The Echo Chamber of Social Media

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I have been caught in the echo chamber of social media for a long time, but the last few months it has become significantly worse. All around me people rise up, whether on Twitter, Facebook or comments, letting everyone know their strongly held opinions.

But nothing is original.

Everyone is echoing everyone else. As is usually the case, there are two sides and both are extremes. Nuanced opinion and thinking outside the box? That doesn’t happen in echo chambers.

Every once in a while, the echoes collide, creating a palpable dissonance, and then the echoes go their separate ways, making sure they land with what and who is most comfortable. No one ever changes their minds in an echo chamber. We change our minds when we connect over shared bread and real relationships.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.

This echo chamber is bad for our health. I’m convinced of it. I’m convinced that future research will show an increase in ulcers, heart disease, depression, and other stress related illness based on our being unable to turn off the chatter, remove ourselves from the echo chamber.

The echo chamber is even worse for our souls. My soul was in bad shape last week and it was directly related to the social media echo chamber. Because too many echoes create chaos. Information and beliefs are amplified out of proportion to what I can handle.

I am as guilty as anyone, probably more so. I participate in the echo chamber, getting caught up until my head aches from the sounds reverberating around me. Until I am so tired of the sound of my voice and my own opinion that I want to scream.

How do I separate myself?

It’s simple, but really hard. I turn it off. I turn off the echo chamber and I dive into real life and real relationships.So since last week, that is what I have done. The likes or dislikes of social media, the sharing of often useless information, the over abundance of opinions — I had to separate myself so that I could breathe, so I could think clearly. More importantly, I needed to hear God. When you are surrounded by such a cacophony of echoes, you can’t hear yourself, much less God.

Not surprisingly, only a week in to the separation and I can think more clearly. I get home and listen to Mozart and drink a London Fog. I read articles from all sides that I want to read, not those that are stuck in my Facebook face. I pray in ways that I can’t pray when I am surrounded by echoes.

I will not stay off line for long. I have good connections on social media and I know it can be used in great ways. Separating myself in this way is helping me see how I can better use social media when I do return.

But for now, the echo chamber has been banished from my heart and my soul, and I am a healthier person.

[And just in case you’re wondering how I posted this since I have supposedly left Facebook for a time, I have a little secret – I linked accounts so that it would automatically post.]

Dear Primary Care Provider…

Dear Primary Care Provider: 
I’ve wanted to write this letter for a long time, but never took the time. But after a morning coffee conversation with my 23-year-old daughter, I knew that I owed it to her and to the rest of the United States to write what I’ve seen, write what I know.

Because we’re frustrated. And it’s not your fault, but you are the face of medicine today. So I have a few things I want to say, and I’d like you to communicate these to your colleagues in specialty practices, to your staff, to your former professors, and to your administrators. Thank you ahead of time for listening.

  1. We don’t understand your language. You speak Doctor, and we speak The People. The dialects are completely different. We are smart and successful– but we don’t know what the heck you are saying. So train yourselves to speak with the people, not AT the people.
  2. We are so intimidated by you. Really. You frighten us. You come from a culture that is so rigid and inflexible – that would be the culture of western biomedicine – and we don’t know this culture. And your staff can be the worst. Pick your receptionists, medical assistants, and nurses carefully. Because they can make people feel so stupid and small.
  3. Our bodies sometimes scare us. Look, you study the body for a living. For most of us, high school biology was a long time ago.
  4. When we express something that feels important to us, we often feel dismissed. It’s a horrible feeling to have our vulnerability met by nonchalance. We need you to see the person behind the words; to hear the story beyond the symptoms.
  5. On that same note, I think you expect us to know more about our bodies than we do. We don’t. That’s why we come to you.
  6. Please ask us to repeat back what you have told us. That gives both of us an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings.
  7. We know you aren’t our friends, but we do talk about you at parties. We rave about you if you are good, and we tell people to steer clear if you aren’t. We are your best advertisments. All we ask is that in return you treat us with dignity and respect, and sometimes we feel like it’s missing.
  8. A little empathy goes a long way. And I think in the long run, you will realize that our visits will be shorter if you can express that empathy. I suggest you read The Empathy Exams and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. 
  9. Culture matters. We view illness and health through a cultural lens. If you don’t get that, then you will fail as a true physician.
  10. After we leave you, we fight with our insurance providers. Because the fact is, the Affordable Care Act did not fix a broken system. It merely provided a bandaid. So two weeks after we see you, we usually get a bill. And that’s why we don’t keep follow up appointments. Because insurance is a multi billion dollar industry, and we can both agree that it runs healthcare.

We appreciate you and the work you have put into your education and our appointments. But we need you to know these things so that you don’t lose us.

Sincerely,

A patient, a nurse, and a mom.

PS – please teach your staff how to take blood pressures properly….just sayin’….

Forget Culture Wars, It’s Chai Wars!

Chai Chai Garam Chai

Cultural (Chai) Wars by Robynn

It’s time to speak out. The writers and editors here at Communicating Across Boundaries have been silent on the subject for far too long. But that silence is over. For the record, let it be known, this is the time for clarity and decisiveness. It is the time to speak truth. As a society we’ve been duped. We’ve been deceived. We’ve been kept in the dark.  Normally Marilyn and I reluctantly write on these types of issues. Our cross-cultural training demands sensitivity and respect. We’ve been well versed in appreciating value differences, in respecting nuance and cultural norms and conventions.

However, having said all that, sometimes things are not just different they are plainly and universally wrong. Under those circumstances, in those specific situations it is not only appropriate, it is necessary–our prophetic mandate–to identify the wrong and to bring it out into the light.

Today is that day.

Chai is chai. It is a particular beverage. It is not the mamby-pamby, shallow hearted, skim milk based, foam topped, overly cinnamoned, limply spiced, paper cupped drink you’ve been trained to think it is. It is not available in grocery stores in tetra pack boxes. It cannot be reduced to a small mesh tea bag. Merely mixing cinnamon and a pinch of cardamom into the tea bag and sealing it in a box with a fancy label doesn’t make it chai. It cannot be pimped in packaged plastic cups that are hidden in the depths of a cold machine and then punctured and perforated and dribbled into the meaningless cup below

Chai, true chai, is an experience. It’s a marvelous marriage of milk and water and dark tea and sugar and spices. It takes time and love to make the complexities of flavours shine.  The equipment needed is simple: a pot, a spoon, a strainer. Although there are variations on mixing methods and spices, one thing is certain, chai is an event.

