Peculiar Flames Flickering

What is racism?

Now, before you answer that question, I want you to ponder how you, the individual, would choose to answer that question.

Would you go to the dictionary? Search your brain for a logical answer? Ask someone you know?

If you’d go to the dictionary, how do you know you can trust it?

If you’d search your brain, how do you know your answer is logical?

If you’d ask someone, how do you know they are speaking truth?

At this point, you might be a tiny bit irritated. Wondering where these questions are going. Please humor me, I promise I’m making a point.

I’m going to guess that if you’d go the dictionary, it’s because you know the dictionary is a tool to define words. But who made the tool?

I’m going to guess that if you’d have searched your brain, it’s because you’ve learned the answer to the question in a previous moment in life. But how do you know you learned correctly?

I’m going to guess that the person you’d ask would be someone who knows about the topic, or who is a trusted friend. But who taught them?

I hope you are starting to see where we are headed. Just humor me a little longer.

So, if the dictionary is a tool made by some people, is it objective?

If you learned the information, was it learned objectively?

If someone taught you the information, was the teacher objective?

So, really, the question should be: Do you believe yourself capable of objectivity? In other words, are you free from bias?

Are you sure?

What about your own bias? Think about it this way: you are the sum of your experiences. But also, the sum of how you experience. You are not just what happens to you, but how it happens to you. You learn what is taught to you through the tool of experience. But, like any tool, it’s the user that matters.

So, if life is a process of using tools, then is it possible to be objective? Or is what we call objectivity really a form of confirmation bias? Are we creatures of objectivity or bias?

So, how do you know what you know?? Let’s start over.

 

What is racism?

The dictionary gives a very simple answer: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

Our brains probably depict the KKK or Nazis.

Our teachers tell us it is stuff that existed largely in the past, and in small pockets today.

BUT I also know that Racism is systemic and institutional. That it’s passed down by parents to children in warnings to be safe or not date “those people”. It’s in redlining and “good districts”. It’s in poll taxes and “you speak so well!”. It’s in Jim Crow and mandatory minimums. It is at the heart of modernity; a product of extreme greed. It is born from fear. To justify owning slaves, racism was born. To justify slaughtering whole continents, racism was born. Not simply to slaughter or own, but for survival.

And that deep fear remains. It pervades American society, because we never unlearned it. It just became common sense; it became an objective truth. But really, it’s confirmation bias—we already believe something (the inferiority of lesser races) and that belief shapes reality.

It’s why we can’t agree on what racism is. It’s why we don’t think critically about race. Ever.

We can’t think critically. Too much of our existence is predicated on racism. It props up inherited wealth. It props up new wealth. It props up the model minority and talented tenth. It props up suburbs and gated communities. It props up American capitalism.

 

But it doesn’t have to. It’s a modern Plato’s Cave.

So, do we need to talk more about racism in education? Yes. Because the textbooks were created by people who lived in a racist society. Because the universities that trained them were occupied by people who lived in a racist society. Because it goes back through history, hand in hand with the racist society. In the past racism was akin to air or water: just a part of life and all that was ever known. And we are still in a racist society today.

Ask yourself how you know what you know. Think about who taught it to you. Think about how you learned it. What tools have you been given? Are they capable of doing what you think they are doing? Are there better tools out there that you have not yet learned about?

I’m telling you there are better tools. I’d be happy to help you learn how to use them. There is a big world to build outside the cave, and we could use your help. It might hurt at first, just like the light does when you exit a dark cave. You might want to run back, because your entire world was safer as a lie (confirmation bias!). And this is why we need to talk about racism in education: because when you return to the cave to get others, you stop making sense to them. You’re not capable of confirming the bias of the cave. How can you unshackle someone who wants to stay shackled? What if they won’t unlock themselves?

I don’t have a perfect answer for that, but it surely has not stopped me from trying.

