Archive for December, 2014

Over the last few weeks the United States has been going through some interesting discussions.  We have home some really terrible incidents in the last few months and many have gone through the justice system and the results have caused major unrest result in protests, some peaceful, but many not and riots, which by their very nature are not meant to be peaceful.  For those unfamiliar with the situation (I know I have many followers from outside the US) these incidents involve how police handled situations with people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others.

I have often talked about our God-given expectations in our role as parents.  One of the most important is guiding our children to interpret and understand the world through the proper lenses.  Certainly my greatest hope is the first lens that my children will see through is God’s, however they may choose to discard that lens, so the next lens I can provide is that of basic decency and morality.  While I certainly have a Christian lens, for this discussion I am going to move from that to something I hope more people can accept, which is that second level, because I believe the topic at hand is important enough that I do not want to lose people who just do not want to read another discussion of what Scripture says.

As parents I believe it is a common wish to have our offspring be successful as they move through life and we try to equip them with this.  As a parent how I discuss incidents like these with my kids will determine how they frame their judgments the rest of their lives.  It will train them which lenses to use.

In the incidents at hand, there is a crucial question, certainly, but I think that too many in America have made it the wrong question because they have labeled these problems as having primarily a racial element, and I firmly disagree with that.  I believe to frame them that way clouds the discussion to the point of not addressing the real question, which is what must be done to hold authority figures (police officers) accountable for their actions when those actions exceed what would be considered reasonable and customary?  Saying that Michael Brown or Eric Garner were killed because the officers were white and they were black is not right.  They were killed, at least in Garner’s case, because the officers in question used poor restraint and judgment.

The officers involved in Garner’s case used a banned method of restraint.  To me this is the fundamental problem.  Garner died because an officer choked him to death.  He did not die because the officer was white.  I am not going to discuss what the consequences of this action should be for that officer.  That is for the authorities to decide, but what I have a problem with is that there should be some consequences when someone, regardless of position does something wrong.  This is my problem with diplomatic immunity extending to possibly allowing a homicide to occur because of someone’s status and no consequences being applied.  The situation is similar to a police officer being “immune” as well.  This is what I do feel was broken in this case.  I think using the race lens and protesting and rioting because of black and white relations is so disrespectful to people that it makes my heart ache.  Were there race issues in this country?  Unquestionably.  Are there still some today?  Certainly.  However, they are much improved over where they were 150 years ago, 50 years ago and even 25 years ago.  When I was in college my parents would still openly use the N word.  Today, while they may still think that in their heart, they do not utter it and they get upset when others do.  I do think we have a generation or two until this nearly vanishes from a daily concern, but the point is it gets less and less every day and prominent people like Chris Rock and others in that community have publically stated that as well.  By turning these incidents into black versus white, or anyone versus anyone we are creating natural defensiveness of entire groups.  When my black friends discuss this in those terms it makes it hard for me to truly talk about it and vice versa.  It is not a color issue, it is a people and relationship issue.  Is it ever right for a police officer to choke someone?  If the answer is no, then we need to focus on that problem and not cloud it with race.  This is what I hope everyone, including my kids, understands.

Now let’s look at another problem in these cases, using the Brown incident as our back drop.  Was what Brown did worthy of his death?  Again, that is not for me to opine on.  I was not there, I do not have all the facts.  What I have heard is that he was acting is a belligerent way at some point and the officer felt threatened.  This is the root of the situation as well.  Garner was doing something illegal.  Again, if people want to argue about if selling the type of cigarettes he was selling should be illegal or not, there are forums for that, but it will not be changed by yelling and screaming and rioting.  That just shows that proper, peaceful discourse is not a method of dialogue used by those making that choice and so their opinions are discounted because of the violence used.  Does anyone seriously want to make the argument that the right way to get someone to change is to violently force them to do so?  Should we wrestle or co-workers to the ground in a meeting or pull a weapon on them in the hallway because they want to do a project task in a manner different than we would?  If that example is obviously stupid, then why do we feel this is the right way to change a community?  Sadly, I think the lens these people were given by their parents or others was that violence is the way to get heard.  You do get heard; in the same way that Eric Garner and Michael Brown were heard.  Once you start yelling, screaming and threatening all the person or people you are attacking focus on are your behavior, not your goal.  No matter how much Garner or Brown thought they were in the right, arguing with a police officer who legally has the right to detain you and arrest you is not the answer.  Sadly, these men lost their lives doing that and investigations of these incidents were done, but I believe the fact that the focus of the public was diverted to race made it impossible to really address the problem.