In South Asia when a guest comes to visit, or a friend pops in, chai is served. Hospitality is incomplete without the warm ritual of chai. Hearts are better shared with a cup of chai in your hand. It’s the beverage that melts the heart’s reserve. Disappointments and sorrows are more keenly lamented over hot chai, strained and steaming. Celebrations and common joys are incomplete without fragrantly spiced chai.

Chai has meaning and hidden complexities. You drink chai with someone you are at peace with. If there is friction or betrayal at work in a relationship, that person is not served chai. If ever you hear, “They didn’t even serve me chai!” you can know there is something a wry in that relationship. Chai means reconciliation. It means harmony and restored friendship.

Chai is served at engagement ceremonies, at weddings, after a baby is born, after the news that someone has died. Chai is served when family comes to visit, or a neighbor comes to gossip. It’s served at church. When you go for a picnic you bring chai. First thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, chai. People drink it at sporting events, at the train station, at the airport, at school functions, at business meetings. When a contract is agreed on, and the papers are signed, the deal is sealed with chai. Whenever a house is sold, whenever a bank loan is negotiated, whenever a marriage is arranged there is chai. Shopping for saris, for silk, for carpets, for bangles, for pots and pans? Undoubtedly you’ll be served chai.

It’s served in china teacups, in small ceramic bowls, in little disposable clay cups. In Pakistan it used to often come in a colourful enamel tea pot, green or beige or blue. When it’s especially hot, mothers pour their chai into the saucer, they blow on it gently to cool it for their child.

The elderly and the very young drink it. The sick, the lame, the robust all drink it. The broken hearted and the elated drink it. The upper classes drink it. The disenfranchised drink it. It’s the drink of community, it’s the beverage of unity. 

You may continue to place your order for faux chai through your car window to the voice, crackling and distant, in the small box. You can rummage through your coin purse to procure the correct change before you, “see (them) at the window.” You have all the freedom in the world to specify decaffeinated, or 2% milk, or no foam. But know this: the drink you are consuming, the beverage you are sipping, may in fact be delicious, but it is not chai.

Recipe for Chai

(serves two—-chai can be had on your own, it’s a meditative drink that way, but it’s always better had with a friend or seven)

1 cup of whole milk

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon of loose leaf tea (Liptons Red Label, or Taj Mahal)

2 heaping teaspoons of sugar (or to taste)

2 pods of cardamom, broken

1 inch of cinnamon stick, broken

½ inch of fresh ginger grated or chopped*

1 pinch of black pepper*

Bring water and milk and spices and sugar to a boil. Add tea leaves. Simmer 2 or 3 minutes until it’s the wonderful warm proper rich colour of chai. Strain into cups or a teapot . Best served with something sweet and something savory. (*ginger and black pepper are only ever added during the winter! Summer chai is minimally spiced with a titch of cardamom and cinnamon.)

We, the writers at Communicating Across Boundaries, rarely ask you to share our posts. But this one? This one you need to share. Sincerely, the purveyors of real and fine chai.

Picture Credit: the incomparable Jason Philbrick!

These Things I Believe

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These things I believe….

That street and subway musicians deserve our spare change.

That you should always buy lemonade from kids who are selling it on street corners.

That the stranger should be welcomed.

That love is better than safety.

That those who know how to grieve also know how to comfort.

That kids need ice cream for dinner occasionally.

That friends are worth fighting for.

That grilled cheese sandwiches and dhal and rice are comfort foods.

That you can rarely be too warm.

That envy will kill your heart and generosity will fill your soul.

That we react too quickly to social media and end up swallowing our words so they choke us.

That international terminals are the best.

That a walk by the ocean can ease a heavy heart.

That everything tastes better at the beach.

That our world is to be explored and enjoyed.

That the old deserve our care and respect.

That decorating Christmas cookies is necessary wherever you are in the world.

That white lights make everything a little better, and a lot brighter.

That babies and earthquakes are the only real surprises left.

That home, poetry, and picnics are necessary.

That most conflicts are more complicated than they may seem.

That life is too short to hate family.

That man has always tried to make God in his image, forgetting it should be the other way around; forgetting the glorious image that was stamped on man from the beginning.

That marriage is worth the risk and the fight.

That it’s better to be kind than right.

That life is far too difficult to go through it without God.

That there is enough grace to go around – enough for everyone. If we’ll take it.

These things I believe. What about you? 

On Leadership: Banana Trees and Mango Trees

Mango tree

“I’m still working at the same place” says my friend.

“How is that going?” I say.

We were reconnecting after 7 years of not seeing each other.

This friend is a dear friend who knows well what it is to live between worlds.
“It’s fine – but there is no place to grow.” She went on to explain that the top positions were taken and every time there might be a chance to grow into a position it was quickly squashed. She was discouraged.

She knew she had leadership gifts, leadership qualities but there was no opportunity to use these. 

It made me think about leadership, specifically types of leaders.

Years ago I remember talking to my mom about leadership. She had once heard an illustration about leadership using the analogy of trees: a banana tree and a mango tree. Banana trees are little, they don’t grow into mighty trees that dominate an orchard, or a forest, or even a yard.They are small but they reproduce in amazing ways. Everywhere you have a banana tree, another banana tree will spring up, and then another, and another. Banana trees reproduce until you have a whole bunch of trees all producing sweet, beautiful bananas.

Mango trees are opposite. They are mighty and beautiful, they are tall and tower over other trees. And they produce amazing fruit – the fruit of a mango is delicious. But hear this – nothing can grow under them. The ground under them cannot sustain another tree. The mango tree is too large, too strong, too overpowering.

And so it is with leadership. There are those leaders who are like banana trees: everywhere they go they replicate. They mentor others so that others can exercise their leadership abilities and their gifts, they open up the conversation for others to join and give their opinion, they are in the business of growing leaders. And there are leaders like the mango tree – they serve a great purpose, they are strong and persuasive, but others can’t grow as leaders under them.

There is a place for the mango tree leader. Any crisis initially needs a mango tree, someone who stands strong and decisive, keeping people safe and secure. Surgery, law, humanitarian disasters – the mango leader is critical to some of these situations.

But there is a place where mango trees need to make way for banana trees to lead; a place where leaders can confidently and humbly build up leaders, and they in turn can build up more leaders.

A good leader will be thrilled when those under them display leadership skills – it won’t be about competition, it will be about replication. A banana tree leader knows that sustainability comes by ensuring others are well chosen and well trained, able to continue the good work that has been started.

