Interpretation vs. Intention – Which is more important?

I was listening the the BBC’s “World Have Your Say” earlier this year, and they were discussing  a new ad campaign by Australian makeup company, Illamasqua. This image landed with the tagline, “I am not dreaming of a White Christmas.”

“I’m Not Dreaming of a White Christmas”

A company representative on the program insisted that their concept was one of juxtaposition, yin and yang. They make high pigment makeup and they wanted to showcase the intensity of their colors.

Others have taken offense to, what is to them, a blatant reference to the horrendous Blackface practice which began in the  minstrel era of 1830-1890, and mimicked degrading stereotypes of black people at the time.

“Blackface is more than just burnt cork applied as makeup. It is a style of entertainment based on racist Black stereotypes that began in minstrel shows and continues to this day.” – black-face.com

Based on this definition, the ad could be seen as not representing Blackface since the racist, stereotyped entertainment is not present. Others again disagree, saying the large, red lips are a direct reference to the blackface style.

Throughout the program it became clear that no one wanted to agree to disagree. They wanted admission of guilt, and wanted to be right.

So what is more important, Intention or Interpretation?

According to Illamasqua, the idea that this ad could be viewed as racist never even crossed their mind. They were trying to creatively show the deep pigmentation of their make-up which ranges from deep black to shocking white. They went on to say they have a long history of supporting and promoting all types of women, young, old, black, white and everything in between. They stand by their history of promoting the beauty of all women, and don’t think their ad should be viewed as racist at all.

But some do view it as racist.

If they have a long history of supporting all skin colors, is it possible that the interpretation of racism is simply wrong? Or does interpretation trump intention – making this ad a hideous representation of racism and one that should be pulled and apologized for?

And around and around and around we go.

Yes, I called the police when you said you were going to kill yourself on Facebook.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I would do it again.

You see, we are Facebook friends, which means on some level you have invited me to participate in your life. We knew each other as children, more moons ago than I am going to count. We haven’t had a direct message conversation, and the last time we spoke it was probably about our math homework or boys. My memories of that time are fuzzy, but I remember your face. I remember that I genuinely thought you were a nice person. When I accepted your friend request – or maybe I sent one to you – I invited you into my life, and me into yours.

Last night, at 1:30am you posted that you were going to kill yourself.

I found myself staring at the line, paralyzed. Surely a good friend or family member is going to respond on Facebook and tell you that they were on their way.

A few minutes went by, and the only response was a plea to not go through with it. The poster was thousands of miles away. As was I.

I called the police in the city where the post originated with my wealth of information. First Name. Last Name. City. Nothing else. The dispatcher said she would attempt a wellness check if she could find an address. I hung up.

That’s when I started to doubt what I had just done. I hardly knew you, had no idea if this was a serious threat,  What if it wasn’t a serious threat and you found out that I was the one that called? What if you get pissed at me, or what if I got you in some kind of trouble? What had I just done?

After my call, there was Facebook silence, and uneasy sleep.

When I woke up I searched for any news about your well being. Your “real” friends had since seen the post and were posting frantic messages of love and strength. I learned that someone else had called the police, and they had already done a wellness check because of an earlier caller. No information was received on how the check went. 24 hours later, and I’m still not certain of the outcome.

The only thing I know is that I made the right call, and I would do it again.

I can live with you hating me, un-friending me, even casting an evil curse on me.

