That white privilege thing

Usually when Dr. Phil comes on, I leave the room. Seeing people yell at each other is not therapeutic for me. Yesterday, my wife said you need to see this one as it was an interesting group discussion on race relations and white privilege.

In one powerful, illustrating exercise, young adults of both genders and several races, religions, sexual preferences, and countries of origin stepped forward or backward based on answers to a series of questions. At the end of about thirty or so questions, white people tended to be at the front of the room, while other races tended to be at the back.

As a now 60 year-old white man, I can pretty much go anywhere I want without repercussions. And, I need not have to worry for my life when I am stopped by the police or state patrol. A black man in his Sunday best has to move very slowly and visibly when stopped, thinking if he does not it may be the last thing he does on earth.

The show’s panel was a mixture of various races and invited audience guests offered their input. Listening to each other is a key takeaway. Understanding more about micro aggressions is also important (unintended slights). A white police officer said we should not use our badge as a threat, but as a heart to reach out to others.

A few white audience members felt they are victims and ostracized for being white. One woman lost her job for doing her job, as a video went viral with commentary that here was another white woman judging others. One woman grew up in a blue collar neighborhood and she felt disenfranchised as the blacks got more opportunities.

Perspective and context mean everything. A good example is captured in the movie about Jackie Robinson called “42.” Pee Wee Reese, the white shortstop for the Dodgers, went to see the owner Branch Rickey when he received a death threat for playing with a black ballplayer. Rickey said you got one threat and then proceeded to pull out gobs and gobs of death threats toward Robinson to illustrate his point.

Is there unfair back lash on some whites, absolutely?  But, people of a different color, religion, sexual preference, etc. have received gobs and gobs of discrimination over the years. And, lately under the divisive leadership of a certain US President, white supremacists, bigots and racists feel more empowered. Their hatred has become more normalized – and that is not good.

I often cite the lines written by Oscar Hammerstein about bigotry in the movie “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time your are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” We are not born bigoted, it has to be taught. By listening to each other, maybe we can teach the opposite. It should be noted a black man, who has convinced over 200 KKK members to give up their robes, did so by listening and asking questions. He heard them, which allowed him to be heard.

We are a potpourri of different people, but inside we are all the same. Let’s relish in our differences, but know we have the same foundation.

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Anatomy of a Liar

One of the biggest factors of more autocratic governments is difficulty with the truth. Vladimir Putin, for example, may be the world’s most adroit liar. This is a key reason that the US President’s frequent problem with the truth give people concern over where the country is headed.

Looking at the anatomy of a liar, several things jump out. At the center of these untruthful leaders is a large ego that bristles at any kind of criticism. For this very reason, a liar tends to take credit for all things good and deflect blame to others for all things bad. Close to home, it is not uncommon for the US President to claim things he did not work on as “disasters” and things he did as “beautiful” or the “best ever.”

A favorite tactic of a liar is to keep things simple and repeat it over and over again. Using labels and calling people names are key parts of this strategy. When delivered with bombast, these lies seem very convincing. Smugness is also a common tactic to delivery. Smugness and bombast do not make you right, but unfortunately people are fooled by them. As for Trump, when he punctuates a thought with “believe me,” he is most likely lying.

In today’s news, several lies are jumping off the page. Saudi Arabia continues to come up with a changing storyline on the killing and dismembering of a reporter. Putin continues to deny strong evidence he tried to poison a former Russian agent on British soil and interfere in the 2016 US election. He also tried to interfere in the French election, but Macron’s people knew this and placed incorrect emails in the trove they stole to lessen the impact.

As for Trump, he lies everyday at a rate of more than 2 out of 3 statements per Politifacts. He is even worse at his pep rallies, where he lies 3 out of 4 times. I have long ago stopped believing anything Putin says. I also chose to do the same with Trump. To be trusted, one has to be trustworthy. And, therein lies the rub.

Headin’ out that door

With the sudden passing of one of my wife’s brothers at the too young age of 61, our sister-in-law uncovered an old song in his paperwork. My wife (and her family) also lost a younger brother 34 years ago to leukemia at the age of 21. Maurice was a talented musician, who could play a mean guitar. His father was also a talented guitarist, but I am told his youngest son may have been better.

As he was undergoing treatment he wrote a song entitled “Headin’ out that door,” which he noted an alternate title as “Four walls.” Maurice died before I met my wife. When he wrote this, he was still on the more optimistic end of the treatment, but I am certain he knew the darker prognosis. He knew the walls were closing in one way or another. So, I feel the final few lines of each stanza could be viewed as a release from the monotony of the four hospital room walls in what ever form it may take.

Here are the first and third verses, which give you a sense of his talent and thoughts:

 

Trapped without your loved ones, no place else to go.

Wondering how they’re doing, with the passing of each day.

Gazing out your lonely window, knowing very soon.

You’ll be heading out that door again, heading out that door again.

 

Trapped inside a lonely place, closing in once more.

People come and people go, never say much more.

Ask ya’ how you’re doing, go on their merry way.

I’m heading out that door again, heading out that door.

 

As I read these lines, I try to put myself in his place. You are doing what must be done, and hope and pray it is effective. Yet, there is a monotony to the waiting in a place where waiting seems like an eternity. There is a monotony and anxiety to not knowing. It also helps remind me as a visitor that every visit counts. Being there counts. Listening is essential. Talking about things the person enjoys or updating him on friends and occurrences helps break the monotony.