Join the conversation – what do you think of this analogy? Does it resonate? Have you known both types of leaders? 

If Sarah Palin Were in Charge

I am grateful for Robynn’s voice on Communicating Across Boundaries, whether on Friday or another day. Today she reacts to something we both found deeply offensive. We know there are varying opinions on these things. Please feel free to use the comment section to voice your thoughts, keeping our guidelines of communication and respect for honest dialogue in mind.

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My blood is boiling. I’m so furious I could spit. I just heard a segment of Sarah Palin’s speech at the recent National Rifle Association Convention. During her speech she said,

If I were in charge they would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists”.

As someone who takes my faith seriously I am deeply offended. Here are a couple of things I’d like to say to Ms Palin:

  1. Thank God—-You are not in charge! Jesus is Ruler Supreme. He is King and He alone is in charge!
  2. Water boarding is evil. It is torture of the worst possible variety. According to Wikipedia, waterboarding is a form of torture, more specifically a type of water torture, in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.[1] Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years. More so, torture itself tarnishes the image of God in both the one who tortures and the victim of that torture.
  3. In my faith tradition, baptism is a holy sacrament reserved for those who’ve publically declared allegiance with Jesus. He welcomes anyone to come. No one is excluded. And for those who chose to believe, to follow after him, they’re invited into the sacraments as well. Baptism is a means for people to enter into the death and resurrection experiences of Christ. They voluntarily go down in to the water, dead to themselves, their sin, their old nature. They come up out of the water, alive to Christ, to new life. It’s a beautiful statement—a public commitment– of declaring loyalty to Jesus.
  4. There are those around the world who think that baptism is forced on the naïve and culpable. There are those who believe that Christendom is still stuck in the crusades, that converts are numbered and forced to drink blood and be baptized. This is NOT true. Christians in the past who did these things were WRONG to do them. Such exploitation of the name of Jesus is evil and blasphemous. It is our job—our mandate—to demonstrate that this is no longer true. We do that by quietly loving people. By laying down our lives for them. By caring for widows and orphans, by loving the poor, by reaching out to the ostracized, the marginalized, the foreigner, the minority, the misunderstood. These are the people who Jesus came for.  He came to invite lovingly, gently, the weak and the wounded to come.
  5. Ms. Palin, these types of comments made in public places by public figures, such as yourself, do nothing to erase the evil stereotypes that exist out there about Christians. You are reinforcing things that are not true about Christianity—and by association—about Christ. Please take back this thing you’ve said. Repent. Acknowledge the harm you’ve done. Ask for forgiveness. Jesus will welcome you back.
  6. When you use the word, “terrorists”, Ms Palin, I’m assuming by the greater context that you mean Muslims. I take deep offense at this gross generalization.  Terrorists are those whose violent acts are intended to promote deep fear. Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes. They wear jeans and miniskirts. They wear the hijab and turbans. They speak English and Chinese. There are millions of Muslims who are subject, in the same ways that we are, to the terror incited by non-Muslim and Muslim terrorists. Muslims and non-Muslims feel the same emotions. They also feel afraid. When their family members die, they also grieve.
  7. The flippancy and arrogance you display when you talk about such grave subjects as waterboarding, terrorism and baptism are astounding to me. These are topics reserved for serious conversations. These subjects should be handled with sobriety and with sensitivity. These are not punchlines for your political prowess. People’s lives and souls are in question here. Please speak with respect.
  8. I do thank God that you, Ms Palin, are not in charge. I also pray for you. I pray for the Spirit to convict you. I pray you see the lack of love in your soul. I pray you begin to see the inconsistencies between what you say you believe and the ways you live out that belief.I pray you will begin to love your neighbor as yourself. Because Love Matters.

*As people of faith, Christians specifically, Robynn and I both believe that what we say, how we live out our faith publically matters. This is why, in a space generally reserved for non-political topics, we address this statement on Communicating Across Boundaries.

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The Security Blanket of Busy

stop the glorification of busy

Yesterday I shared a picture on Facebook that garnered a number of responses, and it got me thinking about our addiction to busy.

It works something like this: You run into someone and the conversation goes this way:

Hi! I haven’t seen you in a long time! How have you been?”

“Oh, so busy! Life is just so busy right now”.

“Me as well! I don’t know where the time goes!”.

Happy with our self-congratulations we move on to respective areas of the supermarket.

How often has this happened to you in our western world of quick interactions and fly by conversations?

I posted last year on weather as the great western social facilitator and if weather is one social facilitator in the west, “I’ve been so busy” is another. It has become standard response to the question “How are you?”.

Imagine for a minute that instead of the socially mandated busy one upmanship you respond: “We’ve been great! Not too busy, just the right pace so that we are occupied but not overwhelmed.”

You would have broken a cultural code, for in our society we have created a busy badge of honor worn with pride. We are proud that we are busy. So busy that eating meals together for most families is rare except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. So busy that our counters are cluttered with mail that has not been sorted for 3 months and mold covering what used to be food in plastic containers in our refrigerators could be made into penicillin. The amazing thing is the self-satisfied pleasure with which we let people know this. Like it’s some kind of award or gives us higher status.

Busy has become like a security blanket. We wrap it tightly around us so that we can justify our existence. 

Busy is synonymous with important. If you’re not busy it must mean you aren’t useful. Or important. Or contributing anything worthwhile. Or many other things. Not being busy is a bad thing.

As if adults wearing this blanket of busy with pride is not enough, we’ve passed this cultural value on to our children, the future generation. As they hear us say with fake smiles and little laughs how “busy” we are, they hear the other person respond with affirmation – a “hear, hear” sort of compliment.

Does this busy blanket do anything good for us culturally? Is it a value we want to continue? Is it immigrants working late into the night after finishing their day jobs who claim they are “so busy”. I don’t think so. Those words don’t do them justice.

Many have put the blanket on themselves, a burden that can be blamed on nothing and no one.

Tim Kreider writing an Opinionator piece last year in the NY Times calls this The ‘Busy’ Trap. “It is,” he says “pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.” His essay is a much more in depth look at this phenomenon and I encourage you to take a look.

So here’s the challenge – Next time someone asks you how you are – don’t do it! Don’t fall for the trap! Use another adjective. Be creative. And once you do – come back to the blog and let us know what you said. How did you respond instead of saying “I’m so busy”?  We need all the help we can get to break this cycle!

What suggestions do you have that can replace the “I’m so busy” mantra? Would love to hear through the comments!

image credit: http://www.positivelypositive.com/2013/01/05/are-you-sooo-busy/

What to do When You Know You’re Right!

