Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20

Imagine It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Malidoma Somé wrote that a society with locks on its doors is a sick society. Something has broken down when a home needs protection from the other members of the community. Acquiring stuff takes precedence over honoring your neighbor. Can you imagine living in a community built upon mutual respect and trust, that valued and protected its members over its acquisition of stuff? Pie-in-the-sky? That might be the problem: we can’t imagine it.

Societies betray themselves. Despite the values inscribed in library cornices, despite the commandments we hold up as sacred ideals, we lock our houses against each other. We turn away when we see a person in need, their cardboard sign an appeal for help. The gap between the espoused and lived value-set is wide. In a society that claims greatness but practices mediocrity, is it no wonder that so much energy is dedicated to perpetuating a big lie? The lie is not the exception, it is the norm. The lock on the door.

Apparently, there is so much road rage on a particularly beautiful stretch of road rolling into Aspen, Colorado, that signs are posted giving travelers the number to call when the need for help is dire. Societies betray themselves. Why would a road through so much beauty, a road that dead ends in to some of the world’s great ski areas, a place where the elite retreat for some peace and quiet, why would there be so much rage on the road to such a place?

It must be a metaphor.

We tell a good story, that all are created equal, but we fight like hell to keep the full story untold. It’s happening now. Again. Still. Why are we so afraid to tell the whole story of a nation touting equality but built upon slavery and a rolling metamorphic racism? Like an individual, a society can’t address its problem until it admits it has one.

Gaps between espoused and lived values usually fill up with rage. Our gap is textbook. So many guns, so many locks on the door, so many patterns of violence and suppression that repeat over and over again.

Can you imagine living in a society that was proud of its story and need not dunk it in a lie? Or feast on an orgy of guns in order to feel potent and protected? Or post signs warning of the ubiquity of rage? That just might be the problem: we either can’t or won’t imagine it.

read Kerri’s blog post on ROAD RAGE

Pop A Cork And Ponder [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is, at long last, election day in these-once-united-states. If I had a wine cellar it would be stocked to the top with election night libation and reality-numbing assistance.

Through Kerri, I received a loving and gentle push back against my use of the phrase these-once-united-states. Our reader reminded me that these-states-were-never-united. Not really. Of course, there is the very real possibility that division IS what identifies us. In a stroke of planned obsolescence or perhaps a nod to the absurd, our forefathers wrote that all men are created equal while participating in and promoting slavery as the driver of the economic engine. They certainly knew what they were doing. It might be that division is what unites us.

Who would we be if we actually practiced equality and made sure that our institutions were not only the guardians but promoters of our central ideal?

Mostly, those wacky forefathers kicked the can down the road. They understood that the nation would one day have to reconcile its split-intention. We’ve made a run at it more than a few times and, like every good fractal, rather than deal with our shadow pattern, we manage to repeat it. Slavery becomes Jim Crow…and here we are. BLM meets The Proud Boys.

We are so far away from dealing with the can kicked-down-the-road to us that the mostly-men-on-the-red-team deny the very existence of systemic racism. That, too, is part of the fractal. Take note of how much energy has been spent making it hard for black Americans to vote. Right here in the year 2020. Some things never change. Some things need to change.

So, today we line up to cast our ballots. In this seemingly endless and ugly election season, we’ve been witness to an undermining of the postal service, the removal of ballot boxes, the stuffing of the supreme court, a president casting doubt on the very system he was sworn to support.

So much energy spent to ensure the continuation of the divide! Another squirt of glue? An organizing principle of negative and positive charges? Opposite charges attracting?

We need a new organizing principle. Division is a threadbare story and, as we know, can only run in a vicious circle. I hold little hope for it but wonder what might come about if we attended to a simple basic, just like the sign says. “Be Nice. Say Hi!”

In the absence of general kindness and courtesy, something every mother teaches and every grandmother upholds, I will pop a cork and ponder what we might have been if the system had been set up and penned by our foremothers. I suspect we’d all know how to play nice by now.

read Kerri’s blog post on BE NICE. SAY HI!