 

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Happiness is as Happiness does

I remember the first time I made a cup of tea. I can’t quite recall my first cup, but I do remember the first one I made. It was a simple Lipton tea bag. Enveloping, but with a little bite. Sort of the way fall becomes winter. Or that telling itch when the bath was drawn just a little too hot. Every cup thereafter becomes a subtle re-creation attempt.

I try to expand the moment before the tea touches my tongue. Breathe it in. Slowly. Deliberately. It takes a few moments, but it forces me to slow down much the way a mom does an energetic toddler. This slowness is fertile ground for reflection, and I often reflect on how fortunate I am, and how grateful I am for that fortune.

Gratitude and humility are actionable goals I seek to model every day. Though the process of gratitude and humility may be uncomfortable and difficult, those feelings are a necessary part of building happiness, and it gets easier with practice. I am grateful for the souls reading these words. I hope these words edify you. I hope they bring happiness.

Remembering the wonder of the moment helps center my thoughts, as humility opens us to ourselves. But I often fail to remain centered. I often over-think, because too much of my happiness is gained from winning assurances from society. Once you get the job, you have to keep it. Once you get the bonus, you have to get it next year. Once you get a promotion, you have to snag a better one within three.

This is the cost. Different lives have different costs. This is the one I choose. 

So, to reclaim my time on days where gratitude and humility fail to center my perspective, I follow my heart and indulge myself while honoring the gratitude I have for my health.

I take a hot soak every other day, lingering past the point of pruney digits. I eat the extra scoop of ice cream, and the extra slice of pie…or cake. I run the extra mile. I nap for a few more minutes and buy the boots in the window. I remember that everyone, no matter where they are from wants to feel loved, a sense of purpose, valued, and heard.
 

And I try to forgive myself. To remember that good things often bite a little. That asking forgiveness is an indication of strength, just like taking a few moments to breathe deeply helps us with the most time consuming tasks.

But most importantly, I remind myself there is wonder in the world. It’ll always be there, I just have to find it. And most of the time, it can be found during an impromptu dance party on my bed, or in the kisses my dog gives me when negotiating a few more minutes of play, or in my niece’s laugh. It can be found on the beaches when I crossed items from my bucket list, or in the rainstorms I was completely ill-prepared to handle. It can be found watching children grow up, and in the deepest recess of my darkest fears.

 

I find happiness when I take the moment to check-in with the little boy who wanted to be an astronaut, and ask him what he’d like to do today. And doing just that.

 

He is just as cool as I remember, and the tea tastes just as good to him too.

 

Choices

“What are you watching? Those are pretty dresses!” My niece has entered the room with her nose in my business.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“Rude Paul?”
“RuPaul”
“RuPaul sings!”
“Yup, you remember”
“But why is he in girls clothes?”
‘Because he is playing pretend. He likes the pretty dresses and hair”
“Boys can do that?”
“Yup, and so can girls. Anyone can play pretend”
And that was all it took for my five year old niece to understand Drag Queens.

Now, I fully understand her understanding is contextual: she loves to dress up too. She seemed very satisfied that adults can still dress up and pretend. BUT the nimbleness of her mind is evidence that the rigid social lines of the past were mostly constructed and imposed rather than inherent and natural. I grew up thinking sex and gender were basically the same thing. Girls had vaginas and that meant they were different. Since the difference was clear, it made sense that other differences must exist between the sexes.

It was not until college that I began to learn how little I knew. Apparently what is taught in grade school is not the full truth, and it requires sophisticated nuance to understand the science behind sex and gender. It turns out sex isn’t just male/female either– the spectrum is quite vast! Chromosomal diversity helps us see the realities beyond XX and XY.

So, if we have more than XX and XY, that must mean our social evolution is on a spectrum. Today, many young people are like my niece: anyone can be anyone they want. If I want to wear a dress, nothing about me changes. If I want wear a blazer, nothing about me changes.

AND perhaps we see the breakdown of arbitrary gender orientations because our parents raised us to think we could do anything.

If I can do anything, how could it be possible that my gender has some inherent restriction on possibility.

