Things I Want My Son To Know #13 ~ Practice Tolerance

We live in a world of amazing diversity. Around the globe there are people of a vast array of ethnicities and faiths, just for starters. Our own country is a land of immigrants and races from around the world. This country was founded by immigrants fleeing religious intolerance and persecution. Your ancestors were immigrants here, fleeing religious persecution. Others of your ancestors were indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans, who suffered terrible persecution and near extinction as the result of ignorance, hatred and intolerance.

Diversity makes our world a fascinating and complex place. Respect the diversity around you, in our country and around the globe. Learn to live with diversity and to learn from it. Other cultures have something to teach, other religions have a point of view that deserves respect.

Unfortunately we also live in a country that seems to be determined to showcase its ignorance and intolerance often and broadly. Watching the pastor intent on burning the Quran, many copies, sickened me. He truly believed that burning the Quran would somehow memorialize and sanctify the memory of those that perished on September 11, 2001. What insanity. The destruction of a holy object will never sanctify anyone’s memory. Millions of peace loving muslims did not terrorize the United States. All he did was show himself to be ignorant. But he is not alone in his beliefs, unfortunately.

It is important to practice tolerance actively, as a counterbalance to those who are mindlessly intolerant. Practicing tolerance doesn’t just mean being passively tolerant in your behavior. It means that you speak against intolerance when you see it, when you hear it. That you embrace the beliefs of others, not by believing as they do, but by respecting their right to believe as they do and to practice their beliefs in a peaceful way without persecution. As a Jew you know that we were nearly obliterated by the passivity of those who watched the holocaust unfold and did nothing to stop it, assuming others would act, or that it would just go away. Bigotry, intolerance and prejudice never “just go away”. It requires action, courage and conviction.

We used to say that when we protested we “manned the barricades” because the police would put up wooden barricades to contain where the protest was legally supposed to be. In my youth, we believed that protest matters, that it works. In Europe they still do. On my last trip to France, I saw hundreds of thousands of Parisians take to the streets with their children, parents and pets, to protest the president serving at that time. They do it because they believe that their voices will have an effect.

You should never feel superior to, or better than, someone because they are different than you. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any race, religion, gender or sexual identity. Being born Jewish or Catholic is not a choice, being born with black, brown or white skin is not a choice, being born male or female is not a choice, being born gay is not a choice. People are who they are and valuing them for their character, their principles, valus and actions is what matters. If your mind is closed to the value of difference you might miss a wonderful friend, a great teacher, the love of your life; you never know what barricades active tolerance will take you past and what you will find there.


What I Want My Son To Know #12 ~ Stand Up And Be Counted

Having principles is a problem; whatever those principles might be. And they always sound good, until they are tested; then they are a problem. Because standing up for them, standing up because of them, doesn’t always make you a popular person. When sometime tells a racial or ethnic joke, or uses hate language “but everyone does it”, it takes courage to say “that’s not funny”. Especially when your friends are all laughing.

But principles are what give your live meaning, and truth, and something to hold on to when you are not sure what gives with the world. Remember that you have friends of color who have experienced discrimination, that you have gay friends who have experienced hatred, that your mother was treated like a servant in my early career becaause women still weren’t expected to be professionals, to be something independent of their husbands ~ a world you can’t imagine.

So something as simple as honesty… telling the cashier there is something under the cart she forgot to charge you for. The habitual practice of honesty will help you when you are really challenged. Something as simple as protecting and caring for those weaker than most; being polite; holding the door for women. Respect the elderly; remembering that they have lived things you can’t imagine and might have something to teach you if you have the patience to listen. This simple practice of respect, for the weak, for women, for the elderly, will bring you relationships you never anticipated and lessons you might be astonished to learn.

Imagine if nobody had stood with the marchers for civil rights; imagine if nobody had stood with women in their fight for property rights and the vote; imagine if nobody had stood for those that Hitler despised. The people that stood up often lost their lives doing so. But they did so because they couldn’t imagine a world in which such terrible injustices continued to exist, and it felt worth their lives to try to prevent these injustices.

I hope you are never tested in that way, I hope your principles never put your life in jeopardy. But I do hope that you have the courage to stand up for what is right in whatever ways challenge you in your life. It is important to stand up and be counted, to look back and say, I lived a life of principle, I did the right things, I did good in the world.

