This past week I was at Fleur de Lis camp a wonderful girls camp in NH where I went for 8 summers as a child. My grandmother, aunt and cousins also spent many summers at this humble and magical place all singing the same songs and learning the same skills.
Now 20 years later I came back. This time to spend a week with 31 girls who have lost a parent. Over 20 alum and friends of fleur de lis came for the week to give these girls a chance to be with others ages 9-13 who have had a similar loss. They shared and processed a bit of their grief. But mostly laughed, made new friends and giggled themselves to sleep.
Each Morning after the bugler played reveille, the girls would line up for "password" ... A brief talk given by a counselor to set the tone for the day and give them an idea to reflect upon. The below is the password I wrote for these girls....
"As you all know this camp is called "Fleur de Lis" Fleur de Lis means "flower of the lily" in French. This is old French. I wanted to share with you an expression in French that is more modern... Something the teenagers say.
When they are feeling good they say "je me sens bien dans mes baskets"
This means "I feel good in my sneakers"
What does it mean to feel "good in one's sneakers"? It means being honest about where you are
All day we move between different emotions.
(I walked to the left and said)
Imagine emotions on a scale. Over here you have "sad, sad... Really sad" as as you move over (I walked right) there are all kinds of other emotions
A little sad
And so excited I can barely contain myself.
Sometimes you may see some other girls on the road laughing and having a great time. You might be feeling sad at that moment.
But don't worry that might be you in 20 minutes. We move through many emotions all day and "feeling good in your sneakers" just means being honest about where you are knowing it can change at any moment.
You can feel good in your sneakers if they are running to joy but you are feeling lonely. You need to move through the emotions with your shoes.
The password for today is: sneakers
Today's blog deals with the conflict of feminism, for men. Not because men are weak or afraid of women, but because as a result of certain aspects of the feminist movement men are opting out of marriage and fatherhood.
Psychologist Helen Smith's new book, Men on Strike, discusses the ways in which feminism in the U.S. has worked not just to liberate women but also to shame and punish men.
She has a point. She actually has lots of them and she makes them in not so subtle ways,
"women are empowered; men are assholes who might rape you."
This is how men have been positioned.
In divorce, even if the woman cheats, he often loses more. For every woman who commits suicide, FOUR men do. Their mistakes are often chided by women, they are shammed from joining men groups, relegated to their "cave" in the basement and often treated as dysfunctional women.
Yuck. Sounds terrible.
My dear friend who has been married for ten years said, "most of the time I feel bad for men."
She meant this because they cannot express their needs as easily; this comes so easily to her.
I wonder though, is our pitying of them also patronizing?
Smith's book has many powerful points. I like her libertarian voice and her Atlas Shrugged references; men are acting as "Galts." They are on strike and she looks as some valid reasons why.
The only point that did not resonate with me was her primary question. She wants us to ask "how can we make marriage more appealing to young men so they want to get married?"
Why manipulate them into wanting to get married?
Why not focus on evolving how we relate to one another and take it from there?
Maybe this next generation of relationships won't be "marriage." Maybe still committed, but maybe marriage itself is as outdated as shock therapy. The wedding industry won't like me saying this. They ideally are not the ones running the show, however.
I never dreamed of a wedding as a kid, so this is maybe easier for me. I wanted to save the dolphins, travel the world and join the justice league. Which is pretty much what I've done, except the dolphin part. Other than eating dolphin-free tuna, I haven't really saved any yet. Maybe that will come later.
Anyhow, I'm just saying, that I'm not sure we need to "save marriage." I do think we need to treat our men a little better. My first roommate after college used to tear her clothes and scream when talking to her ex-boyfriend when she ran into him. She would tell the police he was beating her. They would believe her. Though thankfully he was not arrested because this man ended up saving me from her, helping me get my stuff when she threw it out the window and then he found me an apartment.
I study genocide so I know most of the world's violence is caused by men. I know that the school shootings have not yet been by a women..I also think there is another side of the story. The master narrative in the U.S. has turned anti-male and it's time to provide a counter.
