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). 

Not Just Words

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Friends, it’s been another week of observing, processing, learning, and integrating.  Holy cow, I really need this vacation.  I need nature, time with family away from work, away from the news.  I need to take a breath.

Things feel different this time.  I think this cautiously; I allow it—hope.  Change will be incremental and slow, but I feel a real acceleration today.  Equality is an infinite game, and we who play to advance it find ourselves in a moment of palpable solidarity and purpose.  But what comes next?  What will the field look and feel like at the end of the summer?  In a year?  In ten years?  When my kids are my age? What progress will we look back and see, initiated in this movement of 2020?  How can we make this a turning point?

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Stories

First, we must seek to understand the scope and nature of the challenge.  For many of us this means listening.  “Facts don’t change our minds.  Friendship does,” James Clear writes.  We humans are not rational, logical beings at our core.  We change our minds when we can relate to someone else’s experience, and the best way to do that is to listen to their stories.

Here are some stories that moved me this week:

Reflections of a Token Black Friend by Ramesh A. Nagarajah:  I think back to when my friends never understood why I wasn’t allowed to play with water guns — or any toy guns, for that matter — when I was a boy. I’d be so excited to visit a friend’s house and use their airsoft gun in the backyard. I used to get so frustrated when my mom told us it was “too dangerous” for black boys to do that and that someone would mistake it for a real gun. When I was 16, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed while playing with a replica toy airsoft gun. I realized my mom was right.  …I think of the way the black girls were treated as second rate in high school. Guys rarely tried to talk to them romantically, and if they did, others discussed it with an undertone of comedy. I never felt this way, personally, but didn’t realize until college that my silence was compliance. I was participating in denying dignity to the black women around me.

A passionate and powerful video by Kimberly Jones, author of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, which is now in my queue.  Listen and watch to the end.  Embrace the discomfort.  Whatever you experience in these few minutes is nothing compared to what Black people have suffered for generations.  Then mull over her last sentence.

A heartfelt and important essay by Dr. Marie Ramas, on her role as a Black woman primary care physician during a pandemic:  Once again, as a healer working in a system seemingly based more on economics than wellness, I felt forced to make an impossible ethical decision. Then, I realized that the underlying question for me to answer was not whether I would treat individuals at the risk of my own self. Rather, I needed to pan out my scope of view and ask, “How can I help rebalance the scales of justice to reflect the inherent worth of the black and brown lives that I both serve and represent?”

Sensational six FB Humans of St Louis 1 of 7 June 2020

The Sensational Six:  Six Black women graduated from the pediatrics residency at Washington University St. Louis this month.   Follow the link to read the 7 consecutive posts about these remarkable women, and look for their mark on our future.  Their names are

Fehintola Olaiya, MD
Stephanie Diggs, MD
Frances Annan-Fohtung, MD
Mia Henderson, MD/PhD
Olivia Beaubrun, MD
Tobi Olayiwola, MD

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Connection, Action, Accountability, and Togetherness

The goal of all this seeking and listening, of course, is Connection.  The only way to get to shared humanity—true connection—is stories.  And the only way to stay in the infinite game fighting against structural racism is to play together, team members rotating on and off the field.  The metaphor of a choir holding the prolonged single note, strong and clear, by staggering each person’s breaths, applies here.

The team is huge—every one of us has a role to play and a contribution to make.  What Actions can we each take?  Here is a list of 75 to choose from.  Start now.  No action is too small.  Do it sincerely, consistently, and with integrity.

How will we hold each other Accountable?  Company after company declares their opposition and intolerance to racism.  “It’s all words,” as one Black woman told me bluntly.  We need metrics, goals, and transparency.  Medical schools must recruit more students of color.  Companies must promote more people of color to designated leadership roles.  Citizens must demand of our legislators to address systemic and institutionalized discrimination, to give it tangible consequences that motivate change.

Most importantly, we must do the deep work of ferreting out where bias hides in our institutions, understanding clearly how it impacts our practices for the worse, and then reworking our systems to eliminate, or at least moderate, those negative consequences.  The legend of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s blind auditions can instruct us here.  We can claim success when we see people of color represented proportionally in leadership, policymaking, and all of the most influential and impactful aspects of our culture.

We have so very far to go.  But at least it feels, for the time being, that more of us have opened our eyes to the path ahead.  And rather than turning (running) away, we turn toward—Together.  We find each other’s hands and grab on, holding tight.  We take one tentative step, then another, and another.

If we keep walking, together, we will make progress.