Rosh HaShanah was last week, Yom Kippur is this week. Old year is ending, new year is beginning. So much to think and reflect upon. At this time of year I expected to write a post about myself and all my introspection. However I find myself looking outward. I find myself looking at our society and remembering a line I read saying something along the lines of the 2016 Presidential campaign did not cause the divisiveness in our society. The divisiveness, that existed previously in our society, ALLOWED the 2016 Presidential campaign to take place in the method that it did. Very interesting. I guess it makes sense. You don't go to the doctor until a problem becomes un-ignorable, right? Why should attention be given to problems in our society until something huge happens to underscore those problems? Now, let me be clear, I have not done any homework. I can only speak from how I feel. Many of you will dismiss this blog post because I don't have loads of quotes and citations and political pundits' points of view. That is your prerogative, 100%. But I never claimed that this was a political blog. In fact I have stated the opposite was true. But now I am speaking from my heart and my new crush on Dan Rather (and two articles that smart people brought to my attention).
So I guess what my heart has been ruminating on has been getting along. We teach our children, as soon as they are old enough to interact with others, to "get along." We teach them that while they both might not want to play the same game it is possible to find an option in which both parties want to participate. We teach our children how to talk out a problem. The whole basis of the Responsive Classroom is giving children the vocabulary to express their wants and needs and feelings. It seems to me that in today's society we have lost to ability to "get along." We have lost the ability to talk things out. We have lost the ability to disagree. "[T]o say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non— these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree. And the problem, as I see it, is that we’re failing at the task. This is a puzzle. At least as far as far as the United States is concerned, Americans have rarely disagreed more in recent decades." (Stephens, Bret. The Dying Art of Disagreement)
The point made regarding Galileo and Darwin, regarding Mandela and Havel and Liu Xiabo is that they did disagree, but they did so fully informed. "the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out" (Stephens, Bret). They were all experts on their topic matter and therefore could knowledgeably argue their points. And you know what? They did so without name calling, without degrading their opponent. They did so in such a way that if their opponent presented a better, more convincing argument they would concede and say something along the lines of, "Hey, you made some really good arguments. I think I'll align myself with your position now."
In today's quick moving society "[w]e disagree about racial issues, bathroom policies, health care laws, and, of course, the 45th president. We express our disagreements in radio and cable TV rants (that come in fast and furious, almost too quickly to truly process) in ways that are increasingly virulent; street and campus protests that are increasingly violent; and personal conversations that are increasingly embittering." (Stephens, Bret)
This reminds me of a statement made by my beloved Dan Rather, "When I was covering civil rights in the 1960s, we basically had a deadline once a day. That gave you time to report—and more importantly, to think about what it all meant. With cable news that became a deadline every hour or so. Now it seems to be a deadline every nanosecond. This pressure to file makes it harder to be as accurate and fair, to get the story right. The dangers of emphasizing speed over substance in journalism cannot be overstated." (Lithwick, Dahlia. What's Behind Dan Rather's Wild Popularity)
While you may have your personal thoughts on Dan Rather and the sh*t that went down in 2004, Dan Rather does have a lifetime of experience with news, and reporting that news in an unbiased, fact-based way. His points about deadlines becoming every nanosecond and taking away the ability to mull over what you've noted and what you've written are of the utmost importance. In a time when "[f]ree speech can quickly become “hate speech,” “hate speech” becomes indistinguishable from a “hate crime,” and a crime needs to be punished" we need to be ever more careful of what we say, either verbally, written, or simply in passing (Sullivan, Andrew. America Wasn't Built For Humans).
We live in a nation that is more divisive than ever before. In America there are "two tribes whose mutual incomprehension and loathing can drown out their love of country, each of whom scans current events almost entirely to see if they advance not so much their country’s interests but their own...two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white..." (Sullivan, Andrew). If we are so busy pointing out the shortcomings of the "other" how can we grow? How can we improve? How can we be a light among nations if we are blinding one another with our hateful vitriol? "America will never be destroyed from the outside," Abraham Lincoln said. "If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." And without the dialogue that comes with disagreeing we are truly destroying ourselves. "For free societies to function, the idea of open-mindedness can’t simply be a catchphrase or a dogma. It needs to be a personal habit, most of all when it comes to preserving an open mind toward those with whom we disagree" (Stephens, Bret).
I'm not sure how to end this diatribe. I've enjoyed writing it very much. It brought back the feeling of writing a legit paper for a grade (although I realize my citations are horrific!). I hope this gives you some things to think about. To think, how can we bring disagreeing back into our lives? How can we bring informed, knowledgeable, perfect comprehension into our debates? And how can we keep our debates civil, taking everyone's point of view into account?
