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Category — Politics

Humility

I am the least racist person you will ever meet.

This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

I have assembled the best cabinet in the history of the world.

People have given me credit for having great chemistry with all of the leaders.

Never has there been a president….with few exceptions…who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have.

Ah, the fine art of humility as practiced by the Leader of the Free World.

Let us, please, not become numb to the vanity, the hubris, the narcissism, the self-aggrandizement, the heart-stopping lack of perspective – the amorality – of all this because we hear it everyday, because it has become part of the political canon, the cultural canon. Because egomaniacal statements like this are the stuff of funny memes and clever Facebook posts and witty Shouts & Murmurs columns. We laugh. Okay, laugh. But do not forget: This is not normal. This is not good. This, in fact, erodes the soul.

You know what feeds the soul? Humility.

Humility is not self-doubt or self-deprecation. It is not meekness. You do not give up “pride” in yourself when you are humble. You give up being prideful. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” (The quote is attributed to, among others, Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis and Islamic theologian Waleed Basyouni. Point taken.)

Humility is a recognition of who you are and your place is the world. (Carl Sagan famously said, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it’s forever.”) Or, should you want to be even more humble, your place in the universe. (as in “tiny speck”). It’s worth considering that the term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble” but also as “grounded” or “from the earth,” as in humus (earth).

And so, drowning in this sea of bloated, inflated, self-serving rhetoric, let us swim toward land. Let us plant our feet, stay grounded, from the earth, humble.

(Well, okay, Ali WAS the greatest.)

 

 

August 9, 2017   No Comments

We’re #1…in something

What’s with this latest hoopla about the U.S. being in danger of forfeiting its position as The World Leader, the Head Honcho, The Big Kahuna. I don’t get it. “Trump’s G20 performance indicates U.S. decline as world power” was the headline coming out of last week’s meeting in Europe.

I don’t get it.

Decline? From what lofty heights? Let’s take a moment to look at who actually leads the world in what:

#1 in Gross Domestic product (purchasing power parity): China
#1 Most innovative: Switzerland
#1 Most technologically advanced: Japan
#1 in use of renewable energy: Sweden
#1 Cleanest environment: Finland
#1 Highest worker productivity: Germany
#1 Highest median family income: Norway
#1 Healthiest: Italy
#1 Safest: Singapore
#1 Lowest Infant mortality: Luxembourg
#1 Best healthcare system: Luxembourg
#1 Longest life expectancy: Monaco
#1 Most educated: Singapore
#1 Highest literacy rate (100%) Andorra, Luxembourg, Greenland, Norway
#1 Narrowest gender gap: Iceland
#1 Most LGBGTQ-friendly: The Netherlands
#1 Happiest: Norway

What exactly does America lead the world in??

#1 Most men and women behind bars
#1 Biggest military budget

I know this sounds like unadulterated lefty criticism. Sure it is that. (And I’ll take that as a compliment.) But it is also a simple reality check. Regardless of the breast-beating and the flag-waving and the rhetoric, America is not the leader in much of anything.

And it is not unpatriotic to say so. In fact, it is the act of a patriot to be realistic about the shortcomings and flaws of her country, to believe in her country (and it citizens) in the face of these flaws, to nurture hopes for the future, and to work with energy and commitment toward that future. To me this means we should shut up, quit boasting, consider adopting that most un-American of character traits – humility — and start learning from those who have managed to create safer, cleaner, healthier, more functional, more equitable societies for their citizens.

America: If you love it (and I do), see the country for what it is, admit the flaws.

And fix it.

July 12, 2017   2 Comments

All hail the LIBRARY

For those of us who were looking for points of pride yesterday as our country commemorated its birth, for those of us who were concerned that we had little to celebrate about our country during these dark, dark days, may I just say:

The free public library.

Yes, we can claim that. We did that. We can wave our flag about that.

As with most wonderful ideas that happened a long time ago in this country, Benjamin Franklin figures into the narrative. He founded a lending library in Philadelphia in 1703. But the country’s first free (which is to say, tax supported) public library opened in the spring of 1833 in Petersborough, New Hampshire. The more famous (and erroneously claimed as “first’) Boston Public Library opened it doors in 1852. In the 1890s, Butte, Montana city boosters opened that city’s public library “as an antidote to the miners’ proclivity for drinking, whoring and gambling.” (I’ve never been to Butte so I don’t know how that worked out for them.)

