Are Readers to Blame for Sensational Journalism?

newspaper-1595773_1920Shortly after the election, a young woman I know requested help with a media ethics class assignment. Her task was to find examples of bias in the news that was of concern to readers. Since this is someone I am fond of and the topic is in my field, I was happy to help. Besides, remembering that I saw quite a few stories that would fit the description, I thought this would be easy.

It wasn’t. The challenge was that the articles in question had to be “news” stories. Opinion pieces didn’t count. I did a quick search on controversial topics and realized this was going to take a while. I tried to narrow things down by thinking back to which stories particularly irritated me and searched those topics. As it turns out, the ones I remembered were opinion pieces.

Undeterred, my next strategy was to go directly to the news sources traditionally thought of as biased: Fox, CNN and the New York Times. (To clarify, I used the online versions of these outlets in my research.) To my surprise, when scrolling through the news departments of these publications (and others as well) all the stories I found were objective and based on solid journalistic principles. The inflammatory, biased statements were in the opinion section or woven into feature pieces.

Having been critical in the past of modern day media and the seeming lack of journalistic integrity today (what happened to the concept of confirming a story with three sources), I was happy to see that this is not in fact the case. So then why the disconnect? Why is the general view that the media is biased and cannot be trusted?

The answer is simple. News outlets are businesses. Sensationalism sells. The more outrageous, the more negative the headline, the more attention the story gets. As readers, we don’t always want what is true, we want the latest gossip. We don’t share the feel-good news (unless we have a direct connection); we talk about the catastrophes, the violence, the scandals.  This has always been the case. I remember as a child hearing, “All you ever hear is the bad news.” Again, why are we certain that the media has changed? Why do so many say it is corrupt?

As I discovered, the big news outlets continue responsible investigative journalism. They search for the truth and report on it. Sometimes they get it wrong; reporters are human after all, and when they do, retractions are provided. Of course with the way we consume news today, sometimes the damage has been done. In today’s world, the responsibility to check facts is more important than ever, since information and worse, misinformation spreads at lightning speed.

Perhaps this is where the problem lies. We simply have too much information at our disposal. This should be a good thing, but we are not using our resources well. We need to be more discerning about what we accept as fact. We need to stop and think before we react. We need to question outrageous stories before we spread them. Although there have been numerous articles that list reliable (meaning objective)  news sources versus right- or left-leaning sources, being selective about the news agency isn’t enough. We also need to look at the section each story is placed in.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees us a free press. That does not mean that it costs nothing. Saying our press is free means that our news is unfettered. The government does not control the press. This is intentional. The press is and should be separate from the government. Of course this has caused consternation and embarrassment for some politicians, but it is part of the system of checks and balances that we have come to depend on.

To maintain the independence of the press, it is not government sponsored. However, someone needs to pay the bills. As consumers, we need to shoulder some of the blame for the state of the media today. Which stories do you click on? Which do you share? Which outlets do you financially support? Sometimes you get what you pay for.


Each Year I Feel the Horror

img_7120I awoke this morning and decided to turn on the television, to try to catch up on current events. I have been too busy with other things to pay much attention to what is going on in the world (and have been avoiding the constant coverage of politics). Since it was early, and I had not yet had my coffee, I had forgotten the date (which to be honest, I hardly pay attention to anymore).  I was quickly reminded.

Today is a tough day. It has been for the past 15 years. Though no one I knew was lost that day, I have not gotten through an anniversary of the day without tears. I remember the morning clearly and now understand the question “Where were you when…?” For my parents’ generation, it was the day was Kennedy was shot. For mine and my kids, it was September 11. No year is needed, it is simply September 11.

I remember (and relive each year) the emotions of that day. My older kids were off to school, I had just showered and put the TV on for some light entertainment, yet it wasn’t Regis and Kelly I saw on the screen, but an image of New York, with smoke coming from one of the towers. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were discussing breaking news: apparently a commuter plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Moments later, a plane flew on to the screen and crashed into the other. I felt sick. It was obvious that this was intentional and the reports began – we were under attack. Then they went to DC were an explosion had rocked the Pentagon and then were reports of another plane going down in central PA.

Now we know what happened, but at the time, one could only speculate. I was afraid. The hows, the whys, even the who was unknown. I couldn’t step away from the television. I watched the World Trade Center smolder. I had been there on multiple occasions. Like many tourists, I stood at the top and viewed the city below; I had been to the restaurant at the top, celebrating an anniversary. That morning, I called my husband, multiple times. I asked him if the tower would fall over. He reassured me, no, it was built to withstand just about anything.  Then, just seconds later, the towers crumbled.  I couldn’t breathe.

Then I had the uncontrollable urge to collect everyone I loved and get them close. I called the elementary school and told the secretary there (which whom I had developed a relationship) that I was going to pick my kids up (from three schools). She convinced me that they were safe there and it would be best for them to stay. I contacted family members throughout the country, ensuring they were all safe. Though I could not reach those in New York, other family members were able to and assured me they were safe.

