Health Is a Right

It used to be that when you took a flight, you were treated like royalty. I remember the first time that I flew to Europe when I was 12, my parents insisted that my sister and I look nice for the flight, because that is what you did then. They were right. Everyone on the flight dressed up. Flights used to be expensive and fewer people were able to fly, so you were treated in coach class then more like first class today. That was before flights got cheaper, people started wearing sweat pants to travel, and flying began to feel more like traveling by bus. Then to add insult to injury, airlines began cutting back on services to save money. You used to get a free movie and a hot meal; now you’re lucky if you get a bag of pretzels. It’s gotten to the point in which customers are starting to wonder when airlines will start charging money for oxygen.

The idea that oxygen could become a new travel expense may seem far-fetched, but in the United States, a debate is raging right now about who gets to have health care. Republicans believe that health care is a privilege, like cable tv or cell phones or owning a car. Democrats believe that health care is a right, more like oxygen on a plane that no one should ever be denied, regardless of what class they are in. What is scary to me is that neither side can see the merits of the other side, so our country is becoming more and more polarized. Democrats refuse to see the fact that there are people in our society who try to game the system, like educated graduate students applying for Food Stamps, or healthy people pretending to be sick to get Disability. And there are citizens who have four children with four different fathers as teenagers and have no way to support them, expecting everyone else to pay. But Republicans refuse to see that we are not all born with equal opportunity. A child born to a teenage addict is going to have a harder time than a child born to two educated parents who want and love him. And society needs to help those who are born less fortunate.

As I always tell my kids, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I am lucky to have the life I have, and I also know that to those who are given much, much is expected. Every religions talks about the importance of helping those who are struggling. As a society, and as a world, helping to bring others up elevates us all. And yet we have a mean-spiritedness in our discourse, an every man out for himself concept that is uniquely American, something that the rest of the world just shakes its head over. If a child is born with a disability or an older person doesn’t have the money to care for herself, do we just throw them out on the street? A compassionate society understands that if you are more successful, you need to give more to help those who can’t contribute as much. It’s only right.

As you seek your world stage, don’t ever forget that you were once a little baby, relying on the goodness of others to take care of you. Don’t forget all the people who have loved and helped and encouraged you along the way to help you get to where you are. You are not successful because you are more special.  You are where you are partly due to hard work and sacrifice, but also because of luck and timing and lots of help and well-wishers along the way. The best way to celebrate your good fortune is to think of others. Nobody chooses to be poor or to have a sick child and our country is stronger when our people are healthy. Health care should be a right that every one has access to, just like K-12 education and fire and police services. And if airlines ever try to start charging for oxygen, let’s hope that there’s a big fight, because we all have the right to breathe, just as we all have the right to health.

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These are selfies passengers took from a recent flight that required oxygen mid-flight.

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One Pizza

Last weekend, I was driving a bunch of 6th grade boys home from a party, and since we had some time in the car, I asked for their thoughts about education.  One of the boys had recently left his private school to be homeschooled because the school refused to accommodate such a bright student, even though the school prided itself on celebrating diversity of all kinds.  Apparently, celebrating diversity of intellect was not on their list.  This boy was disheartened by an education system, both public and private, that bends over backwards for the slower students, but does little or nothing for those at the top.  I asked the boys to imagine that our society consisted of just ten people and that all them needed a pizza every day to be fed.  I asked the boys if it would it be fair if we only gave them part of a pizza if another person needed more.  (I reminded them that special needs budgeting takes up to 40% of the budget in some cases, and the rest of the pie is dwindling.)  I said, “If you need a pizza every day to feel good, but someone else needs three of the ten pizzas, should you give up a lot of your pizza?” The boy who is getting homeschooled said sweetly, “It doesn’t cost more to stimulate faster learners; schools just have to think that it’s important.”  Even so, when I asked about the pizza, the answer was: “ONE PERSON, ONE PIZZA.” They understood that we have to look out for everyone’s needs, not just the needs of the most vocal.

I reminded the boys that this applies beyond education.  Sometimes rich people think that since they pay more taxes because they make more money, they deserve more pizza and that other people should go with less.  But with something like health care, I asked, should the younger and healthier and richer get more pizza?  Should the sickest and oldest and poorest maybe not get any pizza?  Nope: “ONE PERSON, ONE PIZZA.”  They all agreed that we are all equal, and therefore we all deserve clean air and water, and education, and access to safety, and health care.  To kids, this is a no brainer.  But somehow American adults make this so complicated. We sometimes get so focused on ourselves, that we forget that we are not the only person who has needs.  Imagine if we said that rich people deserve more oxygen because they have better jobs?  Imagine if we said that the fire department was only for people who could pay, so if you’re poor and your house on fire, tough luck?

