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Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Moment Of Outrage

It is inevitable that shortly after a massive shooting the volume of the gun control debate increases. It’s not that shootings don’t occur every single day. It’s not even that victims don’t amount to the double digits every day. Our response is more connected to how and where a critical mass was attacked. We are understandably shaken to the core to consider the fact that we too have been to; movie theaters, high schools, daycare centers or grocery stores. It is completely natural and normal to respond strongly to something to which we can personally relate. We may (fortunately) have never lived in a neighborhood rife with gun violence. We may have never played in parks where gun toting teens hangout. But when violence happens to people not associated with “unfortunate circumstances” we pay attention. Headlines are rarely grabbed for what we consider commonplace. (Case in point: a house fire that killed three children and two adults in Connecticut was on the front page [literally and figuratively] for days if not weeks. A house fire killing three children and two adults in Newark is on page 17 today.) Considering that change often occurs when people in power decide to make a difference, we have the luxury of seeing this inequity in a positive light.

Most of us would agree that there are people who enjoy guns. They like to hunt, or collect or grab this particular right as if it’s all they have left of the American Dream. But anyone who states (with a straight face) that how we should deal with a mad gunman using semi-automatic weaponry is by arming everyone with a handgun is not a gun enthusiast. They are lots of other things; but not a gun enthusiast. Even if all those teens (and babies) and suburban adult moviegoers were sharp shooters they could not neutralize the affects of a madmen with semi-automatic weaponry. Even movies that glamorize violence are more realistic than that. There is no legitimate reason (which I can discern) why semi-automatic weapons fall under any right to bear arms protection. There is no rational reason that it is so very easy to purchase such weaponry.

We would be much further along in the gun control conversation if we focus on classes of firearm. If we decide as a society that we as individuals are not “entitled” to weapons of warfare we would be much further ahead.

As critical as examining the sanity of the weaponry ‘free market’ is how we examine and treat the mentally ill. How many times do we turn a blind eye to that woman or man who seems off? How many times has a seriously mentally ill person been turned away from a facility because they are not in immediate danger? How many institutions employ or teach very fragile individuals without providing them support? Why are we so frightened of mental health issues? We were shamed into tearing down the worst of our nation’s snake pits and walked away relieved. “Well, that’s done!” We have done nothing concrete or systemic since deinstitutionalization. People of good intentions try to help individuals and are often left in a labyrinth of closed doors and catch-22s. The system is designed to protect the rights of the mentally ill individual. By definition someone experiencing mental illness is not in his/her right mind. Somewhere between the snake pits of yesteryear and the benign neglect of today lie compassion, humanity and a solution.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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People Let Me Tell You ‘Bout Children Of ‘Single Parents’

Periodically a new study is published about the affects of single parenting on children. The results (either pursued or emphasized) are pretty much tied to the times. Studies today often highlight the economic hardship and handicap of single parenting. When pop-psychology was king (I’m okay, you’re okay, anyone?) the happiness of the child and later social adjustment were measured. The common thread in most of these studies is; “How does the child fare later on?” Very few studies, whether looking to support the researcher’s thoughts on money and happiness or not, ever looked beyond a headcount. It is rare to see a study that takes into consideration (or has any interest in) what the actual parenting situation is for the child.

“Child of a single parent” can have multiple meanings, among them are; 1) the parent could be recently widowed and the child was raised by two parents at some point or 2) the parent might be divorced and there is a non-custodial parent very much involved in the child’s life. There are studies that might even “overlook” the fact that non-married people (of the same gender or not) are raising a child together, and consider the child to be of a single parent. Certainly many researchers reporting on the permanent scarring and emotional handicap of parents’ divorcing never discuss remarriage. “A child of divorce” could easily be raised by two parents in the home if there is a remarriage. The actual details of a child’s upbringing and parentage seem too complex for these studies. A cynic would deduce that these studies exist to reinforce a researchers’ interest in making people feel badly about their life. A less cynical person would theorize that these broad generalizations are useful to someone somewhere.

