January 18, 2012
I recently attended the gathering of roughly 300 concerned citizens reacting to the firebombing of a Jewish synagogue in a neighboring town. The rabbi and his family of seven live above the synagogue in the residence. Mercifully, no one was injured, but, of course, the family is shaken: scared because of the violence and saddened because of the hate.
‘Hate,’ similar to ‘violence,’ is a rather ambiguous concept, prone to semantic dispute. When asked to define either of these terms, most people tend to recall their own experiences for explanation: People hate me because I’m Jewish/Muslim/Black/Gay/Female, etc. Violence is beating/rape/spitting/yelling obscenities/shooting a gun, etc. Because of these discrepancies, we tend to forget that others too experience hate and violence in their own unique ways. Hate and violence are personal, and things we think we own.
At the vigil, members of the community, politicians and local clergymen made grand statements describing their outrage and expressing hope for peace and unity between the Jewish community and their own. I leaned forward and whispered in the ear of our minister, “You should make a statement, if you feel comfortable. Please mention that we are an open and affirming congregation that welcomes people of all sexual orientations.” He nodded.
There were many different kinds of people at the gathering, mostly varying on the basis of religion. The yarmulke on Jewish men, habit on Catholic nuns, and kufi on Muslim imams signified diversity. Then there was our Protestant pastor with no distinguishing religious attire – that I can recall, just a tweed jacket and a gentle expression. He rose and spoke on the subject of disbelief: how he and others couldn’t understand how such a heinous act could occur here, in this quiet little burg.
And that was all he said.
Oh well, I thought; there’s a missed opportunity to plug our mission. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable being OPENLY gay in a crowd of people who aren’t open to people being gay. I can certainly respect that, since you never know when and where hate and subsequent violence can sprout. Perhaps the mention would have caused a riot. After all, this is not a community that’s hosting vigils for LGBTQ (the ‘Q’ stands for Queer) individuals who are survivors of violence, firebombing or otherwise.
Wait just a minute! Why is that? Why is this community, which purports to accept and love all religions (or at least those on display), not professing its love (or lack of hatred) for gays? This wasn’t just a missed opportunity for a little PR, it was a missed opportunity to remind religious folk of their hypocrisy: loving those who follow the heteronormative formula, and rejecting those who don’t.
Even while the inter-faith flag flew, it was easy to tell that topic at hand was not simply hatred or violence. Instead, it was hatred and violence against a pristine family, one with a composed yet doting father, a beautiful mother and five precious children who – aside from fittingly, physically resembling their parents – look like they’ve just stepped out of an ad for GapKids®. So they look normal…acceptable? They follow the rules. And the rules are these: be born, squelch your natural instincts if you don’t fit the hetero formula, grow up, date and marry a member of the opposite sex, have children and die. Happy? Probably not. The restrictive gender binary that holds our society together is gradually tearing us apart because we collectively resist change and adhere to an antiquated understanding of “the way things should be.”
Our church, open and affirming though it may be, is not superior to this resistance. Just try offering up a suggestion for change: “That’s not the way we do it.” We’ll never get and keep new members if we’re sticks in the mud. But the reason I joined this church is because I wanted to be social in an environment that has boldly crossed the current frontier: we love the people who identify as LGBTQ. And this was not something that was easily fostered: many left the church after it adopted an O&A stance, not necessarily because they weren’t open to these identities, but because they couldn’t commit to affirming them. And now, here we are: the product of some old thinking, some new thinking, but with both feet firmly planted on the side of love. I think Jesus would approve.
It’s easy to point to LGBTQ and say “they’re the victims” these days. Bullying and suicide have reached extreme levels in our American society. But the truth is queer bias is simply a fallout from our all too rigid gender binary which informs the aforementioned formula. Look at how we react to the likes of a Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins pairing. Many remark, “Why don’t they just get married?!” Marriage is the crucible upon which we tend to level our fear of the unknown or the undesirable. This is not just because of a fear that gays and lesbians marrying will breach the gender binary (and cost the government millions in lost tax revenue)… No, it’s the manifestation of our deeper need to put people into categories: male/female, masculine/feminine, married/single/widowed/divorced, secular/non-secular, working mother/domestic mother, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, socialist (gasp!)/capitalist, violent/non-violent, Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian, etc. GEEZ – we’re judgemental! But that keeps us safe, right?! (It’s a pity that Sarandon and Robbins have split…just as we were starting to get a handle on the concept of domestic partnership!)
If you’re not normal and we can’t understand you, we hate you. Period. I wanted my daughter to be exposed to diversity at the gathering, and I was sorry for the lack of it beyond religious/ethnic categorization…or at least obvious categorization. Some people still have to hide. Perhaps worse: some people still believe they do even when it’s safe?
