Taking a Knee Stands for Something

If you are not a person of color, and you are judging the #takeaknee protests for being an insult to our anthem, our flag, or our country, do these 10 things.

by Shadra Bruce

If you are not a person of color, and you are judging the #TakeAKnee protests for being an insult to our anthem, our flag, or our country, I urge you to:

  1. Recognize that the protest is not about the flag or the anthem (or football).
  2. Understand that there is no possible way you or I could ever even come close to understanding what it’s like to grow up black or brown in this country – and that so recognizing is only the beginning of becoming an informed person when it comes to race, equality, and justice in this country. The disparity is real.
  3. Educate yourself. You can gain empathy and compassion for the experience of others, even if you can never actually comprehend the true terror of the atrocities they have endured.
  4. Stop placing judgment on where protests happen or when they are happening or why you think they’re happening, and instead of offering your opinion about alternative means of protest you find less offensive, recognize that this has happened because no one is listening and nothing is changing. So LISTEN. Hear the concerns and fears.
  5. Acknowledge the injustice. Acknowledge that when you get pulled over by an officer, the risk you face is far less than what it is for people of color – even when they are 100-% compliant and innocent.
  6. Recognize that a person can be against police brutality and still support the police, that a person can want police officers who have committed crimes to be removed from their jobs (just as we would teachers, priests, and politicians who violate our trust and don’t uphold their promises), without disparaging all the great officers who put their lives on the line every day.
  7. Acknowledge that this country has always had a problem with race and that it is a very powerful basis for the inequality that still exists today – that sometimes you can’t just pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make a better life for yourself, that some people do start out with an advantage that others have no access to.
  8. Question your own motives. If you were supportive of Tim Tebow taking a knee after every touchdown to thank Jesus Christ because that was something about which he felt strongly; if you were supportive of Kim Davis protesting gay marriage by refusing to issue marriage licenses because that was her belief; it’s important to examine why those incidents were okay – why them and not Colin Kaepernick.
  9. Start learning about the racist history of this country. Read Race by Studs Terkel; White Like Me and Dear White America by Tim Wise; Race Matters by Cornel West and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
  10. Start listening to people of color – without passing judgment. Listen to their stories, their concerns, their first-hand experiences. Hear them. Imagine how you would feel if your child had endured the same experiences, if you had.

Open your heart and your mind.

It is the only way forward.

 

Through Which Lenses Do You See This Small World?

by Shadra L. Bruce

ethicalrevolutionist_thelensthroughwhichyouseetheworldWhen I wake up each morning, I am blind until I grope for my glasses and get them on my face. Then everything sharpens into focus. In much the same manner, the way we look at the world around us is skewed by the lenses we wear to see it. If our lenses are colored with personal history, religion, or indoctrinated culture, it is impossible to see things clearly…we see them through thick lenses that skew reality.

None of us can be perfectly free from the skew of our personal lenses; we all have prejudice or bias. I have a very personal bias that I have a difficult time overcoming regarding Mormons. Personal experience has colored my perception; my father’s family is Mormon, but my father is not. He was at certain points in life quite vocal about his rejection of the faith, and my mother  even more so.

Then we moved to Idaho.

For those who believe Utah is the Mormon capital of the world, I truly believe that Idaho (at least in the 1980s when I was in school) was worse. The first question I was asked as a new and frightened 5th-grader at the elementary school I was enrolled in was, “What Ward are you in?”

I didn’t know what a Ward was, which of course made it clear that I was not Mormon. Being non-Mormon in Idaho in the ’80s was in many ways a hellish experience. Non-Mormons were often ostracized, not just by the students but by the Mormon teachers and counselors. We were a tiny minority.

My experience going to school in a predominantly Mormon society has colored my perspective. It’s a lens I have a difficult time shedding, even though many of my own Mormon family members have shown that it is not always that way. My uncle and my grandma are devout Mormons. My uncle has served as a Bishop and as a youth leader. He is strong in his faith, yet he never judges me or my family for our different beliefs; he welcomes us into his home; he treats my children with love.