Why?  Because of the fear of what strong discipline in these cases would mean.  It now became clouded with white and black instead of just being about right and wrong.  I do not care what color Eric Garner was.  What the police officer chose to do was wrong and there need to be consequences for that.  I do not care what color Michael Brown was, I care that he was aggressive to a police officer.  I do not feel he should have lost his life for it but I was not the officer faced with the situation.  We need to fix the abuse of authority in these cases.  I hope we can see our way clear to do that, and I hope all our children can get past the clouds of the race issues of the past and see what is really broken.  When we see injustice because of race we should certainly speak up, but we need to stop coloring what should not be colored.

In the end I do feel that the officers should have to respond for their actions.  In the Brown case, I believe that was done to some degree especially since the officer resigned.  In my mind, not knowing that situation, I’m not sure if he made the right choice.  Trust is shaken and in a profession where we need to trust that man, he realized he could no succeed and so will now choose another career.  In the NYPD case with Garner, I have not seen any consequences so this needs to be fixed.   The LAPD wrestled a woman to the ground a few months ago because she was on her cell phone while driving.  It is being investigated.  This is good.  People need to be responsible as so clearly stated in the video by Charles Patrick.  Let’s all try to be more responsible for ourselves today.

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The greatest challenge that the Lord gives us at times is when He asks us to exercise patience.  For me it has been one of the items I still wrestle with.  I have been blessed with intelligence, logic and related attributes that tend to make me a high achiever and a quick thinker.  While most would say those things are good, I offer an illustration with food.  Many people would say that chocolate is wonderful and so is lobster, however, at least for me, the idea of eating chocolate covered lobster is not all that appealing; but chocolate covered raisins or lobster encrusted steak?  Mmm mmm good!  It is all about the right combination at the right time.

Similarly my Type A personality does not go well many times without patience.  It can be overbearing, arrogant or rude.  As I have gained wisdom and God has helped me reflect on situations I have been amazed at those teachable moments to show that those attributes of me, sprinkled with a little patience for flavor, turn mac and cheese into a five star meal.  At work, I still struggle as the drive to get things done many times overpowers me taking out the patience shaker, but over the years I have worked very hard to use it at home and feel I have more success there.

What I have discovered to my amazement is that doing so usually allows for more harmony in the household.  Once of the main reasons is that by being patient even when I may not be feeling that way inside offers me the chance to see differing perspectives and understand what other emotions may be at play, and so I would like to present you a few examples of recent events, but my method requires a little explanation.

Anyone that knows me understands that one of my passions is Disney.  As a child I loved the magic and wonder and as an adult I add to that the appreciation of a business built for the most part on family and fostering togetherness and improving relationships.  One of the coolest ways that I feel Disney does this is through their animation groups, especially Pixar, which is one of my favorite studios.  Just like some of us will buy any music put out by our favorite artist without listening to it, I know that whatever Pixar comes out with will have me in the theater on opening weekend with my candy and my excitement, raring to go.  So it is with the next production, Inside Out.  For those who are unfamiliar with the film, it basically explores the life of a teenage girl by letting us be inside her brain with her emotions.  But as is so often the case with Pixar, they take what is a brilliant concept on its own and add in some twists that take brilliant to genius.  You see, with the new trailer released today, I was able to see that not only are they going to help us see the emotions of the girl, but also of her parents, and I imagine those around her.  What God has taught me through patience, Pixar is going to be placing on screen as we listen to Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger and Sadness.  It is in this mode that I play out the rest of my story, which covers basically the last 12 hours of my life.

Last night, Marcia came home after a band concert.  Now to set the stage, my wife and I believe that the only reason Marcia is in band this year is because she wants to be with a friend of hers.  She used to love band but last year she did not participate and so it was with surprise that we greeted her announcement months ago that she was going to be in again this year.  In any event, her apathy has made me feel the same way towards her events and so during marching season I had not braved the cold and rain.  Nothing but the hand of God pushed me to decide to make the effort to attend her first regular indoor concert of the year now that marching has transitioned to the regular concert band season that will encompass the rest of the year.  I texted her a few times before and after and saw her when she got home.  She looked rather dejected when she came in.

Me: You look upset.  What’s wrong?

Marcia: Mom did not show up…. AGAIN!

Marcia Sadness: Why does she do this to me?  Why am I never a priority in her life?

Me Sadness: Why does she do this to them?  Why does she not make the effort to participate?

