Fear, Understanding, and Politics

This Onion article seems to be particularly on-point regarding Trump’s speech, from what I’ve heard and seen of last night. Fear and inaccuracies seemed to play a rather large role.

I’m going to start with a very brief two-paragraph history of my own: I grew up with the network news on in the background daily when my dad would get home from work. Then 9/11 happened when I was a college freshman, living on campus. I stopped watching the news about two weeks later, primarily because of all the fear and hatred being spread around. The network news broadcasts were starting to remind me of the two-minutes hate in 1984, which I had recently re-read at the time. The news was also constantly on wherever there was a television set at my college and it quickly became overwhelming for me.

So I went cold turkey and purposely didn’t watch any news at all for about a decade, aside from clips that were shown during college classes or occasional documentaries I watched. My quality of life improved significantly and immediately upon cutting broadcast news out of my life. I periodically would read news articles – but they were mainly local or relevant to my life in some other way. I heard about significant international events primarily through blogs or personal interactions with friends. Over the last 5 years I’ve slowly added in more written news stories that are of interest to me and carefully avoided much broadcast news, preferring to read the news rather than watch or listen to it anyhow.

Given my news hiatus, it seems obvious to me that, in the past 15 years, things have not gotten better on the spreading fear and hatred to everyone front. Instead they appear to have gotten remarkably worse.

***Now, I want to be very clear that not all fear is unjustified – fear is not a dirty word and it doesn’t imply anything negative in and of itself. Healthy fear can even be life-saving at times.***

However, I would like to encourage all of you, my friends and readers, to look deeply into the things you fear and consider why you fear them and maybe even if you should fear them. It can be difficult to do this at first, it certainly has been for me, but it gets much easier with practice.

These are some of the things that have helped me the most with my own endeavor towards greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and that I think might possibly be of use to others – feel free to take note of any that sound helpful and leave the rest: 

Seek out and listen to numerous perspectives.

Consider staying away from the more dramatic news sources or at least limiting their influence in your life.

Keep at least one or two reasonable friends who don’t hold the same political stances as you do.

Have calm, reasonable discussions with friends who don’t share your political beliefs.

Listen, listen, listen!

Ask for clarifications before assuming what someone meant – especially if they didn’t explicitly say it.

Clarify your own words when asked.

Try to avoid becoming defensive or thinking that someone merely said what you were expecting them to say – especially, again, if they didn’t explicitly say it with their words.

Move beyond pithy, partisan sound-bites and dig more deeply into the issues.

Take frequent (or even long) breaks if you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed. A wise friend of mine once said that the words will still be here when you come back. To a degree, that can sometimes not be true if people decide not to stand by what they said and instead delete comments, but hopefully you’ll be mainly talking to reasonable people who are willing to let their words stand for the sake of the larger discussion even if they’ve since changed their perspective.

Set boundaries for what topics you are not willing to talk about in an online group setting. For example: I have no desire to talk about gun control. I have good friends on both sides and have a good grasp of both sides, I’m somewhere in the middle, and those discussions get nasty very quickly these days. I don’t see any reason for me to either host or participate in those discussions at this point when I can instead save my energy for topics that I still need or want to delve into more thoroughly.

It has been well worth my while to listen open-mindedly to a diverse mix of people and I believe that more people doing so can only benefit our society as a whole – particularly in these fearful and divisive times.

One Independent’s View of the GOP, the SCOTUS, and the POTUS

While posting and reading online earlier this afternoon, I realized that I would be hopping mad about the political posturing regarding the newly vacant Supreme Court Justice position if I was a Republican instead of an Independent.

Sure, it probably sounds delightful to many Republicans on the surface – “I hate Obama and the Republicans who represent me aren’t going to let him appoint a SC justice! Right on!” But looking a little deeper:

It seems clear that a moderate or conservative-leaning nominee is the only type who would stand any chance of getting approved right now with the present political climate. This is a good analysis regarding what prospective justices would likely need to be in order to be approved by the current largely GOP congress.

Personally, given the above analysis, along with the fact that there is not a precedent for waiting until the next president is elected should a vacancy occur in an election year, I believe that it behooves the Republican side to at least seriously consider whomever Obama decides to nominate.

The Republicans already have a history and public perception of being obstructionists. Given that history, these outright statements of refusal by GOP bigwigs to even consider any nominee put forth by Obama could end up hurting Republicans badly in the general election – especially with those of us who are opposed to voting along party lines and/or identify as Independents. That consideration is particularly  important given that the number of voters identifying as Independents has risen dramatically in the past few years.

