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Stop Making It About the Money

(Domenico Stinellis/AP)

So yeah. First Lady Melania Trump wore a really expensive jacket during her visit to Italy last week. The Dolce & Gabbana she sported in Sicily basically cost as much as I make during an entire year.

Stop right there.

I hope you didn’t start calculating my salary along with my education and my years of experience and then judge me based on my earnings.

But if you did, I understand. That’s what most Americans do.

We tend to equate the size of a person’s salary or bank account with success. If someone makes a lot of money, that must mean they’ve done something right… they’ve applied themselves and persevered. And if they are poor?  They obviously need to try harder.

In reality, that’s completely ridiculous. I’m not rich for a lot of different reasons: I wasn’t born into a wealthy family and having a high paying job was never my priority. I wanted to do work that I found satisfying and meaningful, which is how I landed in social work. I will never garner a big salary, but I’m actually a very hard worker.

On the flip side, Melania Trump became a model and then she married a super rich guy. Those were her choices, and I shouldn’t judge her for them just as I hope people don’t judge me for mine. If she weren’t married to the President of the United States, the cost of her jacket certainly wouldn’t be making headlines nor would people be citing her expensive choices as reprehensible in light of her husband’s proposed budget and stance on social benefit programs.

Don’t get me wrong.

I understand the outcry. I too am completely appalled by Trump and his proposed budget. And yes, I admit that I can’t help but believe that Trump has no sympathy for the poor partly because he can’t relate to their situation.

But equating the size of the Trumps’ bank accounts to his proposed budget is as irrelevant as claiming our social and budget problems are the fault of poor people who don’t try hard enough. President John Kennedy and Senator Jay Rockefeller also came from wealth,  yet they always took into consideration the least among us.

Being wealthy and being able to pay $51,500 for one article of clothing have nothing to do with a commitment to help our less fortunate neighbor.

Being a person of wealth doesn’t mean you lack compassion for the poor any more than living in poverty means you expect society to support you. Of course there are rich people who only think about themselves just as there are poor people who want to “live off the system.”

But stereotyping and making assumptions does no one any good.

Money doesn’t define us. The way we treat our fellow human beings does.

Our role in life is to support each other and to call out those who don’t. It’s that simple.

Some of us can help because we have plenty of money to meet our own needs and enough to help others. Others can give our time and our God-given talents to mentor, teach, or guide those who need extra assistance. And all of us can raise our voices in support of those who need us most.

It’s just not about the money.

It should never be about the money, and none of us should care how much anyone else spends for clothes.

With that said, I have to admit that even if I had $51,500 to spend on one jacket, it would look absolutely nothing like Melania’s, which I think is ugly and obnoxious.

But there is nothing wrong with judging an item of clothing.

It’s the people who wear the clothes who shouldn’t be evaluated based on appearances alone.

In the Bushes

Amid the multitude of facts, opinions and news stories whirling around Donald Trump’s latest bizarre, unprecedented and seemingly self-serving action (that would be the firing of FBI Director James Comey if you aren’t even sure to which of his latest actions I am referring), one piece of the story has lingered with me.

I just can’t shake the image of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes to avoid a direct confrontation with reporters seeking more information.

I have no doubt my obsession is linked to a memory from my childhood and my need to uncover the truth.

My story begins when my parents purchased our house in a rural, Central Oregon town  As part of the transaction, they had gotten a history from the seller, whose family had been the original owners. According to my mom, the seller’s father had “died in the bushes.”

I was six years old at the time, and the line of ornamental bushes that spanned the front of the house ran directly under my bedroom window. For months I was obsessed with the fact that a man had died in those bushes.

I would crawl under them trying to find any sign of either a dead body or, at least, some indication that a man had spent his last moments there. Even though I got nothing, I kept searching in hopes that some clue as to the man’s fate would emerge.

Then one day, my mom found me in the bushes and asked what I was doing.

“You said the man who used to live here died in the bushes,” I told her with all of the solemness that first-grade me could muster.

