Radical kindness

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radicaj kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.

 

 

 

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Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive

I find it interesting when I get push back as folks ask why should we be civil when the other side is not? Often I respond with the simple retort – civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive. One can push back without taking the other person’a head off.

I am reminded of the story of a black man who has been able to change the mindset of more than 200 KKK members. In so doing, he collects their robes. Now, the KKK is as extreme a white supremacist group as there is. How did he do it? He spoke civilly toward them asking a few questions. He listened to their answers. Then, he asked pertinent follow-up questions. Eventually, the KKK members saw the logic of his argument. He says people just want to be heard.

Diplomacy is an art. It is a way of understanding people, but being forthright with what you believe and want. In essence, it is precisely what this black man did in speaking with the KKK members. He did not shout. He did not tell them they were wrong or bad people. He started conversations and listened to them. Then, he asked questions in follow-up. He heard them which allowed them to hear him.

A few diplomatic phrases might be beneficial. You might ask, “Help me understand why you would say that?” Or, you could use a more unnerving statement like, “I understand your points, but I do not find them to be entirely true.” Or, you could say, “I have not heard that before; tell me where did you read that?” Or, you might say, “that used to be true, but is no longer.”

Tone matters. The more measured you are, the better chance your points will be heeded. If you raise your voice, expect it in return. Avoid the use of labels and name-calling. When I hear labels, it means the other person’s arguments are not as well-grounded. Labels are short cuts to convey a derogatory meaning to less informed people. As with shouting, name-calling begets name-calling.

In today’s America, we are less civil. The current President did not invent uncivil behavior nor did he invent stretching the truth. A way to convey a position without attacking one of his fans might be “I wish the President would not tweet as much as he is hurting his message.” Another is “I wish the President would not demean people when they are critical of his efforts.” I wish the President would reconsider the tariffs he placed on our allies.” Or, “I wish he would not stretch the truth like he does.”

I am far from perfect and my poor wife hears the more unvarnished version of what I type and say. But, I will leave with one final thought I have noted before. If you want your children to really hear you, whisper.

Prime numbers tell a story

A revealing item in my make-up is I have been around the block with mathematics, even though I have long forgotten most of my learnings. Prime numbers are part of the past I still remember as numbers only divisible by themselves and 1.

Using the initial several prime numbers, let me reveal stories for your weekend cogitation.

1 – represents the number of people the US President will not blame for his mistakes.

2 – represents the number of folks it takes to Tango.

3 – represents the number of blind mice or wise men, but just for fun transpose the two groups of three and see how the stories vary.

5 – represents the first part of the Five and Dime stores. Just think what we can buy for a nickel these days, which may only be avoiding change on a $1.05 purchase.

7 – represents the number of deadly sins. First prize for the person to name them in a comment is a nickel.

11 – represents the number of donuts that make it home when I go pick up a dozen.

13 – represents the number of bagels you get from a highly frequented baker in a baker’s dozen.

17 – represents the jersey number of retired quarterback Dandy Don Meredith, who achieved more fame as the initial trio of announcers on Monday Night Football – when the outcome of the game was in hand he would sing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

19 – represents the numerator of a favorite fraction I use to illustrate a point-  someone can do the right thing 19 times out of 20, but the one time will get all the press.

23 – represents the number of donuts that make it home when I buy two dozen, noting the second dozen is an assortment (cake donuts rock).

29 – represents my current age on my birthday, as in I just celebrated the 31st anniversary of my 29th birthday.

31 – represents an ideal age where you survived your twenties and know more what you want and can navigate the world’s landmines a little better.

Have a great weekend. If you finish this post without wanting to go to Dunkin or Krispy Kreme, you deserve another nickel.

On the basis of sex

My wife, sister and I got a chance to watch the movie “On the basis of sex” about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is well worth the watch and has several poignant scenes that paint a beautiful portrait of the Justice.

Trying not to spoil the movie, it focuses on her law school experiences through her tenure at Rutgers University as a law professor. Yet, the movie culminates in a tax court case against a male caregiver who is denied a deduction for helping his mother. Ginsburg’s husband Martin is a tax attorney who saw this case as an ideal way to break through the bias in the law toward women using discrimination against a man as the foundation. In fact, in 1970 there were 178 instances in the law that codified discrimination against women. This is amazing in and of itself.

Ginsburg is the ideal person to try this case in appeal, even though she had not practiced law as a professor. Her nervousness showed, but I will stop there and encourage you to go see how she overcame that inexperience. I will also mention the current environment of the burgeoning women’s rights movement which her teen daughter has embraced. Ginsburg tells her we must change the law to make a bigger difference.

