On Drinking from a Fire Hose

Is there a science or art to drinking from a fire hose? This expression refers to when “things” (whatever they are) come at you so fast, so hard, so furiously that you can’t take it all in or process it adequately. It is like trying to take just a sip of water out of a fire hose that is spraying you directly in the face.

So, back to my question: is there a way to drink from the figurative fire hose of this moment in time? If so, would somebody please tell me how to do it?

As we inch toward the election (now less than 100 days away) it seems the crazy is coming faster, harder, and more furiously than ever.

I try to be a responsible news consumer. I limit my consumption of “wisdom” from pundits. I listen to the BBC and NPR news daily and watch the PBS News Hour regularly if not religiously because I trust the reporting of these outlets more than others. I also watch local news (mostly for the weather, a habit I learned as a child growing up on a farm in rural Iowa where weather was the news). I also watch or listen to news from the major broadcast networks. Each day I read headlines and articles that grab my attention from the traditional print media online (to save trees). In short, while each media outlet has its own bias I do my best to stick with sources that have earned reputations for accuracy, fairness, and balance.

And still, the crazy comes through. Whether it is a Federal invasion of American cities, the latest Tweet from Trump, Stupid people who refuse to wear masks then test positive for COVID-19, a “doctor” promoted by Trump who think demons and hydroxychloroquine have something to do with COVID-19 and when he is questioned about it he walks out of a briefing, and, of course, we are now at 150,000+ deaths from a virus that was, according to Trump, not a big deal barely four months ago.

Really. All of this in just the last 24 hours. And this is not a complete list. We need to get to the valve and turn off the fire hose. Do we have the will to do it? I hope so.


a clear and present danger…now

Click on the image to secure your own book at Amazon.com.

I just finished reading the book by Mary Trump about her uncle, Donald, who, as you may be aware, is currently occupying the White House.

My own background and training have some relevance on how I read the book and how I see both Mary and Donald Trump. First, like both Trumps, I am the product of a highly dysfunctional family resplendent with all the abuses that often characterize such families. This gives me the ability to read the book with a level of empathy that I might not otherwise be able to achieve.

Second, I pursued training in mental health counseling for my Masters degree. It could rightly be argued that I pursued that training as an unconscious response to my own personal background and need for healing. Upon completion of the degree, I practiced for a time as a therapist. Typically I saw individuals suffering from “adverse childhood experiences” which had created a post-traumatic disorder for them; men’s therapy groups; and, because sometimes I can’t say no, couples in the midst of a divorce who were mandated by the court to have counseling as a condition for getting a divorce. Mostly, though, the insights and techniques I gained from that course of study have informed my work with groups, organizations, and communities today.

Being able to read the book through these two different lenses allowed me to read it with a deep curiosity and a minimum of judgment. Let me say up front that the book does not portray either Mary Trump or Donald Trump as wholly “good” or “bad.” They just “are.” Both are victims of the same highly dysfunctional family system and it has significantly impacted both of their lives.

For Mary, the book reveals a sense of hurt and isolation from the larger Trump family. Her father, Freddy, was the heir apparent to the fortune of Fred Trump, Sr. but he was not deemed worthy of it by his father. This unworthiness extended to all of Freddy’s family, even after his untimely death. The same view of Freddy’s unworthiness was held by Donald and all other members of the Trump family. As a result Mary, her brother, and her mother were all treated as “less than” by the Trump clan.

This is not to say that Mary Trump grew up destitute. She did not. At the same time, she did not grow up in the full wealth of the Trump family nor with the unbridled excess that Donald enjoyed as the favored son after Freddy was deemed unworthy and died.

Mary Trump still bears the scars, if not open wounds, from having been kept outside the family and being guilty of unworthiness by association with her father. Sometimes I see this hurt come through the book but most of the time it isn’t obvious. This is a credit to her training as a clinical psychologist in which she likely learned how to observe and manage her own messy emotions that can arise in the process of observing others, even family members.

Like Mary, Donald Trump is a hapless and helpless victim of the same dysfunctional family system. Unlike Mary, Donald Trump seems clueless about his victimization and pain.

