Intersectional Grievances And Hope For Unity.

The story of Roberto Beristain and his family has haunted me since his story broke on February 6th. Roberto had been living in South Bend Indiana under an “order of supervision”agreement with DHS. The agreement, under the historical interpretation, allows immigrants with a removal order to remain in the country for humanitarian reasons. Roberto had been doing all the right things. He regularly checked in with DHS, paid his taxes, was raising a family and employing twenty people at the successful restaurant he owned in South Bend. Roberto was arrested at his last DHS check-in and has been deported. His case attracted national attention because his wife had supported Donald Trump. Mrs Beristain claimed she feels betrayed because her husband is in no way a “bad hombre.”IMG_0095

Roberto’s story has been making the rounds on social media where the family is being vilified by the right and the left for harboring a criminal or”getting what they deserved” for voting for Trump. There is a family who’s entire world has been turned upside down and I’m certain if this were someone we knew we would be more sympathetic.

There’s a school of thought emerging that rises in depression and anxiety are the result of our increasingly comfortable lifestyle and resultant insulation from adversity. That’s not to diminish the challenges of modern life but real adversity like hunger, homelessness and persecution are largely removed from the average American’s daily life. With that lack of adversity some of our sense of purpose and ergo hopefulness has diminished. I sense that this void is what leads to a growing lack of empathy for others. Deep down, if feelings of unhappiness undermine our subconscious we lash out at others. I’m just going to leave that right there. It’s just a theory.

I’m a ridiculous optimist. I suppose my privilege affords that. I would hope that others could feel that optimism in this time where we are facing so much uncertainty, dissonance and division. My optimism comes from Roberto’s story and the ugly commentary that has attached to the story. It is my hope that reasonable people might see that and say, “Wait! What?” This family is being torn apart and both sides are piling onto their suffering. We’ve got to be better than that. There lies our hope, our purpose our challenge in the face of adversity. It’s time we quit knee-jerk responding with hostility and dismissiveness. The intersectional grievances of our discontent can be a point of unity. I’m going to chase that idea for a little bit. Will you join me?

 

Riding With My Dad.

IMG_0091My dad lied about his age to join the Navy in 1944. He was worried he wouldn’t get a chance to serve his country if he waited until he was of age. Landing a spot in the Seabee’s he participated in the clean-up of American interests in Nagasaki. His ship docked in Nagasaki shortly after Fat Man, the 22-kiloton atomic bomb, had been dropped at 11:02 on the morning of August 9, 1945. He never did talk much about what he saw there. I can’t imagine. When you witness the specific reality of such horrors it would affect you any number of ways. My Dad took some time to sort all that out in his own way I guess. Typical of some World War II Veterans my Dad found comfort in a Harley Davidson and the associated brotherhood that is now iconic Americana.IMG_0088

My dad was, however, willing to tell us stories about his motorcycling days and that is most likely why I ride to this day. He gave up motorcycling when he met my mom. He never told us why he made that decision but it was apparent he never lost his enthusiasm for two wheels. My dad was a practical man. I’m confident he subjugated his love for Harley’s in exchange for the priority of his family. Still, even in the later years of his of his life, whenever he heard the distinctive sound of a Harley, he would stop whatever he was doing and look for the source.

One of my father’s last rides was in late June of 1950. He decided to visit Yellowstone on a whim. He jumped on his 1949 FL pan-head and rode west. Alone. I asked him why and he smiled and just said, “I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone.” I suppose that’s as good of a reason as any. It was hard to reconcile such a free spirit once residing in a man who so epitomized living his life for others. He worked twelve hour days, six days a week at the gas station he owned. Busting his knuckles in the shop and wiping his hands on an oily rag he always had a smile on his face for any customer who pulled up to his full service pumps. His work ethic extended beyond providing for us. He was active at church, devoted to his family and did all of the maintenance on our humble cape cod.

On the occasions he recalled his trip to Yellowstone it seemed as if he was reliving the wind in his hair and rumble under his seat. He spoke proudly of his Harley which he claimed was the only motorcycle in the world that you could ride at eighty miles an hour all day long. My dad wouldn’t see Yellowstone on that trip. He would never see it from the seat of a Harley. He had stopped in Cody Wyoming to fuel up just outside the majestic park. The attendant asked, “Have you heard? North Korea has invaded South Korea and it sounds like we’re going back to war.” My dad told the man to fill it to the rim and hurry. He saddled up and headed for home. He had the opportunity to prove his bike would run eighty miles per hour all day long. It took him over twenty-four hours to ride straight through to the Naval recruiting station in his home town. Duty. Honor. Character.

