Dark Ooze and Webs of Light

Image result for web of lightYears ago while in prayer, I saw the earth in my mind’s eye and there was this thick darkness oozing over the planet like crude oil. It had spread in a solid mass across much of the northern hemisphere and blotches of it popped up and began oozing all around the world. And then I saw spots of light begin to pop up in areas not yet covered under the dark ooze. Threads of light began connecting these spots of light, creating a web of light. It reminded me of those maps of flight paths with connecting nodes. As more and more spots of light and connecting threads formed, they reached around and across the planet. Eventually, the web branched to the places which the dark ooze had covered. In the places where the dark ooze was, the webs of light were not visible at first. But as I watched, the webs of light began to burn through the dark ooze, dissolving it completely. At the end, the planet was covered in a dense web of light.

This is one of those visions that probably doesn’t require too much explanation. But I wanted to share my basic take on it. In my mind’s eye, the dark ooze started around Great Britain and spread out from there. I believe that this represents the powerful old money and corporate interests which rule the world and have spread a sociopathic, amoral ideology across the planet. The dark ooze carries with it the forces of slavery, oppression, the worship of money, a mentality of entitlement for the rich and a disregard for the well-being of the poor. This is a force which has spread using the technology of the day. Ships, planes, machinery, trains. It has been powered by dirty fuels and degrades the planet and human beings alike in order to obtain resources it needs to feed itself. These technologies brought benefits, of course. But the technologies were expensive and those with money controlled them. Unfortunately those with money have often been quite evil.

The light, I believe, represents the internet, strangely enough. Like all new technology, it originated under the control of the darkness. And it has certainly brought darkness right into people’s world in many ways. However, it’s also allowed the good people to speak out and be heard, without having to have great wealth to do it. These would be the spots of light I saw. The lights connect and a whole web of goodness, freedom and truth has been created beyond the reach and control of the forces of the darkness. In fact those who are ensconced in the old, dark ways that have wrecked so much harm on the planet tend to shun the internet. They still make their plans and agreements by flying around the world, meeting face to face. Meanwhile, I have a good friend who is a minister in the slums around Bangalore who I talk to multiple times a week and support as I am able. Neither of us can afford a plane ticket, but with this new technology, we can exchange ideas, strategize and support each other.

In the end, it is this web of goodness which will defeat the darkness. In fact, I think we’re seeing it happen as we speak. We’re probably at the point where the web of light has started spreading under the dark ooze, but before it burns it away. God willing, that part will be happening shortly.

At any rate, I always hesitate to share these kinds of woo-woo signs and visions. Such things being the purvue of shysters and charlatans. And crazy people. But it is what it is. Let’s just hope that this one is true. Or better yet, let’s work hard to make it true.

Let’s Get This Thing Started

In any conflict, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on with the other side. But between social media and the extreme unpleasantness of dealing with the radical right, a lot of people are in a bubble where they aren’t hearing the conversations taking place among those who are on “the other side”. While I totally understand the impulse to cocoon and support it when necessary for peace of mind and mental health reasons, I do try to stay in contact with people who are on the other side of this conflict we’ve got going on between the radical right and the rest of us. Mostly so I can keep up with what they are saying and what rhetorical tools they are passing around.

Understanding the rhetoric coming from the other side is important. We are in a position in this country where a radicalized right wing minority of people who reject American values now wield enormous power and have taken over our government. One of the reasons they have been able to do this is they have mastered the art of rhetoric and manipulation in ways that decent people have a hard time responding to.

The problem, it seems to me, is that we all tend to have an unconscious assumption that other people are basically like us. So normal people assume that if we are discussing matters of politics, the person we’re talking with is concerned with facts, reason, morality, right and wrong and the like. We assume that it is normative to be seeking what is right, good, true and beneficial and that our ideas about what is right, good, true and beneficial will be supported by and adjust to reflect facts, logic and reality. Then we’re confused that we can’t get through to the radical right.

What most of us have failed to understand is that for people on the radical right, everything is based on power. The radical right is still dealing with the world through the lens of “us vs them”*. As such, for the radical right, principles, facts, reason and the like have their place, but are subordinate to the need to obtain power. For the “us vs them” mind, you either dominate or are dominated. The thinking is that as important as any particular principle involved may be, without power, those principles are just ideas and not lived reality. So obtaining power is the first, necessary precursor to securing a world in which matters of principle, morality and logic even matter. In this perspective, it is right and moral to do ensure that your people – your “us” – dominate instead of being dominated. That is how the good is secured and given room to be exercised.

To make matters worse, the radical right, like everyone else, is working from the assumption that everyone is like them. They assume that we are all attempting to gain power and dominate. Which is really, I believe, what has made conversation so impossible. We speak from the bottom of our hearts and all they hear is someone trying to establish the high ground for themselves. We point to things like research or the work of intellectuals and all they see is us attempting to leverage power against them. We’re trying to get through to someone and all they see is us trying to establish dominance over them. It makes engaging on the substance next to impossible and often incredibly painful for the person who is genuinely trying to share their heart, their concerns and their knowledge as a way of creating mutual understanding.