I continued to watch the coverage. At this point, my three year old was wondering where Mommy was and came looking. This is what finally pulled me away. No child should watch that. When the older kids got home, I didn’t have to tell them what was happening. They had heard about it in school (and despite a news blackout ordered by the administration, one had seen some of it on TV).

I felt helpless. I didn’t know if anyone I knew was involved and felt guilty that all my loved ones were accounted for. So many others could not say the same. Then the stories started coming out. Stories of loss and of heroism. They all made me cry. Though the kids knew what had happened, they couldn’t understand why. How do you explain this kind of evil to a child? Our church announced a prayer service and Mass that night. No one else in my family wanted to go, but I had to. I was too emotional to stay for it all, but going helped me.

The days that followed were also difficult. One of the kids spent time building block towers and knocking them down with a pretend airplane. I tried to not talk about it around them and limit the television to kid-friendly channels, but they needed to talk as well. It was eerily quiet. The lack of air traffic was a dramatic difference since there were several airstrips nearby. When a military plane flew over, we all jumped in fear.

As the first anniversary approached, I planned to avoid media altogether. It was too much. I couldn’t handle my emotions. I understand why we memorialize these things, but there is no danger that I will ever forget. Our community lost a few people and there are ceremonies each year. My children attend; I still can’t. I wonder if I ever will.

Midlife Revelations Found in the Wilderness


Last week I had a much needed break from everyday life.  We spent three rejuvenating nights camping in Shenandoah National Park, where my cell phone got only spotty service, and the questions of the day included where to hike and where to go for dinner (we didn’t completely “rough it”). We hiked a bit each day, but there was plenty of time to relax and ponder. Though I did spend some time thinking about and taking notes for an upcoming project, I had time to contemplate life in general and came to some conclusions about an upcoming birthday.

I knew from an early age that I wanted to have a family young and especially now am happy with this choice. While I was too busy with life to even consider the relevance of previous milestone birthdays, I am looking at 50 with anticipation. Yes, it is a big number, but I look around and see how much opportunity still exists, as long as I slow down and pay attention. This camping trip reminded me how important it is and will be to regularly unplug and just be. While doing just this, I realized that this birthday really is different.

For my entire adult life, I have been a mom. I have looked at things through a mom’s eyes. Everything I did had a potential impact on my children. Now, my actions cause barely a ripple in their lives. I am confident that they don’t need me, at least not in the way they once did. Now my role is more to observe and advise them and to discover what else the world has to offer. Spending a few unscheduled days gave me the opportunity to think about life and to gain a new perspective.


I noticed more bounce in my step last week, a newfound sense of freedom. While one might expect me to be more cautious than when I was young, instead I feel more adventurous. I gleefully climbed among boulders on cliff sides, seeking the best view on each hike we took (and making my husband nervous in the process). Each step made me want to take another, to see and experience more. This is not a crisis; there is no rashness to my actions. I am well aware of my physical limitation. In fact this encourages me to get in better shape so that next time I can go further and do more.

Along with this sense of adventure comes a refusal to listen to those who say I can’t. I’m not going to listen to those who may tell me to act my age, to buy into the “shoulds.” I am going to live my life even if it goes against the norm. Up until this point,  I have followed the rules, now it is time for me to make them for myself. I skipped over the party years; I was mommying in my twenties, not out at bars, staying until “last call” and dancing on tables. I’m not saying I will do that now (though I’ll leave the option open, if I find the moment is appropriate), but I don’t really care what people would say if I did. Again, this is not a crisis – I have no desire to go back in time. I am quite content here at (almost) 50. I have the wisdom and the confidence to know that age is just a number, that it does not limit what one can do. And I am finding that there is quite a lot that I want to do.

Another side effect of my half-century status:  I now have zero tolerance for bullshit. Though I believe I still have many years ahead of me, I acknowledge that there is an end. At this point in life, I don’t want to waste time on things that don’t matter. I don’t want to spend time on petty issues that divide people. I don’t have time for hidden agendas or playing games with emotions. I will always strive to be kind, but there is no need to read between the lines with me. If you want to know what I think, ask me; don’t try to divine my thoughts based on my actions (or lack thereof). If I have offended you, tell me. Since there is much I want to do, I can get hyper-focused and be rather direct in my dealings with people.  Sometimes people make things much more complicated than they are. I don’t want to waste time with misunderstandings.

As the generations below me are adding members, I am also thinking of the strong women who came before me, those who showed me that a woman can do and be anything she wants. I am thinking of the example I want to be to my children and hopefully to their children. Though I know there are still must-dos in my future, I am looking ahead to a great many more opportunities to do what I want to do. I am looking at 50 as a new beginning, a time to discover new dreams and work to meet new goals. I am looking forward to seeing how much I can do.

