Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Asinine and Insulting

May 14, 2021

I have not been motivated to write lately. I have instead been enjoying my artistic pursuits, balanced with part time work for the NM Caregivers Coalition. But the untenable position I have been placed in – experienced in spades today – by the latest CDC pronouncement cannot go without response.

Setting aside the broad guidelines in place in New Mexico according to county by county statistics that put us in color categories, none of which as of yet allow unrestricted or undistanced indoor dining or shopping, and acknowledging that the CDC indicated local level decisions must still be recognized and adhered to, it remains beyond stupid to issue a statement that “vaccinated people can go unmasked indoors” when there is absolutely NO WAY to know if the unmasked person standing just behind my shoulder and breathing into my face is vaccinated, or one of the far too many individuals who refuses vaccines and denies that there is a pandemic infection still active here.

I am vaccinated.

Wearing a mask to protect myself from the deniers and anti-vaxxers and mask resistors, I become subject to ugly accusations from others that I am a coward, that I don’t care about my neighbors or I would get a vaccine, that at my age (I qualified for and got my vaccine in the first tier) I should know better than to refuse a life saving treatment.

Is the CDC going to hand out masks imprinted with I AM VACCINATED, ARE YOU? for those of us who feel the need to continue to protect ourselves from the heedless, thoughtless, careless multitudes?

REALLY!

Who Knows? I Don’t!

November 25, 2020

Why is it so hard to do nothing?

And equally hard to use mandated “do nothing but rest” time for tediously aggravating projects like emptying Dropbox or deleting old email?

Shouldn’t the latter give some focus and purpose and sense of accomplishment to the former?

Sadly, I am not finding it so.

Doing nothing has come to mean relaxing on the couch either reading books or playing solitaire and word games on my phone. I did label and file some emails that I will want to reference in future. And I thought about scrolling through Coursera for any classes that might interest me – but didn’t even do that.

Is my current lack of energy so pervasive that sedentary mental activities are beyond me? Or does it take a particular type of motivation to tackle those ever-on-the ‘to do’ list organizing chores that so many of us keep postponing? I don’t know.

I do know that I don’t have the motivation to find out why I don’t know.

Enough of tangled sentences. 

What I do know is that I just read an essay by Bruno Maceas of the New York Times (How Trump Almost Broke the Bounds of Reality) that delightfully answers the tormenting question of how so many decent people can continue to support – and just now to vote for – our current president. It has given me much to think about and the realization that implementing any bridges over the deep divides in our country will require both sides to develop a common language, something we do not appear to possess at this time.

The essay explicates Trumpism as a cult, and to my mind effectively supports this hypothesis. Sadly, what immediately came to mind was 900 people committing suicide with poisoned Kool Aid, at the behest of their cult leader. It seems now that too many elected leaders in both houses of Congress are drinking political Kool Aid at the behest of a man who does not deserve that devotion. What cult leader ever does?

If people can continue – as they have done – to lie dying of Covid in ICUs while insisting the virus is a falsehood promulgated by left wing media, how can we possibly succeed in freeing their compatriots from the illusory cult world to which they have committed themselves.

Again, I don’t know.

Reading in the NYTimes about women who have made new opportunities of the pause Covid has imposed on their lives, the consistent message is to accept the need to slow down, recognize an opportunity to reset, refocus, redirect the course of one’s life and draw on historical strengths to find motivation to move forward. For some those strengths were the voices of older family members, or of cultural traditions. For others the strengths came more immediately from their own prior achievements. In all cases, the main thrust of their new efforts was toward some form of engagement with others. Isn’t that what women do? Nurture and care for others in whatever manner they are able to?

Filing or deleting old emails does not support caring for anyone at all, not even myself. No wonder I consider it an unnecessary chore. The emails, mostly newsletters from various groups in which I have some interest, have accumulated because somewhere in each is an item or two that, at first reading, I thought would be relevant to a future writing project. Only in that sense can they be conceived of as having anything to do with concern for others. Does that slanted view of the value of organizing them help motivate me?