Now, some will say that men are stronger than women. Sure, that is generally true. BUT I also know we socialize women to avoid activities that build strength. So, is it the chicken or the egg?

And even if men are stronger than women, there is no reason to deny a woman anything without giving her an equal try– she should fail on her own merits, not that of an arbitrarily delineated grouping. I recently saw that the Navy Seals had their first female qualify. This is a good thing, and shows that gender means little.

 

And it should mean little.

We should be who we are at our cores.

BUT tradition dies hard. Some scholars argue the “gender gap” began with the move from hunter/gatherer to agrarian civilizations. Women played an equal role while tribes were mobile. Once tribes settled permanently, brute strength became more necessary leading to male dominance and patriarchy.

This makes tremendous sense. It is further supported by the “crisis of masculinity” occurring today. Civilization has shifted from the brute strength of men to the finesse of women. The rigid gender binary has swung sides: traditionally feminine skills are in demand.

And so now men are suffering (and growing beards).

But millennials are bucking that trend. Younger men are starting to reject the toxic masculinity that demands so much from them.

Younger women are blossoming and taking over.

What I see is a messy process where men and women are starting to view themselves on a spectrum– where you are not masculine or feminine, but rather just …a person with interests. And our parents aren’t sure how to handle it all the time. But they do love us. And they want us to love ourselves.

 

Cause, if you can’t love yourself how in the hell are you gonna love someone else?

Nothing you can say will change my mind.

Ignorance is bliss.

When you hold onto what you believe, you can dismiss anything comfortably. This comfort is the heart of ignorance.

But it is that comfort that stagnates life.

Climate Change? Discomfort, therefore it isn’t real.
Globalization? Discomfort, therefore it must be stopped.
Privilege? Nah, if that were true then I did not earn my space in life, and that is discomforting.
Systemic Inequity? The Constitution says we are equal, so I don’t have to feel guilty when outcomes are not equal. It’s pretty uncomfortable winning a rigged game, but winning is good, so the game can’t be rigged. I mean, who wants to feel bad? I’m a good person, therefore what I do must be from a good place.

Perhaps this explains why so many people enjoy ignorance: they would prefer to hold their beliefs rather than be correct. More specifically, they would prefer to think of themselves as correct than to actually be correct.

And for a while, information was contextualized by environment. You likely knew the same things your neighbors did, and few things beyond that. A sort of “common sense” that unfortunately still pervades our culture.

Yet now we live in a world where information has few ideological gatekeepers. The Internet has allowed younger generations to question the beliefs forced on them.

Millennials embrace many of the taboos of the past because they have engaged in a form of life-long learning not available to previous generations. Today, children can question their upbringing and surroundings by checking the super computer in their pockets. My father relied on the collective beliefs of his community. His information was funneled through his community. It was easy to have a simple life with simple things: a predictable life. You knew what you knew and it would always be what you knew. But now? You have to prove it. You have to answer “why?” And many non-millennials struggle to answer that question, especially managers and executives. “That’s just how we do it” doesn’t hold up in a learning-driven world with open sourced information.

Learning helps us to answer why. It gives us the opportunity to check our starting points. See what we think of the world and our place in it.

As I reflect on my recent graduation from Graduate School, I realize how powerful learning is, and how necessary it will be for our culture to embrace learning over beliefs and truth over opinion.

Unfortunately it can take a lifetime of learning to figure out the difference.

What’s the speed limit again?

It is beautiful. Clear, crisp, and blue. The sky is reminding me the world I occupy is beautiful. I can hear the birds sing. The cars that pass by push warm air around my body. I can feel the moisture in the air evaporate as the sun gains strength.

buzzzzz buzzzzzz

I can feel the vibrations.

beep ding boop

I can hear the sounds.

I know each’s meaning the way I know the difference between a nauseated gurgle and a ravenous growl.

I adjust my pocket to silence the sounds. I put on sunglasses to block the rising sun.

