The Gray Matter–The matter of 25 year old Freddy Gray’s death from a severed spine after being in police custody last week, has inspired peaceful protest for police reform, as well as outrageous violence, rioting, looting and arson. Gray was arrested by Baltimore Police 2 weeks ago. What exactly happened after he was taken into police custody is unclear, or at least unanswered to the public. The issue of police brutality has been painted in black and white, and the recent high profile cases of deaths occurring at the hands of police officers has much of the public outraged by excessive violence from the police.

The police departments have suggested that these tragedies have occurred within the confines of the law, and that violent suspects,or suspects near violence, have caused the police reactions. Kill or be killed. Is it just the rogue cop or two (in each precinct)? It’s got to be more than that.

Those who say that they understand the rage underneath the current violence in Baltimore because there are no longer decent jobs due to globalization, must be younger than I (and/or unaware of history). I was born and raised in B’more, and lived there until I was 17. Baltimore always seemed deeply segregated to me. Racially, economically, ethnically…..and there was a terribly impoverished inner city long before globalization. I moved from Baltimore in 1981. It was always an extremely dangerous (and sad) place to me, despite its other charms. There are beautiful areas, historic, cultural, quirky, and also the hideous stuff that provided the stories for “The Wire” and “Homicide”.

It is easy to lump all the recent police brutality incidents together; all these racially charged incidents together; impoverished areas with high crime rates together. There are indeed similarities and patterns.There also seems to be an unwillingness to acknowledge the entrenched tragedies on all sides: thugs who are cops and thugs who are not cops; an entrenched system of economic failure and a culture of violence; lack of vision; lack of hope; lack of change; lack of leadership; lack of decent homes, schools, or jobs; not being more.

The violence following the protests and funeral for Freddy Gray yesterday were disturbing and sad, but sadly, not unfamiliar nor unexpected. We wanted B’more to BE MORE. We want all of our communities to BE MORE for all of us. We want our police to BE MORE for all of us. We want our elected officials to BE MORE for all of us. We want our schools and medical facilities to BE MORE for all of us.

Maybe the takeaway from B’More is just that. Be More than your circumstances. Be More than your fears. Be More than your anger. Be More than your habits. Be More than your desires. Be More than you’ve been, or than you might have been. Be more for all of us.

It Is What It Isn’t

It isn’t bigotry; it’s freedom of religion. It isn’t mass murder; it’s Depression. It isn’t diplomacy; it’s appeasement.

It isn’t rape; it’s drunken sex. It isn’t obstruction; it’s Democracy. It isn’t murder; it’s self defense. It isn’t spying; it’s security. It isn’t union busting; it’s the right to work. It isn’t about public health; it’s about private choice.

It seems like we actually spend our lives on what something or someone isn’t. We have a tradition of distinguishing ourselves from others by emphasizing other-ness. Even with our history of civil rights and feminism, expanding rights for all sorts of people once excluded, the current zeitgeist is not one of inclusion and expansion. Critical thinking has largely been distorted into oppositional thinking.

Say it isn’t so!

We’ve shifted from what it is to what it isn’t, as we’ve been bombarded with challenges to our assumptions:

It’s a slam-dunk! (for which we are paying unimagined consequences in the Middle East).

It’s a no brainer!

It’s a sure thing!

It’s a 10!

It’s a boy!

It’s complicated.

The truth is, it is complicated. There are different views and facets and understandings and expressions of much of life. Concepts of gender, of life, of liberty, of religion, and so many constructs that were historically entrenched….are still evolving. It doesn’t feel like evolution when we seem so mired, and it is easy to feel despair.

It is what it is. The sigh of stalemate. We don’t hear “c’est la vie”  any more. We say “it is what it is”, like pop zen masters (or Winnie the Pooh). When we don’t know what else we can do, we can acknowledge that it is what it is. Move on.

We don’t seem to be moving on by what it isn’t. It isn’t right. It isn’t safe. It isn’t about you (or me). It isn’t working.

