It’s Called Empathy

When my oldest daughter was around 3 year old, I went on a girls’ weekend with my mother and sister. I left my daughter home with her dad and she knew when I’d be home.  Her dad was on call and wouldn’t you know it he got called into work.  He called a neighbor to come stay with her. Not wanting to wake her, he left without introducing her to the babysitter. She woke up to a stranger,  terrified. The babysitter called my cell as he couldn’t get her to come out from under the covers or to stop crying. I tried to comfort her over the phone, but could tell from her whisper of a voice that she was still afraid and I was four hours away. Grandpa came to the rescue that day (as he was only 45 minutes away). Even so, the pain and distress my daugher felt that day shot through my heart. It took her several months, if not, longer to get over it. I felt like the worst mother ever. Would I have knowingly, on-purpose caused distress to my child? No way. Unless…her life was in danger, then absolutely.

This is how I can understand why immigrant families come to our border knowing they could be separated from their children – better in an internment camp than dead?  I can’t imagine how horrible the conditions must be in their home countries that they would rather their children live without them in a foreign country, than die with them in a country overrun with violence. Sure I could be separated from my children, if I committed a felony or was deployed in the military, but in both cases the decisions would be mine. One could argue crossing an imaginary line in the sand is a choice as well, but is it, if the alternative means death for my children? This is called empathy. Would I make that same decision in their place if it meant my children would live? Yes. What would you do?

Sitting on a hard wooden pew as a child, I remember hearing this parable many times:

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:42-45 (NIV))

In my heart of hearts I never wanted to be the one that passed by someone in need with a cold, hard heart. I strived to be like the Good Samaritan (another parable ingrained in my mind). In my mind I really wanted to be kind-hearted and help those less fortunate than me. I grew up believing in loving my neighbors as myself and in praying for my enemies. This is where I learned about empathy.  “What would Jesus do?”  Do you remember those bracelets from back in the 1990s? I had a green one.

A few months ago a woman approached me as my daughters and I were getting out of the car to go into the mall.  She asked if I had any spare change to give as she’d run out of gas and didn’t get paid until the following week. I gave her what change I had in my pocket and knew my daughter had $10 in her coin purse. I asked her to give the money to the woman. She reluctantly gave the woman the money, who was very grateful. I assured my daughter I would pay her back the $10 as soon as we found an ATM. Yet, she was still salty (yes I just used teen lingo there) over the whole episode.

I asked her what was wrong as this is my child that has bible verses posted on her bedroom walls. I expected her to want to help others. As it turns out she thought the woman was scamming us or could have robbed us. I told her that yes, she was absolutely right. Both of those things could have been true. On the other hand, the woman may have been sincere in her need. I said I would rather assume she truly needed help. It was broad daylight and many people were around so I didn’t feel unsafe doing so.  I told her I would rather ten people scam me, than not give to one person who could really use it. If I were in need (and I have been), I would and am truly grateful for those that have helped me.

I share this story not to shame my daughter or anyone else for that matter. Her fears come honestly.  We live in a day and age where our society assumes the worst in others instead of the best. Imagine what life might be like if instead, we assumed the best by default? I’m not a theologian or a philosopher or a politician, but I honestly think it would be pretty damn awesome. In my cheesy, alter-universe, we live in a world full of empathy, compassion, tolerance and love. We are all human. Each and every one of us. We all have the same basic human needs (anyone remember Maslow?) Why can’t we move away from fear and hate to love and acceptance?

Whether you are a conservative, right-winger or a liberal, leftist, it doesn’t matter. We are all human. The right thinks the left is brain-washed and vice-versa. People shout “fake news” when the read something that doesn’t agree with whatever politician they support. In the end, we are in a quagmire. Yes, there are shades of gray.  But there is also right and wrong. Taking young, innocent children away from their parents, who are only seeking a better life for themselves is w-r-o-n-g.  I don’t care who put the policy in place (Clinton, Obama, Trump – I’ve seen all three in my news feeds today), it is doesn’t change it from being wrong. Two wrongs never make a right. Ignoring what is happening around us doesn’t alleviate our guilt, it makes us complicit.

Our country was founded on immigration.  My grandfather came here from Mexico with his parents, seeking a better life. He worked as a hard laborer, a migrant worker and eventually along with his parents became naturalized citizens. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t sought a better life and to live the “American Dream.”  (Even so, I had no control over where or when I was born and neither does anyone else, including the people we seek to keep out). We dehumanize the people who come to our borders, when we call them “illegals” or “criminals.” They want they same things that we want.

I read this Tweet from our president and I weep.