Does my experience with Mormons color my view of Mitt Romney? I’m sure it does, and probably unfairly so. I wish I could peel off that particular lens to have a clearer view of the man and his potential as a leader. I am working to do that, and recognize in hindsight the many Mormon kids I went to school with who were nothing but kind and friendly.

But I also realize that the color of Obama’s skin has created a lens through which many see him as well, and I wish that they, too, could remove that lens and see him without it.

Our country, it seems, is confined by the lenses through which we see the world. None of us have been willing to look with open and clear eyes at the issues, recognize the need for compromise, and do what is best for the country as a whole. Whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim, or something else entirely, we all need to take a step back, remove our respective lenses and see the commonality among us. Regardless of our individual paradigms, we are all parents who care about our kids, kids who love our parents, sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles, and above all HUMAN BEINGS.

Disney has been warning us for decades: “It’s a SMALL world.” And the only way we’re going to get along in it is by making the choice to be not just tolerant of our differences but to embrace the diversity that makes all of us stronger.

We Shouldn’t Have To Buy Our Freedom

by Shadra L. Bruce

ethicalrevolutionist_buyfreedomThis country builds its values on freedom, but the only people who are free are the ones who give the “system” the finger and literally follow their own agenda. The only freedom we have as Americans is that we get to pick who tells us what to do. Let me explain.

The American dream: get an education, get married, buy a house, build a good career, have kids, buy toys, retire comfortably. And everything in this country is set up to support that dream, to funnel us as zombie-like slaves into corporate servitude, to encourage and enforce (and reinforce) reigning social values, by offering tax breaks for getting married and having kids, to entrap us with promises that if we just work hard enough, we too can be rich (all the while offering a mind numbingly below-par, over-priced education to ensure that we stay as sheep-like as possible).

What if you don’t want to live in the American rut? Everything – every law and societal attitude – attempts to force you into a lifestyle indistinguishable from anyone else’s: stay in one place, work at one job, and raise your kids to become the same mindless robots you become, kids who will ultimately believe in and reinforce the same system.

Imagine living in a society where the Earth is still appreciated, where people appreciate and respect each other, and where a person is truly free. People work to meet their needs and wants; that used to be about 8 hours a week. Now it’s 40-60, or more. We work, we eat, we sleep and we try to squeeze in a little fun.

Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

I think things really need to change. Peaceful revolution. Whether we evolve into small, self-sufficient, self-governing communities, or simply wipe the political slate clean and choose our representatives from among real people and not wealthy, out-of-touch imbeciles, I don’t know.

I understand why others look at Americans and think we are pigs. A good majority of us are greedy, gluttonous and hard-hearted; overweight, undereducated and lazy. We’re materialistic and demanding, and we all want something for nothing.

And it’s never our fault.

And yet, this is the only country where the potential for improvement is so possible. It has the POTENTIAL to be fantastic. I love being an American. The ideas America were based on are glorious. But politics corrupts men – hell, politics corrupts the Boy Scouts of America. And instead of a country of the people, for the people, and by the people, we have a country of political pigs getting rich off our growing poverty.

It disgusts me that in a country of freedom that touts itself as the greatest country in the world, children starve, people graduate from high school without being able to read and we can’t live peacefully with people of different cultures and beliefs.

How far down the wrong path are we willing to go before we make the effort to change? Who cares if children starve, if crime does pay, if politicians are greedy, lying, pigs? Most of us have it easy – and actually contribute to the greed with our materialistic demands – so why would we want it to change? Just don’t mess with our evening TV programming, OK?

Listen to your heart, your gut, and your brain – whatever part of your body you trust in an emergency. Listen to it. You should hear sadness, the lost soul, the warning that you’re on the wrong path. You feel the danger of doomsday (and not in any biblical sense).

