Every day, I encounter a new challenge to the idea that things can and should be open and real.

Be it social, political, or personal, serious or trivial -- every time, I ponder the implications.

I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

People Concerned About.....People

What do you do when your heart and your mind tell you something needs to be addressed, but the powers that be seem insurmountable? How do you decide which fight is yours, and which fight you just pray someone else will take up before it’s too late?

This is a really hard one. Those of us living in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia have known for many years that we live in the only place left on planet earth that stores the deadly chemical know as MIC in quantities vast enough to wipe out human life to the tune of thousands of people from a single tank breach. This is what happened in Bhopal, India, in 1984. This tragedy is often cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster.

In August 2008, the Bayer plant in Charleston had an explosion that narrowly missed releasing MIC into the atmosphere. (For more on the event, see http://blogs.wvgazette.com/watchdog/2009/04/27/bayer-stories-collected/) The pending threat went from theoretical to very real overnight. For the record, the explosion literally shook my home miles away. While the powerful chemical industry continues to evade responsibility for the threat they pose to our community, one young woman is standing up to them and leading local residents in a public conversation with the industry and state and federal authorities about the truth of what is happening – and not happening – at the plant.

I’ve been disturbed by the way the plant’s PR reps attempt to paint her as a radical, when her approach is clearly common sense. I feel the same admiration for her I feel for the young man who addressed the Kanawha County School Board’s diversity policy. She is stepping out on her own, speaking the truth, trying to help people, and risking isolation and aggression for her efforts. I am awed by her willingness to fight a corporate giant, when so many people in our community who are on some level much more equipped to take this on stay silent; and on behalf of my family and my home, I am grateful for her leadership.

For more on her work, see http://www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com/ .

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eleventh Hour

Mark Twain once said that courage is not the absence of fear. It is the mastery of and resistance to fear.

I started thinking about courage a week ago when I read about a young man in our local county school system. Approaching the end of his senior year in high school, he went to the school board to ask them specifically to name sexual orientation in the anti-bullying policies. This would mean that the well-known playground taunts of “fag, gay, homo, dike, fairy” etc. would be identified as on par with racial slurs and attacks.

When I saw his picture in the paper, standing alone at a podium in the board room, I was overcome with respect and frankly, amazement. He is almost out of the K-12 system. If he and everyone else in his class can hang in there, they will be out of public school all together and on to what, hopefully, will be the commencement of a full and exciting adult life. All of the pathologies of adolescence will be behind them, and they will be free to go on to grow into who they were born to be, not who the crowd tries to force them to be.

And yet here he was, putting himself out there at the eleventh hour for all of those children behind him. Whatever the school system decides to do, he will not benefit directly. If anything, the last days of high school may be a special hell for him, now that he has taken the ultimate public route to talking about his experiences, naming who has tormented him, and how it hurt. Last time I checked, people who to treat others this way don’t exactly turn down the volume when you acknowledge your vulnerabilities.

How many of us would have the courage to do what he did at his age? At any age? Maybe now I could consider it, but at 18 I am pretty sure I would have laid low and tried to just get out. This fellow is a special person, and a young man of true courage.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Convince Me

Last week, a member of the WV Congressional delegation publicly announced that she was “not convinced” that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide are leading to global climate change.


This was one of the stranger public statements I’d seen from a member of Congress in a long time, and that’s saying something. I’ve been unable to shake how incredibly irritated I am by this “not convinced” claim. It is so anti-intellectual and insulting to her constituency and frankly, to the rest of the world.

Climate change is no longer something we can just say we believe or don’t believe. It’s crazy to me in the face of all of the best science and the wide variety of studies and interpretations from hundreds of professionals the world over to uphold your personal doubt as a reason for opposing policy change. Anyone can see, it’s not doubt, it’s fear and denial. And no plan.

An honest approach to the situation would be to acknowledge that the policy changes required by pollution will, in the short run, pose threats to the old economy. I could get behind a press release acknowledging that reality. But to forestall real issues with claims of needing to be “convinced” is just ridiculous. It’s a fine example of not pursing truth at the highest level.

We need to talk about the profound truth of what we are doing to our world, as well as the profound truth of how long undoing it will take and what the very real consequences of those changes will be on many people. Anyone willing to have that conversation is a real leader. Anyone diverting attention onto false debates is only out for themselves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Nature of Science

For someone without any formal training or practice in science, I usually don’t do too badly when reading science and/or medical journal articles. That said, I really had a hard time with this recent piece on the ethical issues and evidence surrounding public campaigns to promote breastfeeding as superior to formula. http://jhppl.dukejournals.org/cgi/reprint/32/4/637 For some reason my comprehension was just not strong on this one.

About the time I gave up, my eyes landed on these sentences: “It is all too true that the American public does not understand the concept of risk. They also do not understand the nature of science. Science does not answer questions, in the simple sense of the phrase – it refines them incrementally in its approach toward understanding natural processes.”

Now the study author had my attention!

I love the idea of the refined, incremental approach to understanding something. It seems so important to internalize the idea that we are always in the process of understanding something, and that complete understanding is an unrealistic goal. It’s this kind of thing that illustrates the relationship of faith and science and their overlapping dimensions, not their stark opposition in every case. I can switch a word or two and get another sentence that works for me, “Faith does not answer questions, it refines them incrementally in its approach toward understanding spiritual processes.”

It seems to me Bohr’s principle of profound truths applies. It is not faith or science, it is elements of each that illustrate the best, most comprehensive version of understanding our world. To view them as always in opposition reduces them to trivial truths or just plain false statements.

