Saturday, September 16, 2017

Battling the urge to over-simplify and do nothing

Yesterday my friend informed me that riots were happening in a town nearby. She explained a situation that involved a cop who had shot a Black drug dealer, allegedly in self-defense. After researching the situation more, it seemed clear to her that the cop was in the wrong and still got off.* This led to the riots near her home. She told me that she didn't understand why the Black community would riot and make themselves look bad by reacting this way.

This is something I hear a lot.

Why do these underprivileged people who face real injustice react to injustice through rage? Why are they doing this to themselves? Don't they know they're just buying into all the racist stuff out there? Don't they know that the peaceful route will lead to change? They just need to keep their heads down and go through things the proper way and eventually justice will take its course.

Yet, the case above does not persuade me to believe that. Neither do several cases of police brutality we've seen in the past few years. Neither does this story I just watched today:

It's scary that this level of racism is becoming mainstream again. I realize it's always been there in the background, but I'm horrified that some of the ugliest moments in our country's history are resurfacing with greater frequency. (Supposing that the coverage of these events has been static since the civil rights movement.) I thought we had thoroughly shamed confederates and Nazis... I digress.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have your loved one killed or nearly killed and hear authorities sympathizing with the perpetrator. It must feel lonely. It must feel alienating to hear your non-Black friends try and rationalize something that is clearly unfair and wrong. It would be really easy to start thinking in terms of us vs. them. It would be easy to feel like you need to do something big to get people to listen. It would be easy to do everything the wrong way and feel justified.

While this line of thought is scattered with thinking errors and does not in any way justify violence, I think it is useful to try and understand the experiences of those who are hurting. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we simplify the suffering of groups of people, especially those groups with whom we interact every day.

My heart is heavy. After watching the clip above, I felt like I should pray about it because I didn't know what else to do with what I was feeling. While I prayed, I thought of a scripture in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 6) that was related to our day. As I read through the scripture, I added a few italicized lines that I thought were applicable to our situation. The italicized lines are not in the original.
10 But it came to pass in the two thousand and seventeenth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. These ranks were also determined by the color of their skin; yea, many were overlooked because of their darker skin, and others were privileged because of their fair skin. 
12a Many merchants, lawyers, and officers were of higher rank; yeah, they had riches, chances for learning, and were fair-skinned. Some of these merchants, lawyers, and officers gave favors to those of higher ranks and overlooked those of lesser ranks. 
13 Some of those of lesser ranks were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land… Men began to rise up and form groups and alliances against one another; yea, one organization blamed another for the state of contention in the land. Brother fought against brother and rank fought against rank at first only in word. Some groups then took up arms against other groups and others pled for peace. And thus there began again to be riots and all manner of contention among the people.
I'm reminded of a monologue about a victim of a riot. I posted this on another blog because it's one of my favorites, so you might recognize it if you read that blog. This monologue comes from an interview of Korean victim of the LA Riots. It ends at 18:35. There are other monologues in this set that are worth a watch.

Can you imagine what good we could do if we reached out to the marginalized and tried to understand their perspective? (On another note, can you imagine how much better our legal system would be if bad people of every rank people were held accountable for their actions??? But getting back to smaller, easier goals...) 

Maybe I'm just a naive little "snowflake," but I believe in community healing through open dialogue. I believe that building a Zion-like community (Mormon term) comes from battling the assumption that the only people you can trust look and sound like you or believe the same things you do. I believe that change doesn't come from standing idly by.

More from Birmingham Jail (you might notice I referenced this same letter in another blog post... sue me.)
"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
I love this idea of the "myth of time," or that Time is magically working to unravel all problems in our society. That the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis of our social realities will gradually lead to a higher status of human understanding (I think this called something like the dialectic of time? Please refresh my memory, sociology friends.).  I hear a strain of it regularly in the LDS community--that things will work out in the eternities, so don't fret. The problem with the myth of time is that it robs us of our power as autonomous individuals that can purposefully make the world a better place. Time is not a harbinger of change; people are. And God is the harbinger of progress. My belief is that God works through people to bring about the best changes.