I don’t know.

It looks as though 2020 will be recorded in my personal history as the Year of I Don’t Know. 

So be it.

RANT

November 19, 2020

For the first time in all my years of writing posts, I am not reviewing, editing or striving for a reflective balance in this essay. It is purely, as the title states, an expression of my fury at the thoughtless, selfishly ugly hordes of people who are collectively responsible for the new Covid surge. As one of those who has followed health safety practices consistently since last February, mostly staying home, avoiding indoor groups, minimizing my social interactions with close friends and doing all I can to protect both myself and my neighbors/community, I am now forced once more to do without acupuncture and massage which have been essential to maintaining my health over years, and are even more important to my well being in these times of severe stress and risk.

Because of you ugly, vicious, lying deniers I have less energy, a recurrence of bronchitis that had not troubled me for decades, increased frequency of headaches, and once again curtailed access to the treatments I have relied on to keep active and employed into my late seventies.

I blame you – and I do not think I will be forgiving you any time soon. With your blind cult devotion to the idiot who has misled you for four painfully long years, you are destroying my quality of life, you are dying in high numbers and still you are denying simple truth.

SHAME ON YOU ALL. (That is the mildest thing I can say without resort to “improper” * words.)

The Power of Words

November 6, 2020

Back in high school, I started a project of comparing adages in French and English, which later expanded to include contrasts between British and American English. I remember that the first saying I analyzed was “Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost” or in French “Chaque’un pour soi et Dieu pour tous” which replaces the devil coming behind you to God helping us all. That profound difference in attitude seems to me now to not only show a cultural difference between the French and we Americans, but also to be particularly apt to the deep divisions that have been exposed within our society, and which the present election seems only to be worsening.

People I do not know, but who expressed themselves on an engaged Buddhism election night gathering, said what I was feeling – deep disappointment that the vote was not demonstrating a rejection of the ugly, toadying, violent, racist, often viciously retaliatory rhetoric and behavior we have been immersed in these past four years. People also expressed their commitment to continuing to pursue a loving, compassionate outflow in whatever ways their lives make possible. Being one of over 600 participants in the Upaya election night Zoom gathering helped me feel less overwhelmed, despondent and alone. The periods of silent contemplation interspersed through the evening gave me space to re-attend to the directives of my own Inner Master and to find the means to live beside, rather than be tossed about within, the vortex of social/political upheaval.

As horrific as is the loss of life from the pandemic, I suspect that the greater long term damage to all of us is the seeming loss of connection, of compassion, of respect, of willingness to try to understand and accept differences between families, cultures, religions, neighbors. The pandemic’s safety restrictions only seem to separate us. There have been enough inventive ways people have found to still show love and care on an individual basis, to demonstrate that the absence of these qualities is not a necessary byproduct of Covid-19. Other countries have suffered great loss of life and limitations of interactions without the citizens turning so virulently against one another.

Words have power. Interpreting the meaning of specific words and how those interpretations can affect communication has been a lifelong interest of mine. Just recently I engaged in a discussion that almost escalated into an argument about the word courage. I took strong exception to the other person’s statement that though there was much he disliked about our president, he admired the man’s courage. It was not easy to hold on to my temper long enough to find out that we two had very different interpretations of the word courage. Once I understood that the quality admired is the focused drive to be in charge and to achieve personal goals, I could accept that quality as one to be respected. It also allowed me to point out that courage usually means knowing the risks but taking an action despite them, which in turn means being aware of other viewpoints than one’s own. Narcissists (and we agreed this president is a narcissist) do not have the capacity to see or care outside their own viewpoint – therefore they cannot have courage. 

Because I was discussing with someone close to me, and we were both intent on not harming our relationship, we sought a way to reduce the divisiveness that a difference in terminology might have created. Because of the shortage of such cooperative intent in our larger society, words have become weapons further dividing and hurting us, and all sorts of neutral items or actions have become symbols of that division and thereby lost their neutrality.

