Several In One Bite (No, I’m not going to repost 5 years of blog posts!)

by And the White Lion Roars!

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Good Movement Gone Bad

 
Vonnie Shallenberger/ 14 November 2009

I hope none of my liberal friends read this. Many years ago I was working third shift, and occasionally would turn on the TV overnight and watch Rush Limbaugh. I was taught that it helps to fight an enemy if you know his position, so I gave him a shot. One night he got it right. Of course he ruined it later on in the same show, and he hasn’t come close since, but that night in 1993, he said something that I agreed with, and have come to agree with more and more since.

The self esteem movement started out with great intentions. Most social movements do. But then they go too far and lose the truth of the initial premise. I was on the side of the attempt to make children, especially minority and poor children, feel better about themselves. I still am. But the movement lost its soul when it went from trying to help children feel as if they are as good as other people, to being a way of giving children the notion that they are awesome and that the rules set by our civil society do not apply to them. Whether it is simply because children aren’t able to process the information fed to them, or if parents haven’t been taught where the boundaries lie in this message, I don’t know. But it seems to have led to a generation of spoiled, narcissistic young people bent on ruling the world on their terms.

A couple of examples I have personally experienced:

1. A former teacher who is a friend of my family told the story of having corrected a young student in his classroom. This story would not have meant much to me except that the student involved grew up to become Miss America after she graduated. The mother of this student came to visit him, and scolded him for “damaging her self-esteem.” This man responded with, “Madam, nothing could damage your daughter’s self-esteem.” He was not teaching in that school for long after that.

2. I was supervising a third shift call center. I was over three males and one female. The female tended to order everyone around. So one night she gave me an order, and I said, “Please and thank you!” She proclaimed that she did not say please. Please is a begging word and she does not beg. I said, “No, please is a polite word.” She said, “I asked nicely-I don’t need to say please.”

I think where the movement went wrong is in allowing “as good as” to be interpreted as ‘better than,’ which has lead to the crass notion that everything one feels should be aired because every feeling is valid. This has led to a loss of concern for how others feel, a loss of manners, empathy and decorum, and a belief in one’s self that just may not be supportable by the facts. Limbaugh’s remark was that, “Self esteem should be based on something.” I agree-children need to be taught that they are just as good as anyone else. They are neither inferior nor superior to anyone else. Everyone deserves respect-rich, poor, black white, EVERYONE. Every person has a gift. That gift should be encouraged, and children should also be encouraged to explore their interests and discover that gift. But no one can pick a gift-Dad can’t expect Junior to be great baseball player just because Dad was at that age. But the idea that every child should consider him or herself King or Queen of the World is false and dangerous. I recently heard a psychologist talking about self esteem when he was presented with the idea that perhaps serial killers have low self esteem. He said that most serial killers are just the opposite- they tend to be narcissists who believe that the world is not treating them as they deserve. So these people have obviously not been taught that other people deserve respect, have they?

So while Rush Limbaugh may not have learned the lesson he was preaching on that fateful night in 1993, his premise was actually correct.

 

Marry Me?

 
I grew up in the south. After I was grown it became known as more “southwest,” but a local humor writer proposes the theory that the “south” is any state that seceded during the war of northern aggression, so Texas counts as the south. My mama is Baptist, and came from rural Arkansas to west Texas, then Fort Worth, where she married very young and raised her five children, four girls and then a boy. I am the oldest of those five. And a dreamer. Always a dreamer. I was going to be an actress. But I am a dreamer. I lived my life in books and movies and dreamed. I emphasize this point because being that much of a dreamer can lead to being that instead of a doer. And those dreams not coming true can lead to great disappointment in later life.

So, besides being a famous actress or writer (or a great writer who gets to star in the movie of her ‘great American novel?”) what do girls growing up in the south in the late 1960s dream of? Marriage. Being a housewife-having a husband who will take care of her financial security, while she takes care of his more personal needs- freshly pressed shirts, happy babies that know how to behave well when Daddy comes home to a delicious meal and lovely dessert. Of course, this family is the pillar of the community and active in the church. This was what every girl dreamed of and planned for. The big wedding with lots of flowers and bridesmaids and the perfect, happy life after. The girls who didn’t dream of this perfect family life got ‘talked about.’ No one wanted to undress next to them in P.E. The ones who didn’t turn out to be gay were simply thought to have something wrong with them that prevented them from meeting that expectation that everyone held to be the natural progression of our lives. I can remember once going to a movie alone; something I still don’t mind doing, and my maternal grandmother saying, “Why, don’t you have a boyfriend to take you to the movie?”

