What Happened to Courteous Customer Service?

I recently had what was arguably my worst customer service experience.  Long story short, store employees at a big box store refused to allow me to purchase beer and cider because my not-quite-21-year-old was with me. While this refusal was not life-altering for me (though after a long day I was looking forward to putting my feet up next to my husband and sipping a hard cider), the negativity has lingered.

After spending well over an hour in said store, filling what I commented upon entering said store was a LARGE cart with groceries, toiletries and the random stuff one picks up in a department store, we went to the checkout, only to find the self-check was the only line open. We were tired and disappointed at the inconvenience and questioned whether it would all fit on the bagging scale, but we went ahead and by piling bags up, managed to fit almost everything.

Last of all were a couple six packs which of course needed human approval to purchase. When I asked for said approval, the woman working self-check out, (who had just finished taking security tags from some of our items while we were finishing scanning) said that all members of party needed to produce ID. When I asked why, since I was the one making the purchase and would be the one to consume it, I was asked if I would like her to ask her manager. I said yes and she did (over a walkie talkie, saying a legal guardian wanted to make an alcohol purchase). His answer was “No!” followed by static.

A bit flabbergasted, I protested, to be told that “He explained why,” with a shake of the walkie. When I said no he didn’t, she asked if she should call him up to talk to me and did so, saying “I have a customer up here,” she paused and looked at me pointedly, “yelling at me.” She then went on to tell me it was state law and if I was going to shop in the state I should learn the law. When asked to show us the law, she told us to look it up on the website. (I later did and it’s not there.)

The manager arrived and of course what I had to say was irrelevant. I mentioned that I had shopped in this store before, with my daughter and never had an issue. I questioned the apparent fact that a parent cannot make an alcohol purchase when shopping with their child. The response was: “Only with obviously young children.”

Since they were not going to make this sale, I asked to have it removed so I could pay and leave. The manager then typed in numbers on the screen and voided my order. When asked by the cashier, he insisted he didn’t void it, only put in his code, but it was gone. There was no apology and apparently no way to retrieve the data. He quickly disappeared and I was sent to a register where my cart full of bags had to be scanned and bagged again, by two employees who appeared from nowhere.

While I question how a manager can void an order without knowing how or why and then walk away leaving others to deal with it, I was particularly offended by the attitude in enforcing this ridiculous policy. (Further investigation indicates that this “policy” at this store is at the cashier’s discretion.) Perhaps I should let this go, but it comes down to principles (and those who know me know that my principles do sometimes cause me trouble). While the fact I could not purchase alcohol on that visit is inconsequential, the fact that I was denied the right to make said purchase is an issue. It calls into question my integrity as well as my parenting.

How does it make sense that parents of young children can purchase alcohol, but not those who have teens or young adults? Are they suggesting that because my kids are older, I am supplying them with alcohol (which is illegal and as I have written before, also unhealthy)? Do we have to leave older kids home when we shop? Or do we need to make multiple trips – one for groceries (when the older kids, who consume most of the food, can choose what they want and help with this tedious process), then a return trip for adult beverages? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of selling both in one store? In most stores, items on display in the aisles (there were several large displays promoting these items) are those the store WANTS to sell. Why make it so difficult for adults of legal age to buy them?

The other and possibly bigger issue I have is the lack of courtesy seen here and in so many other places today. I worked retail and food service jobs when I was young and was taught “the customer is always right.” Even when they weren’t, being polite and courteous was expected if you wanted to keep your job. Answering questions and helping customers was part of the job. If you didn’t know the answer, you found out. If what they wanted wasn’t possible, you said I’m sorry and if they were difficult, you passed them to a manager (who oftentimes was even more solicitous). Making an effort to start trouble is unnecessary and frankly unacceptable.

Courtesy isn’t extinct, but it is endangered. Too many people simply don’t care and make no effort to hide it. In this case, there appeared to be a malicious glee in forbidding a purchase. While it is true that those in service jobs aren’t making enough money, a bad attitude loses customers (and money). A smile and a polite, friendly attitude can make the difference. A customer can leave disappointed, but they shouldn’t leave angry.