What I couldn’t live with was doing nothing and finding out you meant it.

~~~

If you are thinking about suicide, or faced with a similar situation, here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Reporting a Suicide Threat on Facebook

Letting go is often kinder than holding on.

We are putting our beloved 12-yr-old dog down tomorrow. It’s hard to think about, and weird to type the words. He is old, and tired. His back legs no longer carry his weight, and the sight of them dragging behind his 50-pound frame has reached the point of pain, both for him and me.

Deciding to help move him through his last phase of life with the gift of sweet eternal sleep has been difficult, but it has come down to two things:

  1. Does he wake up every day happy to be alive?
  2. Does he go to sleep at night having enjoyed the day?

In the morning, he no longer rises happily to greet the day, or more importantly his food bowl. He looks at me wondering why he has to move so far to get so little.

In the evening he is asleep on his bed, having only moved to eat and the occasional request for love at the end of my day. I relish the evenings when he shifts over for a love scratch. I can’t imagine the other 12 hours of his day have been anything but pain and boredom. His once exuberant life has been reduced to existence without joy.

So, tomorrow I will say goodbye.

He has taught me an incredible amount about unconditional love, and anyone who knew him when he first arrived will remember the anxious barking, escape attempts, broken windows, and chewed everythings. We went through training, medication, all the way through to a second dog, that we have aptly nicknamed Prozac. Eventually we found a solution; and a lesson in tenacity.

He also taught us about overcoming stereotypes. As a 60-pound pitbull mix, he desired to be the lick ambassador of his half breed. He melted hearts, and quelled the fears of first impressions.

And now he gives the final lesson.

I know in my heart that letting him go is kinder than holding him here.

Remember to Forget

September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It’s also the month that We Remember the events of 9/11.

For those of us old enough to have experienced the events of that morning, we still remember where we were, the frantic calls we made, and the terror as we watched, helpless. We all have a unique story from that morning, but for a brief period of time, Americans were connected by the horrific events of watching the Twin Towers crumble and planes crashing. We shared days and weeks of uncertainty and fear, not knowing if this was the beginning or the end.  We were kinder and more forgiving of one another in the first hours, giving way to collective anger and need for retribution as we entered a war. We began to unravel in the subsequent years, pointing fingers and laying blame. Today we are divided about events, how they happened, and how we should have responded. The aftermath in America still rages around us as we continue the “War on Terror” and fight for health benefits for first responders.

Like Alzheimer’s destroying parts of the brain, the farther we get from 9/11, the memories of that moment in time when Americans felt united, connected to people simply through nationality, begin to disappear. The people who experienced 9/11 first-hand will slowly give way to new generations, and 9/11 will become merely a fact of historical importance.

Today, as We Remember 9/11 and try to rekindle that feeling of connection to one another that was so strong that morning, we are faced with the reality of faded memories and the blur of larger context.  We start to realize that, as a nation, we are already forgetting.

Don’t should on yourself.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I really should have done my laundry yesterday, but I didn’t. I also should have gotten my MBA, eaten healthier in the last few weeks, and put the kiddie pool away before it left a big, brown circle on my lawn.

I should have done a lot of things in the past 20+ years, but I didn’t. I also have a lot of regrets and guilt, the results of a lifetime of “should haves”.

What is it with this word “should” that makes us all so miserable?

If the word “should” did not exist, I would have a lifetime of things that I did and did not do. And things I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done. What’s the difference? The word “should” implies that I have all the wisdom of today when I made the decision. It also implies that an alternate decision was better.

Let’s take the fact that I did not get my MBA. I did not get my MBA directly after my undergraduate degree, when I feel I “should” have done it. Instead, I got a job where I met most of the friends I still have today. I met my future husband, who has given me two unbelievable, if not high-spirited, children. I also had some incredible experiences that are now my favorite memories. So, really, it’s not that I should have gotten my MBA. I didn’t. Why would I wish for something different now? If I want my MBA, I can still get it.

What about the bigger “should haves”?  I should have spent more time with my dad before he got sick. The fact is, I didn’t spend more time with my dad because I was an adolescent that wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the stories and wisdom that I might have gained had I spent the time. I wasn’t ready, and that’s OK.

We are a product of the people, opportunities and decisions of our past.  They leave small imprints of expectation, and we call on them to help guide us through today and into tomorrow. From an outside, unbiased perspective, this would seem like a good thing. But we humans, unfortunately, are wired to internalize, rate, and shame ourselves into believing that we should have done things better.

Don’t wait for a life-altering event to make peace with your past.

Don’t should on yourself.

Note: The phrase “Don’t should on yourself” was told to me by a very wise woman, who attributed it to another. I only wish I could be so smart to think of it myself.

I’m sorry, I don’t speak chimp.

NikkoNoEvil4902

NikkoNoEvil4902 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever found yourself in a “discussion”, only to realize halfway into it that the other person is standing on the pulpit, and this is a one-way conversation?  If you have been out anywhere socially in the last year, or have a Facebook account, I’m going to wager that the answer is “yes”. It’s an epidemic. And my use of the term pulpit is not to imply that these discussions are exclusively religious in nature, but they are included.