Kids see how we are getting it wrong: that we’ve become an entitled society who has forgotten about our fellow citizens.  The boys agreed that sometimes someone needs more pizza, like if they are sick or their house burns down.  But they also agreed that it’s not alright for one group to always insist on more pizza than everyone else, whether special needs kids in education or rich people for health care. It’s crazy to me that US leaders don’t understand the necessity of pooling risk, so that the young and healthy and rich help pay for the old and sick and poor people. In that case, of course, you are paying more for pizza than the person who is poor, but in the end everyone still gets a pizza.

I’m sure that those of you reading this who are not American must be shaking your heads, wondering how the richest country on earth could be that stingy with its citizens.  You also must be asking yourselves how we can be inventive and do great things with our lives if we’re worried about losing our health care. That fact is that we can’t, anymore than if we had to worry about whether oxygen would be available on a daily basis.  The sooner we can look to other countries for guidance, the better. The fact is that we are not spending enough time and money on students at the top and we are not allowing all citizens access to affordable health care.

As you claim your world stage, remember that you have a right to a pizza just like everyone else.  You are as worthy and important as the next person. Remember that for those who are given much, much is expected.  We need to look out for those who are less fortunate who may not realize that they have a right to pizza too.  Remember the world stage is really a globe that can contain all of our gifts and contributions.  There is no ladder to climb to get ahead of everyone else.  There is instead a giant circle of humans who are all worthy.

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Safe Spaces

Yale University, my alma mater, decided this week to rename one of its existing residential colleges, from Calhoun to Hopper, changing the name from a male 19th Century slavery proponent to a 20th Century female computer science expert and rear admiral.  I think it’s important not to glorify slavery or white supremacists and I think it’s great that women are finally getting recognized at Yale.  The fact is, Calhoun should never have been picked by Yale as a name for a building in the first place.  Nonetheless, I am concerned that we are starting to erase history that doesn’t sit well with people, until we someday get to the point that new generations don’t believe that evil things ever happened. People have petitioned to change Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, for instance, as well as other school names, and many have argued that there should not be a memorial for Washington or Jefferson, because they held slaves. In addition to Yalies fighting to change the name of Calhoun, they are also demanding that the early Western Civilization literature classes, which include writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare, should contain more female and minority writers, even though there are more modern classes that include those groups.  Do we really want to reinvent history so that it suits our narrow world views? Reading Shakespeare is pretty important.  Even though he was a white male, he was one of the greatest writers who ever lived.  Should we just toss him aside since it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves?

When I was traveling in Vietnam with my family a few years ago, we took a tour of the Mekong Delta and ended up having lunch with some young adult women from East Germany, both of whom were born right around the time the Berlin Wall came down.  I remember backpacking through Europe in 1990 and staying in a youth hostel in the Netherlands with various girls, including one from West Germany and one from East Germany.  The East German girl had never been allowed out of the country until then and she was small and malnourished.  She told us what a nightmare it was to live on that side of the country; they had no freedom and were scared all the time.  The West German had grown up healthy and free, just like me.  I never forgot that night at the youth hostel.  So when I met these East Germans, who were almost a generation younger, I was assuming their response would be the same.  But in fact, the girls told me that having the Berlin wall come down had zero impact on their parents or grandparents, because they had grown up healthy and happy with lots of freedoms.  I was shocked. When I told them what my history books said about that, they were offended and replied that our history was wrong, and that is not what they had learned in school.  They also added that their parents never mentioned anything terrible happening. Clearly, the bad history had been erased, so that future generations could forget.  It’s scary that this could be happening here by erasing, building by building, anything that reflects an uncomfortable time in our history.

There is a new phrase on college campuses these days, called “safe spaces.” Students who feel marginalized are demanding that their administrations provide separate safe spaces for them to feel comfortable and to spend time only with people like them.  I wonder if these students ever studied the famous case, Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled in 1955 that “separate but equal” led to inequality.  Students are also asking for “trigger warnings” before difficult lectures so that they can prepare for any information that might hurt their feelings or challenge them.  At Yale last fall, students protested the fact that other students were wearing Halloween costumes that offended their culture or background.  They wanted the administration to step in and insist that no one wear upsetting costumes.  When one of the professors wrote a thoughtful email reminding students that they were in college (not preschool) and that they were there to be challenged and that it wasn’t Yale’s job to police costumes, the students held a protest, shouting horribly disrespectful things to the master of the college, and then pushing to have him and his wife step down. Six months later, they in fact resigned.

