Taking a Side

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

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If you know me (or read this blog much) you know I’m into motivational quotes. Quotes in general. I know the trope of quote posting Instagram girl, but whatever I don’t care (and could find you a quote to back me up). One of the quotes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is from Elie Wiesel, when he says that: 

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”

Could. Not. Agree. More. Taking sides is important. Essential, even. I have had a blog draft titled “Taking Sides” sitting in my queue for probably a year now, but I’ve been hesitant to take a side and finish it. It’s scary. But, I’ve come to realize, it’s scarier not to. I don’t want to be on the side of the oppressor just because, I, like, didn’t have time or whatever. Didn’t want to ruffle feathers. Wanted to be well liked. Friends with everyone. A beige piece of carpet that everyone walks on without another thought. Because that’s really what I was doing. Letting people make assumptions on what I believe — whatever suits their fancy — so that they would still like me/follow me on Instagram/want to hang out with me. 

I write a lot about inclusion — grey areas, how all viewpoints are valid and that two or more things can be true at the same time. But guess what -- you can believe everyone has a right to their own viewpoints while still holding firmly to your own. You can respect someones right to their opinion without agreeing with them or even actually respecting their opinion. It’s okay to not be okay with things. I don’t respect the views (or the person) of anyone with a racist viewpoint, but I respect the fact that in America (and within humanity in general) there are views that exist other than my own. These are two different things. 

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Opinions are like you know whats — and everybody has one. And that’s good right? That’s what makes life interesting. And in many situations you can have a respectful conversation about differences while still remaining respectful of each other. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to be black and white. You’re with me or you’re against me — and while it’s your right to be against me, it’s my right not to be with you. 

For example: I have alluded to some “batshit insane twilight zone level cray” in my life over the past year. The tl;dr version of it is: this time last year I had a boyfriend here and a best friend across the country — both the longest chosen relationships of my adult life — and this time this year they are engaged to each other. So, as to be expected, since then I have had some problems with trust. But, as crappy as that all was, my real problem is with our mutual friends. Let me explain. 

When this totally unforeseen situation came at me with no warning, my friends immediately gathered around. Agreed with me that this was completely against all girl code/human code and cut ties with the person after they showed their true character and completely ghosted out of my life with no warning. They took a side. Stopped talking to this girl who, despite being a part of my daily life for 8 years, was not a true friend. They unfollowed her on social media. Didn’t text her for her side of the story knowing that she never responded to my attempts to reach out. They took a side. 

And then there were a lot of people who didn’t. For most people it makes sense. They don’t really know the whole story — I get it. But, there are a few people who knew it all. And wouldn’t take a side. They had extremely shallow relationships with this person, and yet they continued the friendship. Told me that she didn’t do anything to them personally. Ummmm.. what? 

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You’ve heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words”, but what I think about more is how loud inaction speaks. The things that are unsaid. Undone. When someone I believe to be a close friend refuses to take a side in something that, to me, is so obviously wrong, I have a hard time with it. I have a hard time believing that my friendship with that person is based on anything real. If you care about me, how can you care about someone who hurts me with no regard? And why would I want to continue a relationship with someone that is so cavalier with my feelings?

Obviously, in many situations there are two valid sides, but in some -- see above -- there aren’t. One is right. One is wrong. As humans we have the power to make the choice between the two — just like we have the choice to support one or the other. The in between in these cases is just cowardice. 

I’m tired of the wishy washy, lets all get along, play both sides stuff. It’s inauthentic. When I was researching for this post, I found plenty of articles on how to remain neutral, but a sadly small amount on how not to. But that’s what I want! I don’t want to be neutral and I don’t want to surround myself with people who do. 

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I dated a guy through college (oh what a surprise another story that comes back to some random guy yikes) who differed with me politically in some important ways. I remember talking to my mom about it and she told me that I had to “have an open mind” and “not be so black and white”. But, I’m a smart person, very politically informed — especially then in the thick of a political science major — and I wasn’t okay with it. What he believed went against my core values. And not only that, but his inability in my mind to be intelligent enough to understand (and accept) my point of view was a deal breaker. So I broke up with him. And I’m so glad I did. I cannot imagine spending life with someone who I am so diametrically opposed to on anything — even just one thing. If it’s important enough you have to take a side. Stand up for what you know to be true. 

I’m a teacher, so I’m always in a weird power position. Obviously, I can’t take sides on any political or religious front in the classroom. But, in everything else — that’s basically what my job boils down to. I tell kids (I mean, um, model for kids :)) how to be decent humans. It’s literally my job to tell them what is appropriate behavior. What is right. What is wrong. But, again, politically I must remain neutral in the classroom. 

So when another teacher recently posted something online with the preface that “Now that I’m a teacher I don’t want to be too political” I couldn’t help but be disheartened. I mean, I get it. As a new teacher I felt that way too. But what I realize now is that, outside of the classroom, teachers are on the frontlines. We are forming the next generation so God help us I hope we are informed ourselves. I hope we are passionate in our beliefs. I hope we take sides. 

