“We Are All Human”

I’ve been thinking about New Zealand along with the rest of us since Friday morning.

Yesterday evening I was sitting in a coffee shop that is a frequent meeting place for a group of Somali men. I go there often enough to recognize their faces and exchange pleasantries. Last night was different. They along with a community of their family, friends, colleagues had to endure the tragedy of a mass shooting in New Zealand where 50 (current count) people of Muslim faith where gunned down in senseless violence by a white terrorist. The killer carried with him a manifesto that attributed the influence of our current POTUS and his remarks toward the Muslim faith. The dead are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, grandparents, elders, friends … the list goes on and ought to sound familiar to everyone. They are people, like you and me.

I am a high school English teacher. Earlier in the day, my students watched a Ted Talk by Suzanne Barakat titled Islamophobia which spoke to the loss of her brother, his wife and their friend in a senseless shooting in North Carolina in 2015. Same situation, different white terrorist, a hate crime against the Muslim faith. Looking at her Facebook page today, I discovered her brother and his wife and friend were killed four years ago on February 10th, 2015. Just over a month ago, and her comment on her page last night after the news of the New Zealand tragedy was very brief, “I can’t. I just can’t.” I have to wonder how frightened or angry or defeated she feels today.

As I left the coffee shop last night, I looked at the men in conversation together and felt compelled to approach them. I told them they were all in my heart, and they thanked me and nodded their heads in understanding. One man looked at me and said, ‘We are all human,” and I shook his hand and he said it again.

We are all just human beings. Is there any other explanation to give people of the Muslim faith, or people of color, or people that are different than ourselves a reason to be respected? One of the messages from Suzanne Barakat is to speak to your neighbors. Even if it feels like a small gesture , she said it will have miles of impact. It is a start, and today, the healing needs to begin.

We are all simply human beings.

Please practice love today.

 


 

Islamophobia – Suzanne Barakat

The Need to Recognize Historical Trauma

Germany_Luebeck_St_Mary_melted_bells

Germany – Luebeck,  Air Raid 1942

Many years ago, during a trip to Europe, I discovered a reality that would change my life forever. The year was 1985, and a portion of my travels was spent in Germany. In a visit to St. Mary’s Church in Lubeck, West Germany I discovered a broken and melted bell that was left in its destroyed condition in the sanctuary to symbolize the bombing of Lubeck on March 29th, 1942.

As a tourist I was humbled by the fact this bell tower was constructed sometime during the 12th century. I was a visiting traveler from a country built upon a freedom of little more than 200 years of independence. However, that would not be the specific revelation I would come away with as a euro-rail traveling twenty something American. What I discovered next was probably the most humbling aspect of my two months travel throughout western Europe.

As I strolled the streets of Hamburg, attended a Christmas festival in Nuremburg, and even walked the somber stone memorials to the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympic festival, I suddenly began to notice an inordinate number of German males in their late 50’s or older with missing limbs, prosthetic arms, legs, or dependent upon wheel chairs to move themselves throughout their daily routine. I then connected everything, from the bell tower to the male population, these were leftover symbols of WWII. This was a time when German lives were turned upside down because of Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Their lives were forever altered and the impacts that the men and women of Germany endured would last a lifetime and be carried over in the lives of their children and future families well beyond the history of the war.

I was 25 years old at the time, and had never experienced such stark realities in my short life in the United States. Certainly, there were historic moments, the assassinations of MLK, Malcolm X, JFK & RFK, and countless other life changing events including the Kent State massacre and the murder of my personal idol, John Lennon. What I had not experienced though was the historical trauma of the war. I had not experienced the dissemination of the Jewish population throughout Europe during the holocaust. I was 16 years away from the horrific reality of 9/11.

I did experience the trauma of Vietnam through the eyes and struggles of an older brother who became one of the hundreds of thousands of military men and women who received no recognition for their valiant efforts in a senseless war. I certainly do not minimize the lives of all of the family and friends impacted by the perils of that state of confusion. For the sake of this writing though, I want to remain focused on the Nazi nation of WWII.