Don’t misunderstand what your are about to read: sometimes clueless is a good thing. The most painful part of healing is coming to grips with reality. To do so requires you to take your whole world, turn it upside down, and see it from a very different perspective. The pain comes as you intentionally walk away from your cluelessness. That’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s downright painful because we all want to believe that the world as we perceive it is the world as it really is. It is just much easier to live in a state of cluelessness.

A therapist I used to see for my own healing once gave me this saying on a wall hanging: Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding.

The portrait of Donald Trump offered by Mary Trump is of a man so deep in denial about himself, his childhood, his relationship with his parents, etc. that he has lost all sense of himself. The first and biggest wall Trump ever built was the one that separates himself from what he fears is his true self. A self that was profoundly informed by his parents as it was for each of their children. In an effort to avoid what he fears most about himself he has created this other wildly glorified self he continues to project today – strength, toughness, manliness. This is his protection from a father who could not show love and approval and a mother who preferred to be rid of him and sent him off to a military school (in truth, a “reform school”).

When we are very afraid we try to make others fear us. We erroneously believe we will be less afraid if others are afraid of us. We can also confuse their fear with respect and imagine ourselves, therefore, to be great. Unfortunately, using our fear in this way doesn’t work the way we think it does. It only makes us dangerous because the more we try to control others – whether by fear or some other form of manipulation – the more frustrated and dangerous we become.

People of the Lie by the late M. Scott Peck is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Peck’s thesis is that there are people so masterful at crafting lies about their reality, including themselves, that they actually believe them to be true. When they do this they become incredibly dangerous to others. Parker Palmer, in A Hidden Wholeness, seems to suggest these same people are those who live divided lives. They are so invested in being what and who others (e.g., parents, family, bosses, spouses, etc.) think they should be that they lose touch with who they really are. These speak to Mr. Trump’s condition.

I offer this assessment without condemnation, only pity. I know what it is like to be a person of the lie and to live a divided life. I know the pain of breaking the shell that encloses deeper understanding of reality. I also do not blame Mr. Trump for choosing to believe the myth he has created rather than the reality the rest of us are experiencing under his presidency. The luxury of a soothing personal myth is a wonderful thing…until it doesn’t work anymore.

Will Mr. Trump ever let go of his myth? I don’t know. Frankly, I wish he would because I think he could be a decent man if he could allow himself to be a fully human person. I say this because all of us who have made that same journey of self have come out in a better place than we started. It is only the fear of pain that keeps us from taking the first step.

Sometimes we are forced into taking the first step. Mine came as the result of a series of life dominoes which began falling when I was 27. My father died unexpectedly and that was a deep and profound shock to my life. Within a few months I lost 75 pounds (which, in hindsight, was actually good for my health) and long held family secrets began to leak out. I began the painful journey of facing the reality of my family, its legacy of dysfunction, and how I had been impacted by it from birth.

For Mr. Trump, the first step may come as he feels his grip on the country is being loosened and, especially, if he loses the upcoming election. In a worst case scenario, he will continue to live in the full power of the myth and use every resource at his disposal to try to reclaim the office he lost because it proves his manhood and his worthiness to his long deceased father whom he saw (and helped) mercilessly judge and push out his older brother Freddy. In a best case scenario he will learn from the opportunity it presents, allow himself to heal as a result, and become less myth and more human.

I hope Mr. Trump chooses healing and humanity for our sake and his. Of course, choosing these carries a price. It is the price of personal responsibility for the hurt and damage we have done while living out our myth. If Mr. Trump can do that, he will become the real man he has tried so hard to convince himself that he is already.


chickenman – episode 85

After considerable negotiation with the Winged Warrior to end his trans Atlantic flight, Ms. Helfinger agrees to meet him at Plymouth Rock and promises to reimburse him the collect charges from their call.


July 8, 2020 – Hard Truths

hard truths

Next week Mary L. Trump speaks some hard truth. On July 14th her book about her uncle, Donald Trump, comes out. Reporting by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others reveals that it will be the story of her uncle as an incredibly wounded, psychologically damaged and impaired person, whose psychopathology is endangering us all.

This should not really be a surprise to anyone who has, even a little, objectively observed Trump prior to his presidency and since assuming the office in 2017. It is a very dangerous book for Donald Trump because Mary tells hard truth about him that helps us understand some of the other hard truths others have been sharing in their “tell all” books. What gives this book some greater credibility over the others is that 1) Mary was an insider in the Trump clan and 2) she is a clinical psychologist.