As a visitor, you wonder by telling things going on, do you make things worse by saying what the patient is missing? These words instruct me that we should keep folks informed. The conversation is what keeps us closer. Each person is different and some may want solace. And, some guests may be more welcome respite than others. Yet, like any conversation outside the hospital, look for non-verbal cues and in another stanza, Maurice said for people to “listen.”

The key message to all of this is life is short, sometimes very short. Never miss a chance to give a goodbye hug or share your love for someone, even if it is a mere look, touch or just lending a good ear. Life is hard enough. Those moments are the tonic to make it easier.

Sixty feels like fifty-nine

I am no longer in my fifties. I know many reading this may have passed this threshold. More than being one day older, the milestone has caused a lot of reflection.

My boyhood friends that last to this day also turned sixty this year, with me the final entrant. We were reflecting on boyhood moments and achievements that seem like they were just yesterday. Reminding each other of what each remembers about an event is an interesting exercise as perspectives vary. I remember something that a friend forgot about it and vice versa.

Old friends are treasures. We cannot talk or text for a couple of months and pick up conversation as if no time had elapsed. We are like an old pair of jeans that are broken in real well.

With that said, my best friend is the one I married. My wife of thirty-three years is a constant. She grounds me and keeps me sane while driving me crazy on occasion. She is the best of listeners, one of those “rainy day people” that Gordon Lightfoot sang about. She makes me laugh.

We have had some family challenges like all families do, so we seem to always have a ball drop while we are juggling many. The other day, I sat down after putting a lid on one issue and had solace for eight minutes until the phone rang. After hanging up, I told my wife – eight minutes of solace.

I guess turning sixty reminds me of our recent loss that is painful for my wife and me. Her brother Joe passed away almost three weeks ago at the young age of 61.
He died young, but his body was hurting. She loved and admired her brother greatly.

We don’t know how much time we have. We just have to make the best of it. We need to live our lives with intent, not being a passenger in our own lives. We need to savor our friends and family. I hope many years remain for all of us. And, I want to thank all of my blogging friends for sharing their insights and stories.

Everyone needs a Joe

Everyone needs a Joe in their life. You know the person. The one who is curious in learning and sincerely knowing what is going on in your life. The one who can talk with your kids as easily as he or she talks with you.

Joe’s are the kind of people who end up being teachers because of that desire to help others grow. The one who is the teacher that cares about the kids more than anything. Joe may dress and act in an eclectic manner, but is as down to earth as it comes. Joe would give you the shirt off his or her back if you needed it.

Joe is the kind of person who gets animated about upbringing, travels, or subject matter interests. A rapt storyteller is Joe which is a key part of the charming person. When Joe gets going, his or her voice can fill a room.

We had a Joe, but his body gave out on him after only 61 years. Too many car accidents left his body in pain and his big heart likely gave out on him after so much medication for too many years. He was my wife’s brother and left a lasting imprint on more than a few. He loved teaching science and married his soulmate after two earlier marriages went awry. His wife was also a teacher having just retired. It is a shame Joe won’t be with her in this physical world. He leaves three children who love hiking and the environment like their Dad.

Bless you Joe. Our Thanksgiving table will have a huge gap, just like our lives as we carry on without you. But, we will remember you forever.

A foreboding observation

One of my relatives has had the misfortune of breaking a hip, which is not a fun thing to do. Since I have been the principal chauffeur for her many doctor and rehab visits, I have made an unfortunate, but telling observation that is foreboding for us all.  Based on my observations in the waiting room, the dominant majority of patients over the age of 30 in an orthopedic office are obese.

I recognize fully this is not an unbiased statistical sampling. Yet, I kept thinking of what a nurse friend told me about our bodies. Our bone structures are not designed to carry so much extra weight. They will break down. I believe I was seeing first hand evidence of such. This is a foreboding lesson for us all.

Over the past five years, through brief morning stretching routines, walking and smaller portions of meals and snacks, I have lost forty pounds. My goal is to walk on my own for the rest of my life. A geriatric doctor said there are two inflection points on the demise of an elderly person. The first is the inability to drive. The lost freedom is impactful both physically and mentally. The second is the inability to walk unassisted. When this occurs, all sorts of challenges evolve for the patient.

Through my work as a benefit consultant and manager, I became aware of a key data point. The United States is the most obese nation in the world. We are all train wrecks waiting to happen. When we add all of this together, the lesson to be learned is we must do something about our weight. Even a little bit helps. While I have lost forty pounds, I could use about five to ten more less. Or, at least I would like to come in closer proximity to one or two pack abs. Six pack abs would be a pipe dream.

The stretching I do is a combination of Pilates, Yoga, Isometrics and mild weightlifting. They last fifteen minutes and are so limited in exertion that I do them after my shower. The key is they vary daily and are sustainable, which is vital. One day it is stand-up stretching, the next day is floor stretching and the third day is light weightlifting. Then, I start again. The fact I vary them keep me engaged. If I did the same thing everyday, I would get bored.

The above is balanced out with walking and swimming. Plus, the yard and pool boy is the one typing this post. As for the eating, it has taken time, but I eat smaller meals and snacks. Portion control is key, but another contributor is little bread. My wife is on a low-carb diet and that makes a huge difference. We love bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, but we now eat much less of them.

Folks, we must get a better handle on our weight. I am not saying we must look like the after pictures advertised on TV, but we could benefit from exercise and eating better. The alternatives are not pretty if we don’t. Higher blood pressure and risk of falling become more pronounced. So, let’s get moving and eating better.

Win or lose with class

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.