Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finding Your Worth

I have become something of a resident expert on Disney movies lately, having seen pretty much every Disney princess more times than I care to count. And although animated features are not really at the top of my must-see list, I find myself enjoying them *the first time* I see them in the theaters with my little ones.

Moana was a good one, in my humble Disney-expert opinion. It wasn't just that her hair was awesome and she sailed her boat like a girl boss, but there was such a beautiful message about finding your true worth and identity inside you, even when everyone else abandons you and it seems that you have failed.

This theme peeked out in three places: in Moana's response to Maui's story of abandonment by his birth mother, in her decision to continue the mission on her own even after it seemed that they had failed and Maui had abandoned her, and in her final encounter with the volcanic, lava-hurling monster who turns out to be the one they came to save and restore. In each occasion, there is a message that you are worth more than your circumstances, or what other people have done to you in life. Your worth is inside of you and there is still so much that you can become.

This message struck me because I have been mulling over an article about the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, and an unrelated article about Iraqi boys who were forced to become child soldiers for ISIS. It wasn't just that these children were abused and victimized. It's that they were forced to become victimizers; in some cases, they had to kill their own parents.

In these cases, the postwar question then becomes: how do you help these children to find their true selves after all they have seen and done? How do you help them find their true worth after their own actions seem to tell them and the rest of society that they are less than zero?

It would seem that there is no hope for such children... but interestingly, a Harvard scholar named Theresa Betancourt is finding ways to help former child soldiers in Sierra Leone navigate that internal hell and come out stronger on the other side.

Her research shows that the devastating effects on their psychology cannot be underestimated. They suffer profound guilt, shame, nightmares, and social exclusion. Girls who were conscripted as sex slaves also suffer PTSD and depression, in addition to unwanted pregnancies and the label of being "impure," even though they were forcibly raped.

But there are remedies that work. Betancourt emphasizes a community approach that teaches children their own worth in a stable social context: "Group interpersonal therapy is based on the idea that the roots of depression, and the mechanisms for healing it, lie in people’s relationships with others. Young people who have all experienced the same ordeal can share support, wisdom, and understanding," Betancourt explains.

"The key is being able to put a word to their feelings: sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, loss of energy, the sense that life is not worth living. We spend a lot of time trying to learn local terms for emotional suffering. Once intervention and problem solving begins, these young people no longer feel alone. Their symptoms start to lift.”

It is so deeply telling that the path to healing after abandonment begins with someone reaching out a hand and saying, "You are not alone" and "You have value." It seems that we cannot heal ourselves, and so much of what is most precious and valuable in us can only be drawn out by the gaze of another who truly sees us and yet still loves us.

Family and "normal" responsibilities are also crucial. "When parents openly embrace their sons and daughters and bring them back into the fold, it not only sustains the child but also sends a signal to the larger community that the boy or girl is worthy of acceptance and care. Going to school, doing homework, and graduating likewise foster a sense of normalcy and regaining lost time."

She contrasts her approach with that of the more typical Western strategy -- which some have tried to apply in postwar societies in Africa and elsewhere -- of bringing in a psychologist with no personal relationship to the children, having the victims recount their horrible experiences a few times (essentially reliving the hell), and then leaving them after a few weeks of "therapy." Betancourt says that this approach actually damages the children even more than having no therapy at all, because the effort of opening their soul to a total stranger is compounded by the fact that this stranger then leaves after a short time. It is a second abandonment.

The article about child soldiers for ISIS is even more painful, since the situation is ongoing, whereas the conflict in Sierra Leone has long died down. And the suffering of those children is just one piece in a much larger mosaic of anger, fear, atrocity, and revenge that has been poisoning so many lives. War does not end after the guns fall silent. It continues echoing in the minds and hearts of people burdened by nightmares, guilt, shame, fear, anger, mistrust, and isolation.

And then there are also the silent sufferers everywhere who have not lived through war in the strict sense, but who carry their own invisible burdens and who question the value of their own life. I think Betancourt's method also applies to them. Imagine what it would be like if people were able to find a community where they could open their hearts and be received with love.

I think that's what the Church should be today: basically a spiritual hospital where the walking wounded are the most welcome of all. The deepest healing comes from God, but it comes through people, and people of good will can be that conduit. We can't see God directly; we can only catch glimpses of him in the love of other people, and in the incredible lightness and joy of experiencing forgiveness.

But those little glimpses and experiences can be so powerful. And when the healed become healers, the vicious cycle of war and spiritual destruction is held at bay.

Betancourt, who has seen enough horror in the stories of former child soldiers, points to signs of hope. "When people think of child soldiers, they think of people who are terribly damaged in some way. But I’ve seen very much the opposite: tremendous stories of resilience, of acceptance, of love in families."

Bottom line: there is still always so much that we can become, but we will always need each other to find out who we truly are -- and who we are not.



Friday, November 11, 2016

A mis amigos mexicanos desde Trumplandia

Amigos mexicanos,

Es el 10 de noviembre, poco después del triunfo de un candidato presidencial que los ha insultado repetidamente, que ha prometido edificar un muro para dividir nuestros países y que quiere deportar a 11 millones de inmigrantes indocumentados de los Estados Unidos, entre otras maravillas.

Esto va encima de los dolores de cabeza que ya tienen: problemas de seguridad, falta de trabajo, y en Veracruz, un ex-gobernador prófugo que robó millones y millones de pesos de la gente pobre, que ahora sobreviven día tras día en situaciones de precariedad, esperando pensiones que nunca llegan.

Con las dificultades que ya tienen, y que sobrellevan con un fuerte dosis de humor mexicano, y quizás con un poco de fatalismo y resignación, se entiende perfectamente por qué este último insulto -- la elección de Donald Trump -- les da un asco profundo, dolor, y preocupación por el futuro. Muchos de nosotros nos sentimos igual... pero ustedes tienen aún más derecho de quejarse, porque esta elección puede percibirse como un rechazo no merecido de todo Mexico y de cada mexicano.