There is a new term for college students, called “Snowflakes” in that they are so delicate that they melt with any heat.  There are a lot of theories about why this is happening, particularly helicopter parenting and trophies given to everyone, but the administrations cave into this.  College students today feel that they shouldn’t have to be exposed to ideas that bother them or people who don’t support their world view.  After Hillary Clinton lost the election last fall, many colleges offered special services to help students get through the trauma.  Cornell offered a special “cry in” for students to vent, and Michigan Law School offered its law students a gathering with bubbles, playdoh, coloring and snacks so they could feel better.  Many professors caved in to canceling exams for these traumatized students.  I wonder if anyone mentioned that at other points in history, exams weren’t canceled because of difficult news. Vietnam was raging for most of my early childhood and anyone lucky enough to be in college and not at war, was taking exams because if they didn’t get a B or higher, they could lose their draft deferment.

As you find your world stage, remember that the world needs you, whatever your background or race or religion, and the most impressive thing you can do is to be open to every kind of person and every view point, eschewing things like trigger warnings and safe spaces.  The world needs you to pass on the history you’ve learned, as well as what you’ve lived through so that we can never forget.  As we stand for justice and peace, remember that erasing history or hiding from others’ views isn’t the answer.  We are all stronger than we know.  And together we can create a better world.

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This Land Is Your Land

When I was little, I used to love to listen to Pete Seeger’s album, in which he sang “This Land Is Your Land.” It was the seventies, so even as a young child, I understood that this song had meaning, and that we all shared land with fellow Americans. Since it was during the last part of Vietnam, with ongoing peace rallies taking place, I was aware that we had a responsibility to others beyond our borders too. I was also learning about Native Americans at the time, realizing that they were here first and that we took their land.  We were the immigrants arriving to find better a land, whereas they were already here.  Around that time, I remember my father coming home, annoyed with a coworker who complained about all the “boat people” coming to California.  My father, who is a descendent of the Robber Barron and Stanford University founder, Leland Stanford, responded: “I was a boat person.  Weren’t you?”

In these very divisive times, it’s hard to remember that if we are not descended from Native Americans, then we came over as immigrants.  Some of my family came over on the Arabella, ten years after the Mayflower, but they were still boat people. My husband and my family both have ancestors who fought in the American Revolution, so technically my daughter could be in the Daughters of the American Revolution (not that we care), but does it make her more American?  We are white, upper middle-class and Anglo Saxon, but that doesn’t make us more worthy of being an American.  We also have relatives who escaped from Ireland after the potato famine and found their American dream by having children who were better off than they were.  My maternal great-grandfather only had an eighth grade education, but his daughter (my grandmother) got a PhD, which was no small feat for a women of that generation.

The United States has always been a melting pot of immigrants, coming to this land to create a better life for their families.  Even though my ancestors mostly immigrated to America by the mid-19th Century, before Ellis Island has opened, my husband has some family who did arrive that way. I grew up hearing about the fact that my maternal great-grandfather only spoke Swedish when he arrived in first grade. There was no bilingual education in those days, so he learned English within a short time.  Whereas I have a friend who teaches English at a public high school in California, and he complains that some of today’s immigrants refuse to learn the language. I do believe that language is what unites a country, as well as common customs.  But I also believe that Americans should be free to practice whatever religion they believe in, since our country was founded based on the notion of religious freedom.

There was a poll taken recently by the Pew Foundation asking Americans, as well as citizens of other countries, about what makes someone American (or Danish, etc).  How important was having a similar language or religion for national identity? The Washington Post stated: “About one-third of all Americans think that you have to be a Christian to truly be an American — despite the history of religious pluralism that dates back to the nation’s very earliest days…Americans were far more likely than residents of other countries included in the survey to say that religion was key to sharing in the national identity. Thirty-two percent of Americans said one should be Christian to really be American, compared to just 13 percent of Australians, 15 percent of Canadians and 15 percent of Europeans who felt the same way about belonging in their homelands…Religion was the only question on which Americans were an outlier.” (Julie Zauzmer, Feb 1, 2017)

We currently have a president who married an immigrant but doesn’t see the irony and hypocrisy in viewing other immigrants differently– maybe because she’s beautiful, and white and Christian.  We are not comfortable as a nation with head scarves and dark skin.  But when my daughter collapsed on a flight, it was a Muslim doctor who helped her.  When my son had a serious health issue as a baby, it was a Chinese specialist who changed his life.  Borders are not as important as they used to be, since we are all one global economy. The sooner we realize that we benefit from being in a melting pot and learning from other cultures, the better.

