John Francis: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. You: ??

18 09 2011

Your environmental footprint. Ever think about it? Care at all about the earth and your  contribution to keeping it healthy and vibrant? John Francis is an environmentalist and author of two books: Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. and The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.

John Francis – Credit: Art Rogers, Pt. Reyes

In 1971, he was living in the San Francisco area and witnessed a devastating oil spill in the Bay. He decided to lessen his own demand for oil by giving up riding in motor vehicles, which he did from 1972 to 1994. In 1973 he also decided to be silent and didn’t speak again until 1990.

He walked across the country (and across South America) during his years of silence, getting first an undergraduate degree, then a Masters, and culminating in a Ph.D. in land management with a focus on oil spills.

Everywhere he went, playing the banjo in towns to earn money, people were drawn to this silent ambassador for the environment. He learned what it was to really listen to people instead of constantly waiting for them to stop talking so he could say something. Today, John is married, the father of two children, founder and director of the nonprofit environmental education organization Planetwalk, and a National Geographic Society Education Fellow.

I just finished reading both of his books. I find this man really inspirational…to take such drastic measures because you care about the environment. So what are you doing to reduce your impact on the environment? Anything at all? Consider these facts from About.com:

  • “According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well.
  • A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year. A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less than the average American diet. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car!”

There is a big movement to encourage people to not eat meat on Mondays (it could be any day) to help reduce their impact on the earth. The website meatlessmonday.com provides this information:

  • “REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.
  • MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
  • HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.”

MSN Autos says that 41% of your ecological impact on the earth is due to driving a car. They say that estimates attribute 77 percent of a car’s footprint to the CO2 released from burning gasoline. And statistics show that 40% of trips people make in cars are a distance of two miles or less. What if they just walked or rode a bike instead?

There are many other things you can do to reduce your negative impact on the environment. I sold my car almost two years ago and I walk or take public transportation. I wrote a blog post about this called A Year of Living Carless, which was featured on the front page of WordPress. I have been a vegetarian for almost a year. I take cloth bags to the grocery store (which I walk to) instead of using paper or plastic bags. The walking and eating vegetarian have health benefits, too.

So what are you doing? You don’t have to give up riding in cars for 22 years or stop talking for 17 years to make an impact. Eating one meal a week vegetarian or walking or riding your bike instead of taking the car even one time help. I haven’t owned a car since December, 2009 and eat vegetarian (with a rare piece of fish).

As John Francis says, “How we treat each other is how we treat the environment.” Are you treating your neighbors and mother earth well with your habits?

Here is John talking about his journey in a TED talk:


Advertisements




A Lesson after 9/11: Compassion

11 09 2011

At the software company I worked for, we watched in horror after the first tower was struck. With my co-workers, we watched as a plane drove into the second tower. We were in shock as was the entire nation. We were glued to the television…waiting for information. We saw people jump from the towers to their deaths and knew that many more had died as the towers crumbled to the ground. We saw the look of sheer terror on the faces of those present and running from the towers. It was an apocalyptic event being broadcast live as we watched.

To make it even more surreal, my manager at the time kept crossing through the lobby and glaring at me as if to say “Why are you wasting your time watching television?” My peers were all there watching. Something monumental was happening. We needed time to witness and attempt to cope with what we were seeing. Feeling the pressure from this demanding boss, I was one of the first to pull away and go back to my desk and it was incredibly difficult to focus and do technical marketing work. It was corporate America saying “You’re not human. Don’t feel. Just do your work…no matter what else is going on.” It was the birthday of one of my co-workers, but definitely not a day to celebrate.

Credit: TellingNicholas.com

Today, 10 years later, I am still disturbed by that glare. It’s one of the reasons I choose to work for myself. Yes, there are business demands and the software business is incredibly demanding. But people are not robots. Bad things happen and we have feelings. We need time and space to witness, to grieve, and to recover.

I just watched another one of HBO’s incredible documentaries. This one is called “Telling Nicholas” and first aired on May 19, 2002. Created by director/producer/writer James Ronald Whitney, it also won an Emmy.

It tells the story of how the mother of 7-year-old Nicholas died in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 and how the family struggled to accept that she is not coming back and is indeed dead. They also struggled with how to tell Nicholas. It his heart wrenching and I cried throughout most of the movie. The family is very sensitive to and protective of this little boy’s feelings.

I’m not a 7-year-old boy and I didn’t lose my mommy or anyone on 9/11. Still, we all grieve that day and the loss of innocence, security, and safety we had up until then. We grieve the loss of so many people who were doing nothing but living their lives and working and being mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters and children.

If 9/11 has had any positive impact, hopefully it has taught us to appreciate the freedom we have, to value life, to be grateful for the love of others, and to never take even one day of our lives for granted. And to stop the glares. We all need time to process when things happen…even if we’re at work…and we all need to practice and feel compassion.





Healing the Tiger…in Egypt and in Each of Us

30 01 2011

COMPELLING. CAPTIVATING. We CONNECT with the drama unfolding in Eqypt. Why? In the U.S., we sit in our cozy homes and have the freedom to make a living (although many of us are admittedly struggling with that right now), the freedom to make decisions about our lives, and the freedom to speak our minds. We complain that the government is too big or not doing enough and yet our government has checks and balances with the three branches of government; no one person can dictate entirely what happens in the country and no one person can rob the country and the people in it of funds and assets. We are blessed and we so often take it for granted.

We are riveted to the stories of those who don’t have the freedoms we have…people like those protesting in the streets of Eqypt. Perhaps we are trying to imagine what it must be like to have lived 30 years under an oppressive regime. Perhaps we are stunned to see the police so powerless and the army for the most part just standing by, supporting the people, and allowing them to protest. Perhaps we are also stunned that a few people who take to the streets to protest would be gunned down and that the Internet and cell phone service would be shut down for an entire country. This would not happen here. No one person has that much power.

The country and people of Egypt seem to be suffering from societal trauma. Dr. Peter A. Levine, author of “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” says that:

Citizens in our inner cities randomly destroy property and life as the effects of years of accumulated stress, trauma, hostility, and economic oppression combust.

Credit: Dominic Harness

Dr. Levine talks of how an animal in the wild handles being attacked by another animal. It can fight back, flee, or freeze (play dead) until the attacking animal loses interest and then run away. The last option of freezing is what happens to people when their options are taken from them.

