Fred Rogers derived a great deal of meaning from the number 143. This week being the 143rd OnHumaning essay, it felt like an appropriate moment to celebrate one of the most devoted life-long humanizers of the modern age. To Mr Rogers, the numerical phrase 1-4-3 was a stand in for the phrase "I love you" (I = 1 letter, love = 4 letters, you = 3 letters). Love was at the core of everything Mr Rogers created and shared with the world. It was the generous spirit he brought to his work.
When the documentary “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” came out in 2018, I saw it 5 times in the theater. And I cried every time. It is a very sweet telling of the life and works of a very sweet human being. The more I learn about Fred Rogers, the more I admire about. What stands out the most to me was his utter authenticity. He was the genuine article, as the saying goes. He always did things the way he thought things should be done. I try to emulate his example, being the change I want to see in the world.
I grew up on a steady diet of Mr Rogers and his neighborhood and I learned a lot of important lessons, often without even realizing it. One thing I learned was how important it is to recognize and appreciate each person's unique contribution to the world. No one individual has the exact same thoughts, feelings, or perspective as another person, and our coming together with those differences from a place of genuine curiosity is how we find common ground. And that's what makes the magic happen.
Another thing I appreciate about Mr Rogers is his subtlety. Until I saw the 2018 documentary, I had no idea he was a religious minister. It took me by complete surprise because most examples of religious leaders I see in the media are loud and obnoxious, dripping with volatile judgement for anyone who thinks or acts differently than whatever the one way they proclaim is righteous. Mr Rogers didn't preach like those people. He simply existed. And in so doing invited others to try on an existence of love and caring for on another as well.
I hope to be just a sneaky. I'd like to be an example in the way I move through the world that inspires other people to actively demonstrate care for everyone around them, especially people they don't know and may never meet. The things Fred Rogers had to say were similarly out of line with the prevailing societal winds of narcissism and personal safety by controlling others. I think one reason nobody shut him down was because he didn't seem threatening. He didn't arrive with an argument. Therefore there was nothing to argue against.
But his message was insidious. It seeped in through the cracks left in all our souls by the detrimental aspects of society. And it helped some of us fill those cracks with healing and knit ourselves back together. I didn't realize the breadth and extent of the balm I received for my soul from Mr Rogers and his neighborhood until after he died. Fortunately, it left its mark on me forever. Just like all the crappy parts of existing in modern society, I soaked up all the beautiful and healing love from all my exposure to Mr Rogers.
We should all be so lucky. I don't know that there are fewer examples of people like Fred Rogers today, but there are a very high number of people actively working to dehumanize other people. Maybe it's just because those jerks are so loud and there are so many of them in positions of power that they seem so many. But that's also the point: there aren't enough examples of the Fred Rogers way of being in positions of power in the world right now.
This week Uganda's parliament passed a bill making it illegal to identify as gay. It hasn't been officially signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni yet, but that seems quite likely given his vocal support thus far. Interviews with gay and trans Ugandans have been a feature in the news since the bill passed and the future these ordinary people see for themselves is truly horrifying. The blackmail and extortion has already begun and the ink hasn't even dried.
This morning three Ugandan women who identify as lesbians used false names to speak on the BBC program "Outside Source." One of them paraphrased the law in a perfect way: "I have a right to take away your right and you have no right to have a right." That is exactly what laws like this one in Uganda and the many similar anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the US are saying. It makes absolutely no sense to legislate who anyone is allowed to be. But a lot of jurisdictions are doing it anyway.
A lot of people are also fighting back against these horrific and dehumanizing laws, but not enough of the people with the power to stop this madness are actually doing anything meaningful about it. Talking points are not enough. We need our governmental representatives to take action. Bold action. Immediate action. Real action. And we need them to keep doing it until the problem is all the way fixed. They need to keep chipping away at hatred, injustice, and bigotry until everyone is safe and taken care of.