So many articles are written to sound as though previously held notions were naive, or misguided, or wrong. It’s as though some people think they sound smarter by debunking anything we’ve known prior to now. It seems as though everything you thought was true isn’t. It is what it isn’t. Aside from being able to eat butter and drink coffee now, this new moment of deconstruction requires critical thinking, not just being critical.  Some previously held ideas and constructs that seemed to be true and even natural deserve to be queried. But, not everything must be turned inside out or dismantled.  In fact, there seems to be a dearth of common sense and wisdom, much less decent behavior. And there is certainly a lack of common good.

So how do we move beyond it is what it isn’t? Acknowledge that it is what it is, but doesn’t always have to be this way or simply the mirror opposite (that way). Movement happens between (and/or beyond) those points–where there is space to move. We know there is a better way, isn’t there?

Speech Pathology

While away visiting family and friends, I was not away from the horror of the terror that enveloped Paris. I may have been some 5,600 + miles from Paris, but I could be in the same zone of interest, despite the difference in time zones. I could converse via email with a cousin in Paris, and watch cable news and read analyses on my ipad, and post my sympathies.

Our extraordinary abilities to communicate through fiber optics, cables and signals anywhere, anytime, has transformed civilization in terms of immediate access, but what makes our civilization civilized is our capacity for consideration and compassion. Our advancement in technologies have allowed for an unprecedented flow of communication and movement, which has enabled expressions of hope as well as of hate .

Lately, the pathologies that have distorted and infected our lives with hate have manifested in abuse and violence in carefully orchestrated attacks upon innocents. The hostage takers at the kosher market in Paris spoke fluent French, yet did not speak the same language as their French hostages. The terrorists’ nihilism and dehumanization, was uttered using the same vocalized sounds and words that other French nationals would be familiar with, but there was no connection.

Some have argued that while there is absolutely no justification for violence or abuse, there must be social causes for such disaffection that would enable so many to seek a dangerous and violent path and wage war against Western Civilization. In essence, these people are looking for the pathologies in modern democratic societies that might explain the pathology of terrorism. Freedom, and lately our free speech, whether in the form of a silly comedy movie, or political cartoons, has been threatened with silencing. This is speech pathology!

Often, in cases of medical speech disorders, there is an auditory component. In order to learn language and speak effectively, one must have clear and accurate perception, as well as the structures and strength to create clearly understood speech. Too often, when toddlers are not articulating adequately, there is a hearing deficit. The relationship between being able to hear and speak is inextricable. Even without hearing, there is a capacity for language and communication. Sign language is every bit as expressive, and depends upon perception.

Those who don’t want to hear are seeking to silence the rest of us.This cultural speech pathology has affected those whose perception has them seek to destroy rather than to construct. The speech pathology that we have been witnessing has been so painful because our capacity for communication is so closely intertwined with our humanity and our culture. The pathology of repression and hate, expressed through abuse and violence must always be countered. There is certainly a deficit of hearing and a surfeit of misperception when such pathologies of repression and hate cause those to silence speech and fear freedom.

As I was en route to the airport to head home yesterday, I saw a sign for the “Museum of Tolerance”. I was struck by the idea of exhibiting tolerance. The thought that tolerance as a relic–something housed in a museum– was disturbing. Of course, using historical events as examples of tolerance (and intolerance) are powerful displays of human capacities (and pathologies). Then again, exhibiting tolerance is what we need to do in our daily lives. It’s a sort of speech therapy for the speech and hearing pathologies that have been so threatening.

Ghost Busters

It’s easy to feel dispirited by the news. But yesterday’s news of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation “techniques” following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, has me feeling somewhat positive– that is, between bouts of nausea.

The reports of torture are of course not entirely new, but they remain nauseating and shameful. In the 13 years since 9/11, these ghosts have been haunting us. Our own torturers have been lurking among us, but yesterday those ghosts got busted!

Even when we’ve been saddened and furious by seemingly misguided legal decisions–most recently in Ferguson and Staten Island, and before that in Sanford, Florida, as well as other similar cases– those calling for peace, non-violence, racial equality, accountability, dignity, life….you know….what we think of as fundamental to decent society… have essentially been ghost busting!

