Tag Archives: Cultures in Flux

It Matters HOW We Talk About The Issues

tweetybirdFeels worse to me than fingernails on a chalkboard, the way the current public discourse is being conducted. As a parent and family therapist I’ve long known the power of healthy communication and how central it is to the health of a family. Now I’m learning how healthy communication is central to the health of a nation as well.

In healthy families there are ground rules and people get called out when they don’t follow them. Speaking for oneself is critical, along with listening carefully to others to be sure you understand what they’re trying to say. It’s off limits to repeat something that someone else said in confidence (that’s gossip), and name-calling and telling a lie are definite fouls. They destroy the trust that all healthy relationships are based on. 

Since these errors and others have been running rampant in our country, we all seem to be learning the power of unhealthy communication, especially when it’s repeated via the megaphone of blogs and media outlets. This is why I was delighted to linger in my driveway the other day to hear Brooke Gladstone interview

cognitive linguist, George Layoff during the NPR show “On The Media.” He analyzed Trump’s use of language in his Tweets, labeling 5 types of miscommunication or what I would call “fouls” or “distortions.” http://will.illinois.edu/news/story/a-taxonomy-of-trump-tweets

  • Pre-emptive Framing – Putting the idea out there first so that people will more likely accept your take on a subject. His example – “the Democratic National Committee were embarrassed because they lost big.” Fact checking, the truth is – the election was the closest in modern times.
  • Diversion – Get people talking about something else rather than the issue. This happened the day the lawsuit involving Trump University was settled.
  • Trial Balloon – Put an idea out there and see how people react. This has been around a long time but usually someone on the team does it so it’s easier to walk back if the reaction to the idea is not a good one.
  • Deflection – Attack the messenger instead of responding to the message. “Meryl Streep is overrated.”
  • Bad news – Even in 140 characters it’s possible to have all four errors in the same tweet.

My three children introduced me to some of these “slight of mind games,” Mostly good kids, there were occasions when they attempted to manipulate the truth, and their parents, for their own gains. We of course would call them on it, and the maturation process helped them develop healthier ways of getting what they wanted.

Dr. Lakoff recommended that the media call out the errors and not just repeat them, thus aiding and abetting the misinformation Trump is hoping to spread. He advised members of the media to do what good parents do in families, tell the truth, report the errors in the tweets, and call out what kind of errors they are.

ImprovJam2My recommendation – Trust the structure of Improv’s “Yes And.”    Last Sunday afternoon, my improv troupe Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players and guests artists played with the tough stuff inherent in these tough times. In the presence of respectful witnesses we used the tools and techniques of InterPlay to express our reactions and concerns though movement, voice, and story. The outcome – fun, and a strengthened resolve to move forward through community collaboration and connection.  

A Visit to Who We Used To Be

img_2724While visiting relatives in Boston this past weekend we toured the Presidential Library of John R. Kennedy, our 35th president. This experience confirmed an important truth I learned from two of my African American girl friends, from their culture – Sankofa. It means sometimes it’s necessary to go back in order to go forward. For my sister and I, reliving the inspiring political conversations that took place before we were old enough to vote, proved to be a balm to our troubled souls.

The goal of the library with its 5 million pages of personal, congressional, and presidential papers, 500,000 photographs and 12,000 reels of sound recording, is to promote greater understanding of American politics, the process of governing, and the importance of public service.

In the 60s politics wasn’t a dirty word as it has become in present time. It’s been difficult to watch lately, as people believe a candidate when he declares what he alone will accomplish. This widespread gullibility demonstrates profound ignorance of the process of governing in a democracy. Let’s hear it for amping up high school civics classes. But It’s that last goal – “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” that ignited our hearts. It took us back to a day when serving one’s country and the greater good were what we young people aspired to.

The sections on the initiations of space travel to the moon, the establishment of the Peace Corps, the nuclear test ban treaty, the civil rights legislation – left us in awe of all that was accomplished in three short years. Of what’s possible when our country is united behind an articulate, inspiring servant leader.

President Kennedy had his own version of Sankofa when he said, “We celebrate the past to awaken the future.” As this past election process has been teaching us, when we do not stay true to the wisdom of our better angels, our collective demons take over our public and private lives.

What’s a patriotic citizen to do? I was especially inspired by Kennedy’s response when asked by the press if he was enjoying serving as president. He said that he agreed with the ancient Greek definition of happiness, which was “the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.” My sister and I decided we needed to revisit more historical  that inspire us to do that.