The silver lining here (because in my mind there always should be one) is that good customer service is that much more apparent. My next retail experience was much better, so much so that I contacted the company to tell them. Happily, they responded that this employee would be recognized.

I plan to do more of this and encourage you to do the same. When you are happy with service, (especially if someone goes out of their way for you) go beyond a thank you – let that employer know they have an employee they need to hold onto. Hopefully that employee will receive praise or, as is the case with some retailers, even tangible rewards for good customer service. As long as higher-ups allow rudeness, there is little we can do to stop it, but we can recognize polite and professional attitudes and point out that this is the behavior we want to see. Moving forward, I’ll be looking for the good.

Why I Dread Palm Sunday

As a child, I looked forward to Palm Sunday. After all, Palm Sunday Mass features a giveaway and the Gospel includes major audience participation. Sure the Mass was longer than most, and there was more standing/sitting/kneeling than most Sundays, but it was different, and like I said, you went home with something tangible.

As an adult and as a mom, my thoughts and feelings on the day have changed. Today it is the day in the liturgical calendar I most dread. I know that it is important to commemorate Christ’s Passion, to pass on the story, to keep it fresh for each coming generation, but I don’t like hearing it. I especially dislike the participation part.

I want to stand up and say, maybe even yell, “No! He is innocent. He has committed no crimes. He is a good and just man.” But I can’t. I have to suffer through the narrative. I have to relive the tense moments and see and feel the mob mentality. The only way I can protest would be to, like Pilate, refuse to participate, to wash my hands of the immense wrong done that day.
I think about Mary, His mother, and how this all must have been for her. Did she cry out or break down at the verdict? Did friends and family have to pull her away for her own protection? Did she plea to take his place? Her story is absent in the Bible. As a mother, I can’t imagine the horror. How could you bear to see this happen to your child? Yet how could you stay away and make them go through this ordeal alone?

I think of Mary Magdalen and the many women who followed Jesus, whom he welcomed into his circle and taught about the kingdom of God. How did they cope with this reality? Did they sit at home, knowing how things would turn out and believe that it would be too difficult to bear? Or were they there, hoping against hope that people would see this was wrong, that justice would prevail? Did they try to call out? Would their voices have been muffled by those around them or worse, dismissed, since they were just silly women? Did they feel powerless and insignificant living in a man’s world?

Though there is no mention of women at the trial of Jesus, we know that they were there when he was crucified. We know that they were at the tomb and despaired when they found his body missing. This, I believe is significant. Unlike some of the men, they were not afraid to be associated with Him at his death. As far as the guards were concerned, they were insignificant; their voices were ignored.

While I cannot change the past, times have changed. Over the centuries, the influence of women has grown. Women now have more power in society. Their voices are heard (though not always listened to). In most of the world, women are free to be educated. In many countries they are free to speak their minds, to run for public office, to influence or outright dictate policies. I am privileged to live in such a society and believe it would be wrong to squander these freedoms by remaining silent when innocent lives are threatened.

While I cannot change the past, I can work to effect the change Jesus advocated for in the world. I can speak up for Christian values and more importantly, live them. Over the past year and a half, I have been more outspoken in my belief that all humans should be treated fairly. My family asks why I worry about these things. I won’t really be affected, at least not directly. Many of the things I am speaking out against will not make my life any more difficult. But how can I be silent? I speak out because it’s the right thing to do. Honestly, I cannot understand why anyone would not.

The sort of mob mentality that caused Jesus’ death has not gone away. In fact, it seems we have seen a resurgence of it in recent years. I have heard many people speak of their concerns about being in crowds. They say they make sure they know where the exits are every time they are at a public gathering. They even try to avoid such events. Why? Because they worry about terroristic attacks or that rallies or protests may turn violent. They know that the mood of an event can very quickly change and a group of angry people is never a good thing.