A few years later, millionaire (when that meant something), bibliophile (when that meant something)and New York governor Samuel Tilden bequeathed a fortune to establish the extraordinary New York Public Library. (Imagine, for a moment, the current Governor of neighboring New Jersey doing anything for the public good.) And then there was Andrew Carnegie, industrialist-philanthropist, who funded the establishment of more than 2,500 libraries worldwide, 1,689 of which were in the U.S. Today, in case you’re interested, we have more than 16,000 public libraries.

Libraries open the world of books to us. Books open the world to us. It’s that simple. It’s that powerful.

We support public libraries with our tax dollars (our personal donations, our endless bake sales). We support libraries for the good of all, for the enrichment and betterment of all. We don’t say: I’m rich enough to buy my own books. Why should my tax dollars support libraries? If we hear that rhetoric, or a corollary: I’m rich enough to send my kids to private schools, or I don’t have children, why should I support other people’s children’s public education? we must label it for what it is: Deeply un-American. Not the attitude, not the policies, not the fundamental beliefs that reflect what true patriots celebrate. What I celebrated yesterday.

This Saturday, I am so very proud to help the Manzanita Public Library, part of the Tillamook County Public Library system, commemorate its 30th anniversary, 30 years of opening the world of books, which is to say, the world, to the lovely folks in this town that is my second home.

July 5, 2017   No Comments

Dear Vienna, I love you. But…

It is easy to hate the U.S. these days. I don’t mean the land which, from sea to shining sea (with the exception of that 880 mile stretch on I-40 through Texas), is one hell of a country. And I don’t even mean most of my 321.4 million fellow citizens, including the almost 63 million who, out of fear, desperation, lack of belief in basic American principles or, sorry, just plain stupidity (Bring coal back? Really?) voted for the man who makes it so easy to hate America.

And it is easy to love (at least parts of) Europe. And not just for usual reasons Americans fall in love with Europe, like food, art, music, history, charming villages, vibrant cities, joie de vivre, dolce vita, food and um, food. But, these days, for France’s spirited stance against right-wing extremism and Germany’s open borders, for the Netherlands pioneering LGBTQ policies and Scandinavia’s take-it-for-granted egalitarianism.

I’ve just spent three weeks living in Vienna. I say “living” rather than visiting because I wasn’t so much a tourist. I worked. I lived in an apartment. I shopped at the local Spar. I did laundry and hung it on the line.

I absolutely love this place. What’s not to love? The city regularly ranks #1 as the most livable city on the planet. It is a city of baroque castles, 19th century palaces, gilded concert halls, grand gardens, sweeping public squares and an urban forested oasis twice the size Central Park. And did I mention free health care, almost free higher education, efficient inexpensive public transport, six weeks of paid vacation, parental leave for both parents (which can be taken sequentially) and really really good bread? Also, consider this: UNESCO has listed an “official” Viennese pastime as lingering over an espresso drink with a pastry while reading the newspaper. That’s right, I said READING the NEWSPAPER.

But, lest you think my hatred of my homeland coupled with my love affair with The Imperial City (nice nickname) has completely blinded me to the latter’s shortcomings. I hereby declare that Vienna is not perfect. That’s right. You heard me.

Here are two of the city’s most egregious faults.

Toilets. As in few and far between. As in, they cost money. I mean, I pay $400 to see my physician for 15 minutes, but I’ll be damned if I have to pay 40 cents to take a pee. And then there are the porta-potties, as we call them, which you can sometimes find in parks. Is the CEO of the Austrian porta-potty companies a 2 year old? PiPiBox? ToiToi? Really. Is there no dignity in urination?

Spargel. Or, for you non-German-speakers: asparagus. It is spargel season here, and Austrians go nuts for it. And by “it,” I mean big, fat, thick spears of overcooked white asparagus drowning in cream sauce. It’s crime against the vegetable kingdom. Asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable: thin, bright green spears served naked and al dente, the way god intended.

So you see, Austria, you’re not perfect.

Only nearly so.

May 10, 2017   5 Comments

Dear America, Get over yourself. Love, Europe.

I decided to practice what I’ve been preaching. I know: What a novel idea.

When I talk to journalists, as I have been doing for the past week and a half here in Vienna (and in workshops elsewhere), I stress the importance of being smarter than the material you want to write about, of not writing until you have done the careful work of trying to understand what lies beneath the surface. I stress the importance of not imposing yourself on a story, not striding in brimming with self-confidence you have no right to feel, firing away questions you think are important, setting the parameters instead of discovering them, establishing the tone instead of listening for it.

