Often women have expectations for their professional and personal lives set for them in childhood. Some of those expectations are inferred within the family; others, more insidious, are set by test and IQ scores well before high school. In fact, student placement in unchallenging, sedentary educational settings erases the possibility of teaching toward a girl’s individual strengths.
Career guidance often follows such testing, frequently limiting young women’s paths into engineering, medicine, law and the creative arts. A far worse consequence is setting girls’ ambitions for their own achievement.
Yet, not all achievement by women remains set by early limitation or lack of support.
Millions of women stand with this country’s black community in demanding justice for black citizens – our citizens – who are murdered by law enforcement. We write, we march, we literally stand with others whom we care about as we do our family members. A powerful image of this courageous support occurred in the Louisville Courier-Journal when a line of white women, arm in arm, stood between black protesters and Louisville Metro Police on Thu evening.
So, the drive that surfaces in women who excel and live outside false expectations need not only be limited to academics. Courage lives in us all, and women in every leadership role – including women who place their lives in danger to support and protect others – are living their best lives and inspire us.
Voice need not be verbal. Our physical presence, our privilege as citizens who have the invisible luxury of not feeling discrimination in every moment of their lives, is a profound example of our collective voice. “This is love. This is what you do with your privilege.” [emphasis mine]
Examine any leveling of expectations that were preset in your life. Simply acknowledging them as ill-formed judgment causes them to dissolve.
This is the time to be everything we are. Standing with all races – our human community – to demand fairness, equality, autonomy and justice is living our highest lives.
Non-fiction – that’s how I define my reading interest. Current evidence: I relish the privilege and pleasure of imagining myself in Winston Churchill’s lifetime via 1,053 pages of The Last Lion. I pledge to you that we owe the very freedoms we enjoy today to Churchill’s indomitable and unyielding courage. He expressed his unwavering determination to save Great Britain in brilliant prose. Churchill’s words lived actively in every Briton. Dedicating bits of my daily reading time to understanding the how the contribution a single person makes to the culture, the survival, the success of an entire people is a privilege.
My own writing style, though, leans heavily to creative non-fiction and not into the formidable task of meticulously documenting lives in historical accuracy. I like weaving stories around significant pieces of others’ lives to distinguish their contributions to their family, their friends, their world.
The dream. Colum McCann is my favorite author. I literally swoon through his paragraphs of metaphor so fluid, so poignant, that they deconstruct and transport my own sense of what’s possible as a writer. So a dream, indeed, came true when Colum spoke about his new book, Apeirogon, at Powell’s Books on Fri night.
McCann shouldered the extraordinary challenge of telling the stories of Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli, whose daughters were both killed – by rubber bullet, by suicide bomber – as ten- and fourteen-year-olds. Colum spent nearly five years getting to know the fathers, who are friends, then weaving a vast story “crossing centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature and politics.”
So, while my intent in posting was [is] to share the renewed inspiration of how another powerful writer lives in me, I now recognize an unexpected moment of beauty and synergy. For nearly a year I’ve been stymied about what perspective to use to write a dear friend’s story for her family. In typing the words “weaving stories around significant pieces of others’ lives “, and in alert hesitation, the answer came through me.
We really do live in and through one another. McCann’s voice becomes my voice; his voice is the voice of Bassam and Rami. We speak for each other. Words matter. Stories create shared awareness of our commonality; stories matter.
Whose voice takes its shape and carries its meaning in you? What are you called to say, to write, that seeds who you are in others?
The word “formative” has swirled in my consciousness recently, having first been introduced by Yuval Levin, the author of the new book, “A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream.”
Many of us feel a lack of grounding in the turbulence of our society, largely, it’s fair to say, due to the unrelenting assault of the politisphere. Our disquiet and, as importantly, our overall lack of trust of others and of our institutions has another root, as Levin points out.
He posits that, “We trust an institution when we think that it forms the people within it to be trustworthy – so that not only does it perform an important social function, educating children or making laws or any of the many, many goods and services that institutions provide for us, but also at the same time provides an ethic that shapes the people within it to perform that service in a reliable, responsible way.”