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

See And Speak [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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We were sitting on a concrete wall, taking a break, when he asked the question. I’ve been asked this very question more times than I care to count and I did what I always do: I took a breath. When you facilitate conversations on diversity and culture change, this question is always lurking somewhere in the room, waiting for a break, a side conversation, so it can be given voice without ramification. Truth often steps forward at the water cooler. It was the question that illuminated for me the real problem with race in America and the mountain we need to move. “Don’t you think black people cause their own problems?” he suggested.

Breathe.

No. I don’t. I believe privilege is blind to itself. And, isn’t this the very conversation we need to have happen in the middle of the room and not at the margins? The mark of institutional racism is that it is utterly invisible to the privileged class.

In the United States we hear a lot these days about tribes and information bubbles as if they were a new phenomenon.  They are not new. Our bubbles, like all bubbled history, is meant to cleanse the narrative to justify the indefensible, to hide the ugly behind a noble mask. Here’s a phrase from our history: The ruling class responded [to Bacon’s Rebellion] by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.

If you are white in America this might not yet have pierced your bubble. Note these phrases relative to the history you learned in school. It might help to understand the system at play in our current historical attempt to change systemic racism: Ruling class. Harden the racial caste of slavery [yes, a created caste system. The system of slavery was erected and black Americans were legally defined as lesser beings]. Divide the two races [black & white]. The point of the black/white division was and is to prevent subsequent uprisings against the ruling class. Ruling class.  The division we wrestle with was intentional, crafted for a specific purpose, and systematized. It serves the same institutional purpose to this day.

Another tidbit worth gnawing on: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance in print of the adjective white in reference to “a white man, a person of a race distinguished by a light complexion” was in 1671. Colonial charters and other official documents written in the 1600s and early 1700s rarely refer to European colonists as white.

If we are learning anything in these days of fox propaganda and pandemic tales it is the power of people to entrench in their narrative despite data, fact, and personal experience that disputes the narrative. Systematize a narrative and it is nearly impossible to challenge. No see, no hear, no speak. Systems, as I learned in school, are living things – not mechanical – and will fight to the death to keep themselves alive. We are currently watching the fight of a systemic challenge.

The question at the water cooler, “Don’t you think black people create their own problems?” was always asked in earnest. It revealed the successful hardening of racial caste, the power of the mechanism preventing the uniting of the races so as to ensure no possible subsequent uprisings. Us. Them. Bubbles. A vicious cycle.

It’s hard to see a mountain when you are sitting on it. We The People. Ruling class. These two phrases are incompatible but co-exist through the successful creation of division. It’s black and white.

We have a long history and have worked very hard not to see what is right before our eyes. The second rule of systems change: if you know where you are going then it is not change but repetition. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The opportunity for change is, once again, upon us. The conversation needs to move to the center of the communal square and we need to muster the courage to step into unknown territory. Silence and denial are not now nor ever have been valid excuses for perpetuating an ugly system. We betray ourselves.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” ~ John Lewis

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SILENCE

 

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See The Opportunity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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In the past few days, two phrases have been injected into the common parlance in such a way as to be interchangeable: cancellation culture and replacement theory. Here we go!

Cancellation theory is a pop culture phrase – the withdrawal of support for a company or person after they say or do something offensive in the media-sphere. For instance, right now many advertisers are cancelling ads with Facebook until Facebook does a better job policing hate speech on its platform.

Replacement theory is a far-right conspiracy theory. It is scaremongering and asserts that, with the help of the “liberal elite,” the white population (and history) is being replaced with “non-Europeans.”

Conflate the two phrases, as was done with great intention at the foot of Mount Rushmore and again the next day at the national Independence Day celebration, and the fear-message is clear: them is out to cancel us. It’s a win/lose game and the dividing line runs along multiple fault lines but mostly racial and political. We’ve gone so far down the division-rabbit-hole that we turn our bile on ourselves. If successful, it is the tried and true fascist checkmate move.