Also, if a Democratic candidate is elected this fall, the composition of the Senate and House could change as well. With Hillary being pulled left by Bernie, or if Bernie himself gets elected, the now-vacant SCOTUS seat could conceivably be filled with an infinitely more liberal justice which would put the Republicans’ refusal in an even worse light for their supporters.

I would be beyond livid if my party’s representatives had stalled for nearly a year just to have someone I disagreed with even more be appointed as a result of their unconstitutional shenanigans.

Basically Republicans are gambling that they’re going to win the general, despite showing themselves to be obvious lying, hypocritical obstructionists, and instead of working with (or even just trying to appear as though they’re working with) Obama to appoint a moderate to the SC, they’re going to publicly gamble with that chance.

Moreover, I’m not sure it’s a gamble that the Republicans can easily win in the end, leaving a very real possibility that the Democrats will win the general and can then appoint someone even more liberal, especially given how many Independents already had negative views of the GOP. Needless to say, I’m pretty appalled that they’re willing to play with those kinds of stakes even though I’m not a Republican.

If I was a Republican, I’d be pretty darn pissed off.

As an Independent, I’m significantly less than impressed.

Learning to Read While Unschooling

A couple weeks ago my newly-turned 6 year old decided to learn how to read. 

Now, this didn’t come completely out of the blue. She’s been making some noise about wanting to learn how to read for several months, but every other time I had sat down with her to work on letter sounds it had quickly become clear that she wasn’t quite ready. 

This time was different. 

This time she approached me with a plan. 

First, she folded up a piece of paper and asked me to write the alphabet — with both “big” and “little” letters — for her. I obliged and went back to doing whatever I had been doing. About ten minutes later, she came back with several folded pieces of paper and informed me that she needed help stapling them together so that it could be her reading book.

We got the reading book all stapled and she asked me to spell out the title “*6 Year Old’s Name* Reading Book” so she could write it on the front. She’s known how to read and write her name for a while so all those letters were fine, but she didn’t know what most of the others even looked like. I discovered at this point why she had wanted the alphabet written out: every unknown letter I told her to write, she would look up by singing the alphabet song and pointing at each letter in the alphabet until she came to the correct one. 

At this point I was beginning to pay a bit more attention. 

Now, generally speaking, when my children have difficulties with something and get frustrated, we take a break. I don’t push them to continue, although I do encourage them a great deal. Every single time, it’s been about six months before they’re ready to try again and at that point they often find the previously difficult skill to be ridiculously easy. 

At this point it had only been a couple of months since her last serious reading attempt and it had been very frustrating for her. I put it down, fully anticipating that we wouldn’t see a marked improvement in her reading readiness for around six months, so when she first approached me this time, I began the process without being attached to any significant outcomes. 

But here she was! Proactively creating her own method for learning how to read and write on her own terms.

Then she informed me that she was ready to read “those books on [my] iPad.” The “those books” she referred to are the New Alphabetti books from ProgressivePhonics.com. I had been very impressed with them a couple months previously when we had first looked at them together. She had been less impressed, but now was insistent that she was going to read and that she wanted to read those books. Now.

Okay, then! We sat down with the iPad as soon as I got the 2 year old occupied with his building blocks. 

I immediately noticed a difference in my 6 year old’s readiness. 

Instead of needing constant help and reminders the way she had a couple months ago, she was remembering the letter sounds on her own. When we came to a new word that she hadn’t learned before, she sounded it out and then painstakingly wrote it down in her “reading notebook” before we continued. 

At the end of the book, she insisted on reading the next one right away! 

My 6 year old simply created her own reading program — including copywork — on her own terms and based on what she needed in order to learn how to read. 

When she finished the second book, we mutually decided that we should wait until the next day to begin the third. At that point she informed me that her goal is to participate in National Novel Writing Month this November with her two older sisters and me. 

I couldn’t be any prouder. 

Between my oldest two children, I already have a computer programmer, a gymnast, a musician, a ballerina, and two authors. I cannot wait to find out what interests this third child decides to pursue! I only hope that we’re able to continue supporting them all in whatever ways they need us to as they grow and find more interests or refine the ones they already have. 

#BlackLivesMatter, Y’all

#BlackLivesMatter

It’s been simultaneously fascinating and disturbing to me to watch different people’s reactions to that simple hashtag and the movement it shares a name with. My white conservative friends almost uniformly react with disgust and defensiveness to both the statement and the movement. My white liberal friends almost all claim to support the movement, particularly as long as they approve of the methods employed by the movement and haven’t, to my knowledge, disputed the truth of the statement. 