The United States military remains a trusted institution. Clearly formative, the institution transforms members into self-starting individuals who value its structure, its ethics, and are trained to live by its principles. Members frequently bring those lived principles with them, after service, as assets to their future lives and future organizations.
Though we could evaluate any institution – governmental, private or public businesses, non-profits, even local volunteer orgs – what settles most importantly with me is the question of who among the field of presidential candidates will actively, publicly voice the need for legislative and executive branch institutional restoration.
The author observes that, “We now think of institutions less as formative and more as performative, less as molds of our character and behavior, and more as platforms for us to stand on and be seen.
“… we see people using institutions as stages, as a way to raise their profile or build their brand. And those kinds of institutions become much harder to trust.”
As citizens, we need to insist that any Democratic presidential nominee dedicates herself or himself to restoring the institutions that our democratic republic is
grounded in… to restore them as formative institutions. A commitment to restoring the ethic.
We can, we must, return to respecting our institutions, ourselves, and others.
Each of us has the ability to be vocal. Simply listen for the voice of ethic, of honor, of shared responsibility deep within, then speak.
First, cease paying attention to that noisy voice that says: “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t process any more tragedy. I’m powerless. What I could do wouldn’t matter.” That chatter is nothing but empty conditioning. It’s not you, it’s not real, and what it has to say is not true.
Second, stop suppressing that calm, patient, loving voice that shows itself when you’re relaxed and present. You know it… the voice that speaks through you, not to you. That voice is guidance. It’s empowerment. It emanates from the deepest part of who we are as beings, and it’s equally present in us all.
All it takes is a bit of courage. The more courageous you are, the more recognizable the voice is, and the easier it is to trust what it says. When it comes through me, I recognize it immediately and act upon it.
Next steps. In a recent TED talk, Luisa Neubauer, a 23-year old climate protection activist, offered four very specific steps that everyone… everyone… can take to defend and protect the environment.
Luisa Neubauer: “This is not a job for a single generation. This is a job for humanity. All eyes are on you. … We are all political beings, and we can all be part of this answer. We can all be something that many people call climate activists.
“Four first steps that are essential:
We need to drastically re-frame our understanding of a climate activist. A climate activist… is everyone who wants to join a movement of those who intend to grow old on a planet that prioritizes protection of natural environments and happiness and health for the many over the destruction of the climate and the wrecking of the planet for the profits of the few.
I need you to get out of that zone of convenience. Does the company that employs you or that sponsors you.. does your local parliamentarian… your best friend… know about this? Tell your bank you’re going to leave if they keep investing in fossil fuels.
Leaving the zone of convenience works best when you join forces. The more you are [in number], the harder it is for people to justify a system that has no future. Power is not something that you either have or don’t have. Power is something you either take or leave to others, and it grows once you share it.
I need you to start taking yourselves more seriously. The most powerful institutions of this world have no intention of changing the game they’re profiting from most. So, there is no point on further relying on them.”
“I dream of this world where geography classes teach about the climate crisis as this one greatest challenge that was won by people like you and me who had started acting in time. This is more than an invitation. Spread the word.”
All power resides in people, not in institutions. Institutions must respond to our will. It can be no other way. There is no stopping a critical mass of us who are activist in our own ways. Every action counts.
The Earth’s patience with our continual abuse is coming to an end, and many of us are feeling the consequential loss of something very, very dear. It has a name: environmental (or ecological) grief.
Defined by Washington State thanatologist Kriss Kevorkian as “the grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystems from natural and man-made events”, it often goes unacknowledged or misidentified. Reported as far back as Jul-2016 by Jordan Rosenfeld for Scientific American, Kevorkian recognized the profound sense of loss she felt in her study of the death of whales. She likened the intensity of the grief to that which she would feel upon the death of a family member.
I feel that grief.
In his article, Rosenfeld reported that in a National Wildlife Federation report, “John McIlwain, director of the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior Program, described the effects on natural scientists of ecological loss as “secondary trauma,” saying, “It takes a rare and brave human being to continue to do what needs to be done in the face of hopelessness.”
The 2012 report states “that 200 million Americans will be exposed to serious psychological distress from climate-related events and incidents.”
Do you recognize this grief?