Nearly fifty years later, some twenty years after my father had passed, I had the opportunity to trace his Yellowstone ride. I had just completed the glorious ride down Shell Canyon and was a little emotional from realizing this country had probably changed very little since my father had rode there. I had used most of my gas riding through the Big Horn Mountains. Cody lie ahead. I have to admit I watched nervously for anyone who might approach that would have some inconceivable news that might end my trip. God smiled upon me and I was able to spend the next few days with my dad filling my heart and taking in a timeless American treasure. I’d say my dad would have loved that ride through Yellowstone but I had the real sense that he was there all along, riding with me side by side.

 

Lead With Your Heart. Sometimes.

One of the favorite stories I love to share comes up when I introduce lending to new hires in my job at the credit union. I make the story fit my curriculum at work but I’ll share with you what really happened.
A guy, I’m just going to call him Mike, came in to get a loan. The thing was, Mike saw me often to get a loan but I was never able to give him one. Mike had a good job but had made some poor financial choices in the past and held more debt than any man ever should. I knew that every month it was likely he needed to make the decision to eat or pay his bills. I just wasn’t able to do anything for him that wouldn’t make his situation worse.
A lot goes into the measure of a man. Mike could just never say no to his family. The repeated loan requests were always for the benefit of his wife or daughter and never about him. One beautiful spring day he came into my office and sat heavily in the chair across my desk. He had been crying. I acted as if I hadn’t noticed. He needed fifty bucks to get him through to payday because his daughter had been invited to Prom. His wife and daughter would make a dress. He was certain she would be the most beautiful girl at the prom… if he could only get his hands on fifty bucks… to buy a bit of cloth.
Everything about this loan was wrong. Credit worthiness, IMG_0086capacity to repay and the loan fell below my minimum loan requirements. I made the loan. You might ask why I didn’t just hand the guy fifty but I knew he wouldn’t have accepted it that way. I set him up for a ninety day note and by the time you add up the cost of toner, the documents, the statements and the data processing expenses it was a loser of a deal no matter what interest rate I would have charged him. But sometimes doing business isn’t about making the best deal.. Sometimes doing business is affording another a little dignity and that is what this was about. As the papers came out of my printer and I spun them for a signature I noticed Mike sitting taller and looking about ten years younger.
I have made some good loans in my day. College loans, vacation loans, wedding loans, car loans and home loans. Few things are better than handing a check to someone to make their dreams come true. That being said, no loan ever gave me more satisfaction than handing over that fifty dollar loan draft on that beautiful spring day. We locked eyes and shook hands. A lot can be communicated through a handshake when you look a man in the eye. I think I never saw more resolve and gratitude than in that moment. Still, no matter Mike’s intention at that point, I had assumed that I would pay off this loan before it went delinquent. I never had to.  I’ve heard people brag about making the best deals, the biggest deals and so many deals, believe me, I’m just not impressed. I want to know what’s in a man’s heart. If he works hard and struggles for others then I’m impressed.
I got lucky on that loan. I explained it to my board and they weren’t happy but they trusted that my heart was in the right place. We need more of that these days. There are times when leading with your heart is the right thing to do. Oh! And Mike came back after prom and showed me pictures. My favorite was the one where he stood tall beside his daughter with the look of the proudest father in the history of fatherhood apparent in his smile. It’s likely his daughter was the most beautiful girl at the prom.

A Story About Ducks, Football and The American Dream.

