do with this giant mess of balls we seem to be standing in the midst of.

Dear Matt Walsh, Your Opinion On the Women’s March is Worthless

yertle-2Dear Matt Walsh and others,

Hear me loud, and hear me clear. When a woman, a group of women, several million women say “My experience as a woman is this” you don’t get to say with any merit “No, it’s not.”

It really is that simple. You are not a woman. You have never lived your life as a woman. You have never lived a life filtered through the lens of being female. Therefore it cancels out your opinion. It invalidates it. Have it, spout it, shout it from the rooftops if you like. It’s still worthless and invalid.

Yes, that’s right. I called your opinion worthless and invalid.

Do you think women factor in your mansplained opinions? Because frankly the very idea of that is laughable to me. We don’t factor them in. They have no space in our discussions, in our experience, in our drive to do better. You can have a thousand opinions. They carry no weight. They carry no legitimacy.

Let me say that again. There is no room for your male bullshit in our discussion as women.

Oh we want men there, we need men there, we want men to plan with us and demand with us. But those men are allies. They LISTEN. They know that they cannot possibly speak about the experience of being a woman, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT A WOMAN.

Your Christian God has not given you the divine power to see into the minds of others, to live the lives of others.

Such a simple concept and yet one which seems so difficult for many to grasp.

Do you believe that a global march under the banner of women’s rights was a way for several million women to kill time between hair appointments? Do you think we are plotting to psychologically castrate the men in our lives (many of whom are our husbands and sons)? Do you think the end goal is to take over and treat men as abominably as men have treated women over the last few thousand years? Is that what you are afraid of?

yertle

What rights do men have, you ask? Let’s start with this: Men have the unspoken, unwritten right to be the standard by which everything in the world is measured. In this great dick-swinging game of life, men always get to roll first. Men have the right to do what they wish with their bodies. Imagine if we introduced mandatory vasectomies at puberty to help control the abortion and unplanned pregnancy rate–because that would actually work like a charm. In fact, I can’t come up with a single policy which would work better. Yet just imagine the uproar at the audacity of the government interfering with a man’s body without his consent. Hell, I’ve seen white men go apeshit on sarcastic memes about needing a wife’s consent for Viagra. God forbid someone police your misplaced erections.

(And for the record, I have no problem with health insurance covering prescriptions for Viagra. Do you know why? Because I cannot possibly know the psychological effects being unable to obtain, maintain, or enhance an erection has on the lives of men. Because I’m not a man. What I object to is the utter hypocrisy of using specious arguments about God’s will when it comes to reproduction. If it is God’s will for women to carry pregnancies to term, then surely it should follow that it is God’s will that so many men can’t get it up.)

You refer to a woman’s right to ‘kill her children’. Well, I think it’s about time that pro-choice women and men started using the phrase I hear so very much as a liberal whenever I point things out: It’s the law. If you don’t like it, you can go  live somewhere else.

Why don’t you trust women? Why don’t you and others like you trust women to make decisions about their bodies? If a woman is willing to risk death by coat hanger, or ordering dodgy drugs off the internet, put her life in the hands of a back-alley butcher, shouldn’t we take it seriously that she does not want to be a mother? I’ve delved time after time into what can be done to make it easier for women to have children, but for now I’ll just say this: Not all women should be mothers. The myth that all women will love a child once she brings it into the world is just that: a myth. And it’s a dangerous one. But, at the end of the day, you can call it whatever you like. For now, medicine, science and the law agree with women. Frankly, I think that’s what rankles people like you. The law sided with women on this one and you can’t quite get your male head around it.

You talk about the illegality of rape, but you fail to mention the dismal failure of the law to actually do it’s job when it comes to rape. Rape claims which go un or partially investigated, victims who are vilified and shamed, disbelieved, young white men who are convicted of sexual offenses who receive slaps on the wrist because their lives have been disrupted enough. Their lives mean more than the lives of the women they’ve violated. That’s not the law working for women, that is the law working against women. And the answer women receive at every turn? Well, women should do X, Y, and Z to avoid getting raped. How about using your moral high ground platform to teach men NOT TO RAPE?