Letting Go of Hate Helps You Love


Watching the news would lead us to believe that hate and anger are a constant in the world today. (I know many people who no longer watch the news for exactly this reason.) There are stories of love and goodness out there, but they don’t get the same reaction. Sure, they make people smile and momentarily feel good, but they don’t elicit the desire to take action. The positive stories may be told to close friends, you may tap the like (or love) button on Facebook, you may even share some of them, but the stories about hate, well they bring out the activist in us all. Those are the stories that get shared, along with accompanying rants, over and over again. Those are the stories that cause people to get involved, to let people know what you think, to get angry about.

Hatred and anger spread faster than love. It shouldn’t be this way, but it seems to be easier than spreading good news. For some inexplicable reason, it is somehow more accepted to express negative feelings, but it shouldn’t be. We would all be happier without hatred in our lives. Look at the antonyms for hate: respect, praise, fondness, blessing, pleasure, kindness, happiness, friendship, delight, honor and of course, love. Aren’t these the things we want in our lives? Can’t we work to have them?

Letting go hatred and the feelings of anger that often accompany it is hard.

Loving our neighbors is sometimes hard. Like all habits, giving up something that has become ingrained is difficult and requires effort.  But the rewards of doing so are great and the penalty for holding on to these feelings is harsh.

In the past, I have experienced hatred and realized I was suffering because of it. I noted that holding on to negativity made me feel worse, not better. I had good reasons for my anger: the words and behavior of someone I knew were hateful and mean-spirited. Not having another way to deal with it (and it being someone I could only ignore up to a point) I responded to this with anger and hatred. I knew I had a problem when I got to the point of wishing for evil outcomes. I took a hard look at myself and realized that hatred had made me someone I disliked. Hatred is evil. It makes one do and say things that are mean and hurtful. This is not who I wanted to be, so I made a decision: I was going to get rid of it.

When I had hatred in my life, I found that it tended to even creep into parts of my life that were unrelated to the actions or even the person that prompted the feeling. Finding joy became difficult. A darkness had crept into my life, without my even realizing it. I was unhappy.

Hatred is tough to give up. Once it has settled inside you, it sets up house and makes itself comfortable.  It consumes your thoughts and emotions. It can in fact wield as much power as love does. Being nice and loving again is difficult. When you are justified in your anger, it is difficult to give it up, but I realized that fighting this emotion was necessary, for my own well being.

I thought it was too hard to do alone, so I prayed. For weeks, I asked God to help me rid myself of this hatred. I thought of hatred as a black spot on my soul. It was eating me away from the inside. I also recognized that I was being hurt more than the person I hated. What was worse, I was responsible for it all; I was doing this to myself. I know that prayer would not be the path to a solution for everyone, but it helped me. Logically speaking, I knew I had to let my feeling go, but I didn’t feel able to do it on my own, so I turned to the most powerful being I know.

Maybe you don’t have a strong faith. Maybe you have no faith. Yet putting aside how hatred harms your soul, you have to admit that it is also damaging physically. When you hate, your body is tense. Feelings of anger and anxiety often accompany hatred and both are frequently cited as being responsible for a number of physical ailments, including headaches, digestive problems, teeth grinding and muscle tension. It can cause you to lose sleep, which in turn can cause even more issues. It can make chronic health issues worse. Hatred also affects your relationships. When you are tense and anxious so much of the time, it is difficult for others to be around you. You are simply not fun. Your happiness diminishes as it has a tough time coexisting with hate.

Our hate-based actions tend to silence our conscience, to give ourselves license to behave badly, to act in a way that is harmful or destructive to others, in a physical or emotional way.  As a result, everyone loses. When you hate, you lose a part of yourself. You lose a bit of the person you were. You may lose a relationship (which may then lead to the loss of another, and so on) and you may be so preoccupied with hating that you miss out on other opportunities for love.

Several years ago, I read a book about anger that suggested that persistent anger could be seen as giving another person control over you. There is some truth in this. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” I would say that this is true of many other emotions as well.  Hating someone is relinquishing control. Using up precious time and energy to be angry makes no sense. We get to choose what we use our emotional energy on, and sometimes we have to make tough choices. Hatred comes from within. It is something that we can learn to control and even eliminate in our lives. Many wise people have pointed out that the opposite of hate is not love, it is apathy or indifference.  These feelings do less harm.

The current climate in society is doing nothing to improve our lives.

In fact, I would say that all the negativity is making our lives worse. Though it may look otherwise, we are not helpless, our fate is not determined. We can make a difference, if we choose to do so. We can choose to not hastily react to bad news, we can choose to not spread rumors, we can choose to look for the good in people and situations. Though we live in a world where the answer to most questions is “Google it,” we have to accept that we will not always get instant answers and sometimes we will not get answers at all. We cannot know all that is going on in someone else’s life, never mind what thoughts and feelings motivate their behaviors. We can stop and think before we act. We can pause before we judge. We can choose to act out of love and to give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than reacting to what we perceive to be another’s intentions. We can choose love over hate. Doing so will mean we all win.

