From the Mouth of a Child

Just the other day we were returning from our trip up to the family cottage. Having stopped at the Big M for a treat, my daughter asked Jackson if he could wish something for the earth what would it be? Jackson never hesitated in his response, “I would wish that cars and all engines stop using gas. It makes global warming and that is bad for the earth. And someday that will be bad for me.”

Jackson is seven. Think about that. He doesn’t question the science. He doesn’t ignore the obvious and at seven he wants to do something about it. I could only marvel at his response and at the same time wish that some of our leaders could be half as wise as he was in that moment. His generation will inherit the actions we take and at present, we still resist. We balk at the changes required because we think of the effect on jobs and even more so the cost. But I will tell you that our inactivity will cost far more in the future, provided that in the future we even have the option.

We must take responsibility for what we have done. My generation is guilty of ignoring the warnings, of not making the effort to be even a little more responsible with our choices, of electing leaders with our wallets instead of our ethics. We must be far more serious about recycle, reclaim, and reuse practices. We must, simply put, ACT. And we must do it before it is too late.

We owe it to our children, to our grandchildren. I don’t want Jackson asking me ten years from now why I hadn’t done anything when I knew it was my responsibility and not that of a seven year old who doesn’t even have a vote. It is not too late. From the mouths of our children comes a plea to save the earth. We must save it so that they might have a future filled with all the bounty we have enjoyed. Do it for Jackson and all the Jacksons so that their wish may still come true.

Divide and Conquer …. or?

The title refers to a military tactic. If you want the upper hand in a battle, you divide the enemy, militarily or culturally. We have become a nation, thanks to an election and a pandemic, that is ideologically divided. My question is, are we willing to work on a repair or will we accept being divided and conquered?

Over the past decade, our government has become fractured. As of the last several years, it has been reduced to you are a conservative or you are a liberal. The result of this fracturing is a two party system that for the most part does not represent the general population that elected them and at the very least has become an ineffective governing body. Now some may argue that Congress still passes legislation, but the legislation is along party and unfortunately, money lines. The art of compromise for the good of the nation seems absent.

Meanwhile, we as citizens and voters, are becoming polarized. Thanks to social media, we get our news from everywhere and anywhere and we feel free to verbalize our opinions as beliefs we expect others to adopt. We are losing our civility at a time when it is needed more than ever. The pandemic taught us what isolation felt like. Some embraced it while others grew angry, looking for someone to blame. The election embroiled us in a nasty national conversation, further fueling our anger and grief. The end result, is a division that grows wider with each angry social media confrontation and every too hastily shared meme or post. We are divided and ready to be conquered. In this battle, the enemy is not always obvious, not even some other country or ideology. The enemy is us. How wide do we leave this division grow before the distance between is too far to ever cross.

We must get back to spending more time listening TO each other than the amount of time we spend talking AT each other. The vast majority of Americans are not simply one side or the other. We hold some beliefs that are conservative while we hold others that are liberal. The truth is we are moderates caught in a struggle to make us one or the other, leaving us no ground in the middle. But the solution is simple, we begin to listen. We get back to respecting our differences. We stop claiming that everything is political. It is only political when we use arguing our causes as an excuse for not listening. Politicians make issues political, we do not have to. I fear that if we leave party politicians to steer us, we will not be able to get back to any kind of normal.

Let’s put the election behind us. Let’s leave the pandemic to history. Let’s get back to civilized discussions about what comes next and what positive role we can play. We must seek to choose leaders at all levels, who recognize the need for rational discussions on what they as leaders and we as a people can do to solve the litany of problems that face our nation. We must make our decisions based on humanity and not politics. Choose to listen for our commonalities so that we can respect our differences. Let us choose unified and stronger over divided and conquered.

Unity….But How?

Yesterday I wrote my optimistic blog. I talked about new opportunities and not dragging the past with us but rather living in the now and for the future. I wrote that opportunities exist if we are willing to look for them. But I also spoke to the divisiveness that permeates our everyday news and conversations. Safe to say that many of us have even lost friends to that rift that has been created. So how do we heal that wound? How do we bring a divided nation even just a little bit back together. Much of what I hear blames our political parties and the leaders that seem at odds. Many would blame the media and its at times biased reporting. Still others lay the blame on social media and its innate ability to flame the hateful rhetoric.

