Hurricane Season

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Happy Hurricane Season.

We are still reeling from Harvey, remembering the anniversary of Katrina, and looking over our shoulder at Irma.

Hurricane season. The time of year when many of us get to gamble about whether to stay or whether to leave, whether to be foolish or brave. Time to face that, no matter how much we hate our neighbor, it just may be his generosity that pulls us out of the flood.

I’ve been doing a lot of hating on my neighbors lately.

Not necessarily my literal neighbors – although the 3 am revelers get special curses – but my metaphorical neighbors who proudly and defiantly still support the other guy.

I have even more special curses for them and for their stupidity. Why they would vote for someone who bragged about grabbing pussies, who clearly and demonstrably lied every time he opened his mouth, is beyond me. No time to talk to people that stupid.

I don’t suffer fools well.

When I was in public relations, I had a client – let’s just say they were concerned with mental health – that never wanted to use language that they called “blaming and shaming.”

I got where they were coming from – those who had mental health issues had enough to deal with without stigmatizing language. So, I carefully wrote language that talked about “people with mental health challenges” as opposed to “schizophrenics.” It is the kind of language that has come up with the tongue-twisting “differently-abled” instead of “disabled” or “handicapped.”

And, while I wrote this stuff – they were the client, they paid the bills – I secretly sneered. In real life, I’m all about the blame and shame.

Call a spade a spade. Idiots are idiots, and life’s too short.

But here’s what I see on Facebook:

–people on BOTH sides spreading fake news

–people on BOTH sides getting angry about things that don’t matter (okay, admittedly bad optics, but does it really matter that Melania wore heels to Harvey? Really?)

–people on BOTH sides slinging insults (Libtard, Trumptard, etc.) and just not listening.

And, I get it. Yes, call a spade a spade. A racist is a racist is a racist. It shouldn’t matter why.

Except, it does. Because just shaming and blaming does nothing to change things. It’s not like a racist is going to see my scorn, slap his head in dismay, and realize that he has been mistaken his whole life.

And, I realize that I have the white privilege to just scorn something that doesn’t affect me personally.

Still…

That client liked to change my language from using, “but” to using “and.”

“Different things can co-exist,” she used to say.

People can vote their self-interest AND still sacrifice to save others during a hurricane. People can have a fundamentally different mind-set AND still be lovable.

So, it’s hurricane season.

Maybe it’s time to wash away all the shit we’ve been wading in since November. To pull our neighbors out of the flood of invective. To hold out a hand and say, “Hi, I’m differently politically-abled than you are. Want a seat in my boat?”

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Opinions vs Experts

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There is an arrogance that has seized us. It insists that we “know” better than anyone else, based on the lies we tell ourselves.

I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was when, in certain parts of the country, education was mocked because it didn’t lead to as much money as selling drugs, or playing sports, or being famous for simply being.

It continued on a wave of holding our hands over our ears and humming when someone with a medical degree mentioned vaccines, or when a scientist mentioned global warming.

It has led us here.

Here is where Donald Trump appoints party planners and big donors to head agencies, awards patronage jobs at the Department of Energy to people who didn’t know that nuclear energy was part of their portfolio, and laymen to job of chief scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency. Patronage jobs are nothing new, especially in government, but this administration has raised to an art the act of placing people in jobs they are not only unsuitable for, but in agencies they have an active opposition to.

Here is where Congress has let itself get so caught up in election cycles that it has forgotten how to legislate – an act that requires compromise and doing things that weaken poll numbers in order to move us toward good, even if the steps are incremental.

And here is where the media finds itself without the armor of credibility after years of chasing ad revenue and ratings and offering the entertaining rather than the enlightening. The media has promoted the pretty rather than the competent, and offered cheap, unscripted entertainment, because it fills the public belly like cheap, un-nutritious popcorn. And, while it has debased its entertainment, it has hamstrung its news side.

No one trusts the experts.

I understand this trend.

I come from a family that trusted instinct over education, always.

And there is some merit to the suspicion.

Besides the media and politicians, scientists have been influenced by chasing the next funding grant and polls have been purchased that cynically reflect the best interests of the person paying for the poll. And, as for the medical field, Big Pharma has cast a large shadow over the purity of medical advice.

But, there is a reason I don’t want my friends doing my brain surgery or flying my plane – unless, of course, they happen to be award-winning brain surgeons or stellar pilots.

In my family, doctors’ instructions were to be followed unless they were not. My dad, who had low blood pressure his whole life, was on blood pressure medication for a suspicious fluctuation in his pressure. According to his wife, he stopped taking it when his pressure leveled off, despite his doctor’s instructions.

My dad’s no longer with us.

Did his refusal to believe the experts kill him?

The medical experts who examined my dad weren’t sure. So, I have my opinion, but it doesn’t mean it’s true.

Because sometimes, what you “feel” is true doesn’t trump education.

Opinions vs facts

Leave the Gun AND the Cannoli – Grab a Book

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We are all so very angry today.

If you’re not for us, you’re a-gin’ us.

We are all so righteous and we are angry that the “other” cannot concede our obviously correct point of view that we spew vitriol on social media and to our friends.

