Slowly but surely, inexorably, every step this country takes pushes us farther into a corner. It didn’t start with 9/11, but it certainly accelerated our descent into fear, and we are now reaping what we have sown. A populace who succumbs to the shouted words of its leaders to “protect yourselves,” “be alert,” “report suspicious activity,” and complies, putting police officers in schools, adding security protocols layer by layer, selling military-grade weapons to local police departments – this populace has come to this: snipers on rooftops shooting at peaceful demonstrations, punching each other at political rallies, spending millions of dollars attempting to block individuals from using public restrooms.

How can we be surprised? When we have all listened to the rhetoric that warns us about the Other?
How can we feign shock when we have been conditioned to look for what separates us and be on guard?
When our politicians increasingly skip over the step of diplomacy and build coalitions to “bomb the shit out of [insert country/terrorist group here],” can we not see how much of our collective American psyche is built on fear?

The thing about fear is that it is necessarily reactive. We like to think it is proactive, that we are simply PROTECTING OURSELVES, but the act of protection means that there is something we are afraid of. And in protecting ourselves, we build walls, we isolate ourselves and retreat into tight spaces where often the only recourse is to fight our way out. We have bought into the idea that in order to be safe, we must be feared ourselves, and so we arm ourselves with weapons and hateful words to be used against others.

And this fear takes on a life of its own – it prompts someone to report a suspicious character simply because of the way he or she is dressed or to be kicked off of an airplane for being middle eastern and doing math.

It takes us to the point where we are so fearful of sharing a public restroom with someone who doesn’t look like us, act like us, think like us, that we try to enact laws to keep transgendered people from peeing in the stall next to us.

Every time an unarmed person of color is shot by a police officer, we live the result of that fear.
Every time a non-binary-gender-conforming person is killed or beaten, we live the result of that fear.
Every time we choose violence over dialogue and assume that the only way to protect ourselves is by shooting first, we reinforce that fear and paint ourselves farther into that corner.

The United States has become a country whose primary focus is on protecting itself, whose primary motivation – by default – is fear. It will only get worse from here unless we make a conscious effort to elect officials who come from a place of community, openness, shared humanity. The only thing we will get from fear is more fear.

This is a response to Elizabeth’s comment on the previous post about sex as a commodity, and I will preface it by saying I wish I had a definitive answer. She asked how I would educate my sons about sex and rape culture if I had sons, and I think it is a particularly salient question. I thought about it in the context of my brothers and my dad, but my teenage years were a different time. Not that there wasn’t a hearty dose of misogyny and male entitlement, but it wasn’t talked about at all, and rarely was it ever challenged.

After puzzling on it for a bit, I went to a source I trust: Lola. As a 13-year old girl who is proficient in social media, steeped in girls’ empowerment, and has a strong, vocal opinion on social justice, I was interested in her ideas about how to talk to teenage boys about rape culture.  She started out by encouraging parents to watch this YouTube video about consent with their kids. All of them, boys and girls, starting at a pretty young age. It’s a pretty powerful analogy and points out just how absurd our ideas about sexual consent are.

I love this video because it doesn’t avoid the idea that a person’s consent status can change at any point. Yes, it is possible for someone to say “yes” and then change their mind, two or five or twenty-five minutes later. And no matter when it happens, it’s valid. I’ve talked to my kids about the concept of the Least Common Denominator (don’t let your eyes glaze over – this has nothing to do with math). That means that the person who is the least comfortable gets to make the rules. The lowest threshold for sexual intimacy is the trump card. So if I really want to have full sexual intercourse but my partner just really wants to make out on the couch, we stop there. Period.

The second point Lola said was important to share with teenage boys is that, even though they may not have personally done anything to make a girl feel uncomfortable, rape culture means that in many situations, we just are.  Even I, in my mid-40s and fairly fit, am always nervous when I get into an elevator with just one other person who is male. Always. That is rape culture. Rape culture is me not feeling comfortable getting into an Uber or a Lyft by myself with a male driver. Chances are, he is a nice guy who will pick me up and take me to the destination I requested without any detours, but rape culture means that I am acutely aware at all times that I lack power – and therefore physical autonomy – until I get out of the car.  And rape culture also means that I often suffer through comments on my physical appearance and speculation about what I might be going out to do (often with lewd body language) and don’t speak up because it might anger the driver and then I’m screwed. Lola said she would want boys to know that these kind of experiences happen daily to girls and women, even if they themselves aren’t perpetuating it. She wondered if they might be willing to imagine what it would be like to be constantly on guard, wondering if the next guy who spoke to you would try to do more than speak.