To find your world stage, remember that whatever nationality or color or race or ethnic background, the world needs you.  We benefit from diversity of experience and background and thought. This week, find someone who is not like you, and remind yourself what you have in common.  And for something truly inspiring, watch this amazing Danish video, which explores the boxes we put ourselves and others in, and what we all, in fact, have in common.

https://www.bustle.com/p/this-video-unboxing-peoples-stereotypes-sends-a-powerful-message-in-2017-video-35039

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Protect Your Spirit

I was listening to a radio show a few months ago just after the election, and the radio host was interviewing a minister about his view of the state of the world. This kind of interview would not normally be of interest to me, but I found myself riveted because the minister was funny and irreverent and not preachy at all. And he said something that I never forgot:  “Whatever you do, remember to protect your spirit.” That statement stopped me in my tracks because I had never heard the concept.  Lots of people talk about the importance of taking care of your body or your stress levels or your emotional health, but I had never had anyone tell me to protect my spirit.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure what he meant at first, but after the rancor of the last year–first with a mean-spirited election and then with all the craziness of Trump’s transition and first few days in office–I know now what the minister meant.  He meant that you need to buffer yourself against the insanity of the world right now, because it’s not good for your spirit.

We know that when our bodies are feeling run down or when we get sick, that we are weaker in other ways.  It’s hard to feel loving and generous when you’ve been up all night coughing.  I got a really bad cold recently that completely knocked me off my feet.  I ended up in bed for several days, canceling everything possible.  My body was grateful that I was able to stop and rest. We also know what it feels like when are emotions are run down, in small ways, like after a fight with our spouse or a confrontation at work, but also in large ways, such as after a divorce or death.  Sometimes writing in a journal can help or talking it over with a friend.  But if the stress is much bigger, it may take months or years to regain our equilibrium. Five years ago, my family bought a new home and sold our old one simultaneously in very complicated real estate deals (with a bridge loan so we could carry two houses) and then we renovated for two years, then I was in coaching school to get certified, and then we planned for and executed a six month trip through Asia and Oceania, while my husband did research and I homeschooled our kids.  All of it was important and wonderful, but the ongoing stress did a number on my body and my emotions due to the constant demands.  I developed unrelenting eye pain, which has forced me to slow down and look at how I can heal my body and my mind.

Now that every day there is bad news about the White House and Trump’s erratic behavior and decisions, I am acutely aware that my spirit is taking a hit from the constant barrage of negativity.  I read the New York Times daily and go on Facebook regularly, but I don’t watch tv news. Even still, I feel spiritually drained in a way that I never have before.  Emotional drain usually comes from something you can understand– a move, going back to school, extensive travel– and mind and body often go hand in hand.  But spiritual drain is another animal altogether, because it’s like a slow erosion of peace from one’s soul. I’ve always been a very up-beat and joyful person and very trusting of others to do the right thing.  Now I’m starting to question that.  Every time I go on Facebook, there’s one “Friend” or another who is RANTING about what happened today in the news and how we need to give money and march and petition right now.  Whether we like it or not, our spirits need tending as well, so that we don’t lose hope or become hardened and cynical, or just stop trying or caring, like the learned helplessness rats in the cage, who stop trying to eat the Fruit Loops because they keep getting shocked.  Many of us feel shocked by the fact that we have an angry, unstable president with access to the nuclear codes, who is single- handedly trying to dismantle so much of what we have fought for over the years.

The answer for all of us is to take a break from the onslaught of bad news, and do things that are life affirming and joyful.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t write letters and call our representatives.  It does mean that we choose to do what makes sense for us and let go of needing to plug into the hysteria.  For me, I’ve been going on long walks, meditating daily, taking hot baths with Epsom Salts (the magnesium helps clear negativity) and surrounding myself with positive people as much as possible. Yesterday, I got out my Bach and played piano and then went on a long walk with a friend and then played with her eight month-old baby. Babies have a way of putting everything into perspective; they know how to protect their spirits because they live in the moment and love to play.  Sometimes it’s easy to lose this as we get older, but if we have, it’s never too late to refocus on the things that make us happy.