Honestly, I won’t giddily read the book looking for salicious, condemning new bits of information about Donald Trump. We already know as much as we need to know about Trump to make a clear headed judgment about his fitness for leadership.

I expect to feel pity and sadness for both Donald Trump and Mary Trump as I read the book.

Both are victims of a highly dysfunctional family and have come through many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). I know. That sounds very judgmental, doesn’t it? It is an assessment I can fairly and compassionately make because I also come from a highly dysfunctional family and have a number of ACEs, too. A bit of “It takes one to know one,” plus I was also trained as a therapist and worked with numerous clients who had experienced early childhood trauma.

Donald Trump uses bravado, hubris, and mistruth to feel like a worthy person. I expect this book will make that clearer than ever. Mary Trump is also deeply wounded. She strikes me as a person who needs to write this book as part of her own healing and recovery. It is also an attempt to save others.

I can empathize with both. Like Donald Trump I have felt incredibly insecure and have resorted to the same strategies. I have also been wounded like Mary Trump and felt a need to stake my claim to recovery and save others.

If Your Parent Drinks Too Much was my “tell-all” book in the 1980’s. It didn’t sell nearly as many copies as Mary Trump’s book will, but it did okay. It was nominated for a national book award, won a minor book award, and was translated into German and published in Europe. I didn’t write it as a tell-all book, but that was the impact it had on my family, particularly my sisters.

The book focused on lessons learned from growing up with a severely alcoholic father and a chronically angry mother who resented the presence of her children because they “trapped” her in a marriage she did not want. I did not intentionally tell stories on my family though there were many that could be told. When my sisters read the book, they read between the lines. They saw things in the book that reminded them of things they thought they had forgotten and which they had never discussed with anyone, including among themselves.

Years later I would learn that on a few occasions my sisters would meet up for a weekend to talk about what they had read and then compare their own stories. Even more years later the four of us sat together in a nursing home where my middle sister was waiting to die. On that day we talked for hours, for the first and only time in our lives, by ourselves. Our parents had passed years before and, now, we could freely talk. We finally had the safety to speak the hard truth each of us had hidden. We weeped together, affirmed our love for one another, and healed a little bit more.

Stories like those I told, and which I believe Mary Trump will tell, can make a difference because they speak hard truths which are also often hidden from view. They can be so hard, in fact, that they can be hidden from our conscious self as well. Mary Trump’s book may give Donald Trump the same opportunity it gives her – to heal. I won’t be voting for Trump in the Fall, but I will be hoping he allows this book to move him to experience the healing he so badly needs, and which we all need for him to experience.


a moment of sweetness

This Tweet appeared in my feed recently. It features a serendipitous experience for a young girl in a park. I won’t give the story away but I hope you will take a minute to watch it. I think it will make you smile.


chickenman – episode 78

The Police Commissioner orders the arrest of his own brother, a rum runner. This episode features some great one line zingers from Ms. Helfinger!


June 26, 2020 – The Conundrum of Forgiveness

Today is June 26, 2020. This is also celebrated as Forgiveness Day – a day to forgive and to be forgiven. How can one day be so impractical and at the same time so practical?

after the rain

Late yesterday afternoon we had a fierce thunderstorm. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention or if it really did sneak up on us, but I didn’t see it coming. One moment all seemed to be just fine out side, the next minute it was raining so hard that it was difficult to see across the street.

Throughout the storm I continued to work. When it had stopped raining our telephone rang. Our neighbors Neil and Jan called to tell us to look out the window. When I did, this is what I saw.

I don’t recall ever having see a complete rainbow in my life, let along a double complete rainbow. The double rainbow is a bit easier to see in the picture below. Notice the intensity of the colors of the inside rainbow.

I ran from window to window and window to deck to get a better angle to take pictures. All the while I was rushing about hoping it wouldn’t dissipate too quickly. I needn’t have worried. It was such an intense rainbow that it was visible for close to 30 minutes. Extraordinary!


the conundrum of forgiveness

The conudrum of forgivess is this: it is never about the other person, it is always about us. The capacity and will to both seek forgiveness and forgive others is what makes us decent, fully-human people. No matter the hurt we feel or the hurt we cause, granting or seeking forgiveness sets us free.

