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Be the Change #37 – Examine your prejudices

Posted by on Nov 19th, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

I live in what I would consider a nice middle-class neighborhood.  The houses are older, but well-kept, and the residents are small business owners and a mix of blue and white-collar workers.  Most of our kids go to college, and crime is almost unheard of. 

Many years ago, when I was a young mother, I learned that not everyone saw us the way we see ourselves, and the experience started me on a journey to examine my own prejudices.

My daughter was a member of a Camp Fire Girls troop in our community, and we were spending an overnight in a cabin with another troop from a more upper-middle class community.  I didn’t see myself as different from them in any significant way.  They doubtless had bigger houses and more expensive cars than mine, but in terms of values, morals and education, I felt myself to be their equal.

Late in the evening, as we were cleaning up, I was looking for the bag that a dish of candy had come from, with the idea of dumping the candy back in the bag.  I walked the perimeter of the room, glancing into totes, looking for the candy bag. 

“Are you looking for YOUR bag?” someone said from behind me. 

“Oh, no,” I replied, at first not even turning around to look at her, “I’m looking for where this candy belongs.”

Then, something in the emphasis on the word “YOUR” caught my attention and I turned to see the very suspicious face of a Camp Fire mom from the better neighborhood.  In the same instant, I remembered noticing an expensive-looking camera in the most recent tote I’d glanced into. 

It was one of those moments of instantaneous, wordless communication.  All in a fraction of a second, I realized with horror that she’d thought I was poking around the bags looking for something to steal, and that she thought it because we came from a neighborhood where she thought people did that.  And in the same second, she registered the shock on my face and realized that she’d made a wrong assumption. 

I don’t remember how we disengaged, but I remember not being able to sleep that night.  I felt so humiliated that anyone would assume that I was a thief, and that they would make that assumption based on my living in a neighborhood that I thought was perfectly respectable.  What’s more, even though I’d done nothing wrong, I FELT wrong: dirty and unworthy in some way.  And, for some reason, it hit me:  the way that woman treated me is the way white people treat black people.  

Admit it:  if you’re sitting in traffic and a couple of African-American boys saunters down the street, you lock your car doors.  If you work retail, you watch your black browsers more carefully than your white browsers.  It’s certainly well-known that black drivers are stopped by the police more than white drivers.  White people make negative assumptions about black people all the time, often unconsciously. 

Do you think they don’t know this?

How do you think it feels?

The experience that I had on that sleepover started me on a journey to acknowledge my own biases.  Before that, I wouldn’t have called myself prejudiced.  I didn’t think African-Americans were inherently  inferior to European-Americans in any way.  I felt that we were all entitled to the same rights. I would no sooner have used the N-word than the F-word.  But, like many white people, I thought we lived in a society where we all had the same opportunities and everyone had the same chance to get ahead in life as long as they worked hard and stayed out of trouble.  The epiphany that I had that night didn’t change me by the next morning.  But it opened my eyes,  and I started paying more attention to big issues like unequal treatment under that law – and small issues like the hurtful impact of my own preconceived notions. 

The first step to getting along better is to acknowledge our biases.  It took being on the wrong end of a bias to inspire me to do that. 

This week, think about some negative assumptions that you have about a gender , ethnic or economic group different from your own, and how hurtful they might be to the objects of your prejudices. 

Be the Change #36 – Green Energy for the Miser

Posted by on Nov 11th, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

I am what is politely called “careful with money.”  I live by the old Depression-era maxim “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”  I love keeping our cost of living down.  So, even though I am very concerned about climate change, and I could easily afford to put my money where my mouth is, we still drive gasoline-powered cars and I kept postponing signing up for the green energy provider.  I kept telling myself I wanted to research it, and understand how much our bill would go up.  But I never did anything about it until a couple of Sundays ago. 

Al and I are members of the Phipps.  We never miss a flower show and, being who I am, I ran the numbers and realized that we would spend less on an annual membership than we were spending on individual flower show admissions.  During our visit to the fall flower show a couple of weeks ago, they were running a promotion with Green Mountain Energy: 6-month membership extension for anyone who signed up for Green Mountain.  We talked to the young man at the Green Mountain table, and I started to say (again), “We’ll think about it.”  Then, I had a moment of honesty with myself.  I’d been thinking about it for years.  We can afford a higher electric bill.  What more is there to think about?  And then, of course, there’s the 6-month membership extension.  That $45 appeal to my thrifty little heart finally sold me.  We signed up for the 100% wind plan. 

Then I went home and ran the numbers.

We just reduced our carbon footprint by 20,000 pounds per year.