To find your world stage, remember to protect your spirit.  If you start to feel down or out of sorts and don’t know why, it may very well be that your spirit needs tending.  Take time to be alone, go on long walks in nature, and turn to the arts to lift your spirit.  And if you’re religious, there’s nothing like singing an old hymn to set your spirit right.

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Peace on Earth

This is the time of year when we send and receive holiday cards that say, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men.” I think of all the times in history, however, when getting a card like that might have seemed a bit ironic. How about 1861 after the Civil War had begun, or 1917 when the United States entered World War I or 1941 after Pearl Harbor, when we involved ourselves in yet another war, not to mention more recent wars, like the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars? We are hardly practicing peace on earth as a nation or as a world, and goodwill toward men is a joke in many schools in which bullying is rampant. We even have a president-elect who never learned the important life adage that if you can’t think of something nice to say, don’t say anything. And whatever you do, don’t tweet angry diatribes at 3am, because that never ends well.

Regardless of which candidate you voted for and why, none of us realized how easily a foreign country and enemy could hack into our country’s classified documents and intervene in an election. This is the stuff of Hollywood movies, not real life. None of us could have imagined that we would have a president elect who plans to make business deals on the side that will benefit his personal bottom line and compromise national security. None of us could have imagined the hate crimes after the election, with head scarves being ripped off of innocent Muslims and Hispanics being threatened if they don’t “go back home.” None of us could have imagined the anti-Semitism that has been rising over the past few years, even before the election year, and the Alt-Right/Neo Nazi rallies picking up traction this year.

Last week, a teenage girl who had been cyber bullied for years, was so sad and desperate to be heard by her parents, that she shot and killed herself in front of them. But even after her death, the cyber bullying continued so that the tormenters could harass the parents. This girl may not have been in one of the vulnerable groups that Trump dissed—she was not a minority or Muslim or gay—but she was deemed unacceptable by her peers and they decided that she would be tormented relentlessly just for kicks until they pushed her over the edge. This is the world we live in. And as the parent of a teen and preteen, it sickens me and frankly scares me.

Why all the rage and mean spiritedness? I think people can be kind when they feel secure in their lives. But if you think you’re paying taxes for someone who doesn’t feel like working, or you feel like your job is disappearing to immigrants or shipped off oversees altogether, or you feel like it’s harder to get into college today if you’re a white man, since you’re supposed to apologize for “white privilege,” then a rage can boil up and explode. For many people, political correctness has gone too far, and the rights of others is now interfering with your rights. People are feeling forgotten and disrespected, and when that happens, it’s like being stuck in traffic in New York during rush hour in a blizzard and they’ve closed off your exit to get home. You’re not going to be gracious or pleasant and you stop caring about the needs of anyone else.

In this season of supposed joy, let us remember, regardless of our religion, the message of love– that we are called to love, to give to those in need, and to remember those who have no voice, particularly children in warn-torn countries like Syria, where children as young as seven are sending desperate texts to the outside world, begging for help before it’s too late. We have a responsibility to people who have less than we do. But we also have a responsibility to stand up against the ridiculous movement to rename buildings, in an attempt to erase history, and to over-focus on white entitlement, because it’s backfiring and pushing too far is creating an extreme reaction that is reminiscent of Germany in the early 1930’s.

To find your world stage, remember that the stage is big enough for everyone as long as every person contributes his or her absolute best to the world. We have so much to learn from each other as long as we are all good-spirited and hard-working and contribute. And for those who are given much, much is expected. For peace on earth, we must give people who are not like us the benefit of the doubt, and for goodwill toward men, we need to care for the smallest, most vulnerable and displaced among us, just like that baby in a manger two thousand years ago, who was a homeless immigrant with seemingly nothing to offer the world. Only the wise men knew how that baby would change the course of history.

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The Other Side

Now that the election is over, we have to accept that the people have spoken, even though for the second time in history, within the last sixteen years, the winner didn’t get the popular vote.  More people wanted Hillary Clinton, but the popular vote doesn’t matter in an Electoral College system.  This isn’t the first time my candidate didn’t win.  I didn’t vote for either of the Bushes either. But this is the first time that we have a president elect whom I don’t respect, given that he is sexist, racist, xenophobic, mean-spirited and unfit to lead.  It’s hard as a parent to know what to say to our kids, since they are realizing that you don’t have to be even-tempered or even qualified to be president anymore.  You just have to have been on a reality tv show.  It’s also very hard to know what to say when our state (Massachusetts) has now legalized pot.  As my younger child said, “How can adults expect kids not to do drugs if they legalize them?” I didn’t have an answer.