I’ve had the experience of doing both though I’ve more often had to seek forgiveness than grant it. Asking forgiveness is one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had to do. If you are familiar with the 12 Steps of Alchoholics Anonymous, and similar 12 Step groups, you know that the act of asking forgiveness is critical. In fact, beginning with the Fourth Step, seven of the 12 Steps are all about seeking forgiveness.

In the 1980’s I regularly attended Adult Children of Alcoholics and we used the 12 Steps in our own healing and recovery work, too. Addiction requires at least two people: the addict and a person who enables the addiction. Sometimes the enabler is the whole family. It took me a while to fully see and understand my own contribution to my father’s alcoholism. While I was not to blame, I helped enable the conditions that allowed him to feed his addiction until it grew beyond control. Enablers are not to blame for the addiction; but they do have responsibility for either supporting it (even unconsciously) or addressing it intentionally through what Al-Anon calls “detaching with love.” Many may see the line between feeling responsible and feeling a sense of blame to be very thin. I assure you, it is not.

When we carry blame, we also feel shame and powerlessness. It hangs on us like a backpack full of rocks. We can never seem to wriggle free from the bag, no matter what we do.

The mindshift from blame to responsibility is actually quite freeing. When we have been able to make that shift, we find that responsibility opens us to options we never had under the oppression of blame. Among the options that appear are giving and receiving forgiveness.

The 12 Steps, particularly Steps 4 through 10, help us embrace our responsibility. I can remember working Steps 8 & 9. It was excruciatingly difficult because it meant I had to seek forgiveness from people I had hurt in my wildly chaotic quest to fix my father’s addiction.

One person I approached for forgiveness and with whom I needed to make amends was the former minister of our church. As a young and upcoming preacher, who left the Methodist tradition to become a Baptist, I was invited to speak at the community Easter Service in my hometown. I used that opportunity to unleash the whole of Baptist hellfire on my former minister in a highly public attack while he sat only feet away. Why? Because I believed he had failed my father and my family.

Still, he extended grace to me that day, years later, when I sought him out to ask his forgiveness. I got the impression that he had largely forgotten it and had dismissed the bad behavior as pure hubris. Nonetheless, that day he took two of the big rocks out of my backpack – anger and loathing.

The act of forgiving, though, is a different kind of challenge. Sometimes the offense is so small that it takes little effort to forgive. Other times it takes every single ounce of humanity we possess to do it. For me, the most powerful model of forgiveness came from a man I stood in line with once at a Chinese take-out restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa. I knew of him by his reputation and I wanted to meet him. But I was still too burdened by my hidden shame to walk up to him and introduce myself. I regret having lost that opportunity.

His name is Ako Abdul-Samad, but this Wikipedia page does not really tell his story. Today he serves in the Iowa House of Representatives and recently he has been personally involved in keeping peace in Des Moines among the people who are protesting the death of George Floyd. He has even physically stood between police and protesters.

A more complete story, including his remarkable act of grace and forgiveness, is recalled in this article, written in 2016 but recently updated. In brief, Ako’s son was shot by another young man and died. Because it was a gang related shooting and Ako knew the shooter would not be safe from retaliation from his son’s gang, he took the young man into his own home. As he planned his own son’s funeral, he offered shelter and protection to the young man who killed his own child. Read the full story yourself, please. It is more real in Ako’s words.

Over the years as I’ve recalled Ako’s story from time to time, I’ve wondered how forgiveness and forgetfulness fit together. “Forgive and forget” is something we are all told at one time another. It seems impossible because it doesn’t seem wise. If I forget the harm done to me, what prevents me from getting hurt again? For this reason forgetting seems to be an irrational companion to forgiving.

Still, do we ever really forgive without forgetting? The answer is not simple. There is an elegant but complex dance that forgiveness and forgetfulness does within our soul.

Sometimes we can forgive and forget when the offense is slight and we have no permanent damage or scar. If this is the case, then we sometimes wonder if forgiveness is really needed at all, “no harm, no foul,” we say to ourselves.

