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The heart of Paris

I woke up early today thinking about the terrible events in Paris- thinking about both the terror and grief, but also the remarkable courage of the Parisians that took to the street and bravely held signs saying, “Not Afraid.” The heart of Paris will not be cleaved in two by this event nor any other.

I love Paris, though I have only had the good fortune to visit a few times. It is a city of light, of beauty, of fierce independence, and I wish I could say that because I lived there in my 20’s and studied at the Sorbonne, but I will have to leave that to my daughters. My conviction in Paris’s resilience and courage comes from another passion of mine- I am a history buff and particularly a reader of the history of war. Paris has seen A LOT of war, a lot of deprivation, a lot of cruelty. It has been devastated, starved, beaten, and brutalized on numerous occasions throughout history and has always recovered. Vibrantly. Fiercely. Courageously.

Whatever terrible, murderous, cowards are responsible for this- ISIL or otherwise, they should know that they will never, EVER break Paris. They may have inflicted a grievous, heartrendingly sad wound, but they did it to a city that has taken much, much worse and has come back better for it. Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. It’s not a casual motto- it is a deep and meaningful identity. It is in France’s DNA and cannot be taken from it.

My heart is weeping for Paris and for the innocent lives shattered and ended by these cowardly attacks. I am thinking of the generation of young children, children who are close to the age of mine perhaps, whose lives will be forever imprinted with this terrible event- the fear, the horror, but I know they will also witness the bravery of their countrymen and see a city united to beat back terror and stand bravely against it.

Last evening, I was standing with someone who commented that they could understand the perspective of right-wing extremists (meaning: isolationist, nationalist, ant-immigrant, xenophobic) when something like this happens. They said, “I don’t condone it but I understand it.” To which I replied, “You are applying a simple answer to a complex problem.” As not just France, but the world grapples with how to combat this cowardly, vicious menace, we must remember to adhere to the ideals and beliefs that built these great cities, whether Paris, London or New York. We must embrace and use them as the foundation of our response, not just in times of peace, but in the dark times too.

Paris, you are a bright light of beauty and bravery in this world, but above all you are a city that embodies the humanity that defines us. You inspire the world. No terrorist attack will ever extinguish that.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, right?

Recently, I came across an article on Facebook from a conservative leaning website about the case of a florist in Washington state who had been sued (and lost) because she refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Nothing like taking a bold stance against someone else’s happiness. The article was bemoaning this miscarriage of justice and I began to mentally file it in my “circular file.” (This link is not to the original article- I can’t bear to drive traffic to the original article.)

Obviously, justice was served. Just as you shouldn’t be able to refuse service to women, or people of color, or the disabled, you should not be able to refuse service to someone because of their sexual orientation. It reminds me of Ellen’s recent response to a vitriolic pastor who was quoted saying that Ellen’s marriage (and he uses “quotes” around the word to undermine its validity) and her show are designed to attract young girls. Her deft response is wonderful and you should watch it.

But the thing that really struck me about the florist article was not the article itself, but a comment below it that basically said, “Everyone has a right to their opinion. Live and let live.” An admirable perspective, right?

Wrong.

Yes, everyone has a right to their opinion and to express it. As a constitution loving, die-hard advocate of free speech, I will strongly defend anyone’s right to free speech- even those I find reprehensible. Censorship is a coward’s tool. But I think matters have gotten a bit confused and frankly, the American public has gotten a bit lazy.

The public dialogue these days lacks the rigor and depth needed to have productive conversations about important issues. One of the by-products of this laziness is the giving of equal weight to all opinions. Certain elements of the media have embraced this gambit with ardor while others, usually of the Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and most recently John Oliver variety have turned up the volume on pointing out this logical fallacy (WATCH: John Oliver on Climate Change). Giving equal weight to all opinions is NOT guaranteed by the constitution and is NOT an important part of maintaining a democratic debate.

I’ll just pause to acknowledge that I am liberal by nearly all measures, so many of my examples fall along partisan lines- but I am not suggesting that just by being intellectually rigorous you suddenly become a Democrat. In fact, I think real debate is needed on many issues- but it needs to elevated back to a plane where facts, reason, and sound logic are valued.

mccarthy

Let’s be honest- we’ve gotten lazy. Opinions like Jenny McCarthy’s should never have gotten traction in the public sphere.

We see this show up all over the place in the news. Climate deniers given equal coverage on the news or worse, on the floor of the Senate. Anti-vaxxers given a broad platform, all the pseudo-science that flows out of the diet and nutrition world. Two words: Whole. Foods. The power of prayer in healing. There are a stunning number of examples that I could cite.

And it’s not all the public’s fault. It can be difficult to parse the truth from fiction because with the rise of the internet, there is essentially an unlimited amount of space to fill. Given this- it’s more important than ever that we, the public, take our obligation (and as citizens, I DO feel it’s an obligation) to be well educated, critical-thinkers, seriously.

binge watch

The founding fathers would have been like this with TED Talks and Coursera classes.

