Sunday Reflection

Sunday Reflection – A Place for Kindness

“I wanted to show a projection of our own world that was kinder, show how much people can grow and the capacity with which people can love when they are not fearing for their lives.” 

  – Dan Levy, Interview with Entertainment Weekly, 6/9/19

 Last week, I was affected by watching a show I admired make an unfortunate storytelling choice. This week, I’ve been thinking about the antithesis to that.

So much of the media we consume has an obsession with “drama”. Tortured relationships, violent outbursts, people dying in horrible and unexpected ways.

I do believe there is room for all stories, and a wide variety of story types can have value. And yet, sometimes I wonder at why so few stories want to talk about kindness.

For sure, there is a great deal out there for children. The fact that Sesame Street is still on the air after fifty years shows that kindness still matters to people when it comes to what their kids consume.

But what about for us adults?

I quoted Dan Levy above, because when he created the TV show Schitt’s Creek (yes, that is the real name), he deliberately set out to tell a story where you would see LGTBQ people in a small town experiencing zero homophobia. In addition, his main characters, who started off in a fairly shallow place, have developed and grown to be better people just by learning to be a part of their family and loving each other.

From the success of shows like Schitt’s Creek, The Good Place, and Queer Eye, I think I’m not the only one starved for some representations of kindness and acceptance out there. Drama will always have a place, and shows like The Handmaid’s Tale still have something to say. But over time, I do hope that more creators and developers remember that there’s more than one way to tell a story. Not every couple needs to break up, not every child needs to be traumatized, not everyone needs a grim ending. Stories with the best of kindness, compassion, and love have value too.

What’s the best story you’ve read or watched about kindness?

Sunday Reflection – The Context of Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately. For one, I want to get back to writing fiction (which I haven’t done since I was a teenager), and two, as I get older and consume more media, it’s hard to avoid noticing certain tropes, and the impact they can have.

Recently, I started watching the third season of one of my favorite currently airing shows. I enjoyed it because it had a strong female presence both behind the camera and on screen. It told women’s stories without feeling exploitative, and combined a realistic feel of drama with moments of empowerment for the characters.

And then in the most recent episode, the writers once again fell into the trope of “bury your gays”.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Bury Your Gays trope refers to the tendency for homosexual or bisexual characters to be killed off for the sake of “drama”. Although a character dying is not always inherently a problem, there is an issue when the majority of LGBTQ representation results in tragedy or death for members of that community. For a great many shows, there are very few gay characters, so when one is killed, it greatly diminishes representation. And in a real world where people are still killed for being gay, that kind of storytelling has an impact.

I’ve also seen multiple examples this year where women, particularly childfree single women, are killed in the service of men’s stories. They may be interesting and dynamic characters in their own right, but we don’t get to see how their story might continue, because a man needs to be reunited with his family, and that makes her expendable.

I think things like this are a good reminder that we often get so caught up in telling a story for its own sake, that we forget about the importance of context.

I saw an interesting talk by media critic Lindsay Ellis this weekend, where she discussed how language cannot be removed from the context of the culture from which it came. Just this week, people on Twitter had a fascinating conversation about the word “quite”, and how for Americans it means “very much so”, and for Brits it means “not so much”. The same word, different cultures, different contexts.

Stories are the same way. It would be lovely to think that you can just write whatever you want, and that it doesn’t matter. But it does. How you portray people matters. Who dies matters. Context matters.

Part of why I wanted to write this today is a reminder for myself. I have a lot of privilege. It would be easy for me to overlook that in wanting to tell an compelling story. But I think I’d rather give myself a much more creative challenge. To tell a story where I do think about context, I do think about impact, and I still manage to say something interesting.

Has a story ever lost you by relying on a trope? Do you think about context in the media you consume?

Sunday Reflection – What Makes a Leader?

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what makes a leader. I think if you ask most people, they’ll say things like integrity, forthrightness, ability to inspire. And yet when we look at most of the people who are actually in positions of power, it seems like these kinds of qualities can be hard to find.

There’s a big disconnect between power and leadership. And I’m not entirely sure how we combat that, but I do think there is something deeply important about encouraging more people to see leadership qualities within themselves.

If you look at studies about leadership, most of us still picture the straight white man as the image of the leader. It’s not what we want to believe, but it’s still been reinforced in us our entire lives. Heck, just look at our current field of presidential candidates. White men have no lack of confidence in their abilities to be a leader. No experience? Doesn’t matter. No one knows who you are? Don’t care. No one wants you to join? Coming in anyway!