Sometimes we can forgive and forget because we are so full of grace and faith in humanity that it is impossible for us to keep account of our hurts. This is rare indeed and if you are one of these unique people, you might consider applying for sainthood.

Sometimes we first have to forgive so we can begin to lose the memories of the pain. The act of forgiveness releases the valve that holds the memories in place. This takes great patience because some pain can leave deep impressions on our memory.

Sometimes we forgive and lose the memories of the pain but not the memories of the actions leading up to them. In these cases we are graceful and also wiser but sadder. The wisdom allows us to remain aware of potential danger. The sadness is because we grieve the loss of relationship that comes with such mistrust.

Forgiveness and forgetfulness are a mystery and inexplicably woven together. For this reason each of us have to discern for ourselves whom we need to forgive, from whom we need to seek forgiveness, and how much of our own hurt we can afford to forget. This work of discernment is also known as the Fourth Step in the 12 Step program: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Happy Forgiveness Day!


chickenman – episode 70

Benton Harbor (Chickenman) has another costume malfunction as he tries to prepare to apprehend a shoplifter. Gladys, a colleague at the shoe store, learns his secret identity.


June 9, 2020 – Now, What’s Next?

Today is Tuesday, June 9, 2020 and truly one of my favorite days – Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day! Strawberry Rhubarb pie is the perfect blend of tart and sweet. Today is also the anniversary of the debut of Donald Duck in 1934. Donald Duck is one of my least favorite of the Disney characters. Maybe because he is just mostly tart.


chickenman – episode 53

Chickenman makes an appearance on the Wallace Helium radio show…no relation to Winthrop Dykstra-Baum.


now, what’s next?

As I’m writing this the funeral service for George Floyd is being broadcast live from a church in Houston, Texas. In fact, it is being carried by all major broadcast networks and a few cable networks too. I am glad that so many are joining in the memorial and celebration of his life. I’m glad for Mr. Floyd that his body is finally being allowed to join his spirit in the afterlife.

Now that Mr. Floyd is being allowed to rest in peace, what’s next?

In 1978 a little Friends Church in rural Iowa was gracious enough to give a 24-year-old with, only and just barely, a high school education, the opportunity to serve as minister to the church. The people of that church were wonderfully patient and incredibly forgiving of me. They taught me far more about friendship, patience, grace and myself than I ever taught them about anything.

In that role I preached sermons on Sunday, visited members and attenders throughout the week, and performed weddings and funerals in between. One thing I learned about doing weddings was that I did not prefer them.

One thing I learned about funerals was that I was comfortable in the presence of death and grief. Was that because I had worked as a teen in cemeteries with my dad as a groundskeeper and grave digger? Maybe but who knows? Whatever the reason, I preferred funerals over weddings.

Serving that little church for three years I was honored to be with several people at the time of death. Each time it felt as though I was in a very sacred place with the person and their loved ones. It was not scary, it was not horrible, it just was. I know. Not every death is like that, but I wish every death were.

For George Floyd the time of death was scary, horrible, and shouldn’t have ever been. I wish I could unsee the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life, but I cannot. It was nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before in real time, up close. I cannot unsee it and I should never unsee it.

Just a few minutes ago in the service for Mr. Floyd, Rev. Mary White offered a prayer in the funeral service. One line of that prayer grabbed me. I won’t get it exactly right here but the gist of it was this: “When George cried out for his mama, every mama heard his cry.” Truth. It explains, in part, why this man’s death is so different and why the response to it has been so overwhelming and powerful.

Another thing I learned about funerals is that they are for the living, not the dead. Mr. Floyd is out of his pain now and has moved into the presence of his God and his mother again. Funerals recognize and embrace the pain of those left behind. They provide a means for those left behind to release their grief and to finally release their loved one. Sometimes the death of a loved one results in a change for individual survivors.

At the individual level, the loss of a loved one can profoundly change us. We may become more attentive to our own health, we may turn more intentionally to spiritual things, we may make profound changes in our relationships, or we may “step up” in ways that we never did before. As an individual, I’ve experienced change as a result of loss. I’ve also witnessed individual change like this in others.

I am less convinced that the death of one person, no matter how horrific, will change whole groups, including communities, states, and nations. When it comes to Mr. Floyd’s death and the meaning it could have to our society and world, I want to be convinced and have my doubt erased.