The truth of the matter is that though some of the blame lies with those three scape goats, much of it lies with us. We ARE the media for we can tune in the station that voices our opinion while tuning out the rest. WE elected those politicians, not just with our votes but also by the products and services we purchased from those same corporations that funded their campaigns. We ARE social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all of the rest are merely the pen and paper we use to publish our ideas, and all too often our disinformation, slander, and inadvertently, our hate.

I have thought about these things and have come close to writing this piece on many occasions only to have the words escape me or the moment pass. My solution will likely be thought to be too simple, but aren’t the best solutions usually the simplest? What we need is to first acknowledge to be true those things I stated above. Next, we need to decide that we are not satisfied with who or where we are and finally, having realized that, we act. We act in one unified voice. We state the positive. We check ourselves before we speak, before we write, before we like, before we share. If we want our leaders to hear our voice, we must speak clearly and rationally. We must send the message that we think America can be better. We are the greatest nation on earth, but we CAN do better. We see the inequities within our society but we look to politicians and companies to fix them. They either cannot or will not do this. We must be engaged in and modeling that equality. We cannot stand silent when those that would abuse those rights, do so. We must collectively be kind, fair, and deliberate in the messages we post, in the conversations we have, especially within those groups where we find the safety of anonymity, and also in the actions we model for our children and grandchildren. If we are to be the media, let us make sure that we are not the fake news.

The list of issues we can address as a nation are many. The task of fixing or improving them can be expensive. The effort to accomplish them may seem herculean. But the process is simple at its basic level. We need to speak in one unified and positive voice. We need to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve our ultimate goals. And we need to act as individuals to start the movement towards acting as a community. All I ask is that we examine ourselves and then, where we find ourselves wanting, commit to making changes. One conversation, one like, one post, one share at a time. The little things added together will make big changes happen. Commit then to unity.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel

This past week we traveled to the Mauston area to ride the Sparta Elroy Bike Trail. For novices who have never experienced the trail, it runs some 30 miles between Sparta at the northern end and Elroy at the southern end. On the way you bike along the old railbed of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, passing through its three tunnels along the way. Considered the oldest rail to trail in the U.S., it offers welcoming tree lined canopies and historic bridge crossings as it travels through the five villages along the route. On our first day, our ride took us from Sparta, through two of the three tunnels, eventually reaching Wilton. On the way in and nine miles from our starting point, we reached Tunnel 3, the longest tunnel on the trail. At 3/4 of a mile in length, our first view of the tunnel left us wondering what this walk through it would entail. The one thing that encouraged us was that their actually was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was very dim and very small, but it was there telling us that we would eventually reach the end.

But this isn’t meant to be a travelogue. Rather it is meant to be an allegory. The light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of life in these Covid-19 times. In late February or early March, depending on your point of reference, we entered a tunnel the pandemic had created. We had and still don’t have an idea of just how long this tunnel will be. But we had no choice other than to enter it. Now, going on eight months in our tunnel, we are anxiously looking for the light at the end of it. Pessimists will tell us there is no end in sight, no light that they can see. Optimists will ask us to believe that we are just about there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, where in fact, we might actually be. Here’s the rub. We can actually control how long we will spend in the tunnel. The key is responsible behavior. No one denies that the pandemic exists. We can argue about who it impacts more, about how bad it really is, or what will eventually cause it to end, but what we need to do is clear. We need to be cautious. We need to protect ourselves while protecting others. In short we need to take responsibility in the battle to end this pandemic, to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is there, it’s just that it won’t be clearly visible until we get ourselves closer to the end.

As we walked our bikes through the darkness and falling water of the tunnel, that light at the end of the tunnel just kept growing larger, urging us on. Each step took us closer to the end of the tunnel and with each one of those steps, the light grew closer and brighter. Eventually we reached the last hundred feet of the tunnel and sunlight now flooded the tunnel floor. We were never worried that we wouldn’t make it but we were still relieved to be out of the tunnel, back in the sunlight, and back on our ride.