To get there from where we are right now, we all need to take greater responsibility for each other. Not because we'll get something out of it (although we absolutely will), but because no one can thrive while their fellow human beings suffer from abuse and neglect right beside them. This is why wealthy and healthy people work so hard to distance themselves from the existence and effects of poverty. If they had to live among the suffering brought about by their lifestyle, they could not stand for it and remain whole. So they put up walls around their neighborhoods, eat in exclusive restaurants, and travel in private planes.
It doesn't have to be this way. Each of us wouldn't have to work so hard to meet our own needs if we could rely instead on our community to support us. If we pooled our collective efforts to ensure our collective survival. Just like adults are doing with children in Japan. There they see children as everyone's collective responsibility, so it's perfectly ordinary for very young children to do things like ride public transit or run errands by themselves. And if a child needs help while they are out and about, they can turn to any adult for assistance.
That's what we should be doing more of: taking care of each other. And the good thing about that is we don't have to wait for laws to be passed or the hearts and minds of bigots to change. We can just do it. Like Fred Rogers, we can live-out an example. May all our neighborhoods be like that of Mr Rogers. May we see each other as fellow passengers on the roller coaster of life. May we embody compassion for people whose life experience or struggle we cannot personally relate to, even if - and especially if - we don't quite understand it.
Information and Inspiration
This week I got a flat tire on my way to something important. Twice. And it wasn’t just a bit low on air. It was completely, rubber-floppingly, all-the-way-to-the-pavement flat. Both times. Fortunately, the first time I wasn't far from home and I happened to be next to a tire repair shop. So I left my car with the experts and caught a ride to my event. Someone else driving gave me a different perspective along an otherwise well-travelled route, and I noticed a quote on a billboard I hadn’t seen before:
According to the internet, well-known psychologist Carl Rogers made that pronouncement. I had never heard of that person until I Googled their quote, but I didn't need to know who they were to agree with that slice of wisdom pie. I feel quite strongly that no matter what we're doing or how we're doing it, we're always practicing something. I spent many years putting other people's needs before my own in relationships, so I became a person whose needs were not prioritized. That dynamic only changed when I began to practice a different way of relating to loved ones.
That gem of an insight also reminds me of something my Taiji/Qigong teacher has been saying for years which I now say to my students all the time: it's always your turn. Even when you're not the partner "doing the action" in a training drill, you still have an important role and you are still working on something. Even if all your doing is standing still while your partner identifies all the open targets in your posture, you are working on confront by watching strikes come in and keeping your awareness and your wits about you.
Beyond its application to martial arts, this concept feels especially poignant this week. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have all the tools and ability to avert the worst outcomes from global climate change but we're not employing them effectively. To avoid impending doom, nations and industry must take drastic action and they have to do it soon. Like yesterday. But year after year world leaders negotiate incremental adjustments they fail to accomplish. As a global community, we're not doing what we need to do about climate change because we're still practicing what we've been doing the same way we've always been doing it.
Meanwhile, people of parenting age in China aren't getting married and making babies in sufficient numbers to keep the population up. This week a city in China launched its own state sponsored match-making app and included all the local residents without consulting them first. This move is such a glaring example of the simultaneous missteps of missing-the-point and making-things-worse.
Marriage rates are down in China for a myriad of reasons, including economics. Many folks say they can't afford to get married, but instead of addressing the root-causes, the government does what it's most practiced at doing: forcing people to behave how the government wants them to behave. And best of luck to anyone who wants to avoid a stalker or an abuser, or who isn't getting married because they happen to be gay.
The whole situation is a horrifying example of dehumanizing one of the most human things in the world: romantic love. Sure, the State has lots of data about all the people and it can certainly group two of them together. But this "service" is not likely to use metrics chosen by those people. The state sponsored match-maker is undoubtedly making matches according to its own criteria, pairing couples based on what is most likely to further the government's interest. Add this to the stack of things created “for people” that doesn’t actually take people into account.