Do you think women don’t report rape and sexual assault because it’s no big deal? Or can your wrap your head around the idea that women don’t report it because they fear the repercussions and have no faith in the system? If it’s the latter, do you think the problem is with women….or the system? Hell, it’s illegal in some states to carry an ice-cream cone in your pocket, but no one does a damn thing if you’re walking down Main Street with Ben & Jerry’s dripping down your ass. For many women, their experience of  the legal and judicial system when it comes to rape? It’s the same thing. They don’t do a damn thing.

But more than anything else, I think you’re a sanctimonious ass. You don’t get to preach on nigh from your Yertle the Turtle kingdom of white, heterosexual Christendom, the highest perch in all the land, and then tell the turtles at the bottom that the bones breaking in their backs aren’t really breaking–they only think they are (and, while they’re at it, shut up already, some turtles don’t even have jobs being the backbone of society–now go make me a sandwich. That’s the subtext of statements like that, and you know that).

dr-seuss-yertle-the-turtle-banned-booksYou don’t have the knowledge, the history, or the validity to explain our experiences as women to us. Because you’re not a woman. And you will never, ever know what it is like to be a woman. And here’s the thing: despite all of the above, despite being hated, despite draconian laws meant to literally kill us, despite being burned and raped and hindered and oppressed for all of time save the last hundred years, ALL of that, women possess a strength and a spirit you will never, ever have.

I’d venture to say that probably bothers people like you most of all.

One Small Step for Man Unkind

candleGrowing up in a country not their own, attending school with children from all over the world, my children have the luxury of daily exposure to difference. Multiculturalism is more than just a box ticked on a syllabus, more than a buzzword. It’s not something to be merely tolerated, but celebrated.

I’m ashamed to admit it’s not always something I pay attention to myself, especially when the celebrations are far removed from my own experience. So when my second-grader came home earlier this week full to the brim with information about the Hindu festival of Diwali, I nodded and clucked absently.

“It’s a celebration of good over evil,” he said to me as we were walking home from school.

“You must have really been paying attention,” I said.

But I wasn’t paying attention. Not really.

I didn’t give our conversation much thought until last night, when gunman in Paris tore open a hole into the evil. When it momentarily seemed as if evil had won.

I am not an expert in Hindu celebrations, my knowledge comes from research gleaned at the tips of my fingers, but at its most basic, Diwali is a festival of lights: a celebration of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, of good over evil.

There are times like last night when that celebration seems premature. This morning, as I read the news coming out of France it seemed certain that the darkness was encroaching, consuming. That evil was winning.

And yet as long as there has been darkness, there has been light. As long as there has been evil, there has been good.

Mankind, or manunkind as my favorite poet penned, has a capacity for darkness that boggles the mind to contemplate. A bleak and black core that eclipses any light around it.

And yet this capacity for darkness is not new, it’s not different. It is the same angry song sung to a different tune. There has always been evil in the hearts of man-unkind. Yet so far good has triumphed in the end. It is the core of mythology, of legend, of poetry and song, of history.

We see it on a smaller scale daily. We read about it in newspapers. And times, like last night, we watch it unfold live across a television screen, across a Twitter feed.

And yet somehow there is always light. A pinprick, a lamppost, a guiding light. We saw it last night as the citizens of Paris opened their homes to those stranded and scared. Sometimes that light is a beacon to others: a star hanging over the city Bethlehem, oil to burn a lamp for an eighth night, the light of a thousand candles lighting up the darkness of a new moon.

Make no mistake. Evil is there, within a heart of darkness or hiding behind the pretense of a God. But darkness is not religious, not the work of anyone’s God. Darkness is the enjoyment of chaos, of terror, of killing. It is blood lust that feeds only on itself.

The methods change, the religion, the costume. Swords, concentration camps, bombs, guns.

And yet, somehow there is light.

On nights like last night, it’s easy to feel consumed by the darkness, by the unkind in man. It is easy to look at the horror and terror, at the atrocities we seem to be capable of inflicting upon one another in the name of something altogether unholy and think there is no way of stopping it.

Perhaps we won’t stop it–not completely. But as long as there is more light than dark, more knowledge than ignorance, more good than evil, there is still reason to celebrate. To light a star on top of a tree or a menorah or a candle lighting up the night of the new moon.