In this day of ‘social networking sites,’ I have been privileged to discover that this dream happened for some of the girls I dreamed with through our high school graduation in 1975. For many of us, though, it didn’t happen quite that way. For me it certainly didn’t. Many of us, including me, greater happiness came the second time around. Some have had to try more than that-some have not found that ‘soul mate’ who can provide the realization of all those dreams.

Now many of us have daughters, and some have granddaughters. What will they dream about? I hope that we are a little further removed from the ancient writings that have led so many of us to that grave disappointment in life that the young girls growing up now will not believe themselves to be lacking in any way if they simply decide that they do not wish to follow that same path. Patterning ones’ life after the expectations of others can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I had a conversation with my nephew a couple of years ago. He will be 29 in 2010, and is a very highly “evolved” young man. He has never been a serial dater, but tends to have one long, serious relationship at a time, and they typically last about 3 or 4 years. The relationship he and I were discussing ended a few weeks ago, but on this particular evening I asked him if he thought that it would end in marriage. His parents were divorced, and his response was, “You know, everyone tells me what hard work marriage is, but no one has come up with a reason that it is worth doing.” We talked about the usual reasons (apart from the moral teachings of the church, which we have both left behind) such as children that marriage is worth doing-besides being partnered with someone you love for a lifetime. He said he believed he could do that without the ceremony…the same answer applied to having children.

Nieces from another sister feel the opposite; they want to get married and have babies. So while there is hope that this won’t continue to be what defines women, it still haunts the edges of our consciousness.

When I began to question the faith I was raised with, one of the things that I noticed about the writings in the bible on wifely behavior didn’t sit well with me. Then I realized that all of them were written by men. I also noticed that men seem to get more out of marriage. I read that women are more likely to describe the relationship is unhappy, and women are more likely to file for divorce. “Of course,” I thought. Marriage was designed by men, and benefits them more-why should they want to end it? Those men spent over 6000 years telling women that they were property, and that they must submit to the authority of their husbands. Why didn’t god tell women that? It just seems suspicious to me for someone to say, “Hey, God told me you have to submit to me or else.” Had I not figured it out on my own, and someone actually told me that, I probably would have to respond with, “Yeah? He’s got my number-tell him to call me himself!”

Women live longer, and work harder to take care of themselves. Women work full time jobs and still wind up with more responsibility for taking care of the house, the kids and elderly relatives. Women have been going to college and graduate school more than men for the last several years. Women have come up with life changing inventions and scientific, mathematical advances, and have worked harder to prove that they are just as smart in math and science as their male counterparts. And yet, women earn .73 to each dollar a man makes, and women still feel inferior if they can’t find someone to marry them? It is time for this paradigm to change. I know that at least one generation after mine still has the notion that traditional marriage and family is the best life path for a woman to take. So my generation may not have been the last to hold this notion, but I do hope it is being chipped away at, and before long, we will not be defined by our ability to find a man to marry.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Post Traumatic Stress

 
 I am one of maybe three liberals in my family, so I am used to having a different view than the majority, and mostly to keeping my opinions to myself. The tyranny of the majoirty rules.