Things I Want My Son To Know #1 ~ Vote

So. . . I was thinking (I know, you can stop laughing now). If I had a short time to live and my son was still a teenager, which he is, what would I want to say to him, as his mom, his teacher, what would I want him to know? Better to write it down now I think, maybe then it won’t be needed. Either way, a legacy of lessons. If it is, there it will be, one task done. Lots of you will laugh but since I think each blog entry should be about one thing, here is my one thing . . . VOTE. Sounds silly? I am not sure when I became such a promoter of democracy. I know that in the better part of my working life I felt close to the constitution because of what I did; I always felt like a warrior in my role which was in defense of the little guy and in defense of the constitution. But as usual, I digress. I believe, in every aspect of life, that you earn the right to bitch about things by being willing to be part of changing them, by stepping up and raising your hand. Everyone in America these days has an opinion, more often than not a loud and relatively uninformed opinion. Which brings me to a subset of VOTE which is “be informed”. It seems to me that many young people these days have little sense of the world and what goes on it it, despite how global and technologically connected we all are these days. And how few of them have any sense of what news outlet has what bias? Very few I imagine. You can’t intelligently exercise your right to vote if you have no idea who and what you are voting for. But I believe with all my heart that the two most precious gifts our democracy gives us are the right to speak our minds out loud and the right to change things with our vote. No matter how obnoxious your views are to me or how much I disagree, I will defend at all costs your right to express them so long as they don’t actively create actual or immediate harm. And no matter how small or large the election, no matter how local and no matter how much you might think it doesn’t matter, VOTE, exercise your right to be heard. Then you can be heard to complain.

Hats Off to the Free Range Mom

There I was, listening to public radio, again. And there was the Free Range Mom (great blog site, Free Range Kids) Lenore Skenazy. She is the woman that everyone got crazed about who lets her kids actually do things on their own. I can’t remember if her child was 8 or 10 at the time she let him find his way home alone but that’s the gist of it. They practiced, he had money, he knew what he was doing, etc. At first I had this visceral reaction of “oh, you can’t do that” and then I stopped and actually engaged some brain cells. I was riding the subway on my own at that age in New York City, and the bus. I rode to school on public transport, I rode home. I am fine, more or less. I can find my way in any large city in the world that has a subway system. I experienced greater harm when flashed during a trick or treat fo UNICEF experience, but that is another blog altogether. She has accumulated amazing statistics that show that crime is down, pretty much everywhere with the possible exception of serious central city ghettos in which gangs persist in harming each other. But generally crime is down. We read these awful stories ( and they are awful ) of children disappearing, assaulted or molested. But we don’t read of the millions of children who are fine and running about all over the place. And so all we know about is the one case, not the millions who are fine. This is similar to all the people who said, when we adopted, “aren’t you afraid she will come back and take him away?” Well, of course. but the statistics are overwhelming. There are many stories of the parents who came back and ripped the screaming child from its adoptive parents arms. But there are no stories of the millions of happily placed and adopted children who grow up in loving homes. But as usual, I digress. We are insanely overprotective of our children these days; we don’t allow them to become independent and self-reliant people. And our level of societal fear is incredible, notwithstanding the statistics that say that violent crimes hae decreased and violent crimes have decreased. Despite the fact that my husband and I tried very hard to give my son the space to experience things and do unusual things, travel and such, I still believe we have been overprotective. My son at 17 still seems to have a certain lack of skill at dealing with the world which I regret, although I know he will develop it eventually. I sent him to New York this summer to intern at a large, hip business managed by my brother. I knew there would be alcohol, possibly drugs and I knew he would have to deal with it. He rode the subway home at 3 in the morning, got lost, went the wrong way, ended up in Harlem, had to ride all the way back. He is fine and now he might be able to find his way in any major city in the world with a subway system. Better late than never. I don’t know why people are so distressed at the idea of allowing children to learn how to cope with the world, but my hat’s off to the free range mom!

BP, The Release Forms and Show Me The Money

Hoo Boy. All in one title. So in addition to the environmental debacle of the century, now we have to worry about BP going broke????? Based on their profits this seems laughable but… at least one industry observer has said that at the very least they may have to sell off profitable holdings at fire sale prices in order to meet their obligations.

So let’s talk about their obligations. A few of the earliest stories, before the endless failed attempts to stop the flow of oil took the front and center, were about the people who were hurt or killed in the initial explosion of the rig. And what emerged from those stories was that people who were hurting, exhausted and focused only on contacting their loved ones to let them know they were alive were pressured into signing release forms regarding their ultimate right to recompense from BP for their injuries. At the time they signed these they didn’t even know, many of them, what their injuries were. They were distraught, their families were distraught and BP took advantage of them, pure and simple.

So this is atrocious in and of itself, but what is the lesson? Corporate role modeling in the last few years has been abysmal. Enron, corporate greed, wall street, stock and banking greed, mortgage banking greed and the complete collapse of the economy have all taken a main place in our daily news. The economy is “improving” but true jobs and especially real estate prices are not. They will be a long time coming at least in some parts of the country (like where I live). The lessons apparent are every person for themselves, the hell with the planet, the injured and the working folk; get what you can and screw the rest.

