Archive for May, 2013


Court of Public Opinion: Knee-Jerk Judgments Rule

You know it always amazes me the diversity of the knee-jerk reactions people give at an “emotional” story. The news is filled with enough things these days that can cause some strong knee-jerk reactions. I guess that’s why some people don’t read the papers anymore – the emotional roller coaster one can experience hearing about the plight of others can be emotionally taxing. In that regard, I cannot blame them for taking that approach to some degree – maybe to blame the media outlets for doing too good of a job to press people’s buttons with highly sensationalized titles to go with these wrenching stories.

Don’t get me wrong, I do it too from time to time, but I try as best I can to step outside my own knee-jerk response to try to see what the facts are before coming to my own conclusions.

Where to begin: How about the story of the mom in China who flushed a literal newborn down the toilet? How about the two men in Britain suspected of beheading a UK solider in broad day light? How about the 18 y.o. Florida female teen who faces jail time due to intimate relationship with another female (who was 15 at the time)? How about Keith Hernandez referring to a broken bat as a “dead solider” during a nationally televised game on Memorial Day? This is all within the last 2 weeks.

No doubt there is enough stuff out there in the world that once we hear it, something gets stirred up in us that causes us to react to it in a knee-jerk fashion. With all of these situations, there is of course some plausible explanation to what happened. For Keith, he could have been merely using a common baseball vernacular while providing analysis. For the woman who flushed the newborn down the toilet, the full story isn’t out yet: it could be drugs, a child made from an unapproved relationship by family, etc. For the suspects beheaded the solider, the latest word out is that the killing was revenge for Muslims lost in the Iraqi and Afghan wars. For the Florida teen, she might have been merely acting on feelings she had for her lover as many teens do, regardless of gender or age.

Of course there are consequences to these situations:

  •  For the dead UK solider – a life lost and a grieving family; for the suspects  in question – lives lost if convicted, along with shame and embarrassment for their families; for the UK Muslim community, an increase in Anti-Muslim ethnically driven attacks.
  • For the Florida teen, possible jail time; for both families involved – the shame and stigma of being attached to this story in a world where once it goes viral it can never be taken back.
  • For the newborn – an immediate struggle for life and the possible psychological impact of knowing one’s mother did this to him once he gets older; for the mom attempted murder charges; for the family – shame and stigma due to the attached infamy.
  • For Keith, a reprimand from his bosses at SNY and a possible public apology the next time he is on air for his comments; in the eyes of some, another faux pas in the line of gaffes Hernandez has made of the years.

Do the possible consequences fit the situations? Legally some do, morally not all may apply.

People will always have reasons that they deem to be valid when describing their actions. It is always the moral plausibility of those reasons that always get evaluated by our societal and individual compasses and judgment gets passed, many times in quick-snap succession. While I am not condoning or excusing some of the behavior in each situation, my point here is that sometimes taking a step back and hearing all the facts first is helpful before we go off making grave moral pronouncements on stories like these. After all, Phil Collins said it best:

“We always need to hear both side of the story.”


Hypocrisy, Vice & Virtue

“Hypocrisy is a tribute which vice pays to virtue.” – Duc de la Rochefoucauld 1613-80



The Art of Teaching

We live in a contemporary society where there is such a premium placed on high quality skill sets, especially unique ones. Because everything is about service and personal taste, it is really something when we find someone who “gets it” and is able to give us something we enjoy in a skillful manner.

One of the downsides of our culture is that we are lousy teachers. What I mean by this is what we don’t know how to provide constructive criticism to others, especially if we want them to change a behavior with the intent of either making us happy or making a positive improvement for themselves. Yes, we often know how to diagnose a problem well, but don’t know how to help the person through the process.

Here’s what I mean. You’ve got a family member that you always love and adore. One of the few flaws that person has is that they are a terrible cook. You’re at their house one day: it is lunch time and they offer to make your favorite meal. How do you handle that situation?