In the days that have followed the election, what has bothered me most, however, is the amount of vitriol being spewed by my fellow Democrats toward anyone who voted for Trump, calling them racist and homophobic and lacking a moral compass.  On Facebook, there are lots of posts saying things like, “If you cared about blacks or Muslims you wouldn’t have voted for Trump.”  There is a naive, self-satisfied, condescending tone that a lot of liberals take that is frankly smug and out of touch with what our country actually is.  We may be educated from fancy colleges with lots of degrees, but how many us understand what it’s like to be a blue collar worker with a high school degree looking for work that pays more than $12 per hour since the factory jobs have dried up? I listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast because I like his financial advice, but I also learn so much from people not like me– people who live in the midwest and south or in small towns, who drive pick up trucks and didn’t go to college, and are trying to raise four kids on a less than 40k per year. I’ve heard callers talk about trying to piece together menial jobs while they do night school and try to get ahead.  A lot of these people are good folks who aren’t racist or sexist.  They just want to be able to support their families and find the American Dream.

How many of us who live on each coast in well-to-do neighborhoods with great schools are friends with bus drivers from Ohio or hairdressers from Mississippi or coal miners from West Virginia or factory workers from Michigan?  How many of us know people who rely on their hunting skills to put deer meat on the table to get through the New Hampshire winters?  We may have friends of every race and cultural background and have lived or flown all over the world, but how well do we really understand the Americans who are not at all like us?  When I was in high school, I was in a church choir that toured all over the country, but mostly in places that voted for Trump.  These people were some of the nicest, most lovely people I’ve ever met.  But many of them were working class and struggling to get ahead.  I never forgot that. The reality is that class is the one thing we don’t talk about in this country.  But it’s the great divide.

Now I want to be clear.  I voted for Hillary Clinton.  I was excited to have the first woman ever to lead our country, an important goal that was overshadowed by the email scandal and the Trump tape.  I was frankly shocked that the polls were so wrong and that someone so incompetent and immature and inappropriate will be leading our country.  But I don’t think Hillary was able to address the rage that many Americans feel with the status quo, something Bernie Sanders was able to.  People ultimately picked the game changer, although I’m scared to see what kind of change that will bring, particularly given the violence at the Trump rallies and after the election.  I fear for people of color and immigrants and gay people and frankly women.  But the reality still is that most people voted for Trump in spite of his behavior and beliefs, because what they needed more than anything was someone who saw our country in need of change.  They didn’t want the Establishment.  Trump voters needed to be heard once and for all.

The most galling statistic is that only half of all eligible voters even bothered to vote at all, and 8 million fewer voted this time than in 2012 and 12 million less than in 2008.  About 25% voted for Trump and 25% for Hillary. But not every person who voted for Trump was white or male or anti-immigrant.  Many cared that they hadn’t gotten ahead in the past 8 years.  The Washington Post wrote an article, for instance, called “I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.”  The woman goes on to say that she hasn’t been able to get ahead financially and that Obamacare has been a disaster for women like her who are single moms. Why isn’t that part of the national conversation instead of mud slinging?

Given that today is Veteran’s Day, I want to close by saying that my grandfather and my husband’s grandfather and millions of other soldiers fought so that we could be free.  I will forever be grateful to them for that.  As we accept the results of this election, it’s important for all of us to remember that we are a United States and we owe it to our fellow citizens to listen first so that we can understand.  To find your world stage, remember that the world needs your kindness, your fairness, and your openness so that we can finally understand the other side.

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Speak Up

Watching last night’s Democratic National Convention speeches was historic, because for the first time in my lifetime a woman was nominated by a major party in a national election.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.  If you’re a woman, the path that was paved for you, starting with all those suffragettes who fought for the right to vote a hundred years ago, has become a little smoother and less steep this week. I find that inspiring.  I remember hearing Madeleine Albright speak at a dinner in Wellesley a few years ago, when Hillary was Secretary of State, recounting that her little grandson, who was used to seeing women in that job, asked if men could ever be Secretary of State!  I remember taking my children to vote with me in the 2008 national election when they were 5 and 3 and barely old enough to understand.  I told them about my grandmothers being born in 1907 and 1910 into a world in which women had no say, and that when they were just 12 and 9, women finally had a vote.  I told my kids that they had a privilege and responsibility to vote, because for women, it wasn’t always the case that they had a voice.

