Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The Truth and Tragedy about Racism

Hello from back in PA,

As I spent the evening trying to catch up on the unending stream of craziness that seems to dominate the world, but what we call news, the irony of the day was as Starbucks closed its doors for a corporate training on what they euphemistically called implicit bias training while one of the top rated shows this season, the reboot of Rosanne was summarily canceled for a rather explicit bias and seemingly-untrainable tweet about Valerie Jarrett by Rosanne Barr herself. Earlier this evening I read a really thought provoking and painfully truth piece by Joy-Ann Reid, a political analyst, who today wrote, “Being black means constantly rendering yourself unthreatening to white people. [and she also states,] “To be white in America is to assume ownership of public spaces. To be black is to live under constant threat of removal” (NBC Think 29May18). Both of these statements will offend some; they will resonate with others; but regardless of how you respond, it is probably most important to search in your heart for the truth contained in them. As a 60-something while Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, there have been times where I wanted to argue the infamous reverse-discrimination card, but about four years ago, I wrote a blog about being confronted by a student and significant person about my privileged status. I remember feeling offended because I had worked hard to achieve what I had. I argued that no one gave me anything. Yes, while I had received help along the way, working as a GTI, managing a restaurant, and being a full-time doctoral student was no picnic and so I was not willing to be labeled as privileged. Certainly, I have received more help than some, but at least through school, I merely worked.

Now four years later, in a country where division and disrespect seems to be the rule rather than the exception, we have elected a President who seems to show little respect for anyone, anything, at anytime, and his election seems to be a direct consequence of the fact we had a black President preceding him. I also believe, in part, it was because the Democratic candidate was both female and named Hillary Clinton. I also believe those are all separate issues. President Trump’s remarks at Arlington National Cemetery were both discouraging and disgraceful. As I ponder the place we seem to stand as a society, as the melting pot created from the Grand Experiment, I am not sure I can give the founders of this country much credit for establishing a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included all people. Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln stood tall, literally and figuratively, in an attempt to create a more equitable country with both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, but until the quest of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s, there was not concerted effort to really accept the true racism of separate, but equal doctrine that was a fundamental element of our mid-20th Century America. I believe I was as naive as the next who somehow believed the election of Barack Obama signaled we have turned a corner for real. Finally, as a country, I thought we realized the racial inequality that held our country in our own collective stocks and put our democracy up for sale to the highest bidder. When President Obama used his office to ask us to thoughtfully reflect on the killing of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, I again hoped his being a Black President might help us see the difficulty of what young black, Hispanic, Asian, or other non-white males endure daily. Unfortunately , after some initial reflection, it seems it accomplished little, or I might even go as far as to say it was probably counter-productive. I would add this was little fault of the President, but rather because we have such an untruthful and chicken-shit racist underbelly to our country that few are willing to honestly and thoughtfully call to task.

I have stated this before, but I think I write it with more emotion than I have in the past. If you see someone who looks, acts, speaks, worships, or loves differently than you and that is how you first view them, or you consider that to be the most distinguishable quality about them, you are mostly likely acting in a discriminatory manner. The person who can honestly say in their heart they do not notice or even consider the difference is a rare individual. For the great majority of us, we are more likely to be that implicit racially biased person, and that is if we are lucky. The present atmosphere in the country, where disagreement makes the other the enemy, means most of us have probably moved beyond the implicit to the explicit. When we hear about daily incidences of rancor, disrespect, and downright hatefulness from the White House to the neighbor, can there be any surprise that corporations are requiring an entire workforce to receive training about their innate (but actually taught) prejudices or a company that is part of the Magic Kingdom of Disney cancels one of its two most popular shows. What does it say when one of the most popular sit-com people of a generation can refer to the senior advisor of a President as the cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes? Not only has what she tweeted reprehensible, the fact that such stereotypes are still promulgated is tragic beyond compare. It is those very stereotypes, the jokes, the whispered humor (which is anything but) that we allow to go unchallenged that keeps such bigotry alive. It is the stares seared into the psyche of our minority students in the small Pennsylvania town or warnings given when the monster truck show comes to the fairgrounds admonishing our black or biracial students to not be alone on the street that illustrates how pathetic our thoughts, words, or actions can be. It is when a avowed Nazi can run for Congress unopposed in Illinois, ironically both the Land of Lincoln and Obama, that should cause us pause as ask, what the hell are we thinking? . . .

