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Truth and Consequences

When I was twelve years old, these were some of my truths:

  1. Being a college graduate was not a life goal, it was a life requirement.
  2. If you were “on welfare,” you were lazy.
  3. People who never left their hometown were under achievers.
  4. Getting anything but an A on a test or a report card was a failure.
  5. A woman who isn’t employed outside the home isn’t living up to her potential

These weren’t really truths at all.

They were assumptions that I had formed based on a variety of circumstances. Both of my parents were college graduates, both had travelled widely before getting married, and both lived thousands of miles from their hometowns. My mom had always worked at least part time, and much of her identity was wrapped up in her job. My parents’ friends were also transplants from all over the country, and very few lived in the same community where they grew up.

They were also inferences based on my limited life experience. If I applied myself and studied, I was always rewarded with an A. My classmates who lived in public housing and came to school unprepared did poorly in school, and my parents always talked about where my brother and I would go to college not if we would.

They were opinions based on conversations I overheard when a group of adults got together. My young brain still thought that adults who were “successful” knew everything.

And so, I entered my adolescence armed with what I thought were life’s truth and with an attitude that anyone could get A’s, graduate from college, and earn a good salary if they just applied themselves.

That’s how I entered adolescence.

I left adolescence a much different person. I had sometimes done my best and failed anyway. I had been exposed people who had different ideas and different backgrounds but whom I respected. And, maybe most importantly, my simplistic ideas about right and wrong had been challenged by people who were smarter and more experienced than I was. My truths hadn’t been rooted in reality but in a warped sense of judgement that people who weren’t like me or my family were in the wrong.

On Wednesday, I was reminded about the importance of not only admitting you have been wrong, misinformed or just plain ignorant but of also being willing to change.

I was having a conversation with an acquaintance whose adult child had recently come out as transgender. We were talking about the challenge of accepting and loving our children while still trying to grasp the reality of who they are. We talked about how, when we were younger, our only exposure to people who were transgender was through pop culture when it was generally used as a device to generate humor. My most vivid memory is of the Bud Light guys who dressed up like women so they could get drink deals during ladies night at the local bar.

What we didn’t talk about was the vitriol, blame, and hate that was currently circulating on social media. Only two days earlier, an individual who was raised as a female and had recently started identifying as a male killed six people at a Christian school in Nashville Tennessee. This fact allowed judgmental, narrow-minded people with a reason to blame the transgender community. “It’s not about guns,” they screamed. “It’s about mental illness and a lack of morals.”

Last time I checked, a lot of very mentally healthy people are transgender. In fact, making the change has greatly improved their mental health. Also, the fact that I was born female and identify as female has absolutely nothing to do with my morals. Morals are about how we treat and provide positive opportunities for other people. That’s it. It’s that simple. And yet, for many people it’s not. They hold on tightly to what they know to be true: transgender people are sick, drag queens are a danger to children, and exposing young students to a statue of a naked man will create lasting damage to their psyche.

I know those aren’t truths at all. They are simply consequences of being misinformed and fearful of something that’s difficult for many to understand. It’s about being resistant to change and growth. It’s about thinking that the way you live and the choices you make are the best way to live rather than just one way to live.

I admit I get angry when I see and hear narrow-minded people making hateful comments about others’ sexual orientation, or gender identity. I struggle at not lashing back and saying “these are real people you are talking about. They are someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend. You are the one with something morally wrong.” And then I remember who I used to be and that people can grow, change, and learn to accept our differences.

If I can change, so can others.

It’s a truth I have to hold on to tightly.

Simple Minded

rumiI used to believe that as we matured, we grew out of our need for simple story lines. The fairy tales we enjoyed as children generally featured characters who were all good or all bad.

As we got older and our brains matured from concrete to abstract thinking, we realized that people and situations are complicated and that life comes at us in a broad spectrum of colors – not just black and white.

That was the paradigm in which I used to believe.

Maybe that’s because I’ve surrounded myself with individuals who have complicated views of the world and I have yet to meet anyone who is even close to perfect. Maybe that’s because my own life and belief systems are complicated. Or maybe it’s because I’m a social worker, which means I see the best and worst in people almost every single day.

For whatever reason, I sometimes forget there are too many people who have unrealistically simple views of the world.

And then life hands me a great big dose of a reality and I am left dumbstruck at how people can justify being judgmental by painting human behavior with broad brushes of right and wrong, good or bad and deserving and undeserving,

Even worse are the people who think they have THE answer for eliminating such complicated issues as poverty and violence.

Just this past week, a colleague asked an individual who works at an organization that serves low-income families what these families need to help them improve their situation. Instead of thoughtful dialogue, the individual began to rant about all the families that “abuse the system.”

Then he suggested that we stop rewarding women for getting pregnant so they can access to benefits.

Call me naïve, but I am highly doubtful that most baby-making situations are the direct result of a female thinking she will be financially secure if she has a baby.

With that said, I’m equally sure that there are women who aren’t concerned about getting pregnant because someone, be it the system or a grandparent or perhaps the father, will step up to help with the situation.

There are women who get pregnant because they don’t think about consequences and there are those who are desperate for love and attention. And there are low-income women who get pregnant because, shocking as it may be, they want to have a family.

And not every mother was single or lacked income when she got pregnant. People lose their jobs, and finding child care is difficult for those who do shift work. People face financial problems because of mental or physical illness every day. Relationships fall apart. Some women are brave enough to leave an abusive relationship only to face financial hardships.

Do you see what I mean about being complicated?

But people who prefer simplistic answers don’t want to consider complicated. They want to devalue the worth of single mothers or low-income families who experience generational poverty.

