We They or Us

Who decides in a society who “we” is, and who “they” are? How are we “us” and those folks “them”? What makes the one human race so divisive we feel we must devolve into different groups, competing for everything, instead of sharing it?

These are the thoughts that have run through my head recently as I have pondered my stance on the subject of illegal immigration in the U.S. I thought my opinions clear and logically held. “They” (meaning the undocumented immigrants) are not here legally, which was wrong. “They” take jobs from Americans. “They” take entitlements to which they are not rightfully entitled as non-citizens. “They” . . . I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’ve had my paradigms on the subject radically shifted lately. Two events have caused me to reconsider everything I believed about this politically and socially charged topic.

The first was the TEAM LIFE Fall Leadership Conference I attended in October. At this conference, a couple was recognized for achieving the ranks of leadership in the company held by only 11 other couples. As part of their recognition, they told the riveting story of how they earned this achievement and their success.

Thelmar and Sandra were born in Guatemala. Both of them came to the U.S. as illegal immigrants, and Sandra was deported the first time she tried to come. Thelmar had been a Communist revolutionary in Guatemala, but left when he realized his life was in danger there. He came here to work against the system in the U.S., and by working within it, learned to love it. Thelmar and Sandra earned their places in the U.S., and their eventual citizenship, by hard work, dedication and a commitment to give back to the country that had taken them in when they had nowhere else to go.

Hearing their moving story, I felt like my whole accepted point of view was turned upside down and shaken. On a break later, I told my mentor I was going to have to do some serious rethinking of my views on illegal immigration, given what we’d heard.

The second event came from FaceBook. I saw a link to a video by a group called UpWorthy. It was about a high school student, a political refugee from Albania, who was planning to go to college to be a doctor. Ala’s immigration status was tangled in a paperwork mix-up that was no fault of hers, and the government threatened to deport her.

Ala’s story is part of a larger documentary, “The Dream is Now,” a film by Davis Guggenheim (Academy Award-winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth”). I will be honest. I was prepared to dislike Mr. Guggenheim’s film, simply due to his earlier work, since I disagree with his subject of the other film. But the short clip about Ala softened me enough to watch the 35 minute documentary, and I was glad I did. (Here’s the link if you want to see it: “The Dream Is Now.”)

Touro student demonstration. 11 Sept 2006

The documentary is a series of portraits of young people, denied access to employment, education and military service because of their “illegal” immigration status. These young people have done everything we tell our children about getting good grades and working hard, but success is denied them because of their “illegal” presence in the U.S.

Thelmar and Sandra’s story, and the stories of the young people as told by Mr. Guggenheim, have upended my paradigms on “illegal” immigration. I am now wondering many of the thoughts with which I opened this post. I am questioning why we deny access to our citizenship to those who have proven they are willing to become productive assets to our society. 

I used to argue illegal immigrants take jobs away from deserving citizens. Most, in fact, work undocumented jobs that most citizens don’t want. And if someone who came here illegally was able to prove themselves better equipped and able to do any other kind of job, they have earned the right to work at it by their skills and willingness. Isn’t that what we tell those born here “legally”?

I used to argue illegal immigrants took entitlements. I now understand if they are allowed to work and pursue careers like those of us born in the U.S., they wouldn’t need to seek entitlements to which their country of origin does not entitle them.

I used to argue illegal immigrants were here illegally, so that made it wrong. But then I remembered something: Who was in charge of immigration when the Mayflower showed up? Who controlled it while the U.S. was a struggling bunch of disjointed colonies? Why did we suddenly start shutting our doors and denying the truths of the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty?

Let’s look a little deeper into that poem I just mentioned. If you’ve studied poetry or history at all, you know a line or two of it. But do you know it all, or what it’s even called? It’s significant in this discussion, so here it is:

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty I...

The Statue of Liberty

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The last few lines of the poem are without question the most famous. But I want to call your attention to something about them. There is no reference to the legality of how people come. There is no commentary on where they come from, their skin color, religion or culture. There is only an open hand, and behind it an open heart, of welcome for those who would come and seek it.

If someone has come here “illegally,” and that person wants to better themselves and then work to better this society to which they have come, I now say, Let them come! Let’s accept them, give those who want to contribute a viable path to honest citizenship and deport those whose behavior suggests they are here to break laws or cause trouble. And of those who are already here, let them stay.”

How can we as a society end the “we” and “they” mentality that is so poisonously pervasive? What will change the paradigms of a whole nation, as mine were so radically altered? How can we get back to the feelings which prompted the words Emma Lazarus so eloquently penned?