It is now 24 hours since I was writing here and pretty well every news source has pontificated on the situation. SHS, who boggles me beyond compare, went on her own rant of why other forms of racism have not been called out to the same degree. I guess the positive is they did not support the egregious comments, but, as usual, deflected to argue something else was as terrible. I am continually stunned by the rhetorical strategy of the White House. Some will argue there is no strategy, but I will disagree. It is like being consistently inconsistent. The President calls our values, morals, and standards into question daily through his seemingly off-the-cuff tweets. Make no mistake, his questioning of all standards, standards which generally support a status quo as well as offering support for some sense of equality and justice, allows some of those who have been supposedly marginalized by this same status quo to believe a President listens to them and speaks their language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The scripture of notes even the dogs get the scraps from the master’s table comes to mind. . . . Another day and another version of America or the global community doing a collective smh. If you do not know this acronym, which I did not until perhaps a year ago, it means shaking my head. The unprofessional or completely void of decorum comments about an ally or Prime Minister of our closest ally as well as showing up late (twice) as well as leaving early from something that affects every citizen in our country. Issues of trade, cooperation, national security, and most everything that requires international give-and-take seems to have been ignored by our President. Where is the line between “America First,” the established Trump Doctrine, and America as a global leader? Between withdrawing from international agreements and the suggesting the re-inclusion of Russia in the G-7+1, what has the President actually done? The global order is changing, and the move to globalization itself has created an interesting backlash. This is also an interesting sort of discrimination. The global identity has often been those who have (the United States, Canada, the EU, and, yes, Russia) and those who do not (third world countries-most of Africa or Latin America, still developing countries from the former Central or Eastern Europe, and other geopolitical places left behind for whatever reason), but that might not be the most significant malevolent consequence of globalization, nor the most complex.

What about a disappearing middle class in the haves and a much less likely possibility for those in the countries of the have nots? I believe many citizens in a number of countries of the EU or in parts of the United States have joined the bandwagon of the rising nationalism because they believe nationalistic philosophy somehow gives them voice. While there might be some truth to this, I do not believe in the long run, nationalism serves any one country. Furthermore, when nationalism becomes the rule rather than the exception, those who have power will have more power and the ideal of democracy becomes more difficult to maintain. While Hitler was elected as chancellor in 1933, his consolidation of power and what he did from 1933 until the outbreak of WWII upon his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 is well documented. Perhaps it is time many read. When power is consolidated, those on the outside become powerless. When countries are so busy working to protect themselves, everyone else becomes the other. Certainly what has been demonstrated lately is being the other is not a good place or position to hold. It still stuns me that the number of Latinos/as, blacks, LGBTQA, Muslim, dis/abled individuals, (and there are people in each of these groups) still believe that the policies put in place recently will not hurt them, from trade, to tariffs, to taxes.

Issues like the #MeToo movement,the #BlackLivesMatter , the #OscarsSoWhite, #RapeCulture, or #NationalAnthem all  demonstrate that we are on a verge of a very substantial paradigm shift, but to where are we shifting? What is positive in the conversation and what is not? This is part of the struggle. There is so much more that we need to ponder and understand. From where did some of the actions, the attitudes, and the practices we now find so abhorrent originate. I listen to a number of veterans most mornings. They are a good group of people, but I am quite sure that I am the only person who did not vote for our current President in that table of 10 or 15 people. Some of the things said will shock me from time to time, but what I realize more and more is that I am pretty liberal in a very conservative area. I am not liberal in my own practices, but more so in my attitudes. What I know is while I might not agree with them, I still respect them and their opinions. I can see beyond some of the differences, and I can still sit and even disagree at times. Most of my disagreements are posed and what about another possibility. I believe we have lost the ability to speak about the other whether it has to do with race, politics, religion, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity or any other thing that might create a difference. Rather than seeing difference as an opportunity for growth, our nationalistic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, or any other ism that elevates difference, we see the other as the enemy, something to discount, disavow, disrespect, discharge, and, somehow hope they will disappear. The resulting fragmentation of who we are as people is certainly not what I believe our heritage has been most held up to be. The words on the statue of Lady Liberty seem to have been ignored. The problem is very basic in understanding what it is, but incredibly complex when it comes to changing it. Most of us are afraid to admit, or too ignorant to realize just how racist most of us are. Until that changes, we are relegated to hashtags and outrage.

With that in mind, I offer this video and thank you all for reading.

Michael (the summer person who is not teaching for once)