What to do when you know you’re right by Robynn

There are times when I know I’m right. My passion lines up with solid morality. I’m thinking about justice and the poor. I’m convinced about the rights of the underprivileged. I’m concerned about global issues…big things, heart things, just things, right things. I have the answers to many of life’s big questions.

Certainly, there are lots of times I don’t have a clue….but there are other times when I’ve really got this. I’m really right.

I believe strongly in climate change.

I am convinced that war is wrong.

I am absolutely positive that we need to have mercy on the poor.

I know grace is vital to the health of the church.

These are just some of the things I know.

I also know that our definition of “pro-life” is too narrow, the role of women in the church needs to be broadened, the word, “evangelical” has been muddied by culture and politics. People long to have purpose and to be loved. I know it’s good to eat fresh foods. A good book is a great escape. Another person’s insomnia is not something I can solve. There’s nothing better than a good cup of coffee…unless it’s creamy masala chai! And Pakistani food ranks among some of the finest on the globe.

And these are times when I’m right. And I know it.

But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when you’re right and (it seems like) everyone else is wrong. Being right doesn’t amount to much in the bigger scheme of things. If I’m marked by my own rightness I quickly become arrogant and obnoxious. No one likes a know-it-all…even when it’s me that knows it all. How can I be right without slipping into self-righteousness?

Ages ago I was at a women’s retreat. A group of women had come together for a break just outside New Delhi. The retreat included times of teaching and worship, times of laughter and fun, times of intimacy and vulnerability. I remember it fondly. The speaker at the retreat was teaching through one of the epistles from the New Testament. While I agreed with her on the broader themes, I was confounded by her particular emphasis on a few of the minor points. She seemed to major on those minor points though and that exasperated me. And much to my surprise, some of the women attending the retreat really seemed to be moved by her message. I was annoyed. I was distracted. I was right.

I left one of the sessions to walk around the gardens. I was seriously convinced of my own rightness. In the center of the gardens there was a large peepal tree. I walked around and around it, laying out my exasperation to God in prayer. Suddenly mid-way ‘round the tree I was stopped in my tracks. The Holy Spirit welled up in me a conviction of uneasy sin. I wasn’t allowed to be consumed by my own rightness. It was choking me. It was strangling love for my sisters in the other room. It was eroding unity. It was destroying the tree.

It was like I was suddenly shown this picture of a big, big tree, not unlike the one I was madly circling. The tree was the church universal, spread out, stretching, reaching, growing, alive. The massive trunk stood tall and strong. Branches divided and subdivided. Some twisted and turned. Others grew together and then split out again reaching for a different piece of sky. I was reminded of denominations, of Catholics and Protestants, of Orthodox and Calvinists; of Lutherans and Charismatics. The tree was huge. It was multi-ethnic. It crossed cultures and communities. The leaves danced in the breeze: old women, young men, children, the broken, the wounded, the lame whispering in different dialects, laughing in various languages. Instantaneously I knew I was just one small, shaky leaf on a very large, deeply rooted Ancient old Tree. I was pronouncing judgment on parts of the tree that I had no idea about. I was arrogant. I was haughty. I was wrong.

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I might have had insight into my little corner of the wild branches, but I dared not guess at what pruning needed doing on the other side of the tree. I had no idea where fertilizer was needed, where branches needed lopping off, where grafting was going on. I was ignorant and it was not becoming.

There was a Gardener who loved that Old Tree. He knew what He was doing.

I shut my mouth. I apologized to the big tree. I confessed my pretentions and my toploftiness for what they were: sins ugly and horrid. And I returned to the retreat.

Years later, I still struggle often thinking I know what’s right. I still am sometimes so convinced of my own perspective. My opinion feels like gospel truth.

The other night I heard an interview on the radio with author, R.J. Palacio, who wrote the children’s book, Wonder. In the book she quotes author and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer who says, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

That stuck. That really is our only option. We aren’t allowed to be consumed by how right we are. We have to push past it. We have to “choose kind”. Love must be our modis operandi, our language of negotiation. Kindness must dictate our humble response.

The apostle Paul understood that if he could speak all the languages of earth and if he understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge but didn’t love others he would be nothing. He went on to say, “Love is….kind. It doesn’t demand it’s own way….Special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever…!”

So what do you do when you know you’re right? You move past it. You love. You choose kind.

I have a long ways to go. I should probably go find a tree to pray around.

Designer Babies

Doctors enlisted to curb "sex-selection&q...

The waiting room has just two couples in it. They are slightly nervous, self-conscious, avoiding eye contact with each other. The room is dimly lit and resembles a sterile, designer living room. Magazines are in carved racks on one wall as well as stacked perfectly, fan style in threes, on a glass-topped side table. A stand in the corner holds a carafe, the card written in black calligraphy tells the couples it’s “lemon and strawberry infused water”.

Nothing in the room suggests that this is where couples go to pick out their babies. Their very own designer babies. The first decision will be on sex– male or female? But then it moves on: Will it be black hair or blonde? Blue eyed or Brown? Tall or short? Art or sports?

Smart or ….no that one’s easy! The couple smiles at each other, their eyes communicating the message — We don’t want any dumb kids!

This is not a brave new world. This is today. Couples are increasingly able to pick what they want, when they want it. Consider this advertisement from the leading fertility group around sex selection:

Recognized by ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, Reuters, and United Press International News Services as among “THE” worldwide leaders in gender selection technology.

By examining the genetic makeup of embryos, we can virtually guarantee* your next child will be the sex of your choice.

  • Leaders in Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
  • Among the most successful gender-selection programs anywhere
  • Screening for over 400 hereditary diseases
  • Critical procedures performed by MD and PhD specialists
  • Available to nearly all patients (not just those with genetic disorders)
  • Now combinable with Microsort sperm sorting at patient request
  • Featured on 60 Minutes, CNN, ABC, NBC, Newsweek, Time and more

In 2009 an article titled “Designer Babies: Ethical? Inevitable?” told of a woman who had applied embryo screening on eleven 3-day old embryos to determine which one would be the most likely to be disease free. She then had that one implanted in her uterus.

At surface this can, perhaps, seem empowering. What parent would ever choose for their children to have a disease? We weep over our children’s minor difficulties, like not being invited to a birthday party, let alone those big things like diabetes and leukemia. One professor claims this is just “Responsible Parenting*”.

But there is a dark side to this. As humans we are prone to extremes – and while many may choose to use this technology just to avoid disease, others would abuse.

