seeking the greater good

On Elections and Peaceful Resolution

4:04 PM

(Written during the 2016 election process which, incidentally, dragged on for a decade.)

My Facebook page has offered a bizarre snapshot of the polarization our nation has been tolerating, or perhaps, incubating, and although my Facebook page is something I have created, a collection of the comments and opinions thrown down by the people I like and love, it does offer a representation of the deep issues being weighed, and resented, in our ever-changing national conversation out there

Abortion or choice? Do we need gun law reform or protection of the 2nd amendment? Does “Obama Care” need to be destroyed or just tweaked? Is America great now, or do our policies slam the door on true democracy? Regarding immigration, do we actually have to choose between an open door policy or a giant wall? 

One thing is for sure; I don’t like conflict. I like conversations to follow my rules, to support my values. What do I value? I want everyone to be heard, and I want the discussion to be civil and respectful, ending in either agreement or resolution.

So in terms of our election season and the monologue-like shots fired out into the internet from biased, carefully-spun editorialized media sources (there’s a poll out there for everyone)…we’re speaking our own truths full force, but we aren’t listening.

Why is the current discourse so negative, so judgmental? Why can’t pro-lifers and pro-choicers converse, or even compromise? Why can’t we protect the 2nd Ammendment while discussing safety issues?  Even though these are literally life and death issues, and even though I myself have forged deeply treasured, value-based opinions of my own,  it's obvious that in a majority-based system, conflict and compromise is sometimes the only way to flush the governmental pipes to keep from living in a state of dysfunction or worse, unresolved tension.

Some of the tension may be due to a general distrust regarding our mostly-democratic system. In certain political circles, the term general distrust understates something more like an absolute belief that government is comprised more of corruption and hidden evil agenda than public service. As citizens and voters, we don’t really get to drive the bus all by ourselves.  

We’re frustrated. We’re frustrated when our representatives in Washington don’t actually hit the target as we see it, and it’s heartbreaking to observe abuse of power, corruption or even just run-of-the-mill-yet-significant congressional inefficiency. I’m not sure how much corruption has infiltrated our political operations, but I prefer to make judgments based on what I know instead of what I suspectWhatever it is we boldy post from the rooftops, and whatever we think we know, there is no denying that compromise is often the way forward, and it is more often the only road to peaceful resolution. 

A couple of decades ago when I was trying to negotiate my way through a marriage with more conflict than I could eventually tolerate, my therapist put it this way: building a wall is the first act of aggression. Our national discourse won’t lead to resolution unless we can lower our defenses with each other long enough to build an environment of respect...long enough to converse effectively.

All of this is particularly ironic in light of the “discussion” Aaron and I had this morning as I barged angrily out the door, anxious to sit at a coffee shop and write deeply about politics and unity. (Pause for comedic effect.)We fought, and I yelled an expletive into the void (the garage, technically) as I stormed out the door. Why were we so polarized in our positions that the conversation was reduced to explosive reactivity?

In that moment, what had become of my values concerning the rules of effective discourse?

It's easy to figure out. I thought I was right, and incidentally, so did Aaron.

Ultimately, the discourse continued peacefully when my husband insisted (accurately) he hadn’t been heard, and when I stopped defending my position long enough to listen. And he listened to me long enough to compromise and forge a way through the conflict, together.

The complexity involved in trying to achieve peaceful resolution as a nation is daunting, but what are our options? We can keep fighting tooth and nail, slinging mud and leaving devastation in our wake. We can concede while massaging a seed (or a mountain) of loss and resentment. We can compromise, surrendering some of what we believe to be so very right and true in order to achieve what might evolve into a...different good.

No one ever said that achieving peace is easy or simple; each one of us has to decide for ourselves what peaceful resolution is worth.

“Peace is not placidity; peace is 
The power to endure the megatron of pain
With joy, the silent thunder of release, 
The ordering of love. Peace is the atom's start,
The primal image: God within the heart." 
Madeleine L'Engle

lessons from Camp Gold Arrow

Another Day at Camp

1:33 PM

When I was a youngun’, my parents made it possible for me to go to camp, and not just any camp. This was a fantasy-style adventure at Camp Gold Arrow, a luxury getaway for children.