Me Anger: Because she is a selfish little b—h.  One day she’ll see how resentful the kids are and then it will be too late.  Serves her right.

Me Disgust: How can someone be so selfish?  Is sickens me to think I was married to someone like that.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Marcia: It’s OK.  I’m used to it.

Me Sadness: If only Nan would understand how much pain she causes.

Me Anger: If only God would help Nan understand how much pain she causes.  He could smite the Egyptians, why can’t he wipe Nan of the face of the earth and remove the pain?

Me Sadness:  Because that would cause Marcia more pain.  I need to make sure I keep Anger in check.  It will not help Marcia if I get angry about Nan.

Marcia Sadness: What did I do to deserve this?

At this point Marcia just went upstairs and got ready for bed and school the next day.  My wife and I decided it was best to just leave her be as nothing we could say at that point would really make it any better, it would just prolong her sadness of what was a regular occurrence from Nan.  The issue here was that it was almost worse because now Nan’s mom has moved here so her grandparent who could also have attended now that she does not live several states away also was not present.  Now it is possible Nan did not make her aware of the event, but Nan’s mom has always been selfish as long as I have known her, so not sure the cause, and in the end, to Marcia, it does not matter.  Her perspective is that her mom and others do not care.  Again, I thank God for giving me the push to show up even though with other logistics with other kids we had that night it meant driving back and forth to the high school three times in about 90 minutes.  I think it was important in that moment for her to understand that I did care what she did and had I not attended no amount of explaining the difficulties would have helped.  In my perspective and other adults seeing what was going on that night it might have been a sufficient excuse.  In Marcia’s perspective it would have been the same type of crap she hears from Nan all the time about why she is unable to make it to events.  This was just worse because it was one of the few times Nan had actually said she would be there.  Normally her mode is to make the excuses well before hand and politely decline because of her busy life.  I cannot even begin to guess what Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger were doing inside Marcia for the rest of the evening, and even my narration above may be way off base, but I hope it allows you to see how things wrestle inside us.  Without patience I would have flown off the handle about Nan, but with it I understood it was not in either of our control and getting Marcia more upset would have just hurt more.

Let’s now move on to the next morning.  After being punished from driving privileges, Marcia has also been told that it is too expensive to pay for gas for her to drive to school every day so at least until her job hours pick up and she can begin pitching in once in a while they will only drive over when logistics require.  This effects Jan and Cindy as they also attend the high school and as freshman have enjoyed a rare event in the life journey of a teen; not having to ride the bus for most of the school year in their first year in high school.  Now that is being taken away and reactions abound.  This being the first few weeks of the change, everyone is still working on the system and with the business of last night I had not done my portion with all of the players to explain that today was to be a bus day, which means getting out of the house about 15 minutes earlier than a car day.

I had been downstairs, as is normal, for about ten minutes when Marcia came down.  It was about 25 minutes before they would leave.

Marcia:  Does Jan know we are taking the bus?

Me: I have no idea.  Go wake her up and let her know.

Me Fear: I had not told anyone they were taking the bus.  Something will go wrong.

Me Joy: Yippee!!!  It has only taken a week and Marcia gets that when there is nothing happening they take the bus and she is actually taking responsibility rather than being a defiant teenager and pushing back.  How wonderful!

Me Anger:  I bet Jan has no idea and it will be another crappy morning arguing about taking the bus.

We went about our morning routines and I got up to the kitchen about 5 minutes before departure time.  Marcia was present, Cindy had come down still sick so she was going to miss another day and Jan was nowhere to be found.

Me: Where is Jan?  Did you wake her up?

Marcia: Yeah, I did.  No idea.

Wife: Was she aware they were taking the bus?  You were supposed to be telling them.

Me Anger: I know that and I already beat myself up about that downstairs, thank you very much!  I know we agreed that I would be telling them, but rubbing it in does not help any!  Grumble grumble grumble.

Me Fear:  See, I knew she’d not come down.  Now I will have all that teenage drama.

Me Anger:  I had told Marcia to make sure Jan got up as she is terrible at waking up when not planned.  I bet she just rolled over and went back to sleep.  Why didn’t Marcia make sure she got up?  Why didn’t I make sure they were all aware last night?

Me:  Yes, I know.  With all the running around I did not get to see most of them last night.

Me Anger:  They are in high school.  Why can’t they assume the bus is the way to go.  Because they are selfish teenagers, that’s why!  Grr!

Me Sadness:  You were a teenager once.  Why are you so hard on them?  Meany!