Obviously, I believe that we are better than simply playing games of dominance. I think that the “us vs them” mentality writ large is incredibly destructive and ultimately immoral. But let’s face it, right this moment, this is the radical right’s world. Despite holding ideas and pushing policies which by and large the majority of Americans do not support the radical right has been able to dictate our public discourse and is now in control of our government. So, while I believe that the “us vs them” mentality is inferior and destructive, that’s the game we’re playing now. And we’re going to have to learn to engage in their game, using their rules, before things get any further out of control.

Although it goes against our instincts and ideas about how things should work, once we understand this it becomes clear that engaging in their game using their rules puts us at a distinct advantage. The radical right is accustomed to their opponents taking the high road and refusing to stoop to their level, so these people aren’t used to being on the receiving end of the sort of garbage they heap out on everyone around them. They can dish it, but they can’t take it. They think that they are incredibly good at this game, and they are. But they’ve also been working without much opposition. They aren’t used to playing defense or matching wits with someone who is as good at the game as they are.

Further, the radical right is markedly dishonest. The world does not work the way they claim it does and reality does not back them up. It doesn’t matter much to them because they’ve been able to use their power games to create a pretty durable illusion of reality. Those of us who oppose them, however, don’t have to rely on illusions. We can be entirely honest while playing the power game and reality will back us up. We may need to stoop to their level in term of style – being rude, manipulative and unbending. But we do not need to stoop to their level in terms of actual issues of right and wrong, truth and lies and the like.

The thing is that the “us vs them” mentality has its basis in reality. Sometimes there are very real conflicts in which we find ourselves needing to stand in opposition to a hostile “they”. This is the situation we find ourselves in here with regards to the radical right. There are those who would criticize me for defaulting to the language and paradigm of “us vs them” while criticizing the radical right for their “us vs them” approach. However what I am proposing is that we play their game, according to the rules that they have established with the end goal of making it not work for them. Right now, the power game is working for them. But once we turn the power game against them, engaging according to our rules – the ones where reality, facts, logic, morality and the like determine our course – will become much more appealing. Because while they’re on top right this very moment, the power game isn’t actually one they can win once those of us who oppose them engage fully in it.

I’m going to be writing this afternoon about effective ways of turning some of the bullying language which the radical right has popularized against them. I’ll also be addressing various accusations that they use to marginalize, dismiss and dominate over the voices of decency going forward. And I’ll be looking at the narratives they use and explaining how to undermine and discredit them. If you have a particular tactic, narrative or issue that you’d like to see me address, you can leave a comment, send me a message on facebook or use the contact form under the About tab above to send an email and I will get to it as I am able.

* If you are interested in the topic, I published a deeper examination of the issue of “us vs them” mentality and it’s alternative – what I call “just us” – at A New Day Dawning last fall. The essay’s called The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: Us vs Them Or Just Us.

 

Trump’s Responsibility to Avoid the Appearance of All Kinds of Evil

16143192_1277634628970695_4412907211557642267_nA few years back, I looked out the window and saw my then 6 year old daughter riding her bike in the driveway while my tweenaged son ran after her, swinging a baseball bat at the back tire of her bike. My daughter was laughing while my son wore an angry scowl on his face as he just missed the back tire of her bike. Since this isn’t actually the sort of behavior we encourage in the Trotter household, I immediately called to my son to stop and come explain himself to me.

He came over and assured me that they were just playing and he was being very careful not to actually hit his sister or her bike. He explained the he had worked out the timing of his swings so that he could make his fake baseball bat attack look realistic without running the risk of actually hitting her. Being a tweenager, the possibility of error or accident hardly existed in his mind, of course. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing to worry about because he was actually being very careful as he staged his faux “I’m going to beat my sister with a baseball bat attack”.

Rather than focusing on the safety issue, I pointed out something rather obvious to him: if he is deliberately creating the false impression that he is trying to beat his sister with a baseball bat, how does he suppose anyone who sees him will react? Will they say, “hey, look at that kid with amazing timing and gross motor skills playing harmlessly with that little girl”? Or will they say, “oh my gosh, it looks like that kid’s trying to kill that little girl with a baseball bat!”

I could see a little light bulb going off in his head. I pointed out that his father, who has PTSD from growing up in a violent home where people actually had been hit with baseball bats from time to time, would have had an automatic, unthinking and extreme reaction to the sight of his son swinging at baseball bat at his sister. Which was unlikely to turn out well for any of us. More lightbulbs.

