The ALS Challenge & A Challenge to Our Criticism

“Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical. Having strong critical skills shows that you will not be easily fooled. It is a sign of sophistication, especially when coupled with an acknowledgment of one’s own “privilege….Of course critical reflection is fundamental to teaching and scholarship, but fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence has contributed to depleting our cultural resources.” (Source: Young Minds in Critical Condition by Michael S. Roth)

140811-boston-ice-bucket-challenge-1350_26906d39ac7ead702b45e5b7707b8dc6I recently attended a meeting for work and during the closing remarks a piece of this quote was included in regards to some of the harsh criticism that the ALS challenges have endured.  And honestly, I was one of those naysayers.  I viewed the challenges as an attempt to get a bunch of individuals to foolishly dump buckets of water over their heads while someone sat back and watched the whole debacle.  Then, I was challenged.  But not to do the ALS but the ice bucket hack challenge that beckoned me to dump water over my head to help end racism and in response to the events unfolding in Fergusson, Missouri.

Was I to stand perched in my disbelief, my criticism?  Did it matter if individuals were appearing foolish for a good cause?  Who cares if a gimmick was used in order to get people involved and gain more exposure for a cause?  Now here I was being challenged.

In the end, it mattered more that I participated rather than remain perched on my soap box.  So instead of dumping water over my head, I had a friend follow me to route 30 in Vermont and record me submerging myself into a body of water.    As I sat in my seat listening to the closing remarks and thinking about this quote that was shared, it was a reminder and also an opportunity for me to call myself out for all of the criticism I expressed about the ALS challenge and many other things.  My disbelief or criticism had to be re-visited and actually suspended for many things, especially.
*Also featured on  Green Mountain Mornings on 100.3/1490 WKVT “Ponder This*



Re-thinking our Take on Malicioius Intent

SaariI want to revisit how we use or misuse the term malintent (the compound slang of malicious intent) as it relates to the people in our lives.  Often, we reserve such a term for individuals or situations in which a person has purposefully or through premeditation set out to hurt, maim, or harm.  Within the context of many conversations I have had where a statement was made like “so and so did not have malintent” it is usually because someone seems to be causing some distrress to others yet because they did not set out to do it or premeditate it, we let them off the hook.  But is this correct?  Do these individuals belong in a sub category within the big container of malicious intent?

Let’s step back and I will share an example from a conversation I was having with a friend.  Years ago, one of my friends was going through a potential break up.  The conversation went something like this:

“Well so-and-so did not have a father, he really was not taught anything about how to be in relationships.  He is nice and has a sweet nature and he is just not aware.  Though he did some horrible things, it feels like he was not doing it on purpose. ”

Joker-SmilingOf course there were many other parts to the dialogue but my main point is that we were giving Mr. So-and-So a pass due to his life experiences, our other interactions with him, etc.  In other words, because he did not land within one of the social categories of malicious individuals -thieves, sociopaths, murderers, anyone that is setting out to do harm-we automatically gave him a pass.

But honestly, how does this work?  In other words, just because someone is not conscious of their malicious intent via premeditated or intentional ill-action does this remove them from that label?  If someone is unconsciously recognizing that their actions are linked to causing harm and/or discomfort, should we give them a pass?  Just because a person’s actions is not premeditated or filled with malicious intent due to a seemingly kind nature, does this remove responsibility?

No, it does not.  In fact we do more harm to that individual wrecklessly causing distress.  Perhaps being unconscious in one’s harmful actions could arguably be more malicious than the person who has preplanned it.  Thus, there are a at least a couple of categories of malintent–the conscious which are always demonized because they are the most aware supposedly and unconscious or subconscious who rarely get this label.

Let’s stop giving people a pass, stop making excuses when harm is caused by people who are seemingly asleep at the switch.    Our rationalizations only continue to support the harm they cause.

You Can Author Your Story But It Takes Privilege to Narrate

All of us can author our story but sadly, it is a privilege to also narrate one’s story as well.

Who Narrates Who Authors

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown with my own collage. An image or story is very powerful in the wrong context.

This is what immediately occurred to me in regards to reading about the recent tragedy involving Michael Brown in which the 18 year old was gunned down by police.  In response to this incident, many are bringing attention to something we have all recognized but continue to ignore–the reality of racial profiling and stereotyping within the context of media. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown is a part of a larger outcry illustrated on Twitter, Facebook, and various social media sites reminding us of our perceptions in regards to race in the media.  The hashtag/twitter dialogue includes individuals who have presented photos juxtaposing two different images:  one portraying the individual posing as the media accepted (and often presented) stereotype and another illustrating the way they live their lives as students, professionals, etc.