On the face of it all, #BlackLivesMatter is such a simple statement that it seems as though it should be too obvious to even bother stating let alone disagreeing with. Do #BlackLivesMatter? Well, of course they do! The fact that anyone would dispute the truth in that statement or feel the need to counter it with statements about how #AllLivesMatter is itself a strong *indictment of the racial issues and defensiveness in the US.

Now, I must admit that I’ve completely shied away from using those specific words in the past, in large part because of the strong reaction I’ve seen in response to them. Sure, I’ve tried to be a good white ally in other ways. I’ve been fairly regular about posting articles about systemic racism, talking about race and racism with my children, and calling out racist remarks when I see them. But…. I haven’t used #BlackLivesMatter. 

Why not? I finally asked myself earlier today, but I wasn’t completely sure what the answer was. I don’t particularly like politicized posts or being bombarded day in and day out by extremist posts from any side of the spectrum and I guess the reactions to #BlackLivesMatter have felt to me as though they’re reactions to an extreme perspective. I don’t particularly want to be an extremist who constantly posts links to questionable websites and subsequently gets hidden or ignored by all reasonable people on the Internet. 

But, when looked at rationally and not through the lens of other people’s emotions, is #BlackLivesMatter really that extreme? Is it extreme at all? This is a simple statement of truth. Something so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be said. Yet many people all but lose their minds with defensiveness when they see it. 

So, I’ve come to the perspective that it is the people who object to #BlackLivesMatter, particularly those who object to the statement itself, who are the extremists. Those I’ve seen who object to others saying something as fundamental as #BlackLivesMatter have not been coming from a place of reasonableness or thoughtfulness, but rather from defensiveness, if not anger, and it’s pretty well accepted that defensiveness intereferes with understanding.

I can’t base my wording decisions on other people’s defensiveness. Sure, it’s often essential to know your audience and to try and present things in a way that are most likely to be understandable to them, but sometimes the defensiveness itself needs to be addressed before a productive discussion can even be had. 

On another note, I’ve seen many liberal friends of mine post about how upsetting it was to them that some protesters from the #BlackLivesMatter movement interrupted Bernie Sanders’ rally in Seattle a couple days ago. This might sound harsh, but truly, it’s not up to white liberals to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

Marginalized people have historically not been able to access the “socially acceptable” channels in order to have a strong voice in society. Perhaps instead of voicing outrage on the Internet, white liberals might gain more understanding and be able to remain supportive by looking into the reasons why the #BlackLivesMatter protesters at that event felt as though they needed to use tactics that you see as unacceptable. 

Don’t get me wrong, nobody has to completely agree with everything a movement does in order to support it, but standing in judgment of a marginalized people’s movement from a place of privilege is not supportive.

I like Bernie, I think he’s a good guy with good intentions. I don’t agree with him about everything, but he seems genuine and as though he’s really trying to tackle the big issues that other mainstream candidates won’t even bring up. It’s still not my place or any other white person’s place to look from our position of racial privilege at what #BlackLivesMatter did and get all judgy about it. Those aren’t my family members and friends being murdered by the establishment or by overtly racist nutjobs spurred on by systemic racism. You or I might have done the exact same thing if we were in their shoes, there’s no way of knowing. 

For what it’s worth, I grew up in the Seattle area and I 100% agree with the protestors that Seattle is horribly racist. The worst thing about the racism in the PNW is how so many of the white people who live there simply don’t see it or consider it to be an issue. So many people in that area will readily and repeatedly call out racism in the Deep South, but ignore the rampant racism in their own area or in their own words and actions. 

I do know one thing: I’m more upset and concerned about the shootings of unarmed black men and women than I am by the things the #BlackLivesMatter movement has done and said. Even if I was more upset by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it’s not my place to grumble about it. It’s not about me. 

#BlackLivesMatter, y’all. 

~B.
*We’ve probably all seen the #AllLivesMatter analogy of a fundraiser for cancer treatments where someone stands up and shouts, “But other diseases are bad too!!!” Okay. Yeah, all diseases are bad and everyone’s life matters. Thank you, Captain Obvious, but we’re focusing on this specific problem right here and now for specific reasons. 

Polarization

I’ve been trying halfheartedly to blog more lately about issues that are important to me. This hasn’t happened for a myriad of reasons including the novel I’m writing, the children I care for, and the husband who ocassionally wants to interact with me. 