During my travels I began to recognize how many of the lives of the people I noticed living throughout Germany would be affected forever. They would pass on the confusion of their trauma to their children and the society that evolved beyond that horrific time.

So I do wonder about that time as I speculate the vitriolic response to the events of Charlottesville, Virginia. Throughout my adult life I have often heard the phrase, ‘get over it’ when referencing the systemic nature of racism in America. The one that jumps out at me the most is the accusation that none of our Black Americans have ever experienced slavery, so why keep mulling over the past? Because the past is still the present, and many of the children and families we live, work and laugh with today, had family that were part of the slave industry, much like children of WWII, much like any aspect of oppression that exists in our world today.

It is time we stop tossing blame at other communities, other groups that would like to bring racism into the conversation and start listening instead. I am often accused of ‘white guilt’ because I am that entitled white guy that has not experienced the direct impact of discrimination in my life. It is true, but I still see it. I see it in my classroom, in my community, in my society.

It is unfortunate that we have a POTUS that would like to blend the issues rather than take a stand against known evil – White Supremacists, Neo-Nazi factions, anti-Semitic groups and all hate groups that would rather tear apart the fabric of our country rather than learn to recognize acceptance and love.

The only silver lining in all of this horror is there does seem to be an increased dialogue in social media that would rather address the divisions in our country instead of fueling the hate that separates our lives. We can only pray the dialogue might continue in a proactive and positive manner … forever.

On Donald Trump and Ignorance

For weeks, perhaps months, no to be sure, for the last two years I have struggled with the phenomena that is Donald Trump. I will secretly admit to everyone that a decade ago, when he first threw his name into the hat as a candidate and then swiftly pulled it out because the powers that be told him it was too early, I was intrigued by the idea. For all the right reasons: a non-political, yet wealthy candidate that could finance his own election, and perhaps turn D.C. upside down. Yes, I realize it his task at hand at present, but back then, I really didn’t understand the depth his brain could transgress his ideals.

His latest tweet or podium delivery or emanation from his incredulous mind has me deeply saddened. We have witnessed the grueling scrutiny of our national police force with tragedy upon tragedy that raises remarkable scrutiny upon their efforts. We have watched one trial after another, where the reputation of the police department’s efforts are caught in a catch-22 of a moral compass because of the damaging actions of a few. We have witnessed heads of police forces plead with the public that their wish is to train their departments to be of the highest ethical standard on the streets as they protect the citizenry of our country.

Trump to police: “Don’t be too nice too prisoners” -CNN 7/29/2017

Time and time again I have watched this man make statements in rallies and addresses with an angry flair that denigrates, discriminates and blatantly insults certain society with complete disregard. This time he has taken on the police force. So now, according to the POTUS, he wants the blue shield to rough up the alleged criminals. What does this say to our society? Simply that it is ok to take no prisoners, and let the melee proceed.

For me, it is upsetting enough how this man has allowed his vitriolic verbal assaults, to literally wake the dead in regards to racist slurs, homophobic slams, and supremacist ideals. Yet, those close to him suggest he is misunderstood.

We live in a world today that can ill afford to walk itself back 50 years and forget the efforts necessary to create a mosaic life in the United States. How can we possibly move forward if our elected President of the United States continues to demean the efforts of many in our society to remove the literal walls we have fought to break down for decades.

There is no easy answer, beyond asking this man to find his integrity, and that will seem to be a long time coming, maybe less than one term. We can only hope.

 

Is This Really Liberal Thinking?

Last night I had a conversation with two people I have tremendous respect for, the subject quickly turned to politics, and I openly expressed my dislike of our current state of affairs. I spoke of my dismay with our current POTUS’s views and motives, and the dialogue took an icy turn to defense and validation. The three of us bandied back and forth for many minutes about the pros and cons of what we believed in earnest. The positive takeaway from the conversation is the three of us finished forty five minutes later, and together walked out of the room, smiling, and said good bye for the night. I think it is important to recognize that people can have honest, often animated conversations that include their views, without the fear of character assassination afterward. That was my takeaway from yesterday’s debate with two people whose opinion I value.