I share their concerns. This will not make me avoid public events, but I am now hyper-aware of my surroundings. However, I am unwilling to sit back and watch as innocent people are unjustly punished, as our society and what we stand for is being diminished. My voice alone may not make a difference, but I believe that there is strength in numbers and that most of us want to do what is right. I believe in the basic goodness of humanity and will speak out against the voices stirring up the mob.

Unlike women of past centuries, my voice has power and I intend to use it to protect the “least of my brothers.” I have resources they don’t. I have been blessed with good fortune in my life. I have had challenges, but I also had the means to challenge and overcome them. How can I sit by and watch when unlike the women of the past, I have a voice with the potential to make a difference?

Why Can’t We See That We Are More Alike Than Different?

The Republican Party is caricatured as a heartless, racist group that does not care about children, the poor or the elderly. The perception is that it is the party of corporate greed and self interests. The Democrat Party is caricatured as a group of bleeding heart hippies who want to raise taxes and throw it all away on frivolous programs and giveaways for lazy bums who would rather sponge off society than get a job. They are seen as drifting idealists who want a socialist society.

None of this is true.

I have friends on both sides (on the extreme sides even). None of them are heartless; none of them want something for nothing; all of them care about people. They believe that children should get enough to eat, that our elderly population deserves respect and a decent standard of life.  They are kind, generous people, willing to help their families, friends and in many situations, even strangers.

So why are we always disagreeing? How did we get here?

Like most difficult questions, there is no simple answer. Therefore there is also no simple solution to heal the divided society we have become. But I think some changes can help us get closer.

We need to communicate better

When you take the time to listen, we all want the same things. When we hear something we disagree with, we need to not take it personally. We will not all agree on everything and that is okay. Supporting one idea doesn’t necessarily mean opposition to another. We need multiple ideas/points of view. In most cases, there is no one solution to a problem. The biggest ills of society have many origins and need to be approached from multiple angles.

We also need to stand strong, together

We need to question those who seek to divide us, who every time we have a difference of opinion whisper,

They are all the same.”

They are against you.”

By looking at what we have in common and acknowledging that we have a common goal, we can get past our differences. We are truly more alike than we are different.

We need to establish who is in charge

Our political representatives are our employees. While the means to hire and fire them is more complicated than in the business world, we still have that power.  If we were business owners, we would certainly fire employees who ignore our directions when someone outside the company offers them something they want.

Although we can’t eliminate the power of special interests (that’s the job of the lawmakers we are trying to keep from being influenced), we still have the power to dismiss our representatives. In the end, I honestly don’t care if we have a group full of Republicans or Democrats. We need representatives that listen to us, not special interests.

Some won’t believe that I mean this. Many people think they have me figured out. They have slapped a label on me based on something I have said or written. Among other things, I have been referred to as a “bleeding heart,” a “tree hugger,” a “libtard,” a “snowflake” and “one of those liberals.” These people blame me for decisions made by politicians they assume I have voted for. Taking out the ridiculousness that one can be held responsible for a single vote made by a politician one has voted for (out of hundreds or thousands), they really don’t know if I vote or who I have voted for.

I am registered to vote as an Independent. My beliefs and values straddle the traditional ones of both parties. I have split my ticket in almost every election, many times in half. I do my research on the candidates and try to determine which one more closely agrees with my position on the largest number of issues. I prioritize issues and sometimes am forced to vote for someone who vehemently disagrees with me on one issue, in the hope that the more important one is resolved. Being human, we will never find someone who agrees with us on every topic.

As an Independent, I live in a state where I have no voice in the primaries, so my voice is limited. So I am asking all of you. If you are registered Republican or Democrat, do some research and vote in the primaries. Give me two great candidates to choose from. I would love nothing more than a tough decision of who to vote for in November. In the meantime, let’s talk.

