Thursday, July 7, 2016

Change is not made from the outside.

“Ignorance leads to fear,
Fear leads to hate,
and Hate leads to violence.
This is the equation.”

On September 11, 2001, the United States felt the impact of terrorism in a public and terrifying way.  Where, before, the fighting between religious beliefs had been distantly held across the ocean between seemingly ancient foes, that morning it reached our shores.

When that happened, the country realized we were unprepared.  Unprepared for that type of aggressive and chaotic violence, unprepared for zealotry that had no interest in preserving human life, and unprepared for a response that wasn’t a learned military reaction.  At the core of that unpreparedness, was a lack of understanding and information.  Sure, we accepted that a multitude of religions lived on our planet and even within our borders, but American’s are self-centered.  We only concerned ourselves with our own beliefs and needs.  We wouldn’t be touched by our lack of understanding, right?

Wrong.  So we did what we did best.  We wrapped ourselves in patriotism and fought back.  Right or wrong, who knows?  Action was needed, so action was taken.  In the process, the kernels of ignorance continued to sprout leading to fears of unknown attacks.  More terrorist events were revealed that hadn’t been made public.  More links in the chains of battles behind the scenes which were suddenly visible due to the internet, global connectivity, and social media.  Fear grew and with that… hate.

Hatred for anyone who was assumed to be Muslims or traitors or extremists, regardless of proof.  Judgement based on clothing, religion, and looks became acceptable.  We created a “them” to look out for in our minds.  Even amidst protests, that fear and hatred grew.  Suddenly, people of Central and South American descent were given more than a passing glance.  Citizens or not?  Real Americans or not?  Traitors or not? 

Some looked around and said, “Hey, this is wrong.  We know as a country judging based on these characteristics is wrong.”  But more looked around in fear and thought, “I have to protect myself and my family.  The threat is everywhere.  It could be anyone.”  We like our labels.  Suddenly everyone was being slapped with a tag.  Divides weren’t just racial or religious, but political and patriotic. 
It became acceptable to voice the secret fears and let them breed into a founded belief of dislike, discontent, and hatred.  Attacks on ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation – rising?  Or just being revealed?

Violence over discourse.  Compromise is for the weak.  Never back down or surrender.  Fear everyone.

There is no need to wonder how we got where we are.  We took this journey together.  Eyes wide open with deaf ears and stood motionless as the small injustices grew like tumbleweeds into larger ones.  The nations we used to criticize, we’re starting to resemble.

It has to stop.  And that starts with us.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When did we lose our minds?

I have come to the conclusion that much blame lies in the rise in the power given to the media, in general.  We started letting television and magazines tell us what was wrong with us.  We let them tell us how we were living wrong, raising our kids wrong, eating and drinking wrong...

From the daytime talk shows to the dramas to the movies, how much positive culture was being presented?  There were more shows tearing our societal community down than shows building us up.  Where were the shows praising the brilliant minds on the horizon?  American drive and ingenuity?  The amazing strides immigrants brought to the country?  Put aside faith based programming or educational media, which let’s be honest poor PBS carried alone for how long…

What shows made you feel adequate, competent, and good about yourself as a human being?  Which shows didn’t make you feel too fat, too poor, too out of touch, too…whatever?  As the shows snared us, the commercials continued the effort by pushing products and advice in snapshots aimed at poking you in the eye quickly and handing you a solution (for a reasonable price!) with the other hand.  Solving issues you didn’t even know you had!!

Then the news… the printed papers had worked for decades to prove they were reliable and honest.  Unbiased reporting was a badge of honor…until it didn’t sell nearly as well as a scandal or two.  Television only exacerbated the problem.  The opinion page became television editorials and commentary that the public took as gospel.  Preach! Preach! But only on your side of the aisle… and you have to pick a side.  Compromise is weakness after all.

Who are these people talking at us?  Decades of being torn down by perfect strangers we put on pedestals because they were just perfect enough to get on camera?  What credentials?  Do we even care?  Are we interested in their back story and if they have any understanding of where we come from or how our families have survived in this country?  Second opinions are recommended in medicine, but if you’re coming through that box in my house, well…surely we should listen?

And doctors... out of millions... but one or two could change the world?  Random studies from places with no reputation.  Organizations like the FDC and CDC losing credibility as everyone armchair quarterbacks the community. 