Because that’s how we are.

In that same article Richard Hayes, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, says this:

“If misapplied, [these technologies] would exacerbate existing inequalities and reinforce existing modes of discrimination … the development and commercial marketing of human genetic modification would likely spark a techno-eugenic rat-race,….”Even parents opposed to manipulating their children’s genes would feel compelled to participate in this race, lest their offspring be left behind.”

While I’d like to assume the best of this race called ‘Human’, I see too much evidence that we would modify to our own detriment, and face the unforeseen consequences of our choices.

Equally troubling is that the developing world continues to face enormous problems with infant mortality and morbidity as well as child malnutrition, even as this side of the ocean dabbles in extreme technologies to produce a “Super Race”.

My post from yesterday received a variety of comments, and I appreciated all the perspectives brought into the discussion – one of the things that didn’t come into the discussion was our increasing ability to control all of life – from conception to sex selection to gender reveal to when we die.

This discussion goes far beyond designer babies – but designer babies are one more spoke in this wheel of control.

What do you think? And are all these even related or am I off base? Continue the discussion with me through the comments!

The Exhaustion of Reacting

Let me describe the scene:

I’ve just read something controversial on the web. It may be a blog, a news article, an editorial – whatever, the point is it bothers me.  I believe it’s wrong or ignorant or ill-informed or many other adjectives. I begin to read the comments. There are strong reactions on both sides. With each comment I’m either vigorously nodding my head with a silent “yes! exactly!” or shaking it emphatically with a “are you kidding me? are you an idiot?”.

And of course, I have to add my comment, my voice …..so important it is, so compelling, so necessary.

And then there’s a link – to someone else who’s reacted. And I go to that link and read another article and the same thing happens. Whether it’s a link to a good source of information or a not so good source doesn’t matter – what matters is that the link draws me in and now I am fully a part of this viral reaction.

And I know I should get back to work, I know this is a terrible use of time, I know that the “Whatsoever is good, lovely, excellent, pure” thoughts left the first time I called someone an idiot for disagreeing. But no matter – because I am locked into this cycle and I need to see it through.

And see it through I do – to the end of the day and on into the night. Each link a little more compelling, each opinion putting its hooks into my mind.

I’m swept along in this swiftly rushing river of comments and reactions and I can’t find my way to the edge. I don’t realize that I’m heading straight towards a steep waterfall – and when I get there, I will go over the edge. I’ll be beyond saving. 

And night-fall comes and I lay down in bed and I am exhausted – exhausted because all day long I’ve been silently reacting. I’ve wasted valuable time and energy on reacting. I’ve been unfaithful to myself and my God because of reacting.

When is it time to stop the madness, to draw the line and say “No more”.

No more because time is a gift, and I’m wasting it. No more because my reacting is affecting no one but myself. My voice is lost and I’ve read so much I don’t even know what I think anymore – I just react.

This reacting on the internet is our modern-day mob mentality. While we look in horror at televised scenes of the Middle East and other parts of the world where mobs take over and terrible things happen, the same thing is taking place all around us. Seemingly the results aren’t as harmful but they are. Through our reacting, reputations are ruined, friendships broken, and minds made more ignorant.

I want to live above this reacting but it will take discipline and living counter-culture; it will take humility and realizing that my voice isn’t that important. It will take courage and help.

How about you? Are you exhausted from reacting and want to live above the fray? Or is this not your struggle? Let’s talk about this! 

http://xkcd.com/386/

pro-life or Pro-LIFE?

Note from Communicating Across Boundaries: Posts on CAB are rarely political. While they are often passionate and want to bring on different perspectives, I know politics can get ugly – and at CAB We hate ugly dialogue! But this Friday, Robynn brings a challenging post on Life with a capital L. We are pretty sure that wherever you stand you will be challenged; we are also aware that wherever you stand you may have strong feelings about the post. We invite dialogue! We know it’s best done in relationship, and better over tea or coffee, but we urge you to respectfully articulate what Life is to you. Thank you for reading! ~

My husband, Lowell, recently was asked by the Evangelical Environmental Network to write a piece defending their declaration that mercury poisoning of the unborn through the burning of coal is a pro-life issue. It seems an obvious connection to me but one that has come under attack by those who prefer a more tightly defined category of pro-life.

It’s got me thinking.

I worked for a year at our local Life Choice office. This was a distinctly pro-woman place where women in crisis could come. We provided information and counseling so these women could make an informed decision about pregnancy, abortion and adoption. It was a place of healing and hope. I loved seeing the women loved on and prayed with through deeply troubling circumstances.

I am pro-life.

But I’m wondering when the definition of pro- life became so narrow? When did pro-life come to only mean pro-life of the unborn child? It seems to me that if we are really truly pro-life we should be pro-LIFE! We should advocate for all issues surrounding life. Our voice should defend the lives of the immigrant, the migrant worker, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the unemployed, the marginalized. We should valiantly love the woman in crisis.  We should cry out against injustice and exploitation. We should actively picket against toxins and pesticides, against mountain top removal and deforestation, against ruthless relentless drilling for oil. We should labour for clean drinking water, and safe agricultural practices.

But are we really pro-life? Am I?

A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with a friend. This friend and her husband have themselves adopted a child through that same Life Choice ministry. We have lots in common, including our pro-life convictions. She’s a safe friend to engage life with. I found myself wondering out loud about these things.

I wondered why the conservatives chose this issue to pivot on. What prompted them to decide to cast their vote behind this one concern seemingly sacrificing all other convictions? Why wasn’t it care for the elderly or for the poor? Why not concern for the foreigner or for the stranger?  If the Bible was their source of ethics or morality they easily would have had justifiable scriptural evidence to suggest choosing one of those.

But I also wondered why those on the other side of the political aisle, who seemingly defend the poor, the ostracized, the foreigner–why they seem to have turned a blind eye to the unborn. They hear the cries of the young woman in crisis but choose to ignore the cries of the infant not yet born. How did they decide to define life in terms of choice when it’s clear that the others they advocate for rarely have a choice? Like the illegal immigrant, the Unborn have no defense, no voice, nothing to stand on—they are silenced by choice. They are silenced by ease. They are silenced by personal pain and even worse, by politics. They have no advocate.

There seems to be so much inconsistency.

As we dialogued and debated and discussed I think we happened upon a possible reason.