The Search for a Shoe Solution


My family has a shoe problem. Now I like shoes as much as the next girl, but can’t they stay in the closet when not being worn? On an average day, there are no less than nine pairs of shoes in my living room (plus snow boots, just in case). For most of the year, only three people live here. To be clear, everyone in this house has a decent sized closet and some of these closets are also equipped with shoe racks.

Over the summer, there are five of us (two are currently in college), which means there are likely to be well over a dozen pairs of shoes around at any given time. Over the years, my pleas have been ignored, my threats pushed off. Every so often I collect all these shoes into a pile and sit back to see the reaction. There is none. It’s as if no one sees these shoes but me. Other times, I will put them in pairs on the stairs, to be taken up by their respective owners. They still don’t see them.

When do the shoes move? Either when I get tired of seeing them and drop them inside the door of their owner’s bedroom, or when it bothers me enough to complain, loudly. Then I get eye rolls and hear, “But I’m going to wear them,” or “They are not all shoes, those are boots.” Inevitably, when I have caved and put the footwear upstairs, that is the pair that is needed. Then it is my fault that someone is late.My argument that you can only wear one pair at a time is met with sighs. I have tried to institute a rule: No more than two pairs of shoes per person. All others are to be kept in closets. This too gets ignored. Apparently if it matters that much to me, I have to put them there myself.

Why does this matter to me? They tend to be left everywhere. It would be one thing if they were all in an orderly line by the door (which the snow boots tend to be, but that is only because they come off at the door). They are not. They are under the coffee table, next to the couch, behind the chair, under the chair, next to the fireplace, under the dining room table. The flip flops end up under the coach (invariably not as matches.)They end up underfoot when the dog runs past and sends them flying and not infrequently are separated from their mates, causing a scramble to find one shoe when they are needed. The frantic search for a missing shoe is somehow usually my fault.

The shoes make sweeping and vacuuming a challenge. Now I know I need to add to my exercise routine, but bending down to pick up eighteen shoes is not particularly appealing to me. I long for the days when my children were young and would scramble to get everything they valued off the carpet so that the vacuum would not eat it. (It took a while for them to realize exactly how large something had to be to NOT get picked up by this machine.) I have tried to push them out of the way with the vacuum, but realized having to unwind shoelaces stuck on the roller is worse than picking up shoes.

It wasn’t always like this. I did have a brief spell when we had a puppy in the house, one who ate anything on the floor, including shoes (some much-loved pumps were lost this way). Once the puppy grew up and the danger was past, the motivation was gone. I have been at this for years, and see no change coming. So, I continue, picking up shoes, sometimes putting them in a place that I think someone will notice them and put them away, but more often dropping them in the appropriate bedroom.

Maybe I need a puppy.

What the World Needs Now Is More Kindness

Today is World Kindness Day. Begun by the World Kindness Movement (a coalition of organizations promoting kindness throughout the world) in 1998, the goal of the day is to promote a kinder world. Organizations and schools plan a variety of events such as handing out cards and flowers, organizing flashmobs or even a giant group hug. It is a day to set aside differences and unite in the common goal of being kind.

I don’t think the world has even been in more need of kindness than it is today. We need to look beyond ourselves. See all people as world citizens. Search for our commonalities. Let go of the past, not hold onto feuds, especially those between our ancestors. We need to be joiners, not dividers.

While setting aside a day to be kind, the goal should be to carry the concept over beyond the day. We need to make a conscious effort to not fall back in to the same patterns, but to continue to be kind. Is important that we see others as having equal value and potential.

Kind acts can be big or small. Some groups are planning large events such as handing out small gifts like candy or flowers to thousands of people, organizing a giant group hug or flash bob dance. Schools may participate by planning group activities involving service or donations or making note of good deeds performed. Those looking for organized efforts can contact a member organization of World Kindness USA, a non-profit organization works to support and encourage kindness in the United States through cooperation with organizations and community groups, local governments and even individuals.