Everyone else’s opinion impacts ours…until social media arises with the anonymity the browbeaten need to finally speak up.  Only, there’s no logical thought and process behind the opinions and speech, just… words.  Sound bites.  The communication style we’ve learned from entire stories in less than 30 minutes and 10 minutes of gunshot advertising.  News thrown at us in 30 seconds.  Only the highlights.  Now, this is common communication…  Well, it’s common speak as communication implies a level of interaction and understanding no one wants to give.

Compromise is death after all.  Community means giving in.  Every man for himself.

When did we lose our minds?  More importantly, when did we lose our heart and humanity?

I know I keep posting this question filled commentaries, but until I find an answer that makes sense I guess I’ll keep asking.  The strange thing is, the media is only as strong as we allow it to be.  It is a monster fed by our dollars.  Our cable, dish, and internet bills pay for the house it lives in while our rabid purchase of advertised goods like lemmings feeds its very soul.  It’s not untouchable, but it is uncomfortable to touch.  It would mean sacrifices we’re not willing to give and changes we won’t enjoy.

I type this on my computer.  I watch our television.  I talk on my cell phone.  I am part of the problem as much as I have the ability to be part of the solution.  It’s not all or nothing.  But it is something other than what we’re doing right now…

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Valentine’s Day Ideas – For Him!

So Ladies, let’s admit it.  Valentine’s Day tends to be more about us than US, if you get my drift.  It’s great in some ways, especially if you’re still dating, but once you’re in a committed relationship…
It starts to feel weird that he’s expected to buy us flowers, candy, card and take us to dinner… if not do more… but we’re expected to (at a minimum) reciprocate in kind, right?  The thing is men could care less about flowers, candy and a card.  Dinner is good and of course sex is great, but where is the real gift of love for them?  So I started thinking, what would be things my husband (or any guy) might truly appreciate (and come to look forward to) on Feb. 14th?  Here's my current short list:

Little love gifts for him:
If he likes beer, wouldn’t giving him a membership at a beer of the month club be a great idea? 
Craft Beer Club; Beerboxer or Microbrewed Beer  of the Club might be good places to start.

If he’s not into beer, check out Amazing Clubs  - they have a large variety of “of the month” clubs to choose from.  Everything from Barbecue Sauce to Cake to Cigars to Jerky to Sirloin is available.  You know your guy – so you can pick!  The nice thing is that this gift lasts more than a single day and will remind him of you once a month when it comes to the house.  (Guys reading this, you might check out Amazing Clubs as well to surprise her!)

What if your guy is an athlete?  Runners go through their shoes every 300-500 miles.  If he runs 5 miles or more a day, that’s roughly 2 - 3 months for each pair of shoes.  I bet he would really appreciate a surprise of an extra pair of shoes!  Even small accessories like caps to run in and support items (my hubby uses K-tape) are appreciated.

Want something more whimsical?  Pay attention to his “fun” activities.  Gamer?  Buy (or even pre-purchase) the latest game that’s coming out in his favorite line of games.  Pool Shark?  Take him to the billiard shop and have a new cue made for him.  Or get accessories like a carrying case and personalized chalk cubes.  Board Game Lover?  Visit Marbles or another specialized game shop and get him a new challenging game – and be willing to play it with him.

Speaking of that – if your hubby is a gamer – offer to learn the game and play with him (even if it’s not your thing).  He’ll be surprised and you might be as well, just in the bonding that happens alone. 

These are just a few ideas, of course, and they can go hand in hand with joint events like a couples massage, trip away or just an evening at a local posh hotel with room service and breakfast in bed.

Now…I’m off to plan a surprise!  Happy Wednesday and have fun planning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Channeling my mother...

When I was a teenager, I was embarrassed when my mother would get stern or assertive with people in public places.  (Because you know, teenagers are generally embarrassed by anything their parents do - up to and including breathing in the same room.) I can distinctly remember a situation when she got (in my silly opinion) pushy with a woman at a department store. 

Fast forward to today when I find myself grateful for the example she set on how to handle a difficult situation.  Looking back with adult eyes, I see that incident in the store completely differently. 

I would like to share what's happened in our home recently that has reaffirmed this feeling. 