Unfortunately, human beings…unlike a tiger in the wild…don’t know how to shake off the trauma physically after freezing and we wind up internalizing the trauma sometimes for decades. Perhaps the traumatized part in each of us (for whatever reason…child abuse, a surgery, an accident, a divorce, a job loss, losing our home, the loss of a child, returning from war, etc.) connects with the people of Eqypt. They are acting out the effects of decades of trauma and woundedness and we get it.

Dr. Levine says that:

Trauma cannot be ignored. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and collectively, from re-enacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them through renegotiation.

He goes on to say that:

Transformation requires a willingness to challenge your basic beliefs about who you are. Through transformation, the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation. Our emotions begin to lift us up rather than bring us down. They propel us into the exhilarating ability to soar and fly, giving us a more complete view of our place in nature. Our perceptions broaden to encompass a receptivity and acceptance of what is, without judgment. We are able to learn from our life experiences. Without trying to forgive, we understand that there is no blame. We often obtain a surer sense of self while become more resilient and spontaneous. This new self-assuredness allows us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully. We become more in tune with the passion and ecstatic dimensions of life.

Perhaps this is happening with the people in Egypt; they seem to be feeling more confident and more hopeful and are transforming as a people. We are watching history in the making, unfolding before our eyes. We see the possibility of what happens when people unite in a common cause to help lift each other and a nation up. It gives us hope as individuals that we can lift ourselves up out of our own personal traumas and transform our own personal and collective lives.





A Year of Living Carless

5 01 2011

Have you ever thought of giving up your car? Does the thought make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it sound impossible? It’s not. I’ve managed for over a year now without a car. I must admit that when I first thought of selling my car and going without one, I felt fearful.

I was living in Austin, Texas…a really hard place to get around without a car. I made the decision to move out to the Berkeley/Albany area (East Bay) in San Francisco to live near one of my daughters and baby grandson. They moved out here and have gone carless. I saw that it was possible and decided to give it a try. It certainly simplified my move. I just put all my stuff in a 16-foot truck and drove it out here (okay, that wasn’t simple…that was scary and long and challenging) and didn’t have to worry about how to get a vehicle out here too.

So how DO you go without a car? How does that work?

  • You do a lot of walking. I walk to see my daughter. I walk to the YMCA (gym) to work out. I walk to the grocery store…and yes, I carry groceries home (just not $150 worth at a time…more like $15 or $20 worth). If I want to do anything, I start out walking.
  • Sometimes…though rarely…I take the bus. If I do, I walk to the bus stop.

    Credit: “The Carless Generation” article on http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com

  • More often, I’ll take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit…light rail system) if I want to go downtown San Francisco or other places too far to walk to. Of course, I walk the mile to the BART station and the mile home from the BART station.
  • On very rare occasions I’ve gone places in a car with a friend (still making those out here).
  • I’ve taken a taxi once when I came back from a trip later than expected and didn’t want to lug my luggage the mile to my house late at night.
  • And of course I could always rent a car, but in the 12.5 months I’ve lived here, I haven’t yet rented a car. If I did, I’d walk to the car rental place.
  • To repeat the first point…you do a lot of walking…and that’s a good thing!

What have been the benefits of going without a car for over a year?

  • I’ve lost weight! Remember all that walking? It pays off!
  • I’ve gained stamina and strength…not only from the walking, but carrying groceries or whatever.
  • I don’t have to pay for gas, car insurance, car maintenance, parking, car washes, or anything to do with a car. I’ve avoided spending a LOT of money.
  • I was able to sell my car and use that money for other things.
  • I don’t have to try and find a parking spot. In this area, that’s a big deal.
  • I never get stuck in traffic. I walk right past all the people who are backed up in traffic.
  • I just walk out the door and I’m on my way and never have to worry about a car that’s broken down or not working properly.
  • I’m not polluting the environment.
  • I get to be outside in nature, get more sunlight (and that valuable Vitamin D), and enjoy Mother Earth more.
  • I have slowed down and experience less stress.

Are there any negatives to not owning a car?

  • If you live in a spread-out urban area (like Austin) that doesn’t have good public transportation, not having a car is surely a real challenge.
  • I haven’t shopped at Costco during the whole year (and I really miss it). I just can’t carry enough at a time to make it worth the 2.3 mile walk each way to Costco.
  • Sometimes during the rainy season (which we’re in now) when it’s also cold, windy, and the rain has been pelting for days, I wish I could travel in a car.
  • It may take more time to walk somewhere than to ride in a car (depending on traffic). I have to allow the time to walk somewhere when planning on going somewhere.
  • I can’t give anyone a ride anywhere (maybe that’s a positive!).
  • I can’t transport really large items. If I must have them, I order them online.
  • I don’t go places at night as much as I used to.
  • I don’t venture out to other areas as much as I would if I owned a car.

When I look at the two lists, in sheer numbers there are almost as many negatives as positives, but the positives are a lot more important to me than the negatives. The thing I’ve gotten from going carless for a year is a real sense of freedom. Owning a car is EXPENSIVE and a HASSLE. Walking is CHEAP and EASY plus it has the added benefit of improving your health and fitness.

Will I always be without a car? Not if I move to an area less friendly and accessible to walking than Berkeley and Albany. But for right now, I’m enjoying this freedom of being carless. Try it…you might like it!

7/20/11 NOTE: Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., San Francisco is now ranked the 2nd most walkable behind New York. Check out the scores at http://www.walkscore.com/rankings. Oakland, which is in the East Bay (where I live) is ranked the 10th most walkable large city. And Austin? My former home town? It is ranked the 31st most walkable large city and scores 91 out of 100. That might be true if you live downtown. Albany, CA, where I live now has a walkable score of 95 out of 100 and is called a “walker’s paradise.” I’d have to agree!

7/21/11 NOTE: Thanks to WordPress for putting this post on the front page! I am loving reading all the comments that you are leaving about your experiences of going carless…or desires to. After 19 months without a car, I’m still loving being carless…at least most of the time!

6/21/13 NOTE: I am still carless…now for 3.5 years…and still loving it!