She had no idea what I was talking about. Only later did I discover that she had used the term “in the bushes” as a euphemism for alcoholism.

I’m now fifty years old, and I’ve never heard anyone else use that term in that way. But that doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the term “in the bushes” has stuck with me for 44 years because it represents my passion for always pursuing the truth.

Which is why Sean Spicer ducking into the bushes to avoid facing reporters is not only completely ironic, it is more revealing than any lie Donald Trump could ever tell.

People in the public eye want to tell their side of the story. They want to share their opinions and the opinions of those they represent. They want to show evidence of what happened in the bushes and why it happened.

Unless, of course, the bushes are just a way of hiding the truth… be it the ugly truth of an addict who succumbed to a disease or that of an unqualified businessman who bedazzled voters with his wealth, his double speak, and his complete disregard for the truth.

But here’s the thing: when six-year-old me finally got the real facts from my mom, I stopped wasting my time under bushes and decided to devote more time to climbing trees.

Because when you climb trees, your perspective is so much better than the one you get crawling under (or hiding in) a bush.

And not only can you see what is actually occurring around you, you are also putting yourself out in the open for everyone else to see.

And that is what truth is all about.

 

The Bad Relationship

bad-relationshipWe’ve all been there.

We’ve had friends in relationships that we know are unhealthy for them.

To us, the problem is so obvious: our friend is being manipulated, or lied to, or charmed by money, good looks, popularity or power.

We know that our friend is being used by someone who doesn’t have his/her best interests at heart, and we try to warn them.

But they don’t want to hear what we are saying. “The relationship is special – you just don’t understand,” they tell us. “They are in love,” they say. And sometimes they even accuse us of being jealous.

When the relationship falls apart, our friend asks, “why didn’t anyone warn me?” And, because we care about our friend, we stifle the “I told you so,” and support then in their time of need.

Recently, I realized how many Trump supporters are like those friends in bad relationships. I’ve read articles about how the more we try to be rational, the more the more they cling to their presidential choice. Trying to argue using facts is pointless when they trust only information that affirms their own belief system.

They are so wrapped up in their sense of triumph, winning, and ideology that they refuse to see who Trump really is, how little he cares about other people, and how he is using lies to appease his base of support.

In other words, staunch Trump supporters are still in the honeymoon phase of their new, yet dangerous, relationship.

But in this case, I can’t accept that I will someday be forced to stifle an “I told you so.”  That is simply unacceptable.

Unlike other relationship choices, this one not only affects me but has a devastating impact on those who have lived their lives trying to overcome poor relationships with people in power.

Individuals who have been marginalized because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or even country of birth have too often been on the losing end of bad relationships.

And since many of the individuals who chose that relationship for them are actually delighting in those struggles, I must say this to Trump supporters:

  • I’m done trying to convince you that you are being manipulated.
  • I will no longer warn you that our President does not have your best interests at heart.
  • And when things go south, I will not say “I told you so,” nor will I expect you to say “thank you” for all I did to try to save you from this relationship.

Instead, knowing that I fought hard for everyone, despite their bad decisions, will be good enough for me.

There is a Monster in the White House

thomas-mannThere is a monster in the White House, and I refuse to sit back and let him implement his hateful and xenophobic agenda.

That means I’ve gone outside of my comfort zone and called out his minions

And yes, I’ve paid the price.

This weekend Facebook reflected the battle being waged against a President who appointed white supremacist Steve Bannon as national security advisory and implemented an executive order that hurts good, honest immigrants and refugees.

For the past eight years, I have believed that people have the right to post what they want on their own Facebook page. Even when people made nasty comments on my posts, I held firm that people have the right to say what they want on their own page.

tutuBut that changed this weekend. I can’t let evil prevail.

I started calling out people who posted “alternative facts” or hate speech under the guise of news. I called out people who slammed credible news sources while posting propaganda.  And I noted that people who obviously aren’t well-versed or well-educated  shouldn’t be spewing hate against others.