We ended up having a conversation about street harassment and she cracked me up when she said, “They should know that girls and women don’t get dressed in the morning so that they can go out and get comments on their appearance from total strangers. Ever. That’s not a thing.” Even if guys think it’s totally innocent or a compliment to tell someone how they look, it ultimately makes women and girls feel unsafe simply walking down the street.  This video is a powerful one because it is a small sampling of what many women experience on a daily basis as they go about their business. And the irony is, no matter how she was dressed, if she had been accompanied by a man her age or older, none of that would have happened.  Nobody would have commented on her appearance – some out of fear of the other man, and some out of respect for him. But none of them out of respect for her. And that is rape culture.

The fact is, as I wrote in my last post, in our culture sex is often about power, and those who are born with more power are the ones who often make the rules about sex. Frankly, the most impactful thing I’ve been able to do when I’m having a conversation about sex with my girls is to listen. I like to think that I’m fairly plugged in to pop culture, but I know that there is a lot that goes on that I don’t see. And I’ve discovered that if I listen without judgment, my kids actually first love to shock me with the tales of goings-on in their world, and then feel like they can dig a little deeper and think about how all of it makes them feel.  I have also discovered that talking about sex and sexuality in lots of different ways – commenting when we’re watching a TV show together or when I hear a story on NPR with them in the car, showing them a video like the ones in this post and watching for their reactions, or slipping this letter under someone’s bedroom door – gives us opportunities to continually explore and challenge the ideas we have about sex.

Elizabeth is right. Talking to our kids about sex is incredibly hard. Sometimes they get annoyed and don’t want to talk (or listen). Sometimes I’m not the best at explaining something or helping them understand where I’m coming from. Sometimes I’m not good at listening without judgment. But the most important thing I ever did for my girls was to let them know that I’m willing to keep trying. That they can come talk to me about hard things whenever they want to and that I will bring tough subjects up from time to time and ask them to indulge me. Because if we as parents don’t work to counter the basic themes about sex that our kids get from school and the mass media, nobody will.

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
The New England Prep School rape case
Peggy Orenstein’s latest book, Girls & Sex
Sex trafficking rates skyrocketing
The advertising phrase (and perhaps its most bedrock belief) “sex sells”

I could go on, but I think you’ll get the point. I’ve written here many times about rape culture and Sex Ed and I have very, very strong opinions, both as a sex assault survivor and as the mother of two daughters. But more than that, I am concerned for the way our entire culture treats the topic of sex because I think that from a very young age we are taught that sex is, first and foremost, a commodity, and secondly (sadly, a distant second for many, many people), an act of affection and/or love between individuals.

Long before most parents even consider broaching the subject of sex and sexuality with their children, they are bombarded by slick magazine ads, television shows, movies, and books that depict sex as a commodity, as something that we all ought to want and that we can buy our way into. There are many young people who are taught by older children or adults that their sexuality is something that can “buy” affection or special favors. Parents who prostitute their children are not only profiting financially, but they are teaching their children that sex has power and if you want money – or if you have it – you need only sell yourself. Many teenagers, both girls and boys, have a deep understanding of sexual favors – there are those who purchase social capital by giving blow jobs or hand jobs to others and those already in power who cement their status by receiving those favors.

Even if these kids do get “Sex Ed” in school, it is largely mechanical in scope, outlining anatomical features and talking about how pregnancy happens and how to avoid STDs. By the time they are adults, very few of them have an understanding of sex as something that is theirs to define – that they have every right to engage in it with an expectation of pleasure as opposed to some “reward.” Our American notion of “sex” is a very transactional one that is often one-sided. By the time we have the courage to really talk to our kids about sex (if we ever do), there is so much damage to undo that it feels overwhelming. And for children who learn early on, through abuse or sex trafficking, that sex is a tool, it is possible that their fundamental understanding of this act that is supposed to make their lives more whole has been forever damaged. How do you undo the notion that the person with more (power, control, money, status) has the right to obtain sex from the one with less when that is what you are shown in so many different ways over and over, nearly from the time you were born?