It’s OK to Beat Your Wife or Children in UAE – Just Don’t Leave a Mark

26 10 2010

The highest judicial body in the United Arab Emirates, which has the seventh largest oil reserves in the world, borders on Saudi Arabia, and includes Dubai, says it’s okay to beat your wife and young children…just don’t leave a mark. Here’s the short article about it from the Huffington Post:

Dubai in the UAE - Credit: Neil Emmerson/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE’s highest judicial body says a man can beat his wife and young children as long as the beating leaves no physical marks.

The decision by the Federal Supreme Court shows the strong influence of Islamic law in the Emirates despite its international appeal in which foreign residents greatly outnumber the local population.

The court made the ruling earlier this month in the case of a man who left cuts and bruises on his wife and adult daughter after a beating.

It says the man was guilty of harming the women but noted that Islamic codes allow for “discipline” if no marks are left. It also says children who have reached “adulthood” – approximately puberty – cannot be struck.

The ruling was reported Monday in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.

You’re probably feeling outraged, right? Of course. We live in a “civilized” society and can’t imagine our Supreme Court saying it’s okay for men to beat their wives and children as long as no physical mark is left on them. It is outrageous. Men are allowed to treat women and children in the UAE and in so many countries in the world however they please and women have few rights. And this is a RELIGION saying it is okay to “discipline” them if you don’t leave marks. Is this really the way that God wants women and children to be treated?

We can sit here in moral outrage because this is Islam and somewhere far away, but these things happen right here in the United States and are sanctioned by Christianity (remember the verse about spare the rod, spoil the child?). I wrote a post called Kids in School: Getting an Education Plus a Beating about how school children in the United States are beaten with barbaric looking paddles in schools…and often for things as benign as being late to class or chewing gum. Corporal punishment of children by parents has been banned in 29 countries, including 22 in Europe, but is still legal in all 50 states in the United States. In our country, if a child has physical marks from being beaten and someone alerts social services, the parents may suffer some consequences, but if the parents are able to cover it up, they may get away with it.

So are we any better than the United Arab Emirates? We still legally condone children being beaten in schools in 21 states and at home in all 50 states and often these beatings leave horrible marks (even from school beatings) and cause children to be aggressive and to have psychological problems. This is legally-condoned assault on children. We have a culture where people are becoming more aware of the horrors that women suffer when they are beaten by husbands or boyfriends, but still men crack jokes about “slapping her around” to friends.

When will women and children in the United States and around the world really be treated equally? Why aren’t they now? Men overwhelmingly make and enforce laws in our country and in other countries. We need more men to stand for and with women and children and protect them. No schoolteacher, husband, boyfriend, father, or any man has a right to hit a child or woman. Women and children don’t need to be “disciplined” through hitting; they need to be loved.





A 40th High School Reunion in Maryville, Tennessee

18 06 2010

There’s nothing like 40 years to give you some perspective. I attended the 40th high school reunion of  the Maryville High School class of 1970 on 6/11/10 in Maryville, Tennessee. Over a third of our class showed up along with some spouses and partners. About 8% of our class members are dead…something that seems inconceivable to me. What was their path…and that of their family and friends…that it included a life cut short? Death is an equalizer, showing no favor to the popular classmates who have passed on.

For those us still kicking it, for the most part, our personalities really haven’t changed all that much. The outgoing ones are still outgoing, the quiet ones are still quiet, and the nerdy ones are still nerdy. Not only is death an equalizer, so is aging. It’s fascinating to see how people age differently.

Overall, we look pretty good, but if you look closely, you see a few more wrinkles on some faces. You don’t have to look closely to see the extra pounds that many of us (myself included) now carry. One guy and one gal from the class who are on Facebook have…since the reunion…listed the “Hotties” and it feels like we’re in high school all over again.

There were a few surprises like how many people have never had children or have never been married. A few people are gay…something that wasn’t on my radar at all in high school. At least half of those in attendance still live in the area. Some lived other places, but came back. It is a charming town, so this is understandable.

People were upbeat and I didn’t really hear stories of tragedy and suffering and turmoil unless I knew about them and asked. At our age, I’m sure most people have experienced many ups and downs. One of our classmates dropped dead of a brain aneurysm 11 years ago and his wife…also one of our classmates…talked of the rough road she’d had in raising their children alone afterward.

I heard some talk of careers, but mostly there was talk of children and grandchildren and where you’ve lived and wow, it’s great to see you. After 40 years, the conversations distilled down to what is really important in our lives. We also reminisced about painting the bridge red and black before rival football games with Alcoa High and how tough our English teacher Ms. Miller (whose daughter was one of our classmates and was there) was…and how grateful we were when we went to college.

My Senior High School Photo

What’s really neat is that our spirits are ageless. We may be 57 or 58 years old, but we’re still giggly and fun-loving and witty and engaging and curious. If I closed my eyes…or simply looked past the extra pounds and wrinkles and hair dye…I saw those same classmates who I knew and loved in high school.

A 40th high school reunion is not only a reunion with classmates, but also with the self you were all those years ago. I could instantly erase 40 years of living and step back to being that girl who was living life to the fullest and had the whole world ahead of her. Maybe I’ll decide to stay 17 and continue to see a world of opportunity available to me. Maryville, Maryville High, my family, and those classmates instilled in me that sense of possibility…and I’ll forever be that girl.





International Women’s Day: Have Women Made Any Progress?

8 03 2010

Yesterday I heard the second president (in 1970) of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Aileen Hernandez speak on “Women’s Human Rights: Turning Principles into Practice: An International Women’s Day Event” at University of California at Berkeley. Aileen is currently the chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a state action alliance of over 600 organizations. Yesterday…as part of today’s International Women’s Day commemoration and sponsored by the UN Association-East Bay…she led a group of activists through a discussion of the advances that women have made over the last three or so decades. Those include:

  • More choices of types of work are available to women now. Previously women primarily were employed as sales clerks, teachers, nurses, secretaries, or domestic workers.
  • Women and girls are more involved in athletics and play in team sports now.
  • Women have more choices about working vs. staying at home with children. This creates more choices for men, too, and more men are stay-at-home fathers, for instance.
  • Women are seen more often in higher level positions within companies.
  • Women represent higher percentages of those seeking upper education degrees.
  • Women have more choices about whether to marry or not and whether to have children or not. Previously it was assumed they would marry and would have children.
  • There’s more recognition that educating a girl or woman means that a whole family and whole community benefits.
  • Women have assumed leadership roles in government and other positions of power to greater degrees.