The problem that I have is when the people on that other side cite the worst and most hateful anti-Obama garbage. There is not one shred of evidence, not one, that the election was stolen. ACORN doesn’t even have that kind of power and influence-they would have had to produce 9.5 million votes in order to do that. The only reason that ACORN has become such an easy target, in my opinion, is that they are run by black people, and try to help the poor.  The whole story is just the next salvo of a group that was upset because the lies of the birther movement didn’t get rid of someone they don’t like, so that had to come up with a new lie. It disturbs me beyond comprehension or words that anyone buys it. It is the most hateful and dishonest of the Beckian-Dobbsian dystopian fantasy of diseased hordes of non-white people rushing over our borders to take our jobs and services and give nothing in return for it. I have watched and listened to both of them, and they don’t even bother to support their fearful rhetoric with facts or documentation of any sort. When Dobbs was confronted on 60 Minutes with facts about his story of Mexican illegals coming here and spreading leprosy being wrong, he just said, “If we reported it, then it’s true.” Not, “But here is the documentation we used to support the story.”  The fact of the matter is that if Americans were getting nothing from illegal immigrant labor, they would stop hiring them. But it saves these businesses money and the trouble of having to follow labor laws. An illegal who complains of illegal treatment will be at risk of being deported or arrested. And isn’t the right usually in favor of whatever helps business? The free, unregulated market?
It doesn’t bother me that to be on different sides politically from any one person or idea. But hate and irrationality are things that don’t allow a conversation to go on. There have been times that a rational presentation of ideas and facts have swayed me-I am willing to listen. It doesn’t even bother me that some are against health care reform, which seems to be a huge focus of the whole anti-Obama/Tea Party movement. And the red-herring being used by the talking heads against, not just health care, but any and everything that President Obama is for, is money to take care of illegal immigrants and provide abortions. But the argument that health care reform will provide money for illegals and abortions is moot-they have has already been clearly prohibited in the bills. So it is just more fear and smear tactics that keep those stories coming. I do wish that those who are against reform would understand, even if they don’t change their minds or positions, that there are all kinds of reasons why people may not have health care. There are humans behind those stories.

I remember a favorite professor of mine in college talking about what has to be taught to soldiers at war in order to allow them to kill is that the other side is not human. That is why there are always other names for the enemy-gook, chink, sand-nigger, towel head, etc. It dehumanizes them and helps the conscience not kick in and prevent a soldier from doing his job. But there is a huge cost-it also dehumanizes the soldier-hence the reintegration problems on returning. But the enemy at war, and those without health insurance,  are people. Right or wrong, agree or disagree, and they deserve to be respected as people.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to be a good conversationalist

 
I am a dog person. Not one of those kinds of dog people who believe that you can’t be a dog person and like other animals. I have known a few (mostly cat people) who think you must choose one or the other. I used to have cats, and remember those days fondly-I still pet and cuddle the cats of my friends and family when I see them. But when I started being owned by dogs, it was all over. On Sunday, the New York Times Week in Review published an article called “Good Dog, Smart Dog” by Sarah Kershaw. She talked about how much we’re beginning to understand about how much dogs can learn, and just how much smarter dogs are than we ever gave them credit for. At the end, Ms. Kershaw cited a Dr. Clive D.L. Wynn, psychologist of the University of Florida who said that we should be careful about comparing dog intelligence to human intelligence; dogs can learn quite alot, but have a different way of thinking than we do.

My husband and I have had four dogs in our ten year marriage. The first was a border collie mix who was a 9-11 rescue. From the moment he and I locked eyes I became his human. His name was Nestor, and he was brilliant and intuitive, but he also had severe separation issues, presumably from his time as an orphan of the 9-11 attacks, and he became increasingly aggressive and after several biting incidents had to be put down in April of 2007. I was devastated, and still get misty eyed when I think about him.

The second dog we got was intended as a companion for Nestor. She was a lab who was already six years old when she came to live with us. She was a gentle though dominant soul, and lived to be twelve. We lost her this past February. After we lost Nestor I thought we would be a one-dog home. I was so lost without Nestor, with whom I had been attached at the hip for more than five years-I just wasn’t ready to bring another dog into the house yet. What I had not bargained for was how much Maddie grieved for him. She had been so dominant, I thought she would be happy to be an only dog. But she broke my heart-lingering to sniff at the places he marked (and yes, I do observe their behavior enogh to notice a difference.) I finally convinced my husband that we should get another dog to be a companion for Maddie. He wanted something smaller, so we agreed on a beagle. I watched a beagle rescue in Illinois, and we settled on a beagle-mix, named him Darwin. Darwin was a sweet dog, but so completely out of control that we still haven’t been able to tally the stuff he destroyed-shoes, hats, electronics, anything he could reach. And whatever he was mixed with made him bigger than a regular beagle, so he could reach quite alot. He was also a master escape artist. Once I got our backyard fence secure enough that he couldn’t go under it anymore, he started going over. But one he did that and his collar got caught on the fence, I was afraid for his safety and decided to surrender him to the rescue. I still wrestle with guilt over that, and feel like a terrible “dog mom” for giving up on him. I truly hope he found the right family that could channel his energy and keep him safe.