Aunque puede parecer como si todo el país (o al menos, la mitad) sufrió un brote psicótico de racismo y xenofobia, quiero decirles que no es tan sencillo. Digo, es indudable que existe un racismo real y patente entre algunos fanáticos de Trump, pero en realidad hay todo un cóctel de causas que no tiene mucho que ver con ustedes. Los explico abajo.

Pero primero, hay que contar la historia del proceso político que nos llevó a este momento. Porque eso tiene mucho que ver también.

Un proceso electoral en dos fases

Como en México, el proceso electoral se despliegue en dos fases: las primarias, en que los miembros de cada partido eligen un candidato para representarlos, y luego la batalla por la presidencia.

La elección primaria para los Republicanos fue extraordinaria. Había ni más ni menos de 17 candidatos, mientras que los Democratos tenían solo dos (Hillary Clinton y Bernie Sanders). Para los Republicanos, esta abundancia no les favoreció, porque había tantas opciones -- y varias muy buenas -- que el apoyo se diluyó entre personas moderadas y sensatas como Marco Rubio, John Kasich y Jeb Bush. Donald Trump pudo ganar tanta fuerza en esa fase del proceso porque las buenas opciones en contra de él tenían que competir entre ellos. Si el partido Republicano hubiera puesto solo dos o tres candidatos para las primarias, lo más probable es que no hubiéramos tenido el mismo resultado.

Lo cierto es que muchos Republicanos querían otro candidato que no fuera Trump, pero una vez que ganó las primarias, tuvieron que aceptarlo -- aunque con muchos recelos. Conozco a muchos que estaban profundamente incómodos, ofendidos, disgustados, y consternados por sus comentarios ignorantes, por sus propuestas tan severas en contra de los inmigrantes, y por su misma manera de ser. Esta gente no quiso a Trump. Pero después de las primarias, fue su única opción para derrotar a Hillary Clinton y para evitar que los Demócratas consolidaran el poder.

Lo cierto es que para muchos, la elección no fue por Trump, sino a pesar de Trump. Para muchos, fue un voto más en contra de Hillary que a favor de Trump.

A mi modo de ver, hay 5 razones principales que motivaron el voto para Trump a pesar de Trump. No son los únicos, pero yo las veo como los "heavy hitters" que impactaron más. Yo diría que los verdaderos fanáticos de Trump se movieron sobre todo por las primeras dos causas, detalladas abajo.

1. Los efectos de globalización en la economía

Es cierto que la globalización y el comercio libre son avances muy positivas. Pero en el plazo corto, el efecto en algunos sectores de Estados Unidos ha sido fatal. Muchas fábricas cerraron y más de 700,000 trabajos desvanecieron después de NAFTA y también por la presión de China. Comunidades enteras acabaron debilitadas, porque el desempleo siempre conlleva muchos problemas sociales y todo está interconectado.

Una calle en Detroit, antes y después.
En el plazo largo, el libre comercio estimula las economías, abre nuevas posibilidades y nos permite comprar más con menos dinero. Pero eso no ayuda mucho a la gente que ya se encuentra en desempleo permanente y cuyas comunidades empiezan a decaer porque las fuentes de ingreso desvanecieron de un día para otro. En algunos casos, llegan a ser lugares tristes, marcados por la sombra de una depresión tanto económica que moral y social.

Lo triste es que cuando la gente en esas comunidades fueron con sus representantes en el Congreso, no encontraron respuesta. Desde Washington, había una falta de propuestas y programas para ayudar a la gente. Hasta la fecha, hacen falta programas de educación y capacitación para que esa gente pueda prepararse para otros trabajos. Muchos viven de día a día.

Y no solo faltaban medios concretos sino muchos se vieron ridiculizados por los elites como gente "ignorante" que no sabía adaptar a la economía del nuevo siglo. Eso enfurece, como un comentario tipo "hijos de la prole". Una cosa es encontrarse en la miseria de día a noche, pero otra es ver que le gente que debe de ayudarte no lo hace, y que además parece tener desdén para ti y tus problemas. Y de repente, viene un multimillonario que sabe expresar ese sentimiento de un sistema económico injusto en que hay dos Americas: uno para los ganadores y otro para los perdedores.

Esta gente, que se sintió como los perdedores en la economía actual, eran los más fanáticos de Trump en las primarias. Precisamente porque se sintieron como perdedores, resonaba mucho el mensaje de "Make America great again" y de "ganar, ganar, ganar". Seguramente Trump tuvo otros seguidores antes de las primarias, pero el núcleo estaba compuesto de estas personas que se encontraron fuera de las bonanzas del libre comercio en un mundo globalizado, e invisibles para sus propios representantes. El sistema no funcionaba para ellos; ni siquiera los tomaba en cuenta.

Y esto nos lleva al segundo "motor" del triunfo de Trump, el encanto de un hombre "anti-político" que no es parte del sistema que les fallaba tanto.

2. El deseo por alguien 'de fuera', el 'outsider' 

Esta preferencia para el "outsider" también está pasando en los rangos de los Demócratas. Bernie Sanders fue toda una estrella porque denunciaba lo que llamaba los "1%", los más ricos de la población que saben manipular el sistema para su propio provecho, estafando a la gente ordinaria y a la gente pobre. Imagino que este problema es bastante conocido en México también.

Como Bernie, Trump daba voz a esa frustración de la gente que sabía que los ricos y los poderosos en el juego político sabían manipular el sistema para su propio bien. Y de verdad, claro que es así. Lobbying, horse trading, el quid pro quo, yo te doy y tú me das -- todo eso que vimos en House of Cards pasa, aunque hay una fachada bonita del ejercicio responsable y legitimo del poder. Y con la globalización, las ganancias y las pérdidas se acentúan.