And here’s the joke on me:  By not doing that research that I always promised myself I would do, I was throwing money away.  Turns out Duquesne Light had us signed up with a high-cost carbon-based fuel provider.  By switching to wind, we’ll SAVE about $17 a month!

The moral of the story is this:  Don’t put off looking into green energy.  It could end up saving you money.  And even if the dollars don’t work out for you the way they did for us, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping to save the planet. 

Be the Change #35 – The D+ Tax Bill

Posted by on Nov 4th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Sorry, but this one is pretty political  It’s a plea to call your member of Congress to ask for a better tax reform bill than the one they just introduced.

That postcard some Republican congress members are waving around is the best thing about the tax bill.  It’s true that, by raising the standard deduction, most taxpayers should be able to file their taxes on a single page, maybe even a post card.

But don’t think that raising the standard deduction means your taxes are going down.  In the current version of the plan, the $4000 personal exemption is going away, which nets it out for most families.   This bill offers almost nothing to the middle class. Some of us will see our taxes go down a bit.  For some, they will go up a bit. In aggregate, we are getting crumbs.

I was glad to see that the top tax rate isn’t being reduced.  With rising income inequality, the last thing this country needs is lower tax rates for rich people.  But the rich still gain from the bill in two ways.  First, the federal inheritance tax is being repealed.  The tax currently only applies to estates larger than about $6 million (for a single person) or about $11 million (for a couple).  So, repeal doesn’t help family farms and small business, as purported.  Only the super-rich benefit from it.

The Alternative Minimum Tax is also being phased out.  The AMT  is a brake on high-earners being able to reduce their tax bill with numerous large deductions.  So, only the well-to-do benefit from this as well.

Finally, the bill fails to do away with the carried-interest loophole, which benefits only hedge-fund managers.  Literally, hedge-fund managers will continue to pay a lower tax rate than teachers, nurses and policemen.  During the 2016 campaign, President Trump promised to do away with this outrage. He should make good on his promise by signaling to Congress that he will not sign a bill that does not repeal the carried-interest loophole.

Now let’s talk business taxes.  I’m not against lowering taxes on business, but this bill lowers taxes on big corporations, while doing almost nothing for small business.  It should do exactly the reverse.  I work for a big corporation, and it’s my bet that corporate tax breaks will mostly fund stock buy-backs and bigger executive bonuses. Small businesses are the big job creators.  They’re the ones who should get the tax breaks. 

But my biggest objection to this tax plan is that it will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.    Now, while times are good, we should be paying down our debt, not running up more, against the day when another significant war or serious recession make deficit spending a necessity.  If we keep running up debt, we will eventually be face with horrific choices.  Cuts to defense (including Veterans Benefits), Medicare and Social Security will be inevitable.  Decades into the future, our grandchildren will be paying for tax cuts for the Mercers, the Kochs and the Trumps of the world. 

The tax bill is a D+ at best.  Send Congress back to the drawing board on this.  Call your representative and your senators, and insist that they come back with a bill that is deficit-neutral, and is targeted at the middle-class, not the rich.  Here’s a LINK to help you find contact information for your members of Congress.

Be the Change #34 – More Random Acts of Kindness

Posted by on Oct 28th, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

 

 

 

 

 

Pick at least one this week…

  1. Donate blood
  2. Give up your set on public transportation to an older person, a pregnant woman, a parent with small children, or someone who is carrying a lot of stuff
  3. Participate in a fund-raiser
  4. Don’t honk at the person who cut you off in traffic
  5. Sign up as a mentor at work
  6. Write a letter to someone who did something kind for you or made a difference in your life
  7. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  8. Just for a day, share eye contact, a “thank you” and a few words with everyone you come into contact with: the bank teller, the barrista, the unfriendly person at the office
  9. Surprise your co-workers with fresh-baked muffins

And my favorite today….

10. Give your spouse, child or elderly parent your undivided attention when they are talking.

Have a great week!

Be the Change #34: Be a Citizen of the World

Posted by on Oct 22nd, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I’m back to my blog.  Thanks for your patience during my long break. 

During part of my break, Al and I travelled to Canada for two weeks.  We saw eye-popping fall foliage, heard some toe-tapping music at the Celtic Colours festival – and made new friends from all over the US and the world.  New York, Ohio, Arizona, Canada, Germany, Australia, Iran.  In Quebec City, I helped a Chinese family find the Chateau Frontenac.  Our waitress at the Bay of Fundy was headed for the Dominican Republic and then Thailand as soon as the tourist season ended.  This is one of the things I love the most about travel: meeting people from “away” as they say in Nova Scotia. 

