Sunday, November 29, 2015

For Every Action

1. having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good reasons to do so.
2. difficult to move, remove, or cure
~from the Oxford English dictionary

Is it something about the American pioneering spirit, pullmeupbymyownbootstraps, rugged individualist that makes us so blasted stubborn? All these descriptions, stubborn included, are so often worn with pride in this country as though it's our straight A report card - but then, that's not right, either, because rugged pioneers aren't wimpy intellectuals so let's make that a straight B+ report card.

I'm stubborn, too. Why are we so proud of this? It usually doesn't serve me well. When I was co-teaching, the two of us teachers often disagreed. We couldn't work it out so we stubbornly disagreed. Digging in our heels was the least effective way to solve any issues because it meant we both became more extreme in our own opinions.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
~Newton's Third Law of Motion

And we've become a nation of extremists. We're either radically left or radically right, fundamentalists or atheists, pro-gun or anti-constitution, pro-life or baby killers, pro-marriage equality or homophobic, the ones who are right and the ones who are idiots, good guys and the enemy. Black, white, there's no middle ground on any issue. Many of our presidential candidates are exploiting this. I'm sure they think it'll win them more votes. 

At least this is what all our media, social media, and clever photos and quotes seem to say. I suspect that, when it comes to many important things, we're a lot closer than we think. There's just one little problem. WE DON'T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING, unless, of course, we're fairly certain we agree. If we don't agree, we don't talk. We unfriend them or hide their Facebook posts. We move out to the country and live near others who believe as we do or we move to the city where there are people from so many different backgrounds and we can blend in.

We've substituted cleverness for thoughtfulness. We can blast our opinions out as loud as we want as long as we're blasting to those who believe the way we do. Or we blast at others without listening. What we don't do is talk...together...and listen and learn.

The problem with this is there are no simple solutions to our issues. Nothing we are facing right now has a simple black/white - right/wrong answer.

Extremist rhetoric, whether it's coming from social media or political candidates or a religious radicals, does nothing to solve problems and instead, fosters fear, anger, suspicion, and can encourage violence. It tells us it's a good idea to dig in our heels, stubbornly disagree, and become even more divided. And there are too many people out there who will jump at the chance to act out against a perceived enemy.

"How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they're always going to have to do from the very beginning -- sit down and talk! Listen to me, listen. I just -- I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? 
It's just a fancy word for changing your mind.
The only way anyone can live in peace is if they're prepared to forgive. 
Why don't you break the cycle?"

~taken from the script written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffet for Dr. Who

I suspect most people who read this will automatically apply it to those who do not agree with them. If so, I have wasted my time and energy. And why do I quote science fiction writers? Those who write science fiction have the task to imagine worlds, complex worlds. Good science fiction helps us to reflect on our own world. 

                                                   "Why don't you break the cycle?" 

Moving away from our stubbornness will be hard work, but our lives may depend on it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gratitude for a Diverse and Beautiful World

Last night I danced with my square dance club at the First Unitarian Society of Denver. There was a banner hanging in the hall that read, "Black Lives Matter". It had been hanging outside, but last week, the church was vandalized. Red paint was thrown on the banner and a window in the church door was broken. I'm glad the banner was still hanging in the church. The message was very powerful.

What's going on in our country? I wish I could say all this hate and bigotry was just some random crazy individuals, but then I read how some of the presidential candidates are responding to the Syrian refugees. Of course we know what happened in Paris was horrible. The refugees are running from this same horror - and there is no place to run to in their country.

Donald Trump suggests registering all American Muslims in a database. Jeb Bush says we should take in refugees, but only if they're Christian. Ted Cruz is even more emphatic, saying that accepting Muslim refugees would be "lunacy", but if Christians are being persecuted, we should be providing safe havens for them. Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Mosques are being vandalized, human beings are being attacked and beaten because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation.

Despite all this, I know the world is a beautiful place and there are so many good people everywhere. I was reminded the other night of how thankful I am that we are living in a large and diverse city. The more we get to know people, the less easy it is to hate. I love being able to know a lot of people from different backgrounds.

I'm encouraged, especially when I see people dealing with the issues of hate and bigotry in a positive way. My big shout out of THANKS for this Thanksgiving season go to:

The American Muslim comedians who work consciously to help bridge cultures with stories and laughter: Maz Jobrani, Maysoon Zayid, Ahmed Ahmed, Dean Obeidallah, Wonho Chung, Aron Kader and others. We had the privilege of seeing Maz Jobrani's show in Denver last week, reminding us that laughter is the universal language. It was amazing and I am already saving to go to his next show.