Another highlight from this week is the 20 years that have elapsed since the US invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein and discover all the weapons of mass destruction he was supposedly hiding. I heard an interview on the BBC news with Richard Armitage, who was the Deputy Secretary of State during George W Bush's administration when the Iraq invasion began. Armitage spoke rather candidly about what made the US operation such a catastrophe.
The most striking observation to me was how Armitage described the ignorance of the US national security team. Apparently the folks in charge thought it would be easy to just show up, install democracy, and then leave. They had no understanding of the tribal nature of Iraqi politics, governance, or societal structure. So we didn't know what we were doing. But we ran in there, guns blazing, and did it anyway. Because we thought it, that made it a good idea... because that's what the US always does. And then everyone has to deal with the consequences of our national practice of arrogance and ill-informed assuredness.
Another quote from Carl Rogers fits nicely in with this consideration: "Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas and none of my own ideas are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me." Thinking about your values and imagining your principles is one thing, but it pales in comparison to the embodied experience of living-out those values in the way you move through the world.
It's always my turn. Even if it seems like my individual actions have no effect in shaping the grand universal design, I am still a participant. I can choose to participate passively, going with whatever flow happens to present itself to me, which lumps my effort in with that of the prevailing wind. Or I can participate deliberately, choosing how to engage with the people, places, ideas, and world around me, which adds my efforts to the stack aimed at the outcome I desire.
As Paul Rulkens says in his TedxTalk, "If you do what everyone else is doing, you get results that everyone else is getting, and those are normal results. And the thing is, what we are after today, are extraordinary results." The time is long gone when mere minor shifts could save us and rescue our one and only planet. Today we are facing the accumulation of several generations of fossil fuel use. That means we have to take a several-generation-scale step in a completely different direction if we hope to end up in a different place.
Information and Inspiration
So essential. So precious. So elusive.
Sleep is sweet. And it comes in many iterations. Sometimes it is pure oblivion; dreamless non-waking. Sometimes it is a transported existence; a visit to otherwise unknowable times or places. Sometimes it is utterly mundane; a purely practical experience.
Sleep can also generate a surprising amount of creativity. More than once in my life I have been stuck on some conundrum. Frustrated, I took a nap and magically woke with some resolution. With my conscious mind on break, my unconscious mind had full freedom to explore solutions without the constraints of the waking world. According to scientists, the two cycles of sleep work together to support the brain's creativity. There's "a stage for abstraction and a stage for linking things together."
It is unfortunate that most of society isn't set up to enable sufficient sleep. Young students must attend school all day, participate in extracurricular activities, and somehow also complete all their homework. Add work into the mix for older students and students with fewer resources and the time in each day available for rest shrinks. Then we graduate into the working world and must devote most of our waking hours to our career while somehow managing to have a family. It's exhausting just thinking about it.
I have spent most of my life as an overachiever. Partly out of need and partly because that's what I was used to. One of the unfortunate consequences of trying to do a lot with insufficient resources (like time) was I often had to choose between finishing something and going to bed on time. Whether it was work, study, house chores, volunteer duties, or preparation for the next day, those tasks always seemed to take precedence over going to bed.
I didn't want to leave anything for my future self that I didn't absolutely have to. Future Me had enough on their plate. So I stayed up too late most nights, then got up early to get to work or the dojo. Once I started my own business, I could begin my workday later in the morning, but the habit of trying to pack in as much as possible before turning-in for the night persisted. As did my tendency to volunteer for too much.
I burned out a couple times in various ways, but it wasn't until the pandemic that my relationship to sleep really shifted. All of a sudden a lot of the working world became untethered from the 9-5 workday. A lot of us adopted what I started referring to as vampire hours, working late into the night and sleeping through much of the daylight. Sometimes I only stopped working and went to bed when I saw the sun begin to rise.
Although completely different than the hours I kept pre-pandemic, my switch to vampire hours was less irregular. I missed the mornings, but I was actually getting full nights of sleep consistently for the first time in my adult life. And that was revolutionary. After a few months I slowly shifted my bedtime back toward midnight and away from the wee hours, but I kept the consistent number of sleeping hours. And now I can't give it up.
