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I haven’t written a piece in a while because, well, I have been discouraged and frustrated and sad. It’s difficult to watch family and friends struggle. I wish I could just shrug my shoulders and, ‘meh, not my problem’, move on. I can’t. I wish I had the ability to ‘not care’, but I do care and I care a lot. For most of my life I just watched and absorbed what was happening around me, crying silently into my pillow, hiding in books, immersing myself in movies, kept my eyes averted and focused on my job and raising my family. That kept me busy enough to bury all the sadness really, really deep. Sure there would be moments when I allowed myself to cry when no one else was around or fake it when I got caught; “It’s just allergies.” Folks, I just can’t do it anymore. When you make the decision to involve yourself in your community, whether it be through volunteering at the homeless shelter or devoting time at the local school or even become involved in the local (and national) political world- well, you can no longer pretend that there are not lots and lots of people out there who are really hurting. Hurting badly. Once you know, once you see it; you can’t un-know it. At least I can’t. Here is what I can’t un-see and what I especially cannot un-feel. Damn, how I wish I could un-feel it. But for me there is no way to ignore what is – out there.

I see angry and hurt people and the tide of them just keeps coming, it fills my peripheral vision even if I try to put blinders on- the suffering comes right in front of my face. I couldn’t not see the card board shacks in Mexico on the tour bus taking us from the luxurious, extravagant cruise ship to La Bufadora.The thing is, so many of us don’t realize that same poverty is right here- right around our own corners. It’s not just in ‘other countries’ or even other states. It’s here where we all live..  At a gathering with friends I saw a ragged woman walking down the street while we were gathered having crackers and cheese and enjoying each other’s company but there she was coming into my range of vision, carrying her worldly goods with her, as she has to everywhere she goes because she has no home to go to. She just walks and walks. I am not smarter than her, and I am not sure I worked harder- I am sure I am more fortunate than her. Life’s deck has dealt me a better hand.

I know the roll of the dice (and life is a roll of the dice no matter what some may try to convince you) has spun me some pretty good numbers. I know because I am watching millennials make the same choices I did; go to the same schools and colleges I did. They are working their best at similar jobs that I did. Yet, they are not even close to where I was, what I had at the same stage of life. Because it ISN’T THE SAME. The rules, the game, the playing field- all of it. It’s different. We set it up really nicely for them, made it look so pretty and tangible and then we, collectively, society, pulled the rug out from under them. And I do mean all of us, the ones who came before they did. We did it bit by bit, slowly, a portion here, a bite there, a law here, a regulation there. It’s easy to blame it on the famous 1% and they certainly did most of the damage but we didn’t try to stop them, not hard enough anyway. Some of us checked out. Some stopped voting. Some thought they could actually compete in the big leagues and failed. Many of us made excuses like, “It’s always been this way,” or “It’s not that bad, at least we still have a job.” or “the pendulum will swing back.” So while we were spending every dime of our ever shrinking paycheck, while our savings were being stolen from us, and our choices being limited we were robbed and the worst part is; we didn’t try to do anything about it. We just numbed it with alcohol, drugs, bad habits, whatever- we just thought the problem was too big for little us.

Now we have scraps, we have limited job prospects and those jobs aren’t guaranteed with hard work and dedication- it doesn’t matter. We can be replaced in a moment with someone from another country or a robot. Housing is a crisis in most parts of the country- simply unaffordable for too many. Our cost of living steadily increases but our pay rate isn’t. We were warned about this, many philosophers, professors, journalists, pundits, scientists, writers and others warned us that the rich were getting richer, politics was getting more and more corrupt, and technology was going to replace jobs-- there were scores of folks who tried to warn us. Of course we didn’t listen, most of us have carried on the behavior of doing our homework at the last minute and even those who did try to plan for it could not have seen the enormous wealth grab of raiding retirement savings from people just as they were about to retire. Some did try to prepare but the GREED was too large and consuming.