After Maddie died we weren’t going to get another dog. We agreed to get a cat-less labor intensive, easier to leave alone, etc. But shortly after Maddie was gone I told my husband that I just didn’t want to be a home without a dog. So I went to the local shelter, got there before they opened, and started walking through the kennels in the first building, thinking to myself, “It has to be a small dog, it has to be a small dog, but I could love any one of these guys.” I think it was around the seventh kennel that I saw this scruffy little terrier pull herself to the door and look at me as if to say, “I think you’re my mom.” I said, “Yeah, I think so too.” I later found out that Abigail had been brought into the shelter as a stray, and that the day I found her was the first day she was available for adoption. When I got her home, I couldn’t believe anyone would not try to find this baby-she had obviously been worked with. She was already nearly housebroken, she knew a few basic commands, and she was a quick study on others. Even though they hadn’t even bathed her or brushed all the burrs out of her coat, she was the perfect dog for our family.

I could describe the intelligence of our dogs in this way: When I am cooking, all the dogs like(d) to lie in the floor near the stove, in case anything accidentally dropped to the floor, and I would carry on conversations with them. Maddie, the lab, would like it me as if to say, “Ok, Mom, but could you pet me now?” Abigail, the terrier mix, will look at me as if to say, “Yeah, Mom, could you hurry up? I’m bored, and I want to chase squirrels and grasshoppers.” Darwin, the beagle would look at me as if to say, “Whatever. Can I have some food?” But Nestor, the border collie would look intently at me as if to say, “I understand completely.”

One thing that was suggested in Sunday’s New York Times article was that what dog intelligence has given them is not a capacity to think and learn like a human, but perhaps the intuition to understand our signals and what it takes to please us. That sort of empathy is a great gift. I don’t think any of my dogs would ever have given me a frying pan for Mother’s Day as my husband did-they care too much about my feelings, and whether it is intuition or abstract thought that gives them this ability, it is extremely important. It has always been important to humans to feel understood.

So discussions about what dog intelligence really is may be irrelevant. Dogs and humans are irrevocably bonded-in the past, the survival of each species was dependent upon the other. I say, let’s stop using human yardsticks to measure them against us, and just keep throwing new things to them and see if they learn. I’m almost certain we will continue to be surprised and gratified by the result.s

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Deep Does Ignorance Go?

 
After my divorce in 1995 I moved in with my parents. Though I was working, I was; left with some bills from the marriage, and a little extra money could come in handy. So Mom suggested that her neighbor across the street could use a little help watching his son in the afternoon. I told her I would talk to him about it, and I made an appointment to do that. In the middle of our conversation about what he needed for his son, seemingly out of nowhere, he made a disparaging remark about black people. I did not take the job, and have referred to that man as “The Grand Dragon” ever since. Yesterday afternoon I took my dog out for a short walk around our apartment complex. Usually I use her leash, but not always, this afternoon being one of the latter trips. The head of our maintenance department, a very pleasant fellow, saw us, and said that he knew I didn’t let my dog run wild, and that I carry puppy-poopy-pouches,  but many don’t, so the complex is planning to start reinforcing the rules about keeping dogs on leash, etc. Again, out of nowhere, came a completely bizarre negative remark about minorities. I was completely perplexed-on top of my moral offense at racial bigotry. I realize that racism is based on ignorance, but are the people who hold those ignorant views so out of touch that they really assume that all white people share their view, and therefore they can just casually drop these remarks? I don’t get it. And I don’t know how to respond.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What’s Up With Earthworms?

 
We are having heavy rains today. I mean really heavy. So I just took my dog outside in the rain because she just couldn’t wait anymore…this rain has been falling for hours and hours. Coming back in I saw a familiar site; hundreds of earthworms driven onto the sidewalk by all the water. That is my question…why do they do that? Don’t they “understand” on some wormy level that they need to be in the dirt, so once they get out and see that they aren’t in dirt anymore, why don’t they just go back and go in a little deeper? When I can, I do pick up living ones from the sidewalk and put them back on the grass. They always seem to wriggle happily when I do that, so why do they put themselves in that position?

