The Six Dimensions of Everything

We are trained to believe there are three dimensions. I don’t believe that. I believe there George Floydare at least six dimensions to everything. By now you would have to be living in a cave without internet (the nicest caves have WiFi, by the way) to not have heard that the Minneapolis Police Department murdered George Floyd. I say the department did it because while the officers on the scene were the direct cause, the culture in the department is the broader cause. The fact that other officers stood around while Derek Chauvin, et. al. knelt on his neck is clear evidence that this isn’t an isolated problem within the Minneapolis Police Department – or any American department. As we assess this incident there is the act of Chauvin, the culture within the department, and the failure of other officers on the scene to overcome those factors and intervene. That’s three dimensions right there.

The fourth dimension is the militarization of the police in America that rendered violent protestwitnesses to the murder powerless to intervene. Even with people capturing video of the murder, Chauvin and his colleagues persisted. Clearly the officers didn’t see anything wrong with their actions. How could bystanders intervene? They wouldn’t have had a chance if they tried to intervene physically. The fifth dimension is the city’s hesitation in arresting Chauvin and his colleagues. The city attorney spoke of wanting to be sure he had all the evidence before making an arrest, but if I go out onto the street and kill someone in front of witnesses who take video of my actions I can promise you I won’t be walking around free for a few days while the city attorney gathers evidence. The sixth dimension is race, and all of its implications.

Now consider the demonstrations and subsequent violence around the country. The first protestsdimension are the peaceful protesters. The second is the presence of outside agitators who appear at these events. They have different agendas – some are anarchists, some just like to incite violence, there are allegations some may be foreign nationals – but their methods are to agitate protesters and increase the likelihood of violence. The third dimension are police, national guard, and others charged with containing the protesters and others on the street. The fourth dimension are the local government officials, the decisions they make and the things they say, wise or foolish. The fifth dimension is the media, their presence for better or worse, and the insights they provide the rest of us into what is happening. Finally, the sixth dimension is each of us at home. How will we respond? How will we interpret what is happening and what will we be called to do?

I mention all of this because when we look for solutions to any problem we tend to over Kaepernick Floydsimplify the problem, reduce it to a single cause and try to find a single solution. The we wonder why our “magic bullet” never works! We can address the officers who participated in the murder of George Floyd, but if we don’t address the culture that allowed it to happen we will be here again in the near future. We can change police departments, but if we don’t address the cultural oppression of people of color all we do is push the anger back under the surface where it will wait for another trigger to bring it to the surface. The truth is that we have a lot of work to do and we have waited far too long to begin.

Sadly, at times like this there is no shortage of people who want to tell us how we should respond. I am amazed at people who want to tell us with great specificity how we should act, not taking into account each of our abilities and aptitudes. Nobody can tell any of us how best to respond. The message we need to hear is that we must respond, we must reach out across the divide that is race in America, that each of us has a stake in this change, and that none of us gets to sit this one out. Start now.

Sticky, Messy Emotions

I used to joke that my family’s northern European heritage meant that we greeted each other with a crisp salute at family gatherings. If we got really carried away, we would click our heels as we saluted, just as was depicted in those World War II movies about the German army. If only things had been that benign.

germanwwiisaluteMy parents were both profoundly mentally ill and addicted. The truth is that they couldn’t tolerate emotional content that wasn’t rage. Even then, my mother’s rage was the one that had free reign while my father cowered in the corner like the spineless wonder he was. The children weren’t allowed to have feelings. Physical illness was fine, but emotionally “fine” was the only acceptable answer. Of course, if anyone had taken the time to look they would have seen that we were far from time. In the days before air conditioning (yes kids, the olden days of lore), anyone with ears could have heard the problem on a nightly basis. I realize I am not alone in this.

Many if not most of us who were raised in last half of the twentieth century were raised by people who just couldn’t keep up with the rapid changes in the world that they and their parents inhabited. The short version is they saw and felt things for which they weren’t prepared, and so they repressed these things. What had worked on the farm didn’t work in the industrial age, but they didn’t have another answer. Some intrepid social pioneers found ways to grow into and through the process, but for most drinking their problems away was easier. That strategy was most definitely not easier for the children.

Into adulthood we sprinted, disengaged from our feelings on a more or less permanent basis. As helenkellercatwe learned in Urban Cowboy, we were looking for love in all the wrong places – mostly because we had no idea what the right places looked like. Even if we had found the right place, we wouldn’t have known how to act once we arrived. We said, “I love you,” but what we meant was “rescue me from this hell devoid of feeling.” In effect, we were asking Helen Keller for driving lessons and wondering why we kept crashing. Sociologists tried to understand the divorce rate, but they too had received driving lessons from Helen Keller. Everything from promiscuity to women’s liberation was blamed, but the truth proved elusive. Perhaps it was too obvious to be seen.