A concern that evolved from our dialogue is their personal anxiety with the inability to be open about their views around their own community, specifically the school they attend. I’ve heard this conversation before, and the tone has been similar in that there is a general fear with expressing one’s political views no matter the side that someone carries or believes, because someone on the other side is always going to be waiting to pounce with wrath and indignation. The subject of a divisive culture is prevalent in our American society today, and both sides of the argument are easily persuaded to lay the blame for this current mindset upon the other, rather than step back for a minute and process their own contribution.

In a democratic society, the true definition of democracy is to suggest an open debate always exists that merits argument and opinion from all sides. Democracy itself is dependent upon actions that inherently support social equality. I wonder if anyone can look about their own personal world beyond their backyard and see this belief in action. I’m afraid not. Instead we are talking about walls, and bans, and now steadfast agreements of a scorned party to vote down another party’s proposals in a unified attempt to recreate what we as a people have witnessed for decades upon decades of political ignorance. I’m afraid putting a narcissistic, megalomaniac into a position of power will not change things anytime soon. In fact, even if I could be in complete agreement with any of the current administration’s  proposals, which I am not, I just cannot believe that ‘the people’ will rise to support those ideals in a complete and unified manner any time too soon. There is far too much anger in people’s minds right now, and it is evident first, in the children.

We live in a pretend away society. The sort that would suggest if we don’t talk about it, then the repercussions will not impact us directly. Until it does, when the ramifications of our society begin to knock on our front door. In the meantime, let’s sit in sidewalk cafes and debate the subject until we are lacking oxygen due to vitriolic fuels slapped back and forth between good souls trying to justify and rationalize their own way of thinking. I sat in that very coffeeshop this morning, in between two paired conversations, where one side lauded the efforts of our current administration, while the other decried the present swing of governmental bureaucracy. If the two pair had literally gotten up and walked through each other they would have magically disappeared as their parallel universe would have quietly combusted with little fanfare.

Growing up as a child I had a certain advantage. I was raised in a divisive household, a political separatist movement. My mother and father had differing views, and for most of my childhood and well into my teens, and later adult life they proudly canceled each other out at the ballot box. Here’s the important thing to remember though. No matter how differing their views were, and there certainly were heated debates over the years, they at the end of the day, had respect for one another’s viewpoint. So me, I learned how to weigh both sides without forgetting that people could actually get along together, quite well actually with differing opinions.

How do we possibly get started with our current state of affairs? I think our first objective is to recognize that liberal or conservative thinking do and will cancel each other out forever. That’s not the issue. I think the solution exists elsewhere and somehow we as a society need to recognize that path, together.

 

 

I Turned Off The News

 

Yesterday, I made a conscious decision to turn off the news. Having watched the now ‘idle’ banter of prognosticators and candidates for the last year, the outcome in hand, I wasn’t excited about hearing any theory, any ‘told you so’ antics, or any patronage from the winning side of an ugly defeat. I told all my classes I was only going to listen to whales singing in the ocean in some New Age melody all week while I gathered my thoughts and wrapped my head around this bizarre political future of our country.

The night did not allow me to completely escape my thoughts though, and the sounds of our immensely serene mammals in the deep blue didn’t contain me as long as I’d hoped. I still felt this urgency to know, to wonder, to speculate just how we had come to the conclusion we had as a voting nation. That answer still evades me this morning; however, what I did see was the peaceful protests throughout the country with our new candidate. The protests hearkened me back to a different time in my life.

I remember in the  60’s seeing pictures of the Vietnam war protests. In a child’s eyes, these were real, these were pleading students and family and friends and co-workers all banding together to make a statement, the riots that would follow later with the civil rights protests, the ever changing climate of our nation. I recall watching all of this through the eyes of my older siblings. To me, these were powerful statements of change and I was a fortunate witness to democracy at its finest – freedom of speech, the right to protest, the right to have a valued opinion. Certainly with that came tragedy, the loss of remarkable leaders from Malcolm X to MLK Jr, to RFK, to so many more names that are part of that tumultuous history. I remember Kent State and wondering how it was, as a ten year old, that our nation could be so angry within our own borders, while thousands were dying in a fruitless war across the world.