A country that formally stands for civil rights has seen too many incidents recently that seem to contradict that stance, and too often the negative spirit of racism hovers. The contradiction is unsettling.

If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!

If it’s somethin’ weird an it won’t look good, who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!

Many will say that racism isn’t strange. Nor is police brutality. Nor the extreme version, as seen in the reports of CIA torture. Abuse is all too common, and until busted open, often legal.  (The same is true for sexism and sexual abuse.) But we know that the strangeness inherent in abusive behavior isn’t that it is rare; it is that such behavior is vile, and makes most of us extremely uncomfortable (as it should). The ghosts of racism and sexism and abuse of power still haunt us, but the current manifestations of these ghosts are getting busted.

I ain’t afraid a no ghost. I ain’t afraid a no ghost.

While some fear the possibility of inciting terrorists by revealing the Senate report on torture, ultimately it is better that we bust those ghosts of ours. Until we confront our own sanctioned behaviors and assumptions, conscious and unconscious, legal and moral, we will be haunted by ghosts.

I’ve never subscribed to what is often classified as “paranormal”. But if para-normal is actually beyond normal, then we can certainly move beyond the normal indignities that have accrued and caused distortions and fear and exaggerated reactions.

Each generation has its ghost busters. We must encourage this one and the next one. Hey–I hear there’s a new “Ghostbusters” movie in the making. Maybe ghost busting is in the air?

Purple Hearts

Today is Veterans’ Day, 2014. What began as Armistice Day at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, marking the cessation of combat on the Western Front of  what became known as World War 1, is now a day to honor our military Veterans beyond WW1. (The last U.S. World War 1 veteran died in February, 2011 at age 110.)

Today we honor those who served in the armed forces. The last year has highlighted the ways in which we have not honored veterans the rest of the year, especially when the VA scandal revealed staggering incompetence and data manipulation that put veterans’ health and lives at risk. While VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has been replaced with Robert McDonald, the dysfunction is being sorted out and reorganization is slowly being implemented.  Last night, McDonald announced a complete restructuring of the department, designed to make it easier for veterans to access information and service. This restructuring is the largest in the department’s history, as it seeks to focus on actual customer service for the agency that serves 22 million veterans.Veterans should not have to thank the VA for their service.

The VA scandal was more than a disservice to those who served in our military. The scandal became yet another example of dysfunctional government. Democrats and Republicans may have agreed on the unacceptability of the status quo with regard to the VA, but beyond that, they retreated to their posts blaming the other. Actually, the VA scandal was but one of many examples of dysfunctional government whereby governing gets lost to politics, and venom spewed at enemies.

Just a week ago, the midterm elections revealed how few are truly engaged in civics and the political process. PBS reported that the 2014 midterm election turnout was the lowest in 70 years! 36.4 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2014. Attack ads reigned supreme with a dearth of ideas. Policies that have made a difference were ignored. Preying on fears and the tribalism that we call party politics has yielded us a midterm election decided by the lowest turnout in 70 years. The combination of disengagement and vitriol  seems to be the norm on the home front, but we would never want our soldiers to carry these behaviors with them. And they deserve better at home!

Today we honor our veterans for their service. They should inspire service in various forms in us. Missions demand engagement and integrity, and actual accomplishment. These are the qualities embodied by the men and women we honor today. Service deserves to be honored, but not through the prism (prison?) of Republican or Democrat– Red or Blue.

Today, on Veterans’ Day, I’m thinking about a purple heart. The Purple Heart has been the traditional military decoration awarded by the President to those wounded or killed while serving in battle against our enemies. This award for heroism reminds us of the incredible sacrifices some have made for the American ideal and to keep enemies from harming American civilians. I imagine an additional purple heart. We may still have red states and blue states, both mental and territorial, but we’ve certainly lost our purple heart.  Today, we can honor veterans through actual support with services and opportunities (healthcare, education, jobs, housing,etc). It will demand service from our own purple hearts–not red or blue– to accomplish missions beyond obstruction and disengagement; towards actually transforming the status quo peacefully.