I don't remember fighting naps or avoiding bedtime as a kid, but I assume I did because most children do. It's amusing every time I see a toddler resist an offering of care-free rest so vehemently. Restful sleep is such a valuable phenomenon at this point in my non-toddler life. I guess I've been enough places and done enough things in my nearly four decades on the planet to feel assured it will all still be here when I wake up. My FOMO has been recalibrated with sleep higher up on the priority list.
I've been thinking a lot about sleep lately because I'm in a particularly busy work season. I've been working extremely long hours and missing many social activities. I long for more time with friends and family, but there are two things I haven't skipped out on: body movement and sleep. I'm insufficiently rested for the volume of office hours I'm putting in, but this temporary work overload is more tolerable since I'm not also under-slept.
Working out and my external martial arts practice allow me to shed the stagnation building-up in my body from so much sitting (or standing) and staring at the computer. My Taiji and Qigong practices allow me to process the mental and emotional stagnation so I can maintain the quality of my sleep. Despite the overwhelming nature of my current work, I feel like I'm going to make it to the end of the season. I hope you can also find the time and space for rest in whatever shape your life is currently taking. We can all use more of it.
Information and Inspiration
On International Women's Day I attended a conference organized by, for, and about women in the anti-fraud industry. Earlier this week I almost decided to skip it because it's a busy time for me at work and the event itself was on East Coast time (which means it started in the middle of the night according to my usual sleeping and waking rhythm). I'm glad I got up before dawn to attend virtually from my home office in my pj's, robe, and slippers because it was terrific. Just the wind I needed in my professional sails.
I don't totally identify as a woman, but it is a title I claim because it was assigned to me by society, which means I was also assigned all the baggage that comes with it. I don't need to feel like a woman all the time to have a lifetime of experiences and traumas and frustrations shared with most women in modern society. It was relieving to hear other highly competent humans describe their experience being discounted due to their gender. It's nice to confirm I am not alone.
It was also refreshing to listen to the amazing, accomplished presenters talk about the impact gender has on their investigative work. It's nice to say the quiet parts out loud sometimes. One of the reasons women tend to be such effective investigators is the collection of micro skills we develop in order to survive the patriarchal world. Women are frequently dismissed as non-threatening, and because of our position in society we are well practiced at not asserting that we are "in charge" even when we are the authority. Consequently, an interview subject will tell us just about anything if we play into their bias and act like we just don't understand long enough for them to explain themselves into a guilty corner.
There was a lot of solidarity at that conference. So much that I could feel it coming through the magical internet lines of the virtual stream. The in-person attendees were not on camera so I don't know how they were interacting with each other, but the group chat on the livestream was bursting with shared experience and empathy. Presenters and attendees were more willing to call out injustice in its various forms than I ever see at a co-ed conference. And there was not one single instance of mansplaining. Just a whole day of outstanding professionals sharing their craft and their experience. The way all continuing education should be.
Keynote speaker Kelly Donovan shared her struggle as a whistleblower in the Waterloo Regional Police Service in Ontario, Canada. After calling out corruption and trying to effect change from the inside, she was forced to resign and work on fixing the system as a disgraced outsider. Kelly's story is harrowing and unfortunately typical of most whistleblowers. It is also touched by the impact of her gender. The times she has appeared before a judge who is also a woman have been the most successful for her case. Once the corruption is resolved she will be a hero, but in the meantime she will be dismissed and attacked.
One thing Kelly said about ethics landed with me in a particularly powerful way. She opened her talk describing the current state of corruption and lack of accountability having moved the collective understanding of where the line in the sand is. We've been living with things the way they are for long enough, we have all forgotten it doesn't have to be this way. Kelly closed her talk by saying: if you have to change who you are to fit in to your environment then it's time for an ethical self-check-in. Otherwise you lose sight of where the line in the sand is supposed to be.