Governor Hickenlooper, here in Colorado, who has supported having Syrian refugees in Colorado. Please, Gov! Keep standing up for the refugees.

President Obama - I am so proud of our president.  He is standing up for what is right.

Thirty-three years ago, during the Ethiopian civil war, my husband and I sponsored a young Muslim refugee to come to the US. Elias stayed with us until he had a job and could afford to move into an apartment with some friends. It was fun! Elias was in his early 20's. He enjoyed TV, especially Wonder Woman. He tried to teach me how to cook Ethiopian food and I tried to teach him how to make pancakes. He taught us some of his language. Our lives are richer for having him with us for those brief few months.

There will always be people who will promote hate and violence. We have plenty of those in our country right now. The scariest violent people are religious extremists - it doesn't matter what religion - because how do you counter the "God says" argument? The violence which has happened in France, in Beirut, in Baghdad was horrible. The possibility this could happen elsewhere is real. It doesn't let us off the hook. The only way to defeat terrorism is to show the terrorists we are bigger than they are, there are more of us who believe in compassion than fear.

I'm grateful our president knows this.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Climbing around in the Family Tree

Several of my friends have become addicted to genealogy. They talk of days spent following clues on and suddenly looking up to find it's dark outside and they have forgotten to eat. I figured I'd better stay away from this work because sometimes I forget to eat anyway and if I would sit that long, Chris would have to come with an appliance dolly to bring me to bed. I decided to leave the tedious ancestor work to those who can't seem to get enough of it.

Then I started trying to identify people in old family photos. I don't have, but I looked up a few things on - the free site. It took a bit of digging, but I found some of the information I was looking for and, one thing led to another.

When I looked at the clock, I was surprised to see I had been working for nearly 4 hours. Damn.

On the other hand, I was fascinated. Other people have obviously done a lot of work connecting branches to my family tree, which is as tall as Jack's beanstalk and even wider than it is tall. I couldn't stop clicking on those little arrows to make the previous generations of ancestors show up. When the Welsh names started to appear, I was hooked. It's cool to find names like Gryffydd or Dafydd or Angharad, especially when I actually know how to pronounce them. I knew my Welsh language study would be useful.

Then King Henry I, sitting on a royal branch, made his presence known.

Whoa. Am I really a direct descendant of King Henry I? Well... if everything is correct, I'm related through one of his bastard sons. I've heard he had approximately 200 illegitimate children so it's entirely plausible. I went further and further back, mindlessly clicking on those little arrows that showed up with each new branch. I saw various kings and queens and princes and the names went from Welsh to English to Scottish to French to Roman. I passed by Constantine with another click. By this time, I was getting used to the fact I was of royal blood, and yawned.

Then the Norse line came with names like Agnar Sigtrygsson and Solveig Halfdansdatter. Amazing! I had no idea there was any Norse blood in my veins. But..when Odin of Asgaarde appeared, I began to wonder if this was totally accurate. So what did I do? I asked Google. Okay. The records kept by the Church of Latter Day Saints are accurate - or as accurate as they can be considering the spelling errors on some of the hand written census records. The family trees are only as accurate as the supporting documents or lack thereof which are attached to them - or not.

There are small red boxes containing exclamation points that alert you to "data problems" in your family tree. This might mean that, according to the dates (which you or someone has obviously researched), the mother was born after her husband died or she was 4 years old when her first child was born. I still haven't figured out how to correct mistakes on the family tree, at least the one I just made. Sawing off the branch doesn't seem to be an option.

On the other hand, considering the number of descendants many of those famous folks have, being related to kings, queens, and other celebrities of the ancient past, is not at all unlikely. From the time I was young, I was taught to be proud that we are direct descendants of William Bradford from the Mayflower. We have the proof for this one. And good old Will has at least two million living descendants.

As for the questionable ancestors, we just have to go through and find all the birth records, death records, immigration records, marriage records, photos of gravestones, and on and on and on. Find enough records, attach them to the people in your family tree, and pretty soon, there you go. Climb around in the branches and chat with Marcus Aurelius or trade stories with Attila the Hun.

Enough going back in time for one night. I think I'll veg out for awhile and watch TV. Dr. Who, anyone?