Why Do Old People Want to Chat, Snap and Gram?

snapchat filters are funI am seeing conversations about Instagram and Snapchat growing in popularity and outside the typical teen demographic. Since I like being seen as an adult, and not one who is trying to be cool by desperately grasping at things to regain some appearance of youth, for years I have pretty much tried to ignore the newer social media platforms (of course after learning some basic facts about them and warning my children of the dangers of misuse).

But it seems I finally do get pulled in. First it was Facebook. Then my family got Smartphones, and one of the first things my kids did was to get on Snapchat. As I struggled with figuring out the basics of my new phone, they were happily Snapping away, with their friends and each other. When I asked about all the giggling, they told me about Shapchat and asked me to join in, urging me to set up an account.

I declined. I told them I had enough to keep up with having Facebook and needed to figure out what I was doing with this new phone that did everything but make coffee. I did, however, set up an Instagram account. This was more my speed, sharing photos. With my daughter’s urging, my account is set to private, so I can control who views them (yay for having a smart kid!)

Fast forward a couple months. I know how to navigate with my phone (mostly) and I am hearing about how one or the other of my children has done this or that from one of their siblings. I had just talked to him/her and did not hear about it. How did they get this info? From Snapchat. I’ve been left behind.

So I realized, if I was going to find out more about their everydays, I needed to get an account. Well, actually, the dog did. (Snapchat messages include a photo, and I like pictures of her more than those of me. They all seem to miss her more than me anyway.) The whole process was more complicated that I had thought it would be. Snapchat is not as intuitive as Facebook and I have no patience for searching for online tutorials. I muddled through and finally thought I had it figure out. I had requested to be “friends” with my kids and sent my first message (well, to three of them, I somehow got the fourth child’s name wrong and still don’t know who got that Snap). Thankfully it was just a picture of the dog.)

I continued to get frustrated with the app, since there were things I knew were possible to do, but I couldn’t figure out how. Over Thanksgiving break, they all taught me some tricks and we had fun adding to our “stories” with pictures we took of each other during a long car ride. I still don’t do much with Snapchat, except follow stories (it still frustrates me that I have to ask for help). It can be more useful than a text when I see something and want to share it with one of them, but for regular conversation, I still prefer to use the phone as it was intended, or I text for non-urgent questions or comments.

Although, now that I updated the app, (and got more “lessons”) these new filters are kinda’ fun…

Writers Are A Special Kind of Crazy


The writing community, unlike many others, is extremely supportive. Though there is competition for markets, that cut-throat competitive spirit just isn’t there. Maybe it is the often solitary nature of the work that drives us all to be nice to each other. Maybe we are all just nice people who realize that there is enough space for us all. Maybe it is even simpler than that, maybe it is just that writers are usually also readers, and many of us just can’t get enough of the written word.

Whatever inspires it, the community is welcoming, to those experienced and new alike. Secrets are shared (where to send pieces, how to word queries, which person to direct submissions to) and there is a tendency to promote others’ work, as well as your own. We celebrate each other’s successes and are there for each other when things are down. We fight off the trolls together and commiserate when writer’s block strikes. We also laugh at ourselves for pursuing what is at times a rather bizarre way of life. Things that other professions would simply not accept, we take in stride as just another part of the day. These strange things we take for granted are what make us a special kind of crazy.

At some point in a writing career, you will:

Spend hours working on a project with no guarantee of pay. Working “on spec” is a given when you hope to break into a new market. Even when a paycheck is involved, you may not want to determine your hourly rate, especially after considering all the steps involved: the writing, promoting, billing, and keeping track of expenses in preparation for the end of year taxes. Seasoned freelancers frequently have pieces assigned to them, but if you want to choose what to write about, you will likely have to do so without the certainty of being paid.

Compulsively check your mailbox (either real or virtual). Unless you write exclusively for your full time job, you engage in the process of submitting your writing for someone else’s approval. While it is easy to say “submit and forget,” that piece you submitted way back when floats in the back of your mind, so that when mail arrives, you have to immediately check to see if your answer is in.

Definitely experience rejection. Most writers get more rejection letters than those of acceptance. I recently came across advice for writers to set a goal of 100 rejections a year (side note, I am on track to meet this goal.) The key, of course, is to then review the piece, and unless there is reason to edit or rework it, send it out again, to a new publisher. Rejection is not a reflection on you, it just means that piece was not right for that market. (Some weeks that is tough to remember.)

Agree to write for free. This may be for an organization whose mission you support, or for a friend who asks nicely, or maybe even, wait for it, for the exposure (yes, I know, people die of exposure). Though I agree that writers should be paid for their work, there are some good reasons to write for free and in the early stages of a career (or when switching niches) it may be the quickest route to steady work. It can also be thought of as a writing exercise (making your writing stronger) and is sometimes just a nice thing to do.