The men in my life have been as, if not more, professionally supportive as the women. I so often admire their courage, strength, and integrity of many men and I am glad they are not like women. I love women and there are already millions around.
The Dalai Lama said "Western women will save the world"..maybe so, but hopefully not by being bitches and frankly, if we do it is because we've gotten over ourselves enough to find better ways of working with men.
I can forget my love libraries because I so often find myself working in them. I can momentarily lose the sense of wonder.
Monday, however, I found myself enraptured again with the idea of the library. Meandering around Bryant Park, one of my favorite spaces in Manhattan, I stumbled upon their outdoor Reading Room. I pursued the magazines (Self, People, Lucky) and newspapers, hanging on their beautiful wooden rods with little interest until finding a bookshelf of classics.
I settled on Seneca, Roman tutor to the young Nero, and author of a variety of dialogues on practical philosophy. Having just returned from a visit to the Forum in Rome earlier this June, I was curious about the variety of of thoughts that space inspired. Here’s the line that finally sold me on the book,
“Here the Stoic philosopher outlines his thoughts on how to live in a troubled world.”
Yes, that’s what we need, something practical that acknowledges the challenging landscape in which we find ourselves.
I found a chair that allowed me to both watch folks settle on the lawn in preparation for the film showing at sunset and view the top 10 floors of the Empire State Building..I settled into his fascinating chapter on Anger that I will share with you now.
Surprisingly, Seneca sounded far more like a modern day psychiatrist than an ancient roman musing on daily life.
Oh, he knew anger so well. He remarks how anger is one of those few passions that ignites in a moment versus over time, unlike greed or sloth that can embed slowly in our experience.
Anger erupts and often works to destroy the beholder.
I think sex can be the same way, but he steered clear of that one. It’s an important omission because sex seems to have within it a destructive force that somehow creates life. Anger does not seem to create the same life- it seems to destroy.
He disagrees with Aristotle that anger ought to be cut out of our experience. I would agree with Seneca here. Anger fueled so many liberations and revolutions- it helps us set new standards and not put up with poor treatment in our personal as well as political lives.
Seneca thinks, however, that we would benefit from managing our anger better. I would agree with this one too.
We can feel so powerful when we are angry. So inebriated with our own righteousness and self-importance that thoughts of patience, kindness, and consequences seem remote and even inaccessible. In anger, we can take down our own house.
Orwell demonstrates this in his “Two Minutes of Hate” scene in 1984. He talked about how people could, within 30 seconds, experience “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a sledgehammer…”
Then he noted how quickly the target of that rage could be turned,
“And yet that rage that one felt was abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”
This I believe is one of our most valuable lessons for conflict. People's rage can be directed by leaders...think of Troy. 50,000 Greeks leaving their families to cross the Aegean Sea just satisfy their king's greedy desire to take Troy. The kings and military leaders ignite the rage and direct it.
People were pawns and in many ways still are.
Next time you are angry, consider what or who might benefit from your rage? rarely, will it be you.
For personal anger, Seneca offers a solution. His solution does not eliminating the cause of anger, rather addresses what to do when anger appears….It’s a sensible solution, one that can save us weeks of trying to “fix” things after we’ve let our rage have center stage.
Just wait it out.
“No one keeps himself waiting when the greatest cure for anger is to wait, so that the initial passions anger engenders may die down, and the fog that shrouds the mind subsides, or becomes less thick. Some of the affronts that were sweeping you off your feet will lose their edge in an hour, not just in a day or disappear all together.”
Anger and the Body
Here's a take on Anger by modern day psychiatrist, Dr. Brian Weiss, supporting Seneca's claim from a physiological perspective. Anger does not serve us.
Weiss says anger creates "damaging chemicals in our body that adversely affect our stomach lining, our blood pressure, the blood vessels of the heart and head, our endocrine glands, our immune system and so on."