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Children are not bargaining chips. People’s lives are not pawns in a political agenda. This is using blackmail and extortion to get what you want. These are real, human beings. This is not fake news. These screenshots are from reputable news feeds:

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People are quick to comment and point fingers at each other, but fail to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I read many un-related arguments to justify supporting this horrible policy (why are the Democrats mad, they support abortion? Why don’t they worry about American children instead of illegal aliens?)  These arguments are beside the point and still doesn’t change the fact that what we are doing now is inhumane. For the record, I personally, do care about the American children living in poverty and orphanages and I think all human life is sacred (from the unborn to the criminals on death row) and I also think it is wrong to separate children from their parents. If we spent the millions (dare I say billions) of dollars earmarked for a wall or temporary camps for the displaced children and used it to help end poverty in our own country, to give those seeking a better life a path so they can become contributing citizens, we could make America even better.

Yes, we in doing so we may let in some “thugs” or “criminals” along they way. But, hey, at least we can all go out and buy an AR-15 style rifle to protect ourselves, just in case. (Yes, that was sarcasm there, but I digress.)

I know in the grand scheme of things, my little post means nothing and won’t change anything. But, if you shared this post to your feed, and someone else posted it to theirs, maybe the 1490 words of this blog post could make a difference.

empathy

People Problem? Gun Problem? Yes and Yes.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This is my 100th blog post. It has taken me seven years to get here as my writing life has had its ups and downs. I’d planned to write an upbeat post about the journey, hard work and successes. However, my heart is heavy and my stomach twists. I want to stand out in my yard and scream for it to stop. I fear for my children. I’m torn between wanting to keep them locked inside, home-schooled and safe and letting them venture out knowing that they have to live life  as do I. But….it is h-a-r-d.

As I scrolled through my news feeds and read various articles about the latest school shooting (how horrible is it to have to write latest), I feel like throwing up. How does this happen? Why does this happen? And why the fuck can’t people put their agendas aside and really listen to each other? (sorry for the language there — actually I’m not.) I am an angry mother and I want the politicians, law makers and my fellow citizens to look into their hearts and really think. The children that were killed Wednesday could have just as easily been YOUR children. The shooter could have been YOUR child. We need to stop pointing fingers at each other and ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING!!!!! How many lives have to be lost? How many children? How many lives have to be destroyed before we as a country take a real stand, collaborate and stop ignoring the problems.

Many articles have been written on this. We argue and accuse each other and fixate on one argument over another without truly hearing each other. We need our leaders to come together to make a true difference.  Next week the twitter will trail off and everyone will go back to their normal lives as if nothing happened and nothing will happen. Except that something did happen and those families and children will never be the same. I don’t want the next blip in the discussion about mental illness vs gun control to be when a bullied, mentally unstable person,who slipped through the cracks, comes into my children’s school with an assault rifle and unloads their 100 rounds of wrath and anger on my children. We need a real dialog now.

Those of you who have read my writings in the past know I am equivocally not an “Either/Or person and see the world largely through a “Both/And” lens. This situation is definitely a case for “Both/And.” I hear the same tired arguments over and over on both sides, but nothing changes. School should be a place where our children can safely learn and grow. When I was in high school, we had tornado drills and fire drills. We did not have “active shooter” drills. This is our norm now. The NORM!!!! Does this not make anyone else cringe? Why is this acceptable? I am not arguing that in this day and age that it isn’t necessary. This is a bandage that is barely closing a gaping wound in our society.

Here are the arguments I’ve heard and seen in the last 72 hours and what I interpret.