“They” are not our enemy. In this issue, a strong case can be made “we,” with our hatred and fear, are our own worst enemies.  To paraphrase from the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy, and we are us.

Yours Mine Or Ours (The Encroaching of Collectivism)

How do we define where our rights as individuals end and our responsibilities as members of collective society begin? Is it fair to define what is mine without society telling me what I can or cannot do with it within the confines of reasonable laws and sensibilities?

I recently came across an article online that got me thinking about this question. It also got me thinking about something that came up about 6 months ago along the same lines. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

The article was about some people vacationing in Europe and having dinner at a restaurant. The group ordered their food, and received more than they could eat, leaving about 1/3 of it behind. Others got upset with them, and called local officials, who fined them 50 Euros for wasting food. The article, from http://36meals.blogspot.com/2011/10/money-is-yours-but-resources-belong-to.html, went on to say the following:

The officer then told us in a stern voice: “ORDER WHAT YOU CAN CONSUME, MONEY IS YOURS BUT RESOURCES BELONG TO THE SOCIETY. THERE ARE MANY OTHERS IN THE WORLD, WHO ARE FACING SHORTAGE OF RESOURCES. YOU HAVE NO REASON TO WASTE.”

A senior police officer of the Hamburg police ...

The tourists were sympathetic to the officer’s position, and the blog went on to condemn the Western attitude of being able to order and eat as we please, perhaps wasting some in the process. While I cannot condone the greed and gluttony which prompted ordering and wasting of large amounts of food, the attitude of the officer and the reaction of the tourists disturbs me. Greed and gluttony are two of the Seven Deadly Sins, the others being wrathslothpridelust and envy. However, society has had a history of failing to successfully legislate and enforce legislation against any of these human ills. This is because morality is an issue of the heart, and not of just behavior.
English: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four La...

The Seven Deadly Sins

The other side of it, the one from 6 months ago, was a report of an MSNBC network news reporter stating children belong to the community at large, and not their parents. (http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2013/04/09/critics-slam-msnbc-hosts-claim-that-kids-belong-to-community-not-parents/

Melissa Harris-Perry recorded a commercial for the network in which she stated that children do not belong to their parents, but are instead the responsibility of the members of their community.

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children,” she says in a spot for the network’s “Lean Forward” campaign. “So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Melissa Harris Perry

Ms Harris-Perry faced a firestorm of criticism from pro-family, religious and politically conservative groups for her statements. Many considered her comments to stem from elitist thinking, while there were those who supported it. To declare parents are not the primary responsibility for their own children, as they have been since parents started having children, was radical at best and polarizing to say the least.

In both cases, there is an allegation being made that the rights of the collective societal community are greater than the rights of the individuals within it. It is asserted the state is a tribe, collective or hive, protecting the resources for the good of all within it to distribute as it sees fit. It is this collective mentality I seek to address.

The U.S. was founded on the principles of human freedom, dignity and individual rights over the rights of a collective state society. The founding documents are clear in these areas. It is only when the rights of the individual overstep and move into the rights of another that the state has a right to step in and declare the boundaries have been violated. To put it in more simplistic terms, as I learned it as a child, my rights end where yours begin, and it is the state’s job to make sure those lines remain clear. And the state’s job ends where my rights, and yours, begin.

In this individualized paradigm, for the most part, the needs of the few outweigh the needs

Individuality

Individual

of the many. The few or one are given as great a weight in considering decisions as are the many. Individual rights are more difficult to trample, as are the rights of minorities. When everyone has rights and they are all honored and respected, it becomes easier to accord rights to others, and the society as a whole benefits. In such a society, leaders come from within, rising as defenders of rights of individuals and minorities. Leadership becomes something possible for the many, not the few.

The U.S., Austrailia and Canada have been good examples of this individual societal paradigm. Founded on the beliefs the rights of individuals are paramount, these states have enjoyed social and economic freedom envied around the globe. Historical examples can also be found in Greece and pre-Empire Rome.

bee hive

bee hive

The attitude I see in both stories is the rights of the hive or collective or tribe is greater than the individuals within it. When a tribe is given the rights of the resources, whether these be food, shelter, clothing or children, the tribe becomes more important than the individuals within it. The needs of the many in this case therefore outweigh the needs and rights of the few or the one. Only the needs of the society as a whole are considered.

When no one has rights to be respected, it is rule by majority, with individual and minority rights being lost in the mob. In this society, leaders are those with best access to resources, or who are given power by those who already have it. Leadership becomes something impossible for the many, but not for the few.