When girls are raised with the idea that their power lies in their ability to grant or withhold sex (the most egregious example of this I’ve heard of recently was Spike Lee’s latest movie Chi-Raq), it is damaging to their ability to see sex as something that is more intrinsically rewarding. When they are surrounded by images of women who are sexually provocative and who are praised for it (Kim Kardashian’s nude Instagram photos, anyone?), they are taught that sex is a tool, and that it ought to only look one way or it isn’t right.

When boys are raised with the notion that the more sex they have, the more masculine they are, it is equally damaging. Because, in our culture, they are born with more power at the outset, when they are presented with the idea that sex is a commodity, it isn’t much of a mental leap to imagine taking sex when they want it, simply because they can. When we set sex up to be about power, we can expect rape to follow along shortly. When business lunches are conducted in strip clubs and sex trafficking rates rise sharply during the Super Bowl, you can be sure that we have embraced sex as a commodity.

The question is, are we willing to live with the consequences of that or can we start talking to our young people about what else sex might be, instead?

I’m having a hard time remembering to focus on the positive. I spend way too much time following this ridiculous presidential race and it is taking a toll on my attitude. I am like a moth to a flame, flitting around looking for warmth and illumination and banging into the bulb a few times before I remember it’s not real. A day or so later, I do it all over again.

I watched the Democratic debate last Sunday and talked back to the TV screen. The girls rolled their eyes at me and admonished, “they can’t hear you.” I know, but somehow it makes me feel better to counter one candidate’s point with my own response, especially when they don’t call each other on their bullshit.

I am a firm Sanders supporter for a whole host of reasons, and I think he did well in Sunday’s debate, but I have to caution myself that there is no one candidate with whom I will agree on everything. I fell in to that trap with Obama and found myself very disappointed from time to time. I don’t know why I found it so surprising when he made a decision that ran so counter to my beliefs – cabinet appointments and trade agreements and energy policy. I have lived in this world long enough to know that I won’t agree with anyone about everything.

I am so overwhelmed with the negative, though. The news (repeated news) from the Drumpf rallies of physical violence against protestors, both by Secret Service agents and random attendees, is so disheartening. The angry, hateful language that is inspired by all of the GOP candidates and reported with glee by media outlets is a tsunami that washes over my head every day. I heard a teacher say on the radio the other day how hard it is to talk to students about compassion and empathy for each other when the biggest bullies they see are famous for being bullies. These men who are loud and brash and don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves, who are rich and powerful and disregard the rights or feelings of anyone else, whose names show up on TV and the internet all day long every day, they are the antithesis of empathy and compassion. I am used to seeing it in comments online, the trolling, the gas lighting, but to have it showcased from a stage with lights and flags and people clapping is disconcerting to say the least.

At this point, November seems like a very, very long way away. And as I listened to an interview with the head of MSNBC yesterday, defending their decision to fire Melissa Harris-Perry and substitute election coverage for her show’s time slot, I shuddered with a premonition that I hate to even give voice to: that news outlets will get so addicted to ratings that come from covering hateful, yelling politicians that even after the election they will continue to spotlight the negative. Say it isn’t so. It feels as though it has been heading that way for a long time, even before the election really heated up, and I wonder what it might take to interrupt the cycle. I can only hope that MHP finds another forum for her show, one that is committed to entertaining diverse, productive discussions and interesting discourse rather than reality-show-themed shouting and rhetoric.

I am heartened by the voices of those who talk of peace and democracy, and I suppose that is why I am such a fan of Bernie. While he could be seen to be the personification of patriarchy – white, male, older than 50 – his words and actions belie that description. He is, to my mind, more concerned with listening than with speaking. He is not convinced that he has all of the solutions, and his record shows a careful consideration of details and implications, and a distinct lack of interest in intervening heavily in the affairs of other countries to disrupt or “solve” issues that are particular to them. I am reminded that there may be issues about which we disagree, but I think that it is his approach, his entire ethic that excites me and not necessarily the nitty-gritty details.  I am holding out hope that his message will continue to make it through the noise and that those who are willing to pay attention will end up being the ones who make the difference in the end. And, I have come to the conclusion that I have to spend a lot less time listening to the chaos of the mass media if I am to stay optimistic.