  • Some might just take one for the team and it the putrid dish.
  • Some may decline on lack of hunger, even though everyone can hear the stomach growling.
  • Some may just tell the relative flatly they cannot cook.
  • Some may pitch in and help show them how to cook the meal.

In the first choice, you may take that tact because you don’t want to offend, or you love that person and accept the fact that it is the thought that counts more than the taste of the dish. In the second instance, you may be very uncomfortable saying you how feel, so deferring addressing the issue is the priority. In the third choice, you just cannot take it anymore and you call it like it is to feel better, and be damned of the consequences. In the fourth choice, you offer a solution to the situation at hand.

All are appropriate enough and expected choices. But it is reading the other variables in the situation that many of us don’t often do correctly that makes any choice that we make more potentially damaging to the other person than it needs to be.

Sometimes it is your own expectation or intent playing out in how you handle the situation. After all, if you don’t think the person can truly fix the issue you may choose to give up that battle because the other stuff that they bring to the table works for you. We all make trade offs in our relationships, so that sort of approach is understandable. On the flipside, we may expect the other person to have the answers to solve the problem themselves. After all, “it isn’t my problem you cannot/you’re not good at/you don’t know how to (insert issue here). You should be lucky I told you.” SO how are you setting up the person to genuinely address the problem if that is all the “insight” you’re offering?

Sometimes we really don’t know how to help the person but unwillingly to admit it out of fear, embarrassment, pride or shame. After all, what makes things tricky is when you open up a person to criticism and all you have to offer is said criticism and no solutions.

Any good teacher will tell you it is about finding what the goal is for the student, assessing strengths and weaknesses, and doing things to out the student in successful situations that breed confidence and allows them to achieve their goal. It is never enough to tell someone they aren’t up to snuff with something; it is equally helpful to be able to guide them through the process.

So how can we better help someone through that process? Firstly, better understanding what we really want from the person and then to understand how to help that person get there. It doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers, but it just means that we have to be able to some be what we want in order to get what we want. After all, many of the great teachers have shown us the way through example more than through words.




The Waves of Sorrow

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies; but in battalions.”William Shakespeare 1564-1616



Memorial Day – How Should We Reflect?

The two US holidays I have the utmost respect for are Veteran’s Day, and today – Memorial Day. As a once self-described history buff, I cannot help but treat both days with great appreciation and reverence. While especially on Memorial Day many of us – myself included – look forward to it being that unofficial start of summer, we still should take a moment to reflect on all the sacrifices those who protect our liberties and freedoms have made, currently are making, and will make in the future.

Here are two stories that signify why Memorial Day is the most emotionally charged holiday in the US – at least to me anyways.

The summary of the first article is that a 91-year-old WWII veteran was being evicted out of his own home by his daughter and son-in-law for failure to pay rent. The veteran’s granddaughter has taken his side in the issue and is helping to fight the eviction cause. The daughter had been granted power of attorney for her father many years ago and ended up signing over the house to herself, unbeknownst to the veteran. When he found out, the time has passed legally for him to reverse the process, i.e. the statute of limitations has expired. Donations have poured in across the country to help the veteran cover his expenses and keep him in his home.

What makes this story stand out for me is that here we have someone who fought for our freedoms and liberties, having going through one of the most traumatic experiences to protect others, only to return home and be struck down by an unfair and unfortunate situation. Many returning veterans deal with issues like these and others on a daily basis and it has made their transitions back to civilian life much more difficult than it needs to be.

I do think the one thing that sometimes gets lost in a holiday like Memorial Day is the equality of the individual sacrifices made by those to obtain and defend the freedom and other liberties we enjoy. The second article above highlights some of the roots of Memorial Day and how sometimes this element of our society gets lost in our modern traditions.