This Covid-19 tunnel that we find ourselves in will eventually come to an end. How soon it does in fact depends on us. On our collective behavior. On our willingness to sacrifice some of our freedoms to bring this to a quicker end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to keep moving toward it.

Just Wear It

If we were asked to describe America with a single word it would more than likely be “freedom”. In America we have the freedom to state our opinion, no matter how controversial. We have the freedom to practice what ever religion we choose, or for that matter, no religion at all. We have the freedom to come and go as we please, to vote for and elect the people who would govern us, and yes, we have the freedom to own a gun if we so choose. The only true limit to our freedom is that we must respect the rights of others and do no harm by the exercise of our own freedom.

It has always been obvious that we owe these freedoms to the men and women who would sacrifice to protect those freedoms for us all, in some cases, to sacrifice their all. We honor our veterans and our current military personnel. Since the pandemic, we have for the most part honored our health care workers who have placed themselves in harms way as they fight to save the lives of those infected by the virus.

With that as my backdrop, I am perplexed by a behavior too many of us have adopted. We want the freedom of returning to our jobs, to our schools and churches, to the way of life we called normal. We honor all the people I mentioned above for the sacrifice they were and are willing to make for OUR good. So why, when we are asked to make a few simple sacrifices to stop this pandemic, some of us can’t seem to see fit to make them. We shout that masks are denying our freedom. We complain that schools must open whether they can promise to do it safely or not. We demand that we have the luxury to go back to socializing the way we did before the pandemic. If we want these freedoms, we must also be willing to sacrifice; social distancing in public, accepting limitations on service and yes, wearing a mask in public. Are any of these so hard to do? Are they really demands or just common sense? Isn’t it just a means to an end of something we all want ended?

Nike promoted the mantra, “Just Do It.” I am promoting this. We all want our freedoms intact, especially the pursuit of health and happiness. Help me protect you and in turn help to protect me. If we can be willing to sacrifice a little to end this plague, we will all have the hope of a healthy life and happier one in the long run.

Don’t tell me you have a mask, “Just Wear It.”

I Should Know Better……

This has been a historic time for all of us. First we are subjected to a pandemic. Isolation, quarantine and new normal are all we can talk about. Every night we are bombarded on the evening news with the daily statistics and every story leads right back to the pandemic. We try to escape it through social media with creative ideas and clever stories of how we are spending our quarantine time. These social media efforts are at least humorous and help us to relieve the stress but the reality lies thinly hidden behind those clever posts and tweets.

And then the next shoe drops. Through the unfathomable decision by one individual, the ugly reality of racism is thrown in the mix. The reaction is predictable but the scope still takes us all by surprise. But it shouldn’t have. We have spent lifetimes trying first to justify it, then denying it and eventually pretending to not accept racism. While there are those who openly demonstrate their bigotry, the majority of people falsely believe, that though it exists, it certainly doesn’t exist in them. We desperately want to believe that we not only have no biases, but that we are supportive and have worked to reduce the effects of racism in our culture. And yet???? Why do we still unconsciously stereotype black people?

I am one of those and feel the need to confess. Anyone who knows me, knows that I believe in equality among all humans, no matter race, gender or religion. And yet, I was reminded just the other day that I am not so innocent. We were watching a show focused on Black Lives Matter. One of the segments was an interview of a black pro athlete who was speaking of a program designed to answer the ‘uncomfortable questions’. As the interview proceeded, I turned to my wife and said “He certainly is articulate.” I was immediately called out by my daughter. “Why would I have felt he wouldn’t be”, she asked? Because he was a football player? Or was it because he was black? Or worse yet, because he was a black athlete? My first response was to quantify what I had said. But as I began to formulate my excuse, the reality of the situation hit me. That and the fact that I was not the politically correct, unbiased supportive person I wanted to believe I was. I started hearing myself saying “I have several black friends.” Why did I need to attach the adjective?