Right now, we worry about the wrong things and don’t care about the important ones. Who cares who is having sex with whom? It doesn’t matter when we’re all going to get screwed by the government and by the freedom rhetoric. You want to be free? It IS possible.

You know what traps us all? Credit. Because we all want more than we can afford, we extend and overextend to the breaking point. On paper, we might look like the asset column is running ahead of the debt column, but it simply isn’t so. But there is comfort and security in the rut, and that’s why we’re stuck. Until enough people are willing to see past their own big screen TVs to see true reality, nothing will change.

We Cannot Afford the Death Penalty for a Number of Reasons

by David T. Bruce

death penaltyTroy Davis, convicted of the fatal shooting of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989, was put to death on September 21, 2011 in the state of Georgia.  Davis was convicted, although no gun was found, and no DNA evidence was produced unquestionably linking the accused to the crime.

A recent Reuters news article pointed out that in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Davis receive a new hearing to examine new evidence that would support his innocence.  Furthermore, “former FBI Director William Sessions called for Davis’ sentence to be commuted to life in prison, saying the case was ‘permeated in doubt.’”  The new evidence, however, was rejected by the U.S. District Court in Georgia a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the review.  Last-minute appeals to the county court and pardons board were likewise rejected.  With significant cause to doubt the validity of Davis’ conviction, why were the survivors and the Georgia officials hell-bent on executing a potentially innocent man?

An article in the Huffington Post describes an incident reported in the New Yorker that shows an innocent man was wrongly accused of a murder and subsequently executed following 12 years on death row.  The investigative reporter, David Grann, points out that “experts who testified [against the accused] should have known” that the forensic evidence was “completely invalid.”  A forensic research consultant submitted data from the Death Penalty Information Center illustrating that prior to the 1972 Furman moratorium (overturned in 1976), approximately 14,489 executions were recorded, and since 1977, 1,118 (1,267 as of September 18, 2011) have been executed.  Of those sentenced to death since 1977, 139 have been exonerated; an estimated 39 inmates found to be innocent were wrongly executed.  Based on data collected in 2009 approximately 11% of the people convicted of a crime warranting the death penalty have been found to be innocent.  Such a failure rate suggests that the system is flawed, and this also suggests that the fate of Troy Davis is not isolated nor the argument in favor of his innocence uncalled for.

A brief review of recent statistics related to the death penalty illustrate that the United States is the only industrialized nation other than Japan that tolerates the death penalty, and seemingly in spite of evidence suggesting innocence or mental retardation.  Thirty-four states currently allow for executions, typically by lethal injection; however, the use of the electric chair is legal.  How can this be, when according to a Lake Research Partners 2010 poll, 61% of voters believed that a punishment other than the death penalty should be used against those convicted of murder?

I cannot begin to fathom the grief that survivors must endure when a loved one is murdered.  At the same time, I cannot reconcile in my own mind how we can present ourselves to the rest of the world as a society and a country that is evolved and against cruelty to man, while we can put a person to death based on circumstantial evidence.  How can we as a nation persistently tout the rights of the unborn child, while we look the other way as inmates are put to death for crimes that may not have committed?  Frighteningly, how many of us can look onward as those on death row are executed?  How many of us demand retribution?  Why were the Georgia officials and the survivors hell-bent on the execution of Troy Davis?

Revenge.

Is this human emotion understandable?  Yes.  Does this help us understand why officials looked the other way or ignored evidence suggesting the innocence of the convicted?  No.  Should we search for an alternative to execution?  Yes.

If we cannot rationalize the moral and ethical implications associated with the death penalty, then let’s talk about something that we can rationalize: the cost, especially as the fate of our global economy is also in question.  The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice reported that an additional $90,000 is spent per inmate sentenced to death per year, compared to that of inmates serving life sentences. The 670 inmates on death row in California cost the state an additional $63.3 million annually.  The commission estimates the annual cost of the current death penalty system to be $137 million. With suggested reforms, that cost would rise to $232.7 million per year. To impose a lifetime of incarceration instead of the death penalty would cost $11.5 million per year. That’s a savings of $125 million or more per year, just in California.