I love yoga. Not only for the sweating, quiet
determination, sore muscles and peace I gain from it, but because it is where I
hear that strong, inner voice most clearly. Without fail, as soon as I let my
guard down and begin my physical practice, words come to my head. Simple words
that don’t necessarily strike me as being important at the time, but they
resonate for days afterward. Last week’s epiphany was no exception. It didn’t
knock me over with a shout inside my head or jolt me into instant clarity. It
fell like a raindrop in a deep pool. It was quiet, melted into my brain without
a trace, and rippled. And rippled. And rippled.
What would this look like if it didn’t come from
a place of fear?
Throughout the week I continued to examine that
thought. Throughout the week I found myself amazed at how often my reactions
originate in fear and how fear is responsible for outlining the space in which
I act. When I recognize the source for what it is and consciously move from
fear to acceptance or love, everything changes. I can feel a shift in my body
as I relax into groundedness and space. My mind becomes open and possibilities
expand forward. The walls around begin to dissolve.
When I operate from a place of fear, my options
are restricted and I begin to make connections that aren’t necessarily related.
If this happens, next comes this and then it swells into that and…Oh, No!
Spiraling anxiety as the fear feeds on the tightly coiled energy inside my body
and brain and I’m locked inside with it.
When my responses originate from love or
acceptance or groundedness there are no boundaries. In fact, once I make that
subtle course change, I no longer feel the need to drive any agenda. Whereas
with fear, I’m compelled to either stick to the course my anxiety has laid out
or fight to alter it in some way, when I let go of fear, I am more likely to
sit back and see where things go next. I don’t need to act within any
particular moment to make something happen or prevent it from happening. I am
able to temper my responses and, very often, the next step reveals itself or
negates any action on my part at all.
In the last several days I have been able to
watch myself and come to realize just how often angry or frustrated or anxious
feelings arise from my fears. When Eve and Lola begin bickering, it is my fear
that leads me to snap at them to “knock it off!” When I send out yet
another email to a prospective agent or publisher, it is fear that drives me to
downplay my own writing abilities or the importance of this book project to me.
When I get annoyed at being interrupted while I’m mentally planning my day, it
is because I am afraid that I’ll lose the thread of thought and somehow
“fail” to do all of the things I’ve convinced myself I ought to do in
order to be the best mother/writer/wife/friend.

When I sit back and ask myself the question,
“What would this look like if it weren’t coming from a place of
fear?” I am astonished at the possibilities. What if I trust my own
abilities as a mother/writer/wife/friend and simply act out of love and the
understanding that I have enough. I am good enough. There is an abundance of
love/compassion/intelligence/patience/money/whatever I need. When I source my
feelings and thoughts and actions from that well, life looks pretty damned
amazing.