A cool example of two unlikely groups interacting in a positive way:

*Editor's Note: After I wrote this entry, I spoke to the friend referenced earlier and asked permission to include her thoughts in this blog post anonymously. She informed me that I misheard her. She said that she had not done very much "research"--reading an article or two for the sake assessing how safe her community was--and had come to the conclusion that the evidence against the cop wasn't very convincing and the cop really had acted in self-defense. I myself haven't read anything about this particular case (I've been a bit caught up with natural disasters lately) but I think the direction of my thoughts would have been the same when she asked why the Black community was making themselves look bad. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Here's to stepping it up, or rather, back to normal?

To say that I'm disappointed with the results of the election is an understatement. There are some great articles and analyses about Trump out there that can really make you feel pessimistic about our future, but it's pointless and depressing to waste my time rehashing that. I feel it would be better to focus on something that is within our power to change. I would like to share my growing concerns for our society and my hope in humanity.

For the first time in my short life, I am starting to see the fragility of our social structures. I've taken for granted how everything in my world operates according to a set of social rules and norms and I've assumed those rules and norms would remain in place my entire life. I've thought of social, economic, and political meltdowns as far separated from my reality because...well, we've grown past all that in my modern America. And it's been easy for me to feel that way because I've been privileged enough to come from a background that was safe and followed all those rules. I have high hopes I'll never experience first-hand that space of no rules, cruel rules, or survival rules.

Maybe I've lived a sheltered life that doesn't reflect reality, but I am still shocked at the blatant bigotry and hatred that has reared its ugly head during Trump's candidacy. Trump has become a symbol for some of resetting the social norm to keep those feelings and behaviors checked and/or hidden from public eye. While you may not like the idea of a social force suppressing honest feelings, that social force creates a semblance of peace and acceptance for those who are the object of that hate. It would be great if everyone deep down loved everyone else, but in the meantime we could at least rely on law for bigger things and social norms for all other day-to-day interactions. It's not perfect, but those social norms (i.e., intolerance toward all isms and hate-speech) keep us safe.

As it is now, I fear for the divisiveness that is eating at our hearts, building intolerance and distrust in place of empathy and brotherly kindness. I fear that in the midst of grouping into our own teams, one team member will bite and the other team will bite back. 

I fear that one or more groups will become the scapegoat to all of our problems. 

While Trump may become less incendiary now that he has secured the presidency, there is a disturbed beehive of social rules that may be shifting, and hopefully only temporarily. He spoke of unifying as a nation and Secretary Clinton echoed similar thoughts. This gives me hope.

It also gives me hope that this country as been through a crap ton of hard times already and has a good record of rising above. It gives me hope that we have a rich history of under-privileged citizens and oppressed groups defying the old norms, changing them for the better, and/or responding with love to those acts of hatred and intolerance. We have a history of good people doing what they can to support those who are oppressed and raising their voices even when they could follow a safer path.

While things are still fresh, we can prevent harmful norms from returning to our society. We can become advocates and allies to neighbors who are targeted while remembering love and acceptance to those less accepting. I like the step-by-step guide I've seen online for those who wish to help:
1. If you see someone being harassed, do something. That could be as simple as sitting next to them on the bus and starting a conversation with them to try and block out the hate.
2. If you hear a colleague, friend, acquaintance spewing hate speech, confront them. Explain you disagree and find what they are saying harmful.
3. If you have a colleague / friend / acquaintance with a similar commute path as you, offer to ride the bus/train together if they are feeling at risk.

Maybe the shift I fear is much smaller than I think or just a hiccup. Maybe I'm getting worked up for something inconsequential. I'd love to be needlessly concerned. Either way, there is no harm in being more accepting and helpful to those less privileged than you or me. Here's a little inspiration from Birmingham Jail:
"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial 'outside agitator' idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


There's this catch-phrase going around called "adulting."

I just filed my taxes. #adulting

Last semester before I work for the rest of my life! #adulting

We bought a house! #adulting

Cooking for the in-laws. <3 <3 #adulting

Changed my baby's diaper again.  #adulting

Paying my bills on time. ;) #adulting #responsible #adultingresponsibly

I think that the hashtag is meant to distract readers from realizing that the post isn't that interesting or funny. But then, that's kind of what all hashtags do.

Pizza with the roomies! #yolo 

(Other hashtags seem to function like parentheses, e.g., #sorrynotsorry, #sarcasm, #seewhatIdidthere) We certainly take great pains to make sure that we are perceived well and correctly. I can't judge though. I am all too familiar with instacurity.