And yet, despite the advances for women, many things have not changed…or have not changed enough. Some examples:

  • The International Trade Union (ITUC)…which represents 176 million workers from 155 countries…reported on 3/8/10 that women with children still only earn 68% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job. Women overall earn 74% of what men earn for the same position. This study included information from over 40 countries across the world.
  • According to Causecast, which has been dubbed a “one stop philanthropy shop, “One in three women die or are seriously injured as a result of gender-based violence. Violence against women results in more deaths among women ages 15 to 44 than the total number of women who die because of war, malaria and cancer.” One woman in the talk yesterday said she felt that the attention to violence against women has been a plus, but in reality, all that attention has not lowered the prevalence of the violence. Causecast also reports that “One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. An estimated 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police.”
  • Also per Causecast, an “estimated four million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.”
  • Another disturbing statistic from Causecast: “Approximately 96 million young women in developing countries still cannot read or write. Globally, girls account for 55 percent of children not in school.
  • And also from Causecast, “nearly 75% of those displaced by violent conflict are women. Displacement leaves women without access to health care, proper nutrition or education. Displaced women face a higher threat of gender-based terrorism and violence.”

You can read a lot more statistics about the state of women internationally today in my 2009 International Women’s Day post.

So have we achieved equal rights for women? No…far from it. Women and girls still bear the brunt of violence, lack of education, and lack the same privileges and pay as men…even in the United States. When will we…as human beings and the men throughout the world…the fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers…begin to cherish and value women and girls and create opportunities, laws, and places in family and society that guarantee their safety and worth?






Are Your Human Rights More Right Than Mine?

31 01 2010

When I say HUMAN RIGHTS, you may think about a trafficked sex slave, a child soldier, a raped woman prosecuted for adultery in a Muslim country, a woman in China who is pregnant with a second child being forcibly taken to a hospital and given an abortion, and the people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti who need food, water, safety, and shelter.

But what about the basic human right to live in peace and quiet in your own home? Most cities…including my new city of Berkeley, California…have ordinances that proclaim that this is a right of residents. Even my own apartment lease declares this one of the rules that residents must abide by.

For over a month I have lived under a family of four who choose not to respect this basic human right.  I moved here from out of state and never saw this apartment except on videotape before moving in. I rented the apartment next door and due to the mold there, was moved by my landlord into this apartment…completely unaware that I’d be moving under a family with two young children.

The family plays drums (which the lease says is not allowed), loud thumping music, allows the boys to run up and down the halls (this sounds like a stampede since there are hardwood floors and no carpet), slams windows and doors, stomps around, argues loudly…everything is done LOUDLY. They tell me they are just living their life.

Who’s to say that me living my life doesn’t include playing my stereo really loudly at 3 a.m. or that I have to turn up my television as loud as it goes because that’s the way I like it or I need to plug my amplifier into my keyboard and play it loud so I can really get the feel of the music when I play it? (I haven’t done any of those things, but sometimes it is tempting.)

I have spoken twice with the mother/wife. The last time, when I calmly explained that the noise was unbearable, she screamed at me and threatened me. She said I had “no right to come from Texas and tell her to be quiet in HER neighborhood.” She also informed me that her children were going to continue doing what they were doing that was so loud and they were going to do it ALL DAY LONG.

My neighbor asserted to me that she and her family have MORE rights than me because they were here first and they are a family (and I’m a single woman). I pay rent here too…no less than they do…and my lease reads the same as theirs. I’m protected by the same city laws as they are that give me the right to peace and quiet in my own home.

I’m saying all this not to complain, but to show how absurd it is when one person proclaims they have more rights than another person and that their rights are more important than another person’s. You could substitute anything going on in the world in exchange for this story and see how ridiculous it is…and yet we do it all the time. My neighbor and her family have a sense of entitlement and so they do whatever they want to do without any regard for my rights.

My landlord/apartment owner has little regard for my rights also…rights that they even decreed in the rules we all signed. Instead of asking these people to leave, I am being let out of my lease. The neighbors will then be allowed to intrude on the rights of the next person(s) who live(s) where I do now. And me? I am spending my time, energy, and money to move to another place where my basic human right of peace and quiet in my own home will be respected.

How often do we let the people who intrude on our human rights or those of others continue? Or perhaps we perceive the person who had their rights violated as a complainer and the violaters just bully us into letting them do whatever they feel they are entitled to do?

In my case, I could go to the city and complain and could probably force the issue so that the people above me are evicted and I could stay here. I choose instead to no longer rent an apartment from a landlord who doesn’t back up the rights they guaranteed me and to no longer live under people who are so disrespectful and scream at me to my face that their rights matter more than mine.

For 5 weeks I’ve felt victimized by these people…the neighbors and the non-acting landlords. Now I’m taking my power back and moving to a place that will be a refuge.  Peace and quiet are an important basic human right to me. I need it to survive…and to thrive.

Do you think your rights are more important…or more right…than those of other people? Are you respecting the rights of others?





Reflection on Human Rights Day

10 12 2009

Today is Human Right’s Day. Take a moment to reflect.

  • Do you respect the human rights of those you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are you respectful, kind, considerate, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive?
  • Do you listen to, acknowledge, and treat respectfully people who think, act, look, speak, or practice religion differently from you?
  • Do you ever give any thought to the rights of those in other countries?
  • Do you care if women can vote, hold public office, work, drive a car, have protections through the legal system, love and marry who they want, and speak their minds?
  • Do you care if children are allowed to be children and go to school, wait until they are adults to marry, have nourishment, have clean water, and are free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse?
  • Have you considered what life would be like if you had been born to poor parents in Afghanistan or Mali or Haiti?
  • Have you considered what it must be like to be hungry, to have no fresh water, to have no parents, to have AIDS, to have no access to the Internet, and to have no hope and feel useless in the world?

We are each important in the world. We each have rights just because of being born. Be aware. Care. Acknowledge. Listen. Then allow your heart to open and do what you can. Even a word of encouragement can make a difference.

Human Rights are not just for a day. Every day we must do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Every person is valuable, is needed, and is important…just like you.





A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.





Don’t Stop Believin’ – Formerly Homeless Journey Lead Singer and Harvard Student

5 10 2009

The early 80s Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” was sung on the Oprah show today by their amazing new lead singer (and formerly homeless person in the Phillippines) Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by one of the band members in a video Arnel posted on YouTube. Arnel, who had to fend for himself on the streets after his encouraging mother died when he was 13, is a testament to the power of those words, now living a life he says is way bigger than he could ever have imagined.

