Why I’m Struggling with Wearing “The Safety Pin”

My church is full of loving, liberal-minded, enlightened people whose ideals match mine to a large extent.

I’m looking at the safety pin my church gave me on Sunday … it is still attached to a card made of thick paper.

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The Safety Pin Movement is a response to the perception (which appears to have some merit in light of current events) that Donald Trump’s election may embolden certain people, i.e. people who have negative, even hostile, views toward “minority” populations, to act out that hostility.

The card basically says that if I wear it I’m pledging to take action if I witness verbal or physical attacks on others. It says I should be prepared to intervene “with my physical body” if necessary. The card lists these potential victims: “women, LGBTQA, transfolks, people of color, those wearing religious garb, people speaking languages other than English, those who are visibly different—anyone.”

My first response is to think, “What a wonderful, simple thing to do to show solidarity with, and a willingness to come to the aid of, others who may be thought to be disenfranchised or under threat by certain segments of society.” I think, “I can do that.”

Wear a pin? Yes. I can do that, obviously. Place myself (potentially) in harm’s way to protect others? Well…

That’s a far harder question, isn’t it?

I mean, I totally want to wear the pin. The principle behind it is a good one, the intention is awesome and laudable.

I ask myself: Would I, in fact, risk harm to myself to stand up for this principle of unity?

The answer: I don’t know.

I ask myself: Have I ever stood up for someone before?

I can say, yes to that.

A time or two. In very small ways. In grade school and in high school I can think of two times I stood up for kids who were being picked on at school for being “different.” The kids doing the picking on were just being mocking, they weren’t trying to beat up anyone. Nor were the perpetrators particularly “dangerous” fellows. And in both cases, we were on school grounds—so there was pretty much zero real physical threat to me.

What if it had been at night in an alleyway, far from the safety of adults in authority? What if there had been pushing, or worse? Would I have acted?

Doubtful. Maybe run for help. But intervened? Sadly, probably not. I wasn’t at all a tough kid. I’d never been in a serious scrap. Wasn’t athletic. Wasn’t particularly courageous.

I’m 56 and none of that, regrettably, is any different.

So, would I stand up, today, for someone if I thought there was pretty much no possibility of violence? Yeah, I would. Would I be happy to be a friend and support to someone in one of these categories who came to me distraught? Yep, I would. Would I call 911 from across the street? You bet.

But am I going to risk real physical harm to myself? Probably not. That’s just the unfortunate truth of that.

Does that make me a coward? Maybe.

But wearing it without feeling certain I could follow through with the pledge that the pin represents? Well, that presents its own moral dilemma, doesn’t it?

I feel like I just got jabbed with a pin that I haven’t even put on.

Maybe that jab wants to teach me something. (Like, now is the time to take that self-defense class you’ve always wanted to take?)

Am I doing the right thing by not wearing the pin?

 

 

What the *&@# is the matter with people?

Depending on who you ask, tool-making humans may have been around for as long as 60,000 years.[i] Where have we arrived as a species?

The rich oppress the poor and the strong oppress the weak. We have resources enough to care for all, still one person dies every four seconds from hunger or hunger-related causes.

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You would think we would have figured it out by now, this thing about human kindness, about loving your neighbor, but it seems we haven’t. Not by a long shot.

Let’s examine just a little of the more-modern wreckage, shall we?

According to the Iraqi Body Count project, as many as 175,000 non-combatant Iraqis were killed in George W. Bush’s Iraq War.[ii] What a ghastly cost. And for what?

During the Rwandan Genocide 800,000 men, women, and children were butchered—often hacked to death with machetes or beaten with farm implements—all this taking place in 100 days, while Bill Clinton (and the leaders of every other nation) failed to take any meaningful action.[iii] Samantha Powers called it “the fastest, most efficient killing spree of the twentieth century.” What better proof of, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing?” (The “goodness” of any given political leader is a matter of some dispute.)

Fact is, we, as “civilized” homo sapiens, seem to consistently completely suck when it comes to attending to the things that really matter in life. And we seem to excel at finding new ways to exhibit callous inhumanity.

Nor can we look exclusively at governments, corporations, and greedy millionaires to be our evil-doing scapegoats. We have to look at ordinary people too, the ones living next door, the ones living with us—yes, we even have to look at the human being in the mirror. Because regular folks are abusing children; husbands are beating and cheating on wives; we are gorging on food and purchasing luxury products while others starve. We are lying, stealing, coveting, failing to love and forgive, turning a blind eye to a thousand injustices … and on and on. We are the problem. I am the problem.

We want to believe we’re evolving upward as a species … but the statistics are telling another story.

No political party or race or class or creed has a monopoly on deceit or cruelty. Evil is, fundamentally, a human problem not a political problem; though its exercise on a grand scale seems to relate closely to the “power corrupts” notion. Power can poison the formerly humble when the glitter of its promises begins to affect their vision.

Republicans brought us Watergate and Kent State. Democrats got us entangled in Viet Nam. A Republican administration brought us the Iraq War and “enhanced interrogation.” A Democratic administration dropped two weapons of mass destruction on non-combatants with high-end estimations of nearly 200,000 killed (includes long-term aftermath deaths) in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. (A coherent argument can be made that these bombings ultimately saved lives because they ended World War II, but it’s a slippery moral slope, isn’t it? It’s still the USA using WMDs to murder tens of thousands of civilians.)

So don’t try to tell me it’s those d***ed Republicans or Democrats that are ruining life on planet Earth. It’s people. It’s us.