  1. Guns don’t kill, people do. This is a true statement. On the other hand, it is also a true statement that guns do NOT kill without people.
  2. It’s a people problem, not a gun problem. Actually, I think it is both. Yes, it’s a gun problem. I can buy and own a gun, easier than I can buy a box of Sudafed. Let that sink in. Sudafed that little red pill I used to be able to take for sinus pressure, I now must show a driver’s license, sign a computer registry and I’m limited to the amount I can buy in a month. No one seems to be bothered by this. What’s next baby aspirin?  Yet the second, people suggest that we limit the number of guns people can buy, make certain types of fire arms/ammunition or accessories illegal (to buy and manufacture?), institute a waiting period or a background check, we freak out and point to our Second amendment rights. When something injures children or people or even our pets–jarts, cribs with wide bars, car seats, contaminated dog food, cars, etc.–we recall the products and we either make them safer or stop selling them. Why is a certain category of products exempt?Yes, it is a people problem as well. We need to help people who are so hurt and wounded that they go to such extreme measures for attention and vengeance. We need better mental health coverage and care. We need to be aware of troubled students, co-workers and ask questions, offer encouragement and point them to help. We need to make it harder for them to hurt themselves and others. We need to stop bullying and teach our students (and lawmakers?) to praise our differences and embrace them, not marginalize them. We need to teach people gun safety. No where in the Second amendment does it say that we can’t be smart about it. We do not just let anyone drive a car or a semi-truck. No. We have instruction, we practice and we must pass a test to have a license to drive. We don’t make it easy. And, if we break the rules, they take our license away! No one is worried that when renew our driver’s licenses or get our automobile plates, that because our name and address is on a registry that the government now knows who has cars and knows where to confiscate them. Why do we treat gun ownership differently?
  3. If we ban assault rifles, what’s next? Cars? Knives? Pressure Cookers? People will find another way to kill. Yes, cars and knives can kill people. Where there’s a will, there’s a way for sure. People can pretty much turn anything into a weapon. I agree. Right now, we are talking about AR15 assault rifles that can kill and injure 30 -100 people in a matter of minutes (seconds?). Because a man put pipe bombs in his shoes at an airport, now all law-abiding travelers must take their shoes off if they want to fly. Because of 9/11, we go through metal detectors and our families can no longer meet us at the gate or see us off. We have to throw out liquids and snow globes if we want to board a plane. I understand why we have these rules. Yes, it makes air travel less convenient, but we are all safer for it. If knives, pressure cookers or cars become an issue in the future, then I would whole-heartedly want our society to dialog and make changes.
  4. Look at Chicago…Gun control laws don’t work anyway. Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.” I hear and read the failure for crime and gun deaths to fall in Chicago a city with some of the strongest gun control laws in the United States as a reason to keep things status quo. I did some reading on this as I was curious. I lived in Illinois for 5 years and I know that the state has waiting periods and registration rules for gun ownership. Why are things failing in Chicago?  Chicago is actually very close to the border of Indiana. Indiana has very weak gun laws. If the guns don’t kill, people do argument is true, then does it follow that Chicago has a higher population of unstable people and that if we made it easier for them to get guns within the city itself, would it also follow that they would have even more gun deaths without these laws? It reminds me of all those fireworks for sale signs you see as you cross from one state to another. Last chance! Buy now!
  5. We took God out of the classroom, what do we expect? I’m not exactly sure how God gets thrown into this discussion. God has never left our classrooms; religion has and should be. As parents it is our jobs to put love and acceptance into the hearts and minds of our children. To teach them morality, kindness, integrity, empathy.  Not judgement, superiority or mean-spiritedness. God is love. If God is not in our classrooms, that’s on us, not on anyone or anything else. We don’t need bibles or prayer or any one groups religious agenda in our classrooms. We need mercy and grace. Separation of Church and State is one of the guiding principles of our country. This idea as is the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments of which the Second is a part. Note it is an amendment – which by definition is a change or addition to our original constitution) is part of the fiber of our country. Are these principles infallible? Can they or should they change? Who decides?
  6. Let’s arm our teachers! Turn our schools into armed fortresses. This one probably scares me the most. Many schools are already cutting back music, arts, field trips, bus transportation and sports due to money issues. Do we really want to put the onus of protecting our children from “active shooters” on our educators? Who will pay for these weapons and training? Is it fair to ask our teachers to foot the bill to protect our children? Will tax payers step up? If people can also kill with bombs or cars, how will arming our teachers with guns help? In the seconds it takes to shot off 30 rounds, would a teacher be able to shoot an assailant with a hand gun? Os should they have AR15’s too? And what happens when an armed teacher fails to use their gun and freezes if in active shooter situation? Would they then be deemed negligent? What happens when an angry student gets ahold of one the teacher’s guns and accidentally shoots another student. It will happen. It happens in homes now. The answer is not to become a military state where fear and intimidation prevails. There has to be a better way.
  7. Why punish law-abiding citizens?  I understand where law-abiding gun owners are coming from. It’s the old one bad egg spoils it for everyone. Yep. That’s true. Life is not fair. Get over it already. Accept it. Don’t use it as an excuse to not protect our children. The sole purpose of an AR15 is to destroy. Yes there are examples where people have learned to shoot and reload other guns rapidly in competition.  Should we ban those too? If they are available then why not the AR15? It takes time practice and dedication to shoot other guns this way, not so much for a military grade weapon designed for war. Why make it easy for every-day people to own them? Yes, there are black markets. Yes these types of guns will exist in the world. I accept that fact. I’m ok with that. But, how many teenagers do you know that have black market connections? Do you know where to find black market connections. It would be much harder for someone to get an AR15 from the “black market” than it is for them to go to the local gun shop. No one is saying we should ban all fire arms. I haven’t read that solution one time.

If everyone could put their fears and pride aside, I know we could come together as a community and as a nation to help those people who feel unheard, to keep our children safe and keep our Second amendment rights intact. We need to put our fears and politics aside to make it happen before the “thoughts and prayers” sentiments ring in our own ears as we stand over the grave of one of our children.