What Happens After the Election?

no-problem-can-be-solved-from-the-same-level-of-consciousness-that-created-it-albert-einsteinOur county’s going through a tough time. No matter which candidate you favor, or whether “none of the above,” is your preference, you would probably agree that the way forward looks bleak whoever wins next Tuesday. Bitterness is the residue of the quarrelsome public conversations that have left many of us feeling disrespected and discouraged. Parents and teachers are embarrassed that our children have witnessed grown-ups’ engaging in behavior we would not tolerate from them, – name-calling , bullying, attacking one another’s personalities. Whatever happened to the loyal opposition – respectful discussions between people who hold different points of view.

We like to feel that either the situation is hopeless but it isn’t serious or it’s serious but it isn’t hopeless. But when the situation feels both serious and hopeless, we fear for the survival of our democracy.

What is the way forward towards a resilient recovery, personally and as a nation? Since I’ve become a kind of expert in helping people get through tough stuff I plan to practice what I teach.

  • Keep an optimistic mindset, no matter the circumstances – Our right to vote was hard fought for by our ancestors and for many peoples around the globe, voting is still an allusive dream.
  • Give and get help. I’m walking my community on behalf of the candidates I support, every step a prayer that encourages and hopefully enables others who agree with me to cast their votes.
  • Take part in rituals that heal – Remembering what Einstein said that “no problem can be solved from the level of consciousness that created it,” on November 13th, I plan to join a national ceremonial Day of Healing and Reconciliation sponsored by the Meditation Museum in Washington DC. In the spirit of unity, forgiveness and solidarity there will be local events around the country.

Rituals are the way we heal. Join me in this national ritual that will allow us to step back for a broader perspective, identify our commonalities as human beings and come together in a container large enough to hold our differences. We owe this to our children and grandchildren coming after us. https://www.facebook.com/dayofhealingandreconciliation/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Like most Americans, my ancestry is a bit of the mutt variety. Dad’s people came to this country from Protestant England and Northern Ireland and were established on farms in southern Illinois well before this country’s Civil War. Mother’s family were redheaded Catholics from Scotland on her father’s side, most likely from northeast of Edinburgh. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were born in Ireland in the midst of the potato famine, and shortly after they married, they boarded a ship to America, settling in Springfield Ohio just after the Civil War.

Irish-Blessing-St-Patricks-Day-Free-Printable-by-Five-Heart-Home_700px_Print-1When my children look back on their ancestry they must include the great- grandparents on their father’s side who left Scotland after their highlander Great Grandmother, who lived in the Lightbody Castle, married their Great Grandfather, a lowlander, and the gatekeepers’ son. Upward mobility for their offspring meant moving to a country with a less rigid class system. On their other Great-Grandfather’s side, there is the mystery of where he came from before he boarded a ship in Liverpool England to seek his fortune in America in the early twentieth century. And to complete their pedigree, they must include the woman he married who was from the Netherlands.

By the time my grandchildren get the St. Patrick’s Day card I send to them each year, I’m sure they are shaking their heads wondering what St. Patrick’s Day has to do with them. They are surrounded by relatives on their father’s side, all descendents from the same ethnic group, Germans from Russia. These people immigrated to Russia from Germany at the invitation of Catherine the Great to bring their farming skills to Russia. They agreed to come as long as they could keep their own language and religion, and be free from the duty of military service. After 130 years, the Russian government cancelled the agreement and my grandchildren’s ancestors were among the million or so Germans from Russia who settled in the Americas after the Russian Revolution. The center for Germans from Russia is in Lincoln Nebraska where my grandchildren live.

Getting back to my insistence on sending St. Patrick’s Day cards to my relatives, I’ve always wondered why my mother’s Irish heritage seemed to stand out from the array of other ethnic influences in my background. Leprechauns_SingingPerhaps it was the fact that her Irish Grandmother raised my mother and that influence never left her. Perhaps my close relationship with my auntie, my great-grandmother’s daughter, grafted me to that branch of the family tree. Or maybe it’s something to do with the spirit of the Irish in general. Wherever they are, in whatever community they live, on St. Patrick’s Day, they lift their glasses and invite everyone to join them in being Irish, just for that day.

A Grandmother Looks at Vaccinations

In 1945, during the only semester I attended kindergarten, I brought back to my family’s household of four younger siblings, the three most common childhood diseases of that time; measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Luckily my mother was a nurse and knew how to take care of a houseful of sick children. We all survived and since then, we’ve had immunity without being vaccinated. But survival had not been assumed, especially for my youngest sister Mary Jane, who was six to eight months old at the time and still recovering from being gravely ill at birth.