Reading that article helps remind me to think of the sacrifices of minorities on Memorial Day as well. Take a look at WWII (the war seemingly most often synonymous with Memorial Day) and the contributions of minorities in that conflict:

  • See the Blacks (which encompasses African-Americans for the US and Blacks for the English Crown and their Allies) who did the real grunt work in WWII, often under the most segregated of conditions;
  • the Asian Americans who fought under the most withering of lens where their allegiances were often questioned based on how they looked like “the enemy”;
  • the Native Americans whose scouting and code breaking skills played a key and unsung role in the Allied Victory;
  • and Women, both on the home front in the factories and other industries to keep the war effort going, and on the battlefield as nurses and trained pilots the equal of men as well.

Those in the know understand these things, but there is this underlying hands-off approach to really giving everyone their EQUAL due on Memorial Day that is somewhat troubling.

Does it mean we should romanticize the military uniform? No. just like other areas in life, you’ve got dishonest veterans and people who were dishonorably discharged for valid reasons. Plus there are those who profit off good people’s intentions that are associated with the military. But in this new age of hyper-sensitized and malleable patriotism, we are guilty of doing that from time to time. Does it mean we should romanticize specific wars or overemphasize the contributions of one group over another? No, but in all seriousness, many of us do.

At the end of the day we should take the time to reflect – on what everyone who has sacrificed equally to protect: our freedom and liberty. We should pay homage to both their individual sacrifices by respecting and appreciating their unique history, which involves gender, ethnicity and socioeconomics. We also should pay homage to their sacrifices collectively and take care of them as our own, as they do for us when they put themselves in harm’s way.

Have a blessed Memorial Day.



Injury, Insults & Forgiveness

“An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.” –  Lord Chesterfield 1694-1773



Carpetbaggers – Hide The Welcome Mat

Sonja asks: “weh mek it so hard fi get rid of crasses people? Man, dem wid tek set pon yuh like flea inna dog backside!”

The best cure for an unwanted guest is to spot them from a distance and keep them away in the first place.

 “See mi and come live wid mi ah two different sinting.”

That was one of the most profound Jamaican proverbs I was ever exposed to as a child – something that applies to many types of relationship, not just intimate ones as well. One of my most found memories about this was a situation my sister dealt with last fall by having one of her friends as host guests during a spot of trouble.

She basically offered one of her friends, her husband and young son her extra room to rent to for the interim because they recently lost their apartment. So my sister’s friend moved in temporarily, and was pretty much the guest from hell – even to the post where she owed money for rent. The situation got so intolerable that my sister had to kick her out and basically forgo the owed money. Naturally, the friendship dissolved because there was too much embarrassment and keeping up appearances, as they were business partners on quite a few local community projects.

I give my sister credit. She didn’t take it personally, nor was she hounding her guest for the cash that was owed Most folks would bust skulls to collect that coin so she is a saint in that regard. The strangest thing though, was that my sister wasn’t the first victim of this heinous “terrible house guest” drama. Apparently, this woman had done the same thing to two other folks within my sister’s circle of friends. I guess out of sheer embarrassment, they allowed my sister to experience the storm for herself in silence. Yikes!

Well, that’s why old folks where I’d from would say: “Don’t buy nuh puss inna bag! Cuz yuh don’t know how sharp de claw dem be!”

Wise words, but this is life though, and we are all bound to make missteps. Kinda like the adoring partner you marry or get involved with after a whirlwind romance who ends up being an abusive monster once the romance wears off and he feels you’re fully in his “clutches”. Or that sweet caring friend who gets very vindictive once you aren’t able to ALWAYS her get her get way. Or that deadbeat cousin who can charm you into lending you cash, even though they have never repaid any of those loans in the past 15 years.

Some folks will always cover their tracks and hide those very ugly warts until it is too late. I think in the South they’re often called “carpetbaggers” by trade. Maybe they do it out of embarrassment, fear, shame or just plain exploitative intent. Either way, it is never a good look to be one or a pleasant experience to cross paths with one.

At the end of the day, people must take responsibility for their actions. While you cannot always be responsible for a carpetbagger’s actions, you can ensure that they are always kept out of sight or at minimum at a distance.





Lies & Silence

“The cruellest lies are often told in silence.”Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-94