The song provided a perfect setup for the story of Khadijah, an African-American young woman who was homeless from the time she was six and slept with her mother and sister in bus stations, on the streets, and in many Khadijah - Homeless to Harvard (Oprah website)shelters. She attended 12 schools in 12 years and was encouraged by her mother to better her life through education. She took this advice to heart, studying hard, and spending a lot of time in the Los Angeles Public Library reading every book she could.

When Khadijah was in the 10th grade, she was determined to finish out her schooling at Jefferson High School, and got up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make the two-hour trip from Skid Row in Los Angeles to school. In May she graduated with honors and is now a freshman at Harvard University. Here’s part of the essay she wrote as part of her admission process. You can read the entire essay at Oprah.com:

Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.

Oprah was so moved by Khadijah’s story that she invited Khadijah to accompany her the next time she visits the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and tell her inspiring story to the girls there.

Arnel and Khadijah…two formerly homeless people with little to hope for. They both had mothers who believed in them and encouraged them, they both believed in themselves, and they both were willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

No matter what your situation, no matter how hard or hopeless it may be, don’t stop believing. You never know what miracle is waiting for you!

Here’s Arnel and Journey…





Using the Lost 2016 Olympics Bid to Sow Hatred in America

3 10 2009

Ha ha ha! We didn’t get the bid for the 2016 Olympics. What a loser that President Obama is. That’s what we’re hearing from many conservatives today. Here are some actual statements made today with derisive gleefulness:

  • Rush Limbaugh – “Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, has been running around the world for nine months telling everybody how much our country sucks…. Why would anybody award the Olympics to such a crappy place?…Obama demeaned the office of the presidency, going on this sales pitch….He doesn’t understand how delighted the world is to make him look foolish in order to take a swipe at our country. We’ve got a two-year-old manchild with a Mars-sized ego, which today crashed and burned.”
  • The Drudge Report – “THE EGO HAS LANDED. WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND”
  • The National Review Online – “Wow, what an embarrassment for Obama. If he can’t work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?”
  • Michelle Malkin – “Goodbye, ‘Yes We Can.’ Hello, ‘No, You Can’t.’ Like Icarus, President Obama’s giddy ego flight has ended with melted wax and fallen wings.”

This is downright disturbing to see Americans gloating because the U.S. lost the bid for the 2016 Olympics and laughing out loud at President Obama because of it. Lately there have been a lot of outrageous, mean-spirited, derogatory, and frankly anti-American statements made that indicate the speakers of those words hope our country and President Obama fail; Limbaugh even outright said so.

If you are one of the people laughing at our president and hoping our country fails, do you call yourself religious? Do you claim moral authority? Are you a member of the party whose election campaign motto was “Country First”?  If so, I ask where is your decency, your Christ-like spirit, and your caring for and loving fellow Americans including BLACK ones like our president? When you ask the question What would Jesus do? do you seriously think he would behave this way?

Instead of gleeful derision, why not celebrate with Rio de Janeiro on their win today? Why not be grateful for a president who made a huge personal effort and sees this as an opportunity to reestablish relations with people all over the world after they were so damaged by the previous president? Why not be thankful to all the people who spent countless hours putting together the bid for Chicago to host the Olympics? Wouldn’t all that be more Christian, more decent, more American?

I’m really tired of certain factions…incited and egged on by certain media personalities…doing everything they can to tear down our country. Consider the source of your information….it is from opportunists who don’t care about our country and the people in it. These opportunists make a lot of money being outrageous and hateful. They worship the almighty dollar.

Instead of what we saw today, I’d like to see glee being shown when people extend kindness, lift each other up, care for one another, and contribute to the good in the world. 13th century Persian poet Rumi says it so well:

Tender words we spoke to one another are sealed in the secret vaults of heaven. One day like rain, they will fall to earth and grow green all over the world.

What words are you saying? Are they kind? Encouraging? Caring? Loving? Will they fall to the earth and grow green all over the world or scorch the earth with dissension and hatred?

UPDATE 10/5/09: Paul Krugman has an excellent New York Times Op-Ed on this entitled “The Politics of Spite,” which was published 10/4.





Roman Polanski: Brilliant Director and PEDOPHILE

2 10 2009

In 1977, 44-year-old Roman Polanski drugged and vaginally and anally raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer even while she repeatedly pleaded with him to stop. He fled the country in 1978 before his sentencing and has never returned to the U.S., not even when he won the Academy Award for Best Director for his movie The Pianist in 2002.

Besides that amazing movie, he has directed other noted movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. Polanski hasn’t just led a charmed life, though; he has experienced tragedy in his life. He escaped the Krakow ghetto in 1943 at age 10. His mother was executed in a concentration camp. His 8 1/2-month pregnant wife, the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson.

But all of that doesn’t excuse a man…any man…of raping a child. Polanski was arrested on 9/26/09 at the Zurich, Switzerland airport; he was to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Lots of famous Hollywood types (many directors themselves) like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Michael Mann, and Whoopi Goldberg (who had the audacity to say “It wasn’t rape rape”) are DEFENDING Roman Polanski and THEY are acting outraged that he is being detained in a Swiss jail.

The man is a pedophile. Around two years before he raped Geimer, he had a “romantic relationship” (that’s how it’s reported on Wikipedia…folks, he’s a PEDOPHILE) with 15-year-old actress Nastassja Kinski.

This reminds me of the case of R&B singer R. Kelly. He’s probably most known for the song “I Think I Can Fly” and has a beautiful voice, but R. Kelly is also a pedophile. He has escaped being sent to jail several times even though he’s been found in possession of child pornography including a tape he made of him “having sex” with an underage girl. He also married his protege, the 15-year-old singer Aaliyah (who had to lie about her age to get married)…who he had worked with since she was 12 years old… in 1994.

The response in these two cases is outrageous. In both cases people have closed ranks and supported the guy who was one of them. The Hollywood types are supporting Polanski and African-Americans supported R. Kelly. I checked a forum where African-Americans post and the people speaking out on Polanski almost uniformly believe he should go to jail. People on that same forum stood up for R. Kelly (and also the batterer hip-hop singer Chris Brown) and thought he was being racially targeted when he was being tried for being a pedophile.