People who can’t feel cannot love, and people who try to love without feeling have a series of short, unfulfilling relationships. Those who get married are soon divorced. Those who try to learn to feel find it to be a messy, long term, difficult business that has great rewards that require comfort with delayed gratification to achieve. Like the gardener who pulls carrots from the ground every day to see if they have grown yet, most can’t stay the course without help. The good news is that help is available. Don’t be ashamed to access it.

 

God in Crisis

There are more than a few people wondering where God is in the midst of the current pandemic. The reason they can’t seem to locate God is that they are looking for God, if not love, in all the wrong places. I have written about this before, but it takes repetition godnohereto overwrite an old message that has been deeply embedded: God is a companion, not a rescuer. Maybe that’s why God lets us mess things up over and over again – we, and not God, are the ones who have to clean our messes up. Of course, many of us just stand in the wreckage of our bad choices waiting for God to come clean them up. When that doesn’t happen, we decide that God doesn’t exist rather than recognize God isn’t our personal housekeeper.

Are you looking for God in the midst of this pandemic? Perhaps you should start by lowering your gaze from the heavens to the people around you. The truth is that everybody and everything you see is a bearer of God. If you want to see God, look at the suffering person next to you and help them. If you want to experience God, allow yourself to be helped without holding back. If you want to work with God, find some people interested in helping in a similar way and work with them to improve a situation. You may find you have been looking for a flamboyant, drag queen God when the truth is that God is much more mainstream and so you need to revise your search terms. Look instead in the mundane, the everyday, the decidedly unspectacular. You will find an abundance of God there!

Cabin Fever?

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One of the things I find fascinating about the experience of safer at home during the last several weeks is the number of people who are struggling with perceived isolation. I don’t refer here to people who live alone and cannot go to work. I refer to the rest of us. We have social contact. Perhaps we go to work, or visit with friends and colleagues virtually, we might work virtually, we go to the grocery store and other essential places, and yet to hear some people tell it you would think they were in solitary confinement!

I would like to suggest that if the above describes how you are feeling you would benefit

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from some self examination. If you are partnered, I would ask you to consider that maybe the only reason the two (or more) of you aren’t doing well is because the only time you can tolerate each other is when you are separated most of the time. If that’s the case, it might be time to ask some serious questions about your relationship and consider getting some counseling when this is all over. There are concrete steps you can take to improve things, and at this time you have a great opportunity to begin!

marathonThe third possibility is that you are hiding from yourself. There are things about yourself or your history that you don’t want to consider, and all this time with less to do than normal increases the possibility that they will surface. In normal times, you can keep nearly perpetually active, stopping only to collapse into bed at night and hitting the floor running in the morning. Now, however, when you are alone you may be experiencing anxiety and the need to find something, almost anything, to do. The answer is to engage in some grounding practices and just be present to what you are feeling. Running away isn’t going to help, it’s just going to kick the problem further down the road until you have no choice but to face it. That’s always more traumatic that choosing to face it. Don’t waste this valuable time. It may not come again until fall!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States!

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Unfortunately, the last guy was found to be too damn stupid to continue, so we had to replace him with this box of rocks, which has been verified to be a very stable genius with very large hands.

Yesterday, President Trump actually suggested that a light – either inside the body or outside – might cure corona virus. The he suggested household disinfectants, since they trumpdisinfectantclean surfaces in only sixty seconds, might be injected or ingested as a cure for the virus. CNN suggested that he was reaching for a quick solution. Nonsense. As I watched the video of him making these suggestions to physicians and telling them they should check these things out with medical doctors (does he not know these people are “medical doctors”?), I was struck by the fact that he most resembled a five year old child engaging in magical thinking. This isn’t a man grasping at straws, this is a man engaging in whartonkellytrumpmagical thinking at the level of a preschooler and pulling ideas from his intestines.

The truth is that we were warned about his stupidity. The rest of the truth is that a significant percentage of Americans either didn’t believe he was stupid or didn’t see it as a problem. That would be evidence of the stupidity of those people. You may not have to be a genius to be President, but you do have to be able to grab your own ass with both hands. Trump can’t even grab other people’s asses (an easier task), but apparently is proficient at grabbing their “pussy.” The fact that such behavior wasn’t a problem for American voters is evidence of a societal problem of epic proportions. bellcurve

As I have written before, intelligence – like every other naturally occurring phenomena – is distributed across a bell curve. Average intelligence falls in the middle. Half of the people are of above average intelligence and half are below. For every brilliant person you meet, there is an idiot somewhere that balances them out. Currently, one of those idiots is occupying the White House until the above box of rocks arrives to take his place. What do we do about this?