The death of George Floyd changes our country and our world only if it also changes us as individuals. As Rev. White noted, when George Floyd cried out to his mama, it changed mama’s everywhere. It also changed a few papas…including me.

Have enough mamas and papas, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, sons and daughters been changed? Please, God, let it be so that the answer “Now, what’s next?” becomes plain for all to see. Then George Floyd will have truly changed the world.

The George Floyd mural outside Cup Foods at Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis, Minnesota – Photo by Lorie Shaull

Tom

Day 76 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.

Saturday, May 30, 2020 – Live to Blog…Humbled by Beauty and Love

We had coffee again this morning with Alonzo and Starlee. They were camping in one of the most beautiful spots in the world this weekend and we connected on Zoom via their cell phone. The connection was remarkably good! Many people wouldn’t think the place they are camping is so beautiful. There were no mountains, no waterfalls, no beach nothing at all very exotic. However, there were no signs of human existence in their line of sight or within earshot, the stars glow and dance in an endless night sky, and they are serenaded by a symphony of nature sounds we could hear and enjoy even over Zoom. The Great Plains is a place of extaordinary beauty that too many people simply fly over. It has a kind of beauty that is so humbling. In a thousand ways it points to something so much greater and more significant than us. Thank you, Alonzo and Starlee, for sharing the sights and the sounds of where you are sheltering-in-place this weekend.


A Follow-Up on the Day 74 Blog

On Day 74 of this blog I wrote a posting about my own ongoing journey out of racist conditioning. In that posting I told the story of my friend Kevin and his role in my journey. I don’t believe Kevin knew he actually had a role until he and his spouse, Julie, read the post. He was simply being a friend and colleague to me. Actually, that was probably more powerful than any intervention he could have dreamed up.

My follow up to that blog is to share, with their permission, Kevin and Julie’s responses to it. Each sent me notes via Facebook messenger shortly after reading it. I asked if I might share these with you because I realize the blog leaves people to wonder, “What of Kevin?”

As you will see, Kevin is less expressive than Julie but he is thoughtful and makes his words count. Julie is eloquent and heartfelt in her response. However, what each wrote to me touched me deeply and, frankly, reduced me to tears.

From Kevin:
Nicely said. Being aware is good. Living your life with the works of caring to make a difference is another. You are living your life with the works that prove you are and have made a difference. I still have work to do in this area myself. Blessing to you Tom! And thank you!

From Julie:
Tom, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the article you shared with Kevin this morning. In 28 years with my beautiful black husband there have been so many occasions when I have witnessed racism and white privilege.

I have experienced emotions that range from anger, to frustration, to sadness, to pity for such ignorance. I am about as closely related to the black experience as a person can be. And yet, at the end of the day, Kevin’s skin is still black, and mine is still white. Friends who I love say things like, “I don’t see color,” which, to me says one of two things: The person is blind – or they absolutely DO see color! Otherwise why make the statement? I love you, Tom, for being in the struggle. Recent events shine a bright light on the fact that racism is alive and well and on the rise. I am so grateful for your honesty and your willingness to admit your struggle. It brings me to tears to hear a voice that speaks to the reality of the struggle. We hear these voices so seldom.

A book that has enlightened my mind and encouraged me to stay in the good fight is Tears We Cannot Stop (a sermon to white America) by Michael Eric Dyson. Perhaps you have already read it. If not, I highly recommend it. I have offered to lend my copy to several of my white friends. To date, not a single one has taken the offer. Not one.

Thank you again, Tom. You have given me hope today…I confess that I often feel pretty hopeless in the current environment. I have said more than once in the past 3+ years: I would not be surprised to see a burning cross in our yard. I would be terrified, mortified…but not surprised.

Sending love to you and Clemencia.

Thank you, Kevin and Julie, for being our friends, for being so congruent in your lives, for your humbling love, and for letting me share it here.


A Couple of Nudges

Nudge #1: In just a couple of days I’ll be doing a Tamarack Institute webinar with my friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, who is Co-CEO of Tamarack. The webinar is titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership and it will feature a conversation between Liz and me exploring these topics, with an opportunity for you to be a part of the conversation as well. The webinar is happening on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! Please act today to register for it. You sign up here. When last I heard, over 400 webinar seats have been filled, but there are still plenty available.