*This essay is one of several that originally appeared in BuddhaChick Life Magazine. As the magazine is no longer available, I have reposted it here so that readers can find it. 
“What do you do?” 
Such a standard question, whether we meet someone on an airplane or find
ourselves at a child’s Back-to-School Night or at a dinner party for our
partner.  Such a simple question
and so loaded. 
“I’m a writer and a mother of two.” That is my standard
answer, but it feels so inadequate. 
I am a product of my upbringing, a survivor of sexual abuse, a child of
divorce.  For years I looked
forward to becoming an adult so that I could free myself from my parents and
become less defined by them and their hold on me.  I looked forward to exploring the world and looking at
things in a new light and making decisions that would shape my future.  I wanted to fully blossom into the
person I was meant to be.
What I neglected to realize was that all of the ingrained
identity stories would come with me, packed snugly in whatever vessel I chose
to carry as I made my way in the world. 
Any decision I made hearkened back to the lessons I had learned, the
overarching messages I had heard over and over again, and the things I told
myself in an effort to make sense of the way my life was as a child.  No matter how “free” I thought I was,
making decisions I knew my parents would disapprove of or choosing things because
they were so vastly different from the choices they would have made, the fact
is that I was still shaped by my experiences with them.
Never did this realization hit me harder than the day I
found out I was going to have a baby. 
I was going to be a mother. And I vowed to make good, healthy choices. I
vowed to make decisions with more self-awareness than my parents had.  I vowed to be different.  And still, those notions of who I was
and wanted to be stemmed from the stories I told myself about where I came
from.
Several years ago, I bumped up against these stories in a
hard way.  For most of my life,
they had been the levees on either side of my life path. Always present,
bounding my idea of who I was and leading me in a certain direction.  I moved forward, unquestioning,
frustrated by the limitations, but never truly understanding that these
boundaries were of my own making.
Today, as I meditated, a voice came to me that reminded me
of my own evolution. And I began to count the years that I have been things
other than what I grew up with. 
Eighteen years married to a loving, supportive man. Twelve years as the
mother of an energetic, open-hearted daughter.  Thirty years a writer. 
Three years a yoga practitioner. 
And for most of this time, I have been padding the scales on the other
side.  Thirty-two years a survivor
of sexual abuse. Thirty years a child of divorce.  Yes.  But those
things are no more indicative of who I am than the things toward which I am moving
and striving.  And their hold is
beginning to expire. The statute of limitations is running out.
I have heard that for every traumatic or negative thing that
happens to us as humans, it takes five positive experiences to counteract it.
Evolutionarily, that was important so that we would remember the harmful,
frightening things and not repeat them or put ourselves in danger.  When I think about it that way, I
realize that I have had so many more positive moments in my life that I chose
to live out within the boundaries of the “Who I Am” levee than it took to
actually construct those walls in the first place.  I am allowed to evolve. I am allowed to grow and add to the
list of “who I am.” I am allowed to strive for more and let those unhappy
definitions fall to the bottom where they belong.  There is no forgetting or negating the impact they had on
the person I am becoming, but there is also no reason to let them limit who I
can become.  Or who I am
today. 

Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I
might be.”  In giving myself
permission to expand the definition of who I am, I can begin to move past the
things that I have limited myself to for so many years.  When the levee walls fall away, the
possibilities are endless.
*This is one of several essays that appeared in the magazine BuddhaChick Life. As the magazine is no longer available, I’ve posted these here for readers to find.

I just don’t understand the appeal of having a gun. I didn’t really grow up with them, although my mom’s first boyfriend after she divorced my dad and her second husband both loved them. They each took us kids out shooting in the rural areas of Oregon, aiming at tin cans on a log. I don’t remember much about it, to be honest, whether I was afraid of the kick of the pistol or if the sound bothered my ears. I have no idea whether I got a rush seeing the can jump off of the log when it was hit or even if I ever hit one. I don’t recall any conversations about where the guns were kept or if they were locked. I do remember my stepdad’s sunny office at the back of our house sporting a box of bullets in the windowsill, but I don’t recall being afraid of them, even though I was sometimes afraid of him.

We didn’t grow up hunting. Dad never really talked about it, but I know he had a gun for a while. I don’t think I ever saw it or touched it or even thought about it. Nobody in my family ever talked about needing one for protection, even when it was just us kids and Mom living alone.

So maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I don’t have some piece of the puzzle that I would need in order to really feel strongly about “my 2nd Amendment right.” But, frankly, I am more than willing to forego it altogether as long as the shooting stops. As long as I never have to see another story about a toddler accidentally shooting himself or his mother. As long as I don’t have to hear about teenagers playing Russian Roulette on a dare and someone ends up dead. As long as I don’t have to hear that there is another guy loose in some town somewhere shooting people for no apparent reason. I’ll give it up. And I’ll ask you to give yours up, too.

Because here’s what I see. In our current circumstances in this country, when there are more people living in poverty than there maybe ever have been, when there is extreme racial and gender inequality, against a backdrop of loud ranting on social media and radio and television shows from people who freely persecute and alienate other people, we can’t afford the 2nd Amendment. We can’t keep our guns if we aren’t willing to treat each other like human beings.  It’s too expensive. The cost is too high.