I especially loved seeing people from every corner of the globe at Niagara Falls.  Niagara Falls is one of those places like the Eiffel Tower or the Trevi Fountain.  It is not just a national treasure.  It belongs to the world.  People of every nationality take delight in it, delight that is the same on any face.  Language doesn’t matter, and isn’t even necessary.  The awe and joy are the same on a brown face, a black one or a white one. 

This is how travel makes you a better person.  It teaches you how much people are alike.  It opens your heart to people who are different from you.  I’m always urging people to travel abroad, for this very reason.

But, if you can’t travel, you can still open your heart and expand your mind just by spending time with people who are different from you.  There’s even some scientific evidence for this. 

In a 2015 TED talk, Dr. Jeff Mogil described an experiment where  people were asked to do something physically painful: plunge their hand into a bucket of ice-cold water.  Subjects were asked to do it under 3 different circumstances:  alone, with a friend, or with a stranger.  Then they were asked to rate how much pain they experienced.  When the experiment was conducted along with a friend, the subjects reported MORE pain, because they empathized with their friend who was experiencing the same thing, and felt his pain, too.  When the experiment was conducted along with a stranger, the perception of pain was the same as if they were alone.  The empathy effect didn’t happen.

But here’s where it gets really interesting….When they tried the experiment the same way, except the subjects played a video game with the stranger for 15 minutes before the experiment, the empathy effect DID happen.  15 minutes of playing a game together was all it took to feel a stranger’s pain just as they felt a friend’s.  15 minutes.

So, my plea to you, if you can’t travel, is to find some other way to spend time with people who are different from you; a different race, different religion, different country or ethnic group.  It will change how you think.  More important, it will open your heart. 

Be the Change #33 – Social Media Break

Posted by on Aug 26th, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

I’ve decided to take a break from technology for the next few weeks.  So this blog will be suspended until some time in September or October.  There are several reasons for this decision:

  1. 1. Most important, my husband is starting to complain that I spend more time with my phone than I do with him.
  2. 2. I am so busy both at home and at work that I’m falling behind on things that I really ought to do, and a tech break might help me catch up on some other things.
  3. I feel like my attention span is getting shorter, and that really bothers me.  I’m getting too used to the quick hits of information that you get on the internet, and losing my ability to read deeply, which I used to love to do.
  4. I have started suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. I used to smirk at the right-wingers who got themselves into a lather over Obama (and yet….you still have your guns, don’t you?).  I’m getting the same way about Trump, though, and it’s not healthy.  Being on the internet just feeds it because I can’t get away from all the horrible stuff he does, and I can’t ignore it.  I feel like I need to get a grip.
  5. My BRAND NEW computer is running about as slow and freezing about as often as a 90-year-old nun, so I’m just angry at all technology and I’m going to try to ignore it for a while.

I’ll be back. I’m just need to take a break for a while and start feeling like a human being again, instead of a deranged cyborg.

 

Be the Change #32 – On Charlottesville

Posted by on Aug 20th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

The violence and hatred exhibited in Charlottesville last weekend were shocking and heartbreaking to most Americans.  Anyone who hasn’t been in a cave or a coma knew that our country was dividing along ever more partisan and angry lines, but the brawls and the tragic death of Heather Heyer still left us wondering what’s happened to us and how much worse it can get.

Many of us were further dismayed by President Trump’s insistence that “many sides” were to blame.  I wasn’t there, so I don’t have an opinion on who “started it,” who was armed and who wasn’t, or whose “fault” it was.

But I have an opinion on who was right and who was wrong.

The people carrying the Nazi and Confederate flags, and shouting neo-Nazi slogans were wrong.  Flat-out, end-of-story wrong.  Because their whole reason for being in Charlottesville in the first place was wrong.

You can’t agree with slaveholding, racial superiority, or any form of racial or ethnic discrimination and claim to support American values.  The monuments that the Unite the Right groups were defending honor and glorify men who took up arms for the purpose of continuing to hold other human beings as property.  That was wrong.  Granted, they were men of their time, but we know better now and we shouldn’t honor their cause.

Don’t ask me if monuments to Washington or Jefferson are coming down next because, after all, those men were also slaveholders.  Washington held the Continental Army together and therefore gave us our country.  He willingly left office after two terms when he could have been king, and therefore gave us the notion of peaceful succession.  Jefferson gave us the very idea of our country in the Declaration of Independence, and our cross-continental reach with the Louisiana purchase.  We honor Washington and Jefferson for those contributions, in spite of their status as slaveholders.