Once a year, my fiercely organized mama packed trunks for each of her four girls, complete with dried snacks, bandanas, military grade canteens and rolled sleeping bags, and we sisters spent a whole month in the Sierra Nevada mountains, engaged in hiking, canoe-paddling, sailing, horseback-riding, and campfire enhanced story-telling. Amazing.

My recollection of this recursive experience is a bit patchy, a mental mural of sensory experiences. I can pull up a mix of sights, smells and sounds: pine-needle-covered pathways, hay-stuffed archery targets, capsized sailboats manned only by children, and weekend trips to the little country store where I bought candy and Archie comic books to get me through the coming week without cartoons.

It was particularly thrilling to hear the call to line up in order of cabin numbers for the assignment of activities, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. The suspense was gripping. I was giddy when we were assigned as a cabin to water ski, or toboggan. Whoo-Hoo!!!! On the other hand, It was deflating to be assigned something benign or lame for a tomboy… like crafts. Of course, there were no choices in these matters. 

We all had chores, and if we were expected to wash the dishes on a given day, there would be no process for challenging the decision. We would do the dirty work, and another cabin would deal with that assignment next time.

The most emotionally charged and therefore memorable moment at camp was always the electrifying Capture the Flag game that was the climactic event every summer. The camp was divided into two teams, and the teams were assigned a fort, topped by each team’s flag and colors. The terrain between the two forts consisted of mountain-side trees, rocks, utility cabins and mysterious caves with challenging visibility for nine and ten year old campers. All the little soldiers were given a certain number of flour-stuffed ammunition packs which amounted to Kleenex tissue covering ½ a cup of flour that, when hurled at an opposing team-member, would stain them and force them to be captured, or be counted (virtually) as “deceased.”

The heightened emotion of running from a 9 year old opposing assassin is funny in retrospect.   I told myself, C’mon Laury, it’s just a game, but the amped-up adrenalin in my body worked like a loud speaker, screaming at me to run for my life, so I did! I would even feel something like real grief when a team mate would be “shot” or taken, but most of the time, to my shame, I would abandon my friends to save myself! (Give me a break…I was 10.) The temptation to avoid the battle and self-protect would always be there, but the true heroes of the game would go after their captured friends, the wounded warriors held behind “bars” in the dungeons of the other team.

After all, the whole point of the exercise was to sneak into the fort, capture the flag of the oppressors, and release the captives. 

I don’t remember how many years I went to camp, or how many Capture the Flag games I played at Camp Gold Arrow throughout my childhood, but I can still access some of the emotions I negotiated as a very small child, learning to experience the independence camp offered. For one month each year, retreating to the dependent relationship I had with my parents wasn’t an option, so I dealt with my frustrations, fears and disappointments on my own; it was a safe place to experience life outside the nest.

I often reflect on my camp experience, and it’s become a daydream-like metaphor for the day-to-day operations as an adult; there are quite a few takeaway tips I can glean from camp memories that are useful in my so-called-grown-up routine. It’s all just another day at camp.

  • First, assignment of the daily cabin activity is a collective operation. You aren’t only receiving individual assignments; even when you aren’t aware of it, you are part of a group
  • You are assigned the group, or culture, within which you find your origin of experience, say, like a family, or childhood geographical environment. You don’t get to choose your "cabin," but you can choose to accept and embrace it
  • Every activity is temporary and only lasts for a few hours. You aren’t stuck here, and lanyard weaving isn’t your life; it’s just your morning. You can expect this to change 100% of the time, and another activity is on the horizon
  • Like a Capture the Flag game, your experience will be impacted by the people you pair off with. Don’t embark on a quest with people who just want to mess things up or run away. You want to work with the ones who pay attention, the creative problem solvers, negotiators, investigators and inventors. They make things happen.
  • Don’t argue with the camp managers. They create your experience, and you may as well accept that experience as yours for the day. Period. Your attitude is your business.
  • If you pay attention, surrendering to life-camp adventures might give you a great way to find out who you are.  So you aren’t great at archery…you kick ass at slalom skiing, and this begins to give you an awareness of where to put your life energy.
  • Finally, and most significantly… inertia and self-protection can occasionally offer an appealing way to stumble through life. But the goal of the game is to plow forward, energized with purpose, unbridled by self-interests. To fearlessly capture the flag, and when you can, be a part of releasing the prisoners.