Experience extreme emotion. Submitting writing is in some ways, like parenting a toddler. You question yourself and your techniques. You devote a tremendous amount of time, energy and love into something and sometimes it just isn’t appreciated. On a good day, you get an “I love this!”  Other times you get a polite “No, thank you. This is nice, but it doesn’t work for us right now,” other times you get “I hate this, and I hate you!” (I actually have never gotten the last response from an editor, but like toddlers, not all editors are sensitive to a fragile ego.)

Make wonderful friends. These may be fellow writers, or people who have found and appreciate your work. These people will help you work through issues, both professional and personal. The power of the written word is tremendous. When two people connect over a story, that moment one says, “Me too!” is magical. It keeps writers writing and readers reading. We all want to know that we are not alone in the world, that others share in our experiences, even if they do so from afar.

Be glad you took this path. It has its ups and downs. The rewards are often intangible but real. Even if you can’t quit your day job, you know you can make a difference. You know you are part of a special, not-so-secret club. You know the power of words, and how to wield them. You are a writer.


I’m Tired of Hearing About Un-Common Courtesy

IMG_7477I regularly hear that my kids have good manners. People compliment me on how polite they are. Though I appreciate hearing good things about them, this always puzzles me. They are not doing anything special, they behave in a way that I would expect everyone to. They say please and thank you, hold the door for the next person (or open it for someone without a free hand) and wait their turn.

I have had store employees thank me for pausing a phone conversation to interact with them. (One even mentioned it had never happened before.) Why is this out of the ordinary? What has happened to our society? How did we become a society of individuals rather than a whole?

Every generation complains about the new one. Looking back, our parents and grandparents cited a lack of respect, a selfishness about the youth of the day. One can say that this is more of the same, but I am seeing it in older people as well. This lack of courtesy is not peculiar to teens and young adults. In fact, it is often worse in those who are old enough “to know better.”

Finger pointing and blaming is rampant. Someone else is to blame for everything. Few accept responsibility for their actions, least of all our authority figures and the media who report on them.

People react to bad news. They comment on stories they disagree with. Bad news, outrageous news, misleading news and headlines all create controversy and people make their opinions known. Think about this: When is the last time you commented on good news? When was the last time you told someone that they made a positive difference in your life? When did you last share a story celebrating someone else’s accomplishments? When did you last smile and exchange pleasantries with a stranger? When did you last comment on an act of kindness, acknowledging that you noticed and that it was appreciated?

We complain about the preponderance of bad news. Tragedy and scandal are the headlines. The positive stories get buried, if they run at all. Why? Because that is what we are asking for. We blame the media for creating controversy. These stories are successful only because people react to them. It is obvious that the way we are behaving is not working.

Let’s try something new. The next time something makes you feel good, tell someone about it. The next time you read something that makes you smile, that encourages you, share it. Tell people that their actions and words are making a difference. Look for the positive. Encourage kindness. We can’t escape all the evil and sadness in the world, but we don’t have to feed it.

Can We Agree to a Gun Compromise?

gunsI am struggling. Yet again, senseless violence has disrupted the lives of Americans. Again, reports have come in, painfully slow, of what happened, what is known, what is suspected. The numbers climb, as they always do. First 20 dead, then 50. With an even higher number injured, will that number change again?

Then there are the questions that can’t be answered. Why? Our minds cannot wrap around an act this senseless, this hateful. How is it possible in a civilized society that one person can walk into a building and shoot over 100 without being stopped? Why do weapons exist that can accomplish this sort of destruction? Why is it so easy to obtain such a weapon?

This weekend’s events in Orlando, Florida will bring up the gun control issue again. Fingers will be pointed. Societal differences will be pointed out. Groups will be blamed. We will be divided even more. When will the madness stop?

No matter one’s opinion on exactly what the Second Amendment protects, gun violence is a very real issue in the United States and something needs to be done to address it.

We have a long-held belief in the U.S. that it is our right to have a gun. The words of the Second Amendment are not entirely clear on exactly what this means and have resulted in controversy and argument for generations. We need to stop and think and listen to each other. We need to put aside the issue of whether owning a gun is an unrestricted right granted to all Americans and look at measures that make sense to protect all our citizens. It is unreasonable to say that one’s right to own a gun outweighs that of many to “peaceably assemble” or “freely exercise” their religion. In fact, the Ninth Amendment clearly states that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The rights of one are not more important than the rights of many.

The term “Gun Control” is a trigger. People have their own idea of what it means and react without even knowing exactly what someone is referring to. There are some points that many can agree on. Requiring a background check is one of these. It provides a basic screening of individuals, but only rules out those who have been convicted of crimes. The Founding Fathers would likely support this measure.  Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said that “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Of course the term “free man” had a more specific meaning in the late 1700s than it does now, but I think it is safe to say that a criminal would have lost his right to carry his weapon.