I was struck this morning by an essay in one of the news roundups to which I subscribe, that laid out the conundrum facing many news organizations now – that our social environment has become so distorted that journalists can no longer simply state facts without that action being seen as taking a non-neutral, political position. 

If I repeat the fact that states where health safety practices are given priority have lower infection and death rates than those which do not, my “ought-to-be-seen-as-neutral” statement is taken as a political attack on individual freedom. If I report that New Mexico is the first state in the nation ever to have elected all women of color as its Representatives to Congress (all three – two Native American and one Latina, one of the three a Republican) my factual statement will be read as judgmental, or prideful, or proof I am a despised liberal, when it is simply a fact.

And to wear a mask – which I do always, everywhere out of my home, all the time, primarily to protect myself but also showing respect for those around me – that action is not a political statement but simply the implementation of a health standard that existed long before there was a pandemic. My former employer required that we use masks during flu season, for our own and our clients’ safety. No politics, just common sense.

(Now – referring back to my statement about New Mexico’s representatives to Congress, how did you attribute the political affiliations? Two Democrats and one Republican, in tandem with the Native/Latina division I specified? You would be wrong.)

I have long since stopped counting the times that I remind myself that to assume is to make an ass of u and me. It is also to abandon respect, patience, compassion, discernment, listening and caring as values to live by.  

Could the bridge to repairing our ruptured society be as simple as making a national mantra of “Never Assume”? Sadly, I do not believe something so straightforward would go uncorrupted.

Which will not stop me from doing my best to implement the qualities of respect and attention implicit in assuring neither I nor my interlocutors become asses.

Brooding

July 19, 2020

When a hen goes broody, sitting on eggs, she spends 99% of her time in one place, only getting off the eggs for a few minutes to peck up some food and take a few sips of water. She sits for several weeks and – if she is my grey “Easter egg” hen, she does more. She has chosen to sit in a trough that runs about four feet along the top of a feed manger now used only for storage of miscellany. My other hens have, until now, taken it in turns to lay their eggs along that trough, often in much the same position, such that I envision them lining up to take it in turns leaving their daily deposits to collect to a total of 4-6 that I pick up in the evenings.

Only two of the hens have the habit of announcing their laying prowess with repetitive loud crowing. I have heard those two regularly over the past couple weeks, but have generally only found one egg when I make my nightly checks. I recently mentioned to a friend that perhaps instead of two hens laying, only one was doing so and announcing herself twice – or that two hens were crowing their accomplishments but one was lying.

Instead, apparently both are laying and the gray hen is shoving their eggs beneath herself along with her own that she is trying to hatch. Otherwise there would not be, after just a week, more than ten eggs beneath her as my spouse ascertained to be the case yesterday. Grey hen gets ‘fatter’ looking each day, as she spreads herself more an more trying to cover and maintain warmth in so large  clutch.

I initially picked four eggs from her brooding spot when, just a couple days after she settled in, she was out to eat. I decided then to let her sit on eggs laid subsequently, since it is warm enough and enough summer still remains, for her to actually hatch and raise them. I did not anticipate that she would collect everyone else’s eggs to add to her own. Now I’m just curious to see the outcome. Will we in fact get babies? Of several different colors and breeds (my hens are a mixed bunch)?

It also has struck me that, in the midst of the ugly “everyone for him/herself” dynamic being perpetuated in our societal life these days, it is heartening to observe an example of self sacrifice for the collective good in a creature too often maligned as stupid.

Would that more of us purportedly intelligent bipeds were equally concerned for the well being and perpetuation of our young, particularly when it comes to finding the means to balance their health with their education and their impact on their families.

World Enough and Time

May 25, 2020

The wear and tear of time, plus assorted horse and motor vehicle accidents and a couple slip and falls have collectively resulted in a task of aging. More of my time than I wish had been needed over the past 18 months has been spent sorting out the causes of a variety of body pains, the triggers that set them off, and what treatments can reduce the pain to livable without creating new and different health problems. Along the way I verified the now-scientifically-proven hypothesis that ups and downs of the barometer are felt in the joints in advance of the visible weather changes they herald. I succeeded in identifying a sluggish gallbladder that the tests my doctor ordered merely confirmed. I’ve adopted some preventive herbals treatments and now have a few that have proven effective when different types of pain become too strong to ignore.