Nudge #2: ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! is now receiving registrations for the Summer Session, June 15-September 4. This is Clemencia’s website and teaching Spanish to adults is her baby. I admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to how I view her skills. Still, I’ve spent a good portion of my life in front of audiences as a trainer, workshop leader, and public speaker and I know what it takes to do it well. (That is not to say I have always done it well, just that I know good when I see it.) Clemencia is good! She is one of the best I’ve seen in front of an audience. Learning Spanish with Clemencia is an experience.

I hope you will check out the website, watch the other two brief videos in which Clemencia explains how the classes work. We invite you to consider whether you, or someone you know, is ready for an experience in learning Spanish.

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 43 – The Winged Warrior is called upon to help the Mayor of Midland City retrieve a valuable possession which has been lost…is that stolen?

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I’m not sure if the shields are 100% germ proof, but they are at 65% sound proof. As a result I find myself unintentionally talking over them (at 6’3” I am tallish enough to not have stuff designed for my height).

Tomorrow – Day 77

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.


Day 74 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head.

Thursday, May 28, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under Cover of Shame

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Given all that is happening this week in Minneapolis, New York City, and, recently, in Brunswick, Georgia, I need to write about race – specifically the dynamics of white racism toward black people. I have never felt fully competent to offer a meaningful opinion on race. Even more, as a white male I wonder if I even have standing to offer an opinion given the horrific history of white male oppression of minorities and specifically black people which continues even to this very day. Let’s face, white men, we’ve blown it…again…and again…and again and we keep blowing it. Still, to remain silent is to ignore the racism in our country and to become complicit in it. While I often refer to this blog as being full of “drivel,” race is not a drivelous matter. For this reason I will move forward with this blog on race, but carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully. I will save drivel for tomorrow.

A Little Context

My father figure gave me my first education about race. I vividly remember him often saying this: “I don’t so much mind the n****** and s****, but its the g**** that really get to me.” Unfortunately, that racist perspective defined or informed my view of nonwhite people and race for many years. Growing up in very rural Iowa, inhabited and surrounded by white, Anglo, Northern European people like myself, I had little life experience to challenge that understanding.

Only one time did I ever see black people in my hometown. In fact, they visited our home. It was a woman my mother worked with at a department store in a city about 20 miles away and her husband. They were out on a drive that Sunday afternoon and decided to drop in on us. My parents were wholly unprepared and I thought one or both were going to have strokes. They quickly ushered the couple into our house, all the time looking about to make sure the neighbors hadn’t noticed. We had a very awkward visit which I very much enjoyed. I was, after all, just at that age when teens enjoy seeing their parents suffer.

An Awakening

There was a time in my life when I was like Amy Cooper. Not long after I left my hometown I was working for a religious youth organization in a larger city in Iowa. I was meeting with a group of white youth in a park and we were playing volleyball together. A group of young black men came up and asked to join the game. My conditioning told me they were probably dangerous to the white youth, so I ended the game early and segregated my group from them by moving on to a Bible study activity for just them…the white kids. How ironic, eh? I have always felt embarrassed and ashamed of my actions that afternoon.

Though my social conditioning told me one thing, my conscience told me another. I began to wonder why I acted that way toward those young black men and, over time, the lingering shame I felt opened me to exploring it. At just the right moment of my life and career, two people helped me with my growth. One was Kevin, a black man who worked with me at a nonprofit organization in Iowa. Kevin was on my staff and by getting to know him, I got to know myself better.

A Transformation Begins

Both Kevin and I attended a diversity training sponsored by the local YWCA, but at different times. He attended it first. I attended it the next time it was offered. When I finished it, I came back to the office and was telling him all about my experience and what I had learned. At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head. Even as I remember this and write about it today, I still smile with appreciation because his candor was so genuine, so refreshing, and so right on.

This week I saw this video going around on Facebook and it reminded me of Kevin. If you haven’t seen it, please take a moment to watch it. If you click on the image below, it should take you to a Facebook page where the video appears.

The other person who helped with my growth was Al Vivien. Al’s father is C.T. Vivien, a close associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, a Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree by President Obama, and the creator and founder of the diversity work and organization Al leads today. Al was the facilitator of that diversity training I attended.