All this we all know, it has been discussed everywhere at too a great length. Discussed and argued. And that is where I come to the point I want to make- the arguing. I’m exhausted by the arguing. We argue among ourselves, we watch people argue on 24/7 news stations, we witness and participate in arguments on social media. And since 2008 what has the arguing got us? Better wages, jobs, housing benefits? Nope, not at all. Because we are arguing among ourselves while the White Hats carve up more cheese for themselves. They are gorging themselves on cheese while we are fighting over scraps of rind. And I know you think it’s not you that is being blind. I know because I don’t think I’m blind either. I consider myself educated (I have an advanced degree for heaven’s sake) and I have kept on educating myself my entire life. So I can’t be blind, can I? It must be you. Right?

That’s the dilemma, which one of us is blind? Maybe we both are, a little bit. Maybe some are blinder than others. It turns it may be hard for us to even determine our blindness. It seems that we need to really work and pay attention by listening and reading and learning about what we think we believe. “Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves.” Margaret Heffernan Everyone has some predisposition: you, me, and everyone; let’s start from there. Let’s acknowledge that we might be wrong because if we do that we are opening the door to our mind a crack and allowing some light o come throw. If we can concede we might be mistaken, we may learn something. More importantly we may be able to see an issue from a different perspective. We can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do. As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: What could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? Just what am I missing here?” Margaret Heffernan

What has been bothering me lately is the arguing and fighting I see everywhere, not just social media but in my daily life with people I interact with and I am guilty too. I argue with people in meetings and conversations. I don’t like it, I hate to admit it, but I do. Why are we fighting among ourselves? That’s the question we should be asking. Perhaps if we answered that question first we may not be so quick to battle. My hypothesis is this: We are fighting among ourselves because we are angry about our lives. We are angry about jobs, money, security, and homes. We know in our gut that our lives are a daily struggle, we also know why- because of the severe disproportionate dissemination of goods and services. This planet could supply each of us with sufficient supplies but a small portion of the population controls who gets what and leaves us with small pickings. We all know that living beings start fighting when supplies get low because we worry we may not get any tomorrow. Or the next day. So we begin to hoard and fight. The problem, that I see, is we are fighting the wrong people. We should not be fighting ourselves we should be fighting those who hold the supplies and control how much is disbursed.

Have you lost friends in the past couple of years? People who you thought you knew really well and recently found out that they have values inconsistent with yours? I have and it troubles me, it isn’t easy for me to let go of friends, it hurts my heart. Why have I let go? Because I had to set boundaries, I have to protect the heart that is hurting from further damage. As I have withdrawn and set confines of who and how I will engage with my fellow humans I have been mocked for it. It is like a no win situation. If I don’t fight with people I am a coward or ‘free speech oppressor’. If I argue and fight with others I am ‘part of the problem’. Is there no area in between where we can discuss with resorting to insults, maligning and bickering? (The Idiot Free Zone tries to be that place.) Why can’t we have rules of engagement for discussion?

In my little county (54K population) we have a bit of a civil war going on among Democrats. People who used to be friends aren't any more. What are we fighting about? 2 Democratic candidates, both very well qualified. Insults, public maligning, hounding, you name it, we're doing it. From day one when the two candidates made themselves known to our district I have said I would support either one. For a whole year I said that. I have never said anything negative about either candidate in public. Then our state had a convention where we voted to endorse one of them. Candidate A won by 66%. Candidate B only got 19%. Instead of honoring her pledge to withdraw if she lost the endorsement she is still in the race so our county Dems are continuing the fight. Since then I have been asking for civil discussion about this. I have NEVER said, "You CANNOT discuss this on social media." NEVER have I said anyone CANNOT say what they want. What I have SUGGESTED is that we not fight about the candidates on social media and that we not tear each other apart while doing it. Now I am being accused of suppressing 'free speech'. Why do try to we try to demolish each other? Why can't we have rational discussions instead of civil wars about issues? Why do we insult and malign anyone who has a different opinion? Can we not talk, discuss, express without disparaging each other?