For the conservative –It is far easier to love a faceless, nameless innocent child than it is to love the homeless man you see every morning pushing his cart full of water bottles and pop cans. It’s easier to stand up for someone you don’t know, someone you’ll never meet, someone who really affects very few of us than it is to stand up for the grumpy, nosy elderly neighbor who’s name you know and who you try to avoid and who you’re pretty sure doesn’t have health insurance.

For the liberal—It’s far easier to ignore the voice of someone who is silent. It’s easy to forget they even exist. They have no voice. It’s easier to ignore someone who can’t talk, who’s never been given that right.

I know that the unborn child is personally entwined in many of our stories. These babies, miscarried or aborted, bring grief and sorrow. They are little people we’ve never met, children we never carried. They do have names and they mean so much to us, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their grandmothers.

But for many it’s not part of our experience.

We’ve limited our definition of pro-life as a convenient way to keep it at arm’s length.

Not only does this slap the grief of our fellow women in the face who’ve personally dealt with this deeply poignant loss, it also requires a different level of personal response or responsibility from those who haven’t.  We don’t have to deal with it. I don’t have to decide whether to give money for gas to the man who knocked on my back door, or to give money to help cover the rent to the two women who rang my front door bell. I don’t have to figure it out.

I guess I’m imploring us all to look again at the broader landscape of scripture and society. I want to see the faces of those that others ignore. I want life for them. I want to stretch my definition of what life and living is. I really do want to be pro-life. I want life for that woman who yet grieves her loss. I want life for the uninsured, for the poor, for the unemployable, for the elderly. I want to care for those that mercury is silently poisoning, for those whose water is now contaminated, for those who live in environmentally devastated regions.

I want life for the born and the not yet born.

Perhaps the pro-life issue really is about choice. I choose to care. I choose to take responsibility. I choose life. I choose to be pro-Life! I’m pro-that –choice!

Hanging Ourselves on Soundbites

We are a society of soundbites. Having little time for the real story we are delighted when we come upon that pithy quote or 140 character twitter feed that keeps us informed.

Or does it?

I recently commented on an article that a friend had posted on a social media site. She responded graciously but pointedly “Marilyn, did you read the article?” Although she could not see me, I had the humility to blush from my toes to my eyebrows. I hadn’t read it. I had skimmed and picked out the one sentence that I disagreed with, the one thing I could become righteous about.

It was embarrassing and it should have been. I hung myself on a soundbite.

The reasons why are many. We’re busy, we’re preoccupied, we multi-task….we also want to sound informed and smart. We want to get on the proverbial band wagon, showing that we are righteously indignant by responding with piercing words through comments.

And that’s fine – except when we haven’t read the full article, we don’t know the full story. Or if we’ve just believed someone who is well-known with a powerful voice on the internet instead of critically thinking through the issue and seeking information that will inform. And then the righteous response we are so proud of is nothing but clamor in an already too loud world.

How do you frame your comments on issues? Do you read the entire story or do you respond to the soundbite? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m serious. How do we in a world so divided learn to respond without getting caught up in misplaced indignation and quick, poorly formed log-in-the-eye responses?

Would love to hear what you choose to respond to and how you respond in the comment section.

When Kids Kill Kids

When our daughter Annie was two years old she saw television for the first time. We were in Islamabad, Pakistan and she was invited to a birthday party of some older children. My husband took her while I stayed home with our brand new baby boy. When they came home he relayed to me her reaction to this first time of watching TV. She was watching a cartoon and the character was hit over the head with something. As often happens with cartoons, there was a bonk, birds flew over the head of the character and then the scene faded out. She began to cry. She thought the character was dead and was inconsolable. In her 2-year-old mind she was unable to distinguish real from imaginary on the screen.

This is huge. Until a child is seven years old, they cannot differentiate between imaginary and real; fantasy and reality. So when young children see television violence, it’s accepted as not only real, but a part of “normal” life.

Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, in an article released in 2000 called “Trained to Kill”, speaks in-depth to this problem. In nature, he says, “Healthy members of most species have a powerful, natural resistance to killing their own kind.” So while rattlesnakes bite others, they wrestle each other; while piranhas use their fangs on others, they fight each other by flicking their tails. So it is true with humans – we don’t naturally want to kill, we are taught to kill.

He talks about three ways of being conditioned to kill – the first is something we would think of when we think of boot camp. Everyone is taken and their heads are shaved, they are shouted at, they get up at unearthly hours and go through relentless discipline and violence. At the end the recruit believes this is normal. This is a perfect segue into a war zone.

The second is “classical conditioning” where violence is associated with pleasure. The author would suggest that “classical conditioning” takes place in kids as they watch violence while eating their favorite foods of popcorn and soda, or smelling a girlfriend’s perfume, all while watching horrific movie violence as “entertainment”.

The third is “operant conditioning” which is a stimulus response. This is where in target practice a target shaped like a man would pop up. If you shoot the target correctly, it will fall, and so on. Contrast this, he says, to video games, where for hours at a time a kid is pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting, getting better and better at hitting the targets and gaining points every time they do so.

The article is well worth looking at and provides irrefutable evidence of the problem: all this is teaching kids how to kill. The evidence is present in the tragedies that read like headlines from newspapers – because they are.

  • Jonestown, Arkansas Massacre 1998 – An 11 and a 13 year-old, camouflaged in the woods kill four kids and a teacher with ten others wounded.
  • Paducah, Kentucky 1999 – A 14-year-old opens fire on a prayer group at school and hits eight kids.
  • Columbine High School, 1999 – Two kids in trench coats terrorize the school ultimately killing twelve students, one teacher. 21 other students are injured and ultimately the kids kill themselves.

There are more but this makes the point. All of these have one thing in common – they are kids killing kids. It begs the question: Why are we shocked when we see child soldiers from the widely seen Kony 2012 video?

So why am I suddenly bringing up violence and kids killing kids? In the newly released movie “The Hunger Games” that is the premise and it has some people disturbed. And that is the very point of the author. My friend Stacy, who blogs at Slowing the Racing Mind, wrote an excellent post on this called “Hunger Games – Disturbing? Indeed” Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, wants us to be disturbed so that we can discuss this and question it, talk with our kids and know that there are times where we must stand up to what is wrong.

I won’t go into The Hunger Games further, as others have done a fine job of doing just that, but I would argue books like these, and movies like these, are not what creates violence in our kids. It’s gratuitous violence in movies and video games that evokes laughter as opposed to tears, mocking as opposed to compassion. That’s what we should be worried about. Crying because a 12-year-old was killed in a society’s sick attempt at control is a human response; laughing when a teacher tells you that a middle schooler ambushed a school, killing kids and a teacher, is a an inhuman response born of inappropriate exposure to violence at young ages.

