US versus Them (uhh, that means all y’all who are not us and, no, I don’t find that at all confusing)

We’ve been watching “The Bridge” lately, a show on two police detectives trying to solve crime on the El Paso/ Ciudad Juarez border. It’s highlighted the us v them mentality that seems to be everywhere in politics these days.

What is the difference that happens on the border of our country? The U.S.-Mexico border seems to be so much more controversial than the U.S.-Canada border. Why is that? What makes the difference in our perception? Do we see Canadians as more like us than Central and South Americans? I’m willing to bet the Canadians (especially the French-Canadians) don’t see themselves the same as us on the south side of that particular border. Are Canadian immigrants OK and Mexican immigrants not? Do we have different objectives in each of these cultures? Or does it just feel different on the inside of our culture?

US versus Them – What’s really the difference in these two groups of people, except their labels?

I live in a city where 2/3 of the population has Hispanic or Latino ancestry and 40% of the households speak a foreign language (likely Spanish) in the home. In many ways, this is a city where the residents are as at home in the U.S. as they are in Central or South America. Do we love these neighbors any less than those who have European ancestry? Many of them are U.S. born of immigrant parents. Do we love these first-generation people any more than someone who has just arrived from another country? I struggle with why many in our nation condemn people who are “other” (other than themselves, meaning of different backgrounds) when, at some point, our ancestors were also ‘other’ to the residents of our nation. Can we not accept each other as individuals, without judging stereotypes?

This belief that “we” are somehow superior to “them” is known as ethnocentrism. It lacks humility and requires broad assumptions about others. I think I can safely argue that the British had this same ethnocentrism about the American colonies, and look where that got them.

I’ll leave you with this quote, it seems appropriate for a time in which we’re debating immigration and our role on the world stage. It’s as appropriate now as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? Pablo Casals, Spanish cellist and conductor (1873-1976)

Texas Mileage

We spent yesterday driving to a surprise party for my aunt. I’m pretty sure that most of you think that means that we spent most of the day attending a surprise party for my aunt. But this is Texas. Y’all don’t know what it’s like here unless maybe you live in Alaska. Texas is 10% larger than France and twice the size of Germany and Japan. I’m telling you, this place is HUGE. I found this map to show you the relative size…..You can see why a drive across the state takes a couple of days, if you’re going the speed limit, that is, which we ALWAYS do. Just nod your head and look innocent while you smile at the nice officer. 🙂

Aunt Phyllis’s party was in a small town in north Texas, named Cisco. It happens to be the location of the original Hilton hotel and there is a museum dedicated to the Hiltons there.

The old Mobley Hotel, the first of Hilton’s properties, was located in Cisco, Texas.

Nearly everyone that attended the party lives elsewhere. I think most folks had a 4 hour round trip drive, Cisco is a couple of hours west of Fort Worth and a few hours east of Midland, all along I-20. One of my cousins and her husband drove down from Arkansas and spent the night in Dallas. My brother and parents flew in from California. Martin & I? We drove up from San Antonio, 4 hours each way, all in one day. If you’re doing the math, let me save you the trouble… We drove 8 hours round-trip to attend a birthday party that was about 3 hours. That’s Texas for ya. It was worth it though – we got to visit with about 40 or so of my dad’s family, including my aunts and uncles, my cousins and their kids and even grandkids. My favorite part of this group is the  joy they have, you’re always welcomed with open arms. Is it any wonder why it’s so easy to spend time with them, especially now, as the aunts and uncles enter their 80s? It makes it worth every single mile of Texas roadways. Now, isn’t that something worth celebrating?

Define Success

How do you know when something is enough? Are you successful or successful…enough?  I had a boss who told me I’d never get rich working for that particular employer. Wow, depressing, right? Or not…. His yardstick clearly wasn’t mine.

Like most folks, my husband and I were broke when we got married but we always had an income, a roof over our house and food on the table. We rarely had to tell ourselves “no” when it came to something. Not that we didn’t have to budget, but we spent our money relatively smart and were able to buy the normal fun things. We started out in a tiny little house but eventually traded up to a series of “forever” houses (my work has moved us around a bit). Every single house we’ve had has been beautiful in some way. Is that the definition of being rich? Maybe, but it only lasts so long if your house is empty.

We’ve always had an abundance of books. When the boys were little I would tell them, “we are rich in books!” because every bookshelf was overflowing. Does that mean we were rich? Even a house full of books may not be home though.

Ever since Martin and I got together, we’ve always had a house full of our boys, family, the neighbors’ and the boys’ friends. We wanted to be that house, the one where all the kids hang out. We don’t mind the mess, the noise or the extra food bill (even now, when each boy seems to need an extra large pizza). Ok, we don’t mind their mess as long as there is daylight outside…. In all seriousness, we love that they come over, talk for a bit, and then go do their thing. For us, this is the definition of success. It means that people see your home as safe and comfortable, that it’s a place to be yourself and where you are accepted for who you are. Our boys are getting older (the youngest is 17) and I’m happy to see them grow up. I’ll miss the impromptu sessions in our kitchen where they gather with their buddies around a pizza. I’ll still think we’re rich though, because of the role we’ve had in their upbringing.