What is going on? The 2012 presidential campaign has “descended into trench warfare”, attacks on mosques are a security concern, and a gay night club is attacked with fire projectiles.  And that’s just headlines from today.

It appears that we no longer have the capacity to see each other as worthy of a discussion. We resort to dismissive, hurtful, and even violent behavior all in the name of “being right.”

“…when we discriminate, prejudge, and/or take advantage of others for personal gain, we view and treat others as sub-human, and in doing so justify our behavior, for we value our own hopes, dreams, and aspirations as more important – or more human – than those of others.”

via Sub-Human: A Justification of Exploitation – Brian E. Konkol | Gods Politics Blog | Sojourners.

We have to be “so right” that we diminish another person’s existence to something akin to highly evolved chimps.

Where is this state of opinion coming from? How do we change this wave of perception that we are better than others, we are more right, and ultimately more important?  How can we reconnect our society, and make all members worthy of respect? 

How do we find our way back to discussion?

I think Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has some insight in her speech The Power of Vulnerability on TEDTalks. I encourage you to watch it.

Because we are all just children.

via German Federal Archive

In grade school, I had a teacher that would start to whisper if the class got too loud. A simple, yet effective tactic, since we all quieted down to figure out what the crazy lady was saying. And she was a little crazy, she was a nun.

I was reminded of this experience while checking Facebook and saw another impassioned, yet reckless, post about a polarizing political issue, demanding allegiance or face a de-friending.  Whether or not I agreed is beside the point, it hit me like a battle cry. Take up arms with me, or be my enemy!

When did we all get so worked up about everything, particularly political agendas? We have become a world of squeaky wheels, to the point that all we can hear is the roar of opinion. This land needs some oil – STAT.

I’m fine if you have an opinion that differs from mine. I will feel superior to you, but you feel the same about me, so it’s a wash. But what I am not going to do is run around screaming at the top of my lungs, “You are either WITH me or AGAINST me! Your choice!” Really, is that a choice? I DISAGREE with you, but I am not going to shoot you.

Stop taking aim people, it’s counterproductive. Quiet down for a minute, use your inside voice, and just tell me what you want and why. If you whine and scream at me, I’m just going to put you in time-out until you can calm yourself. Or hide you on my news stream on Facebook. If you want to talk about it, I will listen, but I will make up my own mind at the end of the day.

I’m switching to my whisper voice now.

Please stop acting like little children, and let’s have an adult conversation.

Thanks.

 

The universe is at it again.

Photo: Bresson Thomas

After getting Slapped by the Universe recently, I thought she was done with me.  But here she is again.

Like many people, I have friends on Facebook that I haven’t spoken to since high school. I am naturally curious, and pretty open, so if I get a friend request and I remember you,  I will accept. I don’t mind that we may not have been close back in the day, or may never see each other again, I genuinely like most people I have met in my life and happy to see them again if only in photos.  In most cases, I know them better now than I ever did.  In some cases, I am drawn to their updates and stories and find them fascinating individuals.

A year ago, a series of posts caught my attention and it has been captured ever since.  The poster, someone I went to high school with and haven’t seen or talked to since, has been telling the story of his 6-month-old daughter’s diagnosis and battle with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy).  Typically babies with SMA Type I will not live past the age of two.  It’s a beautiful story of love, advocacy, and struggle, told bravely. It’s not the first time I have born witness to a person’s open struggles through social media, but there is something about this little girl, Braylin.  I feel compelled to help in any way I can to further SMA awareness, and help her family with the financial strain.

Like most people in this Great Recession, we have limited funds and a strict budget.  I wish I could support every cause, every walk, and every girl scout cookie seller I come across, but it’s just not possible.  Instead, I have selected a small number of causes that are close to my heart to support, giving what I can.  One organization I support is the Alzheimer’s Association, since the disease took my father just 2.5 years ago.  Sadly, SMA is not on my list.  And strangely, it has really been bothering me.

It’s as if the universe felt my struggle.

“SMA research offers a ‘collateral benefit’, meaning that scientific discoveries in the field of SMA will be strongly translational towards a host of other serious conditions; this also means that progress towards treating and curing spinal muscular atrophy will directly strengthen that same progress within numerous other medical categories. Advancements in the field of SMA research might therefore offer hope to not only members of the the SMA community, but also to the wide range of patients, families, and friends who have been affected by many other serious illnesses. Among the diseases and disorders that benefit from SMA research: Alzheimer’s…”

via An Important and Beneficial Aspect of SMA Research | Spinal Muscular Atrophy Blog.

The NIH has determined that SMA is closest to a cure out of 600 other disorders, and well known researchers have determined that a viable treatment for SMA is possible IF the research is funded. There is a lot of hope among the SMA community, and all the communities collaterally benefiting from their success, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s  and ALS/Lou Gherig’s Disease.

Once again, universe, well played. And thank you for not slapping me this time.

I’m not sure how this message from the universe will manifest yet, but I have added SMA to my list of causes as a subset of Alzheimer’s. Consider this your introduction.  You may not have any knowledge or been directly affected by this disease, but clearly the research is important to many of us.

Beyond the diseases, this experience has reminded me that we can find inspiration from anyone at any time.  It’s important to stay open the amazing stories happening around us and continue learning from the people that inhabit our world.  What began as a story that tugged at my mother’s heart, is ending as a larger message about listening to the universe and what she is telling us.  My gut was telling me that Braylin’s story was important to me, I just had no idea how our stories would intertwine into a shared goal of a cure for neurological diseases.

