Can a Television Show Help You Be Anti-Racist?

Last night as I watched the television show “Station 19,” I was reminded how impactful fiction can be. When the show returned this season, it began where it ended, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a strange coincidence, last night’s story line took place following the events of May 25, when George Floyd died. For those who don’t know, the show takes place in Seattle, a city that made headlines throughout the summer of 2020 due to protests.

While the protests were addressed as part of the show’s story line, the focus of last night’s episode was on the individual characters in the fictional firehouse and their reactions to these events. From the start, I was drawn in and am impressed with the sensitive way this was handled. One by one, (mostly through conversations with a therapist) the characters talked about their personal feelings, their internal struggles, and their perceived places in the outside world.  It was a real, if emotional, overview of some of the various ways Americans have struggled with our individual and group identities over the past year.

The writers gave the characters words that I’ve longed for; words that might help explain the concept of “white privilege,” which is something all white people are born with whether they want to admit it or not. The dialogue also highlighted the exhaustion and frustration many Black people have endured in trying to explain their reality to many white people who, though they want to be allies, don’t truly understand.

When the show ended, I went to social media, to see if others had been impacted in the same way. I was surprised and disheartened to see that most of the comments on the show’s Facebook fan page (of all places!) were negative. People complained that it was all too much, that we lived it; we don’t need to see it, that it was creating racial divisions, that it made cops look bad. Some went as far as to say they would never watch the show again.

I, obviously, disagree.

If we want a better world, we need to do hard things.

Those of us who are white, and consider ourselves (or want to be) allies to our Black and Brown neighbors, co-workers and friends, need to take a stand. Sitting quietly beside them isn’t enough. Quiet only reinforces the status quo. But we also need to be mindful of not speaking over those we seek to support. It’s a delicate balance. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. We need to accept that, though our intentions may be good, sometimes we will say and do the wrong things.

The first step is for us to educate ourselves. It is not the job of those who have been oppressed to show us how words and actions do harm. As the show pointed out, racism is inherent in society; it has been taught in schools as part of history. Most of us are racist (to varying degrees). But being racist doesn’t make you a bad person – hateful actions do. We need to know better to do better. There are plenty of resources out there, including a number of movies and television shows as well as books. Last night, Shonda Rhimes presented an unexpected gift to white people: a valuable lesson wrapped up in a popular prime time network show. Find this episode and watch it. Listen. Learn. Do better. Be better.

It’s Okay to Be Undecided

As our kids end their high school careers, the constant question is “What’s next?” Not only are they asking this question themselves, it seems that everyone else is as well. As they answer the question “What are you going to do next year?” with what college they plan to attend, you can sometimes sense the apprehension. They know the next question: “What are you going to major in?” While it is often meant as a conversation starter, this seemingly innocuous question makes some teens squirm. Some 18 year-olds don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their lives and in today’s world of four-year degrees priced at six-figures, not having a clear focus is sometimes seen as being irresponsible.

I disagree. I think it is even more acceptable to start college “undecided” today than when I was there 30 years ago. I understand that, especially with costs being disproportionately higher today, many parents are reluctant to fund four years of their teen “discovering himself” without a clear objective in mind, but I believe it is shortsighted to expect that such an objective can really be formulated at age 18. Having worked with young adults for more than a decade, I also see the effects of parental and societal pressure on them in the form of depression, anxiety and an overwhelming sense that they must succeed at all costs. For too many, failure at anything is simply not an option. The few students I have encountered without a clear answer to the common question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” seem to be distressed that they don’t yet have it all figured out.

Around the time my oldest entered college, I saw a sign in an airport: “The top 20 jobs 10 years from now have not even been invented yet.” This made me pause and gave me a new way to look at the purpose and methods of higher education. In the years since, the truth in that statement has been proven over and over again.

Those over 50 browsing job listings will likely see many positions that have them scratching their heads. What exactly is a “performance marketing wrangler” or a “course mentor?” Other job descriptions are easier to decipher, but somehow don’t seem like “real jobs.” Technology has in some way complicated our lives, creating the need for positions such as social media manager, content marketer, influencer, mobile app developer, and virtual assistant.  Technology moves at such a fast pace that that students graduating college may start jobs that were not needed or even conceived when they first walked onto campus as an undergrad.

Especially when you consider the ever-changing nature of business in the world today, it’s okay to be undecided. You don’t have to know at age 18 what you will do for the rest of your life. While some professions do require an early commitment (for example careers in some fields such as teaching, nursing and accounting involve certification tests before you can be employed), many of today’s jobs are flexible regarding what field of study you pursue. Even those planning on going to medical and law school have flexibility in what major they choose.

Up to 50 percent of students start college undecided. As one who started college with a clear path that changed dramatically after my first semester, in some ways I envy them. When I realized what I had thought was my career path was not going to work with the life I discovered I wanted, I was lost. I had no reason to stick with the demanding major I had chosen and had no idea what I wanted to study instead. I dabbled and ultimately found my way, but the interim was challenging. I felt like a failure.

I am seeing similar feelings in young adults today. Those who have a plan seem to have the next ten years of their life planned out. Those who are undecided tend to mutter and avoid all discussion of college courses. When I ask what classes they are taking for fun, they look at me quizzically. The reply is generally that they have no room in their schedule for “fun” classes; they have to work on their major. Many of them seem to be hyper-focused on the goal and missing out on the wonderful learning opportunities in the interim.