For the most part, I did this with facts. Not mean words, Not name calling. Facts and an occasional comment about people’s ability to discern truth from alternative facts.edmund-burke-quote

One particular person kept deleting every comment I made on her posts of unwavering support of President Trump.

Again, I wasn’t being rude. I wasn’t name calling. I was posting facts and information. I also noted she deleted any comment by others who called her out.

As my husband well knows, the more you ignore me the more I push back. I am the proverbial dog with a bone.

einsteinSo when she kept deleting instead of acknowledging my posts and instead of private messaging  me politely asking me to stop, she tagged me in a post calling me rude. Then other people starting liking that post.

So I unfriended and blocked her.

She is so blinded by the need to justify who own beliefs that she can’t even acknowledge that there may be a reason so many people in our country are protesting.

So now, her Facebook friends think I’m rude and inappropriate.

Let them. I’d rather be considered rude than to sit back and watch an evil man destroy our country.

There is a monster in the White House, and I’m going to do everything I can to fight it.

Even if it means offending his minions.

On Size and Class

During the musical Chicago, two of the main characters, a sensational murderer and a corrupt prison warden, sing the song “Class” while they drink whisky and smoke cigarettes. Of course the scene is intended to be ironic as neither of the characters is the least bit classy.

Maybe this should be the theme song for the Trump administration.

After all, the lyrics started running through my brain when I saw a comment on social media about the Trumps at an inaugural ball. ” It’s so nice that our kids can see class and sophistication in the White House” it said.

Wait?inaugural-ball_li-2 What? Our kid didn’t see class and sophistication when President Obama was in office?

The Obama’s family photo should be in the dictionary under the definition of both class and sophistication,especially considering their obvious love for each other, the respect they show for all individuals, and their lack of scandal during eight years in the White House. And yet, this person was insinuating otherwise.

I couldn’t understand why, and I wondered in what alternate universe that person was living. We may have differences of opinion about  politics, but the statement wasn’t even grounded in class-in-white-housereality.

The Trumps have a lot of money, but the president’s behavior has been anything but classy. I don’t think bragging about grabbing women’s genitals is classy. I don’t think using hateful language to garner support is classy. I certainly don’t think calling people who disagree “enemies” is at all classy. And even though I promised I wouldn’t drag Melania’s name into any of my issues with the Trump administration, I don’t know in what universe a first lady who posed for nude photos could ever be considered more classy than Michelle Obama.

obama-clasAt some point, I realized this person either a) was a racist or b) had been brainwashed by the Trump propaganda machine, which has apparently been fervently trying to pretend that the Trumps are classy just as Trump has been pretending the size of his inaugural crowd was large and that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote.

Sadly, I’m familiar with how aging, white men can be obsessed with the need for one-upmanship. I’ve witnessed it too many times. I’ll never forget being forced to endure two older white men comparing the best meal they had ever had by noting price and restaurant. The discussion occurred in my office at a nonprofit where a colleague and I were doing a lot of hard work for very little money.

My co-worker and I quietly went about our work as the bragging grew louder and the men grew more animated. When they finally left the room, my co-worked snipped, “why didn’t they just drop their drawers, compare size, and be done with it.”

At the time, her comment was a funny reprieve from an annoying and uncomfortable situation. In hindsight, it spoke volumes about how men like Donald Trump view the world. They are so obsessed with proving their own superiority  that they don’t see the reality right in front of them.

What such men don’t understand is that the size of an inaugural crowd doesn’t define their ability to lead any more than the size of their bank account can make them classy.

Class comes from holding your head high despite adversity and being gracious in the face of defeat. Class comes from biting your tongue rather than having to eat your words later. And, most of all, class comes from focusing on treating others with respect rather than spending time worrying about how others treat you.

Class is definitely something that belongs in the White House.

I only pray it finds its way back there sooner than later.

How to Stay Sane Until November 8

2016-electionI’ve felt myself slowly sliding closer and closer to that proverbial deep end.