I pointed out to him that being safe is important, of course, but it’s not the only issue for him to concern himself with. He needed to be aware of how he appeared to people who may not even know him. You can’t expect people to see someone engaged in behavior which has every appearance of being dangerous, aggressive and violent and not react as if that person was dangerous, aggressive and violent. In fact, it would be irresponsible for someone who witnessed an adolescent kid swinging a baseball bat at a 6 year old to assume the best about the situation or wait to evaluate what’s going on before responding. It was his responsibility, I explained, not just to be safe, but also not to engage in behaviors which will cause alarm and panic in people who witness them.

Obviously this issue hadn’t been on his radar, but as I explained it to him, he caught on because even a tweenager can understand this pretty simple basic idea. Don’t create the impression that you are dangerous or people will respond to you as if you are dangerous and when they do, it will be your error, not theirs.

Unfortunately, it seems that many Trump supporters are no more aware of this concept than my son was prior to our conversation. They believe that the onus is on Trump’s critics to give him a chance and view those of us who are responding to Trump as if he is dangerous as paranoid and overreacting. They think it’s ridiculous that we won’t just wait and see what happens before jumping to the conclusion that Trump is dangerous. They are certain that Trump isn’t dangerous so, like my son who knew that he wasn’t actually going to hit my daughter or her bike with a baseball bat, it seems not to have occurred to them that this isn’t the only thing that matters about the situation.

There’s a reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil. People aren’t required to wait for definitive proof to respond to the appearance of evil. If you aren’t dangerous and evil, it shouldn’t be that hard to take some responsibility for not creating the impression that you are dangerous and evil. Unfortunately, Trump seems to be going out of his way to create the appearance of all kinds of evil while his supporters act incredulous that anyone would think the man is actually dangerous.

But of course, in the real world, if you’re not racist, you don’t choose the leader of a flagrantly racist white nationalist movement to be your closest adviser and you don’t appoint a man known for his racism and opposition to civil rights to run the department charged with enforcing civil rights. If you’re not a tyrant in the making, you don’t continually threaten to sue and shut down the press when their reporting doesn’t please you. If you’re not a wealthy leach looking to enrich himself, you don’t refuse to release your tax records or take appropriate measures to eliminate conflicts of interest. If you are ethical, you don’t refuse to cooperate with the ethics oversight or threaten the person in charge of ethics oversight with investigation if he criticizes you. If you’re not a conman you don’t deny saying things you literally just said and lie continually.

I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, but I think you get the point. Even if Trump really and truly is a good guy who wants to do right by the country, the fact remains that at every step of the way, Trump has been behaving exactly the way a dangerous, racist, unethical, despot rising to power behaves. It is not the responsibility of the public to withhold judgment when they witness something which appears dangerous. It is the responsibility of Trump to avoid creating the impression that he is dangerous. And it is both wrong and ridiculous for Trump supporters to continue to insist otherwise. Just because they are fools doesn’t mean the rest of us are obliged to follow suit.

Stop Arguments Online Like a Mom

My husband is completely convinced that there are Jews somewhere in my Polish lineage. Because three of my great joys in life are being thrifty, complaining and arguing. I tell him that this must mean that there are Jews somewhere in his Irish lineage. The Irish filtered out the cheap part, I explained. But he thinks it must come from somewhere around Ethiopia on his African side. Which would explain his reluctance to embrace the fine stereo-typically Jewish trait of thrift, that part of Africa being home to long lines of kings and priests and all.

So we wait with anxious anticipation to see if our children will inherit our likely fictitious Jewish heritage in rudely stereotypical ways. So far, the one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that 4 of the 5 have definitely have a love of arguing. Which could be genetic or could be a fulfillment of the mother’s curse – “I hope that one day you have children just like you!” (Don’t use the mother’s curse, btw. It’s not a nice thing to say to your children. You’re telling them you don’t like them. Unless you’re cursing them over things like repeatedly unrolling the toilet paper into the toilet. Then, you know . . . the universe understands. And so will your kid one day.)

Our kids are kind of strangely spaced. We had our first two 4 years apart, so they mostly argued with us instead of each other. In fact, my older son told me recently that when he was little he was convinced that his dad and I were the smartest people in the world. Because he’s very perceptive, of course. So he decided that if he could outsmart one of us, that would make him the smartest person in the world. So basically like Hollywood and award shows, he made up an award in his head that he intended to bestow on himself. And I was like, “wow. Your childhood is suddenly making much more sense to me now.”

But then we had two girls 17 months apart. Which is a fairly common spacing for kids, for reasons that I’m not sure entirely justify the actual experience of having two children 17 months apart. I mean, it has its positives, certainly. But it’s not without difficulties. As is to be expected when your body grows two little humans in parasite fashion so close together. But there are certain common relationship dynamics you see more often with children who are 17 months apart. In fact, once you know the signs, you can recognize children who are 16-19 months apart just by watching them out in public together. It’s true. On more than one occasion, I have approached a parent and correctly identified their children as about 17 months apart myself.

All you have to do is look for two children who are similar or the same size who will not stop arguing dramatically with each other and a parent who is just barely keeping them under control. Sure, all children argue, but kids 17 months apart seem to have a particular affinity for arguing incessantly. It’s a thing. And of course my daughters are Trotters, so they argue incessantly with great gusto, creativity and commitment.