A favorite actress of mine, Felicity Jones, plays Ginsburg. Armie Hammer plays her husband Martin and Cailee Spaeny plays her daughter who eventually becomes a law professor at Columbia University. Kathy Bates is excellent as the civil rights attorney Dorothy Kenyon and Justin Theroux plays a supportive and antagonistic role as the head of the New York based ACLU.

The movie is directed by Mimi Feder and the screenplay was written by Daniel Stephenson. Other key roles are played by Chris Mulky as the caregiver and Sam Waterston as the dean at Harvard Law and later a senior US Department of Justice figure.

I encourage you to go see it and/ or let me know what you think. Later in a comment, I will touch on the two scenes that touched me most.

Be careful with your reputation

A caution for all parents is to get to know your children’s friends. The lesson that parents must impart is your name or reputation is the dearest thing you have. This lesson continues throughout life.

I mention this today as so many stories have come to a head in the past twenty-four hours that drive this point home. Here is a thumbnail sketch of a few of these stories:

Getting overshadowed by national news, the new Secretary of State of Florida, Mike Ertel, has resigned over past photos of him dressed in blackface mocking Hurricane Katrina victims. New Governor Ron DeSantis, who made Ertel one of his first hires, has been under fire since the campaign for his racist past. It is important for political parties to fully vet candidates, as it may be better for all concerned for your candidate not to win. Contrasting this, the same party dodged a bullet when their candidate did not win the recent Senate race in Alabama.

The President has agreed to temporarily end the shutdown. Yay for the federal workers and those dependent on their services, which is all of us. The President was playing a bad hand. Yet, what we should not lose sight of is he reneged on a deal with Senate leadership back in December after agreeing to do what he did yesterday. This is not the first time he has reneged on a deal as President. Senators learned what they should have already known, if you deal with the President, get it in writing.

Part of me says the President caved in due to trying to draw attention away from the morning news bombshell. His close friend and confident, Roger Stone, was arrested and indicted on a number of fronts, but in particular lying to Congress. In a documentary on Netflix, Paul Manafort (former Trump campaign manager who is in jail) said Stone’s fingerprints are all over the President’s modus operandi, in particular never admit failure and attack, attack, attack. Stone is renowned for  political dirty tricks dating back to working for Richard Nixon. The one common theme around the people who have been found guilty, pleaded guilty or awaiting trial is lying under oath. Call me crazy, but there is too much lying going on for this to be a witch hunt.

CNN host Chris Cuomo made an interesting comment on “The View” earlier in the week. He often has Trump’s staff or attorneys on his show. He said the reason is these are people who the President said represent him. When they are not forthcoming or truthful, it is a reflection on the man they serve.

Your reputation is dear. The question I have asked Senators on multiple occasions after yet another breach of good faith dealing by the President is simple. “Is this the man on whom you want to spend your dear reputation?” One thing that seems more consistent than not is people who exit a relationship with Trump are tainted by the relationship.

Name-calling weakens any argument

I am an imperfect person with many faults. As an independent voter who has been a member of both parties, each party has good and bad ideas. Yet, what I find problematic are people (especially leaders) who name-call and demean others who disagree with them.

Name-calling weakens any argument and is used as a short-cut by someone whose position needs more scrutiny. Demeaning others throws water on civil discourse.

If you hear or read name-calling, dig further. Question more. Why do you say that? If you see or read where someone demeans another, dig further. Again, ask why do you use that tone or language? It diminishes your argument.

Listen more. Listen to hear, not just retort. People want to be heard. An old boss would say “we have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion.” After you listen, then you can question someone. “Help me understand your point,” you might say. Or, “I understand what you are saying, but I do not fully agree with your point.”

Give them the same courtesy you would want in return. Returning the name-calling gets you nowhere. Returning demeaning behavior does likewise. I am reminded of the old comment, if you want your children to hear you, whisper.

Perspective from a life event

My wife and I traveled to Charleston for a christening of the one year old son of our nephew and his wife. As we were at breakfast before-hand, I got a call from my college student daughter. That was an immediate red flag.

She had been in an accident, but was OK. She was headed to work at her part-time job at a nearby ski resort. She said an approaching snow plow scared her and she over corrected and ran off the road, fortunately stopped by small trees.

So, everything in life becomes clear. She is unharmed and has seen the value of having good friends. We will have to deal with repairing a car and working through the insurance process. Yet, other than her pride in her red SUV which she calls “Percy,” for the lead character in “The Scarlett Pimpernel,” she is unscathed.

Life goes on. That is what is most important. Thank you, Lord.