I believe the biggest thing we can do is insist that education is fully funded. No more defunding education to please the wealthy and provide a docile working population. No more encouraging ignorance to please manipulative politicians who want to be able to convince the voting public they have their best interests at heart as they steal their wallets. No more. We need to reclaim our power and demand better from the selfish pricks we have elected to national office. Nothing else will change our situation.

What Are You Doing…

…with all that toilet paper? This is a serious question. For weeks now, you have been buying every last roll of toilet paper you can get your hands on. I am trying to decide what you are doing that you continue to need more. Mind you, I have plenty. I bought assholeTPtwo nine packs about five weeks ago and we are likely good for at least another month. This brings me back to my question – what are you doing?

Is it that you are now forced to cook at home and are so horrendously bad at it that you have constant diarrhea? If that was the case you would have become critically dehydrated and died by now. Does it make you drunk with power to look at the massive collection of toilet paper you have accumulated? Do you sit at home just gazing at a shit paper pyramid with glee while slowly diddling yourself? Is this what you have been reduced to during these stressful times? If that’s the case then I feel compelled to tell you as a public service that you have lost your damn mind.

I understand that you are anxious, really I do. The problem is that the solution you have one flewarrived at to assuage your anxiety has nothing to do with the cause of your anxiety. You feel out of control and that is an uncomfortable feeling. I understand. There is nothing about stockpiling anything that is going to really cause you to regain control. You won’t feel you are in control until things have returned to normal. In all likelihood that is months away, long after safer at home orders have been lifted. By then you won’t be able to leave your house because you will have trapped yourself behind a pyramid of ass wipe and struggle to get to the door.

Get some help. Now.

Privilege Comes in Many Forms

Whenever I read about a super model’s experience with body shaming over the course of her career, my initial reaction is sympathetic. I am sure that such incidents are terrible and can have a negative impact on a person’s self esteem. I absolutely believe that when your multi-million dollar career depends on what the scale and the tape measure say you can easily become preoccupied with weighing yourself and checking your measurements. I also know that you have an ability the average person with faced with the same challenges doesn’t have. You can walk away and not worry about having a place to live or enough to eat.

When a waitress at the local nightclub is confronted with those same issues, she can’t walk away because her earnings are barely enough to live on and certainly not enough to invest in such a way that she can retire at thirty-five years old. When the receptionist at the local modeling agency is told she is getting too chubby to represent the agency well, she likely has to remain in her position and lose weight as fast as she can because she needs her job to keep a roof over her child’s head. To be clear, all three women are being treated inappropriately and have the absolute right to be upset and seek to redress their grievances. Only one has the resources to make real choices about how to respond. That is a form of privilege we don’t hear many people talking about, but we definitely need to talk about and recognize privilege in all its forms.

In our culture money is perhaps the ultimate privilege. It does cover a multitude of sins, both our own and those of others. Money affords us choices that the average person doesn’t have available to them. It doesn’t remove the sting of mistreatment, but it does offer many escape routes not enjoyed by the average person.  You will have to excuse me when a millionaire wants to carry on about their struggles, because I am not that interested. I would much rather hear about and address the struggles of the average person. Sorry, Chrissy.

Pedestals, Perfection, and Disappointment

I read an article the other day that reported the late Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche International communities for the cognitively disabled, has been accused by five adult women of sexual misconduct in that he had what they describe as coercive sexual jeanvanierrelationships. Prior to these revelations, he was considered a solid candidate for sainthood. Since the revelations, quite the opposite has happened, with organizations falling over themselves to retract awards and recognition granted him during his life for the work he had done. The author of the article said that Vanier had been a hero to him, but now he had to change his mind about Vanier’s hero status. This raises several questions for me, none of which are new.

The first question I have is, “how shall we define a hero?” I grew up thinking that a hero was someone we admire because of some example they set. If I had to gauge today’s definition of a hero, I would say that a hero is someone who is seen to be perfect, flawless not only in their area of expertise but in all areas. They must never have passed gas in church, had a relationship end badly, not kept a promise even if through no fault of their own. In short, they must be everything we are not. That is impossible for any human being, and so when we define our heroes that way and place them on a pedestal we will eventually have to take them off the pedestal and destroy that pedestal in a very painful public ceremony. I do, not believe such falls from grace serve any of us well.