Grafica mostrando las ganancias del 0.01% en los últimos 30 años, comparado con los demás.
El círculo naranja, la más grande, representa las ganancias de una fracción muy chiquita de
toda la población.
Después del colapso económico de 2008, estos sentimientos empezaron a crecer más y más, y no solo en los Estados Unidos. Yo diría que la salida de Gran Bretaña de la Unión Europea -- el Brexit -- también tuvo algo que ver con esta frustración en la clase obradora.

En Icelandia, la gente esta apoyando el Pirate Party (Partido de Piratas) que definió su plataforma por medio de crowdsharing, y que es bastante anarquista. Su primer ministro ya resignó. La ultra-derecha Marine le Pen en Francia está ganando cada vez más apoyo. Este año, Austria casi eligió un presidente neo-fascista en Norbert Hofer. Y en México, ya están diciendo que Lopez Obrador y el partido La Morenita van a seguir creciendo, nutridos de la misma frustración popular. Son reacciones de ambos lados de la gama política, y lo que tienen en común es ese grito de frustración con un sistema manipulada que los excluye. Los ricos se hacen cada vez más ricos, y los pobres no logran escapar de la pobreza.

Trump supo presentarse como alguien que sabe como juegan, pero que ya es aliado del pueblo. Se presenta como alguien que va a "limpiar a Washington" de toda esa corrupción que beneficia a los políticos y sus amigos ricos, y que estafa la gente ordinaria.

Y esto nos lleva al otro motor del éxito de Trump: el odio a Hillary Clinton como parte de una red privilegiada de elites.

3. Hillary Clinton como la personificación de privilegio basado en la corrupción 

En Estados Unidos, tenemos una larga historia con Hillary Clinton, y para muchos, ha sido bastante negativa. Yo sé que al lado de Donald Trump (por ejemplo, en los debates) se ve como toda una dama, pero para muchos, Hillary Clinton es tan corrupta como Elba Esther Gordillo, pero con menos cirugía plástico, menos Chanel, y más aires de superioridad moral.

¿Qué ha hecho Hillary Clinton para ganar el rechazo y la desconfianza de 70% de la población norteamericana? Básicamente, muchos no confían en ella porque se sabe, desde los años noventas, que ha sido involucrada con su esposo en muchos escándalos que han sido ampliamente documentados, y que sabe mentir con una fluidez y facilidad que asombra. Alguien la llamó una "mentirosa compulsiva" y hay algo de verdad en eso. Lo vimos incluso durante los debates, así que es reciente.

En cuanto a sus juegos sucios, voy a hablar nada más de uno en particular: su fundación.

Después de que Bill Clinton fue quitado de la presidencia por perjurio y obstrucción de justicia en la investigación sobre su relación ilícita con Monica Lewinsky, los Clintons empezaron a monetizar el carisma de Bill Clinton y las muchas conexiones políticas de ambos. Su fundación (The Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation) empezó a recibir millones y millones de dólares de gente de Estados Unidos, de empresas, y también de gobiernos extranjeros, por ejemplo, de Saudi Arabia. Hay muchas preguntas y conexiones sospechosas: gente y/o empresas que donaron a la Fundación cuando Hillary fue Secretaria de Estado acabaron recibiendo beneficios para su país o compañía. ¿Coincidencia? No si pasa repetidamente. Aunque nada ha sido probado definitivamente, se sabe que había un sistema de "pay for play" -- en breve, con una donación jugosa a los Clintons y a su fundación, se podría obtener acceso a ciertas ventajas del gobierno, lo que está completamente ajena de la ética para un oficial del gobierno. Muchos de estos movidos han sido documentados en el libro Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.

En fin, todos sabemos que el poder y el dinero son intercambiables. El dinero puede comprar el poder, y el poder se puede monetizar. Hillary sabe muy bien manejar ese nexo entre el poder y el dinero, haciendo palanca para ella y también para sus aliados, sean de Wall Street o de gobiernos extranjeros. Es toda una red internacional, no tan lejos de la realidad desenmascarada por los Panama Papers, aunque de forma diferente.

Pero aquí va el contraste: mientras se enriquecía, y mientras forjaba alianzas de poder y dinero con una red amplia de amigos y aliados, no le daba vergüenza hablar muy piadosamente de sus 30 años de servicio público "para el bien de los niños y de las familias", como si fuera una Madre Teresa de la política. Y eso nos lleva al cuarto problema...

4. El tema del aborto 

Hay algunos votantes en Estados Unidos que están muy enfocados en el tema del aborto, porque lo ven como prueba de fuego de nuestra integridad como una sociedad fundada en derechos humanos: la vida, la libertad y el derecho a la felicidad. Según este modo de ver las cosas, una cultura que destruye a sus propios bebés tiene un problema mucho más serio que la economía o el cambio climático. Se ve como un problema de derechos humanos que nos está destruyendo desde dentro porque mina nuestro carácter como pueblo, como sociedad.

Hillary Clinton tiene todo el apoyo de Planned Parenthood, que donó 30 millones de dólares a su campaña presidencial. Aunque todos saben que Hillary, como cada Demócrata, está a favor del derecho de elegir, un momento clave y revelador ocurrió durante el tercer debate con Trump, cuando dijo que apoya el aborto incluso en el tercer trimestre, cuando el bebé está al punto de nacer. Lo explico en términos de la salud de la mamá, etcetera, pero Trump supo capitalizar en ese momento para marcar un contraste. Mientras yo no creo personalmente que Trump será muy leal a la causa pro-vida, hay muchos que ven en él a un aliado inesperado. Así que aunque no les cae muy bien en muchos aspectos, lo ven como el mal menor porque Hillary apoya lo que es, para muchos, la infanticida: la matanza de un bebé que está al punto de nacer.

Para estos votantes -- y hay muchos -- la batalla en contra del aborto también requiere una Corte Suprema conservadora que derrocaría Roe vs. Wade, la ley que legalizó el aborto en Estados Unidos en 1973.

Y esto nos lleva al quinto punto, que es la Suprema Corte.