I have literally witnessed conversations where they have all but come right out and said, “I’m bored. Would you like to argue with me?” To which the other responded with “sure! Let me say or do this incendiary thing that always gets you going! Will that work?”

Once, my middle daughter came to me in tears holding her little fist in front of her. She wailed, “Michaela broke my pretend pinwheel!”

I suggested that since it was a pretend pinwheel, she should pretend to fix the pinwheel. She scrunched up her little face with concentration and then announced (screamed) that she didn’t know how to fix it. It was still broken. So I suggested that she imagine herself a new one. Again, the concentration and then more tears. “Now it’s the wrong color!”

On many occasions I witnessed them arguing over who got more of the pretend soda or cookie or cake. These girls put their all into this shit. They don’t do it as often as they did when they were younger, but we’re expecting that to change when they hit their teens. It should be quite a show. Maybe we’ll put cameras all over the house and turn it into a show. Make it a pay-per-view thing. Pay for their college tuition.

As you can imagine, this incessant arguing can get old. Even for someone who can literally write essays with a small child sitting on her head. And because they’re Trotters, they are also extremely passionate. People can get hurt if it carries on too long. PTSD triggering screaming, hitting and bumping around may ensue. And sometimes someone does veer into out-of-bounds territory which is never pleasant or easy to recover from. Stopping them from arguing is impossible. I mean, kids need to have their fun too. But being able to consistently bring an argument to an end quickly, on demand, without escalating the situation or subjecting yourself to their bullshit is a necessity.

I have a super simple method for doing just that, even when your kids are incredibly stubborn (another stereotypical Jewish trait all Trotters share). Not only will it work on your kids (maybe. They’re all different, apparently), it can easily be modified work when dealing with arguments you’re invited to on social media. Here it is: I tell them to shut up. And then I make loud, ugly noises every time they continue trying to speak. And when they continue trying to argue, I chase them off, waving my arms wildly around them, in different directions, while making loud, ugly noises.

Eventually they harrumph and move on to doing something else that doesn’t involve arguing. Or they continue arguing with the air while exiling themselves to someplace where nobody has to hear them. And the whole time, I refuse to consider or reply to any of their arguments or attempts to turn me against their sister. Because I don’t care about their stupid argument, I just want them to shut up and I will not allow them to get a word in edgewise until they stop with the arguing. Completely.

So, how does this translate into arguments online? Well, your best bet is to ignore them; especially when you’re not directly involved in the disagreement already. Don’t go getting into arguments just because you can’t resist the urge to join in an argument. But when someone is insistent on arguing with you and you no longer believe that they are working in good faith or just don’t want to have to deal with stupid right then, make them shut up. Delete their comment if it’s on your wall. Refuse to be baited into responding. Don’t even engage with their arguments, which have been addressed many, many, many times before. Insult them and then turn off the notifications. Tell them you’re going to turn off the notifications before you do it too. Be so weird, obnoxious, rude or outrageous that they use your behavior as an excuse to disengage and shut up. Let them think you’re a jerk and a lunatic. Because let’s face it – we are dealing with people who think that good is bad and bad is good. So who cares what they think of you? It does get to the point where arguing is leading nowhere good AND you don’t really care about their stupid arguments. You just need them to stfu in your space.

And you know what? People who like to argue can take it. It’s not going to scar them for life if you’re rude or weird or just delete everything you can and ignore the rest. You’re dealing with full grown adults or at least people who are pretending to be full grown adults. I mean, yeah, it might seem rude to just make people shut up, unilaterally. But if they like to argue that much, they’ll probably just move on to complaining about you. It’s another of life’s great joys, after all. I always encourage my kids to complain about me with each other and to their friends. You should expect the complainers you deal with to do likewise. So, really, you’re doing the person who won’t stop arguing a favor by giving them something to complain to their friends about and bringing them closer together.

Why Donald Trump Talks the Way He Does – and Why It Works

Back in college, I made some halfway decent money selling high end knives in people’s homes. One of the perks of the job was that the company provided us with some pretty high quality training in sales, time management, motivation and the like. The managers were big fans of people like Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey and took turns giving talks sharing what they were learning from them with us. While the company’s business model was actually kind of bullshit, the training has served me well over the years.

Like at one of our training events, a manager explained that human beings have these things called mirror cells in our brains. And these mirror cells cause us to instinctively imitate each other. This is why small children imitate the people around them and why we are so susceptible to peer pressure – our brains are programmed and have special cells dedicated to the task of imitation. Further, these mirror cells are closely associated with empathy which in turn leads to bonding and a sense of closeness with another human being.