As I walk down the hill, a multigenerational family enters my field of vision. A 30-something and his wife are engaged in conversation with an older set of adults, who I surmise are his parents. Shortly behind them follow four pitter-pattering feet attached to four skinny legs belonging to two adolescents. Clearly annoyed, their eyes lift only enough to ensure physical equanimity: heads lost in a digital cloud.

“…why don’t you take out YOUR phone and tells us what direction IT says to go, because MINE says we should keep going straight….”, I catch the son saying to his mother, as he gesticulates up the hill, phone in hand. The mother looks annoyed, the way your mom does when you suggest she doesn’t know how to use something. You know that look. The dawdling adolescents exchange knowing giggles.

Until the smartphone arrived in the 2000s, this performance was the province of fantasy. Prior, humans had long envisioned the world of tomorrow and its technological delights: robots, personal assistants, and sensory integrated appliances (I’m not sure Smell-o-Vision will EVER be a good idea). Now, these interactions are normative representations of intergenerational reliance and community.

The Information Superhighway has revolutionized human life, has undeniably upended human existence, and radically accelerated human potential. Our Internet of Things puts us closer to the Jetsons than we might imagine.

But, this revolution has its costs.

Like any highway, the cars are not all the same. Some clunk along while others zip along, engines humming a soft purr. Some people are able to go out and purchase a more fitting vehicle; many a senior citizen adeptly navigates cyberspace. But most people are living on a fixed income; many seniors rely on the generosity of younger family and friends, a fact constantly portrayed in the media. I mean, you KNOW that look.

We are all connected, but we are not on the same page. This revolution has its bloody and dark underbelly: billions of people have cars that cannot get on the highway. These old cars were designed for byways and throughways, but not super highways. These old cars are made for local routes, hidden trails, and off-road beauty; they lack the sophisticated sensors and mechanisms to make sense of the revolution’s new language. For some, what was up is now down. What was right is now wrong. That the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s occurrence coincides with a potentially fatal contraction for Globalization is telling. That we are more connected than ever while facing the rise of nationalistic government is foreboding.

I wonder what other unintended consequences lurk around the bend.

THOSE people are weird.

Culture is powerful and pervasive. Culture can be hard to see. It is like oxygen: it gives us life but also has the power to take it away.

The word “family” is a cultural one.  For some, it is series of parent-children relationships connected by common ancestors. For others, it is anyone they choose, the people who breathe life-oxygen into their days.

Now, the notion of family has waxed and waned throughout western culture. Interestingly, today’s families are more like previous generations than we might like to admit. We are seeing an increase in multigenerational homes throughout areas where single generation homes had formerly dominated. In America especially, there is a trend of young adults returning to the nest with their grandparents not too far behind. Our culture has come to accept this as truth rather than anathema. Yet, at the same time, more and more people are choosing to live in ways traditionally contrary to our culture. Studies suggest that the younger generations are skeptical of the sexual, gender, and normative considerations that their parents held. For example, I know a great number of people in relationships that my parents would not understand: polyamorous, monogamous, and asexual committed relationships, “truples,” multi-parental units, and everything in between. All of it is capable of health and success so long as there is love present.

Perhaps this familial gray area is the natural process of cultural shifts. Unlike the sexual and gender revolutions of the past, the familial revolution seems to be a natural response to the releasing of cultural taboos. But in another sense, this revolution is like every other shift in our history: people are sharing their truths with the world. As more people share, more still are learning to open their minds to new and useful conceptualizations of culture.
Another consideration may be that our understanding of family is reflected in the society in which we live. Previous generations subsisted on the patriarchal paradigm in which one man supported a family. This economic reality influenced cultural signals and shaped the larger culture around the single family economic unit. We can see this in past generations’ veneration of a “nuclear family” and the cultural denigration of outliers. The family unit was the engine of the American economy. As globalization has shifted our economy and as the ability for one breadwinner to support a family fades, we are witnessing a shift in what is deemed culturally acceptable. Now, we are beginning to welcome a buffet of relationships and contexts to promote an adaptive, flexible, modern economic family unit. This modern family unit fits the modern economic imperative: it is changeable, personal, and user-friendly. This modern family reflects the people it comprises and should be understood and celebrated as such.