So I’m about as settled into effective symptom management as I expect is possible. And trying at the same time to settle into accepting that I can only respond to, not control, the variables, so will always have to be flexible in facing what each day presents.

All of which activity I now find may have had a different ultimate purpose than the obvious one of helping me become more comfortable in my daily activities. The detecting involved is now being called upon for quite another challenge. I want to sort out what underlies the so far inexplicable fluctuation in egg production from my small flock of hens.

Some of the variables – weather in particular – are probably the same as those that affect my pain levels. Cold and damp are not helpful. High wind is also probably as disturbing to the ladies as it is to my joints. But other potential factors are unique to the flock and as yet unidentified by me. I’m considering their amount of food (type also) and access to water in the small bowl they prefer (the bigger one that assures they do not go without is consistently shunned). I try to note whether our protective dog has been barking more – or less – at the variety of four legged visitors who pass nearby. Is she engaged with running off stray dogs who can be considered a threat by the hens , or merely alerting that the neighbor’s cows are in an adjacent pasture? Might there be a snake or a passing skunk disturbing them? Are some of them, like me, just feeling the aches and fatigue of age? I know there is one that must be recovering from the exquisite pain of laying the largest double yolk egg I have ever seen!

Two of the hens have gone broody, despite not having a rooster around to impregnate them. They will, I trust, resume laying when they fail in their attempts to hatch sterile eggs. Will they be challenged into more consistent production by the presence of 5 new flock members, including a young rooster? Or will they instead divert their energy to the establishment of a new pecking order with the youngsters put in their bottom-of-the-pole place?

Without access to comprehensible feedback, such as my own body gave me, I question whether I will ever have answers that enable me to reliably collect eggs from everyone each day. No matter – puzzling my way through the variables is a good distraction from equally unanswerable questions about what lies ahead for us all as we move on into the changing world we are glimpsing. As often as I have heard, and have quoted to myself, that the only certainty is change, my mind continues to try to find answers – certainty – in complex situations which defy resolution. Undoubtedly that is why I relax at night with crossword puzzles and Free Cell. Solvable challenges, with set answers.

That same mind that likes order and seeks connections recently made me aware of a list of seemingly unconnected situations. Green ice in the Antarctic, shrinking of the polar caps, bark beetle devastation of forests in the southern Rockies, insect destruction of olive groves in France and Italy, more frequent and more fierce storms of all types all around the globe, non-seasonal temperature extremes setting ever new records, spread of hostile insects like the killer bees into environments where they have not previously been known, and of course now the worldwide spread of virulent new virus-based illnesses. A quick and easy answer is “climate change” if the question is “what is the cause of all these negatives?” 

But when the question is “what is the solution?” no such single simple answer presents itself. 

Nor is there a single simple answer to my questions about how I will adapt to a recently changed pattern in my personal life, a change that is still evolving, with key decisions yet to be made. In past years my life circumstances enforced the learning of patience – waiting for the time to be right for significant alteration in employment, companionship and other facets of daily life. Now I seem to be facing the opposite lesson. Or maybe just a different facet of patience – learning to step back and observe fast moving changes without feeling I have to act or “figure it all out.”

Just as I am unlikely to sort out all the influences on my chickens’ egg laying propensities, and I know I don’t have many answers to the multitude of manifestations of change in the environment; just as I know my scope of action in our tormented civil (uncivil) society is limited to what I can do in my immediate surroundings; so too I need to remind myself daily that my mind is not in charge of finding answers to my personal challenges. Those require detachment, patience, observation and tolerance of uncertainty.

The way forward for me personally, and for the larger society as well, will show itself in due time.

Who knows, maybe I’ll also be gifted with an insight that turns my poultry yard into the most prolific egg production unit in the region. Wouldn’t that be fun!

