Say Yes to the Party: An Important Addendum

A couple of years ago I was forced to deal with some fairly mundane, routine legal matters. During the course of these dealings, I was asked if I were a homosexual. Indeed, the question was a borderline accusation.

I was offended.

But not for the reason that you might assume.

I was offended that my sexuality would have anything at all to do with the legal matters at hand.

After the conference during which the matters were resolved, I returned to my car, turned on the air to condition the sauronGeorgia heat, and I burst into tears. After a few minutes, I realized that I was upset because I had never truly experienced discrimination. As a woman, I suppose I may have encountered this from time to time, but it was so innocuous as to be laughable. But, in that one question, “Are you a lesbian?” I felt the squinting eye of serious – perhaps even outcome-changing – judgement focus in on me.

In my last post, I encouraged everyone to Say Yes to the party. I noted that being a part of family gatherings and high school reunions is, to generalize, wonderful, joyful, and enriching.

A dear friend of mine responded to that post with strong feelings. He noted that in attending such gatherings he and his beloved husband have been subjected to cruel remarks, rudeness, exclusion, judgement, and religious pomposity. For these and other related reasons, there are some events that they will not attend.

This past weekend at my thirtieth reunion, I did not experience such things. I saw a group of diverse people enjoying each other’s company, being silly together, reminiscing, and sharing their lives. I sincerely doubt that there were instances of cruelty and exclusion. The spirit of the events I attended forbade such barbarity.

Still, it happens. And, it can happen just as easily at a reunion as it can in the courtroom in Georgia.

As we gather together this summer, let’s make sure that the events include and are welcoming for everyone. It seems to me that if you are iffy about what your personal response might be to encountering people who have different beliefs, backgrounds, interests, families than you, then you might just go to the reunion with the idea of learning about people – no judging needed.

Aristotle is credited with the quote “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an thought without accepting it.” I would say that it is the mark of an accepting person to be able to entertain people while getting educated about them.

This past weekend, I talked with a comedian; I did not feel a compunction to be funny around him. A friend from elementary school who has been happily married for years and I chatted; he did not lecture me about the virtues of marriage, nor did he criticize me because I am divorced. Another friend, whom I know to be a fairly religious person, had only kind words and happy stories to share with everyone; she was not judging or trying to covert people.

The world is so easily polarized on so many issues. Perhaps we can leave that at home this summer as we go to reunions, vacations, and picnics. Perhaps we can go with a spirit of loving people and a desire to truly learn about the other beings that inhabit our world. As a result, maybe everyone’s lives can be a bit happier for it.

Think about it.

Join me.

Say Yes to the Party

I have a dear friend; a life-long friend who has refused to attend any high school reunions. I was firmly in her camp for 24 years, repeating the mantra, “There are three people from high school I want to stay in touch with and I do.” Then one year, I happened to be in town for a conference on the eve of my 25th reunion, a group of friends gathered up, and we all went to a street party kind of mini-reunion. I was hooked.

My friend remains unconvinced.

It is the season for reunions, weddings, family picnics and all of that kind of thing. Perhaps it is human nature to make everything about us. We are the heroes of our own stories – well, at least the main characters. But some events are not about us as individuals. Sometimes being part of a group – a family filled with distant cousins or a graduating class filled with people you kind of remember – is the focus. Gatherings of such people help us grow as human beings. And remind us that although we are important, the world does not revolve around only us. Also, they have a high fun-to-time ratio: you can invest a small amount of time for a lot of fun.

We go to reunions not to relive high school but to see who it was that we grew up with. Let’s face it, in high school we all got slapped with temporary, artificial labels: cheerleader, stoner, band nerd, slut, teacher’s pet. None of these labels are actually who we are. I barely remember who did what in high school, and I could not care less. I want to know who I was growing up with. You know what? I grew up with lawyers, actors, writers, engineers, underwriters, business people, and activists. As one of my friends (a professional photographer) noted: “We have some pretty awesome people in our class.”

It’s true. And it’s true of your class, too.