Fortunately, I am seeing evidence that I am not alone in my anxiety about our current state of divisiveness. Jonah Goldberg, conservative syndicated columnist, author, and commentator is also concerned about our inability to have rational discourse.   As he says, “We choose to make the decisions we do…” We choose to fight over discuss. I agree with Mr. Goldberg that tribalism is leading us towards a decline. “Our human nature hasn’t changed, what has changed are our values, our norms, our institutions and if you don’t have gratitude for them and if you don’t try to protect them they’ll go away.” And I especially agree with him when he says that we have developed an attitude of: You can do almost any horrible thing if it annoys the right people. We shouldn’t defend our own team just because they are our own team. If they are wrong it’s ok to admit that. And we can admit it calmly and rationally without offense.

I am NOT saying I agree with everything Jonah writes about, I am saying I agree that we need to learn how to respectfully disagree AND COMPROMISE. I don’t suggest that we have to agree on every issue, there are times when I disagree with my own mother and that woman is one of the most awesome people I know. Sometimes we just don’t agree on stuff and that’s okay. We can discuss serious topics without insulting each other.

If we don’t learn how to talk to each other, if we don’t start demanding more respect and less corruption form our leaders, including business leaders we are dividing and conquering ourselves and they are laughing in their gold and crystal mansions. I believe we are at the precipice of WWIII (and I sure hope I am wrong) and it is up to us to stop fighting among ourselves and insist on a better life for ourselves and our children and their children. The ingredients for extended huge world conflict are already being mixed together. There are many who are eager and looking forward to the destruction of our government as author, Katherine Belew details in her book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.   The preppers, the white supremacists, the metal militia are gathering stock, hoarding weapons and if you aren’t white they don’t want you around. I suggest you listen to the interview or read the book. The division in our culture is really deep and 45’s presidency should scare the crap out of you. Really, we are in scary times. But we can change that, right now, with the very next discussion we have.  

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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  • Can't tell you how often I've felt the same depressed way since we went to war in Iraq, and not just about America (of which I feel and am a legal a part), but also my native Denmark, and Europe, with how we behave with the refugees of the chaos we sow wherever we go with our aggressive Western greed... and those less fortunate at home, a lot to do with greed also. Here in Denmark, as in America, we've got the same bullshit of a Special Interest Government, regardless of which party wins enough mandates to form a government. The magnitude of suffering in Denmark is not like in America, but it is rapidly approaching that with each year's national budget. What I am seeing happening in Denmark and Europe, and especially the USA, makes me often want to turn in my membership to the human race. But there is always someone to remind me that the human potential sits ever at the ready to manifest. And for me it starts by offering a bit of my humanity to someone in pain.

    But sometimes I do wonder if I am too naively hopeful in the face of the beast, the +2000 billionaires we've allowed to grow on the planet, who could in one instant end poverty in the world a few times over. I think the world is more dangerous than ever, especially with #45 on one axis of the beast's power. But the beast is equally present in the governments and major political forces of every single country, every city, of the world. Some of those countries may not yet have caught up with the magnitude of suffering willfully being engender in America, but we're all approaching it.

  • I can emphasize with your frustration and your sadness but I also recognize that conflict is inevitable and frequently necessary to foment change.

    When has civilization ever achieved progress without conflict? This country was born in conflict and eventually violence. Violence that was not supported by all or even a majority. The decades leading up to the civil war were fraught with conflict even before the war started and in at least one instance on the floor of the US Senate.

    Would we have ever passed a Civil Rights Act or a Voting Rights Act with out the Freedom Riders or Selma?

    A general of the civil rights era is quoted, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

    He appears to have found that notion in a collection of “Ten Sermons of Religion” by Theodore Parker, published in 1853:

    "Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."

    I attended a circle discussion moderated by one of our Community College professors on several political topics. The participants behaved themselves and remained cordial. The discussion was rife with misinformation and privilege. I wanted to scream and rebut some statements rigorously but I held my tongue in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, speaking only to offer easily re-searchable points of information, never a personal opinion. I suspect many other participants behaved similarly. The sponsor seemed satisfied but [i] see no actual good coming from it.

    Tomorrow, I will be back in the trenches, fighting.

  • Debbi, I wish I hadn't been so occupied by relative negativity from Denmark in my first comment to you. I was kind of crushed yesterday by how the Danish government totally crushed the ambitions of teachers for their students, crushed our teacher's union. I've always been inspired in my own work through your writing.
    Don't give up please..