When this country was founded, the easy access to education for all that we have today would have been unimaginable. Particularly when you begin to think about the resources available on the internet through the Khan Academy, Coursera, and even TED talks, to name just a few. The founding fathers would have binged on these free fountains of knowledge the way that we binge-watch The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey. As consumers of information, we need to push ourselves to be rigorous- to think about source, context, laws, and to watch for the kinds of tricks that get used to skew perspective (check out this example). Thank goodness for Snopes.com.

Speaker's Corner in London- Don't expect a big crowd if you don't have something worthwhile to share.

Speaker’s Corner in London- Don’t expect a big crowd if you don’t have something worthwhile to share.

Further, we need to stand up to folks that are trying to advance their opinions on equal footing and say, No! Stand on a street corner and say whatever you want but you aren’t coming on CNN with that malarkey. Recently, the BBC did this by telling its reporters to stop giving climate change deniers equal coverage in their reports. Well done, BBC!

And so, back to the article about the florist. Yes, that florist has a right to her outdated, biased opinion. Thankfully, she does not have the right to discriminate based upon it. But a “live and let live” attitude toward her view is actually the same as endorsing it. If you find yourself thinking or saying that phrase, I want you to stop and really evaluate your position. Are you taking the lazy person’s way out of a discussion? Do you agree with the opinion but are afraid to be upfront about it?

Don't let this be you.

Don’t let this be you. Hazel Bryan will forever be associated with racism, no matter how much her views may have changed.

Another good test of whether you need to spend more time developing your view, is by asking whether you would say it to the face of a person that would be impacted by it. Hazel Bryan has had to live with the consequences of her iconic moment intolerance her entire life.

We are so incredibly lucky in America, on so many levels. But I worry that a by-product of our bounty is an ugly blooming of passivity and a general lack of intelligent discourse, curiosity, and rigor. Evolution has endowed us with brains that keep us alive in these modern times almost on auto-pilot, but we have the ability to use them to such great advantage for ourselves and each other. We should take that opportunity and obligation seriously.

Thanks for reading, sharing, and joining me on this journey to challenge and inspire ourselves and others!

Emma’s Neutered Speech

Emma Watson spoke to the UN

Emma Watson spoke to the UN

Emma Watson recently gave a speech to the UN General Assembly, as part of a new campaign aimed at re-energizing feminism- a simple (and to some of us, self-evident) idea that women and men should be treated equally and should have equal access to things like education, employment, health care, representation under the law, and property. The campaign is called He For She. As soon as she said the name of the campaign, my heart sank. A campaign for women’s equality where the male pronoun comes before the female- what could go wrong with that?

Emma is smart, talented, and a worthy representative of women. I am thrilled she is taking up this important work. Throughout her speech, she spoke with sincerity and shared her personal experiences as a young woman growing up in an environment that threw her the “softballs” of gender inequality- being called bossy, friends that didn’t want to look “too muscular,” while cocooned in the support of parents and mentors that encouraged her to set her own boundaries and define her own versions of success and “womanhood.’ She readily acknowledged that she had it pretty good, relative to many women around the world. She spoke about the need for men and women to come together to support the advancement of women’s rights; and she talked about a world where men are also being constrained in a tight web of masculinity and suffocating gender stereotypes. It was a fair, balanced speech- but as she wrapped it up with a call for unity and action, I felt a wave of disappointment. That was it? That was what jezebel called a “badass speech?” Whoa- our standards have dropped.

Hell to the yes- men need better mental health care, men and boys need more diverse role models, and we all need to put down the pink and blue branding irons that seemingly come out at birth these days. But- can we get back to the actual issue here? You know the part about women around the world being systematically discriminated against in ways that range from the horrifyingly blatant and brutal to the sinisterly subtle? Women remain underrepresented, underpaid, underserved, underinsured, and under appreciated. Just TODAY, I was in a meeting where a woman was described as too brusque, as the type that might “ruffle feathers”. And oh yes, it was a woman that said this. I wanted to stick my pen in my eye.

American Suffragettes

American Suffragettes march for equality

I applaud what Emma and the UN are trying to do, but why does it have to be done with such a tone of supplication and entreaty? It felt like a lot of cottony, non-threatening, anti-inflammatory words were being used, as if she was told not to ruffle feathers. Did someone say, “Speak up, darling but don’t shout. You’ll make the men uncomfortable.” Suffragettes did not get what they wanted by asking if they could pretty please get the right to vote. Sure, you get more bees with honey, but they aren’t going to split the hive with you.

I agree that we need to enlist men in this effort, but to “extend a formal invitation,” as Emma stated in her speech? What is that all about? I don’t think we should “ask men” to join us- this isn’t a picnic and I’m not wearing a bustle.

Women, especially those of us who have enjoyed many of the same supports and opportunities to push for equality that Emma has; need to demonstrate through our words, actions, and by leveraging the mountains and mountains of data that show that when women are more equal in society, WE ALL BENEFIT. That’s right, every last one of us- man, woman, and child.

Women need to link arms, first and foremost, with each other, and then with our brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons- and make it straight up UNACCEPTABLE to allow feminism and equality to be ideas controlled by those who don’t believe in them.

Emma- I love what you have started, but next time let’s lace up those trainers and make a real run for it!

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