Do you feel it when you see a bewildered polar bear adrift on a piece of ice? When you read about the sale of shark fins, or are confronted with the imagine of a dead elephant, killed for nothing more than his tusks? When whole geographic coastal regions are being forced to migrate inland?
How are we not responsible for this?
For increasing numbers of us, living with this grief is both a feature of every day life and completely unacceptable.
I’ll go farther. There is what I term an “environmental conscience“, meaning the living conscience of the whole – all systems – which we are only a small part of, that constantly informs us of the damage we do and the destruction we wreak as surely as our own individual conscience does.
Just sit in the silence of nature and listen for it.
Galvanizing our collective grief and coalescing around – and in fact demanding – solutions is action whose time has come.
One more important idea.
Lori Garver is the chief executive at Earthrise Alliance, and was deputy NASA administrator from 2009 to 2013. She wrote a couple of days ago in the Washington Post that, “NASA was not created to do something again” [meaning to go to the moon or Mars.] The agency was “created to push the limits of human understanding, to help the nation solve big, impossible problems that require advances in science and technology.”
“The impossible problem today is not the moon. And it’s not Mars. It’s our home planet. NASA remains one the most revered and valuable brands in the world, and the agency is at its best when given a purpose. In a July Pew Research Center study, 63 percent of respondents said monitoring key parts of Earth’s climate system should be the highest priority for the United States’ space agency. NASA could create a Climate Corps — modeled after the Peace Corps — in which scientists and engineers spend two years in local communities understanding the unique challenges they face, training local populations and connecting them with the data and science needed to support smart, local decision-making.”
Reading the article may change your entire perspective on a collective solution to restoring the earth to wholeness.
In referencing the smallness of our anthropomorphic vision of God or Nature or Source or the Universe, the glorious author, Brian Doyle, wrote, “how incredibly foolish to [even] assign human gender to something we all admit is so unimaginably epic.” I say this because it’s time to ignore the small voices.
It’s time to ignore the small anti-environment voices, the corporations who would pillage, the single-minded developers, those who suppress their own bit of environmental conscience in favor of some anthropomorphic ideology. We no longer have the luxury of time to debate smallness.
It’s time to stand up: in personal conversations, in town hall meetings with political candidates and online where your voice for restorative wholeness can be magnified.
Not recalling the exact moment, I do remember reflecting on the evolution of my own thinking, politically. Raised in a moderate Midwest Republican home, I could later understand how – not why, but how – my father admired George H. W. Bush. Dad admired few people. They were largely those who were the First. They were the First Wave of men who landed on Normandy Beach, the vast majority of whom lost their lives immediately. The few others he admired were his contemporaries in the law practice… those who he may have perceived as more brilliant or, yes, those who also served in World War II.
The evolution of my thinking, politically, seeped into my consciousness over time, circling me almost indescernibly as predator circles prey, hanging quietly in the air. It long predated the moment when I actually began seeing myself in all others.
People fly into our experience to dance on our souls. Some flit away leaving an imprint that lives in us for the rest of our lives. If we are very, very lucky, one or two may take up permanent residence. Who are those teachers in your life? How have they transformed the thinking of who you are in the world? Can you be honest with yourself about how you might see your role in the world differently if you mustered the courage to emulate that person whose qualities you so admire? Can you summon the courage to give that elevated role VOICE?
If can I see even a bit of my life experience in others, how can I not act on their behalf while I’m acting on my own? Can I not understand that the simple comforts and opportunity of my life experience are that which others seek? When I remember that it was my birthright, I ask why others shouldn’t have it.
So, the moderate political persona of George H. W. Bush may seem appealing in today’s world of separation and confrontation. Yet, it was really nothing more complicated (or nefarious) than one person seeing his or her values in another. For me, it has nothing to do with the physical attributes of that person or his/her personal history. Feel into that relationship, and you’ll recognize it’s universal.
Courage, please. How, you ask? Step way outside yourself to vocally support someone who is already exercising the courage to speak for others. It’s really a small step but, what you’ll realize in doing so is that it is very, very easy. And you join the big human picture in doing it. How would I do that, personally? I’d take a week’s vacation to canvass for a candidate who speaks for us all, not just for me as a privileged white female.
Are you being led ideologically? Is that really who you are and what you’ll show up for in the world? How many others can your voice speak for?