Some say gun laws won’t work. I know that someone who is determined enough will find a way around any laws, but why make it so easy? We don’t leave stores unlocked after hours for criminals to waltz in and take what they like; we don’t leave young children unattended so that those who would want to kidnap or harm them can do so easily. Deterrents are not foolproof, but in most cases they are effective and reduce the frequency of bad things happening.

Samuel Adams is quoted as saying, “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” I agree. “Peaceable citizens” should be allowed to own guns. No one will argue that someone who walks into a building to shoot innocent people is a “peaceable citizen.”

Though I support a person’s right to own a gun, I believe there should be guidelines in place. There is evidence that most responsible gun owners agree. The National Rifle Association (NRA) encourages gun owners to “Make sure all firearms cannot be reached by anyone who should not have access to them without your consent. Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons, especially children. Keep ammunition securely stored where a child or any other unauthorized person cannot reach it.” The NRA also offers a number of gun safety classes and considers itself “the leader in firearms education” for civilians.

Common sense gun control does not equal taking guns away or even necessarily registering them (though the idea of a gun registry is also not a new one. According to the National Constitution Center website, late 1700 laws provided for registration of militia weapons on government rolls.) In some states, classes and proof of competency with a weapon are required to obtain a hunting license. This is an example of a responsible and common-sense law.

We no longer live in a society where every household has a gun and every child grows up knowing how to use it. In the 1700s, a gun was in every home and was a part of everyday life. In many cases, if you didn’t have a gun, you wouldn’t eat. This is no longer the case. Today, I believe that before someone can purchase a gun, one needs to learn how to use one, in a safe and responsible manner. I believe that this idea also was present when these documents were written.

In Federal Farmer No. 18, January 25, 1788, Richard Henry Lee said, “A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include, according to the past and general usage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms…  To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”

Likewise, James Madison, in I Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789, said, “The right of the people to keep and bear…arms shall not be infringed. A well-regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…”

[note: Italics were added. Quotes obtained from]

Though he may not have been addressing guns, Jefferson’s words can be seen as being directed to us in a letter to William Johnson dated 12 June 1823. In it, he is quoted as saying, “On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying [to force] what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, [instead let us] conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” (

I think this is important in that we need to consider these documents in the context in which they were written. Though it has been argued that the Founders did anticipate automatic weapons, they could not have foreseen the power of those available today. The world today is different in many other ways which impact every aspect of our lives. Jefferson and his colleagues would not recognize the America of today.

Though methods of communication have improved, so that we can relay information much faster, this has been accompanied by a decrease in the quality. We are so fast to get the story first that we do not worry about getting the story right. The 18th century statesmen spent years working on these important documents, changing the wording multiple times. They knew how important it was to find the best words to express ideas.

The documents establishing the rule of law for our country were carefully considered and revised. Our Constitution is not our first “rule book.” The Articles of Confederation established the new government and was the rule of the land from March 3, 1781 to March 4, 1789. This document was found to be flawed and leaders met again, as part of the Constitutional Convention to make the new government better. This process of creating the government took years. Its creators labored over the wording and made many changes. (The Declaration of Independence also differs from its original version, by as much as 25%.) Many argued that there was no need for a Bill of Rights at all. Of course, it was finally determined that it was important and The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was added to the document after being ratified by 10 of the 13 states in December of 1791. (There actually were 12 proposed out of 90 introduced, further illustrating the lack of a unanimous agreement on the issue.)

Our Founding Fathers worked together, despite the fact that many had to travel great distances to do so. They did not know and in some cases did not like each other. But still, they worked together and compromised to make the new country great. They wanted to ensure that all they had fought for would continue and thrive. What they created was groundbreaking. The U.S. Constitution was the first of its kind and has been a model for many nations since.

We need to follow their lead. We need to work together and compromise. We should serve as an example to others of how to run a nation, how to be united, instead of continually dividing our citizens into us and them. We know how to be an example for the world, we just seem to have lost our way.

Are We on the Cusp of a New Sexual Revolution?

100_7698The viral reactions to recent news has been unusual to say the least, resulting in a an uproar across the internet. Last week the big story was the child who ended up in a gorilla enclosure at a zoo. People were quick to blame: the mom and the zoo were both the subject of several scathing articles, talking about incompetence and negligence. This week’s viral commentary stems from the news about the college athlete sentenced to a mere 6 months in a county jail for a crime that would have sent many others to spend 14 years in a state prison. Many have written a response to the story itself, as well as to a statement made by the victim and another made by the father of the perpetrator.