It would take many blogs to describe that experience as it was one of the most momentous and transformative of my life – hence my rush to share it with Kevin. I will only report now that I gained a lot of content but knowledge alone was not enough. The knowledge only provided context for me to understand what I experienced. It was the experience that Al facilitated – the experience of being skillfully transported, for a few hours, into a black man’s life – that impacted me.

Still, it was my friendship with Kevin that actually prepared me for what Al would teach me about the common humanity of blacks and whites. The stories we shared about our lives, the conversations we had, and the experiences we shared as co-workers prepared a place in my soul where Al’s message could be received and embraced. I have not been the same since.

The Need to Keep Moving Forward

Today it would be easy for me to pull a muscle patting myself on my back for how far I have come. I have a diverse group of clients – white, black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian. I live in a black majority county in a very diverse neighborhood. I have a very diverse group of acquaintances and friends. My Colombian spouse does not self-identify as a white woman.

However, I know my early racist conditioning was continuous and strong. I cannot and should not ever forget that that is how I learned to be. If I do, then I risk falling back because the racism of our culture today rivals that in which I came of age. Yes, we have a pandemic of COVID-19 that is stressing everyone and makes all things seem worse. It still cannot hide the pandemic of racism in the United States that has silently infected the souls of us white people througout my lifetime.

One reason I decided to tell this part of my story is so that people who care about me will hold me accountable when I fail to do it myself. You see, I’m a pretty nice guy. The “me” most people know today is very different from the “me” of years ago. They probably don’t know this racist past of mine because they have never seen it. At least I don’t think they have, except Kevin who is incredibly insightful and authentic, and was brave enough to call it out.

I know I’m responsible for my own life and for being the person I am. In asking others to hold me accountable I’m not asking them to be responsible. I’m just saying that I’m human. I can make mistakes. I can fail. When I do, I want people who care to snap me back on track. That’s all.

I do not want to be Amy Cooper, or the cop who strangled George Floyd, or the cops who watched him die, or the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, or the man who instigated the shooting. I do not want to be a person who inflicts any level of pain on another person because they are black or a member of any other minority in this country.

As much I do not want to be that kind of person, I have to live daily in the knowledge that I am not so far away from it. My social conditioning, combined with our current racist environment, can call forth aspects of my still unconscious racism in the Unknown region of my Johari Window.

There are two kinds of deadly racists in our country. The first are those who know they are racist and are proud of it. They are the ones who show up in places like Charlottesville. They are dangerous but, frankly, not as dangerous as the second kind. The second kind are the socially conscienced unconcious racists. They are the people who think they are not racist and tend to deny its existence today, preferring to believe “we are better than that.” They are the ones who stand by and do nothing while racism kills people. However, afterward, they do stand around with friends like themselves and lament how bad things must be for “those” poor people. I do not believe I will ever be the first kind, but I am never far enough away from being the second.

If white folks were being honest, I think my reality is close to theirs. This, I believe, is what Don Lemon was trying to school Chris Cuomo on last night on CNN. This is a 9+ minute video clip from the start of Don Lemon’s show, as Chris Cuomo was “passing off” to him. It is a powerful, honest dialogue between two men who claim to be, and who I believe, are friends. Take the time to watch it now, and I’ll pick this up on the other side with a couple of questions.

Okay, thanks for watching the video. May I ask you a question: If you are a white person, did Don Lemon’s comments get under your skin? Did you feel for Chris Cuomo who was squirming just a bit? Did you squirm just a bit yourself? Did you feel even a little offended by Lemon’s comments? If you are a white person and answered yes to any of these questions, then you still have work to do.

You are not alone, though. I’m there with you. I still have work to do because I don’t like the alternative if I don’t remain attentive. In fact, all of us white people have work to do…lots of work…continously. The roots of racism – especially white racism toward blacks – run very deep in our country. We cannot allow ourselves to believe it isn’t there. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking we have, or can, iradicate it from our beings. These beliefs and delusions continue to kill black people and others who do not look, or sound, like us.

It is past time for us to wake up into the reality of our delusion.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, if you are white, keep searching your soul for the unconscious racism that lies within. We only become better when we are willing to confront the problem and heal the illness.

Tom

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