And then he explained a little trick which we could use to exploit this feature of human neurology/psychology in order to gain control of a situation with another person. If you match a person’s emotional energy levels, this tends to activate their mirror neurons. Because you’re mirroring their energy. Once you’ve done this, you have activated the brain’s automatic impulse to imitate and can actually lead the person into the emotional state you want them to be in. So if a person comes in panicking and you initial response is to match their state of panic, you can then gently de-escalate your own emotional energy to a calmer state and the person will usually instinctively follow your lead and calm down much more quickly than if you try to calm them down directly. It’s a nifty trick if you’re a decent person simply looking to help someone in distress, encourage someone or otherwise positively influence them.

Or you can, as my manager explained, use this trick to sell people knives. All you have to do is match their emotional energy and they will instinctively respond positively to you and more easily follow your lead. Nod when they nod, smile when they smile, mirror back their body language and everything in their instinctive brain will be telling them to like and trust you. The trick is particularly helpful when dealing with objections since you start by agreeing with the objection which is unexpected so any defense they have prepared will be sidestepped while the mirror reaction is activate. Then you can often lead them from that point of resistance to the point of saying yes.

Like I said, nifty trick. Unless you don’t actually want or can’t afford high end knives. Then you might think it’s a dirty trick. But probably not. People really hate to admit when they’ve been manipulated into acting against their best interests. So more often than not, customers who bought knives they didn’t actually want or couldn’t afford will set about justifying their decision to purchase knives to themselves and anyone who attempts to chastise them. They will recall the times they meant to start cooking more and decide that the knives are perfect for making that happen. They will admire the various features I pointed out to them and repeat the benefits I showed them to themselves while using them. In fact, everyone in the house will know why the handle is shaped the way it is because the person who bought them will tell anyone who will listen about it. They will push away any thoughts of the expense by reminding themselves that these knives are a once in a lifetime investment that they will use everyday if they actually start cooking like they always meant to. And they will remember all the items they wanted but didn’t purchase to assure themselves that they were actually quite restrained and frugal when in fact I had just sold a $70 knife to people who literally didn’t own furniture.

So what does this have to do with the way Donald Trump talks and why it works? Well, the thing is the dynamic I describe above is well known to most sociopaths. In fact, it’s a tactic that the most skilled of them uses at all times. People who have spent time close to or studied sociopaths often note that they seem to be acting all the time. The reason is that these people habitually mirror the emotional states of people around them in order to maintain their control over their interactions with them. Because there is literally nothing more important to a sociopath than being in control. Nothing. So they use this little hack to influence the people around them, except because they are sociopaths, they don’t really care if they are using it for good or ill. Their only objective is to cultivate their influence over others. Which will sometimes line up with what is actually good for the people around them and sometimes not. It doesn’t particularly matter to someone like Trump, just so long as he gets what he wants which is control.

Donald Trump talks the way he does because the point of his speech isn’t to convey information or make an argument. On occasion he may flirt with doing those things, but the real purpose of their speech is to activate those mirror neurons. He basically made a bet that he could use this strategy to gain the support of a particular type of person (what my husband calls the NASCAR nation – relatively affluent, proud redneck or wanna be redneck types who revel in being defiant). Yes, he’s telling them things they want to hear, but even more he’s reflecting their emotional state back at them and then manipulating it for his own purposes. Basically, the purpose of his speech is to create an emotional experience in the people he is speaking to.

The thing is that when we are “in our emotions”, our hippo-campus isn’t fully engaged. Our bullshit meter goes offline. Same thing with our problem solving skills. Our short term memory is altered, as is the process for creating long term memories. We are literally in an altered mental state at that point. So by basically pushing the buttons to put people into their emotions and then rambling in a way that makes it hard for his audience’s hippo-campus to find something to latch onto, he’s using a classic conman’s trick to gain control over his audience without them even realizing what happened.

And lest you think I’m exaggerating, making things up and attributing ill will to harmless behavior, I can personally testify to this effect. I’ve inadvertently done it myself with public speaking and training where have I caught myself momentarily rambling and not making sense and nobody even noticed. I would catch myself spewing out gibberish, talking in circles and look out into the audience and realize that no one looked confused or doubtful. And if I actually stopped and corrected myself, very few people would even remember the details of any of the rubbish I had just spouted. They were just on the emotional roller coaster I was creating for them.

Anyways, I think Trump has been practicing this form of manipulation for his own ends forever. Not everyone is prone to falling for it, but many people are. Those who are prone to falling for it think he’s a good guy because he makes them feel good. Those who aren’t think he’s a lunatic because he’s clearly talking gibberish. But those who are falling for it are in the same position that the people who didn’t actually want and couldn’t afford fancy knives were. They’re not going to admit that they’ve been emotionally manipulated. They’re busy shoring up their own evidence and justifications for what is the political equivalent of buying a $70 dollar knife while living in a house with no furniture.