I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I have a strong belief that simply owning a gun lowers the threshold for violence. That, all things considered, if you have two people with similar personalities and tendencies, one with a gun and one without, and they each get into a fight with someone – the kind of fight that really pushes your buttons, makes you see red – the person with the gun will be more likely to escalate to violence than the person without one. I believe that someone who owns a gun is more likely to use it to settle a score, to make their feelings known, to end the battle once and for all, than the person who doesn’t have a gun handy is to throw a punch, use a knife, or find some other weapon. I believe that there is something impersonal about using a gun that allows us to feel detached from the act of violence in a significant way, such that we don’t have to consider what it might mean for us. If we have to stop and think about getting into a fistfight with someone we are arguing with, we have to wonder how badly we’ll get hurt in the scuffle. But if we have a gun and the other person doesn’t, it’s an easier decision. The effort it takes to pull a trigger just isn’t the same as the effort it takes to physically assault someone.

And before you point out that I just made an excellent case for everyone to own a gun, just stop. Because the above scenario is only for arguments and road rage and innocent victims killed by an enraged Uber driver in Kalamazoo.

The idea that we would all be safer if we all owned guns is belied by the statistics on accidental shootings. According to the Washington Post, in 2015, an average of one person per week was shot in the US by a toddler using an unsecured weapon. In the first six weeks of 2016, nearly 350 people have been shot in accidental shootings. That is more than five people per day, shot accidentally. Nobody can protect themselves from an accidental shooting by using a gun. I don’t care how much of a ninja you are.

And, for the record, I also reject the argument that what we have here is a mental illness issue. To be honest with you (and, again, I am no expert, I’m not a certified mental health professional, so this is ‘just’ my deeply held conviction), I don’t think that ANYONE who sets out to shoot a bunch of random people in a school or movie theater or from an overpass is someone I would call NOT mentally ill. I think that in order to want to inflict serious bodily harm on a group of people you don’t even know, by definition, means that you have a mental illness. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to know that until after it’s too late and people are dead.

We could piecemeal this situation with background checks and laws against certain people owning guns – violent criminals, those with a restraining order, people undergoing treatment for mental illnesses – but we won’t cover the people who just snap. The people like Robert Dear and Jason Dalton who were “quiet neighbors” and “loners” without any real red flags going up will continue to elude us. We also won’t capture the accidental shootings that happen at the rate of 5 A DAY in this country. And so we need to ask ourselves whether the need to protect the rights of regular citizens to shoot at cans and deer and ducks a few times a month is worth it. We need to weigh gun enthusiasts’ right to recreation against the rights of the rest of us to not get shot randomly. There is no other item of leisure that compares in its lethality to that of a gun, and I, for one, am willing to forego my right to bear arms so that other members of society can live without fear of harm or death at the hands of someone who was, up until now, a “responsible gun owner,” but they snapped, or they forgot to lock up the gun, or they got pissed off because the other driver didn’t signal that lane change.

As a nation, I would hope that we have progressed past the point of needing to arm ourselves against our own government. I think that we have come far enough and developed tools enough to band together and make our will known without worrying about soldiers coming to our door to force us to do something we don’t want to do. Besides, if our government was truly determined to quiet us, they have weapons much worse than guns and your personal stash of firearms won’t do much to stop them if the drones come.

Twice this week I’ve heard stories of hateful verbal attacks in public. I am quite certain that there have been dozens and dozens and that these are only two that I have encountered in the news, but it  makes me think about how we ever came to the place where we believed in our inalienable right to share every trivial opinion loudly and vehemently.

The first incident was a woman (I confess, I can’t recall whether she is Muslim or not) traveling on a bus who endured much hollering from a white man, telling her to “go back home” and “get out of our country.” Of course, as it turns out, she was born in the US but, apparently because she is half-Iranian, this man assumed she was both a foreigner and a terrorist, and none of the other passengers on the bus intervened on her behalf. It was only when she could take no more and decided to yell back at him and defend herself that the bus driver finally kicked him off the bus. The second involved a woman in Southern California who was driving her two small children somewhere during the day as she wore a hijab. A man in a large truck sped up next to her car, flipped her off and began spewing curse words at her, intimidating her by swerving his truck next to her car and honking before he finally turned a corner and drove away. She made it clear that the things he was hollering were in regards to her hijab and not her driving skills.