A monument to confederate rebels is different.  It explicitly honors those men for something they did that was reprehensible:  rebelling against our country for the purpose of continuing to hold other human beings as property.  The monuments show them in their military uniforms, often with weapons or on horses ready to go into battle.  The monuments honor them because of their fight to keep other human beings in bondage.  That’s the difference between a Confederate monument and the Jefferson Memorial.  That’s why the Confederate monuments should come down.

In the months to come, there are likely to be more protests, and more counter-protests.  There may be more violence, probably on both sides.  But to say both sides are equally wrong, just because both sides throw punches, is to miss the main point.  One side is fighting evil ideologies of the dark past.  The other is fighting on the side of evil.

NOTE:  This post is an expansion on a Comment that I posted on my friend Debbie’s Facebook page.  Debbie is to the right of me politically, and the comments on her post ran the political gamut.  I was heartened by the fact that Debbie’s original post, and all the comments, were well-thought-out and respectful.  There was disagreement, but it was civil.  There was no throwing around of terms like “racist” or “libtard.”  That’s the kind of dialog that we desperately need.

Be The Change #31 – Change your diet (week 4)

Posted by on Aug 6th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I’m just finishing week four of my experiment with eating less meat.  I estimate that I cut my meat consumption at least in half over the course of the 4 weeks.  I have to confess that it’s getting harder, though.  My meals are starting to feel repetitive.  I’ve asked my daughter and son-in-law for a vegetarian cookbook for my birthday later this month.  They’ve both been vegetarians for years, so I have confidence that they’ll select something good for me that will help me to keep this going.  I also think it will get easier when fall comes.  Al and I love soup and risotto, and we have many vegetarian recipes for both that we enjoy.

I confess ahead of time that I am taking a business trip in September and a 2-week vacation in Canada in October, and will probably eat a little more meat than usual on both of those trips. 

This will be my last blog post on the topic of flexitarian diet.  Overall, it was easier than I thought it would be, and I think it is healthier both for me and for the planet, so I will continue it. 

Here are this week’s menus.  As before, I am happy to provide recipes for starred items upon request.  Vegetarian Experiment Week Four

Be the change #30 – Change your diet (week 2)

Posted by on Jul 23rd, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

Week two of eating mostly vegetarian.  Still not finding it hard at all.  I don’t miss the extra meat, and Al has been fine supplementing his meals with a little more meat as he feels the need.   Note that I haven’t given up my most-beloved indulgences:  a glass of wine with dinner almost every night, and dessert after dinner.  Our desserts aren’t usually fancy:  a dish of frozen yogurt, an ice-cream sandwich, a little dark chocolate.  I like to bake, though, and I will bake us something indulgent every week or two.  Last week I made tarte tatin for bunco and there was a little left over.  The week before I made a cherry pie.  Here are the past week’s menus:  Vegetarian Experiment Week Two.  As always, I am glad to provide recipes for starred dishes.

Be the Change #29 – Change your diet (week one)

Posted by on Jul 16th, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I found a quick calculator that helped me to estimate my household’s carbon footprint.  Ours is about 12 tons per year.  Want to know yours?  Check out this LINK

Twelve tons seemed like a lot to me.  It takes about 63 trees to offset that much.  In the fall, we have so many leaves to rake that it FEELS like we have 63 trees on our little suburban lot.  But we don’t.  So, I researched the top ways to reduce your footprint…

1.       Cut down on air travel.  One round-trip flight between New York and San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2-3 tons of CO2 per person. 

2.       Walk or ride public transportation as much as you can.   Even if you drive a small car, and only drive 500 miles per month, your car is spewing about 1.7 tons of CO2 annually. 

3.       Eat a vegetarian diet.   

4.       Have fewer children.

Too late for that last one!

I admit I love to travel and will not be reducing my carbon footprint that way any time soon.  I already drive a fuel-efficient car and take public transportation to work.  But, I’m really worried about climate change and, in the spirit of my ‘be the change’ theme, rather than complaining about Trump pulling out of the Paris accord, I decided to try eating less meat.

My daughter and son-in-law have been vegetarians for years, so I know first-hand how do-able it is.  And I’ve never been someone who has to eat at lot of meat at every meal.  But, I do enjoy meat, so I just didn’t think I could go vegetarian, much less vegan.  I decided to try reducing my meat consumption by about 70%.  I’ve been on this flexitarian diet for a week now, and I’m not finding it hard at all.  And I lost a pound!  But, better yet, I’m reducing our carbon footprint by almost a ton per year.  I’d encourage almost anyone to try this.  I’ll publish my menus weekly for the next several weeks, and can provide recipes for starred items on request. 

Here’s a link to this week’s menus:

Vegetarian Experiment Week One

 

 

 

 

 

 

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