End of Apolitical – Pt.2

May 3, 2020

Further thoughts on how challenging it has become to be apolitical, and still express anything meaningful – the simple act of being consistent in what one states as true has become a political act. Saying one thing one day, denying that one said it the next, reversing yet again and asserting that one spoke the truth “based on facts known at the time” whether or not those were the known facts is a behavioral practice commonly seen now.

To me, it stands in stark contrast to the behavior exhibited, for example, by New Mexico’s governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham as she directs the response to Covid-19. She states “what we know now” and “what the projections and science indicate is most likely to happen going forward”, followed by her assessment of how to best mitigate both medical and economic harm in the best interests of the citizens of the state as a whole. If the situation changes, as it recently has done with a spike in infections in the corner of NM that overlaps the Navajo Nation, Ms. Lujan-Grisham factually states that changed conditions now dictate a different way forward.

Consistent, responsible, believable, reliable conduct. Much needed in uncertain times.

Would that more of us all could find within ourselves the fortitude to be consistent and factual – accepting that in so doing we are of necessity also being political.

The End of Apolitical

May 2, 2020

One aspect of Quaker belief has historically been an engagement in social action, whether in support of emancipation of slaves in the mid 1800’s, as pacifists opposed to war as a solution to political conflicts from the U.S Civil War through the World Wars, to Korea, Vietnam, and the “police actions” in multiple sites around the world, or more currently in testimony against the abuse of peaceful immigrants to the U.S. This activity is often expressed as “speaking Truth to power.”

I respect the decision of a local Jewish Community entity to “keep politics out of” the monthly newsletter which informs of social and cultural events and, most recently, of how to access worship and support online. Reading of that decision I did wonder, however, whether it can be meaningfully implemented?

Avoiding outright expression of political preferences is achievable. But has not the simple statement of proven facts, whether scientific or cultural, historical or ecological, now become a form of political expression?

I admire the small individually owned fueling station/store in Santa Rosa where I purchased diesel for the exceptional price of $2.14 per gallon, not so much for the price I paid but for the fact that the store had signs announcing – and implemented the precautions – of everyone who entered wearing a mask and no more than three customers inside at one time. I am stating simple facts but am I not also expressing a political position? If I drop the first two words (my opinion) and rearrange the sentence structure, have I eliminated politics from the statement?

 Probably. 

Have I communicated anything meaningful to my reader or listener?

Probably not. 

Oh, I’ve saved someone who doesn’t have a mask the waste of time involved in driving around Santa Rosa looking for that cheap-fuel gas station. Not a gesture very high on my scale of caring activities, though perhaps important to a now-out-of-work individual trying to save their limited cash by getting cheaper gas.

Driving around myself, with VoteSmart (Facts Matter) and Science Supporter bumper stickers, I am making simple statements of fact. In today’s toxic public sphere I am also unavoidably making a political statement.

The personal has become political. Not to my liking, not the world I wish to see re-emerge from the present upheaval. But most likely the world as it will continue to be, at least in the U.S. for some time yet.

Too bad.

So sad.

Would that it were not so.

So

The New Reality

March 29, 2020

Being already a “work from home” employee, the stay at home order keeping us safe in New Mexico is not as severe a change for me as it is for those used to clustering in an office. The most engaging part of my job – visiting clients in their homes to complete assessments of their needs – has been altered to over-the-phone sessions which are challenging and, from my perspective and the feedback I’ve received, notably less satisfying to both parties. Not comfortable for me, a person who never learned to “hang on the phone” as a teenager, but a small price to pay for the general increase in health safety for me and my clients.

What is considerably less easy to accommodate is the withdrawal of almost all the support system that I rely on to keep my energy up and my own health assured. 

Last month, due to three successive weeks of snow storms on my scheduled appointment day, I repeatedly missed an acupuncture treatment and my overall health dipped noticeably. My provider wasn’t happy that I seem unable to maintain function without a weekly treatment. I can understand his view – but I hope I helped him feel better when I likened the weekly treatments, that I seem to be dependent on, to a person reliant on an oxygen concentrator. Without it they lose energy and fade, with it they can maintain a normal active life.