During a period of time when our nation is struggling to make ends meet, we have no valid fiscal excuse for executing prisoners.  Not that we have a good excuse to begin with.  “An eye for an eye” has a nice barbaric ring to it, but we as a society must find some resolve for our need for revenge.  We are not doing ourselves any justice by putting someone to death.  A piece of us is lost when we turn our backs to this bias. There must be far better punishments than the death penalty.

Lawfully convicted murderers should live with their crimes and suffer a lifetime of incarceration without hope for parole.  This is obviously a less expensive alternative.  Execution is more expensive, sets convicted murderers free (death can indeed be construed as freedom), and presents the risk of executing an innocent person (thereby committing murder – who answers for that crime?).  Ultimately, execution is for the benefit of the survivors.  We are giving in to the basest part of ourselves, and we are kidding ourselves by arguing otherwise.

An innocent man was executed on September 21, 2011.  Many innocent people have been executed before him, and many more will follow.  We speak of change.  This is a change we must make – for our own humanity.

Congratulations Terrorists. You’ve Won. You Can Go Home Now.

by Shadra Bruce

tsa-terroristsI read with complete horror and disgust the story of the 95-year old incontinent woman trying to get home and meeting with incompetent, insensitive TSA officials who lack even the smallest shred of common sense, and I realized that the terrorists have been far more effective than even they probably imagined.

Who needs foreign terrorists when we have TSA officials forcing 95-year old women to remove their diapers for a pat down, when we have states implementing laws that allow police to target people based on their skin color, and when we all live in fear of saying the wrong thing and suddenly disappearing from our homes. No, I’m not Russian, or Algerian, or from Darfur. I’m an American, though these days I seem to say it with as much sheepishness as pride.

The terrorists did more than kill 3,000 people in a sneaky, cowardly attack on our soil. They permanently transformed the mindset of America, putting the kind of fear into our lives that brings out the ugliest and vilest part of people – the part that used to remain hidden behind a thin veil of civility.

Since 2001 it’s not just people we’ve lost to terrorism. We’ve lost our right to privacy, our right to dignity, our ability to feel safe from persecution from our own government. Again, I must remind you, I’m not writing this from Libya, North Korea, China, or Syria but from America.

According to the Associated Press, the woman in question was wheel-chair bound, dying of leukemia, and simply trying to get home to where she wanted to be laid to rest. Instead of using a bit of humanity in deciding how to proceed with this woman, the TSA officers determined she was enough of a threat to require a full pat down. If that wasn’t enough, they made the woman’s daughter take her to a restroom to remove the diaper and then get back in line and go through security again. By this time, the daughter was so frazzled that she lost her pass and was unable to accompany her mother to the gate. If this were one isolated incident, I would say fire the TSA employee who acted like such an imbecile and move on. But the incident was defended by the TSA spokesman, who said the employee did nothing wrong. What??!!

When we target dying women who are no more likely to be terrorists than 2-year olds; when we try to strip care from the poorest and most frail in our society, when we divert all of the wealth to the powerful and rich, how are we any different from any of the countries on whom we attempt to force our brand of democracy?

When will the poor, the marginalized, and the frail band together, overcome whatever small differences exist among each group, and take back the dignity of this country?  It’s time to retrieve our humanity, let go of our fear, and return to living as a society of people who have enough compassion and common sense to think for ourselves and protect the frail and marginalized of our society. No, it will never be the same and we have to be cautious, but if we continue on the path we’re on, the terrorists will demonstrate that they launched a very successful mission.

Memorial Day Means More Than Just Beer & Barbecue

by David and Shadra Bruce

memorial-dayMemorial Day is often marked as the launch of the summer travel season. Plenty of people are traveling (even with gas prices as high as they are) and sales of beer and potato chips give a little boost to the economy. But today is about more than backyard barbecues and three-day weekends. We mark this day on the calendar as a tribute to men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country. It is important to us that we take a moment to remind our kids why we take time away from school and work.

