Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Have a Distasteful Trait

I may seem mild mannered, easy going, sensitive, intuitive, caring and thoughtful, but...well, I am all those things, but much to the annoyance and frustration of some people who know me, I unfortunately happen to sincerely believe that I am anyone's equal and that each person, including me, has the right to be, think, feel, speak and live as each of us sees fit within the laws of the country, state and community. Imagine my audacity.

My considered opinion is just as important as my neighbor's, even if my neighbor is Republican. I am not afraid to call or write my city, state or federal officials and representatives. I've done so many times, telling them how I think they should vote or do their job. While they always tell me they are appreciative of my input, I've seen little evidence that I've had much influence. But I won't give up.

It doesn't matter what one has lost or achieved in life - wealth, education, fame, status or just a lot of stuff - we all put our pants on the same way, one leg at a time, that is unless you are sitting on the bed or in a chair, in which case, it could feasibly be done with double entry, both legs at the same time ~ but doable by just about anyone. That said, I would not be intimidated to meet and converse with the President of the United States and give him a piece of my mind. Several months ago when Congress first began the endless arguing about health care, I sent President Obama an email with a simple proposal that outlined an uncomplicated and almost effortless plan. Obviously, he didn't take my advice or we'd have universal health care today. Nevertheless, I would be happy to meet with him and his staff and help them resolve the health care debacle they've created. I may be a little bold, but I'm a team player.

CEO's and CFO's may have more specific experience or advanced degrees, but even so, they don't know everything. Can you believe that? In fact, there are some things I learned and have experienced that they haven't. In every position I've held over the years, I've always been hired in part because I brought a different skill set, a fresh pair of eyes and another perspective to the position and I was always confident that I had something unique to offer. After all, when I've hired new employees I've relied less upon their education or specific experience and always asked myself, "what unique qualities and experience can this person contribute to our team," so why wouldn't a prospective employer do the same with me? Consequently, I was never afraid meet my bosses on equal ground or afraid to disagree with any of them, and as I moved up the proverbial ladder to higher education administration, I had no qualms teaching, directing and mentoring my staff. However, when one of my bosses turned out to be an overbearing, demeaning bitch who blamed her poor decisions and appalling management skills on her staff, I didn't have any problem pointing out her responsibilities and shortcomings and leaving the empty position squarely in her lap to be filled with yet another unique, but more submissive individual. I'm not egotistical enough to believe that I was indispensable.

I have never, ever been afraid to stand up to Tom, toe to toe, and demand my rightful, equal place in my family. However, I have to admit, I've not had to do that more than once or twice during our 40 years together. For the most part, Tom has always treated me with love, respect, kindness and equality.

I have never understood why people think it is so unusual or some sort of role reversal for a man to cook for his family, or do dishes, laundry, clean house or care for the kids. Does he not get hungry, eat off the plates, get his clothes dirty, live in the house? And, after all, aren't the kids are his, too? I have never understood why people are perfectly okay with a man who comes home from his job and needs to sit and relax after his "long work day", but if a woman is home all day doing chores and caring for the kids, that's not considered real work and her work day continues long after hubby plops his butt in the chair waiting to be fed.

I have never, ever understood how people who truly understand and practice any faith or religion of any sort can berate, belittle, dismiss, bully, persecute and even murder in the name of their God just because someone thinks, feels or believes differently. What part of peace, love, generosity, acceptance and service to humankind do they not understand? I seriously doubt Mother Teresa loved any individual any less because they didn't acknowledge or believe in her God. She shared her love freely, willingly, without reservation or condition just as she believed her God wanted her to do. She lived and taught her faith and love of her God by example.

I have never, ever understood the rationale for racism and segregation, for elitism, for homophobia and for the opposition to feminism. I have never, ever understood how someone can say they believe in the constitution, believe in equal rights for ALL, and then selectively deny equal rights to American citizens. There isn't a coherent rationale for that. It's merely irrational.

I don't know where I developed this trait, this profound sense of egalitarianism because I was raised by parents who did their brutal best to suppress any form of individuality, equality or confidence. Perhaps I developed this nagging, somewhat disruptive trait as a response to my upbringing. At an early age I saw things, lots of things, that were highly authoritarian and dictatorial, bordering on tyrannical and decidedly abusive. I watched as grown and supposedly mature reasonable thinking adults treated others (their children, family and friends) with judgmental superiority, sneering disdain and haughty contempt if their lifestyles were different or they raised their children differently. My parents' rules for life changed daily depending on the circumstances, testosterone levels, work demands, menstruation cycles, alcohol intake and nicotine deprivation. After completing a few sessions of group therapy as a required portion of his recovery and rehabilitation from a back injury, my father determined that any form of psychological counseling was not to help you resolve issues, improve or mend relationships and lead a full enriched life, but instead was to make you feel guilty (and justifiably so) for how selfish you are to "wallow in self pity" when you are actually better off than most. Religion or faith was merely a crutch for the weak willed and mentally feeble, although somehow rabbis were excluded and therefore more "normal" than others in that category (very weird rules, I know). Heaven forbid you would make a painful, life-changing choice with which my parents disagreed. A family member was mercilessly berated, denounced and finally ostracized and never allowed into our home again because she had an abortion. People were also expected to love "appropriately." A grandparent was belittled and treated with contempt because she loved her dog, love my parents felt was squandered on a "ridiculous, dirty animal." Family and friends came and went in our lives because most were unable to achieve and maintain the impossibly high and ever changing standards set by my parents.

I knew very early on something was wrong, but I wasn't mature enough to comprehend or understand what it was until my late teens. It was during my middle and high school years that I began to see and acknowledge the arrogant and baseless discrimination, judgments and cruelty and their wild and glaring contradictions. The more I acknowledged the chaos and inconsistencies, the madder and more determined I became. Fueled by anger and a sense of independence, I became less fearful which often led to the customary shit-hit-the-fan moment. My father was a stern, angry man who was compelled to control everything and everyone by nearly any means necessary. By my late teens, I was pretty much uncontrollable and just as pissed off as he was. Invariably, we'd have long drawn out shouting matches, I'd get hit, he'd demand that I respect him and I'd reply defiantly that one had to earn respect and he'd not done that to date. Shit-Hit-The-Fan-moment.

I look back on my defiance and recognize in view of my father's rage, I was treading on pretty thin ice. I don't know when I began or how I was able to develop and nourish my new found independence, or the profound sense of equality and right and wrong in light of the oppressive environment in which I was raised. Perhaps it is an innate aspect in each of our psyches. Perhaps it was my highly impressionable pubescent growth during the tumultuous 60's, witnessing the Civil Rights movement, then maturing into womanhood in the early 70's during the feminist movement and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, which is still not ratified by Arkansas, by the way. Raccoons are a protected species here. Women are not.

But, I digress.

Even though there are some people I am sure who would disagree, I think this stubborn trait of mine has served me well - my belief that ALL people, including me, are created equal with certain inalienable [read:absolute] rights and among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of their happiness, whatever, however or wherever that might be. You gotta love the Declaration of Independence!

I have been so fortunate to have met, loved and been enriched by so many people of diverse races, religions, sexual orientations and countless backgrounds. I've been given so many opportunities to serve in so many extraordinary capacities: suicide and crisis counselor, volunteer consultant, sterilization counselor, vocational school director, battered women shelter president, higher education administrator.

My education, experience and opportunities do not set me apart or above, but along side my fellow men and women who have given me more in return than I have ever given. I am grateful for that stubborn, defiant, distasteful personality trait for keeping my heart open to receive all the gifts I've been given.

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