There is a recent trend of people intentionally parenting alone. Tragedy has not befallen them nor has abandonment. These people, for various reasons have pursued single parenthood. Within this category alone, are variations that might boggle the average social researcher. These single parents may be men or women of any and every socio-economic background and age. They may have adopted babies or hard to place children. They may have become pregnant (more than once) with a partner they did not marry. They may have orchestrated a pregnancy (either genetically related or not) with medical assistance. Clearly there are more meaningful factors in these child’s future outcomes than how many adults are in the home. Should the biological child of a single 16 year old parent be seen as “starting from the same place” as the adopted child of a 50 year old? Maybe.

As a culture we’ve progressed in how we define ‘family.’ At the same time marriage is becoming more inclusive it is also becoming less relevant for others. Remarriage, blended families, birth parents, and donor parents are all in the mix now. Is there a way to talk about children of single parents in any meaningful way? Is it even meaningful to try? I think we’d all agree that the more caring, consistent and attentive adults in a child’s life the better. Most of us would also agree that a child who grows up in a home with an emphasis on education will do better in school. Money will always matter, and a child whose families’ financial life is precarious will probably not do as well as one raised in a financially stable home. What more do we need to know?

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Wedding Announcement Theory: 101

It has been said that for some, wedding announcements are comparable to sport pages. What little I know of sport or its dedicated sections, I suspect there is a similarity in the density of statistics in both narratives. If you have any interest in human behavior or family dynamics; wedding announcements are a treasure trove, Hours can simply slip away as you theorize how people live and love. Areas of theoretic discipline are usually divided into; “how did parents of ‘x’ professional background raise a child of ‘y’ professional inclinations?”, “spouse #1 family background is diametrically opposite spouse #2 family background; what will their Thanksgivings be like?”, “both spouses are artists without benefit of employment; how do they live?” There is enough rich content in the average Sunday style supplement, that a hard-core wedding theorist would never waste time reading the generic couples. Rarely is there intrigue (that makes into the social section of the newspaper) about couples from old families or from rarefied locations. The real sport is in theorizing around breaking of traditions and expectations.

The tradition itself of wedding announcements is not that old and has evolved in a surprisingly timely fashion. Stepparents are now included in the details as are the qualifications of the officiant. (As anyone without benefit of any certification can ‘perform’ a wedding ceremony, it is always interesting to read the qualifying statements that follow an officiant’s name:) “George Jetson, the groom’s father’s friend from college, but not the first college he attended and didn’t do so well, but that other one, received his ordination from ‘doyouhaveawitness.com’ and performed the marriage along with the couple’s two myna birds (from a previous marriage)”

Scattered throughout the announcements are also “announca-stories”; little vignettes meant to inspire or placate someone important. These announca-stories are by and large rather dull, but periodically there is some actual data woven into the narrative. There is a subcategory of announcement analysis known as the ‘where’s Waldo” pursuit. Hidden (clearly not very well) is a word or two of snark. The adept ‘where’s Waldo” theorist can easily spot a cleverly worded but poorly masked; “they met when the groom took a cigarette break from his wife’s deathbed” or a “shortly after they announced their engagement they began divorce proceedings from their previous spouses” For the theorist it is interesting to note what passes as appropriate social column content.