I made the mistake of reading social media posts from people who, for whatever reason, are incredibly afraid of the truth and therefore ignore facts, denounce credible news sources and cite dubious and/or biased sources to justify their own skewed beliefs. I’ve observed so-called Christians claiming that their version of Christianity is the only legitimate religion in the world. And I saw pictures of women making light of sexual assault.

My disgust hasn’t been limited to social media. My daily perusal of the Washington Post has provided regular reminders of the vitriol, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, disrespect and overall embarrassment of the 2016 presidential campaign.

I’ve wanted to close my eyes, put a finger in each of my ears and loudly yell, “La la la la la la la! Stop it! I’m not listening!” at the top of my lungs.

But I haven’t because I can’t. Of the billions of people on earth, I was lucky enough to be born in the United States and enjoy the rights provided to me in the 19th amendment (even though some avid Trump supporters are now in favor of repealing those rights).

So, despite how incredibly scary this election is or how history will some day portray it, I have a responsibility to use my rights (as they currently exist) to speak out.

But I can’t do that if I lose my sanity, so I must find a way to keep my grasp on it.

And to date, I have thanks to some bright moments as our nation faces such dark times.

For example:

  • Staying up to watch Saturday Night Live has once again become worthwhile. Donald Trump can actually make me smile – when he’s played by Alec Baldwin that is.
  • I’m rarely the smartest person in the room. I am surrounded by intelligent, well-educated  people who amaze me with their breadth of knowledge and keen insights. As a plus, not only are they smart, but they are also very open-minded.
  • Even though my man Jon Stewart is no longer on the Daily Show, my favorite acerbic political comedy hits the mark every single time. Each morning, I watch the first ten minutes from the previous night and am filled with appreciation that other people really do “get it.”
  • The headlines about sexual assault and sexual harassment are increasing awareness of and support for survivors.
  • There are a lot of men who are raising their voices in support of women and against white male privilege. I’ve loved spying on my son’s social media accounts, and, I have to say, I’m so proud of his acceptance of people of all genders, sexual orientation, race, religion and backgrounds (as long as they aren’t bullies and jerks of course.)
  • Despite all the hate rhetoric, we ARE making progress toward being a more inclusive nation. On the day I was born, there was only one woman in the U.S. Senate and only eight in the House of Representatives. When I was a year old, Martin Luther King Jr. was slain. Just a year later,  the Stonewall riot occurred in New York City, marking the beginning of the gay rights movement. Today, our president is a black man who has spent eight years in the oval office, gay couples have the right to marry, 104 women sit in Congress, and a woman is the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
  • History shows that good ALWAYS rises from the ashes. ALWAYS.  No matter how horrible the circumstances, there will always be heroes and people who make history with their ability to not only rise above the fray but to make the world better for others.

And that is what I’m counting on to maintain my sanity after this election too.

 

 

Beyond Appearances

if-only-our-eyes-saw-souls-instead-of-bodies-how-vMonths ago, I swore I wouldn’t get too emotionally or otherwise invested in this year’s presidential election.

In 2012,  I wrote and ranted and worried. I wanted to ensure that everyone knew exactly what I thought about the candidates and why my opinion was justified.

In retrospect, I doubt anything I wrote had much, if any, influence on anyone.

People who agreed with me, well, agreed with me.

People who disagreed with me either ignored me, posted negative comments, unfriended me or unfollowed me.

America re-elected Obama, politics continued to divide us, and America has continued to be torn apart by issues of race, equality and social justice.

And this presidential campaign has devolved into a completely horrifying spectacle.

Yet up until now, I’ve refrained from writing about it.

Maybe I’ve just become too cynical and convinced that some people’s brains simply can’t separate facts from propaganda and can only spout ridiculous rhetoric.

But something happened to my self-imposed reticence after watching the first of three scheduled presidential debates on Monday night.

I realized the hypocrisy of my temptation to make light of Donald Trump’s hair, his weird orange complexion, his constant sniffing and his absurd facial expressions.