And yet somehow it’s the women candidates who are fielding the questions about likeability or “if the country is ready for them”.

I’m not saying to bring white men down (although some of them really should try a little self-reflection), but I do think we need to do more to bring everyone else up.

We need to embrace the image of a leader as so much more. Someone who is young, someone who is trans, someone who is plus sized, someone who speaks English as a second language.

And it’s not just seeing it in other people. We need to see leadership in ourselves. That our voice matters just as much, even when it feels like no one wants to listen. That our experience is valid, and can help make the path smoother for those behind us. That we know just as much, often more, than those who only care about power.

What leadership qualities do you have? What makes your voice special?

Sunday Reflection – Gratitude Check-In

I think we’re overdue for a little bit of Sunday gratitude! We’re heading into summer, daylight is nice and long, and there’s a lot to feel good about.

This month I’m grateful for:

  • Shortly heading out on vacation with my entire immediate family.
  • Having the capacity to keep learning.
  • All the amazing, outspoken women who inspire me every day.
  • Learning to give myself grace in the harder moments.

What are you grateful for this month?

Sunday Reflection – Activism vs Privilege

This week presidential candidate Kamala Harris was speaking at a panel hosted by the organization MoveOn. As she was just beginning to answer a question on the pay gap, a self-described “animal rights activist” ran onstage and took the mic from Harris, and told the audience he wanted to bring their attention “to a much bigger idea”.

Of course, even without my describing him, most people will be able to accurately guess that he was a white man.

Security was slow to respond, but the man was eventually pushed offstage. He faced no consequences, and when questioned on the optics of the situation, claimed he had tried to show his “profound respect for each of the people onstage”.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read about it online.

On one hand, I do have some pretty strong feelings about hierarchy and the idea that someone should command respect just because they hold a position of power. We should be able to question those in authority and fight to make our voices heard.

On the other hand, this is a perfect example of why white privilege combined with good intentions often does more harm than good.

Besides the fact that so many people were annoyed by this man’s actions that they literally went out and ate extra meat for dinner that night, I think this really exemplifies why we need to be cautious about single issue activists.

To be clear, we all have particular topics we are passionate about. But when you place a desire to help animals over the rights of Black women to be treated as full human beings, you’re not changing the world. You’re reinforcing it.

Racism, classism, sexism, and yes, even animal abuse are all inextricably linked. All of these issues are about systems, and these systems are connected. Being an activist is great. But who are you fighting for? If you’re choosing to do something that makes you feel empowered while diminishing those around you? You are a part of the problem. And you’re saving no one.

Sunday Reflection – Trans Rights

The Trump administration has been dismantling protection for trans people for some time, leading to this week, where they directly attacked the ability of transgender people to access shelter and health care.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how each of us has to decide what is worth fighting for and against in this world. And for some reason, there are a large number of people out there who feel that fighting against someone else’s sense of identity is worth their time and energy. You even see people from the LGBTQ community insisting that the T should be separate, or people who call themselves feminists insisting that excluding trans women is their right.

I have a few things to say about this.

1) All people should have access to health care. I don’t care what religion you are. If you’re a doctor who wants to deny care to someone due to your faith, go find another job. You suck at this one.

2) If everything you know about trans issues is coming from cis people, you are missing a huge piece of the picture. There are a ton of trans activists, writers, and speakers. If you can acknowledge that you need to hear from people of color about racism, from women about sexism, and from immigrants about xenophobia, you should damn well be hearing about trans issues from trans people.

3) Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary people are nonbinary. It’s really not that difficult. If you’re getting fixated on what’s under people’s clothing, that’s your issue. If you don’t understand it right away, that’s ok. It may take time. But don’t take it out on them.

In short, these kinds of policies are inhumane and will lead to further dehumanization and punishment to people who are just trying to live their own lives in their own way. Which is something we all want to be able to do.

And we can do better. For god’s sake, vote better.

Sunday Reflection – The Limits of Being Inclusive

I’ve been thinking of the concept of inclusiveness this week. Someone recently posted a comment on Facebook criticizing a political candidate for not wanting to appear on Fox News. And the comment was saying that not appearing on this particular media program was “not being inclusive” of the people who watch it.

Now normally I don’t pay too much attention to Facebook posts, but this one stuck with me. It took me some time to figure out why. I could see the intent in wanting to reach out to others, no matter what their political philosophy. To feel like we should never shut the door to others. And that is a good philosophy – in theory.