The event in question happened over a year ago, and the accounts are horrific. The victim’s statement is a lengthy essay and tells what she remembers of the night and the months that followed. The letter written by the father of the convicted laments how this sentence is a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action” and that his son has been “broken and shattered” by the verdict. He then goes on to say that his son can better help society by educating others about “the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”


Though I can understand that this man is justifiably crushed by the events (after all, who wants to see their child on trial for atrocities and then facing time in a cell), I am utterly baffled at the fact that he seems to have no concern at all for the victim or her family. I understand that this young man is very likely less cheerful and experiencing ”fear and anxiety.” As a parent, I understand the desire to try to relieve these emotions and having to cope with one’s own fear of what such emotions can lead to. What I don’t understand is how anyone could think that the actions that led to this sentence are okay, that there is any possible justification for what happened, or how this can in any way be considered a “steep price.”

Regardless of whether this young man has violent tendencies or if this was a one-time lapse in judgement, he needs to accept responsibility for his actions. He should be treated no differently from anyone else. The fact that he is a star athlete from an elite university should be irrelevant. To be honest, I think that given his privilege, more, not less should be expected of him. As a well-educated person (we are talking about a student at Stanford), he should understand that actions have consequences.

There are some good people in this story.

Two grad students who saw what was happening, put a stop to it and held him until the authorities arrived. We need more people to step in, to pay attention, to speak up. Was no one else around? Could this have been prevented? Some will have us believe that the answer is yes, if there was no alcohol involved, if the victim had dressed and behaved differently. What about self-control, decency, good manners? We need to teach our children from a young age that it is not okay to touch people who don’t want to be touched. To recognize any signs that their actions are making another person uncomfortable. To realize when someone is incapacitated and cannot make a rational decision. This situation is horrific and to trivialize it is unacceptable.

I am hopeful that a change is coming. I am seeing more young men demonstrating an awareness that they cannot assume a woman wants sexual attention, unless she explicitly says so. Buying her drinks or dinner does not entitle one to anything but a thank you at the end of the evening. However, the old way of thinking persists. There are still men who are being told that the world is theirs for the taking, that they can have anything they want, and that women are there for their pleasure.  There is still also the idea that sex is something that should not be discussed. Talking about it is somehow seen as being promiscuous. How then can consent be determined?

Since these “standards” are ingrained in society, this change in thought process is tricky. Though I do not believe that how a woman choses to dress or if she chooses to have a drink indicates her willingness to submit to a man’s wishes, I have had to have the conversation with each of my daughters as they went off to college to watch out for themselves. I told them to not go out alone, to be careful to not drink too much. I cautioned them that alcohol makes it more difficult to get that “no” across, that if they were drunk, they might not be taken seriously, that it increases the likelihood that they might be taken advantage of. I am very aware of the unfairness of my having to have this conversation at all. A woman should be able to go out and have fun without worrying that someone stronger than she might force her into a situation where she might fear bodily harm. She shouldn’t have to dress in baggy sweats or constantly look over her shoulder, concerned that her mere appearance can make a boy lose self-control.

My girls listened politely, then basically shrugged me off. They are strong, independent women, and they assured me they would be fine. They could take care of themselves. I agreed with them, but asked them to be careful anyway and to make sure they went out as part of a group, and made sure to leave no one behind. There is strength in numbers.

Most women have a story to tell

I am thankful that I have no survival stories to tell, but I have had my share of uncomfortable moments. One night at a party at my then-boyfriend’s fraternity, he left me for a few minutes in a very crowded room. While waiting for him to return, a rather large guy (think linebacker large) asked me to dance. I politely said no, and mentioned that my boyfriend would be right back. He persisted and ultimately got ahold of my hand, attempting to pull me closer. Apparently, someone noticed this, and before I knew what was happening, he was surrounded by a group of guys from the fraternity, who escorted him out of the building. My boyfriend returned, saw a ruckus outside and asked me what had happened. I told him and assured him it was all taken care of, there was no need to pursue it further. This story had a happy ending, but it could have gone another direction. I was fortunate to be in a relationship with someone there and that one of his friends read the situation and decided to intervene. This is just one example of “what if … things had gone differently.”

Another time, I let a guy buy me a beer, which made him think that he had purchased a tonsil-swapping, pelvis grinding night on the dance floor and beyond. (He quickly discovered his mistake and was soon making a spectacle with someone else.) Other times, I have been ridiculed for saying no, for making it clear, in no uncertain terms, what the limits were, for not being “easy” (and therefore being “new” or “frigid” or a “tease”).  I have been lucky that my circumstances weren’t different, that I was not alone someplace with someone bigger and stronger than I who could and would force the issue. Not every girl is as fortunate. I recognize this and have made a conscious effort to not allow myself to be put in a position where I may not have a choice. I have then had to pass this advice on to my daughters – men can be trusted, until they can’t, so always be aware.

I have been catcalled and otherwise objectified, had my behind pinched and fondled, and have had very suggestive, very public comments made by men who did not know me. Most women I know have experienced at least some of the same. Complaining about these events has often resulted in being told that we are “too sensitive,” or “too serious,” or that these men were just “showing appreciation.”