But my complicated (or mature?) mind can’t understand that way of thinking. Instead, I believe that we are all imperfect humans who have a relatively short time on earth. Some of us are born into better circumstances than others. Some of us had parents who nurtured us and helped our brains develop appropriately. Some of us had role models and grew up in homes where chaos was unusual and unacceptable.

In other words, some of us were just plain lucky, and last I checked, lucky and worthy are two entirely different concepts.

Life is not fair, and instead of wasting precious time and energy trying to balance the scales of fairness (something even my children know will never happen), we should spend our time and energy cheering on and supporting our fellow humans.

That doesn’t mean we should accept that people live poverty or that they have no responsibility for trying to improve their situation – they do. But that does mean that we should provide opportunities to help them improve, and, more importantly, we shouldn’t judge.

Often, that doesn’t involve changing circumstances or rules for other people. That involves changing ourselves.

That’s not easy. In fact, it’s rather… complicated.

365 Reasons to Smile – Day 114

Years ago, someone said words that have always resonated with me:  “There will always be people who resist change no matter what it is. At the other end of the continuum are people who want change just for the sake of change. To be successful, you just need to focus on the people in the middle.”

Sometimes, I am the person in the middle;  I know change will be good, but I want to make sure the change is the right one.

Sometimes, it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

But no matter what, when change occurs, it is always an adventure.

And that always makes me smile.

Day 114:  Changes

Day 113:  The Wooly Bear Caterpillar  Day 112: The National Anthem

Day 111: Parents Who Care   Day 110: Good Friends  Day 109:  My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss  Day 108:  A.A. Milne Quotes Day 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades  Day 105:  The Peanuts Gang Dancing   Day 104:  Sharing a Secret Language   Day 103:  The Electric Company  Day 102:  Doing the Right Thing  Day 101:  When Siblings Agree  Day 100: Being Optimistic  Day 99: Trying Something New   Day 98:  The Sound of Children on a Playground  Day97: Good Advice  Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy  Day 95:  The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94:  Accepting Change    Day 93:  True Love     Day 92: Camera Phones   Day 91: Bicycle Brakes    Day 90:  HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square  Day 88:  The Grand Canyon  Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human  Day 84: Captain Underpants  Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank  Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry  Day 80: The Outsiders   Day 79:  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives   Day 76:  The Rewards of Parenting    Day 75:  Improvements   Day 74:  Family Traditions   Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes  Day 72: Live Music  Day 71:  Sleeping In  Day 70:  Grover  Day 69:  A Good Hair Day   Day 68:  A Sense of Community   Day 67: Kindness   Day 66: Living in a Place You Love   Day 65: Gifts from the Heart   Day 64: The Arrival of Fall  Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird   Day 62: Green LightsDay 61:  My Canine Friends  Day 60:  Differences   Day 59:  A New Box of Crayons   Day 58: Bookworms  Day 57: Being Oblivious  Day 56: Three-day Weekends  Day 55:  A Cat Purring  Day 54: Being a Unique Individual   Day 53: Children’s Artwork  Day 52: Lefties  Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer  Day 50: Campfires  Day 49: Childhood Crushes  Day  48: The Words “Miss You”  Day 47:  Birthday Stories   Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us  Day 45:  Play-Doh   Day 44: First Day of School Pictures  Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes  Day 42: Appreciative Readers  Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote   Day 40:  Being Silly  Day 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You Are  Day 38: Proud Grandparents  Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies   Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories  Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want  Day 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the Moon  Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap  Day 31: Perspective  Day 30:  Unlikely Friendships  Day 29: Good Samaritans  Day 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?    Day 27: Shadows  Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads  Day 25: When Harry Met Sally  Day 24: Hibiscus   Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck  Day 22:  The Wonderful World of Disney   Day 21: Puppy love  Day 20 Personal Theme Songs     Day 19:  Summer Clouds  Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17:  A Royal Birth    Day 16:  Creative KidsDay 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of HayDay 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment     Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles  Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old PhotographsDay 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

What Remains in the Field


With rare exceptions, life doesn’t change overnight.

Instead, change is a slow and steady process that occurs minute by minute and day by day. And because the changes occur so slowly, they go unnoticed until they are indisputable.

I spent decades earning the crow’s feet around my eyes and the laugh lines around my mouth, but until recently I didn’t notice them. Then one morning, they were simply there in the mirror, and I realized that I’m not the same person I was 20 or 30 years ago.

I’m not completely different. I’ve always talked too much, laughed too loud and expressed my feelings too quickly. But I am also more confident, less likely to waste my time on petty people and petty issues and more appreciative of all life has to offer.

Time changes everything, and we can either adapt or languish.

corn and soybean2There’s no greater reminder of this than a farmer’s field.

Last summer, the fields where I ride my bike were full of corn. This spring, they were full of hay. And now they are full of soybean.

But they, like people, still hold on to pieces of their past.

In one of the fields, brown stalks of corn shoot above the green plants. All of the stalks stand in a row with the exception of one obstinate single stalk. The corn isn’t healthy and, at a glance, has absolutely no purpose.

But it serves a purpose to me.

Every day as I ride by, I am reminded that the stalks are remains of a field that once grew strong and healthy corn: a field that was cultivated and served its purpose and now serves a different purpose. And the current field wouldn’t be the same if the corn hadn’t once been there.corn in soybean

That corn represents my past: the decisions I’ve made, the words I’ve spoken and the relationships I’ve had. The stalks are like my memories. They remind me that I am the person I am today only because of the person that I used to be.

The remains in the field hold no regrets. They simply hold the power to remind me to remain grounded and remember my roots while never failing to change and grow.

I think I’ll take that advice.