When will we stop defending child molesters? I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, from the U.S. or from Saudi Arabia, Christian or Muslim, it is NEVER OKAY to molest children. And I am sick of the press saying that an adult “had sex with” a child or that it was “consensual.” It is NEVER consensual and it is not “having sex” when a child is involved. It is RAPE. Children are never responsible and they cannot freely consent to sex with an adult. It is always about adults using their power (and in the Polanski case also drugs) over children.

Bottom line? No matter how wonderful Roman Polanski’s movies have been, he is a fugitive from the law and a child rapist. He belongs in prison. PERIOD.





Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.





The Biology of Belief: Moving Beyond the Survival of the Fittest

23 08 2009

The human body has over 50 trillion cells. The world population today is 6.8 billion. Our bodies have more than seven thousand times as many cells as there are people in the whole world! What can science teach us about how to survive, thrive, and co-exist and what spiritual implications can be found?

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published November 24, 1859 and is considered the basis for the evolution theory of biology. His idea was that populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection or what has been dubbed “the survival of the fittest.” German political philosopher and co-creator of the theory of communism Friedrich Engels said in 1872 that:

Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.

Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, trained as a cell biologist and now bridging science and spirit, talks… in his thought-provoking and ground-breaking book The Biology of Belief …of two new biomedical research fields:

  1. Signal transduction science, which “…recognizes that the fate and behavior of an organism is directly linked to its perception of the environment. In simple terms, the character of our life is based upon how we perceive it.”
  2. Epigenetics, which “…is the science of how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity. This new awareness reveals that our genes are constantly being remodeled in response to life experiences.”

Dr. Lipton has demonstrated in his own research that the nucleus (where DNA is) of a cell can be removed and the cell can still function for a time…until it needs to repair itself…and then it breaks down and dies. He theorizes that the real “brain” of the cell is in the membrane, which interacts with the environment (this is the signal transduction mentioned above). He concludes that “the cell’s operations are primarily molded by its interaction with the environment, not its genetic code.”

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Based on this New Biology, Dr. Lipton suggests that we need to move beyond Darwinian theory…which focuses on the importance of individuals (or an individual cell’s DNA)…to one that stresses the importance of the community (or the connection and reference of the individual cell to its environment).

He talks of the Gaia Hypothesis, which was developed by independent research scientist Richard Lovelock in the 1960s as a result of his NASA work on methods to detect life on Mars. Lovelock postulated in his 1979 book (which was updated in 2000 with several additional sequels including one which came out in 2009) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth that the earth and all its species constitute one interactive, living organism…a superorganism.

The implications of that are huge. As Dr. Lipton points out, the Newtonian version of the universe is linear. A -> B -> C -> D etc. This is the system that western doctors follow…that we have a universe that is just made up of ordered matter and they must prescribe a pill to act on that matter. Prescription drugs are used at one of these points to try and intercept and repair the defective element in our system.

The quantum universe…or Gaia…vision of the world is holistic, interconnected, and energetic. In the above example, a prescription drug used to treat point B not only treats that element, but also interacts with other elements in our body…thus, we get side effects. Eastern doctors, on the other hand, treat patients with a holistic view, recognizing that the universe…and the human body…is made up of energy. Acupuncture, for example, influences health by stimulating vital Globe in hands smallerenergy that may be blocked in the body.

Dr. Lipton says that an organism…and by implication the larger superorganism of our whole world…has two survival mechanisms: growth and protection. The organism can’t do both at the same time. If it uses all its energy in a fight-or-flight response, growth is inhibited.

Growth requires an open exchange between the organism and its environment; protection requires that the organism close down and wall itself off.  War, violence, depletion of environmental resources, close-mindedness, ideological control (by religions and governments), prejudice, illness, depression, and fear are all examples of what happens to individuals and larger organisms (like countries) that go into protective mode and close down.

What’s the take away from Dr. Lipton of this New Biology? That we must change our competitive, dog-eat-dog, one-up-manship, survival of the fittest paradigm to one that supports everyone and everything on this planet…a paradigm of interconnection, openness, growth, and survival of the most loving.

Thanks to Dr. Wayne Dyer for referring me and many others to this truly elucidating and ground-breaking book.





Michael Jackson: The Sad Legacy of Child Abuse

27 06 2009

No doubt the music was superb, the dancing mesmerizing, the videos innovativeMichael_Jackson_1984, the costumes eye-popping, the energy unbelievable. After his death this week, Michael Jackson, the proclaimed King of Pop, leaves a legacy of 13 Grammy awards, 13 number one singles, the best selling record of all time (Thriller), 750 million records sold, and many other accolades and awards. He also leaves behind three children, $500 million in debt, a tangled legal mess, and the sad legacy of child abuse.

Michael Jackson was an abused child and he was (allegedly) an abuser. It’s easy to forget all this because we are so stunned at the death so young of someone who has made such an impact on music. We must remember, though, that his life story is a cautionary tale.

When Michael was a child, his father Joseph did things like:

  • Held Michael upside down with one leg and “pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks,” per brother Marlon.
  • Sat in a chair with a belt in his hand while the Jackson brothers rehearsed and that “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you,” per Michael.
  • Tripped and pushed the boys into walls and called them names.

[NOTE 6/30: The Wall Street Journal reports that it appears that Michael’s father Joseph was cut out of what is purported to be his latest will, written in 2002.]

The abuse took a toll. Michael often cried from loneliness and even vomited upon seeing the father he so feared. He went from an adorable and impossibly talented little boy to a bizarre-looking and irrevocably scarred middle-aged man. And still lonely. Very lonely.

Perhaps to ease his loneliness and to try and create the childhood he never had, he often invited children over to his fairytale and theme park-like Neverland Ranch. He admitted to the stunned British journalist Martin Bashir, in a 2003 documentary entitled Living with Michael Jackson, that he often had children sleep in his bed.

Just this sort of thing is what got Michael in trouble in 1993 and 2005 when both times he was accused of sexual abuse of a child. In 1993 he suffered deteriorated health from being addicted to three painkillers as a result of the stress he felt from dealing with the accusations and settled out of court. In 2005 the boy who was seen holding hands with Michael and discussing sleeping arrangements with him in the documentary accused him of sexual abuse. The People v. Jackson trial ended with Michael being found not guilty, but left a shroud of suspicion around him that never ended. Mental health professional Dr. Stan Katz, who evaluated Michael and the accuser for the trial, declared Michael a “regressed 10-year-old” and not a pedophile.