5. La Suprema Corte 

Los nueve ministros de la Supreme Corte con Scalia
(en frente, segundo de la izquierda).
En total, hay nueve ministros en la Suprema Corte y lo más probable es que cuatro sillas van a abrirse durante los próximo cuatro años. El juez muy conservador Anthony Scalia se murió a inicios de este año y el Senado, dominado por los Republicanos, no quiso ni debatir para aprobar el remplazo que propuso Obama. Entones, su silla queda abierto. Luego hay tres ministros que tienen la edad de 83, 80 y 78. La edad media para jubilarse de la Suprema Corte es 79. En una corte de nueve sillas, un cambia de cuatro altera todo el balance.

Dado que la Suprema Corte tiene el poder para interpretar la Constitución, hay muchos que desean asegurar que la Corte sea más en linea con la manera "originalista" de interpretar la Constitución, en lugar de la enfoque actual, que es más activista-liberal. Es un juego de poder que muchos toman muy en serio, porque si la Corte se pone más liberal de lo que ya es, puede cambiar drásticamente las leyes y la forma de vida en nuestro país. Para los conservadores, se ve como una política de seguros. Quieren asegurar que la interpretación de la Constitución sigue lo que querían decir los fundadores de la nación, y que no se cambie según las tendencias de la cultura.

Para muchos, esta preocupación también tiene mucho que ver con el derecho de llevar armas. Este derecho está protegido por el 2nd Amendment, pero hay jueces liberales que quieren reinterpretarlo para quitarlo. Al menos, así va el temor. Hay otros temas de política social también, pero no hay espacio para comentarlos todos aquí.

Una mezcla de motivaciones

Como he tratado de mostrar, la realidad es que hay mucho en esta elección que no tiene tanto que ver con México, ni con actitudes de racismo. Sí existe el racismo en algunos de sus seguidores -- no se puede negar -- pero la mayoría de la población que lo eligió fue la misma que eligió y re-eligió a Obama. No creo que brotó un racismo nuevo en los últimos cuatro años cuando Obama todavía es un presidente muy popular.

Sin embargo, yo sé que las minorías en Estados Unidos y los Latinos andan preguntándose si debajo del superficie de muchos gringos aparentemente amigables, hay algo más oscuro, quizás un odio escondido.

Yo diría que no. Yo no creo que la elección de Trump revela un océano de malevolencia dentro de los corazones de los norteamericanos. Ni veo que muchos apoyan a cada política que ha propuesto. Hay un grupo de fanáticos que lo apoyan en todo. Pero después de las primarias, la gran mayoría de la gente votó por varias razones. En fin, somos tan polarizados hoy en día que muchos votaron más en contra de Hillary que por Trump, y vice versa.

¿Y ahora qué? Pues, estamos fritos. Aunque Trump supo dar voz al dolor de la gente, lo cierto es que sus políticas no son la respuesta apta y van a intensificar su sufrimiento. Yo me estoy preparando para una economía en declive y para mucha división y descontento entre la población. Va a perder su popularidad con sus seguidores una vez que se dan cuenta de que no puede cumplir sus promesas. Mientras tanto, la presidencia ha perdido algo de su prestigio, tanto en Estado Unidos como el escenario internacional. Espero sinceramente que Trump se ponga en orden y que se rodee de gente capacitada e inteligente, pero no sé qué va a pasar. No tengo muchas esperanzas, pero también quiero ser al menos un poquito optimista. Quizás habrá un milagro y no será tan loco en el futuro. Su conferencia hoy con Obama fue muy cordial y todos estaban bien sorprendidos. Yo creo que ahora vamos a ver su lado "nice" y conciliador, porque ya ganó la batalla. Esperemos que llegue a romper sus promesas.

En resumen, lamento decir que tuvimos un fracaso electoral en nuestro país, pero tiene que ver más con nuestros problemas internos que con ustedes. Acuérdense, "it's not you, it's us." Y a ver qué nos traen estos cuatro años.

Saludos respetuosos,
Una gringa






Sunday, October 9, 2016

False Paradigms of the Abortion Battle

Like many of us, I've been watching the Trump candidacy implode after the recent revelation of his lewd comments. It's not surprising but it's still scandalous. It strips away all illusions that this man could be worthy of the Oval Office.

And yet, some people continue to insist that Trump is the only hope of the pro-life movement, because "abortion is the only issue that matters." It's the defining issue for a presidency, some say, for it sets the moral character of the nation. So they put all their hope in a pro-life candidate because they believe that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe vs. Wade and turn the tide on the culture of death. These are the people who say, "Focus on the platform, not on the person." As in, don't pay attention to Trump's character or personality or anything he says, even though he will be the face of America to the whole world and also to our children. Just think about the things that the conservative movement will be able to achieve with him, whereas the pro-life movement and religion in general will be squashed under Hillary.

This is short-sighted and wrong-headed. And here's why.

There is an assumption embedded into all of this, and that assumption is that the hinge for turning abortion around is to be found in the legal system, in the exercise of power from the top. I don't deny that laws carry pedagogical weight, and that they are an important lever of power. But I think the true lever for overturning Roe vs. Wade is not going to come through the law or through the exercise of power. Legal decisions are completely sterile and impermanent if there is no change of heart, or change of mind paving the way. The real power is not to impose something on an unwilling and unconvinced population, but to persuade and to win hearts so that the law expresses something that many people already fervently believe to be right.

Case in point: we witnessed a tipping point last year with the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the Supreme Court decision was preceded by cultural sea change, a widespread acceptance of something that had been immensely unpopular just ten years before. In May 2015, a Gallup poll found that 60% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. So for most people, the court only confirmed something they already stood behind.