Some suggestions to spread kindness today and every day:

  • smile at someone
  • give a sincere compliment
  • say hello
  • provide assistance or support
  • avoid gossiping, making negative comments
  • pay it forward (feed a meter, pay for the next person at the drive through or toll)
  • let someone go ahead of you in line
  • recognize good service (some companies reward employees  for customer comments)
  • send a “thinking of you” card
  • pick up trash
  • donate gently worn items you no longer need
  • forgive someone (or yourself)
  • visit sick or elderly who can’t get out

Whatever the method, the result is the same. Acts of kindness made people feel good, both the givers and the receivers. Kindness results in people feeling appreciated, understood and loved. Kind acts cost little, but can have great benefits. How are you going to be kind today?

The Year of the Women

A year ago we could sense it coming. Though it looks very different than we anticipated, this has been the Year of the Women. It is very possible that what we are seeing today will be remembered in history books as a “revolution” of sorts.

Many expected to wake up the second Wednesday in November to news that the United States had elected its first female president. Some were shocked, confused and sad that this was not the case. However, that day did mark a big change: last year’s presidential election started a movement, the like of which I have not seen in my lifetime. Women, long a significant force in numbers, made the collective decision to work together to make a difference.

The days following the election saw a flurry of activity. Plans were made to hold a Women’s March to make a statement. Though not everyone had all the same goals, and many observers missed the point of these gatherings (that, as it turned out, occurred not just in the U.S. but around the world ), hundreds of thousands of women made it known that they would no longer sit idly by and watch bad decisions being made. Instead they determined to be a force of change.

Though the steps have been small, there are indications that some progress has been made. After decades of women standing up to discrimination and even assault, we are now seeing some changes. Proposed policies seen as anti-family have been blocked. More people are now believing women when they say they were mistreated. Predators are finally seeing repercussions for their actions. Things like the “casting couch” are longer seen as an acceptable method of conducting “business as usual.”

More women have stepped up to say, “Enough.” They are speaking up and refusing to accept the status quo any longer. There has been an almost imperceptible shift in attitude. I am seeing less tolerance of judging a person on their clothing or appearance. Discriminatory language is being called out and curtailed. Men in particular are starting to not only listen but also to join voices against discrimination.

This is different from other movements though, in that while the overriding issue is Women’s Rights, there is a significant overlap with other issues. Perhaps this is due to a recognition that our lives overlap and intersect those of others. Women are fighting not just for themselves, but for those who cannot or who struggle to fight for themselves. In some cases, it is because women often bear the brunt of the effects,in others, it is simply the right, the human thing to do .

Hollywood also is starting to acknowledge the power of women. We are starting to see more women in major roles and they are delivering at the box office (Hello, Wonder Woman!). Women over the age of 30 today have lucrative acting careers. Women are starting their own companies and getting more involved in politics,  both financially (donating in record numbers this year) and through running for office.

This shift in society is subtle but promising. Like most significant change, it comes with upheaval. It requires a different way of thinking. Change is a constant in life. Society is always evolving. The world is very different than it was only a couple generations ago, yet in some ways very much the same. We are both more independent and interdependent than we have ever been before. Working together is our best option. It looks like women are leading the way.

Sorry, But the Boy Scouts of America Got This One Wrong

Yesterday BSA announced that the Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into Cub Scouts and that the organization is making plans for a co-ed Scouting program that will enable girls to earn the rank of Eagle. While I am a huge supporter of the Boy Scouts, I think this is the wrong move to make. I feel strongly that while mixed-gender youth programs have value, I also think that there are developmental reasons for keeping some groups single-sex.

Yes, the character-building values incorporated in the Scout Law apply to girls as well as boys, but honestly, those are the same values presented in the Girl Scout program. I understand that there are some girls who have been unable to find a Girl Scout troop that fits their interests, but honestly, that is an issue of leadership, not program. Many Girl Scout troops actively participate in outdoor adventures. Both organizations are volunteer-based and since the announcement clarifies that Cub Dens will be single gender, it is certain that the problem of finding adults willing and able to lead will not be solved. In fact, it may make the situation worse, for both organizations.

