Saturday, October 22, 2016

Luckiness, Democracy, Hope, Equity, Equality, Diversity, Land of the Free, Refugees, and Global Realities

Like most Americans, my ideologies and philosophies were uprooted 15 years ago on September 11th. I tell people often that my first reaction was awe, not for the tragedy, at first, but for the very fact that it actually happened. I quickly recalled many college classrooms I attended that chastised capitalism, challenged the truths of democracy, and internally found flaws in what the United States stands for versus what it actually is. Seeing the violence on that day (and afterwards) stopped me in my place to ask, "Why such hatred? Why the violence?"  My friends and I speculated many things: global histories, colonialism, trade, politics (ah, good ol' politics) and the green monster of envy. The attack on America was an attack on what the nation stands for (Give me your tired, your poor, you hungry). Of course, the 65 million people in this world currently who live tired, poor, and hungry are unlikely to have an opportunity to experience the hope that I've known my whole life.

I've been thinking about this a lot, especially around the rhetoric of Make America Great Again, which has been a slogan used not only this election cycle, but by almost every elected president of the last 40 years. To win votes, fear needs to be established. If a nation is afraid that everything is falling apart, then the logic is we can trust new leadership to return to a mythological past where things were once superior (to some).  The United States has always been in debate about who is to be included in the notion of democracy and to have a say on what "WE, THE PEOPLE" actually means.

I attest that today is not yesterday. I've lived long enough to realize nothing sits still and the reality I know is a result of complicated, thick, bureaucratic, militaristic, and international decisions that are made to secure the opportunities I have. After eating my 3rd meal of the day last night, watching the nightly news, and catching up on the 15 newspapers I read online to make sense of the world, I moved to my IPad to play games (unwind) and then my laptop to capture this thinking. The opposite of great is not so great, so I need to compare the world I know with global reality (and admit to myself, as much as I like to complain, I have it great). Of course, I can't know everything about the world, and that is why I like to read and interact with as many who are different from me as I can. I've also had the fortune of earning an education, more education, and even more education. It makes me wiser (at least I tell myself that) and that is why I also revisit a children's book I used to teach called If the World Was a Village of 100 People. Such a portrait changes every year and now I go websites to read updates.

There are 7 billion people in the world, with 325 million residing in the United States.  That is approximately 4.4% (we are only a fraction of the world). In truth, globally,
  • 50% are women and 50% are men,
  • 33% Christian, 22% Muslim, 14% Hindu, 7% Buddhist, 12% other, 12% none,
  • 5% speak English,
  • 83% read and write (huge accomplishments in the last decades),
  • 7% have a college degree (up from 1 a decade ago) (if we have a college degree, we think differently, I surmise, than the 93% who do not)
  • 48% live on less than $2 a day, 
  • 22% have no electricity (30% no Internet) and
  • 35% are not flushing toilets and using sanitation as we know it.
My point of looking at this surface-data is to remind myself that what I have here, is not what is had by others around the world. The Statue of Liberty means something on a global scale and, we are learning in this election, it means different things to those of us living here. All eyes are on this election - will the Constitution and its traditions be the choice of its people, or will the decision fall elsewhere?

This is why I've been thinking of Draco Malfoy (sorry, but Harry Potter, Saving Private Ryan, Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games are my go-to metaphors). It's not only Draco, but his parents and his friends who uphold the Voldemort Anti-Mud Blood movement in the wizarding world - they want to rid perceived filth, mooches, and repulsive non-wizarding weight. They do not operate on rationality, but focus on emotions and magical thinking (they want to believe what they believe and choose to believe it by surrounding themselves with others who believe exactly like them). Our nation seems to be testing its own understanding of immigration, refugees, and American responsibilities to the world at large. Hogwarts is America.

And with power comes tremendous responsibilities. 