We had no advantage of social media to give us instant results. We counted upon Walter Cronkite, ‘and that’s the way it is’ and followed with tears the scroll of lost names in Vietnam on that day, that was the immediacy of our connection to the world around us. The silent protest in our minds became the visible chants outside the White House gates as the protesters ramped up the pressure on LBJ to get our boys out of Vietnam – “Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?” followed years later by Richard Nixon and the ‘tricky dick’ accusations of secrecy and fraud that destroyed his presidency. Back then people were vocal, and as a kid, I watched as it seemed there were good reasons to fight for what we all believed was right.

In that different time, when race and equality were still on the mind of everyone, people began to fight together, and I watched secular groups like the KKK become less severe and threatening as our nation could recognize a holistic approach to life. In the 70’s books were written about ‘The Melting Pot’ a nation burgeoning with immigration becoming one, learning to live with one another and respect each other. Racism and prejudice still existed, but there was this seeming progression, this appearance of ‘love and respect’ that started to gain footing on so many levels. With the onset of so many different cultural mores we began to see a change in the landscape of our society.

The idea of ‘The Melting Pot’ has evolved today into more of a ‘mosaic’ as we gradually become aware of the value of culture, the beauty and elegance that each person in the frame of their own unique heritage brings to our American canvas. We have tried to take the time to appreciate those differences rather than destroy their integrity while lost in our own self-driven egocentric ideals. As a child I was motivated by a naive innocence to appreciate those pieces of our life that I could witness growing up. I wonder about the children of today, and how their exposure has perhaps changed, impacted, or effected their own perception of a modern, electronically driven society around them.

I wonder about the news, and what it is the media will find important as we now walk beyond the unprecedented electoral process that has for some turned their world upside down, and for others provided a voice of indiscriminate reaction that though maybe quieted in years past with active reasoning, today is suddenly harsh and overt and frightening. We live in a democratic society, so there can be no argument to suggest one person’s right to opinion ought be considered better than another’s; however, there is an element of respect and integrity that right now seems surely to hang in the balance.

So, as I observe our new style of protest in American society, just beyond a full day of electing a controversial candidate to the POTUS, I wonder about purpose, timing and decorum. Is protesting today that valuable in a time when we have already made a decision we cannot turn back on? For some, certainly that is the motivation for hitting the concrete, but for others I wonder if we have newer challenges ahead that can capture or channel our idealism. A friend of mine recently posted there is no more time for tolerance through the ideals of love and compassion, in his words, we need to ‘stand up RIGHT now.” I cannot argue with his passion, but I still do wonder about timing.

Perhaps our protest begins in six months, then we have seen a pattern to create a need for public awareness and change. Perhaps today we need to pay closer attention to the immediacy of our national decision, and recognize the hurt, the elation, the brusque reality of our choices demand a closer eye than simply arousing a formulated statement of disagreement.

Perhaps we do still count on ourselves as being the change we desire in the world around us. Ask a friend, see if they and another, and a friend of their own, a family member, a co-worker might join each other and together determine a time, quite likely in the near future to make a stronger more relevant statement, together.

Perhaps we might leave the news off for a few more days, and pay attention to our immediate surroundings.

Thinking Out Loud … Again (Revised)

I’ve read and listened to a lot of opinion throughout the week centered around the Charleston tragedy. I have been trying to wrap my head around this new yet predictable nightmare in our society. I have read about the politicizing of real deaths at the hand of a racist. I’ve listened to the dialogue that suggests the different lens that applies to a White versus a Black assailant. I’ve heard the hate crime accusations, seen the picture comparing the arrest of a white or black person and the different techniques labeled with assessment of entitlement versus discrimination. I’m as disturbed by this as the next person. I am literally frozen with confusion over the tragedy in Charleston.

