You Won’t Like This

Las Vegas.

It usually takes me several days to process dramatic and truly damaging events that permeate our shared public consciousness. Las Vegas is such an event. It has made such a deep impact on America that I cannot even speak of it in the past tense, as it will linger and fester in our souls for a long time. I don’t even have to qualify it. Simply the name of the city is enough. And this will probably be the case for a long time. Unless the arms race of massive death creates another tortured soul with a plan.

Heroes is not necessarily the only word I would use to describe the many whose acts of courage and compassion are rightfully honored and revered. So many, in all disasters are called heroes. But in this, as in those, heroes is an incomplete concept. For me, it is not enough to simply say they are heroes. I need to hear why they are heroes, either big or small, either saving lives or soothing scared children.

Heroes do what they do, they run towards not away, because they love their neighbor, out of compassion and empathy. Because they intuitively revere and love life and people, who all deserve to be saved. Tragedy destroys the boundaries between people and carries suffering down the path to hope. The clarity of our shared pain shows us we are one, individual yet part of something greater, something that lives deep inside us and manifests when we need it. This is the divinity and beauty of heroism, not merely a selfless deed.

Now the authorities are looking for motive. Desperately. The motive is simple, as it is for all mass killers. They are in pain and choose to assuage that pain through heinous murder. No matter their state of being they all make a choice. Whether suffering through political anger, mental disorder’s damaged thinking or aggrieved despair, the pain is the same and the choice to act with violence is the same, to make others suffer as they do. Having known severe pain I cannot hate them. But why do we make so many more of them than anywhere else?

These killers act out because American culture permits us to resolve conflict and pain with violence. Not only is it permitted it is the preferred means. Immorality as social norm. But one cannot legislate morality. Conservatives know this but are so heavy-handed and self-serving they cannot serve that truth in a way that serves society. Liberals want to help save people but sell themselves short out of fear. They cannot maintain outrage because more tragedy is always around the corner to overwhelm them. And the twain shall never meet.

Everybody knows subconsciously that the American culture’s affair with guns makes the gun violence dynamic here different than the rest of the world. We cannot be another Australia no matter how much we legislate gun sensible laws. Law can only scratch the surface. Sensible gun safety legislation will help, but not enough. There must be more.

Many say we can’t stop invisible lone wolves from acting, from committing mass murder. That it’s impossible to ferret them out. They use this as an excuse to never try stopping them. The gun makers tell us the solution is more guns. Plenty of us believe this to be true. And a majority of the country does not trust the law to solve anything. In this case, they may be quite right. But I see these people as cowards, throwing up their hands in insincere despair. Selling death for profit.

To my mind, there is a good solution here, perhaps the best solution. Instead of trying to stop these evil killers when they are fully grown and engaged, we should change the way we raise our children, especially boys and especially white boys. Call it sexism/genderism and racism but the statistics bear it out. White men make up a large majority of mass murderers.

The way to stop us from accepting gun violence as a solution to social problems is to stop teaching our children this myth, this soul-crushing lie that violence is the way to go, the way to make everything right. The circle of violence can only be broken by Americans acting in concert to stop telling our boys to “be a man” and then equating that manhood with violence. I feel strongly that this “be a man” syndrome is sinful. The Christ does not ask us to turn the other cheek for nothing.

The glorification of violence is outdated at best. The fight or flight autonomic reaction existed for a creature with few reasoning skills, creatures without language as a tool of peace. There is a reason it is buried deep in our brains. It is no longer a viable means of avoiding pain or resolving conflict. As thinking beings, we can overcome our instant calls to violence. This is not easy. But as humans, we can call on the power of mind over matter. It works.

We must begin the hard work of creating fewer and fewer men with unbearable pain, those who feel horribly wronged but who hide it well, those subjected to abuse who process violence as normal, and even those who are barely aware of what they are doing. Of course, there are anomalies. There are women who act out in this way but as much as prehistoric women were rarely called upon to fight for existence, modern women are rarely acculturated to violence. This, I feel, is part of why they make up a small percentage of mass murderers. Yet another anomaly, in the instance of the sins of psychopaths these souls may never be inclined to abandon violence.

As said, it is imperative that we contribute to the solution the right way, by telling our children that violence is never acceptable. We must still learn the ways of violence as a defense against an existential threat. Complete passivity is naive. But the best way is to show our sons and daughters that violence is not the way is by our actions, modeling peaceful negotiation and mediation as the preferred method of conflict resolution, that through human interaction we can ease our pain.