I had set myself the task of trying to see how Trump’s America was “playing” in Europe. Well, in Austria, in Vienna. This I would write as a blog post, a dispatch from overseas. And so, not practicing what I preach, I proceeded to ask everyone I met, “What do you think of America under Trump?” And I got opinions. I got opinions that had a lot to do with whom I asked (schreibers, kunstlers, lehrers) and how I asked it – I do not have a poker face, and anyway, my phrasing “Trump’s America” is kind of a giveaway. That and the Bernie sticker I still have on my macbook air.

Then I caught myself (well, after three days I caught myself), and I shut up, observed and listened. Just what I tell others to do.

Here’s my report:

My fellow Americans, we should get over ourselves. No we shouldn’t stop making noise and taking to the streets and supporting the organizations and policies we believe in. What we should stop is thinking we are it. Because we aren’t anymore. The writers and waiters, the teachers and grocery store shoppers, the social democrats and unionists and other Lefties are looking elsewhere for inspiration. We are not the guiding light. We are not the world’s leader (in anything that is important). We have nothing to teach others about how to act ethically in the world, about how to treat our citizens with dignity, about how to create a just and joyful society.

Spain was once it. Britannia once ruled the waves. The Ottomans. The Romans. I understand that the Habsburg Empire used to be quite the deal.

But greatness ends. The man who ran on “Make American Great Again,” has, if the conversations I’ve been listening to are any indication, succeeded in lowering the world’s opinion of us to the extent that they care much less than we think about “Trump’s America.” They worry that we will do harm to the global environment. Yes. But they look to alternative energy innovations in China. They look to health care successes in Scandinavia. They look to the Netherlands for enlightened LGBTQ attitudes and laws. They look to Canada for compassionate immigration and refugee policies. They look past America.

What do they think of America under Trump? They think America is increasingly irrelevant. They think we – like the rest of the world – should look elsewhere for inspiration and innovation, for compassionate and egalitarian ways of behaving. They think we have a lot to learn.

May 3, 2017   4 Comments

Old World New World

Tomorrow I leave for several weeks to teach writing seminars in Vienna. I am very very interested in what people there think about Trump-era America. I will be asking everyone I meet and reporting back to you.

Although the population of the US has become increasingly diverse, still about 72 percent of Americans trace their ancestry to Europe. (Before 1965, policies limited immigration and naturalization opportunities for people from areas outside Western Europe. Exclusion laws enacted as early as the 1880s generally prohibited or severely restricted immigration from Asia.)

America was considered “the new world.” The “Old World” was Europe. Thus, many of us (particularly the almost three-quarters of us whose families originally came here from Europe) may think we have much in common with western Europe.

Actually we don’t.

Because I will be asking “Old World” Austrians how they perceive “New World” Americans these days, I wanted to get a better sense of the (everyday experience) lens through which they see us. In doing that research, I discovered how little we have in common.

Here’s a short list:

Elections of 2016. In 2016 election, the Trumpian far right candidate was defeated. Former Green Party head Alexander Van der Bellen, the child of political refugees and a committed liberal, won.

Health care. In Austria, everyone receives publicly funded care. (They also have the option to purchase supplementary private health insurance.)

Energy. Lower Austria, the largest of the country’s nine states, gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy (hydro, wind, solar). The rest of Austria gets 75 percent of its electricity from clean/ renewable energy.

Education. The country’s university system was free until 2001. Now the cost for Austrian citizens is €366 per term ($391). This includes masters, Ph.D., medical school, etc.

Language. Multilingualism is the rule – not the exception – in continental Europe, with more than half of EU citizens speaking a second language. In the US, 22 percent of us can speak another language (and it is far and away Spanish, the result of first and second generation Americans with Mexican ancestry)

Vacation. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays each year. Parental leave is law.

Who we are must seem increasingly strange to Europeans. Let’s see what they have to say.

April 19, 2017   3 Comments

D E T E R M I N A T I O N

What does it mean to be determined?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, like many of us have, as we watch –in a state of almost indescribable horrific awe — the actions of a man determined to bring disrespect, dishonor and ridicule on the office of the presidency. And on our country. Which is to say on all of us.

But I have also been thinking about our determination, determination to show ourselves, our neighbors, our communities and the rest of the world what we value and what we are willing to fight for.