For some, that is scary. Much like with globalization, there is a fear of losing something essential. That such a shift would bury and suffocate the traditional family.

However, the future is bright and full of love from where I’m standing. I want to breathe deeply.

well, let them eat cake!

Free Markets and Market Economies. Capitalism. Wealth. Taxation. Spending. Growth. Growth. Growth.

Most of us do not really think about these things. We think about our families. We try to protect them, and ourselves, from uncertainty. We strive for food on the table, a roof overhead, and clothes on backs. Our localized realities drive our choices.

Bootstraps. Hard Work. Self-Reliance. Freedom and Liberty.

These are the Americanisms informing prevailing economic beliefs. The Marshall Plan spread many of these principles throughout post-WWII Europe. In exchange for reconstruction aid, Europe underwent massive change and became the precursor of today’s European Union. Europe largely deregulated, removed interstate borders, and adopted prevailing US trends. Europe saw a huge increase in labor union membership, productivity, and the adoption of “modern” business procedures. Well, perhaps not modern. Perhaps just American.

I wonder if the growing inequity across OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries is the result of American self-interest run amok. I wonder if America’s inequity (the 4th highest among the OECD countries) is driving global inequity. Could the practices adopted under the Marshall Plan be responsible for global inequity today? Perhaps. Many people will find holes in this line of questioning. Some with posit the lack of union membership is driving inequity: In the US, states with Right-to-Work laws have higher job growth rates, but lower wages, insurance rates, and pensions. People have jobs, but those jobs might provide less return for labor. Some will posit the embrace of neoliberal structures is the root of inequity. A paper published in the June 2016 issue of the International Monetary Fund’s Finance and Development warned that forty years of neoliberalism has “increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion”.

So, we get jobs, but we only take home crumbs? Sounds eerily like the conversations surrounding Brexit and Donald J Trump’s America.

Some will say the cause is simply capitalism, which inherently produces inequity. As you expand equality of opportunity, you likely increase inequity in wealth as opportunity and access are different from actually owning capital. In America, we speak of equality in opportunity but not of equality in capital. In fact, equity of capital is anathema to America.

I venture to connect the dots: Brexit, Trump, Global inequity. What do these have in common? A rejection of the prevailing established norms. Brexit rejected UK dependence on the EU while advocating for economic self-determination. Trump’s victory rejected institutional trends of the past thirty years. Every critique of Trump is rooted in his rejection of norms. Inequity is contributing to this reality. Many Trump supporters expressed exasperation at the establishment, such that anything different would be better. Bernie Sanders supporters made a similar case. And while both the Clinton and Trump campaigns fought bitterly about the best direction forward, both acknowledged the current system is untenable. I fully understand we might never know exactly what caused Trump to win or Brexit to pass. I do not intend to suggest I have the answer, but I do know inequity contributed to each.

I also want to be clear that I am not referring to the idiosyncrasies of Brexit or Trump’s win (there are many factors beyond inequity), but it is important to frame each in a larger context: across the planet people are rejecting the prevailing “normal”.

What happens as we move forward? I fear a future of discontent as the globe sorts this new normal. Climate Change and the broad automatization of labor are major challenges we face. What lessons can be learned today to attenuate future discord?

We know that Climate Change is impacting the globe, even if the politics are controversial (the science is not). We know that robots are replacing workers across economies. We know that profits go to owners. It would be easy to envision a future where capital and profits are derived from robots (in a similar fashion to chattel slavery in the Americas) and healthy air exists for the highest bidder. What will happen to the billions of people living on less than $1 USD? How could they possibly participate in such an economy, let alone survive in it?

We must begin to address these concerns now, or we will find ourselves living in a foreign world whose normal few are prepared to handle.

Though, considering the dire reality billions face today, I am not sure it could be called a new normal.

Perhaps it is just normal.

And that is our problem.