If you can't see the line, or if you allow the influence of others to move it when it should stay fixed, then it's pretty hard to recognize when you or anyone else crosses it. This not only applies to corruption in policing and the justice system, it also applies to politics, private sector workplaces, and many other parts of life. The republican party is a prime example of gradually normalizing completely unacceptable behavior to the point of absurdity where politicians just make up their entire resume and face no consequences.
The way we regulate (or don't regulate) speech on the internet is also a chilling example. In 1995 the Communications Decency Act became law and included Section 230 which basically prevented internet platforms from being held liable for the content users post on their site. It also gave the internet platforms the prerogative to regulate speech as they saw fit. Fast forward almost three decades and you get the internet in its present iteration.
Section 230 has been in the spotlight as politicians call for changes and two prominent cases challenging the law were recently presented before the Supreme Court. It makes perfect sense not to blame the YouTubes or Twitters for the many utterances of every human on the internet. But it does not make sense to grant them complete control over what content should be removed to protect and ensure the safety of people using the platform.
In the US we have a right to free speech. It's enshrined in our constitution and it's fundamental to the continued existence of our democracy. But it isn't absolute. We have collectively agreed that one person's right to say whatever they want stops at the point that speech harms someone else. Maybe cops should stop wasting their time hassling people who don't have a place to live and redirect that energy toward removing hate speech from internet forums. It would be the responsible thing to do.
Unfortunately that doesn't seem a likely reapplication of that particular public resource. Especially with examples abound like Portland City Councilor Rene Gonzalez ordering the Street Response team to stop giving out tents to people who need shelter. Gonzalez said he gave the order because of recent tent fires. So instead of doing the work to identify and address the cause of the fires, he made the lives of a bunch of people who are already suffering just that much more miserable.
The same sentiment infuses Britain's brand new approach to immigrants crossing the English Channel in small boats. The current Prime Minister wants to deprive the trafficking gangs of an income stream. So his plan is to deport the people who are desperate enough to risk their lives crossing the Channel in the hopes of asylum. Apparently Britain will take everything from other countries except people in need. The Empire had no qualms colonizing food, fashion, art, ideas, and valuable resources, but it won't absorb the people from those places who need help.
It seems to me that we're all taking responsibility for the wrong things and not taking responsibility for the wrong things. We're failing to take responsibility for each other in the ways that matter and interfering with other people's lives where we have no business meddling. Women are socially conditioned to take responsibility for emotional labor. Men are socially conditioned to take responsibility for denying all their own emotions. Anyone who doesn't fit one of those categories must take responsibility for everyone else's discomfort at their existence.
And it isn't working. We've made tremendous strides in some areas, like technology, but we're squandering our advancements. Capitalism was supposed to give us all 15 hour work weeks and freedom from the constant labor of survival. But all we've done with our outstanding economic progress is allow a small few to hoard the majority of wealth when it could be used instead to feed, house, and heal everyone. We've amassed an incredible amount of collective knowledge, but we haven't made sure everyone can access it.
We have so many healing modalities, and we can address all kinds of suffering, but we continue to traumatize each other again and again in the same ways. I saw a tweet this week that said "how u gonna be on the wrong side of history while it's repeating itself, like bro ur failing an open note test." Thousands of years on the planet together but we’re just still failing to take care of each other. We need to figure that out. It's the responsible thing. And it's also the only way we're gonna make it.
Information and Inspiration
Last week President Biden visited Warsaw, Poland and gave a speech about the war in Ukraine, which has now officially waged-on for an entire blood-soaked year. Many verbal highlights made headlines, but one part that didn’t get as much coverage struck me particularly. Biden explained that Putin could end the war quite easily. If Russia stops invading Ukraine, then the war will end. Simple as that. On the other hand, if Ukraine stops fighting against the invading Russian troops, then Ukraine will end.
That moment stood out to me in a very personal way. It’s the exact same dynamic playing out all over US politics in various forms. If conservatives in the US stop fighting against reproductive rights, that war would be over. If I stop fighting for reproductive rights, then my rights would be over. If conservatives stop fighting against trans rights, that war would be over. If I stop fighting to protect trans rights, then my trans family and friends lose their rights. The aggressors in these scenarios are refusing to acknowledge their position as aggressors and are instead hiding behind a veil of victimhood.
