All posts tagged: Monday Musings

The long haul

Only a few weeks into the pandemic, Leonard Pitts, Jr. — a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with the Miami Herald — noticed a change in the behavior of certain segments of the country. In the response to COVID-19 and the question of when and how the nation’s economy should be reopened, he observed that as a country, “(W)e seem to have tapped the U.S. Strategic Stupid Reserve. The result has been a truly awe-inspiring display of America’s matchless capacity for mental mediocrity.” Leonard Pitts, Jr., Miami Herald, April 24, 2020 This is one strategic reserve where the well never appears to run dry. Heck, in April we were just beginning to draw down on the stupid. I don’t have enough patience to cover even 1% of the calls upon this reserve since then, but one recent examples will suffice. Who would have thought back in April that this administration was going to smear the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the press while the president “was praising the public-health stylings of …

A plethora of pithy proverbs

Late last year I showcased a series of pithy proverbs — those bursts of truth in 20 words or so — in a new blog feature entitled More to Consider.* Six months later, I’m back with the ones I’ve highlighted since that original post. My love for the short and to-the-point adage comes from my Grandmother Brown, who was known to say things such as, “Some folks are born in the objective mood.” Grandmother did not have a lot of patience with folks who were always complaining and objecting to what others did.  Both my grandparents, as well as my father, always had a positive outlook and attitude toward people. I wonder what they would think of our president? Well, let’s don’t go down that rabbit hole! Instead, here are the More to Consider proverbs, quotes, adages, and sayings from the last six months, beginning with the one that is on the blog at this moment, from African American poet Langston Hughes. In this time of reconsideration of our nation’s direction, it seemed especially appropriate …

The lens is not the landscape

How did you respond when you first discovered the many ways there are to view the world? For some, this isn’t a problem. From an early age they have looked at the world through a particular set of glasses, assuming that their view is the correct one. They learn how to describe what they see in terms that others who wear the same glasses understand. And unless they have some life-changing jolt — perhaps a worldwide pandemic that doesn’t care about their nationality, religion or political ideology; or an especially graphic picture of systemic racism that refuses to be ignored — they never ask questions about the things that are not clear. But for those who see another perspective or choose to try on different pairs of glasses, all of a sudden they realize that their world view is not the only one. They have to choose how to respond. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh describes this broader existence when he notes, “While living the life of a wave, the wave also lives the life …

Where the journey begins

Everyone has an origin story. Some carry a soul-stirring strength that extends across time and space. They may be so powerful that they aid in protecting the setting, preserving the very places where the story originates. While watching a repeat of the Ken Burns film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea on my local PBS station, I am reminded of how many of our parks include mountains, lakes, and meadows that are part of the origin story for Native Americans. Places that have deep meaning for the soul. Sacred places. Other origin stories evolve, as the nation, group, or individual comes to a fuller understanding of who and what they are. As is appropriate for a nation built on the shared work of the imagination, the complex American origin story continues to unfold, especially during this era of turmoil and change. “All of us tell stories about ourselves,” write Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback in the Harvard Business Review. “Stories define us. To know someone well is to know her story — the experiences that …

Places and perspectives

Are you afraid? It was an era when those protesting for civil rights had moved from nonviolent techniques to more confrontational stances, and the nightly news carried stories and photos of clashes in cities across the country between the police and protesters. The tribal nature of our communities was coming into focus for everyone to see. While we lived on Main Street, our neighborhood was mixed both economically and racially. And here I was, playing pickup basketball on a local court, when a player on the opposing team asked me that question. He wanted me to acknowledge that I was the only person scuffling around on the asphalt, shooting at hoops with torn nets and battered backboards, who was not African American. The question insinuated that I should feel out of place and uncomfortable and was followed by another: Don’t you feel scared? Playing on the local courts as a young teenager with whatever group of neighborhood kids came along was just what I did. “No,” I replied. I knew most of these guys, and …

Finding Your Potential: Aging in a Time of Turmoil

I recently dove into two books on aging. It wasn’t because I felt old, aged, infirmed, or any of those descriptors we often use when talking about the elderly. However, I can read a calendar, and I recognize that I can’t claim to be middle age when no one lives to be 130 years old.* My study began just as the global pandemic struck, with the coronavirus focusing so much of its potency on the vulnerable and those 60 years of age and older. I finished the second book as the nation roiled from both the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and the injustice that was highlighted in the grotesque and brutal deaths of black men, women, and children at the hands of the police. Whether I liked it or not, I was forced to think about aging in a time of turmoil. Talk about your inauspicious timing. In light of current events, I quipped to some friends that these book choices could be interpreted as: a sign of naiveté, a sign of …

Listen, learn, love…and act.

This past week the nation reached an important inflection point in our 400-year-old history with race and racism. The horrific murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he was lying face down handcuffed on the street, touched off nationwide protests and confrontations with the police and the Trump administration. The photo showing Chauvin on Floyd’s neck while casually looking away, hand in his pocket, hit like a punch in the country’s collective gut. Pictures can both reflect and change history. The iconic May 1963 photographs of Bull Connor’s police dogs and officers with fire hoses attacking peaceful protesters in Birmingham depicted savage assaults that, in civil rights historian Taylor Branch’s words, “struck like lightning in the American mind.” The 1968 photos of sanitation workers, with their “I Am A Man” signs, remind us of why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis on that fateful April day. While I have no idea if …

When Leadership Fails

There’s no escaping the sense that too many things are moving backwards in America across too many fronts. Democracy is under attack. Those who benefit from discord are dividing us over matters, such as the public heath response to a pandemic, that should bring us together. Inequality continues to grow as the wealthiest take advantage of the global health crisis and the serious economic downturn to further enrich themselves. And another senseless death of a black man and the subsequent unrest it produces points to the setbacks that are too often part of our history in the long struggle for racial equality and justice. Leadership has clearly failed. But we have to hold ourselves accountable for giving in to fear, hatred, and greed in choosing those leaders and in permitting them to divide the country. The famously acerbic newspaperman and political commentator H.L. Mencken wrote of the presidency in 1920, “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some …

Remembering the Uncounted

Today we pause to honor and mourn the military personnel who have given the last full measure of devotion for our country. As we fight a worldwide pandemic on this particular Memorial Day, we would do well to recognize the global identities of those American service men and women we honor. Let us remember the more than 57,000 Filipino soldiers who died fighting as members of the U.S. Army from 1941-1945. We should add our gratitude for the 23 members of the Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated Hispanic unit made up primarily of Puerto Ricans, who were killed in World War II while participating in the battles of Naples-Fogis, Rome-Arno, central Europe and Rhineland. And we should never forget the more than 600 soldiers who died while serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history and almost entirely composed of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) — fighting valiantly in Europe against the Axis powers although many had families confined to internment …

Widening the Circle of We

A friend recently raised concerns about the increase in messages when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic using an “us-vs-them” frame. His point was that in this day and age, public health emergencies should not be cast as fights between tribes. Yet, that type of framing began almost immediately after the outbreak, when some labeled COVID-19 as the Chinese virus. The attempt to separate us into groups as we consider and respond to the coronavirus has since increased in countless ways, against multiple targets. Us-vs-them framing is dangerous. It is tribal in nature and uses fear to inflame prejudices, driving hostility and hate. Such reactionary framing, legal- and social-policy writer Stephen L. Carter noted in another context, is “designed to bypass the rational faculties of its targets.” Framing conversations and thinking as us-vs-them reduces the number of people we feel responsible for or connected to. It contracts the circle of “we,” usually by highlighting how others are different from our “tribe” and therefore not worthy of our support or concern. I sometimes write about topics that I need to …