I had to finish up some things on the computer downstairs so I went back down and in the meantime the bus came and went.  I walk upstairs to find Jan just running into the kitchen as we both hear the bus leaving the neighborhood in front of the house.

Jan:  I had no idea we were taking the bus today!  Now what do I do?  Not go to school?

Me: (Deep breath) No.  I will drive you over this morning.

Jan Anger: Why!? WHY!?  NO ONE TOLD ME!!!!  My life sucks!  Why can’t we drive?  This is stupid!

Me Anger: See!!  I knew this would happen!

Me Sadness: Yes you did, just try to get her to understand.

Me:  Give me a couple minutes to finish up and I will be ready to go.  You guys will be taking the bus normally so you need to figure that out.

Jan: I can’t get up that early! At dad’s I can’t get up that early and it is later than this!  I don’t understand (fade to Charlie Brown teacher warble as I tune out the tirade)

Me (calmly):  You’ll figure it out.

Jan: I’m too tired getting up this early!

Me: Then go to bed earlier.

Jan: I went to bed at 9!

Me: OK, then I guess your body is telling you it needs to be earlier.

Jan: I can’t go to bed earlier, I barely got my homework done!

Me: You’ll figure it out.

Jan Anger: This is stupid!  I don’t get it!  (Ongoing)

Me Sadness: Oh the joys of teenagers……

So now we circle back to patience.

By being patient I was able to see things from Jan’s perspective and not blow my stack, as this was a similar conversation to what has occurred every time the bus has come up.  As an adult I see no reason that the public provided transportation is not fine.  I can understand the “earlier” portion but I also struggle with the fact that it is 15 minutes, at most, earlier and if they are tired they have the whole bus ride to veg out.  Jan as a teenager does not see the problem with driving.  This is where her and Marcia have different perspectives, and Marcia’s has been provided to her by the fact that she has gone out and gotten a job and has paid for a few tanks of gas for the car she uses and has let us know how crazy it is.  Jan has not had the benefit of this reality yet.  She is still blissfully unaware that there is not a magic money plant out back, leprechauns do not arrive at my door just before they all wake up to let me grab all the money and more that I need for the day, or that I do not crap twenties out my butt like some variation of a human ATM.  She still exists in that nirvana of early teenhood where the world works and she does not need, or care, to know why.  Only when the world does not work (i.e. she is asked to ride the bus when there is a perfectly good car just parked out front calling to her) does she even attempt to understand how the big machine operates, but even then it is through teen colored glasses and hearing aids.  I say gas costs a lot.  She hears we are cheapskates.  I say everyone has to ride the bus.  She hears that we had to walk to school uphill both ways, with nuclear radiation and while carrying baby goats to market.  Not having the patience and willingness to understand the other perspective and empathize with the emotions those cause is truly the root of most disagreements.  I work hard to make sure that I keep that in mind even as Anger is pound on the control buttons in my head to get me to do something irrational.  To be a good parent, I think that is what God tried to teach us by giving us instruction to be slow to anger.  Once that short little fat guy (watch the Inside Out trailer) has a firm hold on the joystick, it is hard to break free of his control.  We face this with all our emotions and that is always the struggle.  What is happening in Marcia’s or Jan’s or my wife’s control center?  Sadly, unlike the movie or my attempt at some levity in this post, we do not get to know unless those people speak to us and tell us.  And for some reason we are all usually really bad at sharing that information in a constructive way.  That’s why the concept Pixar has is so brilliant and why I have been looking forward to this movie for years when I heard about the concept four years ago.  The new trailer is awesome.  The teenage girl has a tirade that starts out with the parents trying to be OK and ends with a punishment, but it is the emotions that play out that are so fascinating.  As a parent I could totally get the dad’s emotions and what they were doing and I still get the teenage perspective and what she was doing.  The battle between the emotions is awesome.  Can you tell I’m excited about this movie!?  I can’t wait until June!  Anyway, sorry.  I’m calm again.  Back to my post.  To operate better in our relationships it is important to have this perspective, I just wish we could find a way to see into each other’s brains and hear all the dialogue exposed in the movie, but we do not.  So we need to find other ways, mainly by patiently listening and then by patiently thinking before we act.  With our human frailty that is not always possible, but God demands of us to try.  I will just keep trying to do that knowing that my perspective is just that.  Mine.  Not my wife’s, not my kids.  I will continue to pray that they are understand that as well and that we work out of love for each other to get to a resolution for all life’s little episodes and we continue to encourage Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear to play nice.