Examples of the collective societal paradigm can be studied in the communist societies such as pre-Glasnost Russia, East Germany, North Korea and Cuba, to name but a few. It’s not a paradigm that’s not been wanting and not tried. It’s been repeatedly tried and found consistently wanting.

Best-selling author, blogger, leadership expert and business leader Orrin Woodward said

Orrin Woodward

Orrin Woodward

the other day on Twitter,

Societies, Civilizations & Corporations all decay from within before they are overcome from without.

Any attempt to move the U.S. from its fundamental principles of individual human freedoms as clearly outlined in its founding documents is decay in its society. I’ll say that again: Any attempt to move the U.S. from its fundamental principles of individual human freedoms as clearly outlined in its founding documents is decay in its society. Attempts such as these examples, and others like them we see on an alarmingly almost daily basis, are to be resisted.

The only way to remain a free society is to decide we want to be one, and then to take the necessary actions in the social media, the mainstream media, the voting booth and in legal protest to make sure our voices are heard and clearly understood. Sometimes, all it takes is someone standing up and saying, “NO!” Let’s all be that someone.

LeaderShift

LeaderShift

What The US REALLY Needs . . .

Our Family Portrait, 2008

Our Family Portrait, 2008

If you have read my bio, you know I’m a mother and grandmother. As Mom with 2 kids, I’ve had to break up a lot of arguments. Heck, there are times now that they’re adults when I still have to break them up!

I’ve had to let our children know I refused to tolerate the infighting, bickering, name calling, posturing, blame casting and other dirty tricks used in their not seeming to want to work through their difficulties. There was a time or two I would shut a door and walk away, refusing to let them out except for basic needs, until they settled it peacefully. And a few times I had to impose a negotiated settlement neither one liked, just to regain peace in the house. Other times, they were thankfully able to finally work things out to their mutual satisfaction, at least until the next squabble . . .

When I look at Congress and the President in the current budget deadlock and looming debt ceiling crisis, all I can United States Capitol

think is, “They need a Mom!” They need someone to sit them down, demand they stop bickering, name calling, posturing, blame casting and all the other dirty tricks used in their steadfast refusals to work out a settlement. They need someone willing to shut them in behind closed doors, take their toys away and refuse to let them out until they compromise. They need someone willing to impose a settlement no one Official photographic portrait of US President...

likes, just to regain peace. And they need it quickly.

Then I realized something. People of the US, WE are the Mom.  WE are the ones getting sick and tired of the news reports of the ridiculous things being imposed by the government shut-down. WE are the ones the monetary crisis

An Angry Mom is Worse than an Angry Mob

will fall on the worst if the debt ceiling issues aren’t resolved. WE are the ones who can make the leaders of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the President sit down and work something out. WE have this power. And its high time WE used it.

How do we use our power? We contact our friends, our family, our representatives, the media outlets and anyone else we think might listen to us, or not. We write letters, we email and we call. We inundate news media and the Congressional and White House switchboards. We blog, we text, we post on FaceBook and send out tweets on Twitter. We light up the social media world and make the issues viral. We make our feelings and

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

opinions known.

What do we say? In all this communication, we demand something be done. We insist the politicians stop sitting around blaming one another and speaking in sound bites, making for good television and bad negotiation. We insist more be done than said for a change.

It doesn’t matter, really, what side of the aisle your politics are on now. The disasters with the government shut down and the looming debt crisis will impact all of us, no matter what we believe, or how we voted (or not) in the last elections. What matters is

Breakdown of political party representation in...

that we all use our voices, in whatever means we can, to let Congress and the President know we are tired of their posturing, bored with their blame casting and name calling, sick to death of the political gamesmanship and fed up with whole sorry mess they call politics as usual. It’s not about Red or Blue States or sides of the aisle any more. It’s about our economic survival and our children’s future.

Our country needs leaders. It now has politicians. By holding them accountable, by calling them to task as a united people, we can demand they lead for a change and get something done. The choice to demand it, and the challenge, is up to us.

Where Were You When Our World Changed?

It’s September 11, 2013 as I write this. The question which is the title of this post (and variations on the theme) is the most common one being asked on FaceBook today, as it is every year at this time.

I started to answer it there, quickly realized I would need some more space to chronicle my thoughts and feelings and came here to you, my beloved loyal readers. This anniversary is a hard one to write about, and an emotional topic for all of us who lived through it. Maybe, if I sort out my feelings through my words, I can help you work through some of yours.

We live in upstate NY. I remember it as such a lovely early fall morning. The sky was clear blue. The trees were just starting their annual turning, and were mostly green. The weather that day was warm, but not hot, and brilliantly sunny. It was a gorgeous day in every way, and the kind of day that makes me wake up glad to just be alive.