Image: Girl Scouts

Addicted to Absolution


12:00 PM

I'm addicted to absolution, so I've come to rely on confession although not in the strictly liturgical sense. Even though I enjoy transparently sharing things I'm feeling or thinking about, I often experience discomfort right after I do. The following story marks my earliest over-sharing mishap.

In 1969, my father was booked to tour Japan with the Osmond Brothers. Hoping to be able to have his family on the road with him, he decided to rehearse a little show with his wife and four daughters assuming that people who would enjoy watching the Osmond Family’s fresh faced boys would also get a kick out of seeing the Boones sing, dance and relate to each other as a family. The idea worked well, and our two tribes toured Japan for a month.

Daughter of two country music singers Eva Overstake and Red Foley, my mama Shirley taught us to sing rich harmonies as children, and we all worked hard to develop that tight-knit vocal style into a full-blown production, professionally organized with choreography and well-rehearsed casual banter.

In '69, I was 11, a tomboy with a butch haircut trying to seem at ease in my pantyhose and patent leather Mary Janes. I felt awkward, so I was going for cute.

I remember standing on stage one night, in my place at the permanent end of the line with hundreds of Japanese patrons filling the space in front of the stage. My father introduced a song, and while he was still speaking, I walked up next to him, tugged on his costume jacket, and demanded that he give me his attention.

He tried to plow ahead, ignoring me at first, but I was persistent, so finally, he hesitantly leaned down to listen. I had decided that the audience in Japan needed to know that I had a sore throat, and that the infirmity might impede my performance. Concerned my contribution might be noticeably disappointing, I was clearly attempting a preemptive confession to negotiate absolution...up front.

I can only imagine the discomfort my father may have felt in the moment. He was mildly agitated, but professional and charming, informing the crowd of my concerns without letting his irritation in the moment leak out. He kept it entertaining and light, diffusing the awkwardness, and the show moved forward.

My sisters gave me befuddled looks while my mom’s jaw tightened. Later, there would be sarcasm and a few “don’t-evers.” I realized after the show that this simply hadn’t been the right moment to say how I was feeling, and the pure red-faced embarrassment from the epiphany was an effective teacher.

To be was I to discern when it was OK to say what I was thinking, and when it wasn’t?

My family lived in a sort-of glass house, complete with tour bus drive-bys, and there was always a steady stream of cameras, books and articles magnifying our lives so anyone who wanted to could see past the glass; that is to say, they could see what we allowed them to see. Public awareness of our life was normal, I thought. So why wouldn’t it be appropriate for me to tell the men and women in the audience in Japan something very personal about my present struggle?

I’ve lived most of my life negotiating some tension between a desire to be transparent, and an underlying compulsion to remain hidden. When sharing about oneself, how much is too much?

Telling something personal about myself, maybe even something less-than-great, can become a standard fix, easing the discomfort of feeling inadequate in general. It offers some relief to feel accepted, even after openly and willingly leaking certain unattractive features, implying that my darkest secrets might not be so dark after all. Often, talking about myself has felt like opening an overstuffed closet to remove one item and causing an over-leak, TMI. I have had to ask myself, how can I achieve transparency without shame? Like so many other issues in my relationships, how I experience transparency may come down to intent.

We all have an inner and outer life, and we get to choose how much we allow others to see "in." What's the benefit of revealing our inner world? We may want to be helpful, or identify with a struggling friend. We may want to simply offer tools we have discovered. But in my case, I've used openness as a vehicle to reach out for absolution, assurance, or acceptance, triggering the leaky closet fallout.

Al Franken's Stuart Smalley, a motivational  character from "Saturday Night Live" circa 1991,  had a pretty good idea decades ago, demonstrating the benefits of speaking affirmatively into a mirror instead of leaking stinkin' thinkin' into the atmosphere. Stuart was ahead of his time. Following his lead, I can do the deep work of self acceptance alone, loving myself holistically and accepting my deficits while trying to build character, and I do that mostly privately, in therapy, or in a safe inner circle of friends. 

I'm working on it.

Thankfully, the overstuffed closet is much tidier these days, and I know, now, that it's up to me to choose what I want to share, and what I don’t. I try to keep it useful. When I attempt authentic transparency, and I start to feel the anxious creepy-crawlers, the leftover worries from my public-and-private childhood, I remember that I am only one little person with one singular perspective, and I won’t put my hand over my mouth.

And...I try to remember that listening is at least as satisfying, intimate and rewarding as being heard. 

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