I am not making excuses for sexual misconduct of any sort. I would just caution us that we all have likely made choices in our dating lives that we later elected not to repeat. I believe the vast majority of males over the age of fifty have said things to prospective partners that were acceptable in their time but by today’s standards are not. We must always err on the side of believing those who report abuse. We must also display compassion toward the accused, especially when the relationships in question did not involve minors. Adults who act out most often have been victims at some point in their lives, and if we run about chopping off heads we will behead victims as well as perpetrators.

The question I keep coming back to is, “why we find it necessary to dismiss every good thing larchesomeone did when we discover they may have done something wrong, too?” I feel that how we treat those who have transgressed depends on the nature and number of their transgressions, and so some people have clearly crossed a line from which their is no return. That being said, if our standard is to be that those we admire must be perfect then the days of admiration are long dead.

We also need to discuss how we are to deal with the work that the accused have done. If someone were to cure cancer or AIDS tomorrow and then next week be accused of some sort of sexual misconduct, would we refuse to use the treatment they discovered? I hope not, but I hold that hope with very little certainty. Surely no reasonable person would argue that the L’Arche organization should be disbanded, especially since Vanier’s alleged transgressions occurred outside that community – but that doesn’t mean some won’t call for precisely that. At what point does someone’s misdeed mean that everything they ever said or did must be discarded? I’m not sure there is a hard and fast answer to that question, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about it.

Overheard in Detention

My wife and I share a car these days, and when I get to her office early to pick her up I sit in a little vending room on the first floor and write. I let her know I am there by sending her a graphic detentionMrMackeythat indicates I am in detention. Some of the best posts on my blogs start as ideas while “in detention.” There is an office down the hall from my detention room from which regularly emerge two women who head outside, presumably to smoke. One of them almost never talks. Even if she wanted to, I don’t know how she could possibly get a word in because the other one – let’s call her, “Sewer Mouth” – never stops talking. Wait, that’s not fair. She never stops complaining, except when she pauses to launch into a profane tirade that would make a sailor blush. Mind you, I can cuss with the best of them but old Sewer Mouth makes me feel like an Amish beginner. I want to ask her if she eats with that mouth, but she won’t stop talking long enough for me to try.

Leaving aside for a moment how unprofessional it is when going on break to start spewing “motherfucker” before the office door has closed behind you, I have no idea why her coworker wants to be around her. When we constantly ooze negativity, we aren’t much fun to be around. When we blow it out of a fire hose, I have to wonder why this woman even shows up for work. Could her life be even remotely as miserable as her mouth suggests it is? If so, it’s long past time for the people who care about her to get positivetogether and mount an intervention.

It’s good practice to listen to ourselves every now and then. By doing so, we can get a feel for our own mental state – or at least the one we present to the world. A good exercise if we find our talking self to be more negative than we might like is to decide to say a certain number of positive things each day. We should work to increase the number of positive things we say week by week. It would be long until we feel like a new person, because that is what we will be!

 

Gross Psychic Weight

You may have noticed that commercial trucks often have weights listed on the cab of the truck that indicate how much weight the vehicle can safely bear. Those numbers are there to help eliminate the safety risks inherent in driving an overloaded vehicle. They smartcarfailalways remind me of the day we put an old refrigerator out on the street for pickup by the city. Early the next morning, I was surprised to see that refrigerator strapped to the top of an old Honda that was slowly driving down the street with its undercarriage about six inches off the pavement!

While hopefully most of us wouldn’t overload our cars and put our own safety at risk, many of us do gleefully overload our psyche with stress producing schedules, experiences, and activities. We can self-schedule ourselves into a busyness that is literally bad for our health in the same way that strapping a refrigerator to our backs would be. In fact, it’s easier to overload on psychic stress because it is most often invisible until at last our mental “suspension” gives out. Then we can find ourselves immobilized, unable to get out of bed in the morning because we cannot even begin to imagine facing our day. Should you find yourself feeling that way, it’s time to get help. It would be better to get help before we findtired ourselves in that condition!

If you feel your mood or your energy flagging, it would be good to look at your activity level. What can you reduce or eliminate to give yourself time to recover in the same way than an athlete recovers from running a marathon? We can easily find ourselves in a place where we don’t believe we can say “no” to the next request. This can be especially difficult at work, but your health and happiness both depend on your ability to set boundaries. I know someone who worked in a large company here in Milwaukee that routinely expected members of his department to put in eight or more hours of overtime and then report the next day at their usual starting time to do it all over again. The company was mystified when errors increased, productivity decreased, and eventually massive turnover occurred!

We all have our limits, and we all would do well to learn what they are and respect them. It may seem like a good idea to stress ourselves to the breaking point or to have a lot of extra money on our next paycheck, but sooner or later our bodies and our minds will demand we pay the price for abusing them.