Change Your Thinking, Change Your World

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions.  As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.

A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States.  I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”

Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media.  It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings.  Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.

A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared.  I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat.  We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note.  Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.

Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.

For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability?  And would campaign spending limits fix this?  I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending).  I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.”  My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.

I understand that concern.  I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc.  But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges?  I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met.  Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected?  Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.

The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy.  Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).

I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time.  In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week.  Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.

Remember Edward Snowden?  He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!

Moving on…

So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic).  The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book.  Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)

This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity.  Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me!  I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.

Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out.  I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.

If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money?  My first reaction is, no.  I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit.  However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political.  The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves.  How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere.  But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place.  No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college.  No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job.  No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin.  No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all.  The list goes on…

How do we fix this?  We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team.  I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.”  I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future.  I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.

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Let Us Choose Peace

fullsizeoutput_f64Grainy shot from my trip to China–an incredible experience!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  I was excited weeks ago when I read it in my calendar, especially because the healing writing group I am involved with meets today.

The concept of “international peace” is simultaneously a fantasy that seems attainable, while also being something we can never touch.  Over the past week, peace has been in my face—or rather, the lack of it.  My heart is filled with sorrow at the hardness of humans against other humans, for differences that should bring us together.  Instead our governments, many media sources, propaganda, and our own prejudices divide us.

Two days ago I listened to a podcast by The Corbett Report about the lies that started the war in Afghanistan.  Last night, my husband and I watched some more of a documentary we’ve been viewing about Israel and how the United States gives carte blanche loyalty to a country committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  9/11 recently passed, and I was again reminded of the millions of people affected by the United States choosing (even possibly orchestrating the events) to go to war for geopolitical reasons (i.e. greed).

This week you may have seen a woman from CodePink interrupting a presentation on the Iran Missile Program.  She spoke clearly, even while they tried to deter her from speaking out in support of the citizens of Iran who are constantly being hurt by decisions made by the United States government.

Peace.  We all seek it.  We all desire it.  We want it…for ourselves.  However, how many of us want it for the people we perceive as our enemies?  I say perceive, because statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die than die from a terrorist attack.  I say perceive, because if you follow social media accounts of travelers in the Middle East (where so many westerners base their fear) you would see incredible hospitality, people having fun, the most delicious food you can imagine, and a culture that cares.

That is the difference between people and governments.

When will we, as humans, stand up to the partisan politics that continue to wreak havoc on our WORLD?  My citizenship does not make me blind to the beauty and the atrocities around the globe.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I cherish what I have learned from my travels abroad and my chance meetings with internationals in the countries where I have resided.

Peace requires a change in our mentalities.  It requires us to remember and acknowledge the humanity in each one of us.  It forces me to remember the love I have for the person who says hateful things about other people I love.  It teaches me that through education peace has a greater chance of attainability because when people know something it can change their perspective.

Today, and every day, let’s choose peace—a peace that comes with well reasoned ideologies and process to create something better than we have ever experienced.  Something that goes beyond what we can fathom.  Think outside the box.  Imagine what can happen if we fight for peace and stop creating war!

Let us choose peace.

How Do You Say “I Care And You’re Wrong”?

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You know the words you say when talking about dealing with people who disagree with you?  That you can still have a relationship with those people who post racist, bigoted, intolerant statuses, because you want to be open and facilitate and participate in constructive conversations?  You know what I’m talking about.

Well, today I found out that a man I’ve known most of my life, who is well known in a small, rural, Virginia community, posted something blatantly racist on a live broadcast of former President Obama speaking while in Africa (at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, no less).  The way I found out was that a black friend of mine posted a screenshot of it in an (understandable) outrage.  In my shock I did the only thing I could think of: I apologized to her for his words.

I looked up the individual’s Facebook page and saw that he’d posted a live apology for his statement.  He blamed it on his political stance, reiterating repeatedly that he was in no way, shape, or form racist, and that he has many friends who are people of color and of different nationalities—because we all know that means you aren’t racist, after you’ve said something very racist.

Here’s the question that this situation provoked: how should I plan to interact with this man in the future?  And even more than that, how should I plan to interact with people I care about more deeply who say or do something racist?

Closing myself off is not an option, because if I do that there is no chance for meaningful conversations and possible change.  If I let it slide and remain close, then I am choosing silence and allowing myself to become part of something I abhor.  Addressing it every.single.time runs the risk of the argument being tuned out, and thus “casting my pearls before swine.”

Typically, I try to point out when things are inappropriate—whether about race or anything else.  Usually, I’m ignored or laughed at (one time I was temporarily blocked…by a family member…and then left unfriended because the person never communicated they didn’t want me to keep commenting).  Sometimes there is a lot of feedback, and on the rare occasion, it’s actually a constructive conversation.  The BEST interactions, though, are the ones that occur over time and in person—like in the office.  Those people who get to see you juggle a million things, struggle with crappy bosses and absurd deadlines and workloads…they pause to consider what you say during that much needed coffee break.  And a year later?  You find out some of your soap-box-speeches made an impact.

So yes, in person is ALWAYS better.  And that’s what I’m really getting at—how do you choose to interact with people who not only disagree with you but who are morally wrong in their belief?  And deny it?  So far, the conversation is working with people with whom I have a relationship, but the people who are only acquaintances?  It brings out a whole different reaction.

I could always write a letter…to the editor.  (I really like writing letters when I don’t like something.  I’ve written to Miss America Organization, NBC, authors who didn’t answer the questions they created in their book, op-eds, letters to the editor…if nothing else, it feels good to get it out!)

What are your thoughts on these issues?

Tea With a Side of Truth, Please

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A few years ago I was inspired to name a blog “The Teapot Journalist.”  Since then, it’s taken different twists and turns as I continue to seek out what exactly the name means to me…the teapot journalist.

On the surface level, I enjoy writing and sipping tea—who doesn’t?  I am passionate about writing and sharing information and ideas, but my passions don’t stop there.  I find myself wanting to write about a great many things that don’t necessarily correlate with each other.  What connects them is the multi-faceted realm of life.

I desire to be transparent and vulnerable in appropriate areas.  In a way, I want to work through questions that I, and others, are facing.  Nothing is straight forward, but for people (like me) with a tendency for the black-and-white thinking approach, going into the colorful waters of “in between” can feel very overwhelming—like a brain overload.  I’m learning where I fit and that I am an evolving person with changing ideas.

These evolutions we (I) face are not free from conflict.  It’s a battle between many forces, including the perspectives I was taught to believe while growing up, the ideas I encountered during those wonderful college years, and the uncomfortable unearthing of new information…forever altering how I view our world.  (Forever altering, if I allow new information in, that is.). The problem is when I am too afraid, or not yet fully prepared, to move forward with such a shift.

That fear is what I don’t like.  I don’t enjoy being afraid; I like being certain.  However, there isn’t much of which we can be certain.  When people question what is generally accepted, they’re labeled as conspiracy theorists.  *Side note: there are a lot of conspiracies floating around…how does one choose which one(s) to investigate?*  What if, instead of being labeled as conspiracy theorists, we called them “truth seekers”?  Looking for the truth, not the smoke and mirrors that become more prevalent as people become more professional and powerful, is an admirable trait that I wish more people would develop.

I wish I could pursue it more fully without all the internal conflict, but I suppose it’s like a rite of passage into deeper realms of thought and understanding.