Put down the camera and engage

Dear friends,

It’s become a common sight at concerts, events, celebrity appearances – even kids’ recitals.  Expect to see it a lot at this summer.  I’m talking about this:

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I’m “old school” – a member of the last generation who will remember life before the internet – but this particular social phenomenon dismays me.

I remember attending “Skate America” prior to the Sochi Olympics, and “Stars on Ice” later that year.  Many audience members chose to watch the performances through the viewfinders on their phones, rather than directly with their eyes.  I understand the desire to capture the moment so you can relive it later, but I’m sure many of these folks also wanted to record the performances to show to friends – “I was there.  I was in the room.”

What troubles me is how this removes us from the moment when it’s happening.  Not only are we one step removed from the experience when watching it through a viewfinder, but we’re objectifying the performance and the person, rather than enjoying a feeling of connection.  There’s an element of humanity we’re missing here.

(I should note that I have similar feelings about autographs and “me with celebrity” selfies.  I’d much rather have a handshake, a hug, a conversation).

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It’s fun to be “in the room” and to be able to relive that moment and share it with others.  But for me, it’s much more gratifying to be “in the moment,” and to feel it all – a connection with others, an appreciation, a sense of wonder.

I encourage you to be “in the moment” during your upcoming holidays.  Connect with people.  Life authentically.

Blessings,

Annette

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It was always an ideal

Dear friends,

Scroll through your social media accounts these days, and you’ll see a lot of despair.  America isn’t what it claims to be, people are saying, and it never was.  Hatred and divisiveness never seem to die, and our forefathers did so many things that fly in the face of the freedom and justice they talked about, wrote about, supposedly fought wars about.

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And it’s true.  The history of our country is filled with events that make our patriotism, our songs of freedom ringing from every mountainside, seem like the worst hypocrisy.  How, we ask, could our founding fathers write about liberty while owning slaves themselves?  How could they argue about property rights while, at the same time, forcibly take property away from aboriginal peoples who had been here for millennia?  How could they talk about equality while counting a black man as 3/5 of a person?  How could they honestly, deep in their hearts, believe in manifest destiny?

Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find a lot of despair over America not living up to its promise.  Hatred seems to have made a comeback (newsflash: it was always there).  We see images on the news of parents and children being forcibly separated.  We’re hearing words that we thought were long obsolete, like “concentration camps” and “internment.”

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So what’s our calling?  What do we do?  Do we throw up our hands and walk away in despair, crushed by the realization that we’re not living up to our ideals, and that we never have?  Or do we revive those ideals, talk about them, and renegotiate their meaning?

If you believe, as I do, that our ideals should be reconciliation, healing, justice, dignity, and life in community, you must not give in to despair.  Our belief, our enduring hope in those ideals is all that stands between us and the future we fear.  Our problems are too big for any one person to solve, so we must stop looking for someone to step in and save us.  We have to save ourselves.  But how?

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We must reject the notion of securing our personal freedom and comfort at the expense of others.  We must recognize that the feeling of “I’m sorry for them, but thank God it’s not me” is coming from a privileged position.  We must accept that while we can’t do everything, we can do something.  We can come out of hiding.  We can confront the fear.

We can say no, this is not who we are, and I’m going to do something today to prove it.

And then we engage.  We write, we talk, we pray, we connect.  We enter the world as people who embody those lofty ideals we profess to embrace.  We use our positions, whatever they may be – teacher, parent, business person, laborer, leader, follower – to positively influence those around us.

Do what you can, right now, today, wherever you are.  And don’t ever, ever give up.  The “shining city on the hill” won’t build itself – we have to do it, you and I, brick by brick, and if someone knocks it down, we must begin again.

Blessings,

Annette

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Love in an age of disagreement

Dear ones,

For those of us with passionate political and cultural beliefs, it’s a tough time to be on social media.  Do we engage with people whose minds are made up already?  Can we initiate a civil, respectful discussion without getting our blood pressure up?  And most of all, how do we resolve the cognitive dissonance of seeing people we love expressing opinions that seem uninformed or unfair?

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The contentiousness I see on my online feeds has me thinking about unconditional love.

Love without conditions doesn’t mean I love a friend despite their beliefs, or that I love them even though I think they’re wrong, or that I love them aside from our differences.  All of those statements involve a judgment – saying that “I love most parts of you, aside from these flaws that I find unlovable.”

That’s the way we do it as humans.  We draw circles that shut things out.

Can we learn to draw circles that embrace the whole person?  I think that’s the challenge.

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I’m recalling a poem by Edwin Markham (which I also knew as a camp song in my younger years):

He drew a circle that shut me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

But love and I had the wit to win

We drew a circle that took him in

I’m struggling with this – loving without judgment, without excluding certain aspects of a person that I find “unlovable.”  I don’t know how to do it yet.  But I do know that this is something I should strive for.

I know that parts of me are hard to love, and I treasure those who are able to draw a circle around me anyway.

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

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Do you pick up your toys and go home?

Dear friends,

I belong to a number of social media groups, particularly on Facebook.  From time to time, things can get heated.  This week, two very active members have departed from one of these groups, and they left with a bang, not a whimper.  Both of these people chose to unleash their frustration and anger, then announce they were leaving.  They were quitting our sandbox, picking up their toys, and going home.  So there!

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Their frustration was rooted in the fact that other members didn’t agree with their views.  Tensions were rising, no doubt due to the “disinhibition effect” – our tendency to act more freely when we can hide behind anonymity.  Add to that the irritation of being unable to change people’s minds on deeply personal issues, and you can have a recipe for disaster.

The moderator did her best to keep things civil, but in the end, these two individuals chose (separately, on different occasions and due to different issues) to pitch a fit and flounce out of the room.  Some members said “good riddance,” while others wished that fences could be mended.

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When do you walk away from a contentious situation?  It’s a tough call, that requires balancing stress levels, effort, and the importance of the issue.  At some point, you might decide that the drama isn’t worth the aggravation, and that for your own sake, you must remove yourself from the situation.  That’s valid.  We’ve all done it.

It takes courage and fortitude to hang in there when you find yourself in the minority, to remain calm, to search for different ways to explain your opinion.  Sure, we’re more comfortable around “our own kind,” and it’s a lot more enjoyable to keep company with those who think as we do.  To stay is to be vulnerable, to open ourselves to attack.  That’s not fun.

But we just might learn something.

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I’m not saying that anyone should stay in an abusive situation.  I’m referring to these online arguments where it’s so easy to walk away, to “hit and run,” to unfriend someone because we see the world differently.  While I might never see the world your way, I can developing my critical thinking skills, my tolerance level, and even arrive at a deeper clarity of my own beliefs by listening to what you have to say.

Let’s stay engaged, if we can.  Yes, we must look after our own stress levels, but taking a break isn’t the same thing as walking away completely.  We live in community with others – yes, even with “them.”

We’re divided, but I still have faith that diplomacy matters.

Blessings,

Annette

(Working from home today.  Messy bun, gettin’ it done) …

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