As I think about these stories and consider the number of times I’ve been spoken to in a rude or hateful way by a total stranger, I am left wondering who ever told us that it was okay to talk to other people like that? I am a supporter of free speech, but to me, free means that we are open to expressing our ideas and beliefs in a way that encourages discourse, understanding, and education. Free doesn’t mean unfiltered, unnecessary blathering. I frankly don’t care if you, man-on-the-sidewalk, like my outfit today, or the way my ass moves in my skirt. It isn’t important to me whether you think someone’s Spandex shorts are “gross!” or that guy’s purple mohawk is “faggy.” I’m pretty sure nobody else cares, either. Even if you’re going for a laugh, it isn’t funny. It’s just obnoxious.

What makes us think that our opinions are so important that everyone needs to hear them all the time? Even if you are a person who is nervous around those who practice the Muslim faith, I don’t think it’s important to share that on a bus, especially not in a way that feels threatening to others. I even feel like it is your prerogative to share your off-the-cuff thoughts (and true beliefs) in your social media feed – fine, go ahead. But directing your snotty or disparaging opinions or, worse, propositions or hate speech, at one particular person or group of people does nothing but make you a bully and a narcissist. Maybe you like Donald Trump enough to emulate him in public, but it is really unnecessary. The world doesn’t need more of that.

Perhaps two simple guidelines can help here.

  1. You don’t need to say every single thing you think. Honestly. If it isn’t going to make the world a better place, if you haven’t been asked for your opinion, if it isn’t kind or supportive, maybe it ought to just stay inside. 
  2. Your thoughts are not facts. I know, sometimes that’s hard to wrap your head around, but just because you think something doesn’t make it right. There are many, many things we can’t know about other people’s lives and circumstances, and if you’re at all unsure of whether or not you know for certain that there even IS a “right” and “wrong” in this particular case, maybe it ought to just stay inside. 

There is a saying that has been rattling around in
my head for the past several days – ever since the terrorist attacks in Lebanon
and France last week, to be honest. You can put a frog into boiling water and
he will jump out. But you can put a frog into tepid water and raise the
temperature slowly and it will stay in there and allow itself to be boiled to
death. 
I believe that this is what is happening in the
world right now. The acts of terror that have been recently committed are ones
that are reminiscent of a pot of boiling water, to be certain. But the rhetoric
of Republicans in the House of Congress and GOP governors and GOP presidential
candidates who want to deny refugees and propose tracking programs or selection
based on religion are a sign that the water is being heated to boiling around
us and it’s time we noticed and got the hell out of this pot. 
Donald Trump and Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and John Kasich (and their cohorts
Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) have been saturating the news with
their ever-increasing intolerance of anyone who doesn’t look like them,
think like them, talk like them. But if you look back at the things these
individuals have said and done in the past, there is a recognizable trajectory
of hatred and isolation. The problem is that because it has been ratcheted up
over time, each individual statement doesn’t seem that much worse than the one before. But we are about to boil over.
Consciously or not, it is this phenomenon that leads many sexual
predators to groom their victims. Many young children become convinced over
time that someone in their life is safe because they don’t act in sudden,
shocking ways toward them. Small incidents might seem a little odd, but often there
is no real alarming behavior to point to – it is like climbing a staircase.
Suddenly you’re at the top, and the perspective from up there is very
different, but if you weren’t paying attention to how you got there, it is
difficult to determine where you might have interrupted your path. Victims of
sexual and physical abuse are often questioned as to why they didn’t say
something or fight back or simply leave, but often the progression of events
was subtle and continuous and it is confusing to think about when or why you might
have noticed that something was wrong.
I believe that a great many people with good intentions end up following
politicians like Trump and Carson because they simply didn’t understand how hot
the water was getting. It is only when you’re on the outside looking in that
you can see how shocking it has become. Many of the statements that have gone
months before – from Carson saying that a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the
United States to Trump demonizing immigrants – led up to a climate of “otherness”
and intolerance that meant that Trump could stand up in public with his hands
spread wide in a gesture of “isn’t it obvious?” and say that every Muslim
person allowed into this country ought to be registered and monitored closely.
He seemed shocked that anyone would disagree that this “management” idea was a
breakthrough. Except that it was pretty much what Hitler did to Jewish citizens
just before World War II.