Maybe #adulting bugs me more than other hashtags because its a made-up word that could be easily replaced by #adulthood. Like I said, most posts with hashtags are uninteresting, and I'm not bugged by those ones. In fact, I can relate to that feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing adult things for the first time. Facebook was made for announcements, and any event that gives you a sense of accomplishment ought to be shared with friends. #notsarcasm

Or maybe I am simply displacing my discomfort with growing up onto an innocent catch-phrase. I'm resisting the trend to complain/celebrate/bond about adulthood with others because I'm in denial about how tough it is. I naively thought I had adulthood figured out, but then I graduated, got married, and moved across the country.

JUST to be clear (and so I don't get concerned texts or phone calls), I am very happy. I mean that in the emotional sense and in the "I'm satisfied with my life" sense. We are truly blessed and we hardly deserve it. That doesn't mean that I haven't had an emotional breakdown every week, it just means that there are big adjustments to be made.

I suddenly have so much respect for every breadwinner out there who has the weight of providing for more than him or herself. I also have a deeper appreciation for the courage required to pursue one's dreams in the face of an over-saturated market. Even if I end up hating my job or career, I don't think I would be brave enough to try something completely different even if I loved that thing.

I think I'm also really homesick.

The other day, I saw a friend post a picture of herself starting the new semester at BYU. She had a huge smile and you could see the sun shining behind her on a beautiful campus I call home. I almost cried.

Even though I sometimes criticize BYU or roll my eyes at the Mormon worship of BYU, I can't deny that it holds a hallowed place in my heart. I had new responsibilities, sure, but it was liberating to be on my own. (The origin of my feelings that adulthood was easy).

BYU was a place I felt free to explore, wonder, and become something more. I was encouraged to think critically and develop, re-develop, and continue re-developing my thoughts and ideas. My testimony of the gospel was challenged by new knowledge but also strengthened as a result. I learned new social rules. I could be surrounded by people or alone if I wanted, and nobody would care. I discovered there that you could have meaningful conversations with strangers (and often never talk to them again). It was a place safety. I felt peace in most of the buildings that I sometimes couldn't at my apartment. I could go to the temple nearby when I needed more peace. I could go on...

I was feeling nostalgic the other day as I went through pictures of my freshman year. One image brought me back to a night I went to International Cinema with a new friend.  That night, I made the mistake of wearing cotton flats right after it had rained. We probably hit every icy puddle walking from old heritage halls to the SWKT, but that probably made it more exciting. It was a Friday night, and I was going to a movie on a whim with whomever I wanted, just because. I also felt very academic and indie.

By the time the movie ended, it had snowed about 6 inches. My feet were already a drenched in puddle water, but I had warmed them to a comfortable temperature during the movie. It was like... somebody had peed on my flats. I covered my feet in the new trash linings hidden underneath the used ones in the hall, and dashed outside to a winter wonderland.

It was SO beautiful. Without any wind to toss the snow, it perfectly draped the trees and the light posts. I was in awe. I paused several times on my way back while my pee shoes started to harden inside their bags. It was like a little present to me: "Welcome to a new era. You may get frostbite, but boy is it beautiful."

That sense of excitement and newness faded little by little as time passed, but the feeling of home never did. By grad school, I was jealously possessive of my home because I felt like I was being kicked out. Against my will, they were passing the title to younger students. What use did I have of its many buildings?? I only needed one or two anymore, and soon I wouldn't need them at all.

So the homesickness really kicked in before I moved. Maybe it's a good thing I can't visit all the time.

(Side note... I think I slept in every building I had a class and then some...That's like seven buildings... And I ate on campus at least five days of the week for most of my undergrad... It really WAS like a home!!!)

[Back to adulthood...]

I think the biggest difference between the adulthood I experienced going to BYU and now is that the excitement is replaced by fear. And maybe that's the biggest indicator of being an adult is that you have a greater sense of everything that can go wrong and you fear it. Maybe that's why it has a bad rep.

It doesn't have to be that way though. If you learned anything from my story, I had the option of despairing with my impending frostbite, but I was too distracted by a fancy tree. I shouldn't look out the window and see breathable water and mosquitoes, I should instead focus on all of the green and natural beauty of Missouri.

I guess.

Maybe I just need to see a really fancy Midwest tree. That'd probably make everything more exciting.

Canute is a dinosaur in his dreams.