Both scouting groups have similar goals, promises and laws. The earned recognitions vary, but the activities are up to the individual groups (at younger ages, this often means the leader). Girl Scouts can engage in almost every activity that Boy Scouts can (with the notable exception of handling guns) and the girls actually have fewer rules about camping at the younger levels (for example parents are not required to accompany girls on every outing). Anyone who wants their daughter to fully experience the outdoors (a common reason given for girls who want to join Boy Scouts), can sign up to be a leader (yes, dads too) and start a troop that engages in those activities.

Separate but equal?

BSA has decided to let existing packs choose whether to include girls in their packs or to form separate all-girl packs (which would keep their existing all-boy packs intact). How exactly then is this accepting girls into the Boy Scout program? If they join existing packs, they will participate in some activities together, but I am certain they will still be seen as separate. If they are forced to create new all-girl packs, I believe these packs will be short lived.

While it remains to be seen how the program will work for the particularly difficult ages of middle and high school, I believe that those ages in particular benefit from single-gender groups, especially when it comes to activities typically seen in Scouting (for both boys and girls) such as camping and outdoor challenge activities. Studies have repeatedly shown (and I have seen firsthand) that adolescents are awkward and shy around those of the opposite sex and in some cases will be afraid to try new things for fear of failure around those they seek to impress. This behavior starts in the upper elementary grades, which includes the higher levels of Cub Scouts. There is also the very charged issue of adolescent hormones and co-ed camping. As a former leader of girls this age, I believe volunteer burnout would be a serious issue.

A co-ed program already exists

A co-ed program already exists, Venture Scouts, which in my area at least, is underutilized. (However I believe this is due more to scheduling demands of teenagers than interest.) Within this program is an opportunity for leadership and earned ranks, which are also prestigious. By having the Venture program separate from Boy Scouts, it would seem that BSA has acknowledged that there is value in having both co-ed and single-gender programming. After 100+ years, one has to wonder why the change now.

I also feel that dangling the carrot of Eagle is disingenuous. While the Boy Scout rank is better known in many circles than the Girl Scout Gold Award, they carry equal weight. Both require a demonstration of leadership and a project that takes many, many hours, both in planning and execution. Especially at the older levels of Scouting, both programs are youth led, so participants have a say in what activities they engage in, and anyone pursuing the highest awards has complete control as these projects come from the individuals themselves, not the leaders or parent organizations.

Rather than making this move, I wish BSA and GSUSA would have gotten together in a partnership to co-host activities and events. This would have helped both organizations who have seen numbers dwindle in recent years, largely due to lack of adult volunteers. At a local level, I have seen examples of the groups sharing space and planning duties. Boys and girls can learn a great deal from each other and I see value in them participating in scouting activities together, but I think they should stick to doing what they do best. Some changes are not an improvement.

Read the F*@%-ing Story Before You Leave a Comment

IMG_5414Sorry for the profanity, but “Read the Gosh Darn Story…” just wouldn’t get your attention. Headlines are meant to grab your attention and get you to react. After all, the best writing in the world is useless if no one reads it. While commenting on a story is your right, and in many cases is encouraged by the publisher, doing so indiscriminately can make you look bad, and people may judge you as being lazy, foolish or just plain ignorant. Taking things too far can even get you banned from your favorite social media sites.

If something you read touches you, or your immediate response is “Me too!” or for some reason you just love the story, by all means go ahead and comment. From a writer’s perspective, some days these morsels of praise are what keep us going.

It’s okay to set the record straight

On the flip side, if you disagree with something you’ve read and feel the need to say so, go ahead and comment, just remember that it is possible to respectfully disagree. Perhaps something the writer said has hit a nerve and you are offended. While it may be wise to first look at why you are offended and whether that is reasonable, go ahead and comment. If writers are thoughtless or cruel or have their facts wrong, this should be pointed out. Few writers are deliberately offensive and many will appreciate the comment, provided it is given in a polite, respectful manner.