This is a lesson in how change happens. You can't force something on people who don't agree with it and expect to get by with no backlash. Some pro-lifers expect that an authoritarian Trump presidency and a future conservative Supreme Court will force the issue. This is an unlikely scenario for two reasons: first, how exactly would America's most unpopular president in history -- presiding over the most polarized (and probably increasingly Democratic) Congress in history -- ever get his nominees appointed? And second, the next president, guaranteed to be a Democrat, would simply reverse as much as he could. And let's not forget the grassroots backlash from an angry populace. We would end up worse off than before. Forced gains are unstable gains.

But it's a different story if a sufficient majority -- not necessarily an absolute majority -- already wants it. The law is more likely to stick if the prevailing sentiment supports it. So instead of looking for the outward victories of laws and restrictions, we should be focusing on the Kulturkampf, the culture war. Hearts and minds, baby, hearts and minds!

How? I think there is a way, but there is also an obstacle that prevents us from seeing it clearly.

The obstacle is that we are stuck inside a false paradigm. The pro-choice vs. pro-life divide is structured around two compelling values that are set into an artificial opposition. Pro-lifers uphold the value of the babies, the most innocent of us all, the little heartbeats that can be heard as early as five weeks. And pro-choicers uphold the value of women, particularly of their self-determination as a keystone of their dignity and freedom. Pro-life is about babies. Pro-choice is about women. How terribly ironic that the closest embrace in nature -- between a mother and her child -- has become such a battleground of false oppositions.

In my opinion, only the pro-life movement has the power to break this false paradigm. How? By reaching out to the positive values that have made the pro-choice movement resonate with so many people. Pro-lifers need to continue being champions for unborn babies, but they also need to be the greatest champions of women the world has ever seen. Certainly, many pro-lifers already are! But the rest of us need to follow suit.

There is a special opportunity here. Think about it: the pro-choice side cannot coopt the value of babies. It would negate its own platform to give extra value to the baby, which is already referred to in reductive language as a fetus or a ball of tissue. But the pro-life side can certainly reach out to the value of women without negating our deep concern for the baby. We can do so much if we widen our embrace to help women more, to give them a greater sense of freedom and self-determination, to give them more options than just abortion. The pro-life side has to empower women and trust women like never before.

Like it or not, it looks like Hillary Clinton will be president come November. And probably many decisions will be made over the coming years to make it easier for women to get and pay for abortions. Perhaps taxpayer funding of abortion will make us all complicit, like it or not. But aren't we already all complicit insofar as we have been complacent?

My problem is I've been waiting for someone else to do the work of changing the law... when what really needs to be changed are hearts. It seems to me that most women get abortions because they are overcome with fear and anxiety; they don't feel ready, they have no money, they can't handle a special needs baby's many time-consuming requirements, they don't have a supportive partner or family, or they just weren't planning on this happening right now. Perhaps some were victims of race or incest.

Our question should be: what can we do to help take away that fear and replace it with confidence and hope? I think it can only happen when there are enough caring people to support each woman in need that she can breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Okay, maybe I can do this after all" or "I trust that my baby will be well cared for in an adoptive family." I think most women want to love their babies. They are just so afraid. And helping them win that quiet, interior victory over fear can save a life.

And of course prayer is essential -- prayer and grace also help love and trust to overcome fear -- but it has to work in tandem with real, effective support. We can't just pray for people to be courageous and accept their baby, but then not do anything to help them. Perhaps even just a little support would be enough to tip the balance. Another point as well: I think we have to be careful to pray in places and in ways that are not going to be perceived as an attack on women. Praying outside abortion clinics might seem like the right thing to do, but I think most women -- the ones you are trying to win over, right? -- experience it as a condemnation or even sometimes as an attack. And that only reinforces the fear.

The upshot: Roe vs. Wade isn't going to change until our culture changes, and our culture isn't going to change until we roll up our sleeves and get involved. Love, not law, is the most powerful lever of change. Love for babies, and also love for women. We won't win until we widen our embrace to make room for both, and until we empower women to overcome fear with love and hope.







Saturday, July 23, 2016

Three Favorite Walking Songs

Lately I've been partial to long walks, which have gradually been evolving into sweaty, painful runs through Florida's humid heat. And along the way, my constant companion is music.

I'm partial to sad, melancholic bands with a bit of barroom oomph and/or embedded crescendos. So let me introduce you to three of my favorites:

Exhibit A: The Strumbellas: "Spirit"



This is actually a new favorite but I can tell it's going to be sticking around. Aside from the sound, which has lots of interesting surprises -- the vocals that sound like a bunch of guys singing in a bar, the rollicking beat, and the lead singer's winsome voice -- there are also the lyrics. There's the chorus of "I got guns in my head, spirits in my head and they won't go... the gun still rattles, the gun still rattles, ohhhh" but there are also the in-between lyrics about not wanting to keep running and "waiting for my day to come" and living a half-life out of fear. It's about just plunging into your true life with hope, courage, and honesty.

Exhibit B: The Lumineers: "Angela"



The Lumineers always have interesting lyrics, and this one does not disappoint. But first, let's talk about the music. It starts off with an intimate, acoustic feel but gradually builds with a kind of down-home stomp-the-floor intensity that has almost a foreboding or urgently beseeching quality to it. But what I like best are the lyrics:

When you left this town, with your windows down
And the wilderness inside

Let the exits pass, all the tar and glass
'Til the road and sky align

The strangers in this town,
They raise you up just to cut you down
Oh Angela it's a long time coming

And your Volvo lights lit up green and white
With the cities on the signs

But you held your course to some distant war
In the corners of your mind

From the second time around
The only love I ever found
Oh Angela it's a long time coming

Home at last

Were you safe and warm in your coat of arms
With your fingers in a fist

Did you hear the notes, all those static codes
In the radio abyss?

Strangers in this town,
They raise you up just to cut you down
Oh Angela it's a long time coming
Oh Angela spent your whole life running

Home at last
Home at last

Vacancy, hotel room, lost in me, lost in you
Angela, on my knees, I belong, I believe

Home at last
Home at last
Home at last
Home at last

Home at last, hmm

How beautiful is that? Again, a dominant theme of coming home, of finding one's true life, of not living a shadow life built on lies. It's a call to honesty, authenticity, to facing down pain and moving through it with courage, and then finding someone real on the other side of it all. "Home at last."