Under New Mexico’s fairly strict stay-at-home guidelines, I no longer have access to acupuncture. At the same time, the pressures of my work have doubled, as I not only have the normal load of assessments and contacts with my caseload to complete, but also have to help frail and dependent people meet their non-medical, every day needs despite the general shut down of almost all businesses and transportation.

Reading about the run on hair dye because beauty salons have closed, or the ongoing discussions of how to entertain and/or educate children at home from school, I am well aware of how many adjustments everyone (almost everyone – unbelievably there are still some who persist in disregarding the threat we all face) is having to make, and how difficult most of us find it to make major adjustments of any kind on short notice.

I was scheduled for a haircut two days after my state shut us all indoors. Many many years ago, I cut my own hair. If need be, I suppose I will do so again. Looking shaggy and slightly unkempt is perhaps not good for my emotional well being, but it is not on a par with adapting to going without acupuncture treatments. 

I have, like everyone, a list of the negatives of being limited to home except for accessing “vital” functions like groceries. But I am also listing the positives of living how and where I do – easy access to safe outdoor exercise, for example. I merely have to step outside my house and walk to the mailbox (a quarter mile by the time I go there and back), feed the chickens, hunt for where one aggravating hen has decided to lay hers hidden away from the usual places the rest favor, or follow my dog across our several acres as she chases cottontails.

Living comparatively remotely, in an area where electrical failures are not uncommon, I am habituated to keeping stocked with nonperishables. Working in health care, I keep a supply of cleansers that I routinely use after member visits. Thus I have not been caught short in the face of suddenly empty store shelves. My diet is perhaps not as varied as I would prefer, but I will not go hungry. 

After living the proverbial paycheck to paycheck for almost all my working life I am, better late than never, a little more comfortable. Enough so as not to worry about meeting my bills even if my spouse should be furloughed for some portion of the economic pause the nation is now experiencing. My plans to retire by mid-late summer are probably going to be scrapped, but they were not yet firmly in place. For now, although it is stressful and fatiguing, having the work to do is also rewarding. With so many usual outlets closed off, it is good to be able to still feel useful.

Pertinent to usual outlets – I am aware of wanting to help my favorite local restaurants to survive by supporting their take-out order processes now in place, but realize that my enjoyment of an occasional meal there has rarely been about the food. What I value is the “going out to eat”, being served in an atmosphere different from home. Bringing take out home does not satisfy that desire for change – and I enjoy cooking enough that replacing my own meal with a brought in one is of little benefit. If I can help the restaurant survive, though, I am doing something positive for my neighbors and community.

The reality of voluntary seclusion (or mandated seclusion in an increasing number of locations) is bringing out a new awareness of variations in level of trust in relationships that, at least for me, would not likely have come to mind otherwise. I tend to take people as they present themselves unless or until something significant exposes that they are not what they seem. This quality of not judging has been beneficial in my employment, enabling me to obtain cooperation from diverse clients whom others have found too difficult to work with.  Now however, circumstances have led me to reconsider even relatively close relationships, as I assess if I trust someone else enough to have them into my home, or me to go into theirs. Do they have an appropriate level of conscientiousness about hygiene to assure my safety? How do I balance the importance to mental health of occasional social contact with the equally important need to protect physical health?

That latter question is not so unlike the national challenge of balancing health of the population and health of the nation’s economy. Trade offs of all sorts are bringing to the fore our very varied senses of morality, ethics, and individual versus communal well-being. The only certainty is that we, both as individuals and as a society, will not come out unscathed nor unchanged.

May we all come out and have the opportunity to see what is altered, and in what ways!

Conspiracy Theory???

September 16, 2019

A recent conversation about obtaining certificates in two different specialties (purchasing and project management) brought me to consideration of how divisive/divided everything is at present. Not just red and blue states, old style versus Trumpian Republicans, moderate versus liberal Democrats, but education programs and goals, job descriptions, conditions for social club membership… everything I look around at seems defined by exclusion. I find myself wondering whether there is some malign intent of the “divide and conquer” variety behind our present social condition?