Of course, individuals and governments are doing good things every day too: aiding the suffering, caring for the destitute and disempowered. People perform simple acts of kindness to help total strangers all the time: they help little old ladies cross the street, push stalled cars off highways, buy lunch for the homeless, etcetera. We are, indeed, capable of “rising to the occasion.” These acts are being done by Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, the religious and the non-religious.

If we all woke up tomorrow and every living human truly “loved his neighbor as him- or-herself” (not as a religious principle, but a philosophical one) we could do away with the military and police. We could close prisons. We’d be living in John Lennon’s utopia. Unfortunately, that’s an idea we’re still “imagining” and not living out. As Metallica said, “Sad but true.” Hey, Metallica might not have been the first ones to say that … but they said it the coolest.

Yes, you and I have to decide what to believe in, what ideas to support and oppose, and this will mean picking a political representative whose espoused values line up most closely with our own (if we haven’t yet become so cynical that we’ve given up entirely on the whole dog and pony show called politics). So go ahead and pick your guys and gals. Wear a pin if it makes you feel good.

But please don’t pretend that everything’s going to be swell “once the nice people get in office.”

‘Cause that hasn’t worked so far. Maybe you noticed. Expecting it to happen this election cycle might be a tad naïve.

So, what are we to do? Give up?

Your job is to be a light where you are. Love your spouse, your kids, your neighbors. Be kind to those with whom you disagree. Disarm them with unconditional love. These are your most critical earthly tasks (and mine). This life-thing is not about winning an argument—that’s for courtrooms (and, c’mon, how just are the decisions coming out of courtrooms these days, really, whichever way they may lean?).

Could there be some human movement that truly makes the world a better place?

Well, it’s already happened, hasn’t it? Abolition. The Civil Rights Movement. Women’s rights. Gay rights. War protests. Occupy protests. These ideas began somewhere and they changed things. Not that those problems are resolutely solved. They aren’t. But there’s been progress. So, there’s hope. Go ahead and join a movement you believe in. Write that check. March that march.

Just keep checking your heart. When you feel yourself harboring ugly feelings toward those whose ideas you oppose, realize that, in all likelihood, you’d be them if you’d been raised by their parents, grown up in their neighborhood, been born in their generation. Try not to just tolerate them. Challenge yourself to love them. That will free you from anything that might morph into hate. Your best chance of changing someone else’s heart is to begin by changing yours.[iv]

Hug people you love. Lift them up with words of encouragement and acts of service.

And don’t forget to lighten up. Life’s too short to be indignant all the time. Have a nice cold beer, or Diet Cherry 7UP, or whatever your beverage pleasure is. Have an M&M (I recommend Peanut). Smile, laugh. Help others to smile and laugh. As often as possible.

That is all.

Oh, yeah: peace.

[i] Start Date for Human Civilization Moved Back 20,000 Years or So

[ii] Iraq Body Count Site

[iii] Samantha Powers: Bystanders to Genocide

[iv] Sally Kohn: Let’s Try Emotional Correctness

In case you thought you had a bad day …

… consider the Syrians fleeing war, risking death at sea with their spouses and babies …

Boston Globe Article on Syrian Refugees

Suddenly, the b.s. I stressed over today seems like a weekend at the Holiday Inn with imported beer and a beautiful nymphomaniac who thinks I am super-cool.

May God (or the smiling Buddha or Whoever) bring them safely to shore. And may the rest of human civilization find a way to treat them like people in need instead of criminals.

The Left and Right Political Divide

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People tend to cling to their little set of closely held beliefs. They want to think they have the superior position, logically, morally.

I’m guilty of this, just as you probably are.

There was a time when my core beliefs and political positions were heavily influenced by thinkers/authors/speakers/entertainers who leaned in a certain political direction.

I can tell you those positions have changed quite a bit for me over the last decade or two. Not from right to left or left to right. But from entrenched to liberated.

Here is something I FIRMLY believe: if you take any issue that is fraught with left-versus-right tension (immigration, education, taxation, abortion, gun control, freedom of religion) and you can see NO MERIT AT ALL in the opposing arguments?

You haven’t thought about it hard enough. You are entrenched, unmovable, and you’ve let your emotions prevent you from independent thinking.

Because, if we’re intellectually honest, BOTH sides make legitimate points on all of these issues. Both sides have a view that should at least be considered thoughtfully, not dismissed out of hand. As soon as we demonize our ideological rivals, everyone has lost. When conservatives are fetus-loving right-wing-nutjobs and liberals are tree-hugging femi-nazis … all hope for meaningful dialogue is lost. All hope for thoughtful compromise … gone.

The further we get to the extreme right or left, the further from reason we get. The folks that are way way out there, to either side, aren’t going to engage in balanced, reasoned dialogue. They’re going to shout slogans and shake fists, they are deaf to any opposition, no matter how nuanced.

But most people don’t fall into these extreme categories; nor do most people embrace every single last idea of the party they identify with. (Those that do, I have to admit, scare me a little.) In most cases, we probably have more in common with “those people” (our political/ideological rivals) than we think.

Yes, at the end of the day you have to come down on a side, make a choice, vote for a person or party that best represents the sort of thinking you believe ought to guide us as a nation. That’s all well and good, as far as it goes.

But if we don’t open our minds up a little and see our neighbor with the opposing viewpoint as a fellow human being of infinite worth, a person whose views should be heard and judged, in their entirety, by their merit … well, we will have what we have. People who don’t hear each other and don’t respect each other; people incapable of working together to accomplish things for the common good. Political gridlock. And that kind of sucks.