I won’t ignore the fact that there are certainly stories that are being presented by some individuals of color within media (for example, within many reality tv shows that I will not mention) who use stereotypes as the foundation that maintains the bridge of ignorance.  However, what happens in a situation which a person of color is killed and a snapshot of their life is depicted as a part of the evening news?  What story is presented, by whom, and how?  Do we get to see a full person, or a glimpse into a certain perception that is being offered?  Over the years I have asked these questions or swapped race and/or gender in all of these recent tragedies.  In this instance, when I imagine if Michael Brown were white instead of black, I notice that the storyline would either be different or we most likely would not be talking about a teen’s death because it probably would not have happened.

Thus, all of us pen our stories through the minutes, hours, days or the years we live our life.  Only few of us get a chance to maintain the ability to narrate what is presented.  For having such capabilities involves power and privilege.






Strangers? Friends? It Depends on Where or How You Are

imagesThere is not much difference between the people we call familiar either within the categories of friend/family member/partner and those who are unfamiliar or strangers.   We separate these categories based on many things such as the length of time we have known or not known someone (usually, we use time to measure depth in this instance), the details or facts we know or don’t know about an individual, etc.

These categories have become challenged in an age where many of us may accumulate “friends” that we have not physically met as we drift apart from the people that we call our friends, family, or partners but they may know very little about us.

Thus, I offer this-there are moments of knowing and not knowing someone, we are all either friends or we are all just mere strangers to each other.  We are all but mere individuals passing by at different points.  In other words, you can share an intimate moment and depth of knowing with a stranger in five minutes or become plunged into strangerhood with a friend that you have known for 10 years.  A friend can become a stranger and a stranger can feel like a lover, friend, partner, or family member.  It is just really where or how you happen to be,

The Importance of Misbehaving


imagesMore important than behaving is teaching our future adults how to properly misbehave.

Let me further explain.  We teach about a false system of opposites with a clear cause and effect–your good behavior or deeds are rewarded while you are punished for your misbehavior.  However, for most of us, we have experienced a number of options that unzip life in all sorts of directions making the connection between reward/good behavior and punishment/bad behavior murky.

In my personal experiences and general observations, I’ve learned that that there is no more or less glory for your reward than your punishment.  In other words, people are fickle  and the same public or group of people who  will praise you for your good will join the masses to chant for your hanging for misbehavior.  Also, as most of us have experienced, the definitions for so-called good or bad behavior changes like the climate and misbehavior is only considered as such because it does not fit into the norms or rules established by society (a.k.a. all of us).

In fact, good behavior or being good due to-the potential reward (either tangible or intangible) gained, fear of punishment,  “someone is watching” like the law, or because it is a certain type of rule to follow- is not good behavior at all.  Behaving for one or more of those reasons illustrates a larger fear.  So, I advocate for people to just be with no good or bad attached to it.  And the reward is the freedom to release any concerns with the praise or criticism you’ll receive from a fickle public (who will provide their own commentary without prompting!).

imagesNow, back to my initial thought, let’s properly misbehave and teach our children to do the same.  If we were all given the proper context of when and how we could engage in our impish delights as youth, perhaps it would not appear as such a grand garden of temptation in our adulthood.


Be Difficult & Say You Are A Lot

DealingWithDifficultProblems_620x348“You have nice packaging, great personality, but you are difficult” I was recently told.  I smiled wide and a conversation and some laughter ensued about all of the ways that one could include this fact on a dating profile.  Something that might look like this,

“Nice smile, great personality, but difficult.
Smart, fun, witty,  adventurous but…difficult”

This joking continued until the person I was conversing with said, “You might not want to include that on a dating profile.”   The laughing continued but my mind pondered on (no surprise).  Perhaps being difficult or saying that you are a lot is not something you want to advertise, but why not?

more-difficultLife is simple but whenever you engage with people on any level things automatically become complex and therefore a little difficult.  I don’t think being difficult or letting the world know to brace itself because you are a lot takes you out of the running for anything.  Instead, it might help to eliminate some of the individuals that you might not want to participate in your life.  I know of a number of individuals who like to say ‘I am simple’ but the very fact of simplicity begins and ends with that statement.  Here is why:

  • You have a plethora of experiences;
  • Many different selves that you have been (or will be) either in your career or just based upon the reality of human development;
  • You exist within the realms of culture, values, family, ethnicity, and so many other things that shape human existence.

And of course, the list goes on.  However, this may not be true if you were either (a) just born yesterday  (so you have yet to come into all of these things yet)  OR (b)  you are not a human but a robot and therefore some of these very things may not have been programmed or just don’t exist for you.

Okay, you don’t need to be convinced of these things.  And perhaps, you don’t want to openly admit to your difficult nature (which is also okay).  But if you are anything like me, embrace your difficult.  If someone has ever accused you of it, be brazen with it and own it.  In fact, take it as a declaration of the rhythm of your human pulse.