Reunions can remind us of those blankets of insecurities that we lugged up and down the high school hallways. Back Linus.2in those days, we were sweaty with the need for acceptance, and wrapped in layers of I-am-not-good-enough-or-smart-enough-or-cute-enough, our faces broke out and our hair curled unattractively. College, jobs, partners, kids, pets all help us store those blankets. The thing to remember is that we were kids in high school; we are adults now. Adults like others; we realize that everyone has something to offer; we like to learn about the other people in our world; we want to network; we want to resurrect old friendships and make new ones. It is not necessary to get those blankets out of storage just especially for such events.

Go ahead and burn the blankets.

Reunions are not about popularity. High school was. Let me repeat that: reunions are not about popularity. Sure, certain people may have more memories with people other than you. But, these reunions make fantastic new memories. I have been in high school for 26 years all told, and the fact of the matter is that high schools are awkward, awful places to be a teenager. Reunions serve the purpose of unseating that awful awkwardness.  New memories are created – where it is okay if we are all drinking and laughing and taking ill-advised pictures. I have had some of the best conversations and funniest moments with classmates with whom I shared only a geometry class or a reading of Richard III.

We can all use some fun new memories.

Finally, but not least important: it’s a party. Who says no to a party? Okay, right. I have. And I probably will again, given my introverted tendencies. But, this is a once every five or ten years party. We all can bring out our best most festive selves to this party, enjoy each other’s company, and then go back to our lives. Even if you don’t have a great time, it’s not unlike the pain of childbirth: any distasteful memories will wear off before the next one rolls around. By that time, you will have forgotten any negativity, and you’ll find yourself signing up for the golf outing and the dinner/dance.

So, c’mon. Go to the next reunion, wedding, family barbeque. These events remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; they connect us to old friends and allow us to create new friends; they connect us to people we don’t always see; they remind us of our history; and, most importantly, they call us to have a little fun.

Join me.

Friendship and School

 

 

 

 

The Difference Is

“If we refuse to respect our differences in thought, form, ideas, and vibrations, we will fail as a species. The end.” (Gray Scott)

This past week saw a flood of posts on the Facebook page for my 30th high school reunion. People are posting reminders, making plans, encouraging stragglers, planning golf, and generally getting ready to see some number of the 440 of us that graduated the year that Wham! held two of the top three spots in Billboard’s Top 100 songs of 1985. Despite the somewhat questionable music that united us, we are a wildly varying group: from professions to marriage choices to places we live to attitudes towards the impending gathering.

diversity.3

Diversity has never been more important to me than it is now. Once upon a time, I imagined that everyone wanted the same thing from life that I wanted. The irony there, of course, is that I had no idea what I wanted from life. Still, I assumed we were all pretty similar. My travels and living around the world showed me that I was, in a word: right. Everyone does want something, but our somethings rarely match.

Even as I started to move this weekend, I was struck by all that is going on in my community. I drove past a huge soccer complex where scores of kids were competing. The farmer’s market was in full swing. A farmer was on his tractor (stopped at the edge of his field and seemingly texting – a great modern image.) Iowa City had an arts festival on every street. My thirteen year old was pondering time travel. Aloud. At great length.

This morning on my social media feed I saw that friends went to a concert in Dallas; middle son arrived in Russia and ate blini; former students are ministering in India; other former students are marrying; even more former students are having babies; another friend texted about stress at work.

All of that is just a series of tiny snapshots of what we were doing on a particular weekend in a tiny corner of the Midwest. Differences are good.  No one would say that we all need to be doing the same thing at the same time. Preposterous!

Yet, recent newscasts and what is shaping up to be an omnipresent, omniannoying presidential election have shown that there are large groups of people who feel we should all be the same. Not only be the same, but believe the same, live the same, and bludgeon those who don’t.

To wit:

Everyone should believe that________________. (fill in this blank with an opinion about sexual identity)

We all can agree that________________. (fill in this blank with an opinion about education funding)

Naturally, everybody can get on board with________________. (fill in this blank with an opinion on military presence)

It really doesn’t work that way. A simplistic but meaningful article notes that even having a variety of viewpoints in the scientific community is important to: facilitate specialization; invigorate problem solving; balance biases. In biodiversity, we understand that everything is interrelated and each species has an important role to play, no matter how small. Perhaps we ought to take that same approach to social issues and life overall.

diversity.2    Someone once told me that my sister had a knack for listening to everyone and understanding his opinion had value; she did not always agree with everyone. But, she made sure they all knew they were valued. This was particularly important in her career (college professor) and given her speciality (Middle Eastern history and politics). Perhaps we might take a look at everyone – yes, even those we think are lunatics – and find some grain of value. Perhaps the value is that you more clearly understand your own ideals. Perhaps the value is that someone opens your eyes to a new way of looking at an issue.