Recently, I was honored with the President's Innovation Award for Community Engagement and Service. The award was financial, and I was surprised to receive it. The acknowledgment came in recognition of the literacy work I do with teachers and students in the State. In my head, I instantly divided the award according to my personal value system: a portion would go back to the urban school populations I have spent my life teaching, another to myself to do house repairs, and the last to my friends and family who have supported me. In other words, I wanted to distribute my luck and fortune, because I recognize that I do as I do because of the magical people I surround myself with.

I realized this week that I am still able to do this, however differently than I originally thought. Why? Because when the award arrived, over 40% of it went to local, state, and federal taxes (I'm good with this, too. One has to work AND pay taxes to contribute to privileges one has). It is my responsibility, as an American with all of its glory and greatness, to give back some of the privileges I'm afforded. That's how this works.

When one migrates as a refugee to the United States they have a short window to pay back the organizations that brought them here. Quickly, they learn that if you can work, you must contribute. We have what we have (and it may not be what we wish we had) because our country operates to find jobs for many, to provide a free K-12 education, and to secure our society and municipalities with men and women who dedicated themselves to the protection of our gifts.  Within years, too, refugee families can apply to become American citizens and must pass a naturalization test to dedicate their knowledge and devotion to the values of what the United States stands for. 

I recommend everyone take the test: I guess many would not know the answers - they might even fail (and they ARE Americans). 

If the United States is falling apart (which many Presidents have said in the past in order to be elected and they will say it again in the future), then why are so many still trying to get here? Why are those arriving and cherishing the greatness of the United States willing to work as hard as they can, with minimal complaints, to be free, to have rights, and to have a chance?
The other night at a gathering of wealthy individuals and refugee families, a woman asked of the kids, "What else can we do for you? What do you still need from us?" The reply was the following, "As refugees, we have always been dependent on handouts and the giving of others. In the United States, we want to be independent and to provide for ourselves. The best thing you can do for us is to teach us how to stand on our own. We came here to work."
What we have in America is rather remarkable: grocery stores, cars, highways, fashion, youth sports, professional sports, colleges, universities, railways, airplanes, and even dog groomers. This is not everywhere, and I'm not sure it is America's responsibility to take care of everywhere else, either. 

The Jesuits, however, who make decisions by faith, invest in the notion of men and women for others. I've never been religious, but I've studied dogma and faith, and totally understand the need for prayer and doing good for others. There is a responsibility for having, for doing good, for being kind, for spreading love, and for loving others who are different from us. There's hypocrisy to this, of course, but I do believe the mission is important. Who are we to others? 

If one looks at how power operates in other places, it is not the power of the people nor the many, nor the diversity, or the voices that make up a nation. Rather, it is the thinking of one (and/or a few) who make decisions for everyone else. Studies of World Civilizations show what does and doesn't work throughout human history and the conclusion has been, "Every civilization bears the seed of its own destruction." Thanks, Aristotle. 

When I was walking last night and thinking (dog leading the way) I kept seeing the image of the Twin Towers behind the Statue of Liberty that I watched on television in 2001. It was horrible - life changing - but now I'm witnessing a similar destruction coming from within - a violent movement built on negativity, fear, jealousy, ignorance, untruths, and hatred. It's always been here, and it is doubtful it will ever go away. He, who should not be named, is alive and well. He is impossible to ever remove. There is only one truth, and that is his - if there are others, surely its a conspiracy against his own. Power. Brute, brute power accrued by spreading hate and misinformation.

I'm here to write, though, that he is us, and we need to do better. Civility, communication, listening, history, education, opportunity, and kindness still matter....maybe not to everyone in this nation, but to the majority. Love seems to be the one thread that characterizes the greatest stories every told. It is always the answer and I will continue to choose love for my family, my friends, for strangers, and for those I simply cannot wrap my head around. I will continue to add my 'o' to God, and to believe in Good. I am hoping I have good in my heart.

My choice is to invest in hope, because hope is all we've ever had. Hope is what I want for everyone in the world, not just those who look like me, act like me, drink with me, and talk with me. Hope is what this country has always been and I believe it is still the way it should be for those arriving.

United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

I love/to believe/in hope.

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