11973371-child-vaccination-2Part of how things turned out well during and after our house became an infectious disease ward, was that no pregnant woman visited us during that time. No person with a suppressed immune system came past the front door. We were able to completely quarantine ourselves so as not to become agents of illness and death to anyone else, especially someone who might not have the immune system strength to recover that we apparently did.

Flash-forward to 2015, and I’m watching the accounts on the evening news of the spread of measles in the United States – ten states, then twelve, then eighteen. I note the state where I live, Pennsylvania, is one of them as is California, the state where my unvaccinated 2½-year-old granddaughter lives. Her parents, concerned for her safety have not decided to have her vaccinated yet.

Am I worried? Yes. But my worries have changed as I’ve paid attention to the realities and the science behind vaccinations. Initially, I was worried about my granddaughter. Last fall, I didn’t want her flying through the DFW airport when I heard that some cases of Whooping Cough had been reported in Texas. Since she hadn’t been vaccinated, I reasoned, she might get the disease and die from it.

color-flu-vac-cat-webBut now I realize if my granddaughter, who is extremely healthy, contracted one of the diseases prevalent in my childhood, she most likely would survive it as I did.  My worry now moves to a concern for somebody she might infect, somebody not as fortunate as she is. Frail elderly people are at risk, as are children and adults whose immune systems are compromised, like someone in treatment from another disease or health challenge. My unvaccinated granddaughter could be an agent of serious illness and death for some one else. And in the manner that epidemics move, it would eventually become impossible to trace the trail of how many people had died from her particular linked series of exposures.

I wish I had the power and influence to make certain that my granddaughter will not be an agent of harm to someone else.  But apparently I do not. My own son, my granddaughters’ father, thinks as many of his friends do, that the government can not be trusted to tell the truth. They’ve heard stories of perfectly healthy children being harmed by vaccines as these stories are passed through the community where they live. They don’t watch television news or read the morning papers. They haven’t heard that the stories, even the study they are based on, have been scientifically refuted.

They think my advice is based on experiences from the olden days, not relevant to their generation. And it is true that, in my day, we had no choice but to take our chances with the diseases themselves, before there were vaccinations to prevent them. When vaccines became available, as they were when my three children were young, my family and most others gratefully followed the medical guidelines and had them administered to our children. Now as an elder, my own self care involves following the medical profession’s advice and getting shots to prevent the flu, pneumonia, and shingles.

But to this grandmother, as the opportunities to prevent illnesses are greater, so are the risks to humankind if such opportunities are not subscribed to. Modern life involves international travelers sharing oxygen in small cramped quarters of airplanes, newborn and young infants clustered together in daycare centers, families eating in restaurants and coming into contact with others at large shopping malls; none of this existed in my day. So my prayer for my granddaughter, and for us all, is that we not return to the days when most people were not vaccinated against highly contagious diseases. That we not return to the days when everyone knew someone who had died or been seriously impaired by diseases that, in the 21st century, are entirely preventable.

Trouble in Paradise

It’s raining in paradise. I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise since the paradise I’ve been living in for the past week is a tropical rainforest in Jamaica.  Palm tree leaves blow sideways in the wind, and water splashes upward from the pool into the air as the grey clouds forcefully empty their load of moisture onto the ground.  Members of my husband’s family and I, who have gathered from various points around the U.S. for a family reunion, have been spoiled, – not only by the villa staff who have seen to our every need, but by the weather. Except for a couple of short flurries, like some that happened last night to interrupt our group’s stargazing on the beach, it has been continuously sunny and mild.

Jamaica
Jamaica

As thunder rolls across the hills, there’s still plenty to do at the villa. We’ve teased about needing to get the scissors, sparkle glue, and craft paper out to keep us fellow “campers” occupied, but between books, I pads, smart phones, cards and Monopoly games, we’ll never run out of rainy day things to do.

Truth is, I haven’t done much since arriving except relax. I’ve taken a walk most mornings, a yoga class the last two, lounged by the pool reading a book, intermittently jumping in to cool off, taking breaks for afternoon naps or a chance to chat with a particular relative. We’ve focused a lot on pictures, both taking them and reviewing past videos and stills. We’ve shared significant handwritten letters from a time when that was the preferred mode of long distance communication.  Someone in the younger generation instituted a system for sharing photos on our smart phones, though mine isn’t smart enough, apparently to get in on that system. It’s definitely time for an upgrade.