Which has got me thinking about what determination actually is and how to nurture it in ourselves and others. Because we need a lot of it. And we need it now, and we need it for the long haul.

Lest you think determination is an unpleasant scowling, grit-your-teeth experience, let me suggest just the opposite: Determination is a positive emotional feeling that involves persevering toward a difficult goal in spite of obstacles. It is about facing challenges with (I love this phrase) anticipatory enthusiasm. In the field of positive psychology – the best thing to happen to psychology since Freud died – determination is studied and identified as a constructive and optimistic force that compels us toward action and results in important outcomes.

One obvious outcome is that we “win.” Our determination defeats the obstacles. But that may be an in-it-for-the-long-haul outcome. What about in the meantime? In the meantime, as we are being our determined selves, we are nurturing perseverance and resilience. And as we persevere, we develop important coping mechanisms. As we persevere, we get stronger.

Determination in the face of daunting obstacles strengthen and empowers us. Strengthens and empowers. It fuels us. It stokes the fire.

Oh, and here’s something else from the woman who brought you Counterclockwise (that would be me): A number of studies have linked the meeting of challenges with determination to increases in physical health and mental well-being. Some specific positive outcomes include illness resistance, increased survival rates and decreased levels of depression.

March 22, 2017   1 Comment

Liar, Liar, President on Fire

What we are seeing, what we are in the throes of, my fellow Americans, is part Huxley, part Orwell – and a whole lot of Leon Festinger.

OK. So Huxley is obvious. As in Brave New World, we are seeing the construction and manipulation of a “state” based on the principles of obedience, homogeneity and consumption. Indoctrination is not via hypnosis but rather tweet blasts and bald-faced lies masquerading as “alternative facts.”

And then there’s Orwell, literary creator of a dystopia controlled by privileged few and headed by a leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality. (Um…?) Remember newspeak and doublethink? War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Black is White. A true believer not only proclaims black is white, but believes black is white and forgets that anyone ever believed the contrary.

But who the heck is Leon Festinger?

Leon Festinger was an American social psychologist best known for developing the theory of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when you are faced with reality that goes against what you firmly believe. For example, you firmly believe – you have been led to believe (you voted based on the belief) – that the Affordable Care Act is “imploding,” and that Trump’s plan will, as promised, insure more people, giving them more choice, at a lower cost.

Then you are faced with the reality of that Plan: that millions of people will lose their coverage or not be able to afford coverage (so choice is not an issue) and that the cost for those who most need insurance – hint: not the young and healthy – will increase (and I use this word advisedly) astronomically. And that you, working-class, rural, Red state supporter, are in the crosshairs.

What do you, true believer, do with that information?

Leon figured that one out back in 1956 – it’s known as “belief disconfirmation” — when he and colleagues wrote When Prophecy Fails. Here’s what happens: In the face of patently contradictory, inarguable verifiable information, your original belief is…deepened. Or, slightly reconfigured to make room for the clearly contradictory information without that new information materially changing your original belief.

You may have heard about the famous study that underlies this finding. It had to do with an apocalyptic religious cult, members of which had given up homes, jobs, material possessions — and left their families – in preparation for the end of the world. The world was ending because of Sodom-and-Gomorrah type corruption (like, oh, being able to use the bathroom of the gender you identify with). Only the self-sanctified members of this cult would survive, spirited to the planet Clarion by an alien spaceship. No, this is not the plot of a 1950s sci-fi pot-boiler.

The world would end (big flood) right before dawn on Dec. 21, 1954. The rescue spaceship would arrive at a predetermined place on the stroke of midnight.

The cult assembled. Midnight stroked. No spaceship. The disconfirmed prophecy caused them acute cognitive-dissonance: Had they been victims of a hoax? Had they foolishly given up everything? What Festinger found was that to resolve the dissonance between apocalyptic, end-of-the-world beliefs (oh, let’s just call them Trumpisms) and the earthly reality (oh, let’s just call it reality), most of the cult restored their psychological consonance by choosing to hold a less mentally-stressful idea to explain the missed landing. Instead, they decided to believe the alternate facts their leader presented: The aliens hadn’t arrived not because the prophesy was false but because the aliens had given planet Earth a second chance. In the face of the prophesy-that-didn’t-happen, people did not leave the cult. People did not stop believing in the corruption of the world and their own sanctified status. In fact, they got out and proselytized.