I think we are too litigious in this country by far these days. I think that there is an attorney to take every stupid claim and make it law. But I believe deeply that our judicial system can be an instrument for good, can be an instrument for change. I deeply hope that some “do-gooder” lawyers take up the case of those poor oilmen, tired, hurt and afraid, who signed those disgraceful releases. I wish I could be one of them.

My generation was idealistic, we thought we could change the world and to some degree we did. So what happened? I guess I retain some of that idealism, although I don’t think sometimes that I have adequately passed it on to my son. Isn’t it better to model an idealistic failure than a narcissistic success?

The Middle of the Road

Listening to a story on public radio, as by now you all know I do often, I heard an amazing story. There is an “encampment”, for lack of a better word, of earthquake refugees who have set up their tents on the median of a six lane road. Some of the shelters are wood, some nothing but a tarp. Some sell small necessary items from open holes, some have windows that close. A whole village has evolved on that spot.

Across the road are port-a-potties. They are often full and unusable. l leave the result of that problem to your imagination. Aside from that, you have to cross three lanes of traffic to get to them at all. There are children living in this median village. The visual is a difficult one; how worried those mothers must be. But people will always cluster together. One mother said she wanted to move to one of the planned camps but has heard that all the spots are already taken.

Median means the center, the average. Thus the phrase middle of the road, it is the center, the average, the place that doesn’t rock the boat, the balance place. So how is living in the median of a highway the middle of the road? How is it balance? Although I believe where there is breath there is always hope, this seems to me the bottom of the barrel, the most hopeless of situations. It is heartbreaking. But Haitians seem to have a boundless reserve of faith and optimism. They have an amazing resilience that is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

For these Haitians, it seems, the middle of the road is the end of the road.

Arizona Sucks

I lived in Arizona, I enjoyed it and at one time thought I wouldn’t mind going back.  But give me a break!  Doesn’t anyone remember where they came from?  Doesn’t anyone want to acknowledge that most of us are the sons and daughters of struggling immigrants, some legal some not.  Did we not, we sons and daughters of immigrants, kill, torture and isolate the indigenous peoples of this country, forcing them onto increasingly smaller plots of land and taking the arable fields for our own use?  While I recognize that  immigration in this country, and in many others, is a serious issue and that we need discussion about how to create fair, orderly, just rules for immigration, I cannot imagine how people can think that simply closing our borders is a good thing. 

First, I think of all the amazingly hardworking, big dreaming, pushing their children people I know and have met who are willing to do almost anything to remain here.  They pay taxes, hold jobs, participate in the economy and are otherwise good citizens; not all of them entirely legal as far as status.  Not to sound racist, but I do not see a whole bunch of unemployed American white men jumping at the chance to mow lawns, maintain pools, clean houses, lay asphalt, sweep streets, wash dishes… you get the picture.  The good ones, the ones who get it, do.  When unemployed, responsible people do whatever it takes.  But I see a whole lot of guys on front porches and street corners in the middle of the day.  Amazingly, I don’t know a lot of what Arizonans might call “immigrants” who are not working.  I really don’t see them on their front porches or on the street corners in the middle of the day.  I see them working hard, often at jobs nobody else wants to do.  I hear a lot of rhetoric about “immigrants” taking our jobs; what jobs are those?  Doctors, lawyers, teachers?  We have a terrible shortage of doctors in this country, lawyers… who cares, and teachers… great.  But more likely they are dry cleaning your clothes, landscaping your lawns, stuccoing your homes, etc. 

And I haven’t even gotten to the profiling issue yet.  Since the Supreme Court of the last few decades has eviscerated our rights, allowing police great latitude in the “stop and search” category, this Arizona law adds injury and indignity to insult.  Anyone who says this law does not permit or encourage profiling is kidding themselves.  How else would the police know who to choose to stop and “enquire of”? By the color of skin, by their apparent ethnicity of course.  Arizona should do well to remember that “ethnic” Americans are fast becoming the majority in many places, as we were back in the day when places like Ellis Island teemed with those “yearning to be free”.  The difference then was that most of the immigrants looked more alike, it was harder to tell all those Europeans apart. But that didn’t mean there weren’t vast cultural and ethnic differences.

Maureen Dowd, in another context, referred to this type of cultural behavor as “pulling the ladder up after you.”  It is, with a vengeance.  We will never be, thank God, a nation of white protestants.  We are the melting pot, it is part of what has made us great and interesting.  The American Dream, in capitals, is about what you can achieve here, the ordinary person, the newcomer.  Trying to pull the ladder up and close the borders is isolationist, xenophobic and foolish.  Creating orderly rational rules is good.  Hopefully those boycotting Arizona will have an effect.  I know lots of people don’t agree with me, but that’s what I love about blogging, this is my opinion. Vive la difference.