We all see and recognize the racism when it is blatant. We all wonder how anyone can feel that way? Some of us even take up the charge and march alongside other supporters as they protest the total inequity of the treatment. But change won’t take place if we simply succeed in silencing the racists, a task that is anything but simple. Change needs to be systemic. We need to look at ourselves and ask how can I drop the stereotyping and change the narrative. In many ways, it is the day to day narrative, the unintentional stereotyping and the acceptance of the black person’s plight that cuts the deepest and creates the environment we so desperately need to repair. Why go out of our way to identify someone as my black friend, or a black athlete or a black titan of industry. Why can’t we simply drop the adjective and acknowledge the individual for who they are and not what they are. Until we do that, we continue to give room for the racist to breathe their message of hate and for society to fail at honoring our Declaration of Independence, “All men (people) are created equal.” But not until we treat them as such.

The Way Back Seat

Quite awhile back I attempted to write a piece about the way back seat but couldn’t get it to work until now.  For those readers who are somehow too young to know what I mean, let me enlighten you.  The way back seat is not the one we think of in the SUV’s of today that have the third row seating and for that matter not even that rear seat of the mini van era.  Rather it was the rear facing seat in the old station wagons some of our parents drove.  Ours was in a yellow 1964 Ford Galaxy station wagon.  Now a days, the line is “shotgun” as riders fight for the ride in the front passenger seat.  Back then we would fight for that marvelous seat in the rear of the car we lovingly referred to as the “way back seat.”

We got two advantages when securing that seat.  One, we were well out of the reach of the long arm of the law, dad’s arm.  Two, we got to watch the countryside retreat into the distance from our vantage point there in the back seat. This usually, as we hurtled down the road on our way to some aunt or uncle’s house.

Now this is not a safety message or a “how did we ever survive our childhood” story, though the thought has crossed my mind many times since.  Truthfully, we had ample opportunities to face our mortality without the aid of the way back seat, at least I did for all of my antics growing up.  No, this is actually about the view.

As I have aged, I have come to realize that trying to fix our past doesn’t accomplish much more than regret.  Don’t misunderstand me, I adhere to the statement “those who don’t learn history, are doomed to repeat it.”  We must recognize the mistakes we have made and make every effort to learn from them and then to not repeat them.  But we can’t change the past.

So where does that leave me.  The view from that back seat was entertaining but it was where we had been and not where we were going.  That view was from the front seat.  The point I am going to make, is that we can’t relive the past but we can change the future.

On November 6th, we will ALL have the chance to vote.  Regardless of race or gender, if we are of voting age, we will have the constitutional right to vote.  Sadly, too many of us will be in the rear seat being nostalgic and will in fact, not vote.  We will make excuses like, “it is too hard to choose” or “I haven’t got time” or maybe “it just doesn’t matter.”  We will leave the decision to those riding shotgun to figure out where we are going.  The truth of the matter is that they will take us where THEY are going.

This November 6th, I am asking you to vote, to make a decision in your future through those that you would have define it.  You see, your vote does matter and it is your duty to see that it is counted.  Sitting in the way back seat, waxing nostalgic, is not the best option.  We cannot change the past but we can affect the future.  Not just for us but for all who are counting on us, counting on your vote.

Go to the polls, cast your vote.  I am willing to take the risk that you might not vote the same way I do.  I feel that strongly about the process of electing our officials.  But, who knows, if I am lucky, you just might vote the same way I do and together our votes and the votes of others will be counted and our future might just be a little more in our control.

So on election day, I invite you to ride shotgun and help us all figure out where we, as a free nation, just might be going.

The Journey Awaits

We are sitting in the Minneapolis airport tonight, eagerly anticipating our eight hour trip to Amsterdam.  It is mind boggling how small the world has become and how globally we have all evolved.  An ocean between continents is a mere pond jump in today’s travel times.

We have anticipated this trip for six months and yet it was just not real until my younger daughter deposited us at the airport and admonished us, as grown daughters are now entitled, to stay out of trouble, be safe and enjoy ourselves.  We will be in Europe tomorrow morning, sometime.  I say this because while my wife laid out all the plans, I stayed blissfully unaware of the details.  In fact just the other day when asked where we were flying through, my response was “the air?”  After several days exploring Amsterdam, we will hopefully board our boat for a tour down the Rhine River.  I say hopefully for we were warned just yesterday that due to low water levels our boat ride may become a bus or train ride.  We remain hopeful but are also steeled to make the best of whatever awaits.

Adela out to sea

Hopefully not our Captain…..or our boat.