Good heavens. It’s as if this nation is either short on brain cells, has no memory for history, or we are simply gullible to the point of believing almost anything. Sadly, Issac Asimov comes [again] to mind: There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Don’t we see this quote play out everyday in these United States? A cult of ignorance.

There is a vast difference between replacing a story and telling the full story. Communities and individuals are alike in this aspect: they cannot become whole until they deal with their shadow side. They cannot realize their promise until they have the courage to turn and deal with rather than deny the totality of their path.

In this moment we stand at a rare opportunity. The full story of our nation has some seriously ugly truths. Slavery is the original wound in the national psyche. Our rhetoric is and always has been out of alignment with our actions. And, because we have yet to fully face the gap between who we are and who we say we are, we continue re-creating the shadow, tearing open the wound. Systemic racism. Police brutality.

How do we know that we stand at this opportunity crossroads? The fearmongers are in full voice. The fox hole is working overtime to scare the ignorant to death. To the usual screeches of, “They’ll take away your second amendment right!” or “Socialism!” or ‘Protestors are thugs!”  add, “They’re trying to rewrite history!” or “The radical left, the marxists, the anarchists, the agitators,…the angry mob…is out to take away your freedoms” [insert eye roll].

The other night, having drinks at social distance across the driveway, John pondered how we would ever cross this gaping chasm, this canyon between the red and blue. I speculated that we really weren’t that far apart. Division is the tool of a weak leader and the propaganda machine that profits from his poverty of thought. We are being made to think our teams are irreconcilable. We are being force-fed a finite game, a world view of limited pie.

I suggested that, if people could pull their heads out of their propaganda-narrative, we might find that we are much closer in belief than we think. We might, at this crossroad of history, be able to step into our ideal rather than pander to the politics of identity. Ignorance is a choice, as is knowledge.  Somewhere beyond knowledge, wisdom is possible, but only if we have the courage to live what we espouse, to face the full truth of the wound. Then, maybe, just maybe, we might be able to live as if all are created equal. Embrace equal opportunity under the law. One nation bubbling with diverse people made strong with respect for diverse perspectives. Our story is, and always has been, multi-cultural. Apples AND oranges.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about APPLES AND ORANGES

 

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Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

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Quinn told me that there are really only three questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do? All other questions can be boiled down to one of these essences. All stories can be reduced to one of these questions. And, the real kicker? There is never a single answer to these three essential questions. Life is always moving so, the moment you think you have an answer-by-the-tail, you’ve moved to a different place. You’ve changed. You will change again. And again. The story evolves. The long body of a life is rich in transition. Life is transition.

Change the pronoun. Who are we? Where are we going? What is ours to do? These are the questions beating at the heart of the American experiment. Our rhetoric is out of alignment with our reality. It turns out that our hero tale has a matching anti-hero story. We know it but do not deal with it. The shining city on the hill was built on the backs of slaves and sustains itself on a rolling subjugation of the latest arrivals. We revel in inequality while proudly pronouncing that all are created equal.

As master Shakespeare reminds us, “…but at length truth will out.” Our truth is out. We are a festival of inequity. There is a yawning maw between the haves and the have-nots. It is by design and not by accident. It is not our problem as much as it is our pattern. And so, we  ask one of the essential questions: Who are we? And, in asking it, we must first look at how we define the pronoun ‘we.’ WE. The people. Who are WE? White male land owners? The one percent? Or, many diverse and rich origin stories come together in a promise of one nation, a nation of equal opportunity for all devoid of exploitation? It is the ideal. Is it the intention? Who do we want to be?

WE, as I understand it, is all inclusive. Multi-cultural as one. Both/And.

I take heart. Every caterpillar has a melt down phase en route to becoming a butterfly. The mush phase is necessary to fulfilling the mature promise, the expression of the ideal. In transition.

 

IN TRANSITION is on Kerri’s album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

 

 

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in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 david robinson