Readers of this blog may have noticed that I’ve never attempted the sort of “weekly round-up” posts seen in other, more focused blogs. This is a technique that works great for blogs that cover one topic or niche, but since this blog is essentially a reflection of my brain (scattered), I’ve generally felt that trying to tie up bits of news from the week that stuck out for me would be like trying to string a bunch of random beads into a pattern.
Yet, there are weeks when certain news items stick to the brain, and it seems as though there should be a thread that joins them. Perhaps this is simply a reflection of my current thoughts, but it seems as though I may have found a thread for the events and issues that have stood out for me this week.
Here are my “beads” of news, in no particular order.
- The debt ceiling talks collapsed (again.) In other words, the president and Congress began tattling on each other and John Boehner took his ball and went home.
- Though we are having a mild summer in CA, worry about friends, family, and colleagues has me following the heat wave in the Midwest and East.
- The bombing and shooting tragedy in Norway is made even more horrific by the age of so many of the victims and the choice of disguise of the murderer.
- A breastfeeding doll popular in Europe causes some controversy in the U.S.
- School board members decide to un-ban a book after they actually read it.
- A study indicates that modern playground safety modifications may actually be detrimental to children.
There they are, snippets of world events from catastrophic to idiotic. What is the thread that ties these things together? Here’s a clue. When I took the above picture this morning, I was afraid to use it. The beads are kind of blurry, and the whole photo is shadowed weirdly. Then it hit me – those are the aspects that make the picture perfect for this post. My beads, these bits of news, stood out from the media storm randomly and kind of blurry. But, the whole picture is tainted by something unpleasant and shadowy. Fear.
Yesterday, I posted about fear on the personal level. Today, societal fear seems to be the thread that connects these issues – at least in my mind.
Wait. What about the heat wave? Fear didn’t cause summer heat. Yeah, I hear you. Inserting the heat wave into the list reminds me of the old Sesame Street game, “Which of these things is not like the others?”
The thread of fear is pretty obviously strung through some of these events. This morning, I found it interesting to note that NPR, not generally an alarmist news outlet, used the words “fear” and “afraid” in the blog post on the debt-ceiling crisis. Should the public be afraid? Probably. The potential global economic impact of a failure to raise the debt-ceiling is pretty awful. But, what struck me is how fear is affecting the process. Why do politicians lock into a “my way or the highway” mindset? Fear. For humans, the loss of ability to compromise, to be flexible, indicates a loss of our higher brain functions. The more we are driven by fear (fear of losing power, fear of losing face, fear of losing money, elections, etc) the more rigid we become. Posturing to show “strength” is the human equivalent of puffing up our feathers or spines to look bigger to the predator.
“Terror” was prominent in the headlines referencing the bombing and shooting in Norway. An apt adjective, for sure. While the bombing in Oslo is horrific enough, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than what the kids at that summer camp must have endured. The thought of them seeing someone they believed to be a police officer – a person sent to keep them safe—open fire on them is nauseating. But here, fear seems to be not only the result of the murderer’s actions, but the cause as well. News reports refer to the suspect as an extremist who believes that immigration, multi-culturalism, and particularly Islam are destroying Norway. A man acting from fear creates fear.
Now we drop into the seemingly banal. However, in my mind at least, fear breeds fear. The more we close our minds, bodies, and hearts, in self-protection, the more we make room for the truly dark things.
Playgrounds – remember metal slides? Do you remember the really tall ones, with their tight corkscrews and rickety ladders? Do you remember how the metal burned your legs below the hem of your shorts on a summer day? Do you remember the metal merry-go-rounds? Do you remember trying to keep your legs moving as fast as those of the older kids, until you screwed up the courage for that jump and then landed on the spinning platform? Do you remember the pit of fear in your stomach just before you took that leap? My kids won’t. And if you are a member of my generation or those that follow, neither will your kids. As parents, we have clamored for freedom from fear for our children. We have smoothed the edges, lowered the peaks, and softened the landings for our kids. We are one step away from bubble-wrapping them into incompetence. And, in our desire to protect our children from the scrapes and fractures of life, we have taught them that life is to be feared. We are creating adults who will not have the skills to stand against the darkness of fear.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie is on my to-read list, so I’ll admit that I am not yet qualified to speak intelligently about it. (There are those who would say that I’m not qualified to speak intelligently about a number of things, but why let fear stop me?) However, I was intrigued by the news that the Richland, WA school board had reversed a decision to ban Mr. Alexie’s book after two of the members originally voting for the ban decided to actually read the book. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tends to spark controversy due to the “dark” nature of its subject matter. The semi-autobiographical story of a boy raised in poverty on a Native American reservation attending a mostly-white high school deals with themes that middle class parents often fear exposing their children to. The book was one of those listed in the recent rant against YA fiction in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve already written my thoughts on the article and its implications, but for anyone uncertain as to my views on book banning, here they are:
- If you don’t want your kids to read a book, fine, tell them. However, your fears do not get to dictate what books my children can find in their bookstore, classroom, or library.