And, it must be said that often the difference between those who are vulnerable to this kind of manipulation and those who aren’t lie in the types of buttons being pushed. One person is vulnerable to flattery and another is vulnerable to tough guy talk. Sociopaths are very good at recognizing the difference so they can push the right buttons with the right person. Trump went for easy targets whose foibles he understands quite well, but don’t be so sure that if he had decided that some other audience – possibly one that you belong to – would give him what he wanted, he wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing to them (or you).

So, how do you protect yourself from being manipulated by a sociopath (or a sales person) like Trump? First, you take signs that there’s something shady going on seriously rather than writing them off. Plausible deniability is the last refuge of the sociopath. They count on you ignoring red flags because you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. So be sparing with the benefit of the doubt. People who genuinely deserve the benefit of the doubt are quite willing to provide evidence to support their claim to it. People who are trying to manipulate you will behave as if they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. They will accuse you of being a bad person or uncharitable if you attempt to withhold it from them. Again, this is markedly different from how people who actually deserve the benefit of the doubt typically behave.

Second, get your own boundaries really clear in your head and don’t let yourself make excuses for walking past them. Be stubborn up front rather than on the back end after you’ve already fallen for some bull. For example, if you believe in equality, remain committed to equality even in the face of evidence which can be interpreted in such a way that it undermines equality. Trust that there is a better explanation for what you see than one which undermines equality. Give yourself credit and trust what your own judgment says when you’re not in the presence of someone who is trying to influence you. Which leads to my 3rd tip . . .

Don’t just tell yourself that you won’t fall for someone’s influence – you will. We are all susceptible at some level to influence. It’s part of our design – remember the mirror neurons? And it’s not a bad thing that we are able to be influenced by others. But get really clear on your own beliefs, values and principles so that once the thrall has worn off, you have a baseline you can return to. Once you’re back at your baseline, you can consider the arguments that made sense to you and adjust if appropriate. But you want to do that when you’re not “in your emotions” and your hippo-campus is fully engaged. (Interestingly, people who focus on social justice are less emotional in their thinking than people who are unmoved by injustice. So if you want to be sure you’re not just “in your emotions”, focus on helping those down the ladder from you. It will snap you out of it.)

As to what to do about those who have fallen for Trump’s mind games, well, they are likely beyond our influence, much less our control at this point. I’ll explain more on that later. They’re just not playing the same game that we are, so to speak. You can try the nifty trick of matching their emotions on them. It’s not fool proof. And everyone’s busy re-assuring themselves that they really did make a very good decision that they totally do not regret. But it does tap into something pretty innate in us. So it will likely work as well as anything else, although it does take some practice to do well.

“I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” ~ Matthew 10:16

About Trump and That Disabled Reporter

So, odds are good that you’ve heard about actress Meryl Streep’s speech the other night where she said politically charged things like “disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” OK, that’s not quite a fair depiction of the matter. Her speech actually did constitute an attack on Donald Trump. I didn’t watch the it, but I heard about it in real time from friends on Facebook who felt like she was speaking for them.

At the same time, the speech was given from a very particular perspective – that of someone ensconced in the entertainment industry, a world which works rather differently than the world which the rest of us live in. I have some of the same criticisms of the content of the speech as Trevor Noah. (“Don’t make your point by shitting on someone else’s thing.”) Of course, there was the expected backlash from people who resented “being lectured” by a Hollywood celebrity. But those folks were by and large the same people who voted for a reality TV star for president, so they can really just stfu now.

Anyways, Streep’s speech highlighted an incident from 2015 in which Donald Trump apparently mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski’s physical disability. True to form, Trump has insisted that he did no such thing and that the media was just being mean and unfair. Streep’s speech has lead to a resurrection of videos claiming to prove that Trump did not actually mock a reporter’s physical disability, one of which I’ll embed below.

Now, clearly I and a good number of other people have decided that it is necessary to take an oppositional stance to Trump, but obviously we don’t want to become monsters ourselves in the fight. So it’s wise to actually look at the evidence from the other side in order to avoid being dishonest or unfair in ways that amount to being unjust. So, let’s look at the evidence against the claim that Trump mocked a reporter’s physical disability and evaluate it. (Trigger warning: video of Donald Trump, including audio of his voice. My sincere apologies.)

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FDonaldTrumpAmerica45%2Fvideos%2F981815025296933%2F&show_text=1&width=560

So here’s my take on the evidence, such as it is. First off, the mocking of the general from that same speech didn’t look remotely like the spastic display he put on when talking about the disabled reporter. The clip of him mocking Ted Cruz happened after Trump had already come under fire for apparently mocking a reporter’s disability and was probably him just creating cover for himself. The clip from 25 days before the incident in question bears only the vaguest resemblance to the incident in question. And the one from Larry King live (that they had to go back 11 years to find) is somewhat similar, but not nearly as animated as the incident in question. I’m thinking the fact that they have 3 clips from prior to the outrage, spanning over a decade’s worth of time is kind of the opposite of compelling evidence that Trump was not mocking a reporter’s disability.