Where Goes the Neighborhood?

It’s hard to beat Rodney Dangerfield’s epitaph: There goes the neighborhood. He took his self-deprecating humor with him all the way to the grave.

Of course, neighborhoods are for the living. While the thought of a cemetery as a neighborhood is rather humorous, the thought of a neighborhood becoming a cemetery is harrowing.

Neighborhoods without “neighborliness” are perilous. Neighbors are people in communities in close proximity to another set of people, but being neighborly implies friendly attitudes and behavior; or at the very least, not destructive attitudes and behavior.  The shortened slang term for neighborhood, “hood”, emerged from violent inner city areas. Dropping the “neighbor” from “neighborhood” implied much more than an abbreviation.

For the past few weeks, we have been following horrific crises caused by violence in Ukraine, the Middle East (ISIS, as well as the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, “Operation Protective Edge”), and in our own hemisphere, kids fleeing Central America on deadly journeys hoping to reach safety and their parents in the USA. These crises have been building for some time, but the unbearable circumstances causing the current crises seem too overwhelming to fathom, much less resolve adequately.

The horrors in all these crises are devastating, and the conflicts seem intractable. Hoodlums have military grade weapons and local power. Those neighborhoods are fast becoming cemeteries. While I am grateful to be living in a peaceful neighborhood far from these crises, it is still immensely disconcerting to consider the prevalence of terror and violence and disregard for humanity.

Most of us, however, teach our children to be good neighbors; to show respect and caring. We teach our children to extend this respect to others. “Neighbor” becomes a concept beyond proximity. We seek acceptance and friendship, or at least cooperation.Being a neighbor is not a unilateral proposition. Being a neighbor necessitates co-existence.

History has been fraught with violent conflicts between peoples, borders, nations, states, drug lords, territories, ideologies, and various sub-categories. History has also been made by neighbors; building communities, and rebuilding them after destruction.

A cemetery is not a neighborhood. Neighborhoods are for living–built and maintained by people committed to law and order, allowing for freedom from oppression and maintaining peaceful co-existence. It is distressing and sometimes paralyzing to watch as terrorists,tyrants and all sorts of thugs turn neighborhoods into cemeteries. Neighborhoods require care and attention. We must insist that leaders dismantle the political, organizational and military machinery that oppresses and violently destroys lives. While the neighborhood watch continues, we must also regard not just where we live, but how we live. How can we ensure peace, freedom and security for our children and for our neighbors’ children? They are never really that far away.




Too many people seem to think that they alone have clarity and authority, and use their voices as weapons rather than as tools for construction.

Criticism is easy. Acknowledging uncomfortable truths that may cloud a stance seems to be much trickier, and is missing in most of the media. This is the habit of the 21st century thus far, as it plays out in politics and media everywhere–including in the USA. “Either you are with us or you are against us.” That has been true for the left and the right, and the rational middle either keeps quiet or is kept quiet by the bluster.

The fear of acknowledging any truth to other sides, or attempting to understand how other people can see a situation from such a different perspective, is part of our dumbing down. Politics, whether domestic or international, is more than a lost art. It is a blood sport–quite literally, around the globe.

Clearly, education has failed US. Rather than broadening our minds, we seem less able to consider the complexities of our world. Rather than seeking wisdom through education, we reflect a bombastic, reductionist culture that claims to love freedom, but has yet to understand the complexities and compromises of liberty and peace.

Freedom to rant and incite is not the goal of this experiment called Democracy. Telling part of a story with hyperbole is propaganda–whether the story is familiar or new. We use pieces of stories to construct whole narratives that, more often than not, distort truth. Tweets and posts and thoughtless news (and faux news) stories are cacophonous and foment hate and anxiety.

All these pieces that get aired and posted to justify the rights of one side (and the wrongs of the other) are too often just bits and pieces–fragments of truth. We have become more dedicated to our piece than to our peace.