Today, the pressure to have it all together is even greater. The level of anxiety and depression seen in teens and young adults has been on the rise; they seem to see uncertainty or the possibility of failure as a fatal character flaw.  When college proves to not be “the best years of their lives,” many young adults assume that they are the problem. Too many are wasting the cherished opportunity of this age: to try something new with the possibility of failure (which is nature’s best teacher). We should encourage our kids to take the random class that “counts for nothing.” This may be the class that opens their eyes to new possibilities, that helps them find their place in the world, or at least provides four stress-free hours of classroom instruction.

This is the time they should be taking chances, stretching to see how far they can reach and learning how to pick themselves up when they fall. Allowing them the luxury to explore new interests without the pressure of committing to a single topic can not only reduce stress, it can also give them confidence to try new things. After all, isn’t that how the innovators of the world get started?

This article was first published at, July, 2017

Don’t Blame Parents, We’re Living in a Helicopter Society

an empty helicopter cockpit as viewed from in frontHelicopter Parents are blamed for stifling the growth of their children and creating a generation of young adults who struggle to deal with everyday tasks, resulting in the need for actual classes in “How to Adult.” I would argue that it’s not that simple. Parents alone are not to blame. We are living in a helicopter society. Families are not autonomous, especially not when both parents hold full-time jobs and rely on community supports to help care for their children.

People complain about how today’s children are unable to entertain themselves, that parents are overinvolved and families are overscheduled. This is all true, but what is the cause? Yes, parents often make all these plans, but families don’t exist in a vacuum. Some get caught up in the ripple effect. It is nearly impossible today to not overschedule your children when that’s exactly what other parents do. While children can sometimes engage in solitary play, it is not reasonable or healthy to ask them to always play solo. When their kids’ friends have things planned out weeks in advance, parents learn they need to do the same or find ways to occupy the kids themselves.  Even teens capable of making their own plans often need help to implement them, most often transportation.

Though all generations have faced criticism for their parenting styles, the current trend favors greater, almost constant supervision of children. Parents who allow their children the freedom to make their own decisions and learn lessons in a natural (cause and effect) way are criticized or even charged with child neglect. Many children don’t learn to be independent because they aren’t allowed to be independent. When simply leaving home unsupervised is seen as a danger, it is no wonder so many young adults have no idea what to do when they first set out on their own.

Not allowing kids to learn organically robs them of the confidence of knowing they can accomplish things on their own.  Years of having been told exactly what they need to do to get the “A” stifles creativity. Too many young adults have not learned effective problem-solving skills. What used to be a normal byproduct of education has become something that needs to be explicitly taught.

Change is always a constant, but the educational system of today is vastly different from the one I grew up in. In fact, things changed dramatically between my oldest and youngest, with only ten years between them. Things have gotten worse instead of better.

In some ways, more is demanded of students, especially in the younger years. Just 20 years ago kindergarten was for learning social skills and practicing motor skills. Today’s kindergarteners are pushed to learn to read and do math. Then, ironically, when they get to the hard stuff, they are coddled. Teachers hand out notes rather than teaching note-taking skills; they provide lists of resources rather than teaching students where to find information; students are sometimes given actual test questions in pre-test reviews. (This is not meant as a criticism of teachers. Today’s emphasis on testing, plus the additional learning that goes with advances in technology, leaves no time to teach these skills.) As interaction between teaching professionals is often limited to others who work with the same age level, many teachers are unaware of what or how their students have learned in the past. It is no wonder that college students are needy, nor that professors are baffled at the needs of those walking in their classrooms.

Parent portals that allow parents to see grades on a daily basis unnecessarily insert parents into the educational system. Many teachers expect parents to check the portal regularly; the parents who do not are seen as uninvolved and disinterested. The expectation is that parents will notice that Johnny hasn’t turned in this week’s assignments and will discipline accordingly, then look ahead and remind him about the project listed in the portal that is due next Tuesday. Some go so far as to require a signature affirming that Johnny’s homework has been checked each night. Parents desperate for their children to not fall behind may be tempted to “help” or even complete the assignments themselves.

This takes ownership away from kids. It is the students who should be held accountable for completing work and earning grades, not the parents. What happens when the student goes away to college? Students accustomed to receiving help or even the daily “Have you finished your homework?” may flounder, not knowing where or how to start.  This may contribute to the rising mental health crisis seen at so many colleges today. The problem is compounded as students don’t reach their potential: in college, there are no parent portals, no teacher conferences, and no emails to indicate there is a problem, so when the work doesn’t get done, everyone is surprised when the failing grades arrive.

Parents want to protect their children, but all this scheduled, pre-planned activity has created a generation that struggles to find its own identity. Real life doesn’t come with a syllabus, and there is no online scorecard to keep you aware of your progress.

While many complain, they ignore the fact that we have all become lazy and complacent.  Today it is common for people (including grown adults) to expect reminders of their commitments. Even a meeting regularly scheduled for the second Tuesday of each month can be forgotten or assumed cancelled when an email notification isn’t sent the day before. If grown adults can’t manage to show up at a scheduled meeting without a reminder, how can we expect our youth to do so?


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.