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I’ve always had strong opinions. And I haven’t always had the greatest reactions to them. Despite that, I can easily point to parts of my life when I felt free to express opinions and those when I didn’t. And the correlation between those times of free expression and my happiness are super strong and direct. I feel a constant need to speak out. Constantly. And I — more often than not — repress it to keep up the status quo. 

The sweet girl who teaches math. The pretty girl who likes to hike. The smart girl who reads books. Not the opinionated, liberal, kind of aggressive and happy to debate girl that I am. It’s scary. Taking a side alienates you from, like, an entire side haha. That’s a lot of people. Remaining neutral seems to be a good idea. Smooth things over. Peacemaker. Low maintenance. Easier to get a date. But, in reality, to anyone who is interesting, educated, or matters — neutral people are just boring people. You are the beige carpet. 

I don’t have to get into politics for anyone to see the similarities between what I’m thinking and what is happening in America. In a time where the President of the United States calls white supremacists “very fine people” and black athletes who are exercising their right to peaceful protest “sons of bitches” — it is time to take a side. When that same man insists that “many sides” are to blame for racially motivated violence — it is time to take a side. It is time to take a knee, write a Facebook post, or resist in any way you resonate with. But it is not a time to remain silent. Silence is neutrality and neutrality = complicity. 

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You can’t have it both ways. It’s hypocrisy wrapped in some kind of peacekeeping lie. Brene Brown talks about this in her new book. She says that: 

“Here’s what I believe:

1. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May.

2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.”

3. When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman.

4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?”

5. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed.

There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.” 

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be upset at one injustice and not another. You can’t take a side on one thing and remain neutral on another. You have to go all in. You have to take a side. That’s how change happens. In politics, and relationships, and in ourselves. 

When we are neutral — even in small things — this is how it reads: “this affects people I care about, but it doesn’t effect me, so I will remain neutral” —> “I only care about me” 

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Neutrality seems like an easy way out. You’re not hurting either side. But you’re actually hurting both — and yourself (your self respect anyways). It’s the bystander effect — people are less likely to offer a victim help when others are present. We feel like there are other people to take up this cause (I mean, your old college roommate posts enough on fb for us all) but that just exacerbates the problem. Everything starts with care. If I cared enough about _______ I would ________. And if you don’t you won’t. It’s that simple. 

Well, I don’t want to be someone who stands on the sidelines. I don’t want to surround myself with sideline people. I don’t want to be so afraid of possible personal consequences that I desert those who are hurting and need people on their side. Injustices continue when good people do nothing. I’m a good person. Who refuses to do nothing. 

I care. And I will take a side. 

Friday Five - 1.27.17

“If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.” 
― Albert Einstein

This week I couldn't help but be interested in politics. I mean - duh. I have a degree in political science and an almost Masters in Sociology so everything that is happening in America right now is endlessly fascinating - and infuriating. I don't want to blog in order to push my own political agenda but, I also don't think it helps anyone to stay silent. So, I'm taking the angle of the National Park Service - facts without opinion (kinda sorta). Read on if you'd like :) 

@AltNatParkSer

As I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, the National Park Service tweeted out some photos comparing Obama and Trump’s inauguration sizes this week – and were subsequently ordered to stop posting. After that, Badlands National Park tweeted out some facts on climate change – which Trump has said “is a hoax” (it’s not) They were quickly deleted and attributed to a rogue staffer, but not before they were retweeted, favorited etc thousands of times.

Since then, other official National Park twitter accounts (Death Valley, Redwoods, and Golden Gate – see a pattern? Haha) have seemed to be staging their own resistance and an Alternative National Parks Twitter account has sprung up – and at last count it has 1.25 million followers! Now, according to CNN there are now over 50 “alternative” twitter accounts – everything from @RogueNASA to @BadHombreNPS – the resistance Badlands Account - and while there is really no way to know if the accounts are being managed by actual park service employees – does it really matter?

Naturalist activism obviously has played an important part of shaping environmental policies and protected land as we know it. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, Ed Abbey... the list goes on and on. So if Twitter’s not your thing – check out this book, or this, or this. Read this article. Or just support the parks by visiting them, respecting them, and not doing this.

"Fake" News

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about (like everyone else on the planet) is fake news. While there is news that is just out and out wrong – as a math teacher I’m more concerned about false interpretation. When I started teaching in Louisiana there was an entire standard based on interpreting misleading graphs as such. I looooove teaching this standard (well, actually, I don’t think it’s an actual standard anymore, but I teach it because, um hello) Anyways, I’m always looking out for misleading statistics.

Take the Chicago murder rate. Trump tweeted that he would “send in the Feds” to get the city under control because the murder rate has spiked 24% this month over last January, but let’s take a closer look.

This article does a great job explaining some of the nuances, but basically – Chicago isn’t the most dangerous city (not even in the top 10), and doesn't have the highest murder rate. In fact, it’s not even in the top 5. It’s murder rate is actually 8th in the nation (Chicago is a big city y'all) Yes there has been a spike in murders, but there are always spikes! You might remember trend lines from your middle school math teacher (at least I hope so) – the trend is long-term, and shows the direction of statistics over time while the spikes are short-term, variable cycles that can be contributed to sooo many other factors.

