Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's Who and What You Know That Makes a Difference

Yes, my friends, I'm still alive. I haven't written in a while. So sorry. But I'm back from a summer spent in the states and am again enjoying Paris and loving my students.

What do I think about politics these days? More philosophical than disgruntled. I went from angry to disgusted to apathetic. I couldn't write a damn thing. It was all too ugly and so predictable. Corporations run America. I already knew that. They've now run it into the ground. I predicted that. Too many old white men are in politics and have zero connection to their constituents until they need campaign money and votes. After that, fuck you. Politics is about power - the getting of it and the holding of it. And business is about greed. The United States managed to fuck the entire world with useless wars, unapologetic torture and rendition and financial gambling run amok. Dazzled by the sparkly, shiny U. S. of A., other old white men in different countries followed our jack boots into financial and moral crises that would have shocked fiddling Romans, pre-burn. And religion. Ho, religion. Fanatical Christianists want religion (and only THEIR religion) to trump the state and although they consider abortion to be child murder, the moment a child is born it's on its own. As a matter of fact, if that newborn baby doesn't have a job, healthcare or food, too fucking bad. They also have no concerns with killing Iraqis, Muslims or anybody else they decide they should hate. No wonder my previous post was about escaping to an island.

But, what the hell. I'm still here. Might as well make the best of it.

So, the best thing I could do was to look at our current global mess from the standpoint of a Buddhist sage. (I know there's one inside me. I know there is!) Like what the ancient Japanese monk at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Tempe Arizona said when he first heard the news of 9/11: "Through conflict, we get to know one another." Well, now Americans know all about Muslims, or so they think.

I went back to Arizona for the summer because my mother had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, metastasized to her bones. She's 87. My dad is 89 and has probably had most kinds of cancer and is tottering around with a walker, festering lesions of skin cancer dribbling blood, and very, very grumpy about how the dishwasher needs to be loaded. My parents and I always had a difficult relationship and hadn't spoken in two years. When my brother asked if I could come and help him care for them this summer, I wrote a mile-long diatribe about how I couldn't put myself in such a toxic environment and then the next morning, while he was still sleeping, I sent another email saying, "Never mind!"

Here's the deal. I have this mouthy angry leftyness and my parents (and all of my brothers and sisters) are various shades of Republican. There was never any intelligent discourse between us - a mirror of the ridiculous, reactionary, sensationalized, ignorant talk-show punditocracy that America has become. How could I survive four months in such a cesspit? I mean, here are the books on my parents' coffee table:

And with Faux News on 24/7, it's enough to make a lefty like me jump off the nearest mountain.

But, I lived to tell the tale. And I affirmed a few things too. My brother must have told my parents to STFU about politics and religion while I was there. So my mom was super cool and my dad eventually got there, after I figured out a way to get him to take dementia drugs so that he wouldn't yell at me anymore about how I put the milk in the refrigerator (or call Obama "that nigger in the White House").

The thing that really was affirmed for me during this stay was my belief, developed early on while slaving in Corporate America, that customers are won, and kept, one relationship at a time. And in the same way, the world will evolve and get better, one relationship at a time. It's really who and what you know that colors your outlook.

For instance, my mother knows several people of the gay persuasion - her hairdressers, friends of my sister, an artist friend of mine. And because she knows them, she can't relate to the Republican Christianist obsession with banning gay marriage and adoption. "Leave those poor people alone! Let them live their lives the way they want to!" Amen, mom.

I daintily tiptoed into a discussion about my fear of the Christianist right's hijacking of the Republican party and their agenda for making America an exclusively Christian nation. I showed her the whacko people behind Rick Perry's campaign and Prayer Day (Including Robert Jeffress who says the Catholic Church is a pagan satan cult), and to my surprise, my mother said, "I'm Catholic. And we don't proselytize. I don't give a damn if you worship your left toenail, as long as you don't tell me what I should believe in or how I should practice religion. Religion has no place in campaigns or in government." Now this is the woman who hated John F. Kennedy but she also hated how his Catholicism became an issue during his campaign.

My mom told me that if it wasn't for the fact that she thought it was important to vote in the primaries, she'd register as an independent. That's how sick of the Republican party she is. She looks at the current lineup of presidential hopefuls with disgust. It's just as much a circus for her as it is for me. She won't watch "those damn debates" and instead listens to commentary the next day. On Faux News, of course, but oh well.

She also agreed with me that Bush Jr. "spent like a drunken sailor" and that we just need to "bring our troops home from those stupid wars." Ahem.

So, all is not lost. My parents still think that the left hates capitalism and that all they want to do is rob from the rich in order to pay those lazy slackers, the poor. My parents suffer from a strange psychological dissonance that most of the right suffers from - the belief that the rich are cool and some day, they (all the blue collar workers and middle class Americans) will some day be rich too, if they just bootstrap their way up to the mythological "American Dream." And when they are rich, they don't want to be burdened by all those damn regulations that ensure the quality and safety of our food, air and water, nor do they want to pay those terrible taxes that somehow more than 250 of the biggest, most profitable corporations in America don't pay at all.

But even with that, there's still hope. They have a granddaughter who's a teacher who recently said to my sister (her mom), "Sorry mom, if you are a teacher in America, you can't be a Republican." If my parents meet other real-life people, good, honest working Americans who have lost their homes or jobs due to no fault of their own, their opinions may not completely change, but they will be nuanced. Reality won't be so black and white anymore.

I realized through this experience that it's unrealistic for me to think I can carry the burden of the maligned, murdered, tortured and abused people of this earth. I will go crazy (and almost did) looking at the way the world is operating and think that I somehow must change it all. I can only make a difference one person, one discussion, one charitable act at a time. I can have reasonable discourse about issues. I can influence my MBA students to be ethical in their work, to seek careers they are passionate about and that caring about others is not a weakness, but a strength. I can influence the evolution of the world, one friend, one student, one stranger, one parent, at a time.

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