Eating is a major vacation activity, and the chef and his staff has prepared delicious meals, but my diet isn’t quite like everyone else’s, and the timing isn’t what my tummy is used to. This of course, is what Rich would call, “a first world problem,” and hardly something to complain about. I was able to bring greens from home and replenish them from the resort commissary because I had the determination and the money to do that. Not sure the staff always appreciated my interruptions of their usual routine, but then, I’m not used to having servants wait on me, so the discomfort is probably mostly mine.

And there is discomfort that outside the resort I know the streets are filled with people experiencing poverty and its effects, people who are in a state of want for basic needs like food, shelter, and education. I hope that the money my family brings in and spends here helps the economy and the people who do the work to make our vacation the luxurious, delightful experience it has been.

The Real Men Are Standing Up

My best friend and I were sitting at her kitchen table having coffee. The TV news was probably on in the background because Rose never wanted to be too far away from events in the larger world. It was 1977 and the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution, which guaranteed women equality of rights under the law, was still lacking the three states necessary for its ratification.

march

Feminists to the core, Rose and I had focused on “women’s issues.” She’d traveled by bus to various marches for the amendment while I had founded a Center for Co-Equal Education consulting with school districts across Nebraska as they implemented Title IX. Through an Educational Equity grant we worked with community colleges in rural areas, as they addressed the needs of women students. Back home in Lincoln NE, we frequently stood up to church and neighborhood organizations intent on turning back the clock to a simpler, more unequal time. 

But in this private moment we were talking about our sons. Mine was in junior high, and hers in high school. They seemed to be floundering.  We had raised them to be feminists; to respect women, to know how to cook a meal, to not be afraid to show love and tenderness toward younger children, and to not think it would challenge their manhood to do dishes or their own laundry. Despite our efforts, we saw our sons being raised by their peer group – the neighborhood boys.

David had gotten into alcohol and drugs and was exhibiting the irresponsible behavior that that life style brings about. My son Kevin was experimenting with smoking pot with his classmates on the school grounds. In spite of the large cloud of smoke wafting each morning from the low hanging branches of the largest tree in the schoolyard, I couldn’t get anyone in authority to take notice. In the standards of that day, they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t tobacco that the 12 to 14 year old kids were smoking, so they elected to look the other way.

Rose and I finally came to an uncomfortable but undeniable truth. She said it out loud. “We can teach our sons many things but we cannot teach them how to be men. Their fathers and other men have to do that.”

So here we are, some thirty years later, and I am thrilled to meet some grown men in the Pittsburgh community who are taking steps to do just that. Their organization is a chapter of one founded by African American men in Omaha NE in the early 80s. Its full name is Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder, but their short handle is Mad Dads. http://www.pittsburghmaddads.org/about-maddads.html.

maddads-groupTheir mission is to train and guide men to impact the issue of drugs, gangs and violence. They go unarmed on street patrols as surrogate parents, work with law enforcement and provide support to the women who are raising their children without a father or grandfather in the home. Their aim is to make their neighborhoods safer by becoming the force behind the change they want to see. 

And as often happens, when the time arrives for a truth to be accepted, whole communities begin to take action. This March several organizations in our community that have funded services to deal with domestic violence are calling on the good guys in our community for help. They’re sponsoring Man-Up: A Men’s Leadership Program March 14th at the University Club 9 am – 11:30 am. Call Sue at 412 456-5550 or sue@ficafoundation.org

Embodied Connections

Growing up as a dancer the body was, and still is, my first language. I often sense or “know” things before I can explain them to myself or anyone else. This has caused me some difficulties since I, like you, grew up in a culture where the top priority or measurement of intelligence was Mental Intelligence (IQ).

 toddler-excitedFortunately in recent years, another kind of intelligence, Emotional Intelligence,(EI) has become recognized in some circles as important to our personal and social lives. And finally, the importance of Body Intelligence (BI) is coming into our culture’s awareness.

 As a teacher and practitioner of InterPlay, an art-based approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body, and the president of Body Wisdom, Inc,. its national board, I know something about the intelligence of the body but I’ve struggled to find the language to communicate about this to others. Among InterPlayers who are working and playing together to master body intelligence we speak of “going the speed of the body,” recognizing that what may take seconds or minutes to conceive will take hours, months, or years to achieve.  During our on-line board meetings, we remind each other that we are attempting to be a “body-wise non-profit,” meaning we aim to not push people beyond the limitations of their physical human capabilities in order to achieve our organizational goals. The good life is about the journey not just the destination.