He also points out that our TV programs and movies glorify anger...serving up angry people as role models. Captain Kirk in Star Trek never had a happy day. The anger is often positioned as "righteous" and therefore permissible and even admirable. Regardless of how anger is portrayed around us, it rarely serves our physiology, our relationships or our larger goals. It can be manipulated by those more in control of themselves. I really don't like the idea of being a tornado that someone or something else directs.
One caveat here on anger. I have found, through my coach trainings on how to help people have breakthroughs that anger can be used as a force to change behavior. For example, you get so angry about your weight you say angrily, "that's it, no more. I am taking my power back and deciding to be in charge." This turning point often arrived at with anger can get someone who has been smoking for 20 years to go cold turkey. This would be guiding the tornado into some useful activity. Getting fed up with a bad relationship, unhappy work environment, or a health condition can be used as the momentum for true change.
But we have to know the difference between self-righteous anger and anger that has the power to change our lives for the better.
Orwell, George. 1984 (Signet Classics). Signet Book, n.d.
Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Dialogues and Letters. London; New York: Penguin Books, 1997.
Weiss, Brian L. Messages from the Masters: Tapping into the Power of Love. New York: Warner Books, 2001.
On a trip to Italy via Istanbul, a rather indirect route, I was seated next to a smart, handsome young man on his way to Jeddah who told me some information that has haunted me periodically since my return over a month ago.
He would like to put his engineering skills to work helping improve renewable energy. Thus, far in his young career, he has found himself at companies like Lockheed Martin. What he told me about that time about knocked the Turkish delight out of my mouth. This is a bit of a paraphrase:
“We have solutions to many of the world’s problems but cannot make use of them because they were developed under military contracts. They are on lockdown for another 20-30 years in the name of national security”
Can you imagine? I picture a warehouse filled to the brim with solutions, while millions crawl to the building suffering from life threatening hunger and thirst.
I asked him if desalinization was one of the solutions. I had heard that we knew how to do it on a massive scale but did not have ways of transporting the water efficiently. He seemed to think it could be done, but could not tell me much. Everything he had worked on was top secret.
I can’t begin to imagine the kinds of solutions he means. Desalinization has been on my mind since my father shared this idea over breakfast one morning over 15 years ago. He said,
“you know, I have been thinking. If the ocean levels are going to rise and there are people with no water and no food all over Africa, why not desalinate the oceans and irrigate Africa”
Right! Why not? Imagine that we’re sitting on a solution like that?
It makes me think of Cyprus.
I know a woman who bought a $1 million dollar home in Cyprus only to find it had no running water for the better part of a year!! This was on the Greek-ruled portion of the island. She explained to me that there was plenty of fresh water on the Turkish side because they had figured out how to desalinate.
So I ask, which side of the island do we want to live on? It’s really our choice, we can desalinate or live in homes with no water. We might have to march across the deserts of Texas and knock on the doors of Lockheed Martin with a letter of permission from the U.S government to open up the storehouse of engineering solutions.
The citizen who wants the hard work of those brilliant engineers and scientists to get to the people literally dying for the solutions.
When someone wants to send me the name of a great documentary about our food, a political situation, or a past atrocity, I earnestly wish I wanted to see it. I do want to see it. I care about the world, people, and this is the basis of my academic career.. so why don't I watch many of them?
True, I don't have a television and DVDs don't run on my laptop, but I think there's more than pragmatics at play here.
They often terrify me; stories of torture, genocide, corruption, and greed turn my stomach. But why else?
Rather than silently beat myself up over it, I decided to make some good use of my time in the pool and I really think about it.
Here's what bubbled up... unless the topic is one in which I am working actively, I tend to just feel so saddened by seeing more of what is what "not" working. It breaks my heart and I'm not sure it needs to break more for me to care more...I'm sensitive..this pain just leaves me too sullen to be of use.
Documentaries, I think, document what IS. They often highlight vital story lines sidelined by those in power. They are a venue for marginalized narratives. They complicate our understanding and they help us wake up from the numbing master narratives. For example, no longer can the dairy industry alone tell us how to think about dairy. Michael Moore wakes us up to the mechanisms disabling healthcare. Forks over Knives has changed how many of my friends and colleagues see their plates. Documentaries are, for this reason, as vital as independent journalism. We need them as much as we need The Washington Post. We are lucky it was recently saved.