Memorial Day was created to pay tribute to those who have fought and died for these liberties, and it gives us an opportunity to remind our children and ourselves of why the United States is the country that it is. Citizens are encouraged to visit memorials and cemeteries, display the U.S. and POW/MIA flags, and pledge aid to disabled veterans.

The two of us love any excuse to celebrate, and we do enjoy the time we spend with friends and family on these days; however, those have served and given their lives are to be honored, and we don’t want that to be overshadowed by the fun. We don’t preach to the kids about the day, but we feel that their knowledge of why we have Memorial Day is very important. We talk to the kids and tell them why the day is significant; our hope is to fill them with pride and an understanding of our nation’s history. Our children, and we as a family, enjoy the holidays we celebrate as well as a multitude of privileges. We travel, we enjoy the outdoors, we enjoy music and movies, we laugh, and we play. Easily, we could forget why we have these privileges, and many of us do.

Debates rage worldwide regarding the actions of the United States over the past decade. As well, our kids are aware of our ongoing frustration with the political climate in this country as some of our rights begin to feel infringed upon. We teach our children that it is okay to question and express concern. Our right to debate this (or any) issue is as important, if not more important, than the debate itself. We teach the children that they are free to disagree with our government’s actions and that the power they have as citizens is in the right to assemble and the right to vote.

Regardless of how we feel about the actions of our government, we teach the kids that those that have enlisted with any branch of the military are fighting for them; they are fighting for us; they are fighting for their country. The soldier’s place is not necessarily to debate; their place is to defend. Many have lost their lives doing so. This is the point we try to make with our kids on Memorial Day.

Politics do not have a place in our home on Memorial Day. In our minds and in our hearts, this day is for those that have fought and died for everyone in the United States, regardless of politics or religion. This is not the day to debate just or unjust causes. This is not the day to debate government policies. This is the day to celebrate our nation and our heroes. More so, this is the day to remember . . .

Coexistence Requires a Leap of Faith

by David T. Bruce

btn_peace_relig_symbls_275Recently, my wife’s sister decided to compel her school-age children to regularly attend church, and she wrote about this new practice and the motivation for doing so on the blog they host together. It was a bit of a revelation in itself; neither my wife nor her sister ever attended church as children. When I first read this article, I brought my own bias that renounces organized religions and the implication that if a person or a culture does not subscribe to the idea of a singular faith, then that person is of questionable character. After reading this article to its conclusion, I found my bias to be unfounded.

Faith by definition suggests that we believe in something without substantial proof that it is real. Spirituality asks us to submit to the possibility that what defines mankind is not necessarily of a physical nature. These two concepts are frequently used in tandem to imply that the only way to understand their meaning is by being of a particular faith or being spiritual; in other words, a person must be religious and go to church to understand.

Exploring faith and spirituality is laudable, and the journey is always a personal one. Society in general, however, places emphasis on organized religion. If a person does not go to church, that person is typically considered godless and immoral. As Tiana discusses in her article, we do need to give direction to and instill faith in our children. This does not necessarily have to happen under a steeple. If this works for the individual or the family unit, no one has the right to speak against them. Of course, being a part of the majority, the choice of the individual to attend a church typically goes uncontested. Those that opt to worship in their own way or choose not to worship at all are sometimes silently and often publicly condemned by society – sometimes by those same people who claim the cloak of faith and spirituality.

None of us are immune to religious prejudice. We may giggle in regards to a particular idiosyncrasy of a given faith we find absurd. Many of us, me included, did more than raise an eyebrow in respect to the recent announcement of the end of the world. If we take a critical look at ourselves, however, it’s easy to see that our approach to the fringe sector of society that embraces Rapture is no more productive than when the majority of society perceives atheists as sacrilegious. What harm would come to pass if each of us let one another live by the principles of their faiths, stipulating that we do not go out of our way to injure one another?