To meet the little girl that inspired this post, you can find her at StrongHeartWeakMuscles.com. Braylin’s parents are fighters, and they do everything they can to give her what she needs. Please consider contributing to their fund to help offset the astronomical cost of care. Just the initial set up for in-home equipment is over $20,000 with future costs over $100,000.

You can learn more about SMA at Families of SMA.

PTSD = Pretty Tough, Sad Deal

I've had a migraine/headache for 6 days straig...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you read the news at all, you know that PTSD is actually Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but what does it really mean? I don’t think the general population can truly understand, and it becomes a diagnosis, a thing that soldiers get, a Pretty Tough, Sad Deal.  We all agree we should help those suffering with it, but since we don’t get what it is, it’s hard to say just how much tax-payer money we want to invest or how many days of leave this disorder deserves.

I took my oldest to swimming lessons yesterday and was enjoying conversation when I looked at the pool.  We all keep an eye on our little ones since the instructors work with each child individually, and the waiting students don’t always stay on the step as directed, goofing off as kids will do.  I realized I had not been very attentive in the last few minutes, and looked to where my daughter was dutifully hanging on the wall.  It was then I noticed the little boy swimming in circles away from the wall.  It took me a minute, but when I realized that I was watching a child in distress, things moved quickly.

The child was quickly assisted out of the water, clearly scared, but seemed to be fine. As a precaution the mother was asked to take him directly to the doctor in case he had inhaled water, which causes dry drowning even when things seem fine.

The mother thanked me as she left the pool for being the one to spot the serious trouble, and we all left the lesson. It was our last day, and we will probably never see each other again.

Last night, as I lay watching the LED lights of my clock, I was haunted by the image of the boy. Swimming, lost, in danger. I thought about my reaction, which seemed delayed, in retrospect, given the seriousness of the situation, like a delay in a television program when the mouth moves, but the words come out later.  I worry about the boy despite knowing that he went to a doctor.  I worry about the mother, who will worry well past this day.  I worry about the swim school, comprised of an amazing group of people, and what it might mean for them.  I worried for hours, running the scenarios of what might have been if my reaction had been faster, or slower, or if the child had been mine.

I rose this morning, neither rested nor in a much better place than the night before.  It was in deliberation that I came to the conclusion that I was having post-traumatic stress.  Not the same as PTSD, but I think it gave me greater insight to what may be going on in the disorder, particularly in the case of our military.

I had done everything right, but I still felt like there was more I could do, or that I could have done things faster or better.  We ask our military to do things in the name of right, and we train them to do it better than the rest.  But does telling them they did the right thing well take away the nightmares and sleepless nights when they return home to their beds?

I do not compare my experience to theirs as equals, but simply as a moment of insight. It may not take more than a few days for my adrenalin and stress to abate, but this experience has made me more compassionate to those that have seen and done things I cannot even imagine.

There is no perfect plan for recovery. You cannot count the number of sessions it will take to restore order in a person’s life.  There is no perfect pill that exists that wipes away memories and leaves the spaces full with rich and rewarding experiences.  There should not be a limit set on how far we will go to help our returning military restore a balance in their lives. If faced with a decision to extend the military benefits, allowing for more treatment, extending coverage to families and loved ones, we should not hesitate.  PTSD is hard to understand, but it is real.

Many ways to lose a life in war.

When I was little, my sister and I used to hunt down our Christmas presents like trained bloodhounds for the entire month of December.  We looked in very dark corners, searched the untouched attics, and destroyed any closet in our way.  We should have looked in our mom’s trunk, but we didn’t learn that until it was too late.

On one of my treasure hunts, I discovered an old, dusty rifle case that, based on its weight, still had an occupant.  Too afraid to open the case to find out, I asked my mom about this find.

“Your dad was in the army. He went to Vietnam, but that was long before you were around.” And that was the extent of our conversation.  My dad never mentioned his time in the service, and would only offer up vague details when asked directly.  I learned more from the VA office when my dad got sick than I ever learned directly from him.

There are many ways to lose a life in war.  Even if you come back with a beating heart and lungs that contract and expand, it’s possible to have left your life behind. The son who played football every waking moment that comes home without legs, a father who can’t work because night terrors grip him every time he closes his eyes, the mother that always imagined being a Girl Scout leader and soccer mom who suffers a traumatic brain injury and struggles with basic tasks of everyday.

Lives given in the name of war are far more than the body count. The casualties include soldiers, parents, siblings, spouses and children. We do a great thing by honoring those who have fallen, but we have much more work to do.  We need to help our returning vets and their families stand back up.  Replacing their former life is not possible, it is gone, but giving them a fighting chance at a new one is the least we can do.

My dad passed in 2009, and I honor his service today.  Not just the time he spent in the service, but the years he spent after, alone with his thoughts and memories that were not suitable to share with his children.   I honor the life he left behind, and thank him for soldiering on to be a great dad.

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