Exhibit C: Boy and Bear: Southern Sun



I've been obsessed with this one for months. The opening 30 seconds are kind of painful (not my favorite) but the guitars and the way the sound gels in the rest of the song is just so... satisfying. The sound reminds me a lot of Fleetwood Mac, which is also one of my favorite groups (never get sick of "You Make Loving Fun" and "Gypsy" and a host of others) but of course this group is not just a replay by any means. And as for the lyrics, the part that speaks to me is this:

So come on, come on I'm ready now
Go get your things out honey, let's get ready to roll
Oh I can feel the wave coming over me
I've been waiting for this day too long just to let it all go

So once again, a song about hope, resolve, and standing up to embrace something new. It's a song for a watershed moment.

So there you have it. Three good ones to enjoy on your own walk through life. They sound much better on iTunes than they do on these videos, by the way...




Sunday, November 15, 2015

Daesh's Dirty Fuel

The news about the Paris terror attacks hit me while we were enjoying an evening festivity on the beach. I was reading about a rising death count and hostages trapped inside a concert hall while watching my kids shimmy to "La Vida es Un Carnaval." It felt incongruous, to say the least.

I predict, like many others, that these attacks will continue and will grow in frequency. ISIS -- or rather, Daesh, to use the more appropriately derogative term -- is fueled by hatred whipped up to a frenzy. For an interesting perspective on why and how that hatred grows, Cass Sunstein offers a really interesting sociological analysis to complement the historical and cultural reasons that are also operative.


There is power in hatred, of course. It's an explosive passion, and it will fuel bold action. A people driven by hatred will leave a trail of destruction behind, like the smoking wreck following Smaug's orgy of destruction.

But how do you defeat a dragon?  Do you fight fire with fire?  Do you match their hatred with yours? Is the reaction of the West going to be to stir up a conflagration of fear, suspicion, and hatred against Muslims? Or is there some alternative way, perhaps a tiny chink in the scales that can be exploited?

Responding to hatred with hatred would actually be feeding the dragon. On the one hand, we have to respond to the threat with force -- I'm not suggesting we offer flowers to people who are beyond the point of rational dialogue and who have demonstrated a depth of depravity and evil that beggars the imagination. We must speak the only language they understand: power. They cannot be contained or reasoned with. They must be defeated with decisive strength.

But the moral fuel behind our response should not so much be hatred for them as love for our own cultures and peoples. Hatred is a dirty fuel that leaves pollution behind it in the form of hidden costs whose bill we have to pay later on. Politicians who use hatred to fuel their own rise to power are not inherently constructive people, no matter their claims to have the secret to a country's greatness.

I'm all for patriotism and loyalty to country. It might be because I see my country more through the prism of what it once was or what it ought to be, rather than what is really there. That's a valid criticism; it might also be a typical quality of love that it sees what we can be, not just what we are. But isn't also possible that who we could be is just beneath the surface of what we are now? Sometimes extreme events make us rise out of our mediocrity and catch a glimpse, once again, of our true mettle.

There can be an unexpectedly transcendent side to tragedies, because they can slice into the heart of a people and reveal what we are made of. In some cases, they also shape a national character, because we choose how to respond. And that choice, to some degree, defines us anew. As long as hatred or fear do not coopt our response, it can be an inflection point for growth and unity.

The jihadists want France and the West to be afraid and to begin to hate. They don't care if Muslims are the target of that hatred; in fact, they would be pleased to see Western governments crack down on Muslim populations and subject them to unfair treatment, because that would feed into their narrative that the West is an aggressor that hates Islam. Disproportionate or unjust restrictions against ordinary Muslims would drive new recruits into their arms. Likewise, the rise of xenophobic far-right groups would betray the West's highest ideals, corroding the national discourse and bringing out our ugliest impulses to exclusion, prejudice, and hatred.

In addition to the necessary use of force to crush Daesh abroad, we also have to look for the chink in the dragon's armor, the hidden weakness to be exploited. Is it the claim to religious legitimacy? In that case, as Graeme Wood argued, the best response would be to prevent its so-called prophecies from coming true. If the caliphate does not expand geographically, Daesh will begin to look like just another failed state, not the 21st century version of an inexorably victorious Mohammed. Is the weakness its own shaky unity with fellow jihadists? The power struggles between Daesh and Al-Qa'ida are still going on, and some foreign fighters have given up the fight, discouraged that they are not killing Assad's men as they had hoped, but are instead killing rival jihadists. Perhaps intelligence services could also focus on sowing internal discord within Daesh, so that they can no longer distinguish between friend and foe. If they crack down on their fellow jihadists, then many fighters would become ever more disillusioned and wonder, in their heart of hearts, if Daesh is really everything it claims to be.

Daesh's dirty fuel is its hatred of the West, situated in its simplistic good-versus-evil narrative. I think our efforts to crush them militarily (and also financially, by cutting off their funding and supply lines) should be complemented by a more subtle form of psychological warfare to dilute their passion and belief in their cause. The Vietnamese used psychological warfare against the United States, Henry Kissinger argued, by dragging out the Vietnamese War and making it seem like a road to nowhere, an ongoing hemorrhage of money and blood. Support for the war unraveled, especially on college campuses, and domestic political pressures contributed to its ending with a whimper, not a bang.

We need to try analogous tactics with Daesh. In addition to military tactics like airstrikes, we need to unravel its legitimacy from within, doing whatever we can to defeat the ideology, the hate-filled virus that infects and begets new zombies by the thousands. On the grassroots level in Western countries, I think the best qualified individuals to fight the virus are the Muslim communities themselves, perhaps even the Syrian refugees who can testify, firsthand, to the monstrosity of Daesh in their former homeland.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Between Magnetic Poles

Today I was translating a text about a painter from Andalusia and there was a line in the original that gave me a lever, a way of understanding or cross-sectioning the world we live in.