However, even if we accept as an absolute fact that Trump occasionally imitates spasticity to mock people (including himself), there’s still the reality that a normal, decent person would not use that particular gesture to mock someone who actually suffers from spasticity. Ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure that people who suffer from spasticity would very much appreciate it if we’d stop using an imitation of their disability as visual short hand for “idiot”. If you really want to get down to it.

But even those of us who aren’t all that sensitive will still go out of our way not to create the appearance of mocking someone’s physical disability. And we’re horrified and embarrassed if we happen to do something which causes someone to think that we’re  mocking a person’s disability. It’s the sort of thing we have nightmares about doing. In fact, I knew a guy back in college who was born with a deformed arm and hand who would reach out to shake with that hand when he wanted to be a jerk just because he knew the person would be embarrassed by their own reaction. Because again, most of us put a lot of stock in the value of not appearing to make fun of someone’s physical disability.

So, did Donald Trump make fun of a reporter’s disability? I would say yes. But even if his defender’s arguments are 100% correct, the fact still remains that Donald Trump, true to form, does not behave anything like a normal, decent person behaves. Not even in situations with a really low bar like not using an imitation of spasticity when making fun of someone who suffers from spasticity. Duh.

Snowy Day Play

I love videos of animals playing. This one from the Oregon Zoo showing animals in the snow is particularly cute. Isn’t it weird how we’ve been indoctrinated to see animals as unthinking creatures, devoid of relationships and driven only by the instinct to eat and reproduce? Why do we even think that’s the sort of world God would create? Silly.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Foregonzoo%2Fvideos%2F10154074646286109%2F&show_text=0&width=400

 

Santa and Grief

Red_bag_with_gifts_for_Christmas_6357266530 years ago, nine days before Christmas 1986, my sister Susan was born. We had learned two days earlier that she was going to be stillborn. I was 13 at the time. It was my first real experience with death and in the days that followed I learned certain things. That life has a startling way of moving forward even when it feels like it should have stopped, for instance. That it’s possible to momentarily forget grief and be sideswiped by its return. That my grandmother could cook a meal and clean a kitchen like a normal person. That my grandfather could be funny. That people feel the same but often behave differently when they hurt.

A mere week after we held a small burial for Susan, it was Christmas. We attended Christmas Eve children’s mass as usual. After service, several people came to offer condolences to my mother. I was sticking pretty close to her side those days and although I don’t remember anything that was said, I do remember my mom shedding tears while talking with people. We went home in a pretty somber mood.

Later that evening my mother and a couple of us sibling were in the kitchen preparing a beef tenderloin and mashed potatoes for our traditional fancy Christmas Eve dinner when the door bell rang. When we got to the door, there was a large sack of presents on the front steps but no one in sight. The presents were simply labeled to our family, from Santa. My brother went out to check around the bushes or look for a trail in the snow, but found nothing. Whoever had left it had made a clean escape.

We took the bag inside and everyone began opening the gifts. They were little things like boxes of candy, card games, scented soaps, small toys and such. But as we opened them my mother and I kept exchanging confused glances. Who had done all of this? Who ever had left these gifts had gone to a great deal of trouble, but had left no trace of their identity. It was all from Santa. Finally, after the last gift had been opened, I turned to my mom and said, “you don’t really think Santa left these, do you?” She just shook her head and said, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Once the gifts were opened and the mess of opening them was cleared away, we went back to preparing dinner with much higher spirits than we’d had just a few minutes earlier. I wondered if maybe this was how Santa worked these day; only coming to those who needed him. Maybe there really was magic and we just hadn’t needed evidence of it until now.

Later that night, my brother found the smoking gun which gave away the identity of our Santa. The last name of a family friend was written in small letters on the plastic wrapper of a box of candy. Bingo. It wasn’t a fat man in a red suit, but it was magic, just like I suspected. The gifts had been left by a young widow, a woman with three kids 10 and under whose husband had died suddenly just a year and a half earlier. On the same day that my youngest brother was born, no less. It was only their second Christmas without him yet she and her children had taken the time to wrap dozens of presents to lift our spirits. It helped. A lot.

I’d just like to encourage you to do something special for someone who is facing a dark Christmas. Something up-close-and-personal. Helping through charities is great, but there’s just nothing like being able to spot a need which no one else is going to meet to make the sort of difference which will still be remembered dearly 30 years later.

BTW, in cased you missed the recording of “The Christmas Bird” I shared a couple days ago, you should go check it out. It’s great for kids – and only 11 minutes long. Consider it my wee Christmas gift to you and yours.

Jesus Saved Our Christmas Dinner

We have a seating problem in our home. Well, two of them actually. The first is that our chairs don’t match and the folding chairs have all lost their stuffing. It’s not very Martha Stewart-ish. Or comfortable. The second is that I have 3 girls under the age of 8. Who all have very strong opinions about where they ought to sit at dinner. And those opinions change nightly. (Yes, yes, I know – each person should have their own seat that they sit in every night. Please, feel free to show up at my house for dinner each night to execute that plan. I’d be mighty appreciative and the best of luck to ya.)

