When Will I Be Ready to Act?

If I am honest with myself about my own accountability, how would I answer the following questions?

“In looking back we shall all record how we responded to the escalating horrors of the last four years. And as we do so, there are questions that each of us will have to answer. What did I do? Could I have done more? And could it have made a difference? Did I let my prejudice, my indifference and my fear overwhelm my reason? And how would I react next time?”

As reported in the Washington Post, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked these questions about the horrific Bosnia conflict where estimates were that one hundred thousand (100,000) people were slaughtered. These were war crimes and a small number of people were ultimately held accountable; however, accountability can do nothing to diminish crimes to humanity of this magnitude.

at the "UNICEF Goodwill Gala: 50 Years of Celebrity Advocacy" at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA 12-03-03

Read the questions again. This exact set of questions applies to the very situation we are living in the United States today. With the rule of law under attack, with critical institutions under assault, with a president who is executing retribution against an “enemies list” of public officials and is intentionally, deliberately dividing this country’s citizens, I have to be brutally honest about my own accountability.

What are we willing to tolerate from an elected leader who is a despot? Where are the congressional voices who should be speaking out in utter outrage? Where are they? What is the tipping point?

Kofi Annan died today, 18-Aug-2018. He was called soft-spoken, patrician, courtly, charismatic and measured. In his quiet demeanor, he was an elegant figure of moral authority. Annan “seemed to radiate an aura of probity and authority” [Alan Cowell, New York Times].

Voices of real power are not ugly, divisive, narcissistic and assaultive. We each have voices that are many times more authoritative than our despot president.

What does my voice of authority sound like? If I bring Kofi Annan’s questions into the present, they are: What am I doing? Can I do more? Can I make a difference? Am I letting my prejudice, my indifference and my fear overwhelm my reason?

Personal action must accompany honest accountability. The voices who should be protecting us are silent. We know how to protect ourselves and each other from the worst that humanity can offer.

We simply need to act.

 

Others Literally Live in Us, and We Live in Them

Can we yield to the quiet impulse to extend our very best selves knowing others will live it?

What traits, behaviors or ideas present in us do we notice as having originated in others? How do we carry those into the world to influence others? With awareness? With care?

20180401_120501.jpgIf I even loosely examine these questions, I recognize that parts of my speech, including innocuous things like colloquialisms, my attitudes, and my formulated opinions had their origins in family, friend or business relationships. Others literally live in me. In fact, we are vehicles for one another.

Naturally, as parents we have the ability to profoundly impact how our children see the world, how they form and maintain relationships and how they treat others. It’s a weighty responsibility. It is no less true and no less consequential in our adult relationships.

I practice what I term alert hesitation when speaking with others. I create space for a response that comes through me from a place other than a quick mind. It allows for what my spiritual teacher calls “knowledge born of direct experience.” It, in no way, impairs critical thinking or the ability to challenge another’s view as a point of discussion.

Speech is malleable, and each conversation is an opportunity to practice. Alert hesitation allows speech to flow into language, while perhaps even when making a vigorous argumentative point, that isn’t demeaning or deleterious. Sometimes, moments of alert hesitation generate space for unexpected responses that are kind, humility-filled and have depth.

Is what I have to say the part of me that I wish to live in someone else?

 

 

 

Love, Transitioned

On the 4th anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Air #17, I was again compelled by the juxtaposition of the features of the tragedy. Twisted steel in a vast field of sunflowers, and the extraordinary variety of lives whose potential transitioned with the destruction of the plane.

A previously unpublished poem in their honor and remembrance follows.

 

MALAYSIA AIR 17

Hope

of a

cure lying

among shards of

hull, body parts of

winged steed finding no ease

in human flesh. Souls’ ascent

past, only the carnage of tears

laments HIV among garish

still smoldering sunflowers. Politics

and humanity at odds. Researcher,

musician, scholar, author, comic,

academic, diplomat, nun,

human rights organizer,

teacher, 3 grandchildren,

1 of the world’s best

rescue pilots,

transitioned

into

Love.

Whose Responsibility is Awakened Action?

How much awakened action am I able to offer the world?

Mr. Rogers taught our children innumerable lessons of kindness, self-worth and love. Why are those messages that children were so receptive to and so benefited them, now so difficult for adults to hear? Can we not find the simple courage to remind ourselves that immigrant children are no different from our children? Would we wish any of what these children have experienced on children we know and love?

“Love is at the root of everything” wasn’t a dogmatic lament to soothe others’ temperaments or egos, or even Mr. Rogers’ personal belief. There is a visceral, felt, peaceful presence in one who is awakened to who he is spiritually. It shows up as an inherent kindness, a quiet, slow and constant attention to that to which he or she is present.

While noticed, felt and lived as real, that awakened presence never shouts or demands or even calls attention to itself. It just lives in each of us, ceaselessly, constantly. When one identifies with that presence as being who he/she is, everything in the world changes, though on the surface everything remains the same.

An effect of an awakened presence is that one knows him/herself to be all others, not rhetorically, but literally. This is where Mr. Rogers’ care for children originated.

If we acknowledge it, our relationship to these immigrant children is no different than Mr. Rogers’ felt understanding of his relationship to children.