These days there is a whole new addition to the topical additions to the wedding announcement: credits. No, not the usual “so and so got married, please buy her book” or “so and so got married, please visit his web business.” No, no, no. The credits I reference are those of the parents. “The bride’s father is an author” has been replaced with “The bride’s father has published the following books; …” No doubt the announcement will soon include ISBN and hyperlinks. A year or two ago you might have read; “The bride’s father is an actor.” Today it isn’t unusual to have his roles listed. The same resume shout-outs occur for parents’ cottage industries and web businesses. What intrigues me is how these announcements come to be. Maybe there’s a public relations intern involved, maybe not. But how does the subject of product placement even come up? Is it at the engagement party? Is it part of the wedding costs negotiations? Is it never discussed but passive aggressively achieved through “Don’t worry son/daughter of mine, I will take care of the announcement?” Doubtful. People are far too conscious of their public life to leave something like that to a parent. Surely there are difficult conversations that have always occurred around the content of the announcement. “How do we gloss over daddy’s current incarceration?” “Does that green card marriage need to be mentioned; and hey what ever happened to that $10,000 anyway?” “So he’s not actually divorced yet? Not a problem, they myna birds need never know.” It’s fascinating to consider that the “putting the best face on the family” has morphed into parental professional press releases. Of course it’s a big deal for a parent to marry off a child. Of course there’s much reason to puff up a bit. But what exactly is the point of a resume or vita in one’s child’s wedding announcement? Do casting directors scan the announcements? Has anyone ever bought a book or service because it was mentioned in a wedding announcement?

We may never know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that another category of theory must be added to the wedding announcement school of analysis. Still in the incubator phase we will bestow upon it the placeholder: “scrapbooks full of me in the background” theory.

 

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Seeing Something, Saying Something

There are incidents so overwhelming and horrific that it is nearly impossible to step outside of them and develop any understanding of what occurred. But it is imperative we do just that. When natural disaster strikes we scramble to rescue and recover and then must assess our preparedness and responsiveness. It’s how we gain control over our environment and perhaps mitigate the impact of future disasters. It is tempting, after the trauma of rescue and recovery to turn away and step into the sun, step into the light. But we are more than our emotions we are also our intellect.

As we watch the horrific facts pour forward in the Penn State University case we must keep this analysis at the forefront of our minds. It is challenging to pull ourselves out of the realization that corruption is far more insidious than we ever imagined. The news that systemic self-interest took precedence over protecting children is mind-boggling. But it happened and we should assume it always has and probably is happening right at this very moment in any place. The fact that a handful of people have been identified as actively covering up a heinous crime and allowing the rapist to carry on, does not mean there were/are not more people engaged in similar cover-ups. (Lying to a grand jury probably happens periodically as well, but lying to protect a child predator is worth noting.)

There are few things we agree upon as a nation; and one of them is exaltation of childhood. For a century or so we’ve come to view childhood as a special time. We consider children innocent, impressionable and in need of our protection. We’ve created an entire consumer market devoted to protecting children from the hazards of the world. We agree, on a social, psychological and capital level, that children need protecting. Yet what we are learning is that people chose to not protect children in serious danger because of self-interest (i.e., fear of job loss, reputation of department or institution, reputation of self or family.) Nothing is entirely black or white of course. None of these people were lurking in the shadows twisting their mustache in evil glee. These are just people, probably people who have some good qualities. No doubt they created compelling narratives to assuage their guilt or quiet the voices in their heads. The eyewitness janitor might have convinced himself that what he saw was disturbing but not illegal (perhaps the child looked old enough to give consent.) Perhaps he was so shocked he considered what he had seen to be a homosexual act (versus child rape.) But yet he told two people. He (almost) did the right thing (doing the right thing is calling 9-1-1 while dragging the rapist off of the child.) The people he told no doubt wondered what their responsibility was in having second-hand information. Most of us know what a maelstrom a bureaucracy “in action” can be. Were they hesitant to bring that particular storm upon their heads? Making very poor choices doesn’t make one evil, it just reinforces the shades of grey that is life.