Above all else, I have faith in the belief that all of us as individuals inherently love our families and neighbors. I have faith that we emotionally and physically cringe when others are hurt. Reflexively, we want to help when people are suffering due to acts of violence or as a result of a natural disaster. The awareness of the difference between good and evil is intrinsic among all cultures.

This faith in the good of man is what we should bring to our children and those around us. This faith is what we must foster. Whether we choose to adopt a religious practice or frequent a church to foster this inherent sense of compassion is, as I say, a personal choice. In the end, how we choose to communicate this sense of compassion does not matter, as all religious faiths ultimately seek and speak to this common moral value.

Whether a person is an atheist, agnostic, or of a Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or Muslim faith (or a denominational fragment thereof) is, on a global scale, insignificant. What our hearts and minds commit to in terms of our inherent love for one another is what binds us together culturally and spiritually. We can affirm this faith by attending church if we choose, but a daily belief in and understanding of other forms of belief and other ways of exploring spirituality is paramount in realizing what it truly means to coexist.

We must all explore our faiths in the way that each of us finds most agreeable, while letting others do the same – even, and perhaps especially, when their ways differ radically from ours.

We can instill this same sense of compassion and understanding in our children, and this is a journey we can all embark on and benefit from. We do not need to force our religious principles upon others, for we are all on the same journey. Not one of us is spiritually better than another, and if there is an end, we will all meet whatever, wherever and whenever that end may be.

Make Every Day an International Day of Compassion

by David T. Bruce

Image courtest of Baby Boomer Yearbook
Image courtest of Baby Boomer Yearbook

Inspired by Dr. Patch Adams, today has been set aside for bloggers to unite for compassion, with the hope of eclipsing the pervasive global violence that has become a staple of our collective cultures.  Following in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama, the impetus for this movement is to encourage each person to show compassion for another.  The Dalai Lama said that “true compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.”  He also said that “our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”  If we are to learn anything from this movement, it should be that if we embrace this sentiment, we can all show compassion, at least passively.

Much of the momentum behind the writing in Ethical Revolutionist is a response against the aforementioned violence that is most often justified by religious or corporate dogma.  Our various cultures (the United States included) strike or condemn in the name of God (or other deity); we colonize other lands under the guise of guardian; we extract and extort from one another to acquire various resources.  These are not compassionate behaviors.

Without argument, our society has been wronged.  We have been unfairly attacked and judged.  We have responded accordingly, understandably with a combined measure of arrogance and dignity.  I do not suggest that we should turn the other cheek, nor should any society that has been unjustly mistreated.  Justice demands to be served, and honor needs to be satisfied.  Such is our nature.  At the same time, we must choose at some point to embrace other cultures, setting aside our differences, allowing others to live their lives as they choose.  And if we cannot embrace them, at least we should not deface them.  This is compassion.

If we cannot walk outside of our homes and help one person with an act of compassion for whatever reason, we can choose to not hurt a person.  This is compassion.  “If you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”  Yes, we are currently locked in a dogmatic, moralistic confrontation with various political and societal constituents of the Middle East.  At one point, however, do either of our cultures or both of our cultures make the choice to leave the other to live as they choose, keeping our opinions and our ways of lives to ourselves?  When and how do we decide to stop? Such a choice is a show of compassion.  We will truly follow in the footsteps of Dr. Patch Adams and the Dalai Lama when we choose every day, not just today, to at least not hate if we cannot love.

The late Leo Buscaglia, a professor at the University of Southern California, once said:

I believe that you can control your destiny, that you can be what you want to be.  You can also stop and say, No, I won’t do it, I won’t behave his way any more.  I’m lonely and I need people around me, maybe I have to change my methods of behaving and then you do it.

We cannot control the destiny of another; we can only control our own destiny.  Compassion starts with each of us.  Today is a good day to start.