The best way is better than the right way. And the example we set is the best means of successfully moving our pain into hope, as befits sentient beings. The Sanskrit word for weapon is also the word for tool. We can, as the Christ intimated, beat our swords into plowshares. We can use our hearts, souls, and minds to change society, to join many of us together as one without needing a disaster to unite us. We would no longer need to battle in the halls of Congress. We wouldn’t have to fight so much at the taverns, cafes and dinner tables of America. We could change.

An addendum

You won’t like this.

This will be seen as and called racism and it probably is. But I must say my piece. The situation in the black and much of the Latino communities, as I observe it, is that the relative lack of mass murderers from these communities is due to the fact that their suffering involving gun violence is intimate, up close and personal. It is directed at the individual, the person right there in front of you. Violence here is not an anomaly, it is omnipresent. One need not meticulously plan a bloodbath of the anonymous. Here the pools of blood will be at their feet, and the plan was formed quickly, specific to the grievance. So when those in the public eye conflate murder in these POC communities with mass murder they are terribly wrong. Though the solutions to the violence are similar the essence of the problem is different.

Mea Culpa. Please forgive me if I am wrong about this. I cannot know for certain but I witness. I fully accept a charge of racism for these comments and the mantle of racist. I speak what I feel.

You won’t like this either.

A word about prayers, including candlelight vigils and moments of silence. Prayer is a good thing. Praying for the peaceful repose of the lost souls and healing grace for their friends and families is a good thing. Candlelight vigils and shrines and moments of silence are good things. But they are all also feel good actions. They allow us to feel as though we have acted, we have done something good, something to help. We can do this and then go home and not take any further action, thinking we have done our part. In this, I do not judge. I only bear witness. Think on it yourself.

As powerful as is prayer, for the departed, we must also pray for the strength to do the hard work of changing the nation’s zeitgeist. It will take several generations but we must change the way we do this business. Praising those we call heroes and changing our laws and offering prayers are all good things but they can only save a fraction of the lives we need to.

These things are right things to do but they are not the best things to do. It is not easy to find and choose the best thing over the right thing. Doing the right thing we are so tempted to be satisfied and go home. I am convinced that, for America, the best path to hope out of pain is accepting our own pain and finding our own hope. This will give us the confidence to teach our children well. I believe we all know in our hearts that this path is true.

Let us start on this path together in love.


To Bern or Not to Bern!

I am growing weary of the superfluous yet at the same time deeply important clash between the #neverhillary Bernie supporters and the #nevertrump Bernie supporters. I’m not certain the split aligns perfectly with a millennial demographic or not, but somebody is either being somewhat politically naive or is incredibly ideologically pure about something. One puddle of wisdom (from my small reservoir of wisdom) that I have imparted to my millennial daughter on occasion, is that one of the things about life that sucks the most is you will have to sometimes do things you really don’t want to do. I’m pretty sure this is one of those times.

Here’s the thing. There’s a big difference between issues politics and electoral politics. The difference is that in issues politics it is necessary to demand 100% of what you want because that is the only way to get any of what you want. It’s you and your issue versus everybody else and their issue. There are multiple contestants in multiple battles so where you win you stay and where you don’t you move on. In modern electoral politics there are only two contestants (as far as is today’s reality) and the point comes (and it always comes) where you need other people’s supporters on your side to win, because your goal and reward is not a small victory in isolation but a majority victory in a contest decided by everyone. It is not a contest of you versus everyone else but of your coalition versus their coalition.

Compromise of ideologies is necessary in the electoral world and an anathema in the issues world. Many Bernie supporters come from the world of issues politics. They did not previously involve in electoral politics because they had no use for elections unless it directly affected their funding. Other than that they would only pursue an electoral victory if they had a champion for their issue(s). There have been single issues champions throughout the but rarely have there been any special leaders who could coalesce the numerous issues silo activists into a cohesive power bloc.

Issues activists are used to either getting what they want or leaving defeat behind and moving on to the next battle. They make black and white decisions. The concept of joining together in a coalition with the people who just caused you lose, who made you not get what you want, is utterly alien to them and feels dirty and immoral. So it’s not difficult to understand why they have trouble putting together movements. It’s just sad.

This phenomenon works in reverse as well, although people involved in electoral politics usually only drop in to work on issues when they feel burned out and made filthy by the deceits of electoral politics, and want to recharge and cleanse. Someone coming to issues politics from electoral politics will seek coalitions with what they consider to be like minded issues advocates, with similar issues. They don’t quite understand why the other issues groups leave the coalition once they get what they want. Then they remember why they were frustrated with issues activism to begin with and go back to electoral politics. To work in both electoral politics and issues politics concurrently takes some highly skilled compartmentalising, of which not everyone is capable.