Which does lead me to just plain false statements, of which plenty exist in any realm of human endeavor……more on that soon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Truths, Both Trivial and Profound

My life changed when I first heard the famous quote from physicist Niels Bohr, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

I’ve also heard this translated as the difference between trivial and profound truths.

So often we are pushed to choose sides in this life around issues that don’t really lend themselves to black and white “sided” decisions. When profound issues are reduced to the dynamics of trivial issues, I think we lose out as individuals and as a community of human beings when we accept the pressure to name one thing completely right and the other completely wrong. There are elements of rightness and wrongness in all the decisions we make about profound issues, though you might never know it the way our culture demands allegiance to extreme ideas.

Bohr developed the theory that explains the structure and action of complex atoms. During World War II, Bohr fled his native Denmark to escape the Nazis. He travelled to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to advise the scientists developing the first atomic bomb. He returned to Copenhagen after the war and later promoted the peaceful use of atomic energy.

This week I’ll be blogging about the challenges of finding the authentic path through profound truths. I’m thinking a lot about science, no doubt in part because a physicist developed this concept of profound truths sometimes opposing one another. What examples do you have from your own experience? I hope to see your comments.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Reinstituting Trust

I am one of the last folks you will find crying crocodile tears over PR crises in big corporations; that’s because usually it seems to be a result of something dangerous or unethical they’ve been hiding. But I do acknowledge the difference between sabotage and corruption. A very big difference.

The YouTube video of Domino’s employees tampering with the sanitation of the food went viral this week, and my first reaction was simply to think, “Whoa, Domino’s is screwed.”

In this day and age anyone can use social media for good or for ill. Ill is exemplified by the recent Domino’s incident, when two immature – that’s the right word -- employees (they are in their 30s) manufactured an image of the food chain knowingly serving contaminated food. Once a visual image of something is out there, it is very hard to correct or change.

I keep thinking about the movie “Doubt” where Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character used the idea of letting feathers out of a pillow, and then being asked to put them all back in once they have been scattered by the wind. All the intention in the world to undo the deed is challenged severely by the reality of the consequential damage.

But then here comes Domino’s. Heck if they didn’t turn it all on its head by “responding at the flashpoint” and, my favorite analysis, “reinstituting the trust where it was lost.” The company went to YouTube themselves and outlined its response to the crisis and its expectations about change going forward.

The directness and swift action of the company was impressive. And their refusal to let a couple of goofballs have the upper hand is pretty cool. After firing the employees, the company even issued warrants for their arrests on food tampering charges. Going on the Internet, speaking directly to the consumer about what the problem was and how the company is addressing it both now and in the future – that’s about as straightforward as it gets.

I may still not be in the mood for delivery pizza for a while. Just sayin’.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Runnin' On Empty

I heard this Jackson Browne classic last night driving home from picking up a pizza and beer. Mind you, this is not quite as unimaginative as it sounds; it was gourmet pizza from Lola’s and Rogue Morimoto. There is something quite comforting about this kind of meal for me on a chilly rainy night. I’ll take it over the finest dining any day.

Runnin’ on Empty is on JB’s album of the same name released in 1977. It was his fifth album, and is unusual among live albums in that none of the tracks had ever appeared on a previous studio album. He recorded tracks on-stage during concerts, but also in hotel rooms, on the tour bus, and backstage. Over 30 years later, it is his best-selling album.

Even as a child in the 1970s, I could tell something was up with this record. I was fascinated by the voice of an obviously still-young man, already cataloguing the phases of his life and his increasingly fragile grip on the belief that he had control over his own destiny.

I’ve heard this song hundreds of times. Without fail, I cannot turn it off when I come across it on the radio. I love the masterful combination of apprehensiveness, urgency, and hopefulness about the inevitable passage of time, and his willingness to keep “running into the sun” at the same time he knows he doesn’t know what he’s looking for exactly or if he’ll ever find it.

This picture of Mr. Browne is from March 2008.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Authentic Anger

I was impressed today by the courage of a new blogger friend who started a post with "I'm posting while angry, and I'm not sure it's a good idea."

Kudos for acknowledging the risks, and also for proceeding when your gut told you it was important.

I think a lot about how often we are encouraged to calm down and think before we take action; and I must say, in general, that approach has served me better over the years than firing from the hip. But what if you think about it, try to "calm down," and you just can't get there? This can be an important voice, telling you to use what you feel to express yourself.

Knowing that someone is upset about something can be important information. And even more so, knowing that the passage of time is not diluting their feelings is a litmus test for me on the authenticity of their issue. The trick is not developing a character that is dismissed as reactionary. Well-placed and judicious anger can be a powerful tool for good.

(If you'd like to see the post that caught my attention, see Humor - When Is It Too Far? at http://hillbillyhomo.blogspot.com/)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Latin Schmatin

Oh the irony....that's right, I don't even know if Esse Diem makes any sense in Latin. But at least I'm being real with you about it! My first choice was Esse Quam, from the NC state motto Esse Quam Videri, "to be rather than to seem." SOME one has reserved this name for a blog, back in 2005, but apparently doesn't actually blog. Ever. I've actually decided this is my good fortune, because I got to cobble together a new name, which loosely translated means "to be in the day," or as I think of it, "get real now."

I thought a lot about whether or not to start this blog, knowing that there is plenty about my life that could be critiqued as less than 100% authentic. That said, this for me is more about the journey than the destination. In addition, I love to write and to debate ideas, and at this point in my life blogging seems like the best way to do both things.

I hope you'll be patient with me as I get going, this is all new to me. Please fasten your seatbelt and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle, I'm about to post.......