My dad with Gus and Dylan. Don't let the scowls fool you - apparently the boys have outgrown smiling for the camera. :)

My dad with Gus and Dylan. Don’t let the scowls fool you – apparently the boys have outgrown smiling for the camera. 🙂

Happy Father’s Day

It’s Father’s Day, a time when I think back to my childhood and then to my husband.

My dad is the kind of guy who is almost always smiling. Everything is an adventure to him. Even in his 70s, he’s learning new things and enjoying life, like converting to all Apple products and standing in line overnight to get the latest iPad. Yep, that’s my dad. Sitting in his lawn chair and also making friends up and down the line while they wait. Dad is also great at taking care of others. He’s always lending a hand with family and friends. He’s always been the best at this, even if it’s just moral support. I remember once when the unthinkable happened, I was just out of college and had gotten fired.  He lived far away but gave me some encouragement and advice long distance, basically reminding me that I was perfect, that I would be fine and that he was proud of me. Logically, I knew I’d find another job but having someone tell you they were proud of you even if you’d been fired? Priceless balm for your soul. I’m so proud to be his daughter.

Dad and the grandkids prepare to fly to CA for the summer - circa 2000.

Dad and the grandkids prepare to fly to CA for the summer – circa 2001.

Dylan, Dad & Gus a few years ago

Dylan, Dad & Gus a few years ago

Gus, Dad & Dylan in January 2013

Gus, Dad & Dylan in January 2013

My husband is another one of the great guys. He’s loving, smart and funny. He plays gorgeous music and leads a wicked pace up the mountains on his Calfee. Martin has been a SAHD (fancy term for stay at home dad) since Gus was born. He’s made our home a sanctuary and a great place for the boys to grow up. Martin is always taking care of folks, putting their needs first. This has given me the freedom to focus on my career, which has resulted in great adventures for us. More than anything, Martin loves us as we are.

Martin with Dylan, Father's Day 1991

Martin with Dylan, Father’s Day 1991

Martin with Gus after a game

Martin with Gus after a game about 5 years ago

Bike Dad at the Shiner ride

Bike Dad at the Shiner ride

With a dad like mine, is it any wonder I found such a great guy for my husband? Happy Father’s Day to two very cool guys. xoxoxo

Wag more. Bark less.

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Fierce protectors, resting after a long day defending the palace.

All right, I think I’ve found my favorite slogan ever: “Wag more. Bark less.” Isn’t that awesome? We’ve got two large dogs so I may be biased about this obviously dog oriented philosophy. Our Weimaraners are good natured girls but they think they need to guard us from the hordes overrunning the back fence. What may look like an innocent rock, leaf or squirrel to you is, in reality, the next invasion of barbarians. Are dogs innately suspicious? Is it that simple? Or do they have justification for suspecting all kinds of nefarious things in our idyllic backyard?

You’ve probably heard the parable about two travelers coming upon a farmer on the outskirts of town. When the first traveler asks the farmer what kind of people live in the town, the farmer turns the question back on the traveler and asks what kind of townfolk lived in the traveler’s previous town. “A bad lot”, the first traveler answers. The farmer then advises this traveler that they will likely find what they have before. When a second traveler approaches and asks the same question, the farmer again responds with a question. This time, the traveler says they were good people and that he will miss them. Guess what the farmer says? OK, I know. Y’all have heard this before. Then you totally understand the relationship between my dogs and those travelers. The farmer tells the second traveler that he will likely find the same kind of people in the town, just like where he came from.  Like my dogs, the travelers see the same things and interpret them differently, one sees the negative, the other one sees the positive. In the case of the travelers, it is the type of people. In the case of my girls, it’s rocks and leaves masquerading as danger.

Some of you are mumbling (as the mother of a teenage boy, I have supersensitive hearing, the better to hear mumbles with….), “If it walks like a duck, talks, like a duck….” Well, I’ll give you that one. Sometimes people are bad and rocks are dangerous. But you have to think about the big picture – are all the people in your life bad? Is every rock a menace? If so, to paraphrase the farmer, maybe it’s you, not them. This brings me back to the simple joy of “Wag more. Bark less.” I think that’s a GREAT motto to live by. I’d rather see the joy in things. Yeah, so once in a while, I’ll get a nasty surprise. Does that mean I should always be looking for it from perfectly nice people? I’d like to have more faith than that. I’d like to wag more and bark less.

On the Hunt

On the hunt for barbarians, they could be anywhere, maybe even up in that tree.

References

 “Wag More Bark Less” is the slogan of Buddy Biscuits dog treats – http://www.cloudstar.com//prodcat/Wag-More-Bark-Less-Treats.asp

For more on the travelers and the farmer, see this excellent telling of the parable (scroll down to The Two Travelers and the Farmer): http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtue/151-optimism/parables

You Say Toe-may-toe, I Say Toe-mah-toe

Do you ever feel like you’re talking to someone but not really communicating? We have to remember that we all see things differently. I hope you find the following true story a funny reminder of this.