Perhaps that’s so. Perhaps Michael was 10 in his thoughts and actions and doing the normal exploratory stuff that 10-year-olds do. Maybe he was innocent and taken advantage of by greedy fortune-seekers. At the very least, Michael was naively inappropriate to allow children in his bed. He was an adult and a public figure. He should have known better.

But this is what severe child abuse does. It can delay or thwart emotional development and contribute to a 50-year-old man regressing to being 10 years old. It can lead to life-long problems.

Michael Jackson is both a talented and tragic figure. It leaves us wondering if he would’ve been less troubled and if he would have left a less sullied legacy if he had been treated with kindness and love as a child and not ridicule, threats, and harm.

This brings to my mind the 1954 poem by Dorothy Law Nolte that has hung in my home since my now-grown children were small. I looked at that poem several times a day and tried to live by its tenets as I raised my daughters. Here is the poem, entitled “Children Learn What They Live”:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

Thanks for the music, Michael. Like so many creative giants, your flame extinguished way too soon. The torture you felt in life is now silenced, but the music lives on. Here’s one of my favorites of his. Enjoy.






The Audacity of Having a Voice

17 06 2009

We have so villified the Iranians. Made them to be the enemy. Bush called them part of the “axis of evil.” We have feared them, mistrusted them, hated them, wanted to harm them.

Credit: Huffington Post

Credit: Huffington Post

I am in awe of the Iranian people. These are people standing up for freedom and for having a voice. Would you have such courage to protest as they are doing now?

Why, when Bush stole the election in 2000, did people in the United States not stand up and protest? Why, when Bush tortured people and we knew about it, did we not cast him and Cheney out of office? Why, when we knew that the Bush Administration was monitoring ordinary citizens, clamping down our human rights, and creating legal documents to make themselves a monarchy with absolute authority did we do nothing?

Where is our moral courage and passion to march, protest, and demand an end to child trafficking or sexual abuse or violence against women? What about children going hungry even in our own country or people living in tents or elderly people who can’t afford their prescriptions? Do we stand up and say ENOUGH!? Do we write our lawmakers who make light of these situations and spend more money on weapons than feeding people and helping the afflicted? Do we do ANYTHING? 

Would you march silently to give voice and to stand up for something you strongly believe in? Is there anything so important to you that you would risk arrest, injury, or even death as the Iranians are doing? 

Consider spending 10 minutes each day in meditation for healing in our world. It’s the least we can do.

Here is a video of people in Tehran peacefully protesting the election results today. This brings tears to my eyes. This is courage and conviction in action. I hope that we can all begin to see the Iranians…and so many other people speaking out all over the world for freedom from violence and freedom for a voice…as our brothers and sisters who are to be loved and applauded and not enemies to be feared and hated.

 





The 1979 Iranian Revolution: A Personal Story

13 06 2009

We were all set to move to Tehran, Iran in 1978. My (then) husband was a software engineer with Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and we had the opportunity of a lifetime to move there (and him to work there) with our one-year-old baby girl.

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Iran seemed stable then.  Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was the leader and had been since he came to power in 1941. He had put in place a lot of positive reforms, called the White Revolution, in Iran such as giving women the right to vote, advancing the country technologically and economically, guaranteeing children the right to go to school, allowing share croppers to own land, etc.

There was no Internet then, but I researched Iran the best I could. EDS gave us a packet of information on what to expect about living there and I learned more at the library. I knew it would be really different from living in the U.S. Things like celery and iceburg lettuce and other foods were hard to get and expensive when you could find them. I wouldn’t be driving there, but would have some freedom of movement. There was no email so contact with my family would be mostly through letters and the rare (and expensive) phone call. Still, I was ready for the adventure.

Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini

Things happened to change all that. Previously the Shah had Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was critical of his regime, imprisoned for 18 months and then deported in 1964 after Khomeini’s release and criticism of the U.S. government. Khomeini continued to speak out against the Pahlavi regime from exile. The Iranian (also called the Islamic) Revolution began in January 1978. A few months later, EDS asked if we would consider going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia instead of Tehran. We didn’t really understand why, but they explained it would be safer. We changed course and agreed…and my research began anew. I became pregnant with our second child and had to hold back on going to Jeddah. Their father went around the beginning of November 1978. I, and our two children, didn’t go over until July 1979.

Amidst the backdrop of our changing personal saga, chaos had broken out in Iran and the Shah and his family had to flee the country in January 1979. His regime collapsed two weeks later. EDS employees fled the U.S.-friendly regime with the clothes on their back. Many of them came later to Jeddah and we were regaled with harrowing and heroic stories.

Khomeini returned from 15 years of exile and on 4/1/79, the people of Iran voted to become an Islamic Republic. In December of 1979, the people approved a theocratic (where God is considered the supreme civil ruler) constitution and Khomeini became the Supreme Leader, the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country. He has authority even over the president of Iran. Tens of thousands of loyalists to the previous regime were executed after Khomeini took office.

At this point, the U.S./Iran relationship deteriorated. On 11/4/79 Iranian students seized U.S. embassy personnel, accusing them of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.  Khomeini supported them. Most of the women and African-American hostages were released after a few months, but the remaining 52 hostages were held captive for 444 days. They were set free in January 1981 in exchange for promises that included the U.S. removing a freeze on Iranian assets and not interfering with Iranian affairs.

While my family and I were spared the drama, tension, and danger in Iran, we were living in Jeddah when the Grand Mosque was seized and held for two weeks by Islamic terrorists on 11/20/79.  I wrote about this in a post entitled “Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj.” I witnessed on the streets what an area under siege in a Middle Eastern country looks like.

Once again we seemed to escape potential danger unwittingly. We returned to the United States around mid-September of 1980. On 9/22/80 Saddam Hussein and Iraq invaded a weakend (from the revolution) Iran and thus began the Iran-Iraq War. It lasted until 1988 when Khomeini begrudgingly accepted a truce negotiated by the United Nations. 500,000 – 1 million Iranians died in this war; 100,000 of them from Iraqi chemical weapons.