The biggest issue, I must admit, is that I’m tired of the Internet. Tired of how polarized things have become — or maybe they’ve always been this polarized and now it’s just more apparent to me. Tired of the gross simplification of serious issues. Tired of talking with people I don’t actually know about important issues that they’ve already made up their minds about. Tired of people who spout memes about everything and egregiously misunderstand nearly everything I type if I don’t completely agree with them about every detail, even though I’m generally trying my best to actually hear and understand what they’re saying.

Because, apparently, in the Internet community, if you don’t completely agree with one or the other of the media-fueled “opposite” sides on hot-button issues, then you’re on the “other side” and are the enemy. To be debated and countered, but never actually listened to or heard. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. I can often pinpoint exactly how two “opposing” sides are talking past each other. It’s fascinating, albeit frustrating, to watch and I know I’m not immune either. It’s always more obvious to me when other people misunderstand each other than when I’m in the thick of it myself and I assume that others have similar experiences.

Anyhow, my truth is that I’ve almost never found the extreme sides, the ones the media seems to delight in perpetuating, to be correct about important issues. Reality is complex. Reality cannot be easily summed up into the memes and pithy soundbites that people online delight in. The reality almost always lies somewhere between the two extreme sides and I generally find myself agreeing at least partially with people on all sides of extremely intense issues.  

We have amazing access to people’s opinions and thoughts, yet it seems as though many people aren’t interested in listening, only in talking. I guess that I also haven’t wanted to participate lately in the cacophany of opinions on the Internet. 

But I also believe that the following is crucial: 

The solutions to the big problems our families/communities/countries/world face cannot be solved as long as we persist in fighting each other at every turn and aren’t actually listening to or hearing the concerns of our fellow human beings. 

I’d like to ask a few simple questions for anyone who reads this (including myself) to think about.

1. Why are only two “sides” presented as being possibilities in almost every single hot-button issue? Why are those sides then pitted against each other and seen as irreconcilable? 

2. Why are so many people stubbornly resistent to seeing issues from another person’s perspective even as we have access to so many other people’s perspectives now?

3. When did agreement and the conversion of people to one’s own way of thinking become more important than building relationships and caring for our neighbors?

Perhaps we could try listening, working together, and trying to find common ground. Instead of getting stuck in the confirmation bias feedback loop. Instead of posting memes or inflammatory articles. Instead of opposing people from the “other side.” Instead of trying to win converts to our way of thinking. 

That would be quite refreshing. 

~B.

Talking About Josh Duggar = Re-victimizing

There’s an article going around right now that basically says everyone needs to stop talking about Josh Duggar’s past crimes because it’s revictimizing the girls he molested so many years ago. ***see note at bottom about the article***

Articles like that one are coming from a place of concern and I appreciate that very much because too few people have acknowledged the hurt of the women who survived this situation, BUT these articles also miss the point in a major way.

For me and for most of the people I’ve seen speak out against what happened it’s not about shaming the Duggars or reopening their wounds. It’s about shedding light on the increasingly common abhorrent beliefs about obedience, consent, and sexuality that create a perfect environment for sexual (and other) abuses to flourish and remain hidden within. Allowing these beliefs and abuses to remain hidden would be a travesty.

I agree, of course, that the survivors of Josh’s molestations have been revictimized by this news coming out the way it did. I am absolutely sickened that the world knows their identities, which should have been protected until or unless a time came when they wanted or felt able to tell their stories.

However, that ship has sailed. Even if every single person on the planet stopped talking about the Duggar scandal right NOW, those womens’ names are still out there. The damage is done.

In my opinion, the focus now needs to be on exposing the underlying questionable theology so that perhaps future victims might be spared the experience altogether. That perhaps past and future survivors might gain the actual help they need and not be thrown under the bus by victim-blaming sexual abuse “counseling” materials the way that these most recently discovered survivors almost certainly were.

I’m not still talking about this topic to “heap hate” on Josh or his parents. Nor am I “dancing with glee” that the Duggars have been “brought down.” Actually, I’ve felt quite ill about the entire thing ever since it came out, in addition to being rather upset and baffled by all the people who continue to defend and minimize what happened initially and how it was handled in the aftermath.

I do have hope that people will start to examine the theology behind the Duggars and Gothard now that yet another story has come out of that camp. I have hope that enough Christians will listen to abuse victims/survivors; stand behind them and tell them that that what was done to them was NOT their fault in any way! I have hope that we can move forward and learn how to handle the issue of sexual abuse in constructive ways in our churches and through our legal system.

This issue is not going away and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

***note*** I don’t plan to directly link to the “revictimization” article in question. I find it both hypocritical and distasteful that they use the names and photos of the women involved, in a post about how those women are being revictimized, thus letting everyone who didn’t already know their identities know exactly who they are. Blatantly outing the abuse survivors yet again in order to have a sensationalistic “click-bait” title is utterly inappropriate in a post telling everyone else to stop talking about them.