WSSC:  When we got our first water bill from, it was ridiculously large ($2000).  We FREAKED OUT.  I'm not kidding you when I say blood pressures were raised.  My husband opted to handle it and figure out what the problem was.  We were sure there was a leak.

He called and the young woman he spoke with only made things worse.  Not only did she get snippy and say, "Well maybe you should run your sprinkler less" but she said they couldn't help us adjust the bill until it was paid. She refused to let him speak to a supervisor and basically blew him off, threatening that the water would be shut off if it wasn't paid in full. So we scraped money together as we went into the holiday season, right on the heels of the water through the dining room ceiling, and paid them.  My husband was so angry and admitted he lost his temper with the woman by the end of the call - and this is a man who RARELY loses his temper at all, even when it's deserved.

Fast forward to the next bill.  At this point, we have had the sprinklers turned off and the line bled.  We now know the previous owners had set the thing to run several times a day every day.  We were basically watering our house, the houses down the hill, and possibly the people beyond them.  Having never had a sprinkler system, it was a genuine mistake.  The bill however said we now owed $1400 and this time I decided to call (to save my husband's life, he was too angry to safely call them without his head exploding). 

I got a different customer service person, I'm sure, but I also made sure to control the conversation so that I couldn't be put off with pat answers.  Forcing the person on the phone to listen to what I was saying and being pleasant as possible about it while firm was a huge success.  The woman apologized for her colleague, told me some steps to get the bill corrected, instigated a request for a rate adjustment for the previous bill and gave me some other tips to possibly same money on our future bills.

When the bills arrived earlier this week, they were still not correct.  The amounts were smaller but there was no credit for the adjustment or the money we had already paid accounted for on the bill.  I called back and spoke with a lovely older woman at WSSC.  Funny thing is, I think she was prepared for an irate customer not someone being friendly so her initial tone was stern and aggressive.  Again I approached things in a firm but pleasant manner, keeping the focus on the concerns I had.  We chatted and I explained my concerns.  She realized something was wrong and pulled in a supervisor (who then had to pull in some other experts).  They called me back the next day with it completely fixed, apologetic and wishing me a great weekend.  I went from being "Ma'am" to "Ms. M" by the end of the entire situation.  Refreshing.

Washington Gas: In the midst of all this, last weekend we went to bed and woke up to a house at 58 degrees.  It was COLD and getting colder.  Plus there was a storm coming through (less of a storm than advertised, but still below freezing temperatures) and we had the kids for the weekend.  At first we thought, the furnaces are broken.  But logically, the odds of them both going at the same time were pretty bad.  So we called the gas company to see if there was an issue.

Now, we've been paying a bill to the gas company since last summer when we moved into the house.  The bill comes in my husband's name to our address - the same address receiving gas service - and we pay it.  So why was it cut off?  Because the account had the name "Occupy" on it and they thought someone was stealing gas.

WHAT?! You have our name and the address and we PAY you, so that MAKES NO SENSE.  Plus, before you cut off someone's gas service, you should give them notice.  You may also want to check the weather before you do it.  So, I offered (was asked) to please call them because my hubby was told, when he called, that they couldn't reconnect us until the following Monday.  During the snow event.  After two days at feezing temperatures.  With children in the house.

So, I called and I was... irate.  However, I didn't curse the unhelpful customer service rep out (I did raise my voice a little) and I just kept pressing my concerns to the forefront.  I finally realized she was unable to say anything but the scripted responses.  She couldn't commit the company to anything.  So, I pulled my mother out of my memory and said, "Look, I understand you don't have the authority to help me, but someone there does.  If there was a gas leak or explosion at my house, someone would have the ability to schedule service today at my house to fix the situation.  So, as this is an emergency for the protection of children, the gas needs to be reconnected immediately.  The paperwork issue is not one we're going to solve right now.  Please put the person who has that authority on the phone."

Voila, I was connected with someone who didn't have to read from a script.  We had a candid conversation and he contacted the dispatcher and someone came to my house and turned on the gas.  Now we still have a paperwork and bill issue to handle, but I'm convinced it will be fine.  I'll just remember to Keep Calm and Press On. 

There are times I open my mouth and my mother comes out, and I wince.  This was not one of those times.  All I can say is, "Thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to handle a situation like this."  No need to get nasty, curse, or scream.  Persistent professionalism wins! 

Even if it looks like an embarrassing situation in the eyes of the teens.