As Festinger wrote, “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must after all be correct.”

March 15, 2017   4 Comments

In Our America

What does it mean to be an American?

We have been forced to think deeply about this right now. What forced us – the thoughtless, aggressive, xenophobic, distinctly un-American actions (and, god help us, tweets) of the man some voted for president – is not a good thing. But where this is taking us, to a clearer understanding of who we are and what we believe, is a good thing.

Who are we? We are immigrants all.

Somewhere in all our family trees – this generation, the last, or many before that – our intrepid ancestors arrived on these shores. Some in chains. Some starving. Some escaping war, persecution, crime. Most with empty pockets and big dreams. This is who we are.

And, with every rally at airports and in the streets, we are showing ourselves and the world that this is who we are.

From the state department (thank you, Sally Yates) to Starbucks, from governors, state attorneys general and mayors to the CEO of Ford Motor Company, from Apple to airbnb to universities throughout the land, we are publicly and forcefully embracing the historic, aspirational message of America: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” We are reinvigorating our 240-year (somewhat checkered but still pretty damn good) history of (mostly) welcoming the different cultures and religions that make up the amazing patchwork quilt that is America.

The person who some elected President has said he will punish those who stand up for these core American values (goodbye Sally Yates) and that he will figure out ways to inflict hardship on cities, states, universities, corporations. Like withholding federal funds or devaluing stock prices by slanderous tweeting. A class act.

This fired-up opposition, this burgeoning sense of corporate social responsibility, the sanctuary movement, the demonstrations and rallies…this is just the beginning, folks. It is what we must do to prevent the overturning of Roe v Wade. What we must do to protect affordable insurance. What we must do to protect LGBQT rights (thank you, Boy Scouts of America!). What we must do to continue to act as humanitarians on a global level. Those challenges are all ahead of us.

This is truly an historic time…and not just because the White House is inhabited by a lout, a loose-cannon who has never served his country in any capacity. It is because we are on the dawn of another American revolution. And you and I are in the trenches.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted …
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends,
it is [the people’s] right, it is their duty, to throw off such government.

February 1, 2017   3 Comments

The long haul

Okay, folks, the shit has officially hit the fan.

After the election, I calmed myself with thoughts like this (maybe you did too):

Once he’s in office, he’ll realize that you can’t run the country like a reality TV show. The loutish, aggressive, provocative behavior will modify.

Or, this thought: As we know, he’s a liar and a fabricator. So, it is entirely possible that he lied about what he intended to do as president in order to curry favor with a certain segment of the population. Once elected, he will not follow through. He never intended to.

Or, this thought: Moderate Republicans (of which there are still a number out there) will put on the brakes. They will not allow this president to ruin their party or the country.

Or, this final thought: After all, how much harm can one man do in four years?

I don’t have to tell you about all the harm that has already been done during the first few days of this presidency, from the defunding of international women’s health care programs to reviving the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, from moving ahead with The Wall to the plan to close down our country to desperate refugees. Lifting the ban on CIA-run black sites to “more thoroughly” interrogate suspected terrorists.  Dismantling the ACA.

It seems to be a juggernaut. No one is stopping him. We have to stop him.

We have to show the rest of the world and each other what we value, what true American values are (aspirational if not actual): inclusiveness, diversity, egalitarianism, compassion, optimism. And we can show it the way we showed it on January 21 with massive demonstrations all over the country. Yes, again. And again. We must be in it for the long haul.

And we can show it by fomenting a state’s rights revolt. Gov. Jerry Brown of California is showing the way here by publicly, forcefully stating that California will stay true to its people and the legislation they enacted regardless of what the federal government decrees. Universities are declaring themselves safe places for students from those countries our new president has declared evil or students who may be undocumented. Our cities, counties, states, schools, churches, temples and mosques can take a stand. Need to take a stand. We can make them take a stand.

Here’s another idea, one I am embarking on tonight: Write short, reasonable (that is, no ranting) emails to as many moderate Republicans as you can identify. Tell them they must stand up to this dangerous, out-of-control bigot, this bully (don’t use those words). The majority of Americans will support them in this. And, bonus: They will be able to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning.

I hope you will find a way to stay active and involved. I hope that you won’t give up hope.

I want to hear what you’re doing.

(photo is of the Portland, Oregon demonstration, 100,000 strong. The biggest demonstration in the city’s history.)

January 25, 2017   5 Comments