Of course, it’s completely impossible to quantify hate. I mean, the synagogue incident is terrorism; it’s horrible! It’s not the byproduct of a greater hatred than that which exists for other terrorized peoples. We can’t be in the business of oppression olympics, even if we are identifying systemic causes of violence. If someone says, “Life is harder for me because transgendered people can’t use public restrooms without dirty looks and, in some places, physical assault,” someone else could say, “Yeah?! Well millions of Jews died in the Holocaust!” or “Did you know that one in six women in the United States is the victim of rape?” etc. Any hatred and resulting violence is wrong: even if it’s just a mean word designed to hurt feelings. (DO NOT SAY IT!)
But in the wake of hatred and violence directed at you, try to remember that it is also directed elsewhere. Reach out with love. And if you haven’t experienced a beating or a rape or a firebombing…remember this: there’s always tomorrow. And somebody probably hates you too.
November 27, 2011
We’re all guilty of it: self-righteous indignation (SRI) is the little voice inside your head whispering (or shouting), “I’m right and you’re wrong!” when we observe the actions of others. Most often, you hear this voice when you’re driving, notes one self-identified “licensed therapist”:
The term ‘self-righteous’ is defined by yourdictionary.com as ‘filled with or showing a conviction of being morally superior, or more righteous than others; smugly virtuous.’
Beautiful. That’s exactly it. Not virtuous, but smugly virtuous. It is about feeling superior to someone else. Most of us are most easily tempted into self-righteous indignation when driving. The driver ahead of us is driving too slow, too fast, cuts us off or makes some other terribly heinous error. And we are filled with outrage. We lay on the horn and yell and make sure everyone around knows that driver is not driving ‘correctly’ (or at least how we define correct driving). The nerve of that guy! What a loser.
As a mother, I deal with a constant flood of SRI. First, as a pregnant woman, I was subject to unsolicited advice about my diet, my sleep patterns, my maternity clothes, my exercise habits, etc. Apparently, everybody is an authority on pregnancy…even most men! I didn’t know much, so I listened.
Now, as mother to a 16 month-old, I feel I may know even less, because there’s a whole new strain of SRI coming my way: advice about her diet, her sleep patterns, the outfits I put her in, how much activity she gets, and more! Apparently, everybody is an authority on motherhood too…and the worst offenders are other mothers.
Why? Because we can’t avoid that voice in our heads yelling that we know what’s best. And, because we’re mothers and thus very important people (certainly this is true in our own lives!), we feel we are obligated to make sure that other mothers know what’s what. That means openly criticizing everything other mothers do: from what they wear on/feed/do to their own bodies to what they put on/feed/do to their kids. I’ve even heard mothers criticize other mothers for totally unrelated things, such as only checking email once per week or volunteering for charitable causes in their spare time. “How come she can’t make time to check email on weekdays?!” “How come she has enough time to raise money for cancer research?!”
What it really comes down to is this: we all make choices. Some of those choices line up with those made by our friends and some just don’t. And it’s really hard to hear opposition to your choices if you’ve spent a lot of time weighing your options in order to make an educated decision.
Case in point
A recent public service announcement issued by the City of Milwaukee Health Department (CMHD) claiming that co-sleeping with your baby is just as dangerous as positioning your baby next to a sharp knife has some parents outraged:
The CMHD justifies this ad reporting an alarming statistic: “Between 2006 and 2009 there were 89 infant deaths related to SIDS, SUDI, or accidental suffocation. Of these, 46 (51.7%) infants were sleeping in an adult bed at the time of their death. The overall rate of such deaths has remained high in the last decade, prompting public health officials to launch a provocative city-wide safe sleep campaign to prevent them.”
Sounds like their hearts are in the right place. Who wouldn’t want to prevent 46 infant deaths?! But to a parent who has put a lot of time, energy and thought into his or her choice to co-sleep, this ad comes across as flip, dismissive, insincere and of course – because it is – self-righteous. The CMHD is saying, “We know what’s best for you and your baby,” or, in other words, “You are doing it all wrong!” For a parent who has made a loving decision to create a family bed, receiving a message like this is like getting a slap in the face…or a knife in the back.
SRI: a good thing?
When you visit the CMDH Web site and read its rationale, you might reconsider co-sleeping based on statistical evidence that suggests it’s dangerous. Perhaps, if you’re a heavy person and a heavy sleeper, co-sleeping is not the best choice for you and your baby. Maybe the Department’s information will help you create a safe compromise: in-room crib sleeping, using a co-sleeper pulled up to your bed, opting for an in-bed nest with firm boundaries to keep you from rolling on top of your baby, etc. In this case, the information is a good thing: it has alerted you to the potential hazards of sleeping with your baby.
But if you have a principled stance in favor of co-sleeping in place – because you want to be able to breastfeed in the night or because you believe in continuum parenting, etc., then the information may be something you already knew and had considered…and the posters of babies sleeping next to knives might come across as snide. Snide is NOT a good thing.
While the posters, like much unsolicited advice, are meant to be helpful – and it’s up to all of us to accept this advice graciously because we too are just as likely to dish it, when messages are snide – or read as snide, they are hurtful. It’s not surprising that some parents were offended by the arguably glib suggestion that co-sleeping is akin to the Psycho shower scene, because it’s a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. And it worked! It got our attention…but that doesn’t mean that feelings did not get hurt in the process.