I almost had the whole thing fixed this summer when I got the idea to have the kids basically draw straws. I marked the tips of 5 sticks with a color. Each color corresponded to a spot at the table. The color of the stick you drew told you which spot you would sit in. The only trouble was the 2 year old hadn’t actually agreed to and didn’t care to understand this plan. So if she wanted to sit in a spot one of her sisters had pulled a stick for, all hell broke lose. If I managed to get the baby to chose a spot first, she would often simply change her mind part-way through. So whatever. We’re back to our nightly game of “who’s going to sit where and who’s going to be upset about it?” It doesn’t happen every night, but often enough. In fact, on occasion a child will even storm off and refuse to eat when a settlement to their liking is not reached. Depending on what we’re having for dinner that night this can be a good thing because, you know – more for me. But not for Christmas dinner. So when my most emotional, dramatic daughter stormed off right before Christmas dinner due to a seating dispute, I figured I ought to go and fetch her.

One of the things which I am keenly aware of during the holidays is how easy it is for special occasions to be ruined by conflict between parents and kids. The kids are wound-up and hyper and probably a little overwhelmed and the parents are stressed and busy and feeling insufficiently appreciated. It’s very easy for both parents and children to end up behaving worse than usual. Which is clearly all the kid’s fault but I suppose someone has to be the grown-up, so it might as well be the parents. As much as I wanted to go upstairs and yell and rant and drag my daughter downstairs to sit and sulk in her seat at the table, I don’t particularly care to have this remembered as the Christmas mom ruined. So I want up to her room where she was calming down by doing math problems (seriously – this is one of the ways she calms herself down – by doing math problems). I sat on her bed near her and thought for a minute. Finally I asked her, “do you love God?”

A nod.

“Do you want to make him happy?”

Another nod.

“Do you know that Jesus is God?”

Hesitation and then a nod.

“Did you know that Jesus once talked about picking which spot to sit at when you go to dinner?”

She looked up from her math, gave me a slightly dubious look and a head shake.

“He did – seriously. He said that when you go to a meal, you shouldn’t try to sit in the best spot. You should sit in the worst spot. Because if you pick the best spot, someone else might come along who is supposed to sit in that spot and they’ll make you move. And then you’ll feel bad. But if you pick the worst spot, then if you ever have to move it will be because it’s your turn to sit in a better spot and then you’ll be happy.”

“Yeah, well – no one else does that.”

“Your brothers do. You don’t see them getting upset over where they sit, do you?”

Head shake. She switched from math problems to writing random words.

“Besides, you want to be loving don’t you?”

Nod.

“You have to actually do things to be loving. It’s not enough just to feel it. That’s what Jesus was trying to teach us – how to actually be loving. Like he said that we should put ourselves last because people always try to put themselves first and then we’re always mad at each other and fighting. We keep doing it because we want our way and keep trying to fight to get it. But it doesn’t work, does it? Besides, fighting’s no fun and it makes people feel bad. You like playing with your sisters when you’re not fighting, right? But you guys spend an awful lot of time fighting with each other. You can’t do anything about what your sister does – no matter how mad you get or how hard you try. You might as well decide for yourself that you’ll do it the way Jesus said to do it. I mean, God made this whole life we’re living – he might have a pretty good idea about how to do it right, don’t ya think?”

Sheepish nod.

“Heck, wouldn’t it be nice if after a while you didn’t feel like you had to fight all the time? Besides, I have a secret – it turns out that the last spot is usually the best spot. You get to see and learn a lot of interesting things and meet interesting people when you go last. If you go last and just pay attention, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

She stopped her writing, sat looking thoughtful for minute and then agreed to come back down to eat with us. As we left her room she grabbed on to my waist.

“It’s hard. Doing things the way God says. It’s really hard. But just at the beginning. After a while you figure out that God’s ways actually are better. And then it’s really easy. Much easier than doing things your own way ever was. It’s only hard for a little while.”

So drama girl and I went back to Christmas dinner, hand in hand. And I made her brother move so she could sit next to me.

(Now before anyone is tempted to be impressed, y’all ought to know that last week my almost 8 year old picked baby Jesus up from the nativity set and said, “I forget – who is this baby supposed to be?” Jeeze.)

*This is a repeat from a few years back. The kids don’t fight nearly as fiercely about seating arrangements anymore. But our chair situation is still all jacked up. Kitchen chairs are expensive, yo.

The Christmas Bird

Instead of doing my Christmas shopping a couple of years ago, I recorded this. It’s perfect for sharing with the kids, if they are the sort who will listen to a recorded story.  Grab a cuppa whatever suits you best and listen to the dulcet sound of my voice sharing a heartwarming Christmas story about a farmer, a bird and a little boy. It will be the best 11 minutes of your day. 🙂

For those of you receiving this via email, here’s the link to the recording on soundcloud.