When I decided to become an educator, I saw education as the path to peace. Clearly, knowing (or reading or hearing) isolated facts does not equal education. An educated mind is one that can weigh facts and opinions, and consider consequences–intended and unintended. Education is the opportunity to engage beyond one’s circumstance and experience. The old saying “knowledge is power” has become distorted by the deception that we are better informed because we have more cables and channels and devices. We have much more input, but seemingly less real knowledge and much less depth. Our broad bands connect us with pieces of information that get used for the pursuit of power more than for the pursuit of peace.

Perhaps old constructs need to be reconsidered, especially in this digital media age. What would it take to consider or possibly accept additional points of view? A piece of this? And a piece of that?  It may be the only way to pursue peace and not go to pieces.


Yesterday, the revelation that over 40 million people may have been hacked at Target over the last few weeks was stunning and terrifying. I suspect that Target wasn’t the only target. I would not be surprised to learn that other stores were also targeted. Certainly the holiday shopping season (the fifth season from Thanksgiving to just after New Year’s) is the perfect time to breach a retailer’s system. Of course, it’s not just the retailer who is ruined. Millions of lives are, at best, disrupted. For some, the impact may be horrific, especially at this time of year.

It is easy to feel paranoid these days. So much seems out of our control. To be up to speed (which is quite fast), one must surrender to more and more channels and networks, further and further removed from an original action, that through incredible technology, allows actions and transactions to occur instantaneously. We tend to forget that because so much of our transactions are instantaneous, that there is actually a network out there–wherever there is. It feels immediate and therefore gives us the sense of interaction. Or maybe we are just more willing to surrender to what seems so much easier than waiting. We feel like we can accomplish so much more than we used to. But, there are daily reminders of nefariousness. It is easy to feel like a target.

Like terrorism, cyber hacking seems to prey on obvious targets through innocent civilians who are merely living their lives. It is cruel and terrifying, and after each incident, we redouble our efforts to create better protection. But the fear and paranoia lingers as we increase safety measures. There is a sense that we are always targets.

When we are able to put aside the threats of terrorism and hacking, we worry that we are being targeted by the NSA, or advertisers, or even by political ideologues. It seems as though we are targeted by anyone and everyone. While some target us for our potential business or donations, others target us as “the other”, and therefore the problem: teachers; unions; single parents; poverty stricken; Wall Streeter; drug addicted; super wealthy; politician; left; right; religious; atheist; ……You are either with us or against us. Marketers seek their target audiences. We target others and get targeted by others all the time.

While it is easy to be concerned about nefarious targeting and the fear of being an innocent victim, I am actually more concerned about the prosaic targeting that is part of our culture and constantly exhibited by individuals regardless of beliefs or station in life. We live in echo chambers. It is tribal. We seem more focused on targeting frustrations at others than on working through problems, integrating different components. Yes, compromising.  The holidays may be a time to reflect upon targets. We like New Year’s resolutions as they redirect our attention toward personal improvement (usually not at the affect of others). When we target others, we diminish them. They become one dimensional. When we include others–even differing opinions and ways–the target shifts toward building; toward more dimensions.

2013 was a year of many difficulties that became compounded by targeting individuals or agencies for blame, rather than acknowledging what (or who) was problematic and  focusing on improvement.  We had plenty of target practice this year, perfecting the aim with our weaponry, literally and figuratively.  We can aim for much better–changing the old targets. There is so much that we can’t control–or rather–there is only so much that we can control. We can choose new targets that do not diminish. The narrow targets, those that are from a single point of view, diminish. This holiday season, when we try to take a break from our troubles and  enjoy our families and some peace, we can redirect and begin a new target practice. Don’t target others. Aim positively. Happy Holidays!

Making Change

What do cashiers have to do with The March on Washington? It’s probably not what you think.

As a child, I was regularly asked to walk to the neighborhood market a few blocks away to get some groceries for my mother. The grocers knew my family, along with many others in the neighborhood. Still, my mother taught me to always check the receipt (and give it to her), and she taught me how to make change. If the items totaled $17.45 and I gave the grocer (or cashier) $20.00, I had to know how much change I should get back.