My husband Bob had an unusual day off that day. Because we knew in advance he was getting it, we’d scheduled a brunch meeting with someone to discuss a potential partnership in our business, and then planned some other things while our son was in high school. Our daughter was away at college.

While I was doing my makeup and hair, the phone rang. Bob answered it, and it was my mentor and best friend, Cindy. She said there had been what looked to be an accident in New York city, that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and we should turn on the morning news.

We saw the replay of the first crash right after we turned on the bedroom television. While the hosts were talking about how all the people who worked there would get out, the camera suddenly went to the plane flying into the other tower. As a host shouted it was another plane into the second tower, I looked at Bob and said, “This was no accident. We are under attack.”

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

Bob looked ashen, frozen between the television and me. I saw the clock on the screen, realized what time it was, and asked him to turn it off. I said, “We have a meeting in a half hour. We can deal with this later.” As I finished my makeup and hair, I kept telling myself not to cry, not to muss what I was doing, and just get through the morning. Cindy called back in the midst of it, gave me a pep talk, and said the same things to me I was saying to myself, reinforcing my resolve.

We went to the restaurant. We had coffee and waited, watching the coverage on the television there. When the towers fell and it was quite some time after the scheduled meeting time, we called our new partner. He never showed up. He spent the day frozen before his own television, and when we finally met with him his grief prevented him from being able to see what we were showing him.

There is more, but it involves others and their stories, and I don’t have their permission to tell them. This post is about me, and my story. It will have to be enough to say about the rest of it there was a series of other hard events impacting many people, including the death of our last grandparent, during the month or so after that day.

We had a chance to go to the New York City site some weeks after it happened. But out of respect for the dead, and at the request of those others I mentioned before, we declined the opportunity. It wasn’t the right time. We did other things in New York City that day, including cheer and wave with our friends at every fire truck that passed.

When Bob and I did finally go, it was in July of 2002. It was a hot, steamy summer day, with street temperatures in the low 100’s. But when we got to the area around the site, where the operations were still going on, the air coming up from the pit was freezing cold, much colder than a place like that should have been on such a day. The pit was much less than 1/2 way down to where the foundations had been.

English: New York City - Ground Zero (former l...

New York City – Ground Zero (former location of the World Trade Center)

Most people stood in silence, or spoke in whispers. So a small voice speaking normally was very audible. “Mommy, why is it so cold here?” I heard the child ask, and the parent softly replied they didn’t know. Inspiration struck me, and I turned to the group where I’d heard the child’s question. I found the child, knelt and gently said, “Because it’s always cold where evil touches, honey. Most grownups think the evil behind the hate is hot. But evil leaves everything it touches cold. Love is warm, and leaves everything it touches warm.”

It took a long time for Bob and I to leave that day. The comment passed from group to group, from language to language, as people pointed me out as the one who said it. I have never, before or since, been hugged more in a day than I was then, even on our wedding day.

Our world changed 12 years ago. September 11, 2001 was a defining moment, one where everyone knew where they were and what they were doing when they found out. To most, it was just as defining as when President John F. Kennedy was shot, when Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated or when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. We all remember when and where we met our Significant Others, the births of our children, the deaths of loved ones, graduations and other defining moments which are the meetings and partings of life.

But where were we, and what were we doing, a year before September 11, 2001? Or a week ago last Thursday? Unless it was a day with a defining moment in it, or we keep a daily journal, most of us likely don’t remember. Did these pass by in the blur of “getting by” and doing the stuff we all have to do to live and work daily??

It comes down to whether we are living our lives on purpose. If we don’t live them on purpose, our lives pass by in a blur, punctuated only by defining moments, which are really too few and too far between. William J. Bennett spoke to this when he said,

Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself.  The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?

So, what were you doing 12 years ago? And what are you doing now, this day, to make today and the future worthwhile for you and those who come after you?? How are you living on purpose???

I invite you to continue the discussion in the comments.

That Ought To Be A Crime!

Recently, I overheard some folks discussing how people shipped things overnight places to hurry processing of their items. Often, people pay substantial fees beyond normal postal rates for this service. However, all it does is get the item to its destination faster. It does not promise faster processing once it reaches where it is going. The difference is 100 times regular cost in some cases! When one of them realized how much it cost, they said, “That ought to be a crime!”

While I am aware the person was speaking for emphasis, I immediately realized at least some of the holes in their argument. It is these holes, and the paths down which they lead, away from our essential freedoms, I want to discuss.