Is SRI a Feminist issue?
Yes. Feminism is, for all intents and purposes, a form of self-righteous indignation. It’s basically one set of people saying to another set of people, “We’re right about women and you’re wrong.” And, even when Feminists are not talking about how wrongfully men treat women, they’re telling other Feminists how to behave. It’s incredibly self-righteous for radical Feminists to refer to liberal feminists as “fun fems,” for instance, suggesting that the libs are trying to win favor with men by engaging in sex with them. Feminism is full of infighting, even though, supposedly, we’re all trying to eradicate the misconceptions that women are by default shrewish, ignorant, weak, etc. The best thing we can do for our cause is to conduct ourselves with grace, listen to and contemplate the opinions of other Feminists (even if they have a snide tone), and respond politely with, at the very least, egalitarian respect.
Consider this advice from the good “therapist”:
If you are guilty of this pattern (of SRI), how do you stop it?
1. Instead of deciding what people should be doing, look at what they are doing and then decide how to react to it.
2. If you find yourself condemning people, examine your motives. Is the issue itself really that important? Is it really worth your time and energy? Is this really a battle you want to take on? Or are you doing it for some other reason?
3. Feel your feelings. How do you feel when you are complaining about or reporting this behavior? Superior? Powerful? Is that the true motivation for it, rather than righting a wrong?
4. Examine the effects. What effects is this behavior having on your life? Has it damaged your career? Cost you friends? Caused conflict within your family?
5. Repeat after me: ”I cannot change other people’s behavior, only my own.” You have no power over other people. Whatever they are doing is what they are going to do. The only person you can change is yourself. And most of us have more than enough work to do developing ourselves without taking on other people’s issues.
Self-righteous indignation is a heady, powerful emotion that can be quite (exhilarating). But it comes at a high cost. If you can only bring yourself up by putting other people down perhaps you need to look at that. Perhaps your time and energy would be better spent developing your own character rather than shooting down other people’s.
After all, my SRI isn’t any better than your SRI!
September 29, 2011
I’m checking in. My brother tells me you have not been swimming lately. Tsk.
Well, to be honest…I haven’t been swimming much either. I’ve discovered yoga. Apart from the feeling of strength I derive from my practice, I also find a calm, courageous mindset that renders me patient. And living in New Jersey, patience is a virtue. Nobody here seems to know what a “YEILD” sign means. And people are always cutting in line. So I just breathe and listen, pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth.
No doubt, you’ve been kept abreast of my comings and goings. B** is always quick to mention you too, and I know that he, like me before him, enjoys talking with you. What a treat – when in a menial, low-pay, low-respect job – to have a learned, articulate person, such as yourself, speak to you as an equal! I always looked forward to our chats. The rest of the day was filled with chlorine testing and chasing after lifeguards and smiling through clenched teeth at my boss…but mornings with A***** by the pool made for intellectual stimulation. Remember that I told you your celebrity lookalike, in appearance AND demeanor, is Sidney Poitier? Keep that in mind!
Well, of course, the biggest change in my life is not New Jersey, or even yoga…she’s Ellie. I had a daughter about 14 months ago. This entire experience has changed me from my core out. First, there was the awakening to boldly wanting the pain of childbirth to mark my transition to motherhood. And I had to fight with my doctors for the right to give birth naturally, on my terms. Then, there was a tiny person in my arms, needing me for everything…until, gradually, she’s needed me less and less. And now, there’s the opportunity to get to know this wonderful, magical creature a little more each day. What a thrill to meet someone who is every bit as intense as I am, but not nearly as insecure! I am learning, and learning is a lifelong endeavor.
Perhaps Ellie’s wisdom will be useful to you. I’ve boiled it down to her tenets of everyday happiness:
- Assume everyone thinks you’re cute (because, even if they don’t, they probably won’t tell you anyway)
- Always enter a room with a smile (because everyone thinks you’re cute, remember?)
- Make the best of a tough situation (even if you’ve pooped in your pants)
- Dogs have soft, warm tongues (that feel good on fingers and cheeks)
- Leafy green vegetables taste best when mashed in sweet potatoes (because you’ll hardly notice they’re there)
- Love is elastic and can stretch a little more every day
I’m sure there are many other pearls to harvest, but those are the happy thoughts I carry with me even when I’m not carrying her. I love her, A*****. I’ve really chiseled a wonderful life out of a granite point-of-view.
So, here’s hoping you get back in the pool soon! I’ll try to get there too. Let it replenish our hearts, minds and souls. In the meantime, let us go there in meditation and hold a piece of that breath in everything we do.
With great affection…
June 3, 2011
I am excited to announce the launch of “Babies Having Babies: Bun in the Media” over at Xhibit P. I was asked to write a piece for this edition of pop in perspective. I also did a video interview. Check ‘em out and make sure to comment and forward to your friends. Thanks!