The line was "la sensibilidad artística andaluza se sitúa entre el caos creativo y el orden constructivo" [the Andalusian artistic sensibility is situated between creative chaos and constructive order]. It was referring to how two opposing poles coexist in the same society, reaching expression in the works of a single painter -- and yet instead of becoming a source of deadlock, frustration, incoherence, or conflict, they are a source of tremendous fecundity.

This set off a spiral of thoughts:

Tensions, oppositions, differences are all a gift. They are challenging to manage, but true creativity arises from the bringing together of completely disparate and unexpected realities, approaches, ideas, avenues of thought -- so the effort to harvest all those hidden fruits is well worth it. We can always do more together if we work through the tensions between our differences and find a superior "third way" that we would never have found if it weren't for the challenge of the other who makes us go beyond our assumptions.

Yet, the ordinary temptation is to view these differences as an obstacle to happiness, prosperity, harmony, and peace. The refugee crisis in Germany: what a challenge to integrate all of those Syrians who have just barely escaped from hell and who want to start a new life. They are from a completely different culture, religion, background. Germany: so precise, punctual, ordered... and refugees from chaos. Yet, what a tremendous opportunity for Germany to defy the darkness in its past by writing a more generous and humanitarian chapter in its future. The country that once sent trains of Jewish refugees to death camps in the East is now receiving another sort of refugee, also from the East, and giving them shelter and the chance at a better life. It looks like reparation.

Angela Merkel said that the current influx could change Germany's demographics, and that the nation as Germans know it is going to change. But perhaps there is also a deeper level to that change: not only will the external demographics change, but there will be a significant shift in the German identity, so laden with guilt even generations after World War II. It's a new beginning -- if, and only if, the inevitable tensions are handled with grace, patience, ongoing dialogue, and the quest for a better way than the false alternatives presented by groups on the political extremes.

I think of that also with the rise of Paul Ryan to the position of Speaker of the House. He is also facing a "house divided" between left and right, two factious extremes that cannot seem to agree on the time of day, let alone momentous questions that shape the future of a nation and impact the entire world. I think this is the direction that US leadership should take, both at home and abroad: we are always going to face huge differences of opinion, and somehow we have to take all those opinions to the table and work through them to find a creative solution on the other side. It is difficult, delicate work, and it requires tact, diplomacy, clarity, and extraordinary communication and leadership skills.

I think of this also in regard to the election of the next US president. What scares me most about Donald Trump is his simplistic bulldozer approach to problems that are so much more complex than he seems to acknowledge. How will he deal with Putin? "We'll get along." What?? What is his foreign policy program?  "I'll make America great again. No more losing deals on trade." What does that even mean? I picture him trying to bully his way across the international arena, accentuating all the worst characteristics of America abroad, trying to solve problems by throwing money at them, alienating our allies and sparking disgust and derision among our enemies. We can't afford that in our next leader. We need a statesman, not a bombastic demagogue whose baseline assumption is that money solves every problem and overcomes every difference.

Here is another thought: Islam, the religion of submission, often touted as the religion of peace. I think the essential genius of Islam is that it seeks to obliterate diversity and difference (in this case, of belief and moral praxis) by forcing submission to a single set of ideas. (Not every branch of Islam, of course, but the radical branch that endorses sharia law and jihad.) Radical Islam fears differences, and I wonder if it is because it is predicated on an idea of purity frozen in time, like an insect encased in amber, and any processes that involve dialogue and seeking out creative solutions to bridge differences are necessarily suspect because they also entail the possibility of change. Entering into dialogue with the Other tends to change us; it provokes shifts, sometimes small and sometimes seismic, in the way we perceive reality, ourselves, and the other. This is threatening to a system of beliefs whose lodestar is an ideal of pure [understood as unchanging, without innovation] religious practice. Radical Islam cannot adapt to the Other because it knows that the Other poses a threat to its fragile, brittle, rigid identity. It cannot change itself -- it will not change itself -- so it must change the other, force the other to submit. Only when the entire world has submitted to Islam will this radical branch rest, because then the threat of change will be gone.

Why are some people, or some groups, so threatened by change? Is it psychologically so difficult to assimilate change, to evolve with time, to be challenged and to find oneself adapting in response? I guess it is difficult to the degree that we approach life with the misguided idea that we have arrived, or that our work is finished.

I appreciate the constructivist idea that we are constantly making ourselves, as Kierkegaard also argued. Of course, there is an aspect of ourselves that is given and endowed and relatively unchanging (even on the physical level, I am not going to reach 6'2" because I cannot will my body to change however I want). Yet, on the spiritual level -- on the level of ourselves that engages in relationships that are not limited only to the physical -- we can change and develop in drastic ways. We are constantly "creating" who we are through our choices, not just in the externals of where we end up or what circumstances surround us, but in the very interior dimension of identity and convictions and moral fiber and allegiances. We are a constant work in progress. This is the human condition, so we should not be threatened by change at all. We should relish it, enjoy it!

So, tensions, oppositions, differences force us to grow. They demand effort, because we have to find a way to build a bridge between two opposing poles. But I think it can be done, and it can be beautiful! So the right way forward is not to fear those differences at all, but to approach them thoughtfully, looking for a creative solution, and being willing to be changed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On Fishy Burps and the Reset Button

While wandering around in a local GNC the other day, I found myself slightly overwhelmed by the superabundance of vitamin choices, each one promising me essential nutrients that my body needs RIGHT NOW.

The fish oil capsules in particular caught my eye. Brain health, hmmm... Could those translucent orange capsules make me less forgetful and more on top of my life?

"No fishy burps" and "Burp-less fish oil," the labels promised... which I found utterly charming. You mean to tell me that fishy burps are practically a trademarked *thing*? That other people suffer them, too? And that there is now a solution to the problem of concentrated anchovy or krill belches!?  I need to know more!