Ali KhameneiKhomeini reigned as Supreme Leader until he died on 6/3/89. Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader in 1989 and remains so in 2009. Iran had two additional presidents before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

I was a 25-year-old, wide-eyed, ready-for-anything young woman when my family was going to move to Iran. Things were pretty peaceful then. It seemed really exciting.

Today, in the aftermath of what looks like a rigged election, there is rioting in the streets of Iran. The people are crying out for freedom and representation and being heard. It’s a dangerous place to be. I could’ve walked amongst these people 30 years ago, but it would’ve been a different Iran, an Iran that was making progress and restoring rights to women and children and peasants.

Today, and the last 30 years, seem to have been a setback for the Iranians. I wonder when their country will be restored to peace and to being a place where another wide-eyed, brave young U.S. mother would dare to go undaunted with her family to have the adventure of a lifetime.





Hatred in Action at the Holocaust Museum

10 06 2009

Tragic. Today an 88-year-old white supremacist walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and killed a 39-year-old security guard before being fired on by other guards. The Holocaust Museumkiller was known to hate Jews, Catholics, and African-Americans and on the radar of those who study fringe extremists who devote their lives to hatred. He wrote a book denying the Holocaust and praising Hitler. He spent more than five years in prison for the 1983 conviction on charges of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board with a hunting knife, revolver, and 12-gauge shotgun. He even invoked others to kill people who threatened what he saw as the supremacy of white people.

These kind of people terrify me more than any Taliban or jihadist. These are people living on our own soil who at any moment in any location and without provocation can take someone’s life…or many lives. These people walk amongst us. They look like us. They may be our grandfather, our son, our uncle, our boss. We usually don’t have a clue as to the level of depravity and hatred they harbor. Their souls are dark places where light never enters.

And yet people like Palin, Limbaugh, Cheney, O’Reilly, Beck, and Hannity fuel the flames that burn in these in-grown terroists’ hearts. These very public people tell lies and make insinuations that inflame the ignorant, the uninformed, the uncurious, and the gun-toting racists. They speak with seemingly innocent irresponsibility and then act surprised and are in denial when their words produce predictable results.

I am disgusted with the talk of these people and the talk of any person who promotes hatred. I am alarmed and saddened by the results of their hate talk.

Credit: MSNBC.com

Stephen Tyrone Johns Credit: MSNBC.com

Stephen Tyrone Johns was the man killed. He had worked as a security guard at the Holocaust Museum for six years. He was doing his job to protect the school children and others who come to the museum to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. He didn’t deserve to die.

The other news today? Carrie Prejean, Miss California, was fired by Donald Trump. She is the contestant in the Miss USA pageant who spoke out against gay marriage and preached intolerance toward gay people. Is it any accident that these two incidents headline the news in the same day? I think not. They, along with the killing last week of the abortion doctor by a right-wing extremist, speak of intolerance, of people claiming their way is the only right way, of excluding others who are not like you.

We need healing, love, and inclusion. These are what President Obama is practicing and teaching. Why are these positive principles so threatening to those who hate? We must hold the light and shine that light into the dark corners of the extremist corners of the dark hearts in our society. Our country, its citizens, and the citizens of the world need our light.

Here’s “This Little Light of Mine” sung by the African Children’s Choir. I heard them sing in Austin a few months ago. These children shine light and love into our hearts with their singing, dancing, and ebullient spirits. We can learn a lot from children…they remind us to be about joy and love.





Celebrating Diversity at a Gay Pride Parade

7 06 2009

Outlandish. Festive. Convivial. Celebratory. My first gay pride parade ever. My good friend (a gay guy) had invited me years before…this year I said yes. After a dinner of fine Mexican food downtown, we walked over to 4th and Colorado and staked our spot near the reviewing stand to watch the Austin gay pride parade last night.

Attendees at Austin Gay Pride Parade June 6 09 - StatesmanThe crowd of several thousand grew as the 8:30 starting time approached. The streets blocked to traffic, this was people watching at its finest. Lean young men in black briefs wearing white feathery angel wings with a five foot span. Lots of tattoos. Women who looked more like men than some of the men did. Bleached blond…and even green… spiked hair.
Tranvestites…men dressed as women…with full makeup, hair, and dresses. Men with bare chests and tight leather pants. Androgynous women. Men holding hands with men. Women holding hands with women. Lots of dogs on leashes. Children. Rainbow flags and leis. A rowdy but controlled crowd of people of all ages, sizes, and looks.

And then there were the usual Saturday night Austin club hoppers…the 20-something women in 5-inch heels, short tight skirts, skin-tight tops, and tons of makeup. Their male dates in sloppy shorts, Birkenstocks, and shirts that hung over their beltless pants. And of course the rest of the hetero crowd that came down to check out the action, but wasn’t out to find “love” for the evening. A lot of these people stared blankly as they walked by, not Best Buy Austin Gay Pride Parade - Statesmancomprehending what they were seeing.

The crowd roared when the parade wound its way through the streets of downtown to where we were standing and sitting. As for every gay pride parade (per my friends), it was kicked off by the “dykes on bikes.” What followed was a 1.5 hour procession of people from church groups, clubs, arts groups, bands, restaurants, bars, retail stores, and miscellaneous organizations. Some marched, some rode in cars or trucks, and some rode on cheesy (and definitely not Rose Parade material) floats.

Particularly impressive was the sight of Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo marching with his gay police men and women and Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, one of only 30 women fire chiefs in the nation, marching with her gay fire men and women.

The non-uniformed marchers were in various states of dress and undress…with men in speedos seductively dancing getting the most cat calls. Some people dressed in costumes…the moLove Peace Equality Sign at Gay Pride Parade - Statesmanst memorable being two women in wedding dresses who held hands and walked together to make a point about gay marriage. In the spirit of a mardi gras parade, marchers flung cheap yet colorful beads into the crowd as well as t-shirts and condoms.

It was a fun evening, but in the midst of the hilarity and raucousness, the seriousness of the Sign at Gay Pride Parade - Statesmanoccasion was not lost. Many of the marchers held signs that proclaimed messages of equality, which reminded us in a quiet way why we were all even attending a gay pride parade.

I feel proud to live in a town (Austin) that is accepting of the diversity of people who came out for the parade. I think I’ll go back next year. Gay or straight, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Note: All photos are from the Austin American-Statesman’s online website www.statesman.com.