The term “rape culture” has been tossed around a lot in recent years and I will admit that I have had a tendency to downplay the idea. I guess I had accepted the status quo, that this is the way things have always been and will be. I don’t live in fear, but sometimes in states of heightened awareness. But what if I didn’t have to? There seems to be a growing awareness that there is a problem, which may be the first step in solving it.

In recent years, I have seen that there is a trend on college campuses to address the problem, in the form of sexual assault awareness programs, much like the widespread alcohol awareness programs which are meant to be  preemptive in nature.  Some colleges are now requiring incoming students to complete awareness training for both sexual and alcohol abuse . These online and small group sessions explain what constitutes sexual harassment and abuse, talk about consent, and encourage bystanders to take action when they see inappropriate behavior. Someone who is drunk cannot give consent. That message is beginning to get out.  Are we on the cusp of a new revolution? One that engenders respect?  One can only hope.

The Unending Vortex of Helicopter Parenting

Publication1Helicopter parenting is here to stay. It has taken hold of society in such a way that there may be no going back. Psychologists are now calling 25 the new entrance to adulthood. For many different reasons, adult children continue (or come back) to live with their parents. College professors and administrators are reporting that students are arriving on college campuses less prepared for independent living than prior generations. Why? Fingers are pointing at parents.

It has become a common lament that parents are hovering over their children, doing for them things that their children should be doing themselves. I argue that although this is in some cases true, that we have become a society that encourages such behavior.

I have noticed a shift over the past decade. Many parents are much more involved in their children’s lives and those who are not are treated as if they are neglecting their children.

I guess I was living under a rock, but I was surprised to learn that not only were parents nagging their teens to complete things such as college applications, they were actually completing the applications themselves!  Now I have no issue with proofreading, or even editing an essay, or acting as a sounding board for ideas, but how can a parent take things this far? Setting aside the fact that you are cheating your child out of the opportunity to learn how to handle such tasks on his or her own (after all, they will have job applications in their future), you are teaching them that it is okay to cheat!

I know the intentions are good. Parents want their children to do well, to get into a good school, to get a good job. They may regret decisions they made in their youth and not want their children to mimic their own mistakes.  But the efforts are short-sighted. If they are doing so much for their child to get into college, how will their child be able to handle the rigors of college? Then there is the trickle-down effect. Parents who may not be inclined to do as much feel like they have to, or their child will be left behind.

Recently I heard that that some parents are taking steps to counteract this lack of preparedness for their children in college. I have seen multiple reports from colleges about increased involvement among parents. Parents call professors, complain about grades and even go to class to take notes when their child is ill. Here too, I think some level of assistance is acceptable. My children have asked me to read over papers and give comments before turning them in (they know the value in using available resources). Provided they give me enough notice (11 pm calls for proofreading will be ignored), I am happy to read and give input, which they are then free to accept or reject. (Yes, my comments have been rejected.) But doing someone’s work for them is cheating, and undermines their confidence in their ability to do it on their own.

How did we get here? I think it started when this generation was young. For the past couple decades, parents, not children, have been planning playdates and activities to keep children entertained, to advance their education, to give them an edge over the competition. As a result, many kids never learned to occupy themselves or even how to engage someone in conversation. To be fair, this often came from a place of love. Parents believed they were protecting their children, that the outside world was a dangerous, scary place. Twenty years ago, children would go to a friend’s house to see if they could play. Today, a child (or anyone for that matter) knocking on a door is seen as suspicious.

The overprotectiveness has gotten to a point that I think is ridiculous. The fact that parents are being forced to defend themselves against charges of child endangerment for allowing their children to play at a neighborhood playground demonstrates the societal tightening of reins. Parents who can’t or won’t be over-involved in their children’s lives are facing the very real possibility that their children may be left behind. It has always been true that making noise gets attention, but now it almost seems that it is necessary to make noise just to be seen.

This creates a problem for parents who want to foster independence in their children. Despite the fact that hands-off parents are applauded by school staff and administrators, those who are very much hands-on are accommodated and it seems, almost encouraged by those same people who complain about the lengths some parents will go to help their own kids get ahead. The idea that “This is just the way the world is today” is unacceptable to me. I want it to be different, but am not sure how to affect change, or even if I can.

I am thankful that I made it through the early years before the madness took effect and that I was confident enough to maintain my “old school” beliefs. I do, however, worry about how my children will manage parenting if this trend continues. Even the business world has seen a change in recent hires and is offering special training in interacting with the new generation of workers. I find this all baffling, but think there may be hope. I am seeing a rebellion of sorts: terms like “free range parenting” and articles lamenting the effect “helicoptering” is having on young adults indicate that there is indeed a problem here.  Until there is a societal change, I guess I’ll just keep on shaking my head.