Ah, the power of marketing...

***

Something fishy about that face...
Speaking of marketing, there is also the rise of Donald Trump. When he first appeared on the scene, I thought he was just seeking a bigger audience for preening purposes and an excuse to tell everyone that "I'm really, really rich." But apparently, he has been making giant strides, with 24% of Republicans now supporting his candidacy, compared to only 4% in May. What? Are we crazy? I know American politics look like a freak show, but this is too much.

Fishy burps indeed.

The whole unexpected surge of support for The Donald (not to be confused with Donald Duck, although the similarities are striking) has got me thinking again about the difference between a reaction and a response. It's a familiar idea, but so perennially true that it deserves to be highlighted again.

Reactions are negative, emotional, short-term, focused on striking back against something that causes us angst or pain. To react is to hit back swift and hard, to mutter an obscenity, to curse the darkness.

A response, by contrast, is a positive answer to something good that touches the heart or awakens the mind. We respond to the siren call of something excellent, true, or beautiful. We find an echo in ourselves, and the response is also an act of self-recognition. I respond because something in me finds that this good person or thing that I love expresses a piece of me, or of the person I feel called to become. To respond is to open one's hand to another, to echo and mirror something beautiful, to light a candle.

"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Apparently, the founder of Amnesty International was the first to use the phrase, back in 1961. Now, in 2015, Trump is raking in the support by cursing the darkness right and left, perhaps sometimes even exaggerating it when it serves his interests. (A novel technique for politicians, I'm sure.) And people who are also disgusted with the status quo and sick of the usual array of politicians are on board, united by shared hatred and frustration.

If this is the way we build, based on a shared hatred, then we're in for a rough ride.

***

I've been struck lately by the power of Choice in a relationship -- in a totally positive sense. My marriage, stamped and certified as Human, has the typical good days and meh days. There are mornings when we just start off wrong: someone is tense about something, or there is an impatient reaction, or someone (okay, me) forgot something important. So sometimes our gears jam up and we find ourselves "refunfuñando," which, contrary to the appearance of the word, is not the least bit fun.


This is me when I am woken up before 9:00 a.m.
Def. "refunfuñar": to grumble. Think Grumpy of the 7 Dwarves. (Because everything in life can somehow be explained with a Disney character.)

But one thing we do extraordinarily well is hit the magical Reset Button. This is when it rocks to have a really bad memory -- "Hi, I'm Dory" -- me by nature, JC by choice. Both of us have the ability to stop, catch the spiraling dynamic, and turn it all around. We say a quick "I'm sorry" with a rueful grin and then we just keep swimming, just keep swimming... and it actually works. I've been impressed at how this man is able to say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong." I think it's rare and precious. I never apologize because I'm always right, which is also rare and precious.

So here is my manifesto: no score keeping, no endless Silent Treatments, no Frosty Glare or Read-My-Mind-And-Guess-How-You-Offended-Me-This-Time-Bozo. I could not live with someone who played those games. I can't read your mind, can't guess what you're thinking, and I won't lie because I have no poker face and I won't be able to remember my lies well enough to keep them straight. If you have something to say, well, say it-- and so will I. Then we'll laugh, hug, and continue on. [Caveat: not talking about serious offenses here, just the daily stuff.]

So this is it: a relationship between two flawed people who constantly fall, but who get up again fast because why marinate in resentment when you can make the choice to be happy again and to build something beautiful together? Why live in the past? Why not give people the chance to change? I know some people are resistant to change, but I think that many others are able to grow so much when we give them permission to start over without the old ball and chain miring them in the past.

I guess that's also the idea I have of God and of confession. I know some people have this idea of God as the Judge who is going to read me the list of my failures in a sonorous, gravely voice and then rub it all in my face with Righteous Indignation, but honestly, I've always felt that he is just eager to brush it all aside and pick us up again so that we can keep growing, responding to what is good and what lights us up inside. He's on our side, he has a sense of humor, he gets us, and he doesn't hold grudges.

This is all according to me, because I am the final authority on all things God. I don't want to brag or anything, but I am currently praying a NOVENA to St. Anne, and I can feel my Holiness Quotient growing by leaps and bounds, LEAPS AND BOUNDS, BABY! Don't mind my elbows jabbing your ribs as I push my way forward to heaven ahead of you.

Indeed.
So, we all know that self-recrimination is already a heavy burden when we fail, and there is always a little voice that wants to tell us, "You so totally suck" when what we SHOULD be hearing is "You so totally rock, squirt! Give me some fin. Noggin." When we're at our worst, the forgiveness and humor of another somehow lighten that burden, or even make it slide off our shoulders. But when we let our stuff fester, then even our responses to minor problems tend to take on the quality of a reaction: disproportionate, paranoid, whiny, and butthurt. Fishy burps at their finest.

I just think we have much more power, much more Choice than we realize. I don't mean to suggest that all problems can be solved by airily shaking it off, Taylor Swift style. There are some deeper problems or conflicts that will take much more to resolve, and there are some that are too far gone and that only distance, time, and separation can heal. There are also difficulties that spring from depression, which is certainly not something you can just choose to cast off. I know the idea does not apply across the board.

But with those many caveats aside, I think there is still ample margin for Choice, for the response of love and creativity and fresh starts and lighting candles and all the good that can come from giving others -- and ourselves -- a second chance.

***

I never did buy the fish oil capsules. Instead, I got an organic women's multivitamin "set" (five or six vitamins to take per day, because more is more and I'm going hardcore now). The pills have some fish oil in it but also tons of other nutrients derived from plants and fruits, so it's like eating a thousand broccolis and kale and greenery and shrubbery and all the good stuff that I don't eat because I'm busy hitting the wonton soup and the fried pork egg rolls.

Well, much to my chagrin and contrary to their marketing fantasies, I now get fishy burps AND organic vegetable burps. A thousand broccoli florets, revisited with my morning coffee. Nice...