San Antonio is very bicultural, with a seemingly even split between native Spanish speakers and native English speakers. Other cities, like Miami, are probably the same. A few years back, my Assistant was a woman named Yolanda, who was raised in a Spanish speaking home. Her family emphasized English and she easily thinks in both languages. Myself, I was raised with English and therefore read and think in it. I have a decent ear for language, though, and can speak Spanish with a good accent. There are a fair number of words that sound very different in the two languages and there are also names that are common in the Hispanic community that are not so common in the Anglo community, like Hector or Jesus.

Like much of Texas, San Antonio is a very religious town, with references to our Lord, Jesus Christ, being fairly common in conversations. (Can you guess where this is going?)

When Yoli and I worked together, there was a mobile jewelry salesman from Mexico City, Jesus (Hay-soos for those of you who aren’t familiar with Spanish pronunciation). Yoli & I knew Jesus, the salesman, pretty well; we almost always talked about him and rarely wrote his name down. In my head, he was (and still is) Hay-soos. For me, Jesus (Gee-zus) is a different person entirely. When Jesus the jewelry salesman would visit, Yoli and I made it a point to go see all his sparkly doodads. He would usually call one of his regulars and then she would pass the word through email and Yoli would tell me.

One day, he called Yoli to tell her he’d be in the lobby with some new trinkets. She then emailed me: “Jesus is coming today.” Not thinking of jewelry, I assumed she was telling me Jesus Christ was coming.

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t expecting His return to Earth to be announced via email and in such a calm fashion.. I would think that Yoli would at least have burst into my office with some sense of drama! She’s kind of excitable that way.

Trying to be cool about the whole thing, I calmly replied, (still in email) “Really, how do you know?” I also offered to pray with her, thinking a quick prayer couldn’t hurt. She then told me that He’d called her. I immediately realized that Yoli must have been the most special of humans to have gotten a call from our Lord, Himself. I was just about awestruck. We went back and forth in email a couple more times before she came giggling into my office to tell me that I was crazy and asking if I wanted to go see our friend from Mexico City and his sparklies…..

The moral of the story is that two people can be saying the exact same thing but in two different languages, carrying two different meanings. Also, we listen and see differently. Remember the next time you’re in an argument to listen for the difference.

Empathy

Wow, can people surprise you, even your kids. 😉

A member of our extended family is battling cancer and going on the rollercoaster ride of treatment, we’ll call him Bubba. He’s several states away and we can’t be there to help him through the doctor’s visits, surgery and chemo/radiation but we’re there in spirit. Martin and I recently told our boys about Bubba’s condition and I’ve been so proud of our younger son, Gus’s, reaction. He wants go visit Bubba, which I thought was sweet since most 16 year olds don’t want to do anything unless it involves their friends and xbox. Plus, Gus wants to shave his head in a show of solidarity. Granted, Gus has a buzz cut already and Martin pretty much shaves his head, too, so head shaving isn’t going to be traumatic, but still. Oh, and Bubba hasn’t started chemo yet, so he still has all of his hair. Details, details.

I thought it took maturity to feel this kind of empathy, the kind of maturity you don’t often see in kids. Shame on me for not having more faith in our wean (Scottish slang for child, kind of an inside joke because it’s a contraction of “wee un”, meaning small, and Gus is 6’3”, the tallest in our family). Empathy is not only for the older-but-wiser crowd, apparently. Empathy is important because it connects us with others; we feel for them, whether it’s joy or sadness; we share in their experience. Empathy is easier when we are close to people, when we trust them, when we want to feel for them. It can be easy to feel empathy for strangers – who doesn’t feel for someone that has had an accident, right? But it can also be much harder to empathize with someone we don’t know or don’t think we want to know. Take that rude jerk that cut you off in traffic and caused an accident. You don’t want to know them because you’re wrapped up on your own feelings. We saw this in action a few years ago. Our oldest son was a new driver and he turned left in front of a pick up truck pulling a trailer, a typical landscaper’s work vehicle, so it was b-i-g, big. Anyway, Dylan pulls in front of this guy, causing an accident. My husband reported that the guy was angry for about 30 seconds, until he realized it was a new driver that hit him. Martin says the guy immediately started telling D that it was all right; everybody has an accident when they’re a new driver. Wasn’t that sweet? We have no idea why this man didn’t go off on a rant about new drivers being, well, pick your adjective. It would have been understandable, the fellow had just had a major problem crop up on what was likely a busy day. Instead, he chose to see the human behind the problem and we will always appreciate that man for his kindness to our son.

So, empathy. It helps us see the person behind the action or label. It helps us connect with others. For me, it is an essential ingredient to being human. I don’t always feel it but the more I practice, the better I am. This goes for our weans, too. Soon, we’ll be off to the barber for a head shaving, happy to do so and isn’t that sayin’ somethin’?

If you’re interested in a great book that showcases empathy, read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. It’s probably classified as a Young Adult novel but don’t let that fool you. It’s full of leadership lessons and I’ve read it several times in the last 20 years. It’s also scifi, but that’s just context. The story is overwhelmingly about the human condition and how we relate to others. I will always be thankful to a co-worker, Gary Lieberman, for sharing this book with me. If you’re not much of a reader, it’s being made into a movie, due out later this year I believe.