Today is a difficult period, but also a time of incredible promise. When the pain keeps coming, it’s easy to believe it will never end, especially when we carry a three-pound brain that latches onto bad news and conspiracy theories. In the eighth-month of each pregnancy, my mind started whispering that walking around like a penguin for the rest of my days was my karma for previous lives’ misdeeds.
But this time it feels different. Even as the whisper campaigns began perpetuating the notion that only a certain type of woman can go to the top rung of power and I started wondering if I had a predisposition to rage aneurysm, today feels different. (Kamala Harris was just selected as the VP on the Democratic ticket sending a different message to generations to come.)
Tim interrupted my knitting, “I want to read something to you.” He read a passage from On The Brink of Everything: “Children don’t want to be measured. They want to be treasured.”
Your tennis game will never improve using your old racket no matter how much you tinker with its structure, new strings, reinforced handle, and duct tape to hold the wood frame together. When it collapses right in the middle of the best game of your life—how could this happen to me?—you reluctantly acknowledge it’s time for a new racket. It turns out that Dick’s Sporting Goods has options you never imagined. And right here, you get it. Your shattered racket and subsequent game loss was the best thing that could have happened. Without this awareness, your game could not reach the next plateau. Never again, can someone convince you that yesterday’s equipment was better. You will not say, “Make tennis rackets wood again.”
Aside from the most significant societal fissure, racism, slits are opening, revealing other problems we’ve kept in the mental broom closet. When systemic racism came out of hiding, other issues gathering dust instead of solutions trailed behind like ducklings following the mother duck.
We all have our pet peeves, something that continues to afflict our sensibilities. It’s what we discuss with friends. We may think about it watching animals graze or looking at the rain from the kitchen window. Our pondering may differ, but we share the part where our wonderings won’t go away. Two persistent inquiries for me are: Why do we have such a dysfunctional education system, and why do we continue to tolerate male toxic behavior?
Education is my life’s vocation. Most of that time was working with emotionally impaired children and sixth graders. After classroom experiences, working as a Teacher Consultant, I gained a big picture view. What all teachers had in common was trying to educate in a dysfunctional system that cared only about kids passing standardized tests. They found themselves teaching to the test for the bragging right to be called a Blue Ribbon School, a trophy without meaning. The entire passage Tim read to me:
We no longer care about educating children, a big job that’s never done. We care only about getting kids to pass tests with measurable results, whether or not the tests measure what matters. In the process, we’re crushing the spirits of a lot of good teachers and vulnerable kids: there are millions of kids in this country who long to be treasured, not measured.
What makes this especially odious is that we now have many studies that show that tests such as ACT & SAT do not correlate with future academic or career performance, or life contentment. As often is the case in human history, many suffer before enough see the light, but it’s happening. Universities are dropping or making the ACT & SAT tests optional. They include Harvard, Cornell, University of California system, and Williams College.
Toxic male behavior re-grabbed my attention when I learned that my eight-year-old fun-loving grandson came home from camp with a welt and bruises around his neck. He’s the kind of boy who loves discussing animals and finding the sky’s constellations. He wears glasses, puts shoes on the wrong feet, and took his purse two years ago to play soccer. Fortunately, he has a mother who will not accept, “they were horsing around in the lake” explanation. Nor will she tell her son to “man-up,” in other words, hide his emotions.
Toxic behavior includes sexual aggression towards women, quick boil temper, thin-skinned, self-centered, displays no emotions or empathy, and certainly is not a feminist ally. Intimidation is their game.
As one of four members on a local community board, three men and me (sounds like a moving company), one male was of the toxic kind. At one point, leaning over the table, shaking his finger in my face, he hissed, “I’ll tell you what Andersen!” His temper was quickly reaching 212 °F, and I wondered if I should be concerned about his heart. I wasn’t. Instead, I said, “is something wrong with your finger?”
Two recent experiences show how we are moving away from “boys will be boys” in a direction where men can internalize that emotions and vulnerability are not unmanly. Pre COVID-19, at a coffee shop, two thirty-ish men discussed work stress and marriage conflicts. Sports never came up. (No, there is nothing wrong with discussing sports. Only when it cancels exchanges that are meaningful and helpful to men.) The coffee shop guys used feeling words and expressed vulnerability. I had to control myself from going to their table and hugging them.
On my Colorado morning walk, a tennis coach was speaking to twenty or so high school-age boys. I slowed down to get the jest of the conversation. It sounded like a pep talk before a match. The coach told the boys that getting nervous before a game would not help them. “My father always told me just to swallow it,” he said. “To push it out of my mind.” Just before my point-of-view dived Lake Disappointment, I heard something different. “But you know what?” he said, “I always got nervous. Sometimes I worried I’d vomit my breakfast.” I heard the boys chuckle. Well, I never! I said to the killdeers, noisy little birds hopping on the path ahead of me. He said nervous and scared were normal feelings and added that the other team would not be spared from nervousness. Hosanna and hallelujah!
Light of awareness is pouring in thus fewer places to hide. Those who still cling on to yesterday, in time, will come around. Their shell is hard but not air-tight or water-resistant. Opening up to a new reality challenges the ego. Think how long it took to accept that the world is not flat. Change is in the air. This time it feels different.
Bullies and How to Stop Them
Colleges not requiring the SAT or ACT
On The Brink of Everything, Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, Parker J. Palmer