However, the most bothersome piece that aggravates me tonight is this. I have heard the notion that the President, our elected President of the United States – a position of such stature that I was raised to always publicly respect whether I agreed or disagreed with their views – be labeled a narcissist whose sole objective is to bring more spotlight to himself rather than offer condolence to the haunting pain the victims of the Charleston massacre are enduring. The man has stated that he has had to speak about this terroristic behavior in our own country more times than he cares to remember, yet, there are still people that want to crucify him for trying to be the spokesperson for change in the United States of America. He is the President, and speak on the tough issues is what he was elected to do. I’m afraid he cannot change the minds of those that refuse to listen for no other reason but to desecrate his term in office.

Despite the obvious, I still cannot fathom how our society can so easily pass the buck, blame other people, shed their focus on labeling and defaming the strong character of the POTUS, who is actively trying to address the issues that impact our Nation in the only manner he possibly can, by using the pulpit that he was asked to stand upon to represent the people when elected into office.

I’m not sure what it will take for people to understand the problems in our country are not the fault of the President of the United States. I’m not sure if people are able to fathom the true humanity that President Obama endures when he tries to speak to the needs of our country, and becomes simply the fodder for those that only want to diminish his position in office.

Let’s try for a moment to remember this turmoil is not about Barack Obama. This issue is not about a political agenda.

This turmoil is really about no one else but ourselves, our own inability to look in the mirror and recognize as individuals in this nation of suggested freedom, that we are responsible for the energy that creates or extinguishes the monsters that exist in and around us. Until we can truly face the music, and begin to listen and create the dialogue that offers resolution, collaboration, respect and forward thinking, we will always find an outlet like a President of color to hammer upon so we haven’t any need to look at ourselves. Please, look in the mirror.

We are a nation of entitlement. We need to get over ourselves and stop complaining and start loving one another unconditionally. Start moving forward.

There truly is a benefit to positive thinking. There is truly even a greater benefit to sharing a positive frame of mind in that collaboration. Let’s begin that dialogue as a nation. Until we can start a real conversation with one another, we will always find a way to cast blame and inevitably politicize our shortcomings.

Let’s not make our own insecurities and fear of communication feed a mission statement for defining who we are in our country. That certainly does not have to be who we are together in this struggle.

Think about where it is we all come from. Think about our roots before we use an easy out to shelter ourselves from being a part of the storm of hypocrisy we live and breathe every day in America. Instead, let’s begin to listen and recognize love. Peace.

Five Days, Five Photos – Day Two; On Diversity

hands

© Ester Rogers photography

I have this notion, that if we could sometime just put all of our fears aside, and recognize one another for our beauty and grace, there wouldn’t be nearly as much anxiety in our lives. Perhaps I am speaking for myself, but I really do wonder. I know many years ago, a friend of mine told me that everyone walks around with relatively similar ideas rolling through their mind. He gave me that advice in a manner to suggest that instead of feeling alone all the time with our greatest worries, we might be better served to appreciate how many of us could share the same support with one another, and this positive energy could provide us a better life, sweeter outlook on our state of being.

I am using the picture above to recognize a photographer friend – Ester Rogers – who does wonderful work with her eye. Because I am writing about diversity with the inspiration of Dancing Echoes prompting, I thought this picture worthy of some words. You see, there is something quite beautiful about the weathered hands struggling to create the ‘love’ sign, the symbolic ‘I ‘heart’ you’ suggestion we so often put aside in our busy lives. I do genuinely love people, and wish only the best in their daily routines, even those I struggle to understand sometimes. This leads toward my theme of diversity.

I work in a diverse school district. I have opportunity everyday to experience many levels of cultural variety, that separate individuals while ironically bringing them together on a daily basis. I always look at our diversity as an opportunity. I walk around the school and see students with smiles and appreciations for each other and those are the moments I want to build upon. Those are the relationships that, given the strength to grow create a foundation for our district, our community to become something special – a place where everyone can realize their self-worth and carve out an identity buily upon positive tenets. I think that common denominator, no matter the deprecation, despite the stumbling blocks, however the obstacles, has to rely upon ‘love’ to be that basis for growth.

