Draw A Chalk Circle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are charts for everything. Definitions and distinctions of value meant to clarify but, in the end, make life seem more and more farcical. For instance, we recently were directed to a worker’s compensation website and learned that losing your hand in an accident is worth 400 weeks of [minimal] compensation. The dominant hand is worth more than the non-dominant hand. Fingers have less value-in-weeks than a thumb. Just imagine the guys-and-gals-in-suits sitting around a conference table discussing the value of a human hand as expressed in weeks. Sometimes I’m certain that we live inside the mind of Gary Larson.

Is it no wonder that we are confused about the value of a human life? We have actuaries calculating human-life-value and making smart looking tables with support graphs to answer this most fundamental question. I’m certain that those guys-and-gals-in-suits sitting around the conference table would come up with a different answer if it was their hand or fingers or toes or life on the chopping block. If it was their child’s eye or foot. Charts, like all data points, are not personal.

We awoke this morning to the news that the latest mass shooting (if 4 or more people are shot it is, according to the FBI, considered “mass”) was in our town. We are number 47 since March 16. March 16 is the date of the mass shooting in Atlanta; 8 people were killed. Here are some nifty and comprehensive charts on gun violence in America.

When I was in elementary school we did safety drills, crawling under our desks, in the event of an atomic bomb drop. Although I was certain that my desk was not going to protect me in the event of an atomic explosion, I was comforted by the knowledge that the enemy was far away, external. Now, our children in elementary school do active shooter drills and they, too, know that their desks offer little protection. But their predicament is dire: the enemy they face is right here. It is everywhere, internal. Sitting under my desk I knew there was an entire military machine between me and the potential dropper of atom bombs. Sitting under their desks, our children know with certainty that there is nothing, not even legislative will, standing between them and the ubiquitous shooter.

I once listened to an author speak about the difficulty of writing a farce about the USA. He said, “Before you can a publish the book, the fictional farce that you’d written will have actually happened.” Our scary farce: the only answer we can muster to daily mass killing in schools, grocery stores, work places, concerts, houses of worship…the only idea that the markets will support in an out-of-control gun culture, is more guns. Sales charts and political donation data drive policy to dedicated inaction. [For some lightheartedness in the midst of this dark-and-dismal post, go here. I laughed aloud when I heard comic Steve Hofstetter riff on gun control.]

What is the value of a human life?

We had a lovely conversation in the grocery store. An accidental path crossing with friends. Sue remarked, as we compared life experiences, that our personal challenges are meant to remind us that we are still here.

What is the value of a human life as determined by those of us who are still here?

Bertold Brecht wrote a play called The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Two women claim to be the mother of a small child. A judge has to settle the case. He has a small circle drawn on the ground. The child is placed in the circle. The judge instructs the women to stand on opposite sides of the circle, each taking one of the child’s hands. The woman that successfully pulls the child from the circle will be declared the mother. One woman quickly yanks the child from the circle. The other will not pull. She refuses. She cannot do harm to her child. She proves herself to be the true mother.

I wonder what we might value if we could put down our charts and data points and amendments-as-seen-in-isolation-from-all-the-other-amendments, step beyond our abstractions, and draw a simple circle in the dirt. What might we discuss if we placed a small child in the circle, and considered the value of that one precious life? My bet is that none of us would yank that child out of the circle of life. We’d do everything imaginable to protect the child from harm. To keep it safe. Sales graphs and actuary tables and every other dehumanizing analytic would drop away. We would, in considering the beating heart of our public dangers, make the safety of the child, of every child, our personal challenge. It would slap us awake and remind us that we are still here. Alive. And, as custodians of the circle of each and every actual life, we are responsible to and for each other.

read Kerri’s blog post about STILL HERE

See The Verb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Random fact of the day: my waking thought this morning was about The Geography of Thought. No kidding. It’s a terrific book by Richard Nisbett. The subtitle is “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I must have been pondering the bumper sticker we recently saw: I’m With Earth.*

One of the points made in the book, the one that permeated my dream state, is that different languages place different emphasis on different parts of speech. For instance, many Asian languages place emphasis on the verb. English speakers place the emphasis on the noun. In listening to mothers talk to their infant children, an English speaker will say, “Look at the red truck! Do you see the red truck?” An Asian mother will say, “Look at the red truck go!” Do you see the red truck go?”

Why does it matter where the emphasis lands in a language structure? Noun or verb?

The language we use shapes our thinking and seeing. It shapes basic worldviews. Earth as a noun or earth as a verb. Earth as a stand-alone-thing or earth as a moving interrelationship. These are vastly different worldviews.

This was my thought/image coming out of sleep: earth and sky. In a noun world, earth and sky are two distinctly different things. In a verb world, earth and sky are not separate things, they are verbs, actions, interplay of a dynamic relationship. In a noun world, I am also a distinctly different thing. In a verb world, earth, sky and I are not separate things, we are a dynamic inseparable relationship. We.