1146703_10151654919806655_830122018_n What does body intelligence look like? According to an upcoming online conference on body intelligence here are some of its benefits – From Visceral fear to embodied sense of love, Separation to deep connection, Depleted to energized, Rigid to flowing, Uncreative to Powerfully Generative, Working hard to Joyful Ease, Low-level anxiety to Calm, Stress to Dynamic Energy, Chronic body issues to Radiant health, Discomfort to Delight, Heaviness to Playfulness, Adrenal overdrive to Relaxed energy.

 Join me in attending this free online conference Monday February 10 – Wednesday February 10 2014.    http://bodyintelligencesummit.com/  We’ll hear from scientists, dancers, and health professionals. InterPlay, Co-founder Cynthia Winton-Henry, will be a featured speaker. And let’s find a way to talk about it after we attend.

Desert Song

We’re in the desert again, this time to attend a baby blessing for our granddaughter who lives here. There’s something about deserts that call to the spiritual side of people. I remember visiting Barry Stevens in Moab Utah, in 1973, and our family vacation in Sedona, Arizona in 1997; the red rock formations, evening light shows against the mountains, dry creek beds and sand everywhere. Maybe it’s the sand. There’s so much of it, and all those tiny grains help remind us of where we fit in to it all.

My son invited some monks to bless his baby daughter, a day and a month after she arrived. Friends and family gathered for the occasion – actually the grandparents gathered ahead of everyone else because mom and dad hadn’t had much sleep and gotten behind on house and yard maintenance. So we cleaned and swept and raked the sand, inside and outside, getting the house ready to welcome the monks and the baby’s new community.

We knew that the monks wouldn’t eat anything because they would have already had their one meal for the day. They’d take water, (seems a necessity in the desert) whatever your spiritual practice, but apparently they said yes to some iced green tea. My son told me they needed one more tea and glass of ice so I brought them and placed the items down in front of the monk who didn’t have anything in front of him. Just after I did that, the head monk picked up each of the three glasses and bottles of teas and placed them down again, in the same spot as before. It seemed odd to me, but later, when I learned that my daughter-in-law had been the person who placed the other glasses of ice and tea in front of the first two monks, I realize that this action was necessary because the monks cannot eat or drink anything presented to them by a woman.

The baby blessing began with the monks inviting the entire group to mediate with them while they chanted. We were instructed to first send loving kindness to ourselves, because if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love anyone else. We were instructed to send loving kindness to all those that we love, our family and friends, then next to those suffering with ill health or recent losses. Finally, we should send loving kindness to the whole world, to those with whom we disagree, and to the ancestors on the other side. The chanting of the monks supported our meditation and I came to a place that I’ve come to many times – everything becomes easy when we love. That changes the world from the love of power to the power of love.

Especially since the baby we are celebrating is a girl, I prayed that everyone gets this message soon. The world I see for her is one where women and girls are respected and treated with dignity and respect. Where men accept with gracious gratitude, what women have to offer them. And where practices that do not reinforce these values, fall away; as the desert lets go of whatever doesn’t work in the environment, and where only what is essential survives.  

A Rose by any other Name

Driving back from our InterPlay session at the women’s shelter, two friends told me something about myself that I hadn’t noticed. Apparently, I have a tendency to refer to women in a group as “gals.” So much for my belief that living in Texas for 20 years hasn’t affected my speech patterns. My African American friends warned me that, for some African American women the name “gal” could be an insult, like the term “boy” is for African American men. It has a remnant of slavery and the disrespect of not being recognized as a full-fledged adult.

Amazing. This would never have occurred to me if my friends hadn’t pointed it out. And it got me to thinking about other names or expressions, many of them regional. Just coming back from North Carolina, I remembered the Cartoon on pronounswaitresses referring to everyone, male or female of whatever age, as “ honey.” And since I’ve been sensitized to such expressions I noticed my dentist, who is nearly a generation younger than me referring to me as “young lady.” The first time I heard it I didn’t know if he was being sarcastic or playful.  Now that I know him better, I’ve decided he’s talking to the younger spirit inside me, reassuring her that no harm or pain will come from his hand.

My dancing teacher always referred to her students as “ladies” and when I started teaching I adopted that same practice.  I think we were both hoping this salutation might inspire civilized and respectful behavior. These days people juggle terms like “girl friend” or “boy friend” for people who have not been girls or boys for decades. Besides being careful not to culturally offend, perhaps we need to create some titles to fit our times.