When and how did it become unacceptable to be a generalist, taught how to think, reason, research and learn in any area one wished to apply those skills to? When and how did society shift to requiring that one have a one year LPN with but minimal work experience, to do utilization review, while a social work M.A. and 20 years experience qualifying people for the programs under review does not meet the minimum requirement to be interviewed for a reviewer position? Why does a B.A. in OSHA and Safety Management not obviate the need, listed in a job a description, to also hold a certificate of completion of a duplicative 20 hour OSHA course?

It almost seems that we have arrived at the intended outcome of an active conspiracy to manipulate and control large swaths of society by insidiously suggesting that not only are “some more equal than others” but that the “more equal” class is virtually closed off. No one may join it except perhaps through a narrow path, intentionally ill defined and held secret. Any “others” who try to become part of the exclusive, dominating class are apt to be investigated and attacked at the behest of the original cabal. 

Have the various tech giants done anything differently than the railroad and mining and other robber barons of earlier centuries? Are our community ethics so much more refined now, that we think we can no longer tolerate a morality that has prevailed for centuries? Or are the conspirators in action here too, quietly moving to keep their ranks pure?

No, I don’t really believe there is a conspiracy at work – but there certainly has been a change in values, an ever expanding emphasis on specialization and diminishing of respect for what used to be called a Renaissance mind. At the same time, our society – and a good many others around the world – have become much more fractured, partisan, intolerant. While I doubt this outcome is the intent of a controlling cabal, I do think there is a direct correlation between the narrowing of fields of learning and the splintering of society.

What may have started as a well-intentioned effort to help students prepare for jobs and careers by specializing in areas where workers were needed seems to have morphed into a misguided focus on defending the ranks by excluding as many “others” as possible. Is the tendency to define “us” as “not them” so deeply rooted in the human psyche that as exclusion by race or gender was legislated away, other less obvious criteria for separating “the wheat from the chaff” were written into the marketplace, the workplace, the country club and our living spaces?

A neighbor described to me the co-housing arrangement her son just moved into in Los Angeles. He had to apply and be accepted into a group of artists (generic term, they are painters and actors and musicians or, as in his case, models) to rent his cell-sized pod and share kitchen, living room, studios, and other amenities including a recording studio. The young man is biracial, vegan, well educated and has been working as a professional model for several years. The co-housing rent is half what he would have to pay for an efficiency apartment, and thus a really good arrangement for someone just starting out in L.A. He did comment to his mother, my neighbor, that he’d try to hunt up “some science types” to hang out with, to balance what would otherwise be a rather unitary social scene. Co-housing is a fine concept. Why does it have to be implemented in such an exclusionary way?

A student at the nearby United World College asked me for guidance on what to expect and how to conduct herself during a project she would be conducting at the local detention center. She knew I had taught in the New Mexico Penitentiary years ago, and might have insight into prisoner mentality. We discussed the challenge of being “human” enough to connect with the prisoners without becoming vulnerable to being manipulated. We also talked about how prison culture had been altered with the advent of gangs. What historically was a value system somewhat like the stereotype of the old West, with one’s word being one’s bond, has shifted to allegiance to one’s gang affiliation, with it being perfectly acceptable to lie in support of the aims of that group. I could not resist drawing a parallel to politics of today, with allegiance to one’s political party being expected to take precedence over integrity, precedent, and even the law and the Constitution. Yet another instance of the we/they divide which makes “cross party negotiation” equivalent to betrayal.

No, I don’t really believe there is a cabal whose conscious intent has been to fracture society and our nation – but yet I cannot ignore the seeming evidence that SOMETHING has produced a shift in values that I find deeply disheartening, downright fearsome, and needing to be pointed out and combated.

Are there other generalists, negotiators, open-minded learners, willing to cross party, culture and national lines with me?


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