What We Would Give

“I would eat less myself so that you may be full.” 

It’s much more poetic and beautiful spoken in Chinese.  My mom said these words to me as she pretreated a pile of clothes, ‘Asian squatting’ on the floor in front of the washer.  I was in middle school, perhaps.  We were talking casually about parents and children.  She always had, and continues to have, the most efficiently poignant ways to express how infinitely parents love their children—how much they are willing to sacrifice in service of their kids’ health, well-being, and success—all without any residue of shame, guilt, or obligation.  As a parent myself, I totally get it now.

“What I would(n’t) give for…”

When have you thought or uttered these words?  What was it for, a hot dog?  A drink of water?  Your loved one not to have cancer?  Reconciliation with and estranged friend?  An end to systemic racism?

What are we willing to give for what we really care about?  Where is the evidence in action for the values we profess? 

I’m listening to Barack Obama’s memoir, savoring it now in the last few hours.  What I really appreciate is the inside look at the rationale, the complexity, and the reality of policy making.  He explains why he chose to push certain policies through legislation rather than executive order, knowing it was the harder and politically higher risk path.  He describes the personal, relational, legal, and procedural struggles that made legislative losses so frustrating and wins so satisfying.  This was an easy ‘read’ because he is my hero.  I relate to his motivations and understand his rationale easily—I know him as a fellow tribe member.  Next I will attempt Mitch McConnell’s The Long Game, in an honest effort to see the other side’s perspective.  I will buckle down and grit my teeth, and try my best to listen with presence and openness… and also critical, respectful skepticism.

I want tell the story about our elected officials that they entered public life in pursuit of ideals greater than themselves, what Simon Sinek names ‘a just cause’.  According to Sinek a truly just cause is 1) for something—protagonistic and visionary; 2) inclusive—anybody can join; 3) service oriented—benefits others; 4) resilient—endures in the face of change; and 5) idealistic—impossible to actually achieve, but inspires us to pursue anyway.  I see pursuit of just causes so clearly in President Obama’s words and actions.  I have trouble with some others’.   I know many have the opposite experience—how fascinating!

I also want to tell the story that our politicians are people of integrity, who negotiate and compromise with both short term outcomes and long term strategy in mind, all in service of their just cause.  But even knowing that we citizens never see the whole picture, even giving them the benefit of the doubt, it’s a hard story to believe much of the time.  …So if it’s not a true story, what are we citizens willing to give to make it so?

When does compromise constitute hypocrisy?  When does calling out hypocrisy amount just to whining?  When is it better to let this one go and wait for next time, or to go for broke now, lest we miss our only opportunity?  How much are we willing to spend/invest/lose/fail/sacrifice, in order to achieve our ultimate goals?

What are we each really willing to give?  What does this tell us about our values?

And in the end, how will we be at peace with the consequences of our in/actions?

Do Not Throw Away Your Friends

*deep breath*

Let’s all slow down and sink into this moment, shall we?  I mean really get settled. Be here only, right now.   *deep*   *breath*

How are you feeling, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally?  I think I will live more peacefully if I ask myself this more often, and take the time to answer and reflect, before I speak or act.

I had finally walked out of some heavy darkness after a truly regenerative vacation.  I started two and finished three books after Christmas.  I wrote all of our family New Year greetings in one sitting, got a better handle on stress eating, and made inroads on social media moderation.  I even worked out four days in a row—2021 was off to an awesome start!

And then this week happened.  I followed peripherally through the workday as our Capitol was besieged by rioters seeking to overthrow the government, then proceeded to doom scroll and [out]rage post into the wee hours of night.  I felt agitated, like most, and also weirdly vindicated.  Thinking back to the dread and despair I experienced this time four years ago, and my conservative friends telling me I was overreacting, I thought, “See?  I was right to worry.” 

“I was right.”  Such a delicious and potentially toxic sentiment.  How does it make anything better?

I saw so many people on January 6th telling their Facebook friends to unfriend if they still support 45.  Another classmate, a Trump supporter, announced she was deactivating her account due to the hostility and blanket dismissals of her as a person.  “You’re dead to me,” my liberal friends announced.  How is a person supposed to respond to that in any kind of productive way?  The title of this post came to me that evening, as I left the office.

In 2016 I friended a high school classmate for the express purpose of conducting civil political discourse on social media.  At that time I did not quite understand what an exercise in futility this can be (mostly is).  I’m proud to say that our exchanges have always, indeed, exemplified civility.  Over the years we also bonded over hiking, shared nerdhood, and not much else.  He asked me occasionally for general medical information and challenged me with math problems he presented to his high school students (I solved them with authority).  But the political interactions became tiresome as the current administration continued.  Last year I requested to cease our political conversations; he graciously agreed.  It was just too unsatisfying, and I felt relieved to just be friendly.  I look forward to when we can meet in person to engage, because I’m so much better at that now.

In face to face political conversations, I have learned to define and hew to clear and simple objectives in any interaction, and it’s almost never to persuade anyone of my rightness.  Most of the time it can only be to understand the other person’s perspective; I’m almost always the one asking more questions and listening more.  I’ve had to accept that and practice patience.  I’ve also had to muzzle my inner rage monster whenever I hear sweeping, oversimplified generalizations like “Democrats’ policies will make everything worse for America,” or “Democrats have no soul.”  I’m not a Democrat, but right now that is the party that more often advances causes and policies that I support.  Conservative and progressive ideals are never all good or all bad.  Rather, they are complex and intricate polarities to be managed in the infinite game of democracy.  Adherents to each side are not mutually demonic and subhuman, monolithic enemies to be vanquished.  They are our neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends.  Nothing will get better if we go around cutting ties left and right (hey! Pun!), especially not in the heat of a moment when the country most needs our collective composure, despite our most agitated emotions.  This is why we must breathe deeply and settle in to our best selves, before we open our mouths or type another word online.

My friend has renounced Trump, saying it took a fair amount of rationalization to vote for him this time, which he regrets.  Welcome to humanity, sir, where we all rationalize most of our decisions, more than we know and much more than we’d like to admit.  He has also declared steadfast commitment to his conservative principles, which I wholeheartedly support.  I’m so hopeful that we may continue to practice our discourse skills on and with each other.  I still may not engage on Facebook, and he has yet to accept a Zoom invitation, but I feel progress coming on (as Progressives often do). 

Do What You Can

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

I thank my friend for re-introducing me to Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert.  He conducts long form interviews with people who dig into important topics, but with some lightheartednesss. 

Jon Bon Jovi appeared on Episode 251 this fall. I’m reminded why I so admire this pop culture icon, philanthropist, and all around good human. From 44:24 they discuss his new album, 2020. As a rock star also known for his strong give-back ethos, he discusses the risk he takes by making a topical album in a year of remarkable political turmoil. He describes his perspective as a witness to history with an opinion, but without taking sides. He addresses gun violence from the perspective of how it feels for those affected, without stepping in the fray of “guns are bad” or “they’re coming for our guns.” He acknowledges the reality of white privilege, without shaming anyone for it. He recognizes how simply trying to open a conversation may alienate some. He owns his positions and convictions, and earnestly invites discourse from any other perspective. This is what I admire and aspire to myself—to engage by coming alongside rather than coming at.

Do What You Can” is my new favorite rock anthem.  It’s an uplifting balm for all we’re going through, and reminds us that we can be okay, if we stick together: 

Although I’ll keep my social distance
What this world needs is a hug
Until we find the vaccination
There’s no substitute for love
So love yourself and love your family
Love your neighbor and your friend
Ain’t it time we loved the stranger
They’re just a friend you ain’t met yet

What risks are we each willing to take, to make our world better?