People don’t always agree

Remember that opinion pieces are just that — opinions. Writers know that not everyone will share their opinion. Many welcome the opportunity to hear other opinions. All of us are deeply influenced by our own personal experiences and can learn much from the experiences of others. Again, respectfully disagreeing means your words are more likely to be heard.

Before you leave that comment, first read the piece. Headlines don’t tell all (and in some cases, they tell nothing). Realize that headlines are an editorial decision and in many cases are not chosen by or even run past the writer. The best headlines attract attention and reflect the essence of a story, but those headlines are increasingly rare. Even with a good headline, you don’t really know what the writer is saying without reading the story.

Do more than skim

Really read the story. If you feel strongly enough about the content that you must comment, it is not enough to merely skim. Many things can be lost when one reads quickly, skipping sections. While we are taught in school to make our main point in the first paragraph, that is not how stories are always written. There is also the chance that the story is not what is seems. Maybe it’s fiction (remember the debut of “War of the Worlds”) Sometimes writers use special literary techniques such as satire to make a point. Perhaps you and the writer fully agree on the issue, but the first paragraph made you too angry to get to the place in the piece that this is revealed. If this is the case, maybe you shouldn’t comment (at least not now, you can always go back and comment later). Perhaps it is a reported story and quotes someone. You can’t assume that the writer agrees with the speaker, though if you are reading the whole story, the writer’s opinion generally comes through in the rest of the piece. If you’ve read and understand the point made and feel the need to, go ahead and comment (if you don’t understand at all, that may also be a cause to comment). Again, be respectful.

Look at what others have said

Before you comment, read the other comments. If you have a question, it is likely someone else has asked it. This is a challenge if there are already hundreds of comments, but if it isn’t worth your while to at least skim these, is it worth your while to comment (and perhaps be called out for your lack of diligence)? This has the added benefit of seeing what happens to those who comment without reading the story.

Commenting can add value. Some stories benefit from active engagement. We all have something to share and more to learn. Reading the story before leaving a comment reduces the chance of looking ignorant, thoughtless or mean. It also enables you to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation. But please, first read the story and then, if you need to comment, be kind. Besides being the right thing to do, it’s more likely your voice will be heard. And isn’t that the point of commenting anyway?

The Latest Installment of Things That Offend Us

U.S. flag flutters in the wind
The U.S flag flying at Ft. Sumter

The latest item to blow up social media and the news circuits is yet another bizarre controversy. The widespread national anthem protest by NFL players after the president’s comment this weekend has divided people even further, leaving many of us simply shaking our heads. The most noise here is coming from those who object to the protest.

The opinion being strongly presented is that taking a knee is disrespectful. That is perhaps the most puzzling part. Kneeling has traditionally been a sign of reverence and supplication. Throughout history, children have kneeled before their parents, it is used at the holiest moments in prayer and is the position knights-to-be assume while pledging their loyalty to their ruler.

Anti-Flag and Anti-Veteran

People are howling that this action is degrading the flag. If these athletes were burning the flag, stepping or spitting on it, that would make sense, but kneeling before it? Others rage that it is disrespectful to veterans who fought for the rights we hold so dear. (After all, everyone loves veterans, at least until budget time when their need to have food, housing and affordable medical care comes into play.) This discounts the fact that those rights include the power to have and express our opinions as well as to peaceably protest (both protected under Amendment #1). Further, the images seen at many football games yesterday showed many players on bended knee, with bowed head and hand on heart. This is hardly an image of disrespect.

Some have brought the flag code into this argument. The flag code is a U.S. statute that specifically has no provision for enforcement and no penalty for its violation. This is actually a good thing, as most people have violated it in some manner. (See provisions about clothing, accessories and disposable goods.) While I am particularly careful with how I treat the U.S. flag and will always stand for the national anthem, I know that it is only a symbol; our quasi-worship of this piece of fabric is seen peculiar by most other nations. While the U.S. has done great things and as citizens we have much to be proud of, our nation has also been responsible for some terrible actions. Like people, our nation is flawed and unlike God, it and its symbols should not be worshiped.