In this important election year, a lot of people are so bothered by the two choices, that they say they may just stay home and not vote.  A lot of these people are women.  I wonder what their ancestors would have said, after having battled all those years to gain the right to vote.  They would frankly be appalled.  I was at a dinner party recently with a man who confessed that he couldn’t bring himself to vote for a woman who was so imperfect, even though he had no problem voting for a problematic man.  I was stunned, wondering how to respond.  But thankfully he caught himself by saying, “I guess I just expect women to be better, but now that I think about it, that’s pretty sexist, isn’t it?”  I smiled and said, “Yes, it is.”  A hundred years ago, women were put on a pedestal and called “Angels of the House” and their job was to be the moral arbiter for the family.  But that did not mean that they had any power beyond the home.  Apparently, those beliefs are still with us today.

I wonder how many women are not in history books because they had to be angels in the house, wanting to please everyone and look good?  How many modern women, even with full careers, spend way too much time focusing on being more thin and more perfect?  I seem to be surrounded by women like that, who may be lovely people, but they funnel their upset with the world and with the status quo into an upset with things they can control: their bodies, their houses, their kids.  Now that we have a woman this close to the presidency, I  wouldn’t be surprised if magazine articles started to exhort women this fall to start baking more cookies and working on those abs, because god forbid we should all start wanting to run for president.  I’ll never forget reading Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash, in the early 90’s about society’s backlash against women’s career strides. The news media were reporting on a new “trend” of women leaving their careers to bake cookies, and even though the trend didn’t exist, the reports definitely laid on the pressure to conform to it.

What I learned from Hillary, who is very flawed and has made mistakes, is that she never gives up, she doesn’t take the slams from others personally, and when she gets hit, she gets up again.  She has a larger purpose, which extends way beyond the fact that people think she looks too old and her pant suits are odd, and according to Trump is only a 1 on a 1-10 “looks” scale that he applies to all women to diminish and shut them up.  But she doesn’t stop.  She just keeps speaking up.  And whatever you think of her politics, you have to admire the fact that she was not shamed, unlike a lot of women, into silence.  That’s why I’m with her.

As you find your world stage, particularly if you are a woman, remember that you can focus on pleasing everyone (which is a bottomless pit), or you can be yourself and speak up. The world needs to hear what you have to say. So let’s stop focusing on how thin we are and whether we are liked by everyone, and instead ask what talents we’re bringing forth to truly change the world.  Whether we end up in a history book or not, let’s remember that our kids and our grandkids are watching us this year now more than ever.

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The World Is Waiting For You

One of the things I’ve noticed in this election year is how accustomed we have become to demeaning and bullying others.  It’s true that politicians have always been caustic to each other, but in this election cycle, the level of discourse has sunk to a Kardashian low.  And somehow we are okay with that.

Part of finding your world stage is deciding what matters to you and what you stand for.  So many of us feel silenced into conforming, in order to fit in and not make waves.  But who were the people throughout history who really claimed their world stage?  They were heroes because they spoke up and said, “Enough.”  What if they hadn’t?  What if Rosa Parks had just stayed in the back of the bus, because she didn’t want to offend anyone, and just complained to her family instead? What if Abraham Lincoln had decided that it was more important to be popular than to do the right thing?  His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was a southerner after all, and all of her brothers and brothers-in-law fought on the side of the Confederacy.  What if Lincoln had just decided that it was more important to make Thanksgiving dinner comfortable?

I remember telling an acquaintance recently that Abe Lincoln was one of my heroes, because he stood up against slavery in spite of death threats. He was, in my mind, a true success.  Her response was, “He was a failure because he ended up assassinated.”  I was a bit stunned by her comment, but took a deep breath and responded with “Really?”  I guess for some people, keeping your head down is success.

What about all the people who didn’t stand up when Hitler came to power?  One of my friends on Facebook recently posted, in reference to Donald Trump:  “This feels like Munich, 1933.”  I don’t care what party you vote for. What I do care about is whether you are willing to take a stand when it’s more comfortable not to.

Don’t hide yourself and play it safe.  Take a stand.  The world is waiting for you.

 

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