I'll end with a quote from the ever poised former First Lady, Michelle Obama: "I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love. That's what I see. That's the America I know!"
G'mar chatimah tovah. May this be a year full of the Book of Life for you and your loved ones.
This post is going to be in the mode of stream of consciousness. I have so much swirling around in my head, the music is too loud, and I am bone weary at this particular moment. So really all I can do is let my thoughts come out in one long stream. Sound good?
Sixteen years ago I was a second year teacher on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I was teaching third grade and had an assistant teacher. We were conducting reading groups, which we tracked since altogether there were six third grade teachers and assistant teachers. In the middle of the period the head of school walked in and motioned me to come to her at the door. She whispered in my ear that two planes had struck the Twin Towers. There wasn't much information at that time other than that. I was shocked, dumbstruck, and couldn't really figure out what to do next. Our instructions were clear, keep the kids calm, uninformed, and on their normal schedule. All the teachers wanted to do was to watch the TV that was in my room. When the students had a period out of our classroom that is exactly what we did.
The news never got any better. In fact it kept getting more and more horrific, like out of a movie that couldn't possibly be based in reality. I was able to reach my mother, who was in Connecticut, on my cell phone, but getting through to my sister, down in DC, was impossible. So one of us would call my mother and she would relay information back and forth to the two of us.
One of my students had parents who were both journalists. They were both covering the World Trade Center. Many students got picked up early by parents, or care givers. We were to keep as much normalcy in the classroom as possible and think up reasons why so and so was leaving early. It was a surreal day with sirens racing all day down, down, down to the hell that was the Financial District.
I walked uptown to my friend on 93rd Street and spent the evening with her since no trains were running and cabs were impossible to find. We sat, glued, in front of the television. What else was there to do? We prayed, for sure, but it is hard to pray when you can't even wrap your head around what is happening. It is hard to pray when you are unsure as to what the future will hold for your city, your nation.
Eventually I began to walk uptown to my apartment on 187th Street. I believe at one point I was able to get a cab. I was very thankful for that kindness. Once I got home I turned on my computer and went to Craigslist where covering every board were wanted ads, looking for missing people. The majority of them were titled: Cantor Fitzgerald. At first I thought, wow, so many people looking for this one cantor. Only later did I realize that the whole floor of Cantor Fitzgerald had been obliterated. All employees were gone. Loved ones so tightly holding on to hope that their Cantor Fitzgerald family member was spared, was out there, was trying to get in touch. It was heartbreaking to realize, as the hours went by, that most of those wanted ads would remain unanswered.
Many people have been making the comment that every year on September 11th the weather is clear and crisp, just like that day 16 years ago. Today it is cloudy, it is not a clear blue sky, it is not a bright, warming, optimistic sun. The reality has set in. Our nation is not the same nation that is was on September 10, 2001. We can never go back. True, we can never forget, nor should we, but we can never go back. The United States is not infallible. Our truth is now different, everything changed because of the events at the Twin Towers, at the Pentagon, in Shanksville, PA. And we should never forget.
I can not imagine what strength of character it must have taken for the volunteers, both career and civilian, to make their way downtown to the Financial District or to the Pentagon or to the meadow in Pennsylvania. They didn't know what they were walking into. They didn't know what they would find. They for sure were not thinking about how it would affect them years down the road. But they did it. They went. In fact so many went that they were turned back.
I wish I could say that I did something heroic that day sixteen years ago, but alas I can not. I stayed in my home. I watched the news. I waited, with the nation, for some good news to come out of this nightmare. But I can say that every year since 2001 I have remembered. I have taken a minute or two out of my day and meditated on what 9/11/01 means to me and the nation and in the broader concept, the world.
I try to stay non-political on this blog, for I feel that was not my point of starting www.1000miles1step.com. But I do have to point out all of the events going on around us, just in the United States, recently. We have wild fires in the west, hurricanes in the east, DACA all over, committees being disbanded, protest rallies getting out of control and people mortally wounded. The way to improve the climate, both natural and political, is not by shutting things down. It is by opening things up. Start a respectful conversation, where both parties listen politely and considerately. Perhaps they agree to disagree, but they are talking, each side presenting his or her beliefs. Talking is necessary. Shutting people down, intimidating people is not the way to improve anything.
If September 11th can teach us anything it is that when the chips are down more often than not people are good and kind and want to help. Unfortunately they are the same ones who do so quietly, not drawing attention to themselves. It is the loud and boisterous ones who shut down the flow of information. Those that crave the attention are self-promoting. Today I will find someone quietly making the world a better place for others and walk up to them and thank them. It is the very least that I can do.
I wish you love, and peace, and the ability to speak your mind in a constructive environment.