It’s a big issue – What do you think?

“On June 10th, 1992, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a definitive study on the impact of TV violence. In nations, regions, or cities where television appears there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That’s how long it takes for a brutalized toddler to reach the “prime crime” years. That’s how long it takes before you begin to reap what you sow when you traumatize and desensitize children. (Centerwall, 1992).” (from Teaching Our Kids to Kill)

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Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31a

52 years ago this year I was born. I was born into an already established family of three brothers and my parents. I was a girl. My status in the family was predetermined – I would be loved and enjoy princess privilege. But the big thing is this: I was born.

I was born and God called it good. Just like you who are reading this were born – and God called it Good. God called this little being knit together inside a safe womb, safe from all the outside factors that could cause danger to the life and development of this little being, God called this “Good”.  Just as someone who knits watches carefully for slipped stitches or a missed pattern, so does God knit us, form us, and watch us, all the time calling it good. The knitter will go back and find the missed stitch, even if it takes a lot of time, to form that perfect pattern that will be the mittens, or the socks; the scarf or the sweater.

And so I can’t keep silent.

The Huffington Post UK edition posted an article “Killing Newborn Babies No Different To Abortion Say Medical Ethicist” and I read on as if I was part of a futuristic psycho-thriller; The Hunger Games or Brave New World. The opening lines are chilling: “A medical journal has called for the acceptance of ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn baby), causing outrage among pro-life campaigners and raising an array of ethical questions.Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Alberto Giubilini from the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva from Melbourne University argue that foetuses and newborns “do not have the same moral status as actual persons”. (Read the rest of the article here)

When I was pregnant with my third child I had a friend come up to me one day. She began telling me her story. Her story of an unexpected pregnancy in a developing country and a plane trip she will never forget to Europe to end the pregnancy. She wept. And she wept. And she wept more. And once we had cleaned up her tears from this story, she told her second story. There was another baby and another country. Another trip and another “safe” abortion. Safe to everything but her psyche.  Like scales falling from her eyes, she told of the realization that these were her babies and they didn’t have a chance to be born, to take that first breath. They didn’t have a chance to be called “Good”. She told me because she watched my growing baby in awe. She was zealous for my safety, my nutrition, my activity – this baby must LIVE. And the baby did live. And he was perfect, just like our first two babies. We called him Micah and my friend held him, and she wept.

Five I have. Five that were called “Good”. Five that came into our lives despite some circumstances that were less than good. Despite some times in our marriage that were less than lovely and far less than perfect. Five that came, not to a wealthy family, not to a family that had it all together, but they came, and God called each of their births good. Annie, Joel, Micah, Stefanie, Jonathan. Knit together by God. Called Good at conception. Called Good at birth.

And so I can’t keep silent when I see an article called “Abortion Safer Than Giving Birth: Study”  with the byline “Getting a legal abortion is much safer than giving birth, suggests a new U.S. study published in January” (Reuters Health). I can’t keep silent when I read the words “Women who are having abortions are having a safe, common surgical procedure or taking medication for the same reason,” she (Dr. Ann Davis) told Reuters Health.

I can’t keep silent because I’ve been told it’s not “common”. I have believed the rhetoric that says “We all agree that there should be fewer abortions”. But if we want fewer, if we strive for less, why are they, as the researchers point out, common?

“Abortion care and pregnancy care should not really be any different from consenting people for any other procedure.” Ah – but there you see is the problem. It is different. Because any other medical procedure doesn’t involve the health of two – it is about the health of one.

My heart breaks for those who feel they have no alternative but abortion. My heart cries out for them. I have wept with women post abortion, and I have wept with women pre-abortion who made a different choice. And I believe in a God who loves. Who forgives. Whose mercy and grace no one can fathom. But I can’t keep silent. This being, knit together in the womb, this is a baby, made in the image of God. This is Good.

I write this blog to communicate across boundaries, to have a voice in a public place, and I know there will be readers that disagree, that may see this as an insurmountable boundary. Those of you who read my blog know I am not a right-wing fanatic. No right-wing fanatic writes in defense of Muslims and Muslim opinion, of arranged marriage, of wanting health care for all. Right wing fanatics don’t do workshops on culture and healthcare for Planned Parenthood. And if you disagree with this post, I respect your opinion, I respect you as a person made in the image of God. But it would be a false pretense if I was not bold enough to write this, if I pretended that I thought this was ok. And so I can’t keep silent.

Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion-formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to uphold the sanctity of human life for this impoverished and inhumane defence of child destruction.” Lord Alton, co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group

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#Occupy Sallie Mae

Has it been awhile since you’ve heard a rant from this blog? Well! Let’s not disappoint!

Last week US News and World Report highlighted student loan debt in an article called “Are Student Loans the Next Debt Bomb?” with the tag line “Experts worry that the mortgage finance crisis could happen all over again with student loans!” Really? How clever of the experts. Ask any parent or student and they could have told you the same thing without the high salary of the expert. Young men and women are drowning in debt, and bystanders, including Congress, are standing by taking pictures of them with their smart phone cameras. It’s so wrong.

Let’s look at some facts about student loans and see if I can bring you on board with my rant and my call to action.

  • At public universities, average debt was $20,200 — 20% higher than in 2004, when the average was $16,850.
  • At private nonprofit universities, average debt was $27,650 — 29% higher than in 2004, when the average was $21,500.
  • Private student loans are growing at double-digit rates.
  • Accumulated student debt is expected to reach over a trillion dollars this year.
  • To repay $40,000 at 6.8% at a payment of $800 a month it will take 26 years and add $15,000 to the payment for a grand total of $55,000. (economists – am I correct?) $800 is a pretty hefty monthly payment for someone who is starting out.
  • The average debt is enough for a 10% down payment on a $200,000 dollar home.
  • A person can declare bankruptcy and although all other debts are forgiven, their student loans are still not discharged. Let me put that in other words – debt from credit cards or gambling can be discharged but NOT student loans.
  • But worst of all – the average private student loan interest rate in 2010 was the eye-popping, hyperventilating figure of 12 percent!

Is it a wonder that I despise Sallie Mae even as I owe her my life? She is a cruel mistress and she owns many. She’s like Rumpelstiltskin only worse. But it’s not only Sallie Mae who is guilty of owning students. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase – these too give out private student loans. The web sites are slick and the legalese slicker. They captivate and draw in. Even the clever among us are not a match for these modern-day loan sharks.