My heart bleeds for Paris, but it bleeds as well for victims of darkness we don’t read about, oreiffel-tower-black-and-white-poster write about, or publicly stand with. My heart bleeds for those without a beacon right now. Those is Syria, in Nigeria, in places where the news cycles have become so inundated we’ve become immune, or worse, apathetic.

As my children are encouraged to become more familiar with the unfamiliar, as they are encouraged to learn about the traditions and celebrations, the lifestyles of others, not merely to tolerate but to celebrate those differences, I wonder.

Maybe this is the way good will win. Maybe it is the way light will triumph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Dream the Impossible American Dream

Potential-CandidateI have a dream.

It goes something like this: A candidate comes forward. In my dream it’s meaningless if they are man, woman, donkey or elephant. There is no need for a stage or podium, mics or teleprompters. There is no need for a moderator or live twitter feed. They are there to deliver a message. It’s not a message of hope or promise.

It’s a message of choice.

It starts something like this:

“No one person or party is ever going to please everyone. No one platform is going to embody the ideals and goals of everyone. We are too vast. Too diverse. Too impassioned. There will always be debate. There will always be dissension. There should be discussion and disagreement. But ideally there is compromise. There is give, and there is take, and by chipping away at the differences, we often find the bedrock of similarity. But….”

…and this is where it goes from dream to impossible dream…

“We are broken. No, we’re not broken. We are past the need for casts and x-rays, past the need for painkillers and bandages. We are bleeding out, on the way to mortally wounded. Don’t be fooled. This will not be a quick and painless death; a good death. No, this death will be long and lingering: a painful death during which we watch a history’s lifeblood slowly pool around us. It will be long enough to lament. Long enough to contemplate all the chances we had, all the chances we wasted. We will limp and twitch and stumble to the end. Until we are a mere footnote. A lesson for someone else.

And it will be no one’s fault but our own.

Because hear this, and hear it well:

God is not the problem, but God is not the answer either.

Hear this:

America has a race problem. No, problem is not the right word. America has institutionalized policies of racism so deep-rooted they’ve become impossible to detach from the American Dream. Much like the fortunes of the Unites States were built on the backs of slaves, the current embodiment of the American Dream requires a scapegoat. In order to ascend, you need something to lift you up. And yet instead of that something being education and infrastructure, it’s yet again the backs of the poor, the disenfranchised, and minorities.

Women’s bodies do not need to be regulated by religion or backdoor legislation. Women’s sexuality is not something to be brought to heel.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are not harvesting the brains of babies for sale on the black market. If you are against the legal transfer of stem cells and fetal tissue, then you should also deny access to medical care and technologies which have come as a result of research from the same.

Abortion is not going to go away. To reduce the number of abortions you must implement more intensive sex education, easy access to and information about birth control, family planning, and yes, free and easy access to medical care. Unless you are ready to fund and fight for those things, then shut up about it.

School shootings are not going to stop. Mall shootings and church shootings and mosque shootings and movie theatre shootings are NOT going to stop. There will only be more bullets, more bodies. There are two choices and only two.

Gun control and legislation. Or….

Sit back and let it continue to happen.

You choose.

There are always going to be people who need help. People who make poor choices, people who didn’t have the choice to make in the first place. There are always going to be those who take advantage of loopholes. And loopholes come in all shapes and sizes. Is the welfare scammer worse than the corporation who avoids taxes? Shall we condemn one and reward the other for cleverness? What kind of nation refuses to help those in need, those whose choices have been thwarted from the beginning, those who are looking for a better life. Is that who we want to be?

Right now America is keeping itself alive on a steady diet of hypocrisy.

You can’t proclaim yourself a believer in life if you don’t believe in curbing deaths. You can’t believe in the sanctity of life in the first three divisions of cells and not demand that something be done to protect the lives of those who are living and breathing. Unless you are willing to protect all lives—from guns, from violence, from oppression and racism, from diseases that can be prevented–then how dare you cloak yourself in the hypocritical banner of Pro-Life and wash your hands of it all.

You can’t believe in truth if you pick and choose those truths or if you simply make them up.

You can’t believe in freedom if you are denying it to others.

You choose.”

I have a dream that person exists–I’m clinging to it with ragged nails.