This whole broken process has been a bane of the progressive movement for years, because it hasn’t really been a movement at all. It has been a bunch of separate progressive issues oriented advocacy groups all in competition with each other for grants and status and recognition. There is always a lot of rhetoric about coming together as one coherent progressive movement but it always dissolves into jealousy and competition for scarce resources. The scarcity of resources is intentional and part of a greater strategic initiative by right wing tricksters, but that’s another story.

These progressives have only come together in agreement when they have had a messiah figure to rally them. Gene McCarthy, George Mc Govern, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, all to widely varying degrees, were able to bring a number of progressives together into some semblance of a movement, enough to have some modest influence on the Democratic Party. Bernie has been the latest, most successful and probably least likely of these standard bearers. The rub is these movements died off with the relevance of their leaders. Without the focus of the strong leader the coalition descends once again into the relative chaos of egotism and economically manipulated competition.

Bernie is, and always has been, aware of this. Warnings about life after Bernie have been clear parts of his speeches from the get go. He has spent most of his time and energy since it became apparent he would not win the nomination imploring that his followers continue on and forge a game changing movement. This is true, and necessary. He has implored them to remember that this is not about him but about us. This is true, and necessary. He has implored us to defeat Donald Trump by any and all means. This is true, and necessary. He is showing and/or reminding us that 30% of 100% is much more than 100% of nothing. This is true, necessary and perhaps his greatest lesson taught.

What I don’t understand is why so many of Bernie’s followers, who have followed him through the crucible of mainstream efforts to get in his way, have now stopped listening to him. Actually I do understand. The messiah has betrayed them. He has not delivered on their issue(s) so they are expressing their rage. They will try another tack later after they get over feeling suckered by promises of glory in a progressive paradise. To be clear though, this type of betrayal is not an unusual occurrence. It is seen, commonly, in the affairs of both parties and is not fixable from the top down. Let me repeat, it is not fixable from the top down but only from the bottom up. This is why Bernie is so adamant that his supporters not run away licking their wounds but stay and fight and elect Clinton despite themselves.

In order to have a bottom up re-evolutionary movement that succeeds the Sanders coalition must stay together and organize. To accomplish this it is critical that the activated millennials not get jaded and cynical and go back to their X-boxes. Bernie is trying his damnedest to impart the knowledge that this whole thing is bigger than him and must survive his primary loss. And the first step towards that accomplishment is to prevent the uniquely American fascism of Trump and his minions from ever getting enough control to do irreparable harm to our nation and thus the globe. That would take generations to recover from.

So listen up kiddos and ex hippies. You think you need an unconditional Bernie electoral victory, when what you really need is for the many wonderful progressive issues activists out there to drop their ego facades, overcome their economic jealousies, and form the powerful progressive movement that has always been there, dormant, and ready to flip the entire political landscape. I can help, but I’m old, as are my beautiful tye dyed peers. The mantel is now being passed from Bernie’s hippie contemporaries to Bernie’s hipster acolytes. We’ll all help actually, if you let us, we’re experienced protesters. And we still know how to roll an English joint.

Here’s a parable for us to end todays sermon. When Mom broke out the Ben and Jerry’s  you told her you wanted 3 scoops of Cherry Garcia. She said no but you can each have a half scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough, because that’s all we have. Do you say no, I know you have some Cherry Garcia in there and it’s either the whole 3 scoops or nothing at all. Or, do you take the cookie dough and get at least a bit of a sweet taste in your mouth. If you all keep bugging mom maybe you’ll get some of that Cherry Garcia next time.

You weren’t that stuck up in school, were you?

Be a part of the change (Diapers that is!)

For all my 3 readers a little caveat. I don’t often use this blog as a shameless shill for cool and meaningful events. But this one is special.

Operation Baby New Year, a diaper and baby wipe drive in the St. Cloud MN metro area, has gone viral locally and we want you to be part of it. Our goal is to raise 100,000 diapers by New Years Eve. We want to welcome in Baby New Year with a gift of diapers for the needy families served by five major social service organizations here in Lake Woebegon country.

There is a tremendous need for diapers for needy families, not only at this festive season but year round. Babies have no political biases or religious dogma. They carry no grudges and as we all know one of their three major activities involves diapers.

Like our Facebook page and spread the word nationwide. If you aren’t able to logistically get diapers to Central Minnesota and want to help, make out a check to “Friends of Whitney Dog Park” and send it to Operation Baby New Year, 718 15th St. SE St. Cloud MN 56304.

Visit our website for more info and to help us drive clicks. You’ll be glad you did.

It makes you feel so happy to donate a nappy (or a box).

Crying Again, But Don’t Look

For several years now there has been any degree of cultural tension in my beloved hometown. Every six months or so, it seems, there is an incident that picks at the scab of the inherent and underlying racism with a religious chaser we see in a not insignificant portion of our area. I don’t feel the need to get into details here. It always involves one or a combination of slurs, tasteless at best social media posts, arrogance, anger, discrimination, humiliation, mindless fear, ignorance. Do you have a half hour?