Take Chicago this month – A) we are not even one full month into the year – extrapolation based on that for the year over last year is not sound statistics B) It’s been unseasonably warm and warmer weather has always been shown to increase violent crime C) The rate of actual shootings has not went up. I could go on, but look at these graphs:

Chicago has always had a more variable pattern of murders, but the trend – like with all violent crime in the last 20 years – is still negative. These also show that monthly data is much more easily misinterpreted.

Think about data as a sawtooth – it goes up, but then it also goes back down. Looking at a small sample might lead someone to believe the data is steadily increasing and totally fails to recognize the pattern over time. There are always spikes in data – it is just noise.

So, are you smarter than an eighth grader? If you are – look at data trends over time, don’t make extrapolations based on small sets of data or data that is over a short period of time. There are definitely too many murders in Chicago and spikes in other cities - but don't take the headlines as evidence of some sort of crime spike - violent crime is still near record low levels across the board and have been on a decreasing trend for over 20 years. Read more here and here. 

Echo Chambers

The concept of a “Facebook Echo Chamber” has been swirling around social media for the past year or so. What it means is – Facebook, Google, (all the internet basically) uses algorithms that pay attention to the things you like, read, interact with, etc. These sorts of things are then showed to you more often. That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface – I get to see things I am interested in more often – but the problem is what you don’t see.

Before the election I had so many conversations with friends where I noted that they were totally underestimating the support for Trump. The idea that Hillary was going to win by a landslide seemed so obvious to many of my friends. The problem is that they were caught in their echo chamber. They weren’t surrounded by people who thought differently than them – face-to-face or online – and therefore had this idea that those people were fringe or much less in number than they really were.

I pride myself on having a fairly diverse set of friends and I’m from a small rural area so I knew in my heart the so-called “caps of support” weren’t real. Confirmation bias is powerful – the idea that we seek out things that support our own beliefs and ignore the things that don’t. We are motivated to be selective about the media that we consume and the people we interact with which gives us this feeling that everyone is like us. When I write this blog I assume most of the people who read it already know everything I’m writing because I feel like everyone is probably like me. I know this isn’t true but that’s where my head immediately goes.

But back to my point – echo chambers. I have seen a lot of people this week take a Facebook or social media hiatus, and I totally get it – there are a lot of hateful things being posted all over and that’s not healthy. But I also don’t think it’s healthy – for me anyways – to shield myself from it. If I don’t know how others are thinking about things then I can’t fully form my own beliefs or back them up in a way that is relevant. People generally only change their beliefs through emotional appeals that begin with understanding and common ground. If I don’t even know what is concerning someone who disagrees with me then I obviously can never connect with them intelligently over that concern.

So, I’m not going to take a social media hiatus. I’m going to try to continue to understand the people who disagree with me. I’m going to remember that not everyone thinks, feels, or knows the same information about issues as I do - and that’s okay. If you don’t want to be surprised by an outcome (ahem or an election) then don’t spend all your time in an echo chamber. Read more here and here

Praising the Process

I read this article in The Atlantic yesterday that I want to recommend – to teachers, parents, everyone. It talks about a study that showed girls begin to show evidence of gendered beliefs about their intelligence at just 6 years old! Boys and girls were asked to pick the person who was “really special” or “really, really smart” out of pictures of four people – two male, two female – and at age 6, girls started to choose the men over the women.

This is something I am so passionate about. Girls do just as well or better than boys in school, but their confidence is so much lower. Parents and teachers play a big role in this. Studies have shown that children pick up math anxiety from their parents, but even more important, they develop their mindsets from their parents. If a parent has a positive view of failure their child is shown to do better in school and life. Attitude about failure is even more predictive than attitudes about intelligence.

So why do more girls have a problem with failure? Through socialization girls are generally praised for being smart while boys are praised more for their perseverance and hard work. This “process praise” leads to higher confidence --> which leads to a stronger growth mindset --> which leads to more success. Boys are more likely to stick with fields where ability seems to be prized over hard work because they’ve been conditioned not to get sidelined as easily by failure.

This is a huge topic with so many layers, but this is what I would advise as a teacher: praise the process, normalize failure, model what learning from mistakes looks like for your kids, encourage them to persevere, and never praise them for some sort of innate ability or brilliance – even “geniuses” work hard to achieve – there is no such thing as a “math person” or a “science person”- just a person who works hard.

Read more here, here, and here.

Women’s March

I marched in downtown Denver last Saturday as part of the massive Women’s March.  A lot of people have asked me questions about it, and have made (false) assumptions. I feel like if I started to get in to the specifics, my reasons for marching, or counterpointing those who have criticized it (but weren’t actually there, didn’t read the unity principles, and have no idea what they’re talking about – but I digress) I would be here all day. So I will leave you (if you actually read this far) with this sociological poem explaining the value of protest that I recently re-stumbled upon: 

The Low Road

By Marge Piercy

What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can't walk, can’t remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can’t blame them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

 

But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.

 

Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organisation. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fund raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

 

It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.

 

happy Friday :)