Stupid President (either the current or the past, depending on where you stand). Stupid Congress. Stupid Bigot, Stupid Racist, Stupid Sexist, and Stupid Snowflake Liberal.

The truth is, we are as unable to see others’ truth, as they are to see ours.

This kind of anger and frustration leads some to pick up a pen, others to pick up a gun.

The solution might be to read a good book.

A 2006 study cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article says that psychologists in Toronto found a connection between reading fiction and being more sensitive to others.

For people who read fiction (and it seems that it had to be fiction) that transported them – the kind of transport that jolts you when the book ends and you find yourself back in your room – there was an increased ability to see the world through others’ eyes.

Another study three years later reproduced the study but stripped away variables like age, gender, stress or loneliness, and English fluency. They found that fiction readers had higher levels of empathy (and, interestingly, better social networks in real life).

A later study in 2013 refined the findings down to genre – literary fiction that requires the reader to figure out characters’ motivations using more subtle cues had the most empathy. It seems that trying to figure out what the flawed protagonist is going to do next is good practice for trying to read our fellow humans.

A much-loved quote from the movie, “The Godfather,” is to “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” While I love pastries, we might all be better off if we “Leave the gun AND the cannoli. Pick up a book.”

 

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March On!

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The older I get, the more this rule applies: there has to be a really good reason to put myself in the position of too few bathroom facilities. PortaPotties count, but barely. A corollary to that is that there has to be a really good reason to be friggin’ cold, even though the cold certainly makes the PortaPotties less odorous.

So, you might think those are the reasons I’m not joining the Women’s March on Washington.

And you would be partly right.

But as one who joined the Million Mom March against gun violence only to see gun deaths increase with the years, I am done with marches.

If someone could prove that I could save a life by marching, I’d be on it.

But I worked in D.C. and I put in my time with Congressmen. I was a press secretary for two Congressmen and I may sound jaded, but I can tell you, marches count for nada. They are good optics but they don’t change policy. I can’t name one politician who saw a big march, hit his or her forehead, and said, “Eureka! I’ve been blind, but now I see!”

The Tea Party had great optics – mostly white people in patriot costumes with flags urging the government not to tread on them. They co-opted, and some would say perverted, patriotism and they made for great TV. But it wasn’t until the little worm Ted Cruz stopped government in its tracks with a filibuster that included a reading of “Green Eggs & Ham,” that anyone realized the Tea Party had a little bit of political heft. When the Tea Partiers marched, they were easily dismissed as crackpots.

Don’t get me wrong: I completely support the cause behind this women’s march. I do not want to see women’s health and women’s rights rolled back to some mythical Leave it to Beaver days. I do not believe that the only love that is valid is that between someone born male and someone born female. And I know that immigrants made this country diverse and strong, not weak.

So, march on, sisters and brothers. I just won’t be there.

Rather than marching, I will be working quietly – and not so quietly – in the background. I’ll be signing up for some political committees because I think change starts local. I’ll be sending money to the organizations likely to be gutted by a Trump presidency.

I will be hanging out in places that are warm and have bathrooms – and I will be inviting any gender to use whichever bathroom works. Because, the Halls of Power? They’re warm and they have bathrooms. And they are where real change happens.

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Cool to Be Kind?

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Maybe it’s the election cycle; the politicians seem to be taking that whole “bully pulpit” thing literally.

Or maybe it goes back to Alice Roosevelt Longworth who said the quote later attributed to sharp-witted writer Dorothy Parker: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”

Whatever the origins, it’s no longer cool to be kind. It’s more important to be clever.

Listening to the political ads, you might think that it’s all about survival of the fittest, and being fit means being unkind. Is it instinctive?

You might think so, except for some recent rodent studies.

We all have seen the wordless sympathy dogs can display when we’re down in the dumps or sick. With a soulful gaze and a head on our lap, dogs offer comfort.

But apparently, this instinct for kindness goes all the way down to rodent life.

A recent study at Emory University found that prairie voles would console one another through grooming, especially if they were from the same family. The study looked at the voles’ brain chemistry and found that fellow voles in distress caused the release of the same chemical – oxytocin – that is related to maternal nurturing and social bonding.

So if our more complex brains are similarly hard-wired for compassion, why do so many resort to bullying? Does that feel better than being kind?

Not if you believe the authors of the book, “On Kindness,” psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor.

They argue that kindness has become our forbidden pleasure.

“In one sense kindness is always hazardous because it is based on a susceptibility to others, a capacity to identify with their pleasures and sufferings. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, can be very uncomfortable. But if the pleasures of kindness — like all the greatest human pleasures — are inherently perilous, they are nonetheless some of the most satisfying we possess.

[…]

In giving up on kindness — and especially our own acts of kindness — we deprive ourselves of a pleasure that is fundamental to our sense of well-being.”

I’m not one for self-deprivation. So, at the risk of no longer looking cool, I think I’m going to try a little more kindness. It may not get the laughs at parties, but I’m not sure that kind of laughter is the best medicine anyway.

Be Kind