Because in doing so, I’ve lowered myself to his standards of valuing, or devaluing, someone based solely on appearance. This is, after all, a man who discussed the potential size of his toddler daughter’s breasts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w2T1owSV0U, has used physical attributes as a qualification for employment http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-pol-trump-women, and, the night after the debate, defended hurtful comments about a beauty queen’s weight http://www.npr.org/2016/09/27/495611105/in-post-debate-interview-trump-again-criticizes-pageant-winners-weight,

As a country, we  have to be better than this.

We must do better than this.

We have to raise our expectations and our standards.

And, most importantly, we have to make the voice of human dignity louder than anything money can buy.

Donald Trump and the Gritters

gritter 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Gritter.” It was such a completely foreign and wrong word, yet it was also very powerful.

Until I moved to West Virginia as an awkward adolescent, I never knew such words even existed. I was aware that some people used negative words to describe different races, but I didn’t know that there were also words to describe people by their social status. I had certainly witnessed my share of ridicule of the poor and outcast, but I didn’t know there were actual labels for such individuals.

What I did know was that associating with people who wore such labels was social suicide and defending them could be just as dangerous.

I was already teetering on the edge of not belonging, and I was worried that even the slightest mistake would send me hurtling over the edge. I was already considered weird because I had transferred from a state that was thousands of miles away. Then I had made a near fatal error of  comparing my old life to my new one. In other words, in the eyes of my peers, I thought I was better than they were.

Nothing was farther from the truth. Maybe, if we hadn’t all been so wrapped up in the complexity of adolescence, my classmates might have recognized how completely alone and alien I felt.

But, they didn’t. Or, if they did, they didn’t care.

And so, I felt a complete urgency to assimilate into a new culture and to adopt a new language, even when it went in the face of everything in which I believed.

I made the mistake of trying out my newly acquired word “gritter” on my family during dinner.

“What does that mean?” my mom asked

I tried my best to explain about the kids on the bus that were gritters and how they wore the same clothes over and over again, lived in the mobile home park and were generally unacceptable.

My parents got really, really angry.

More than 30 years later, I don’t remember much of what my parents said, but I do remember the look on my dad’s face when he said that he would have been a “gritter” in high school. And I remember my ambivalence.

To the depths of my soul, I knew how wrong judging and labeling other people was. But I also knew that I had absolutely no social footing, so standing up against what was a social norm would just further alienate me. My peers had a pecking order, and I wasn’t about to question it.

Until this past week, I’d completely forgotten all about gritters and my parents complete outrage at the ease with which I had used the word.

But then the West Virginia primary election brought it all back.

Donald Trump easily won West Virginia’s nod for President of the United States. While this wasn’t a surprise, the political pundits immediately began analyzing how one of the nation’s poorest states could engage in a love affair with a man who has nothing in common with the people, the culture and, of course, the lack of resources.

And even though I’m personally frustrated by the whole situation, I kind of get it.

West Virginians have been ridiculed for decades. The entire population is often stereotyped as poor, uneducated hillbillies whose culture is defined as being on par with the dueling banjos in the movie Deliverance. 

No one wants to be called the equivalent of a gritter. We want people to believe we are better than that, even if that means we point our fingers at other people and blame them, not ourselves, for our problems.

That is Donald Trump’s schtick.

He builds himself up while tearing others down – the poor, the undocumented, women, people with disabilities, people with accents, etc. Basically, he has taken license to belittle anyone who isn’t exactly like him.

No wonder West Virginians are buying it. If elected, they will have a leader who gives them license to call their neighbors gritters and blame others for their problems.

I am only grateful that I am no longer that awkward adolescent that was afraid to speak out or embrace the wisdom of her parents. Now, I’m willing to yell at the top of my lungs “Putting other people down doesn’t make you a leader or a better person. In fact, it does the exact opposite.”

Maybe Donald Trump will never hear me, but at least I know someone will.

And that’s a start.