It’s getting hot in here, folks, and if those of us who have voices don’t
raise them up to point out what is going on and work to turn down the heat, we’re
all in a fine kettle. We might think of all of this as the consequence of
living in a country where we have freedom of speech, but when our elected
officials and presidential candidates are actively talking about how they would
plan to persecute people based on their religious background, it’s time to shut
this shit down.

The gifts just keep coming. I have read every book by Brene Brown at least once and I’ve compiled pages and pages of handwritten notes, written down quotes, and had some of the most fascinating conversations thanks to her work. Her TED talks inspire me endlessly and often, when I go back and re-read parts of her books, I discover things I hadn’t noticed before.  She is definitely on the short list of women whose work impact my life every day, who have changed how I parent and learn and make my way through the world. (It’s a pretty awesome list, including the likes of Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou).

My most recent revelation thanks to her latest book, Rising Strong, comes as a result of digging a little deeper into the layers of my life. In one part of the book she writes about people who identify themselves as ‘helpers,’ and notes that the trap of using that label to build yourself up is that it becomes hard to be the one who asks for help. I underlined that passage and made notes on a separate piece of paper because that message resonated so deeply with me. For most of my life, I found control and self-worth because I was able to help other people, lift them up and provide emotional and logistical support. Well, to be honest, I didn’t often provide emotional support until I was a lot older. “Fixing” things was a great way for me to feel as though I was being useful and helpful and it kept me from having to feel the pain of others, to truly empathize.

I was in my thirties before I learned about the concept of holding space for others. It took a lot of practice and a willingness to sit with discomfort for me to not immediately leap to problem-solving and balm-offering when I saw loved ones suffering. I am still practicing acknowledging and sitting with a stranger’s pain without rising to the challenge of making things better in some physical, tangible way. Dr. Brown is absolutely right when she says that tying my own self-worth to the fact that I’m a helper means that if I need help, my self-worth takes a big hit.

I will admit, however, to some amount of patting myself on the back when I absorbed that portion of the book. About ten years ago I slammed up against a wall of depression that stopped me in my tracks and if I was going to be able to move forward, literally continue to exist on the face of the planet, I had to start asking for help. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy, but I was lucky to have some pretty tremendous people in my life who were willing to support me. I swallowed my pride shame (I think they might be the same thing, or at least two sides of the same coin) and accepted childcare, meals, help around the house. I learned to get better at saying no to helping others in every single situation where I was asked to help and, over time, I began to warm to the idea that I was not an island. So when I read her words about letting yourself be vulnerable enough to ask for help and accept it, I nodded my head and congratulated myself on having learned to do that.

I should have known better. (Remember the pride/shame thing?)

The universe has a way of smacking me upside the head when I’m feeling a little too smug.

Literally one day after I scratched my notes on yellow lined paper, I was tested. I was feeling good, preparing to get away with Bubba for a long weekend of fun, and I got a phone call that rocked me, that threw me right back into the space I had spent so many years cultivating. I was needed. My problem-solving skills, my particular calm-in-a-crisis, my physical presence was requested, nee, necessary. I spent several hours on the phone working out logistics, asking other people for help and trying to design an airtight plan so that I could keep my plans with Bubba. And while this is my space, my forte, my wheelhouse, I couldn’t help but lose it once everything was in place and things were going to be okay.

What is this about? I wondered. I had averted disaster, well, helped to avert it. Well, asked for help to avert it. Wasn’t this what I was feeling good about yesterday? My ability to ask for help so that I don’t shoulder the burden alone? That’s the goal, right? I had done it. Why was I feeling so awful?

Most of my personal revelations come about when I walk the dog. This one was no exception. It hit me so hard I’m surprised I didn’t fall over. I am pretty sure I made some sort of whimpering noise when it hit me, but I did manage to stay on my feet and I don’t think the dog even noticed.

I have gotten good at asking for logistical help. That much is true.
What I haven’t yet learned how to do is to ask for or accept help holding my pain. I have no idea how to open up and let my pain out into the world so that I don’t have to keep it all myself. I am good at writing about it (distance, anyone?) and sharing my story, but if I am in the room with someone and I am really hurting, I don’t know how to accept empathy without feeling shame.

More work to do.