Immigration policy has many solutions for those who care to think well and listen to their inner voices. Compassionate courage is also required, a quality distinctly lacking in the methodologies recently employed by this administration.

Am I suppressing that which I know myself to be?

How much awakened action am I able to offer the world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Voice of a Handwritten Letter

This is not a poetry blog. This post is a different variety of declaration urging people to use their voices.

Recently, I gave the gift of the poem that follows to a 60-year friend for Mother’s Day. It began as a remembrance of the letters we wrote as kids leveraged with the delicious detail of handwriting terms, of my friend’s mother’s passing, and as poems do, evolved into a lament of the fact that our kids don’t experience the joy of a handwritten letter. 

IN OUR HANDWRITING

We

held hands

in pale vellum.

Confidences were

penned, licked, sealed, received.

Cursive lines of love disguised

as the details of summers in

Maine, in Florida, from the south rim

of the Grand Canyon when our objections

to separation went unheard. Teenage

upstrokes borne of ‘60s hope for a

world of love. Warm summers, easy

flourishes. Secrets of bad

boys we loved, descenders

too delicious to

cast aside. Young

skill sets, no

r e m o r s e.

x-

height,

practice

for restraint

neither of us

wanted. Unprepared

for the mother of love,

gentility, kindness, the

community’s baseline for

care, to show us how to live without

her. Allographs of wholeness descended

into stressors, curves of pain, disbelief.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps, love

sleeps in the next room, cancer

notwithstanding. The hand

of penmanship, in

hers now,

delicately,

one last

time.

20180601_173045

After a very challenging week, a co-worker penned a note of thanks to me for my patience, professionalism, support and counsel. Such a gesture of appreciation in a business environment is not often given. I can say that the note’s influence continues to resonate. I read it every day.

The importance of using our voices intimately, oratorically, conversationally, poetically and in prose cannot be overstated. Neither can the case for penning deeply personal thoughts and wishes to others. It’s the highest form of personal expression and tribute.

 

If You Have a Voice, Let’s Change the Narrative

“The United States has always been, and remains, what we make it.” the ACLU

If we scratch the surface of what causes us to act and are truthful with ourselves, we recognize that progressiveness has nothing to do with ‘us’ and everything to do with ‘us, all’.  We’ve then admitted to ourselves that our ‘why’ in moving a progressive society ahead has, as its origin, that empathetic impulse to improve all lives. It arises from seeing ourselves in others.

Nowhere is it written that progressiveness is not associated with broad planning and activism. It’s not about angry, separatist political thought. It’s about changing hearts and minds.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, has a 50-state plan for what it calls People Power, founded only last year. The beauty of the movement is multi-faceted. It’s meant to be flexible to encourage activists to move on local issues while standing on the long-established structure and funding of the ACLU. “Local chapters [are] already in place, as well as funding for a long-haul effort”, says Marshall Ganz, who organized for the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964 and was the architect for Barack Obama’s grassroots campaign in 2007.  I canvassed for President Obama in Cincinnati, and the structure of the campaign was masterful. It was built in a way that got commitment, respectfully, from each and every potential voter as to that person’s candidate preference, no matter the number of contacts required to do so.

Ganz makes an important distinction between ‘mobilizing’ which is what we largely see today – reactive – and away from ‘organizing’ which is local, broad and powerful.

In an interview with The Nation, Ganz says the ACLU changed their motto to ‘We the People.’ “That’s a pretty significant reframing. If you think of yourself as, ‘We the lawyers who are defending rights’ versus ‘We the people who are fighting for our rights’ – that’s a very different idea.”

“If there is one thing I will give Donald Trump credit for, he has given birth to what may be a golden age of citizen activism.” — Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director. Faiz Shakir, ACLU national political director and architect of People Power, is “leveraging a movement… that builds out long-term infrastructure to prevent the next Trump.”

The ACLU says, “We’ll do the work in the courts. You do the work in the streets.”

Interested in changing hearts and minds?

 

 

Teaching Activism

Imagine publicly advocating for your chosen profession prior to actually joining it.

Two bright, eloquent about-to-be North Carolina State University graduates marched this week with future teaching colleagues at the state capitol demanding better pay and greater school funding.

Cristina Chase Lane and WinnieHope Mamboleo joined a collective voice of teachers who are rightfully asserting their demands for income aligned with the responsibility of teaching our children. Lane: “I know part of my philosophy of teaching is to teach students to have a voice… and to be activists for what they want. And I feel like I can’t teach them to do that if I don’t do it myself.”

Teaching epitomizes service. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll disclosed more than 9 in 10 teachers said they entered the profession to do good work. We each serve one another. Teachers exemplify service.

As a former mentor to a young teen through the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, I was shocked to learn how deeply immersed in students’ lives teachers and administrative staff were. Inner-city teachers know students’ tenuous family situations. They know whether their kids had dinner the night before. Boxes of clothing, along with a washer and dryer, were stored in the vice-principal’s office for kids whose clothes were not clean. Staff actively looked for children who failed to show up for class.

Financial support for dedicated teachers in this country continues to be stale, as does appropriate school funding. Hope Mamboleo has $20,000 in student loans. Of teaching she says, “I can breathe and learn and be myself in this space. I just have to be humble and know that the main difference I’m making is going to be in the class. I’m just not going to have a lavish life.”

It’s time for us to stand beside them.