It was homecoming of my senior year at Cedar Falls High School. Time was running out and we had a 21-0 lead over cross town rivals from Central Waterloo. I didn’t have a spectacular high school football career but I like to think I played an important role for the team. Eleven starters had bravely defended our goal for the entire game. They were able, in part, to do that because I and my duck squad had learned the opponent’s tendencies and prepared our team for what they might see in the game. That’s the thing about teamwork; victories are often the result of unseen contributions.IMG_0083
I was captain of the ducks but I’m not sure how the name “ducks” was attributed to our practice squad. Washington park had a pond that was home to a flock of ducks and I assume the name originated with less than complimentary intent. Regardless, by the time I was in high school the moniker had its own sense of honor.
We were fortunate to play our home games in the local university’s domed stadium. The air supported cloth roof had flashed throughout the game as a raging thunderstorm lit up the October night sky. The fans were jubilant as the defense struggled to maintain the shutout. The Chargers were driving toward the end zone. It was time for my ducks to shine. We were fresh. We were hungry. We wanted our taste of this victory in the understood contact that we got to play when games were well in hand. Two minutes left.
The coach hadn’t looked our way. I called out. “Coach! It’s duck time.” One minute thirty remaining. Maybe he hadn’t heard me. “Coach! We’re ready.” “Not now Willy” he said. A couple more plays went by and my duck squad was looking to me with hope in their eyes. Another play. The clock ticked under a minute. I was mad. I saw what was going on. The coach wanted the shut out. I stepped in front of the coach and fighting back tears of rage yelled, “Coach! We want to play! Now!” For his own reasons the coach turned his back on me. Time expired. The shutout was in the books.
9EDB06D9-BF91-4CA3-9679-1546807C72CBOur high school and locker room was a couple of miles from the stadium. Normally the bus ride home after any victory was marked with macho and boisterous bravado in the manner only teen age boys are capable of. But there was no hooting. No hollering. No chanting. No laughter or talks of events after the game. There was only some murmuring; maybe a sniffle here and there as the bitter disappointment from the unrewarded hours and hours of hard work and dedication sank in.
It was still pouring rain. It was a seriously reduced visibility kind of rain. And as the bus pulled up behind our gym I looked down disgustingly at my glaringly white game pants. I made sure to get to the front of the bus before the doors opened and I looked back at my team. “I’ll tell you what! I didn’t get to play tonight but I’ll be damned if they aren’t going to have to wash my uniform!” I ran off the bus and swan dove into the muddy field beside our school. As I came to the end of my slide teammates, all of them, ducks and starters alike, were sliding past me. The first sounds of joy filled the air as we frolicked in the mud.
The coach was waiting at the door when we went in. He didn’t say anything but he looked me in the eye and I knew he knew. He was a great coach but had made a mistake that night. He knew it. We knew it. Sometimes that’s enough.
I thought about this story because I’m seeing more and more stories of people banding together to challenge adversity. Western society is hierarchical in its own ways and just like my heart swelled when my team had my back I have to believe we encourage people who feel at risk when we show them support. There are many changes facing our country these days. Nearly every psychological need is at risk by one person or another in America today. To fully grasp what it requires to be our best certain hierarchical needs must be met. From Maslow’s great work:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love.
4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

You can see how these things are at risk for many in our community under the Trump administration. Only by standing together will we be able to ever truly celebrate home coming. Let’s make the world a better place. Resist. Persist.

That’s Just How We Do Things Around Here

There’s a story about an experiment involving five monkeys that has been floating around and is popular in management seminars. Basically it goes like this:
IMG_0080A scientist put five monkeys in a room and in the middle of the room was a ladder with bananas on the top of it. Every time a monkey went up the ladder to get a banana, the scientist sprayed the other monkeys with ice cold water. The monkeys didn’t like that. The monkeys learned that they would be sprayed if another monkey climbed the ladder so they would attack any monkey that got near the ladder. Eventually, none of the five monkeys dared to go up the ladder in spite of the covered bananas. Once the behavior was learned the scientist no longer sprayed the monkeys because none would go near the ladder.
One day the scientist replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey. The first thing the new monkey did was head for the ladder to get the bananas. Immediately the other monkeys attacked. It didn’t take very long for the new guy to learn he didn’t want a banana that bad so he quit going near the ladder. After some time, a second monkey was substituted and the same thing occurred. Interestingly, first new monkey eagerly joined in the beating of the second monkey even though he had never been sprayed. Then a third monkey was exchanged and the same thing happened.. The fourth monkey was substituted, same result. Finally the fifth and final original monkey was replaced so none of the monkeys remaining had ever been sprayed with ice water. None would climb the ladder. When the scientist asked the monkeys why, they replied, “We don’t know. That’s just the way we’ve always done it around here.”
It’s a pretty dark story but I imagine the point resonates with most of us; that we all have some things we do in life and we aren’t sure why, What is that? It’s not even always about comfort or complacency. Hearing that story has me wondering what things I do that don’t make much sense. My weight is always a challenge and it’s possible that some of that is conditioned response. I have validation issues, just a little bit though. (wink) What is it that makes me crave approval? Or how about judgement? When I hear someone refer to liberals as elitists I want to thank them. Because I do see liberals as more evolved and deep down…I know that’s not right.
There are many things in a given day that rob me of my Zen. IMG_0081People with more than 15 items in the twelve or less checkout or the old man with a coin purse digging for the exact change shouldn’t bother me. Last second lane mergers, other people’s wild kids, mushy apples and reality TV aren’t worth a flash of negative thought. There’s no sense holding onto things because that’s what I’ve always done. It’s time to let some things go.
I’m glad it’s Friday. Let’s go enjoy some bananas.