This other article is linked above, but I wanted to say a bit more about it as well. It was written by a lawyer who actually trained at Gothard’s law school and was involved in Gothardism for a while (is not any longer, of course). He’s not excusing Josh’s actions – but he does an excellent job of outlining how their beliefs can set the stage for this to happen.

Duggars

To be completely honest and up-front from the beginning of this post, I have never been a fan of the Duggars. Fairly early on, I learned too much about the Pearls, Bill Gothard, and ATI to really buy into the whole “sweet large Godly family” brand they’ve tried very hard to create over the years with the help of TLC.

That said, I’ve also done my best to give them the benefit of the doubt over the years and this is how my thought processes tended to go: Yes, they used to recommend the Pearls child abuse training manuals on their website, but they don’t any longer. Maybe they’ve changed their minds about them. Yes, they’re members of ATI and, as such, they had to agree to certain methods of disciplining their children and living their lives, but they do also seem like genuinely nice people on camera and maybe they rejected the more extreme bits of Gothard’s teachings.

Then, this week, news came out that the pervasive rumors about Josh’s alleged sexual sins had been proven to be true.

Most of the people I have personally seen speaking out about this on social media are Christians, which is a good thing. The Christian community (myself included) would do well not to minimize this or act as though this is an example of Christians being persecuted for their beliefs. The saddest thing about this coming out, to me, is that several of the victims’ names are known by default because the sickening information contained in the police report and the timing of everything don’t leave many doubts.

I feel the need to ask: how many extreme patriarchal families are going to end up with sexual assault/abuse charges before that specific community does something about it?

The Duggars followed Gothard and he recently stepped down due to sexual abuse/harassment allegations. They shared many similar beliefs with Vision Forum, and the ex-leader of Vision Forum (Doug Phillips) also currently has a case against him for having repeatedly sexually assaulted a young woman who was under his care. Doug Phillips’ transgressions were originally painted as an “affair” by his supporters, despite a clear power imbalance in the situation.

These do not appear to be isolated incidents, and for what appears to be a very logical reason. In my experience, any culture that teaches male supremacy, that women cause men’s sexual sins, that parents must isolate their children from the outside world, and also that they have to raise children very punitively while requiring “first time obedience” to authority figures is creating conditions perfect for incidents like this to take place and for the victims to have a very difficult time receiving any significant help.

The Duggar parents handled this extremely poorly at the time, and that’s an understatement. I’m sure they were blindsided and didn’t know how to handle the situation, but the lack of follow-through with the authorities, the apparent lack of actual (as opposed to Gothard-approved) counseling for Josh or his victims, and the fact that several of his victims lived with him for years upon years after this happened are all inexcusable, in my opinion. Not only did several of his victims have to live with him, but they were filmed with him while posing as a happy — some might say “perfect” — family.

Yes, people can be changed, but the adults in the situation sweeping this under the rug was inexcusable. TLC working with them if they knew about this and how it was handled was inexcusable. Those girls having to live and be filmed with him for years after they were molested by him is inexcusable. The fact that the girls were probably given to believe (possibly not told outright, but certainly subtly given the message) that they were at least partially to blame since, under their beliefs, women cause the sexual sins of men is also inexcusable.

As for the timing of the story coming out now, I suspect it’s very simply because two of his sisters are starting to have babies and past traumas tend to surface during pregnancy and childbirth. There’s also the question of whether or not someone in the family wanted to protect the smallest members of the family and brought things to light when Josh was first beginning to have baby nephews and nieces.

I don’t believe this truth becoming known is some elaborate scheme to discredit Christianity or their particular brand of such.  The timing doesn’t seem odd or sinister to me at all and it troubles me that people would use this horrific event to further the dubious cause of American Christian Martyrdom.

The facts I’m left with at the end of it all are that the Duggars — portrayed as paragons of “Godliness” and “Family Values” — harbored a known child molestor in their home for at least one year before saying anything to anyone outside of the family, failed to follow through with the police report that first time when they simply mentioned it to their friend, failed to get the perpetrator adequate help, and failed to get his victims adequate counseling and help.

I believe that the Christian community needs to soundly condemn the adult Duggars’ response as well as the molestations themselves. This kind of chicanery should not be tolerated in the name of Christ. Yes, forgive, but don’t forget. There is no excuse for the adults sweeping this kind of incident under the rug. For years and years.

My sympathies go to the survivors.

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