So Europe awaits.  Castles, mountains and cities older than any of our time frames in America will unfold before us.  My goal will be to document the sites and scenes and to mingle with the people we meet along the way.  My daughter, Kathryn, told me some time ago that the secret was to be in front of the camera and not behind it.  The tourist sees only what is presented to them but the traveler experiences the people and their culture.  When tomorrow finally arrives, I want to be in front of the camera.

Now if we could just get a plane in our gate.

Stay tuned.

Heart Sick

I have deliberately waited to write this piece.  The emotions are still too raw.  Last week while on vacation, I turned on the TV to view yet another senseless school shooting at Parkland High School just a stones throw from where we were staying in Florida.  Fourteen innocent students and three faculty members were killed while over a dozen others were wounded by a self proclaimed “school shooter”.  We will blame this on a muriad of reasons but the simple truth is that a willing individual had the tool to carry out his plan of destruction.  But this is not the destruction of some inanimate object, it is the destruction of human life and the countless lives that life touched and would have touched.  It is the destruction of families and friends and ultimately the trust that innocent students would be safe in their schools.

Reaction was swift and filled with rhetoric.  “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I am not saying that prayers are not necessary but they cannot be the only response.  And they weren’t.  There was the usual knee jerk reaction that we need to arm schools, have more “shooter drills” and spend more money on school security issues.  And again, I am not saying that these security issues haven’t become the new necessary protocal, though arming schools is an abomination.  Our children and educators should not have to be trained to become an armed camp.  In some ways they are being made the culprit for not being armed when they were in fact the victim.  Lets not lose sight of this.  The real issue here is the gun in question, the AR 15 assualt rifle.  There is simply no reason for an individual to own an assault rifle unless you are in the military or law enforcement.

I live in a state where my legislators want no waiting period to buy a weapon.  In addition, they would cut spending that specifically reduces the mental health offerings that are clearly another symptom of these school shootings.  How can we in good conscience claim that we are addressing this problem when we make it easier to obtain a gun and specifically an assault rifle.

And here comes the standard disclaimer.  I grew up in a family where my father had several hunting rifles and married into a family where sport hunting is a major activity.  I have countless friends who are hunters and own guns for this purpose.   I am not against these guns nor would I advocate for their unlawful siezure.  That said, none of my family members owned or saw a need to own an assualt weapon.  An assualt weapon has one and only one purpose and that is to efficiently kill another person.  They are not hunting weapons.  I know the push back will be the person who says but I only target practice or collect them.  I am sorry but the collection of children targeted and killed in school shootings by the AR 15 has become epidemic.  Can we really advocate that our right to own one supercedes their right to life?

We have banned fully automatic rifles.  It is time to do the right thing.  It is time to be courageous in the face of the cowardly use of and argument against banning the AR 15 as well.  I can hear the argument and I’ll even pose it.  If we ban them, what about all the ones still in ownership out there?  My response, it is the first step and one that is sinfully long overdue.  Only by stopping the proliferation can we ever hope to ultimately remove the threat.  I applaud the students who are now stepping into the outcry.  They show the very maturity and conviction that we sent them to school to develop.  I only pray that we will not simply write their movement off.  We need our lawmakers to listen but listening without action is a placebo.

The victims of these shootings were generally too young to even vote.  They depended on us to do the right thing with our votes.  I for one will not ignore that responsibility.  I will continue to vote with conviction for those legislators that will take on the courageous battle for educated, sane and meaningful gun legislation.  These are our children that these families are burying this week.  To pretend they are not and to simply send thoughts and prayers without action is cowardly.  For my own children and my grandchildren, their future must change.

What can one person do……….