Putin blames the West for his invasion of Ukraine, even though he clearly started this fight. We were all there, Mr. Putin, we all saw what happened. US conservatives insist they are standing up for the unborn, even though they refuse to stand up for those same people once they exit the womb. And they claim to champion liberty and the freedom of personal choice, even though they vehemently oppose some people consulting with their own doctors to make individual medical decisions for their own body and mind.
In all these cases the real cause for the crusading is simply a desire to control other people. There is no reason to invade another country with very clearly defined and internationally recognized borders other than to control that territory and the people in it. There is no reason to stand in the way of medical professionals caring for their patients other than to try and control those medical professionals and those patients. The misplaced sense of entitlement behind that drive to control is astounding.
By trying so hard to get their way, these people are not making things better for anyone. In fact, they are making things much, much worse. Abortions are still occurring all over the country, but they are less safe and more costly in states where laws restrict access. Trans people continue to exist, no matter how much legislation claims they aren't real. Those laws just make it more difficult for them to access medical care and support. Without that care, some of those folks will decide it's better to end their life than to live a life of suffering and persecution.
In Iran, girls schools have been attacked with poison gas this week. The authorities are investigating, and it turns out "some people" want all girls schools to close. Apparently those people feel entitled to control these girls, so now dozens of students have been hospitalized. The family of those students must now endure the terror and uncertainty of their children being poisoned, as well as bear the cost of treatment and manage the process of recovery.
The only result of these kind of actions is a net increase in suffering. In the end, whoever is trying to control whether girls go to school still doesn't actually control those girls. They never did and they never will because human beings are not things, no matter how much one person objectifies another. People have thoughts and feelings and opinions and dreams and experiences all their own. And no one can stop anyone else from being who they are. All anyone can do with restrictions is delay expressions of self for a while. But we are human beings and those of us who survive oppression make it out alive because we find a way to be ourselves no matter what anybody else tries to say about it.
These examples are real and they are serious. And we need to talk about them. We also need to talk about the examples that are more ludicrous and less life-or-death because they point to just how deeply this problematic sentiment has rooted itself within society. This week a person who participated in a dognapping scheme sued the victim for failing to pay the reward originally offered for the safe return of the dogs. The audacity of this person to demand a pile of money from the dog owner after their conviction for participating in the dognapping blows my mind.
I dated a person for a while who wanted a life-building relationship with me. I didn’t want that kind of relationship with them, so I declined their offer to add those life-entwining aspects to our differently committed connection. That kind of misalignment in relationship intention is not sustainable for the long-term, but not every relationship has to last forever. Unfortunately, because they wanted more from me, they felt entitled to more from me. So when I said no and we broke up, they got mad and accused me of withholding what I should have been giving. They are still mad about it to this day.
My former lover and the litigious dognapper are clearly not connecting all the dots. And I think it's because they are following the well-publicized example of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and countless other conservative and bigoted individuals. Any reasonable person can see what's happening, but the aforementioned folks simply refuse to acknowledge reality. They feel entitled to control other people and they refuse to take responsibility for their wake of suffering and chaos following behind them as they move through the world.
You and I probably can't personally do anything about the way Mr. Putin conducts himself, but we can at least refuse to emulate that toxic and destructive example. This is one reason I spend so much time and effort engaging in self-reflection. It’s critical to consider my thoughts, feelings, and actions in a process of sincere inquiry. It’s important to listen to others who are kind enough to give me feedback. And it’s vital to check-in and ask for feedback when it’s not already arriving.
Please do not avoid looking at yourself. Please do not avoid registering your impact on the world in all the small ways because that adds up to big blank spots in your vision. Refusing to acknowledge the existence of some of the dots makes it much harder to connect them. And just like we learned in school: if you don't connect all the dots, you don’t get to see the whole picture. We must look honestly at the totality of our present circumstance before we can do anything to improve it.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.