I think what's happened is that these films and independent journalism have awakened in me a desire to imagine what could be. I am ready to hear about the solutions- farfetched, creative..irreverent. Maybe the sci-fi writers could to join with the filmmakers and grapple with genocides, sex trade, pollution, massive corruption in a way that charts a way forward.
I'd like to be a part of that imagining. My contribution now, I guess, is imagining what film could do.
Could we make a compelling two-hour film about what an amazing healthcare system would look like or how Ugandan politics could look?
Documentary filmmakers often work to educate problem solvers and create them by inspiring action. What if we infused with their precious talents a desire and ability to imagine a better future or to team up with those who are?
There might be films out there that I haven't seen that do this, so please do let me know. I think I'll watch them right away.
Next week, my cohort and I will hand in our comprehensive exams. This advances us from doctoral students to doctoral candidates. While this is exciting for us all personally, the issues we're addressing in our exams have importance well beyond our personal professional trajectories. Each one of us is addressing some aspect of conflict resolution, prevention or transition so timely, I wish I could have you hear about them all. Perhaps I will...shortly.
I'm writing about corporate accountability for mass atrocity. I was able to ask my question to Madeline Albright and Richard S. Williamson (who worked in foreign policy under Reagan and Bush and also served as special envoy to Sudan). I asked them about the difficulties of holding collective forces accountable. Their discussion was, in general, really astonishing...if you have the time. The transcript of our conversation is below the video. She is one of my role models. I'm so glad they have the transcript because my heart was beating so loudly I could not hear her answer.
Sarah Federman: Hi, my name is Sarah Federman. I'm a doctoral student studying corporate accountability for mass atrocities, looking at those issues. Secretary Albright, you both can answer, you were talking about the ICC as the criminal court focuses on holding an individual responsible to expunge the collective. And also I feel like the Responsibility to Protect is actually moving us towards a collective accountability towards this rather than saying there are certain individuals responsible for all this. I know this is so complex and I guess I would like to hear what you both have to say about holding the collective more accountable and is there a way to do that that doesn't create cycles of just shame and retribution?
Madeleine Albright: I don't know how to answer that. It's interesting, I hadn't put that together. I do think it's a combination of it. I do think that not everybody - when we say it's "collective," it's collective responsibility by the international community to do something and one would hope a collective way that those who are fighting might think more as a group, but ultimately what we have seen is that often the individual guilt is something that has been a result of “X” political leader thinking that he can do better by whipping up anti-“X”, not just being proud in your own group but curdling into hate of another. So I think it's that combination of the collective responsibility of the community to do something about it, but I do think that one would find individuals, certainly it was true in the former Yugoslavia as well as in Rwanda, of people that were specifically responsible for stirring up the hatred.
Richard Williamson: If I could just comment on that briefly. Again it's somewhat a case-by-case situation. In South Africa, Mandela made a determination. He was negotiating a transition and he couldn't sit across the table from the white apartheid government to negotiate a path to sustainable peace and a new era if there was a threat of harsh justice. So he made a decision that we're going to have a truth and reconciliation commission so victims can record what they went through so they could never be denied. Perpetrators would be identified. And there is a certain punishment in that but he would not set up a court and it's worked. You have victims of apartheid who are now police commissioners, etcetera. My only point is that it is going to have to be case-by-case because I used to be asked by my friends in the ICC and International Justice during my tenure in Sudan about accountability, and I said, “Look, to me it's pretty simple. If you can hold those most accountable and bring them to justice great, but if it's a question of justice for saving lives I'm going to save lives.” And I was involved in getting Charles Taylor out of Sierra Leone because we thought there would be 10,000 that would die in the next few weeks if we didn't during the Bush administration. But these are not easy questions. They can be gray, they can be difficult, and I think when you're talking about other sorts of collective responsibility you have to have those factors in as well.