But I think the reason I got stuck on that comment was the idea that being inclusive of a platform is the same as being inclusive of people.

There’s a wide range of platforms that make up our media. Some of them try to be unbiased, but all will have some inherent bias. And some deliberately promote agendas that are steeped in white supremacy and other hateful rhetoric.

And let’s be clear – they do this because it’s profitable. If it didn’t make money, it wouldn’t still exist.

So do we have an obligation to be inclusive of something that promotes bigotry, and profits from it? Do we have to support platforms that encourage prejudicial behavior in the interest of seeming “open”?

Personally, I don’t think so. I even struggle with the idea of talking one on one with someone who espouses hateful language, but I can at least acknowledge that some individuals may be capable of change. But I don’t think that’s the same as including or supporting a platform that does real damage to people’s lives.

There is a limit to inclusion. We cannot be overly tolerant of the intolerant, because it opens the door to more pain. And all of us have to draw a line.

I’d love if we lived in a world where we could include everyone. But for the safety and health of our marginalized communities, we need boundaries.

What do you think? Where is the line between inclusion and permitting oppressive behavior? Do you think someone reaching out on platform already biased against them can make a substantial difference?

"They promised they'd be totally fair. And I'm sure they didn't mean those names they called me..."

Sunday Reflection – Believing Change is Possible

This week I listened to a webinar from an organization focused on amplifying women’s voices in determining political agendas. And shortly after it began, the speaker mentioned the number of women on the call, and talked about how it meant that none of us were alone in wanting things to change.

As soon as she said the words “not alone”, I got emotional.

I used to consider myself a quite positive person. I know part of that changed when I started working for a child welfare agency, and was surrounded with dark stories for a number of years. Another part shattered a couple of years ago on election night.

Being engaged with social justice and other similar concepts means exposing ourselves to a lot of really troubling stories. Walking the line between caring and self care is difficult.

And sometimes I feel like it’s all futile.

But during that call, the speaker’s words hit that little, sometimes hidden part still deep inside. That believes we can make things better. That it may be in tiny little steps, and not nearly soon enough to help everyone who deserves it. But however slow it may go, we’re not alone. And we won’t ever stop.

What is it that brings you hope? What makes you think change is possible?

Sunday Reflection – Where are the Ethics?

I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics lately. It’s a word that doesn’t seem to come up much in the news. People seem to use words like morality or belief much more often. But I think ethics are important and should be openly discussed more often.

When I first became a manager, I had a list of required training courses to take. There were some that were great, like the class I had on managing a diverse team. And there were some that were just awful – like my class on ethics.

The course was a half day, and was so incredibly basic. I remember thinking at the time that if the agency thought I needed this kind of ethics education, they should have never hired me to be a manager in the first place.

It also occurred to me that this was the first time I had ever heard the word ethics brought up at work. And in fact, was the last.

And yet, our ethics, or lack thereof, impact everything we do. When we are in positions of power, our ethics call the shots, for good, or evil. So why don’t we talk about it more?

I’ll probably write a longer post about ethics soon, but for now, for today’s reflection – how would you define your personal ethics? How do they impact the choices that you make? And who around you sees those ethics and is impacted?

Sunday Reflection – Grief and Perspective

When my friend texted me the news that Notre Dame was burning, I was surprised by my reaction. I was surprised by the level of my grief.

Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to get to go to Paris. But it wasn’t my favorite city. I found it less memorable than other places I visited on that trip. And we didn’t even go inside Notre Dame, just walked past and took a few pictures.

And yet, watching the video of the flames made me cry.

A writer, Chuck Wendig, said something on Twitter that really resonated for me. He said, “Hard not to see it both for the loss of itself and what history it carries and also as a symbol for the fragility of things and the dangers and anxieties of our era.”

It’s important to give ourselves grace when it comes to grief. There will always be those who question why people will feel sad over buildings or ideas or even fictional characters. But these things do mean something. And that’s ok.

However, at the same time, I think what’s happening with Notre Dame is yet another glimpse into privilege and a lack of perspective. Because as of writing this, there has already been 1 billion dollars donated to the rebuilding of the cathedral. And I’m sure there will be more.

I understand. We all had an emotional reaction, and people with money want to make their mark on something they see as important.

But the Catholic Church already has a lot of money and resources. There are many other institutions and organizations that could really use some of that billion dollars. A building is never going to be worth more than human lives.

Our grief is valid. But we shouldn’t forget that even our grief can have bias.

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