What happens when you trust someone?  Maybe take 30 seconds and actually consider the deeper answers, not just the ones that come to mind immediately.

Trust allows a first time mom to ask her kid’s pediatrician earnestly about vaccine risks, and whether they cause autism (they don’t).   Mom trusts that Doctor will not judge her for asking, and thus she listens to Doctor’s answer openly, knowing Baby’s health is Doc’s first priority.  Trust allows Mom to respectfully request a delayed vaccination schedule, just in case, and because she will feel more comfortable with it all.  Doctor agrees to said arrangement, because she trusts that Mom is not a flight risk, and they have the kind of relationship wherein it’s safe to query, challenge, discuss, and negotiate.

Vaccines.  Masks.  Election results.  Who can change our minds when we have a set opinion about these and other things?  Only people whom we trust.  The more committed I am to my perspective, the more I must trust you to even hear your opposing point of view, much less let it (you) affect or change mine.  Even then, it most likely requires multiple encounters or conversations.  You must be patient.

Patient for what?  For relationship building.  Trusting relationships require time and energy to cultivate; there is simply no substitute for these interpersonal investments.  We may not notice the small tests along the way, the ones we pass easily when committed to relationship building, and fail just as easily when not.  Brené Brown lists seven key elements of trust, arranged in the convenient acronym BRAVING:  Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault (confidentiality), Integrity, Non-judgment, and Generosity.  Who in your life practices all seven with you?  With whom do you?  Is it mutual, like Mom and Doc above?  The most resilient relationships stand on the strongest foundations of trust, such that challenges and dissent not only fail to threaten bonds, but tighten them through honesty, vulnerability, and thus connection.

Whom can you not trust?  Someone who ridicules your opinion?  Who dismisses, shames, or belittles you?  Maybe.  Then again, when you know someone does this on the regular, can’t you trust them to continue doing it?  Can a relationship be trusting, even if it’s not positive?  We can trust our enemies to remain our enemies, right?  Maybe.  I think enemies may be converted (transformed) with the same habits as those practiced between trusting friends.  It just takes more time and energy.

I cannot, however, trust he who treats me with indifferent ambivalence.  When in one private moment he holds me up, then in another cuts me down in front of others.  When she expresses agreement in today’s meeting, then next week flippantly denies this agreement and equivocates.  This consistent, repetitive, and yet unpredictably timed alignment whiplash—the erratic alternation between attunement and rejection—kills trust and stymies both progress and morale in groups and on teams.  Such mistrust requires advanced relationship skills to overcome… Or maybe the relationship just needs to end.

I’m thinking a lot about trust as we prepare for important changes on our national horizon.  Words and actions both matter—by public officials, physicians, parents, teachers, friends—we all matter.  We can all make a positive difference—it is a choice. 

We each bear the responsibility to be trustworthy.

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). 

Comfort Food

“Rice Grandma”, fermented glutinous rice just like my own PoPo used to make, and in the background glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste. Both foods that bring me home.

What foods make you happy?  Why?

In Disney’s 2007 film “Ratatouille”, the hostile food critic experiences an existential transformation after his first bite of the unsophisticated but sentimental title dish.  His olfactory sense, the most primitive and tightly bound to long term memory of them all, triggers intense feelings of comfort, love, and security from childhood, when his mother served him ratatouille after he was hurt.

Sister and I bonded recently over the Asian food display at my local Costco.  We found the pork sausage that Ma used to use in her fried rice, and egg yolk pies that we can almost never find in stores, even in Chinatown.  When I gushed about it to a fellow East Asian friend, she pointed me to a new Chinese supermarket near me.  Daughter and I went exploring today.  …While I would not quite call my experience existential, it was intensely joyful, and our haul provided a unique satisfaction that moved me unexpectedly.  I found myself texting photos to my parents, wishing they could be with us, recalling the flavors, sounds, and memories of growing up Chinese in white, suburban America.

I learned early in childhood not to bring food from home for lunch at school.  Stares and disgusted facial expressions from classmates at the appearance or smell of my family’s cooking vaporized my appetite and made me unpleasantly self-conscious.  It’s okay though, because I loved hot lunches at school—it was stuff I never got at home—overcooked green beans, spaghetti and meatballs served with an oversized ice cream scooper, and chicken fried steak—I had no idea what it was, but it tasted great—so different!

Authentic Chinese food was enjoyed at home only, especially the really weird stuff like preserved or salted duck eggs, fermented bean curd, and dried pork sung.  Like most teens, I did not fully appreciate these foods at the time.  In college I got to explore Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai food, all new to my naïve palate.  But when I went home—when I go home still—Sunday mornings eating rice porridge with the small plates of colorful, multi-odorous, myriad-textured food really was (is!) comforting.  Daughter saw today how giddy it all made me, and it excites her to try these foods for herself.  Another generation bonded to cultural roots awaits its next awakening.  

One of my goals this year is to live much more mindfully.  This includes cooking more at home, and really appreciating and enjoying—savoring!—my food, rather than inhaling it while attending to a dozen other tasks or problems.  My Chinese grocery acquisitions these last few weeks excite me more than I anticipated.  Maybe I’ll start bringing leftovers for lunch again.