Let me be clear – I do not think either education or healthcare should be free. That which we pay for we value more. I see this everyday in my job and personal life. But I also do not think that loans should carry the interest rate of 12%. I don’t think they should carry an interest rate of 6%. I think there should be a mandated cap at 2.5%. Even as we sit around and endure pathetic partisan politics nothing is being done to protest that interest rates on subsidized loans will double by this next summer going from 3.4% to 6.8%.

Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org and Fastweb.com says that In the coming years, a lot of people will still be paying off their student loans when it’s time for their kids to go to college,” Many parents have co-signed for their children to ensure a lower interest rate. If their children graduate and cannot find work, or find only minimum wage jobs given the economic landscape, the parents are left paying those loans as well as the parent loans they took out to cover burgeoning costs of higher education.

So what can we do? I don’t have many answers but I know that we need to make some noise. There are enough people to begin a strong social movement and it can begin online. We’ve already seen Sallie Mae back down in recent weeks to pressure over a $50 fee that was demanded of “struggling borrowers”. So today start with contacting your representatives and asking that they fight to keep the interest rates on subsidized student loans at 3.4% or lower. While you’re at it, ask that they cap the interest rates that Sallie Mae and others can apply to education-based loans. And spread the word. There are significant numbers of people who are struggling with student debt – we need to change this! This is a generation of kids that was raised on Raffi so using his words –  Let’s make some noise!

Let’s make some noise
we girls and boys
we got a voice, so lets make some noise”

This post is dedicated to my wonderful children and lovely nieces and nephews – most of whom are owned by Direct Loans and Sallie Mae.

A word about the video – I don’t even know this little toddler but let’s make some noise so that his situation is better!

Earnestly Looking for Something I Don’t Need – A Look at Black Friday

DJ industrial average 1929 Black Friday
Image via Wikipedia

I ran into a store a few days ago with a specific item in mind to buy. I quickly found the area of the store and the right size and began narrowing down the decision. As I looked up from my task,I caught the eye of a woman across from me. She hesitantly smiled and shook her head.  “I am earnestly looking for something I don’t need!” She exclaimed “But isn’t this cute?

“Earnestly looking for something I don’t need”. What a great and descriptive phrase! She’d probably wandered in off her lunch hour and the more she looked the more earnest she became. How do I know this so well? Because I’ve been there too many times to count. Those times when I wander in, knowing full well I don’t need anything, but how can I not get something with a 25% Friends and Family coupon burning in my hand? It’s getting hotter just waiting to be used on the thing that I don’t need.

And that my friends is Black Friday. Millions of people earnestly looking for something they don’t need. I rarely break out in judgement the way this will sound, but if Black Friday isn’t a picture of a schizophrenic society, I don’t know what is. A society that on the one hand worries about unemployment, personal budgets, and the economy, while the other hand is earnestly looking for something it doesn’t need. A society holding its money close, for fear it won’t have enough to pay for that which it doesn’t need.

I am the first to fall in this area. For years I would bring home things that languished in closets or drawers, but I had picked them out so earnestly that I couldn’t admit that I didn’t need them.

I am sure that some people find this fun. Some people love the excitement of standing in line at midnight with their lattes and pillows. They bond with the crowd, until there’s someone who cuts in line and the bond is quickly broken with a curse and shove. At that point it could begin to resemble Tahrir Square. They bond until they are both fighting over the same 52″ flat screen TV selling for mere pennies. It will replace the 40″ flat screen TV that they got a year ago at a Black Friday event. They bond until someone is killed in the stampede, trampled to death from people earnestly looking for something they don’t need.

Interesting that this day should follow one of America’s favorites. A day devoted to thanks. A national holiday specifically set aside to give thanks, to remember. What happens between pumpkin pie with whipped cream and midnight, when our base nature breaks out and we pummel the pavement in search of stuff?

So – I’m finished. I will say no more about Black Friday. But I will post this right when Black Friday begins, at the stroke of midnight, to remind myself that as I earnestly look for something I don’t need, I’m completely missing all that I have.

And with that…A Happy Black Friday to you. May you earnestly find that which you are looking for! (And at least try to find some savings with this Lenovo coupon!)

Perfecting the Bostonian Stink Eye

There’s nothing quite like a Monday morning. Determined to press forward with a good attitude, despite limited sleep and still longing for the comfort that is my pillow, I decide I will conquer the Monday morning blues. And then, I step off the subway and I am greeted by none other than the high heels and designer knockoff suit worn by someone adept at doling out the Boston Stink Eye!

Tour books of the Boston area are generally missing an important section – that of explaining the Boston stink eye. While old buildings, history, beautiful parks, and glimpses of Betsy Ross are part of the Boston experience, it will be the odd visitor that doesn’t also experience what I call the stink eye. To be sure, other places may have this, but they certainly haven’t perfected it the way the Bostonian has.

To explain the stink eye, I would love a video clip. There is, in fact, an online dictionary entry (not limiting the eye to Boston) that describes it this way: “a facial expression of disgust, disdain, or disapproval” but I’d like to expand on that limited definition.  It’s a particular look and it comes in two ways. One is when the eyes of someone are staring right at you, but through you, as though you don’t exist. You are, in a moment, reduced to an ant that can be squished. The second is more obvious – the eyes begin at your feet and slowly travel up your body with disdain, stopping to make eye contact, curl the lips and go back down the body again. It is not pretty. While both types hurt, the latter has the ability to fluster more and sometimes reduces the recipient to tears.

For a long time I thought it was me. That somehow I had that peculiar ability to bring out mockery or disdain. I questioned what I was doing wrong and wondered how I could keep up with the unspoken rules of Boston. And then I realized something big. It isn’t me! It’s part of Boston. Along with the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, New England Clam Chowder, coastal beauty, Paul Revere, the North End, and the State House – it’s as much a part of Boston as those more lovely and picturesque things.

So what to do with the stink eye? Passers through can cope because their focus is on other things, but for those of us that move here and, like damn Yankees, stay, it is a more difficult dilemma. The old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans” or “If you can’t beat them, join them”  and there you have it. I have learned with the best of them and I now know how to give a good old self-esteem reducing Boston stink eye.  Scary, isn’t it? I never thought I would stoop to this, but it’s survival of the fittest and fit I have become.

The good news about all this is that I never, ever use this on tourists and visitors. I reserve it for the Bostonian. The more Bostonian they seem, the better my stink-eye. Critics may condemn, but only until they have experienced this for themselves. After that we’ll talk.