People can only take so much disrespect (I was tempted to use other language just there) before they must express their anger and frustration. Only when the pot boils over does the community get burned. Only then do they cry, wring their hands, plan meetings, hold an open dialogue. All these things are good things and must happen before these thick walls can be brought down. But more must be done. Each individual incident causes suffering. But folks round here who aren’t fond of conflict are desperate to forget the pain festering in their community. They have developed very sophisticated ways of denying, deflecting and decrying the truth. The ugly truth that hatred in so many of it’s forms lies so near the surface, just under such paper thin skin, so as to be barely held back from explosive actions by otherwise prudent and generous people.

As usual I see more in these things than is maybe safe. Ahead is some of the commentary I write to myself when these things happen, mostly because when I make an attempt to wrap my head around it it stops me from seething with fury, for the time being at least. When I’m done writing the pain returns. Maybe that’s why I’m so verbose. It’s my way of processing that which I cannot fathom. Regardless it doesn’t change my prayers that through some miracle we will all grow up, and we won’t have to deal with racism, with anti-Islam frenzy, with alleged human beings walking around impervious to the truth, in a sadly regular, predictable and damaging way.

We have recently had another domino fall incident of hate, causing pain to so many in the community. Pain of a particularly venomous nature. It has been especially hurtful because it involves high school students. It’s why I’m here. Writing, which I’ve recently discovered is a good thing for me to do, not just for my own health, but because the angel on my right shoulder has neutralized the devil on the left, with love and recognition. So here goes.

Crying again but you can’t look.

Managing, or if one is very lucky, solving acute instances of conflict is vital to peaceful resolution and community health. However, this is not only an acute and immediate conflict but an ongoing chronic one and is representative of a larger community issue. I’m certain those most invested in this challenge are aware of this and are working hard to develop solid processes to address the issue for the long term. But more must be done. The roots of the problem must be exposed to the air.

An analogy I use to better understand the issue of conflict, not only locally but internationally, is the “feed a man a fish” meme. I think we all are familiar with that. It informs my strong feeling that education is the key to truly addressing the chronic nature of this damaging conflict. Because this involves an incident precipitated by a high school student he irony of that statement is not lost on me. There is an incredible opportunity here for learning here that will not only help people at this point but throughout their lives.

I am Bi-Polar. As such I have had major conflict issues my entire adult life. I have done a lot of research on the topic of conflict resolution. In many ways we do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are numerous useful programs designed to educate all ages about the nature of conflict and conflict resolution. Our challenge hare is not solely racial or cultural but is essentially about conflict resolution. We all face conflict, in many forms, throughout our lives. Educational efforts can not only help us with this problem but give us tools for a lifetime.

One of those things that we unfortunately can’t measure by tests is how well we have learned to be good people. It can only be tested in how well we express the accord of our thought, word, and deed, in how consistent we are in sharing our love and compassion. If we can’t teach our children how the power of love heals wounds and creates a place for everyone in this world to thrive, then we have failed; we have been defeated. We are doomed, verily, to continue torturing our selves with those failings.

We must learn, not just students, but all of us, how to resolve conflicts when they rear their head, which they most certainly will. Not all conflict is inherently bad, but regardless, all conflicted parties can benefit from knowing what conflict truly is and have effective tools to resolve it. But do our schools have the tools, support, resources and freedom from weariness needed to fight through the substantial impediments to peace, both internal and external, that are placed in front of our youth daily? Lack of funding and school counselors of color, the actions of the ignorant and apathetic, say they do not.

There are tools to help us. In my research into conflict resolution I have found several educational programs that have given me knowledge and insight about my own conflict issues. They are not solely for individuals but have broad reaching applications. Many of you may be familiar with Jane Elliott’s brown eyes blue eyes presentations. This powerful exercise helps students feel what it’s like to be discriminated against, bullied and humiliated. Students are actually discriminated against by other students based on the color of their eyes. The process is quite successful at bringing a real and meaningful understanding of the ridiculous nature of racial discrimination. The University of Colorado also has several online courses on intractable conflict which reveal a great deal of clear information on the topic which I have found most helpful. These courses can be accessed by searching “Beyond Intractability”.

Everyone it seems has an idea of how to stop people from hating their fellows who are different in some way. The “other” is the great boogeyman to the frightened and misinformed. Let’s pull him out from under the bed and see how weak and powerless he truly is. Let’s assure these roadblocks to peace are pushed aside by the road grader of truth. I’m certain that seeing our next generations make strides in this direction is essential to that noble goal.

Our future depends on it.