To decide to regulate and criminalize how we spend our money is to violate an essential freedom we have as human beings. The person who spends 100 times more than someone else to get his item to its destination overnight (instead of the 3 to 7 business days for normal postal delivery) is spending their own money. They’re not spending my money, nor yours. It’s theirs. As such, the right of property ownership means they get to decide what happens to their property, so long as it does not harm others. If I use my property, like my car, to deliberately hurt or kill someone, that’s a different story. We can all agree the law would be right to step in such a case.

Our freedoms guarantee we have the right to live, work and recreate as we choose, within the confines of a sensible legal system. They give us the ability to think, create and invent. Without freedom of choice and property, there is no creation, no invention, no innovation. The most repressed societies of the world have contributed the least in scientific developments, except for military applications. The greater the freedom in a society, the greater the creativity, in all walks of life.

The inventor Albert Einstein said,

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

I considered these thoughts during the debate over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s declaration sodas of a certain size (or larger) would no longer be sold in New York City. His decision to do it was for the health reasons of the people of his city, and its visitors. But I kept wondering what right he had to decide how much soda my family and I drink? Yes, sugared soda is harmful, when consumed over the long-term in large amounts. To me, as a diabetic, it’s even harmful (in more than very small quantities when I am having a low blood sugar episode) in the short-term. But it’s also my right as an adult to drink this legal beverage, in as large of quantities as I choose, and take the consequences of my behavior upon myself.

Is a 32 ounce cup of sugared soda sensible? Probably not. But our adult son buys and drinks them occasionally, and when he does it with his own money, all I can do is casually mention our family history of diabetes (besides me, both my parents & several of my grandparents), and the risk he’s taking of it. But it’s his choice, his money, and if he wants to spend it foolishly, it’s his business. My husband occasionally drinks them, too, as do our daughter and son-in-law. Not sensible, but their choices. Our grandchildren, however, drink water or milk when we’re out with them. We can control the behavior of 1, 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year olds. Well, not the behavior, but at least what they drink! 😉

When it come to each choice, the consequences generally also fall on the people, or those closest to them. To say we must criminalize some behavior because of its potential for long-term damage is to remove the consequences of both the behavior and the damages. As humans, we all instinctively know our actions have consequences, whether we like them, or admit it, or not. By removing all consequences, we remove all personal responsibility, and thus remove all personal choice.

My father died of esophageal cancer, caused by being a smoker most of his adult life. Was it sensible for him to smoke? Of course not! He tried to quit many times, and failed. It was only in the last few years before he died that he succeeded. Does that mean I want smoking criminalized so other families don’t have to go through the pain he and we as his family did? Of course not! His personal choices, determined by his personal freedoms, lead to his personal consequences, and thus our own personal consequences as his family.

To remove all personal responsibility, and thus all personal choice, is to remove all freedoms. For each freedom criminalizing and regulation removes, we are a more restricted people. Yes, there needs to be a rule of law, to dictate things a society considers inappropriate, like hurting or killing one another or stealing from each other. Yes, there needs to be laws about how what side of the road to drive on, and what to do when emergency vehicles are seen. These are sensible, and good, and we can all agree on such things.

But to go to extremes, to remove all personal responsibility, and thus all personal choice, is also to remove much of what makes us human. We instinctively want to choose our careers, our lifestyle, our cars, our homes, our clothes, our food, our life partners, whether we have children (and how many), how we school our children and ourselves and so on. Even the world’s most repressed peoples have some choices in life, no matter how tiny they seem to us in the “free” societies of the world.

As toddlers, we understand instinctively the rights of free people to have property and choice. Watch small children at play if you don’t believe me! Even if an adult starts them by encouraging coöperation, the play among toddlers normally quickly descends to a “Gimmie! That’s MINE!” level, unless an adult stops them. And if an unsuspecting adult tries to force an unwilling toddler into a situation, outfit or activity in which the child has no interest in participating, this instinctive want of personal choice becomes all the more clear, and loudly verbalized!

With each cry of “That ought to be a crime!,” we have that many fewer freedoms. A free society is loosely regulated. The more regulations and laws, the less free the society becomes. We are moving closer to less and less freedom, and more and more restrictions daily. All because so few are stopping to think that just because it’s not sensible, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be regulated or criminalized . . .

Pledge Of Allegience

In time for the US Independence Day, I offer the following link. It’s my absolutely favorite Red Skelton video. I love it so much, I bought an entire set of his videos just to get my own

Red Skelton

Red Skelton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

copy . . .

Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/eMR6d_9GsCQ

Independence Day