As a young child, mental math (as we used to call it) was not my forte. In early elementary school we were taught math facts. We were drilled with flash cards. It was basic memorization of addition and subtraction, and then, multiplication tables, soon to be followed by short division flash cards. As one who never had a flair for remembering numbers or dates, or memorization at all, this mental math approach was arduous and mostly problematic for me. Yes, I did force myself to learn elemental math facts, but I was utterly turned off and avoided whatever I could. At least I did learn the basics. I learned that I had to subtract: $20.00-$17.45= $2.55.

But subtracting in my head (especially when I was quite young) was likely to lead to careless errors. So, my mother taught me how to make change. Essentially, she was teaching me that I could add instead of subtract. I remember struggling with the concept because I didn’t get that I was merely doing addition instead of subtraction. It just seemed like a magic trick that it all added up. Then, when I got the concept of counting back change from the total to the amount I gave, it was no longer like a magic trick–just magic in the way that something perfect seems magical.

Flash forward several years, and cash registers become calculators. Cashiers no longer  need to do anything but make sure that if the cash register says $2.55 change,  they can count the correct bills and coins. They do not have to figure out the change. For a generation now, cashiers have not had to do any math beyond counting what they are told to provide. On the occasions when I do make cash purchases, I am always dumbfounded that cashiers don’t (and often can’t) make change. They can’t figure the difference. There’s no human agency in making change; no critical thinking. I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much if cash registers are more efficient calculators than the people who use them, but I wonder about this ability (or lack thereof) to make change.

For me, the process of making change resonated more than merely knowing the numbers. That has always been true for me. It struck me this week as we have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,  that while August 28, 1963 marks the historic date, the processes of change inform how we make change. Noting the differences from where we started to where we are now is not sufficient if we are to be the ones who make change. We must understand the processes of change–of additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions, and miscalculations.

The March on Washington 50 years ago was historic for many reasons. Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream ” speech was pivotal, and remarkable, and truly one of the greatest pieces of oration in our history; but the peaceful participation by so many was equally historic and inspiring. Everyone who rallied at the mall in Washington was participating in making change, and inspired so many others to become agents of change. It is easy to just take the change that others make. It is easy to allow changes to be dictated by technology. It is more important, though, to be able to make change.

If Memory Serves….

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day, celebrated today, the last Monday in May, is observed in remembrance of those who died in service to our country. More accurately, Memorial Day is a national holiday recognizing military personnel who died during war. For many, the memorial aspect is secondary to the barbeques  and pool openings and retail bargains and the unofficial commencement of summer. For others, Memorial Day is about patriotism. For them it is literally about their loved ones being wrapped in the flag.

Decoration Day was initially a day set aside to place flowers or other decorations on the graves of Civil War soldiers. It was not a national holiday at the outset, and Northern states observed Decoration Day on a different day from Southern states. After WW1, the nation as a whole began to commemorate soldiers who died in war, and Memorial Day has become a tragic tradition that unites us in loss, as so many have died in so many wars,with the expectation that there will always be more.

Unlike the Civil War, or even the World Wars , Korea and Vietnam, today the country acknowledges those lost in wars, but many citizens have not experienced the loss personally. Military families are no longer all families. But service should be in all families. Whether or not it is military service, perhaps we can use this Memorial Day to consider service in its myriad possibilities for bettering our communities and our country.

Many people give their lives to service. They may not lose their lives to service, but find that in serving others, they are creating better communities. We need to consider these acts of national pride as well. In addition to military personnel, police and firefighters have chosen careers that put themselves in harm’s way in service to our communities. We should remember them. We should acknowledge them. We should be more connected to those members in our communities who service us. Teachers service us. No, they do not risk life or limb except in unusual circumstances, but the choice to teach kids is in service to our communities and to our nation. We have begun to encourage young people to serve–not just militarily, but in numerous ways in their communities. This Memorial Day, as some decorate graves of fallen soldiers, and others fire up the grill, let us consider the prospect that the term servicemen or servicewomen need not be limited to the military. If memory serves, then let us all be servicemen and servicewomen. Let us give more of our lives without losing them to violence in the name of freedom.