The bumper sticker is a declaration: I am with earth. It makes perfect sense in a noun world because it is also possible, in a perceptual world of separate things, to be against earth. Nature needs to be conquered, tamed. In a noun world, earth, once tamed, is a resource and resources are meant to be used. In a noun world, we are capable of believing that our actions have no impact on our environment. Action and environment are nouns, separate things.

In a verb world, what you do to the earth is what you do to yourself. No separation. In a perceptual world of relationship, of verbs, it is understood that your actions not only have impacts, your actions are impacts.

We woke to the news of yet another mass shooting. This one in Colorado. As usual, we know that our community and leadership will offer thoughts and prayers but nothing really – not really- will be done to address it. In a noun world, we protect the rights of the individual, the separate thing. In a verb world, there are no mass shootings. None. Violence done to one is violence done to all. In fact, more people are gunned down in the United States in a day than are killed by gun violence in Japan in a decade. The differing linguistic emphasis extends to differing understanding of rights and responsibilities.

Language matters. Where we focus matters. What we emphasize matters. The story we tell is determined by the language we use to tell it. I am with earth. Or, I am earth. I go to worship. I am worship. I seek purpose. I am purpose. Separation. Relationship. A whole philosophy of living reduced to a simple bumper sticker.

So, when we ask complex questions like, “Why can’t we do anything about gun violence?” or, “How is it possible that people in a pandemic refuse to wear masks to protect each other,” our answer is really very simple: our language makes it so.

Perhaps in a world of nouns a declaration is the best we can do. It is a step toward the middle way, a declaration of responsibility to the commons. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Stop Asian Hate. I’m With Earth.

*The “I’m with Earth” sticker is from the very cool company Gurus

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M WITH EARTH

Open The Box [on KS Friday]

“Old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false.” E.O. Wilson, Consilience, The Unity Of Knowledge

On the field where the city holds its Tuesday night summer jazz concert series, boxes are painted on the grass. A visual statement. A nod to the necessity of social distance in a time of pandemic. Stay within the box. The series started despite the CDC warning against large gatherings. The series stopped when the protests began.

Boxes within boxes within boxes. We are a nation that has gladly and enthusiastically confused itself. Mitigating the spread of the pandemic is easily achieved – as demonstrated by much of the world – through mask wearing and social distancing measures. We’ve somehow managed to force ourselves into a too-tight-box by defining the simple pandemic-mitigation-measures as assaults on freedom.

Our freedom must be very fragile indeed if a thin piece of fabric, a mask worn to benefit others in our community, is all that it takes to constitute a threat. Our freedom. 200,000 dead in six months. We wage war on each other, no external threat is necessary.

We’ve managed to make simple science the Cassandra of our time. Screaming in the streets, she delivers to us simple truth and we ignore her dire warnings. We tug the Trojan Horse through once-secure gates into our cities and homes. “We are free to do whatever we want!” we gloat unmasked in reply to Cassandra science. “We are free!”

Boxes within boxes within boxes. Yes, we are free to shoot each other. It is our right. We are free to spread the virus while we assemble unmasked to demonstrate our freedom. In a time of confronting our history of racial injustice, we are free to equate a temporary pandemic lock down to slavery. There is, after all, more than one way to shoot at each other.

We are free, we are free, we are free. Boxes within boxes.

THE BOX on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOX

the box/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Look For The Exit [on Flawed Wednesday]

Roger's Park Feet copy

Two decades ago, living in Los Angeles, on a beautiful crystal clear morning, I walked to the corner market to buy a Sunday newspaper and milk for coffee. With my milk and newspaper in hand, I circled the store pretending to shop with the rest of my fellow shoppers. We delayed checking out because another customer, enraged, was having a heated argument with the cashier.  We were afraid and unwilling to step in the way of an escalating confrontation. When the angry man slapped the counter, the rest of us – the entire group of shoppers – spontaneously hit the deck. We thought it was a gun shot. Laying on the tile floor looking at the panicked faces, I had a realization. I must be afraid all of the time; low-grade fear. Gun violence was so prevalent that it was my first thought, my first expectation, not the last.  And then, the most remarkable thing happened. We slowly stood up, brushed ourselves off, picked up our items from the floor and put them back into our baskets – and never said a word to each other. We paid for our purchases. We pretended it didn’t happen. Fear is like that.

“California is ten years ahead of the rest of the nation.” At the time I heard this sentiment often. “If it’s happening here it will be happening in the rest of the nation within a decade.”

I am now twenty years beyond my corner market floor dive. I routinely look for the exits when I enter a movie theatre. We avoided attending open air concerts after Las Vegas. School shootings and workplace massacres are more common than not. There is training offered by experts on what to do if you are caught in a mass shooting. The palaver rolling out of Congress is like a dusty old play. We know the script and it goes nowhere.

“There’s been another one,” we say and shake our heads, upset that a few weeks ago we’d walked the street where the latest young man was killed. He was going to the store. A student who needed to buy hangers. “It could have been us.” And, so, once again, we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, put the items of our day back into our basket, realizing, not too late, that it did happen. It is happening to us.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ROGER’S PARK