There seems to be plenty of closed-mindedness posting on the internet and seeping into every stream of life. Vitriolic posts and comments explode across the country; indeed, across the globe. It is a logical fallacy to say, “if you are not with us, you are against us.” (False dilemma) There is plenty of room for everyone, and we might just learn something along the way.

In high school I was not popular; I was not well-known (I’m still astonished and a little horrified that people remember the high school me); I was not particularly talented. However, in reconnecting with the community that was the group that helped propel Madonna and Huey Lewis and the News to stardom, I realize that even back then I had an important role to play.

Now more than ever, I realize that we all do.

Join me.

 

 

I’m Annoyed

Yes, I’m annoyed. It’s not because my house is once again filled with boxes and preparing for a move less than a year after the last one. It’s not because my knees have decided they are 96 years old and achy. It’s not even because my thirteen year old yelled – in a moment of severely ill-advised frustration – “I’m gonna lay on the goddamn couch as long as I wanna.”

I’m annoyed because too many things have been extremized. The extreme is the popular thing, and I’ll give you a few examples. We are enduring endless news about a giant family that seems to have giant problems. People from every walk of life, political persuasion, and religious viewpoint have something to offer on this situation. Not necessarily something valuable – just something to say.

I’m annoyed because there seem to be 893457 candidates for president already. I live in Iowa. I’m annoyed. But, I’m really not annoyed because there are 893465 candidates (yes, in the second it took me to type that eight more candidates joined the race). These people are just taking up our time attacking each other and presenting virtually nothing in the way of real ideas, solutions, or even points to ponder when it comes to national and international issues.

I’m annoyed because women of all walks, shapes, sizes, and birth genders are setting us all back 85 years. Why, oh, why is anyone who identifies as a woman excited about setting women back? Women are seeking headlines that have only to do with breasts and buttocks. That is not all that makes a woman. I’m annoyed and perturbed by any woman who allows and encourages media (or other) objectification. The conversation about women and women’s issues has become a tits and ass show lately and I’m annoyed. Women, let’s talk about ideas, programs, and progress; let’s engage with society in a meaningful way, not just by showing our boobs or butts. Let’s break the internet with conversation, support, and dialogue.

I’m annoyed because there are pockets of pundits, political, as well as general commentators – none of whom have any education in education – who are decrying testing, Common Core, teachers, and the educational system in general. You know what their experience is? The fact that they went to school. Because, of course, if you went to school, you are automatically an expert in education. Or perhaps you are an expert because your mother was a teacher? Or because you have a child in school? By this logic, I am a doctor because I have been sick and gotten well. I am also an expert in banking and human resources because that was my dad’s career. Hey, you know who knows education? Educators. Listen to them.

Not everything has be to extremized, sensationalized, and publicized. Family crisis? Deal with it. Law breaking? Call in the authorities. Political preferences? Great; think before you speak. Gender issues? Don’t need a magazine spread and photoshop to be who you are. Gender inequality? Let’s continue to problem solve. Education questions? Think about visiting a classroom or talking to a teacher.

We are under the constant barrage of extreme ideas in all realms. One side or another or another wants to extremize other people’s ways of thinking. And, that is not happening through rational dialogue or real debate; it is through extreme religion, extreme politics, extreme issues. It is as if those extremizing reports on all fronts want simply to foment argument. And we, dear people, buy in to it. Judging by social media, newscasts, and conversations on the street, we buy in to the extremism. We need to take a breath.

Substitute today’s issues and click here. We should all be mad as hell at the extremities that are being foisted upon us from all sides.

Every week (so it seems) has its problems; every season has its issues; every generation grapples with stuff. But, why oh why for the love of all that is holy and good do so many things have to go to the extreme? Is that the only way we can tolerate the intake of information? Is that our entertainment?

People, most days are not parades and fireworks. Most days are tuna fish and corn chips.

Broaden your horizons. Open up a conversation. Take a breath. And calm the fuck down.