Turn That Frown Upside-down

Sometimes you just have to take a step back. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to these pages because it is cheaper than therapy. (wink) I was driving in to work suffering the blue-black darkness of a cold and windy morning (Ok, the sun was actually up but ”blue-black darkness” made for a dramatic scene. Am I right?) But this morning I was just not “feelin’ it.” Generally I’m an IMG_4960advocate of positive attitude but this morning my mind had been become recusant to letting go of a decidedly unhealthy funk. I was wallowing. I was holding on to the divisiveness of my “us versus them” obsessions. I was lamenting the last vestige of winters icy grip because it keeps me from pursuing my outdoor passions. And then there was that battle I have from time to time where I become mired in misplaced expectations. Sounds fun huh?
I’ve participated in enough pity parties to know that part of my problem was I needed to have a talk with God. That works for me. He doesn’t actually talk back but somehow I’m usually able to hear what He would say if He did. I had my talk and then felt the urge to turn on the radio. (See how that works) My car filled with the dramatic aria of Beethoven’s Symphony #9. As I became lost in the powerful chorus of “Ode to Joy” I realized that the cause of my angst was as simple as my focus had been misplaced. Not saying I’m shallow or anything but the revelation came to me as I was thinking about how much I enjoyed the powerful 16 speaker Bose sound system in my car. That chorus combined divergent voices to create heaven on earth. I recognized that the heated leather seats under me were a good placeholder until I could resume those outdoor passions I was longing for. And those expectations I wrestle with? They are mine. It’s kind of ridiculous to imagine things outside of my control have anything to do with aligning in a way that makes the world work the way I imagine it should.
Focus baby. It’s curious that I need to be reminded from time to time that I need to begin my day with gratitude. It’s such a powerful tool. Maybe why it works is simple to someone who understands brain chemistry but I’m just gonna leave that right there. And I’m grateful I don’t have to understand brain chemistry in order to turn my day around. I hope y’all started your day better than I did. If you didn’t, I hope it helps you to know you made this old man happy by just stopping by. You’re groovy and ya know it.
Peace.

What I’m Working On

For all of the tolerance I preach and all of the common ground dialogue I propose I’m really not very good at accepting other people’s way of seeing things. I tend to cling to the notion of my moral superiority when people advocate for free markets over free people, corporate interests over human interests, exclusion over inclusion and religious values over humanitarian values. In many of my arguments I generalize and paint with that broad brush of categorizing all of the opposition to my world view as being selfish, heartless and or ignorant. I never, in my mind, mean that everyone associated with an opposing view is selfish, heartless or ignorant. It is lazy to form my arguments with words that suggest that. More importantly it is ineffective.
Who is going to listen to someone when they condemn first and maybe, possibly listen later? IMG_4958Who is going to want to engage with me when I present my prejudice up front; certainly not the prejudiced racists who voted for Trump? (Just checking to see if you are paying attention.) You know what is telling? For all of the tolerance I preach and all of the common ground dialogue I propose I rarely get the opportunity to engage with those who do not share my sentiment. I complain about polarization and I contribute to the polarity.
It’s no secret that I favor progressive politics. I advocate on these pages that we need to work together to bring about the change we want to see in the world. I recognize that there are many non-negotiables in the values I hold dear but words do matter. Those words not only matter when posted here but they also matter in my inner dialogue. If I am unable to try to understand a person’s reasons for expressing ideas I disagree with there is little chance I will ever convince them to understand mine. I need to do better. Feel free to hold me accountable. Have a great day. Thanks for stopping by.

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