I’m just asking.

Notice Anything Familiar?

 
I said last year this would happen, and I was right. A little more than a year ago we were paying $4.50 for a gallon of fuel. Then, in large part because of the age old law of supply and demand. We couldn’t afford to pay that, so we cut back. The price of oil fell. Now the rise is more subtle. But what I predicted then was that once the price dropped people would quicly become complacent and start driving again, and buying big fuel suckers. Sure enough, today oil topped $79. per barrel, and the cost of a gallon of gas has jumped about .20 in the last two weeks. It will shortly be $3.00 again, and if we don’t wise up, it will keep going up. We don’t need to do this to ourselves, and it gives away our power as consumers to allow oil companies, whose obscene profits are not being talked about right now because of all the chatter regarding banker bonuses. Ok-don’t talk about it, but don’t let it slip your mind either. Consumers have the power to see to it that we are able to continue to pay an affordable price for our petrol.

How Serious is This Really?

 
Ok. I’m human. Sometimes my body eliminates waste regularly, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve never discussed this with a doctor. I never thought it was that big of a deal. So when I see commercials about people who can’t play with their grandchildren or go swimming because they have “occasional irregularity” I am confused. Is it just for dramatic effect that these commercials make it sound like a crippling disease that leaves sufferers bedridden and sick? I don’t know how serious this really is, so I hope the people who are suffering from this condition aren’t offended by my ignorant notion that if we eat some veggies and yogurt it should help us feel better.

This is not a question…I’m upset!!!

 

I was at a class yesterday on how to punch up my resume. The group was small and personable, and we spent some time off topic, usually for jokes. But one of the things we got off task for was a discussion of whether or not to shake hands at the end of an interview. The consensus was no, unless the interviewer extended his hand first, do not offer yours because of the fear of flu. One gentleman had to leave before we were finished, and the teacher extended his hand. The man, who I must add looked remarkably like John Ritter, with perfect comic timing shrunk back in horror that the hand was extended. We all laughed.

Secretly though, I was really bothered by the whole notion that we can never touch each other because of fear of disease. Now, this is not a scientific statistic I’m sharing, but in my experience, the people I have known in my life who feared germs the most have been sick more often than “regular folks.” But I’ve read scientific articles that the fear of germs has led to people being sicker because their immune systems are not faced with disease, and therefore they have no defenses when diseases strike. Our immune systems must be challenged in order to work. That’s why injecting a small amount of disease can give us immunity to certain microbes. In my life, I have never had a flu shot, and have had the actual flu only one time. One time. I know people who get flu shots every year, and still sometimes get sick because the inoculation was not for the correct strain. We evolved immune systems that help us fight disease. According to the most basic evolutionary principle, the ones who are not protected have some other weakness that makes them more vulnerable to illness, and they get sick and do not survive. But I am not an epidemiologist, so I won’t spend anymore time on the science of germ warfare.

The thing that bothered me about the whole conversation yesterday was the idea that we as humans should not touch each other. Women of my age (early 50s) and had or ever hoped to have children were taught that babies can literally die if they are not touched enough. We not only evolved immune systems, we survived as a species because of our sense of community. We need each other-and the simple act of shaking hands is the minimum demonstration of our attachment as a species. If we touch someone who has been exposed to a virus but isn’t sick we might actually get a bit of immunization. (That’s just an unprovable theory of mine.) But we connect with each other by touching. I like the comfort of the touch of a hand on my shoulder, a firm handshake, or having someone pat me on the back. It makes me feel less alone, and during the last couple of months my need for that has been powerfully illuminated.

In conlusion, as I said in the beginning, in my tiny piece of the world, anecdotally, the people I’ve known who fear germs the most get sick more often. Therefore, I believe that fear is a dangerous disease that leads to our bodies not being able to fight disease. Statistically, people die from the flu every year. Every year, 34,000 people die of the flu. But people with a healthy immune response are the ones who will survive. The only thing we have to fear is fear. So lets all come together for a big group hug.