Our church is in the middle of a four part educational class led by Kathy Michaelis that sheds light on racial discrimination.  My wife and I were in attendance and the effect of the class is profound.  I am hoping that you are not sitting back finding reasons to not read my blog today.  Reasons like “I would never discriminate” or “I am not racist” or “Here we go again”.  I will be the first to deny any leaning toward discrimination and I am betting that better than 99% of the people I call friends and aquaintenances would say the same.  The problem is even when we don’t actively discriminate we support a system by our silence or inaction, that inheritantly does.  The system doesn’t intend to, but the truth is that after over 150 years since slavery was abolished with the 13th ammendment, a clearly unequal playing field still exists.  Even when we have laws to guard against it, the system has a long way to go to be equalized.  For reference to the divide between net worth for African Americans and whites I will ask you to check out this YouTube video:  Race: Power of an Illusion “The house you live in”.  It will go through how lending and building expansion was skewed to make it almost impossible for African Americans to own property let alone create equity.  Equity in our economic society is what in most cases describes the majority of our net worth and allows us to create leverage for our purchasing power.

Kathy used this video in week two to highlight the inequitable policies of the building boom of the post WWII era and how the result of those policies are still felt today.  I consider myself history smart, but the revelations were not only shocking but almost depressing when I am forced to ask the question “but what can one person do?”  As a class we passionately discussed this question.  The conversation was at times overwhelming.  It is too easy to ignore the realities of life as it exist in our society.  It is too easy to pretend there is no such thing as “white priviledge” or worse yet to defend it as something we have earned.  Don’t take this the wrong way.  White priviledge is not an insult or a statement meant to elicit guilt.  It is just a fact and as such, gives me a head start in the race.  There is an activity described as “the race for the $100 bill”.  A $100 bill is laid out and the participants are asked to line up for the race to see who can get to the bill first.  Before the race begins, the starter states that “if you come from a stable family with two parents” take one step forward.  If your parents both have jobs, take another step forward.  If you know where your meal will come from tonight, take yet another step forward.  And so on.  White priviledge becomes painfully obvious.  By now you are getting my point.  We can blame poverty or education.  You can claim that they don’t take the initiative.  You can find a hundred reasons to hide behind but the truth of the matter is that the race was never fair.  They started late and have to take off from behind the line.  Whether you believe in profiling or not, the percentage of blacks incarcerated is completely disproportionate by any statistic.  And when that incarceration creates yet another child growing up in a single parent home, well you get my drift.

So what can a person do?   I have my opinion and I am compelled to share it if only for the hope that someone will take it as a place to start.  I think that there are four things that we can do and is at least a place to start.

One, we can act individually.  We can take the initiative to help even one individual to get ahead or at least get up to the starting line.  If we are in the position to make a life changing decision, like hiring, then consider stepping into the role.

Two, we have a vote and we must exercise it.  But here is the rub, just voting to vote accomplishes very little.  We must be educated to the campaign promises and the pressures of the party line on the candidates we choose.  At times we must be willing to make sacrifices with our vote.  I once told someone that if I wanted to get elected the first promise I make is to cut your taxes.  No one wants to pay taxes but it is a sacrifice that is demanded of those who can, to provide the revenue through taxes that ultimately protects, preserves and improves the society, culture and infrastructures we live and thrive in.  On this front I have a clean conscience.  I have voted in favor of referendums that would raise my taxes.  I have looked for and supported candidates that would favor programs and laws that would seek to provide for and improve the lives of those in need even when it meant I would see my taxes increased.  I don’t relish paying the taxes I pay but I do it without complaint and feel better for it.

Three, donate and volunteer in the programs that will take us in a better direction, assist those unable to overcome their inherited plight and ultimately begin to truly level the playing field for all.  If you have the financial resources, give generously from that head start that you had.  If the financial resources aren’t there, then donate with your hands and feet.  Either way or both ways, your actions are a start to the long road ahead.  If it took 150 years and this is all the farther we have come, there is plenty of work and unfortunately, time ahead of us.

And four, educate yourself and anyone else that will listen.  Start by sharing this blog, but don’t stop there.  Volunteer to repeat this process in your church or school or any other organization.  There is a wealth of information out there and the education process has to be nurtured.  At the very least, assist schools when they broach the subject, be supportive with your time, dollars and your vote.

The solution starts with individuals.  Think of yourself as that seed you put in the pot of soil.  If you command the seed to grow and then ignore the whole thing, odds are it won’t.  If on the other hand you water it, even fertilize it and at the very least pay attention to it, you just might see it succeed.  Please remember that dispair is the last step on the road to giving up.  Don’t dispair, believe that you are not alone and take the first step in the other direction.