Tonight, I’m not writing a poem, this will be an essay as I conclude. In looking back at Ester’s picture though, I want to point out the harmony with the symbol of love, and the candle’s energy, the fire within. As long as we can keep that candle burning, and we can because we like to believe our heart and soul to be in the right place. As long as we can continue to recognize the powerful nature of that symbiotic nature of two dependent forces working towards a common goal, then I think we can look forward to beautiful lives ahead. I know that is idyllic.

Imagine a world without idealism. There wouldn’t be a tremendous need to hope and pray, for without the chance of magic and beauty and grace in our lives, we would be hard pressed to care about anything around us. But we do care, and it is our responsibility to continue to show compassion toward all things we find to be important in our lives. Tonight, namely showing acceptance and delight in the fortunes and gifts of everyone around us in our daily interactions. I think in order to be truly diverse, means our willingness to share those ideals rather than snuff them out in an idle and cold gasp of ego driven pride.

In respect to our nomination for the Five Days, Five Photos theme, I would like to now nominate another writing friend – Dana Renee – whose deep state of mind always intrigues … be well everyone!

Addicts Hold On

© Ester Rogers

© Ester Rogers

We do hang on while figuring out how to let go. I am often trapped inside a need to please everyone, and when I cannot, I obsess about that one difficult situation, generally that one person who I cannot fix. Why should I have to fix anyone anyway; I usually end up realizing I have to repair my own misgivings, generally my own faults. What happens though is that along the way I forget to come home, and I remain adrift in a sea of turmoil. I suppose that is when the term letting go comes into play. I wish I had a better handle on that method of resolution.

Someone told me once my thinking was that of an addict. Well, I do know clearly I am an addict, but I struggle with how that interacts with my obsession with needing everyone to be my friend. I know I have moments of clarity when I can come to terms with the fact that there are people that may just not like me. What an epiphany right? That I might actually be a person whose behavior or beliefs does not match up with every human being’s demeanor that I cross paths with, right? Boy that’s a mouthful of sanity trying to break free I think.

Tonight I am in that sort of lost mode of not being able to handle a situation with my drama program. Maybe I am going through the stages of grief. I have a student that clearly has challenged my authority that I have given many chances to take a new direction who simply refuses. I can easily account for their demeanor being angry and sullen in a meeting where I spoke only of the need to have positive and proactive members involved in our coming spring production. They are talented but there is no way I can possibly bring their negative energy into the production. That attitude will clearly sap everyone else’s ability to focus on the end product of producing a solid show.

So I am struggling, and trying to let go of my indecision to go forward with my instincts rather than cave into my spineless need to save everyone. After all that is what it is right? I remember when I first began teaching theatre I used to say to the kids every spring that next year I will come back with a rebuilt backbone. I guess I am still searching for that surgeon. In the meantime, the life of an addict in recovery continues with slow and cautious steps trying desperately to not lose my footing.

Motown Rocks! – Motown the Musical

Motown The Musical in its current Broadway tours run at the Orpheum, wows their audience on so many levels. We went last night, anticipating the beautiful renditions of what put the Black sound on the map with the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and so many others.
~
Touching for me was a little young man reliving the life of Michael Jackson and his brothers. My own life grew up with the Jackson Five, and I remember ‘ABC’ like it was yesterday. That could bring tears in memory. But the real showcase of the night had to be the recreation of DIana Ross and the Supremes on stage. The actor emulated the beauty of DIana’s spontaneity and passion for life, and simulating her relationship with Barry Gordon the creator of Motown, the concept of ‘love’ is addressed.
~
That’s really the takeaway from this Hennepin Theatre Trust’s current run of ‘Motown the Musical’ through the 28th of December. That element of ‘love’ so forgotten by the constraints of our society is sorely missed today. From the important movement of ‘blackl ives matter’ and the confusion that exists in our societal relations today, this movie suggests why Motown was ever an inspiration in the first place.
~
Along the way there are history lessons that though the cast parodies for audience appeal were very real in the 60’s & 70’s. This musical reminds us of a different time, though still rampant with the same needs today. We still, when all is said and done, must learn to ‘love’ one another.

© Thom Amundsen 2014