And what of the children? If we believe that they need protection at all costs does that not color in any shade of grey? There are professions that are legally mandated to report child endangerment (i.e., teachers, doctors, therapists, etc.) (Incidentally, loosely interpreted any employee at an institution of learning with students under the age of consent might qualify as a mandated reporter.) But what if we broadened the scope a bit? What if we created a campaign to deputize all adults to be mandated reporters? What if “see something, say something” came to mean more than abandoned mysterious packages? Are we worried that there will be a flood of unsubstantiated calls? What little I know of human behavior (and the results of the ‘see something say something” campaign) leads me to believe that won’t be the case. What will happen though will be an awareness and a change in our orientation toward child sexual abuse. We will gradually rid ourselves of our mental prototype of a molester or victim. We will begin to view all people, regardless of gender, age, orientation, profession or religion as being a complex human being capable of anything. And we will come to terms with the lessons learned long ago; silence equals complicity.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Here Comes The Judge

Have you ever met someone without an opinion? They have no preferences; no interest in choosing one film, book, or spouse over another? Probably not (and if you have please try to dissuade them from voting.) Part of having a functioning brain is having the ability to determine preference. There are humans, only moments old, who prefer one breast over another at mealtime. Making determinations about our preferences, sometimes very rapidly, is how we navigate this complex world. Another term for this process is “judgment.” We make judgments, as well as show good or poor judgment in our daily life. There is nothing negative about the word anymore than there is about the word “stress.” We humans are now using these words to express negativity. If we wait a few years, it will pass.

But in the meantime it’s interesting to note what is often lurking behind the cry of; “judgmental!” You’ve only to walk past a high school to hear; “Don’t judge me.” It’s right up there with “That’s so random” and “I’m stressing.” Hey teenagers cannot and should not be separated from their chosen vernacular. If nothing else these words and phrases support their sense of discovering the world anew. But what of grown people who adopt such a phrase as “Don’t judge me” or “Friends don’t judge” or any other Hallmark worthy sentiment? What are they actually saying/pleading? Is it even possible to conjure such an expression if one feels completely confident in their choices or predicament? Have you ever heard anyone say; “Don’t judge me but I’ve decided to stay in a good marriage?” or “Please don’t judge but I’m putting 10% of my income into savings?” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you haven’t. “Don’t judge me” or “You’re judging me” is basically a daytime television way to communicate; “I am so not comfortable with what I’m saying/doing.” Not convinced? Try this little exercise.

  • If I remarked; “Have you put on weight?” you would feel judged right? Well, only if you had put on unwelcome weight. If you’d been trying to gain (it happens) or in fact hadn’t gained an ounce in years, this comment would not feel judgmental. You might wonder if there was something wrong with my eyes though.
  • If we were at a museum/restaurant/park and I remarked “Is that your child?” you would feel judged if you felt your child was behaving poorly or somehow wasn’t measuring up to some standard you have. But if you were happy and confident you might just answer; “yes.”

We cannot all be 100% confident of every aspect of our lives at every moment. It’s not even a healthy goal. Self doubt can be a wonderful impetus for growth and change. But self doubt is about the self not about what people may or may not be thinking about you.

This sensitivity to perceived criticism often goes hand in hand with the “ha ha who cares” attitude. This nonconformist attitude by another name is called insecurity. Defensive can be used to mask a feeling of self doubt. “I can wear whatever I want, don’t judge me!” or “I don’t care what people think of me.” Okay, let’s stop for a moment. If you really and truly feel you should be able to wear whatever you want at anytime you would be best served living in a community of like minded people. A nudist colony or commune come to mind. If you have any notion or need of venturing into the diverse and enormous populace it is hostile to not respect social custom. If you really don’t care what people think of you I would suggest you might lean towards the atypical of mental healthiness. It is a core human desire to seek and find love and connection. Does love only come to the well groomed and conventionally behaved? Of course not. But we are visual animals (those of us with vision) and we use those powers to process much information about a stranger. Whether it’s entirely accurate or not, when we see a person who has taken a moment on themselves we form an opinion about their orientation to the world. The inverse is just as true. If we do not feel connected to our physical selves we typically do not seek out people who look as if they embrace their physicality. In other words we make judgments. That is what humans (and even some animals) do. The next time you hear the word “judge” or “judgement” (in your head or in your ears) being used not in the legal sense, take a moment.The word itself could be a great internal or external conversation starter.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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