I know my idea may not be popular among all of my friends, followers and readers. Everyone has a right to their own opinion.  I have never been an overly political person. Lately, though I have felt more compelled to write. I know one article won’t make a hell of a lot of difference and that we will come to the stalemate of doing nothing. If we keep doing the same thing over and over, why are we surprised that we get the same results over and over? Or maybe we aren’t surprised, but we’ve become immobilized by apathy.

I’m open to your comments and ideas. Thanks for reading.

Home of the Brave?

flag-dayFear. Four letters. Fear doesn’t look so scary as word on a page. Manifested in real-life though fear can be very scary indeed. Fear can drive us and paralyze us. Fight or flight, fear causes that adrenaline rush to run away or fight the peril or freeze into a state of doing nothing. Fear shuts out love and amplifies hate. Fear manipulates and controls us. Fear urges me to say “yes” when I really should say “no.” It causes me to say “no” when what I really want to say is “yes.”  It causes me to doubt and second guess. It inhibits me and holds me back.  What do I fear? Being judged by others as not good enough? Thin enough? Smart enough? Kind enough? Not having enough? Loneliness? Emptiness? Not being able to provide for my children? Spiders and snakes?  All. Of. The. Above.  But why?

I don’t consider myself to be a religious zealot or a political fanatic. I don’t align as a pure conservative or pure liberal. On a dating profile (yet another interesting topic, but I digress), I once listed myself as a “free thinker” and I think that is apt. Typically I stay away from topics of politics and religion as conflict is not my comfort zone. However, after reading this article, “Love Thy Neighbor,” I found I could not remain silent. The words and thoughts on this subject won’t let me rest. They keep playing over and over in my head, compelling me to release them and send them out into the cyber world. So here they are, these words and ideas that are mine, but are not me. As I am no more my hand or my foot or my face than I am my thoughts and words or opinions. This is my opinion. And so, I let go of that fear and write.

When I hear or read the words, “America First” or “Make America Great Again” I feel ill. My stomach turns and I feel sad.  When hasn’t America been first? Do we as Americans really need to be afraid of being second? Seriously. When hasn’t America been great?  Isn’t it the reason why people from other countries want to come here? To follow the American dream? Who would want to come to a place that isn’t great? I am a truly blessed woman.  I was lucky enough to be born in the United States of America to two caring parents that took me to church on Sundays and provided a loving home for me. I graduated from high school. I went to college. I have food on my table. I have a roof over my head. I have a car that I drive to work every morning. If I get sick, I call the doctor. I have a wonderful family and good friends. The only way I could have been luckier would have been if I’d been born with a penis. That’s reality. My reality. Not everyone is so lucky. I know this. I could just as easily of been born in Syria or Cambodia or North Korea.

Fear has led America to put a man in power who is probably even more fearful than I. (Why else would he lash out at those who disagree with him on such a personal level.  He wants everyone to like him. Who doesn’t want that?) What do Americans fear?  Losing their rights? The right to own a gun? The right to freedom of speech? The right to have more? When I hear the excuse “lessor of two evils” for why people voted for him, I feel angry. Would you want “Crooked Hillary” in the White House instead? No I would not, nor did I vote for her either. If every American who voted for Trump or Clinton that uttered the words “lessor of two evils” as the reason for their vote had instead voted for a third-party candidate maybe we would have someone in the White House my children could look up to. How did the DNC and RNC vet the candidates they put before us in primaries?

I remember sitting in history class growing up learning about American History. I learned about the lynchings of Black Americans in the 60’s, the Red Scare in the 50’s, the Japanese American internment camps during War World War II.  My professor talking about how people were afraid and it led to hysteria. I can vividly remember feeling ashamed I was an American and so grateful I was born during a time when that couldn’t happen again.  I mean we learned our lessons, right? Yet, as I read hateful diatribes between friends on “fake news” and “sore losers,” I find myself questioning whether or not history is yet again repeating itself. Trump has used fear to make Americans distrust their neighbor that doesn’t look like them or practice the same religion we do. We are afraid of terrorists? Of people stealing our jobs? Of not getting our fair share?  Yes, yes and yes. Me too. I get it.  But I don’t like it.

Trump uses fear to isolate our nation by building walls and shutting our borders. Why can’t our vetting process for letting refugees and people from countries not as great as ours into the U.S. be reviewed and improved without shutting our borders and instilling hate and fear. From the time, he announced the executive order until the courts finally allowed it, the new processes could have been completed. I worry one day my grandchildren will look at me after reading about this time period in history ask me how this could have happened. What will I say?  I’m sorry, people were afraid of not being first.

America is a mosaic. We need each other. Our differences are what makes us great.  People make us great. Not policies and politics and religion. We need to set aside our fears. I need to set aside my fear. Come on, we are the “Home of the Brave” aren’t we?