And Social Media Takes Off

As often happens, people are sharing stories on social media that serve to heighten the controversy, without verifying their accuracy. In this case, one references rules about the national anthem in the NFL Rule Book. Going straight to the source, the downloadable 2017 NFL Rulebook, you will find no mention of the national anthem at all.

Another popular post details a number of battles our brave veterans have served in, challenging athletes to do the same. Unfortunately, it starts with Valley Forge, a national park that has great military significance, (and where many brave souls died) but no battle was fought there.

Keep Politics Out!

Many are outraged that politics has been brought into their weekend entertainment; crying “Keep politics out!” and vowing to abandon the league. However, when politics affects one’s daily life, it becomes personal and cannot be separated. The current social and political climate is a challenging one. No one has been left untouched. Families and friendships have been torn apart. It has become impossible to stay truly neutral.

Sports figures have long been idolized and fans can be rather possessive. Yet, athletes are people, with their own values, beliefs and special interests. Few fans truly know their sports idols. They don’t know their family background and what life experiences they have had off the field. They don’t know what injustices they or their families and friends may experience on a regular basis. They can’t know what drives them and what worries keep them up at night.

Sports heroes are put in a position where they might be able to make a difference and taking advantage of their platform is the right thing to do. While there has been doubt as to what taking a different stance during the two minutes of each game that attention is drawn to the nation’s flag (personally, I didn’t see the point and didn’t think it accomplished much), this weekend has shown that it can make a great difference indeed.

The Truth About Femininity – It’s Not What You Think it Is

old-woman-1077121_1920 crop A fellow writer put out a challenge for March: to “Spring into Femininity.” She has the goal to write daily about femininity. The challenge is to see our femininity, to acknowledge it and to make it work in our lives. Though I don’t plan to write daily about this, I am intrigued by the concept and want to explore my thoughts and feelings about the word and the meaning behind it.

Merriam-Webster defines femininity as “the quality or nature of the female sex.” The Oxford Living Dictionary definition differs slightly: “Qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of women.” And Urban Dictionary gives us: “Feminine means ‘What pertains to a woman.’ There are no qualifications. Whatever a woman does is feminine, because they are a woman, and they are doing something that pertains to them.” They then go on to add, “The only thing that can really be called “feminine” are ovaries.”

Of course this is not what most people are thinking when they use the word feminine. If pressed to come up with synonyms, most people would use words such as soft, delicate, gentle, and dainty.

But these words don’t really work. Think about women’s role throughout time. The one thing that women can do that men cannot is give birth. Anyone who has been through or witnessed this knows that this experience is difficult and painful and frequently includes sounds and actions that would be seen by most as very “un-ladylike.”

washing-41825_1280Consider jobs that are traditionally seen as “women’s work.” Though smart men do not dare to use this term today, think of the daily lives of our great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers. I think it is safe to say that most of them spent their days at hard manual labor: scrubbing – floors, clothing, dishes; hauling – wood, water; and preparing meals (which may have included harvesting and slaughtering). This was all done while also making sure that their children survived to adulthood. Are you picturing a dainty, delicate damsel in distress here?

While I was a child who hated all things “girly,” I grew into a teen who appreciated her softer side and actually enjoyed opportunities to put on a pretty dress. While my early experiences with feminism made me believe that the movement was anti-men and therefore not something I wanted any part of, I have grown to see that true feminism benefits us all.

As defined, femininity is complex, as women (and men for that matter) are. We are much more than what we wear, say or do. We can be both tough and soft, both strong and vulnerable, both adventurous and refined, just not all at the same time.

I think this will be an interesting topic to ponder this month. I hope it will start a conversation. I, for one, am starting to think about it differently already.