- If you fear a book, read it. Don’t make judgments based on hearsay and supposition. Know what you fear.
- The most famous book censor in history was Hitler. Talk about a guy with fear issues.
I have to applaud the members of the Richland school board for having the courage to revisit their decision, and to look societal fears in the face. Good job, guys!
Now we move on to what is, to me, the weirdest item on the list. Sure, you say: “Breastfeeding doll, pretty darn weird.” Nope, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think the doll is weird at all. I think it’s weird to object to a doll that gives children a more accurate picture of the way babies are meant to be fed. I think it’s weird that we began by making dolls that nursed out of plastic bottles. I think it’s weird that modern society (and particularly American society) has such a dysfunctional, fear-based relationship with the bodily function that defines us as mammals. What sort of self-loathing drives us to reject a fundamental aspect of our humanity?
My youngest child is now six, but I’ve never really gotten over some of the strange incidents that stuck out over a collective 6-7 years of breastfeeding my children. (The breastfeeding resume extends over three kids; do the math before you freak out.)
- My mom urging me to “go to the ladies’ lounge” to nurse Caitlin while we were in a mall restaurant. “And do what,” I asked. “Sit on the sink counter?” Let’s face it, modern restrooms distinctly lack a space for actual “rest.” But, more critically, I never could understand the logic behind socially isolating a woman who was feeding her baby the way it was meant to be fed. No one would tell a woman with a bottle to go into seclusion to feed her infant. I like intelligent lunchtime discourse. Babies may be cute, but they are not great conversationalists.
- The same elderly women in a shopping mall who had cooed over Caitlin in her stroller giving me dirty looks a short while later as I sat on one of the padded benches nursing her. For the record no “private parts” of my anatomy were on public display. But, judging by the reactions of these women, you’d have thought I was doing a pole dance in a nursery school.
- The confused and paranoid responses of TSA agents to my breastpump as I prepared to board a flight to a conference. Really, what’s the tricky concept here? How are basic medical devices not a part of their training?
- The couple who pulled back the folds of my baby sling to see the “adorable baby” and who recoiled with horror as they realized that “the adorable baby” was having lunch while I pushed my cart through Costco. Now, I think they should have been embarrassed for assuming that it was okay to touch me or anything on my person without my permission. However, I wasn’t the least embarrassed about feeding my kid. A screaming baby in the middle of a big-box store would have been more disturbing to me.
Our societal views on gender, sexuality, and reproduction are so fear-ridden as to be nearly completely dysfunctional. It’s amazing that the American middle-class hasn’t become an endangered species. Why do we refuse to talk to our children about reproduction until they are so deeply confused by their hormones that they are incapable of listening? Why do we assign euphemisms to some body parts but not others? How confusing must it be for children to hear a penis called “pee-pee” or “wiener”, but to know that an elbow is always an elbow? Why do we permit our children to watch cartoons and play with toys that emphasize costumes sexualizing the female breast, but freak out at the concept of a doll who uses the breast for its intended purpose?
Fear. Fear drives us. Fear limits us. Fear was meant to help us survive in a harsh, unpredictable natural world. When the lion leaps from the grass, fear is a pretty good response. This brings me to the last, and rather oddly shaped, bead. How does extreme summer heat fit onto our fear necklace?
Two thoughts come to mind here:
- Fear for the safety of the people and animals affected by abnormal or extreme climate conditions. This is probably a ‘healthy’ fear as long as it doesn’t become incapacitating. Fear of natural disaster can inspire us to plan and prepare; concern for others can pull us out of ourselves into a greater good.
- Climate change. The science is solid. Climate change is real. We are experiencing its effects, and will continue to do so. Without action, we could really have something to fear. However, an issue of fact continues to be a subject for debate, with substantial numbers of people denying the evidence. Why? Fear. Humans don’t like to contemplate a reality that forces change. We fear the unknown. We fear loss of comfort, jobs, convenience. We fear change.
Like climate change, the cycle of fear is real and prevalent. And as with climate change, until we learn to look fear in the face and recognize it for what it is, it will continue to grow. A friend posted a link to a podcast by author Tara Brach in the comments section to yesterday’s post. Ms. Brach’s book Radical Acceptance (recommended to me a few years back by another friend) is one of my favorite tools for identifying and processing the fears that cripple me, and the podcast has some wonderful insights.
Closing with some of the best words ever on the subject. Enjoy!