Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Internet Trolls

Gather round mamas and papas with internet access in your homes and lend me your ear (eyes?) for a minute. As many of you know, my boys love video games, especially long-form, sweeping narratives, where you follow a character through an adventure (like Undertale), or cooperative games they play with their friends online (like Overcooked). They play these games online with their friends and even out of town family members like their cousins or uncle. We have plenty of rules around the types of games they play and when they play them but that’s not the point of this post. What you need to know is I’m raising two tween boys with internet access and that means I have a ton of work to do to both protect and prepare them for life online.

When my kids were little, before smartphones and tablets, I started reading up on “the dangers of the internet” and nearly everything emphasized the pervasiveness of pornography on the web. And it’s true – porn is ubiquitous online, and merits conversation. But what people weren’t talking about, and still aren’t talking about enough, is the ease with which my children would be able to access totally public message boards dedicated to radicalization and white nationalism, message boards that encourage racism and genocide. Everyone told me to talk to my babies about porn and stranger danger, but nobody told me to talk to my kids about 4Chan. So when I read this article , I sent it to the most trusted gamer I know, my brother. He had heard of 4Chan, and here’s what he said: “I have no idea what they’re up to now, but ten years ago 4chan was full of toxic people. They would tell people to die and post images of nooses and such.” He went on to say that he’s been aware, peripherally, of this online toxicity since 1992, and he was very sad and disillusioned that it is now coming into fields of view of more people. And I agreed with him, it was sad. I didn’t know whether to share this widely, or to tuck it away.

This was months ago. I felt paralyzed honestly, between wanting people to understand what is out there and not wanting to shine a light on darkness. I feel that way a lot. But one thing I know is we can’t push back against something we refuse to admit exists. Heads up – if you’re one of those people who can’t handle one more Harry Potter metaphor, just skip my next sentence. But we’re basically in book five of the series, and we all know it was a lot harder for the Order of the Phoenix to get anything done when no one would listen to their warnings. If you need to see this for yourself, you can find the links online, but I won’t post them here. They are vile, they are profane, they explicitly discuss mass genocide. I’m sitting right in that tension between wanting to share this information and not wanting to signal boost evil. But here’s what’s at stake if you brush this off as not a real threat to our children. A boy you love becomes indoctrinated. First, he espouses some beliefs online and at school that you don’t agree with. His teachers push back, to no avail. Then he grows up. He attends a few rallies. Exercises his free speech. Maybe you disagree with some of his views, but we all agree that Americans have the right to freedom of expression. So you don’t say anything. Then he says he’s traveling across the country for a rally for the alt-right. You don’t know what the alt-right is, but it can’t be white supremacy because this kid is not a racist. He has a black friend. Then he stands at the rally holding signs that signal his white supremacist values and you have to google the symbols because you aren’t familiar with any of this. Then he gets in his car and plows down a group of people, murdering a 32-year-old woman.

Is that an extreme example? Yes. It also happened this weekend.

For all the talk we have in this country about the reality of Islamic radicalization (which, by the way, also happens online), we are fools if we remain blind to this other radicalization that is happening on our own soil, in our hometowns. These online spaces can be used to forward any agenda. So mamas, when you talk to your kids about the internet, yes talk to them about porn and stranger danger. But also talk to them about 4Chan, and about online radicalization in general. This goes beyond setting limits and blocking sites (though those are important and useful tools) because at some point, your child will be old enough to leave your home and make his or her own decisions about how and where to engage online. Talk to them about how the relationships they build, both face-to-face and online, should be relationships that lift people up, relationships that point them towards their highest values, relationships that value human life. Talk to them about when to simply walk away, and when to engage, when to seek help from a trusted adult. This is an action step we can all take if we are so privileged to be trusted with the raising of the next generation.

Okay, that’s all. I know you are bombarded daily with things to worry about as a parent (make sure the solar eclipse glasses fit, etc.), but I do want you, my beloved friends, to be aware of this. Now go love those children well, and share their back to school pictures and soak up your last days of summer. Keep raising them with all the love and light I know that you are.

Whole Universes Extinguished

Gather round, if you have a moment, for a brief history lesson.

I’ve read some comments made recently by conservatives comparing being conservative in the current US political climate to living in 1930s Germany.

Let’s talk about 1930s Germany for a moment. There are volumes of pages of material written on the subject and I’m going to share just a tiny fraction here.

One of the first concentration camps to open in Germany was Dachau, in March of 1933. This is the very same month of the passage of The Enabling Act, which gave then Chancellor Hitler the power to enact law without checks or balances from parliament, paving the way for dictatorship. This is important to understand – in 1930s Germany, Hitler, and subsequently the Nazi party was law. It was the government, holding absolute power.

Back to Dachau. When it opened, its earliest inhabitants were those who opposed the Nazi regime, members of opposing parties and political ideologies, as well as those convicted of crimes in court. The sign over the door read “Work Will Make You Free” and the political prisoners (again, I remind you, most of whom were German citizens who opposed the party in control of the government at the time), were forced into labor, creating the very bullets that would murder their fellow countrymen in the years to come. It was forced slave labor, and that was just the early years. As the camp grew more populated by Jewish, gay, Jehovah’s Witness, and disabled people, prisoners were tortured in some of the most horrific medical experiments imaginable, the details of which I will not share here. You can look it up, this part of our human history is well documented. And, as we all know, they were murdered. At Dachau, and at other camps. By the millions.

Those who did not share the politics of the government in charge lived in fear for their lives. They did not speak publicly, and resistance to the Nazis in Germany was small, fractured and difficult to organize because the threats were real and could lead to death. Total allegiance to the government was required – pledges recited, flags hung on every door. You were with the Nazis or against them, and against them did not end well.

At the close of Cabaret at the Fox last week, the lead actor made the statement that each of the lives lost were whole universes extinguished. Those words haunt me.

To state that being a conservative in the United States is akin to 1930s Germany is so far-fetched, it boggles the mind. To begin with, our government is currently under conservative leadership in both the executive and legislative branches. Even if that leadership were a dictatorship, which it is not, conservative Americans would be on the side of the current administration. The behavior that conservatives are reporting range from name calling to possible exclusion from job opportunities to property damage to assault. I don’t support those actions in general, but let’s be very clear- those things are happening at the hands of private citizens and not our government. They happen every day to people of all political persuasions and the frequency of their occurrence does NOT make them right, but it is important to recognize the difference between disputes between groups of private citizens and systematic oppression from the government in power. The latter, at this moment in time, is not happening to conservatives or liberals in this country. We are still a free people. But most importantly, being on the receiving end of this behavior is not the same, by any stretch of the imagination, as what happened to those who opposed Hitler in the 1930s. To conflate the two is beyond disrespectful to the millions who were tortured, imprisoned or killed. It is shameful. If you are tempted to make such comparisons, I implore you to try harder to find a more apt metaphor. Because this one is wrong.

Tiny Snapshot

The boys are negotiating.

Up past bedtime.

Plaid pajama pants and white tee shirts.

A stubbly mini-mustache that has been shaved just two times.

Faded purple hair that was blue two weeks ago.

Double digits. Both of them.

I implore my brain to tuck away this tiny snapshot in time.

I blink my eyes.

Click.

 

Ten Things for Ten Years

Ten things that make this now ten-year old’s heart sing:

*Our pets Luna, Eragon & Hobbes

*Reading (current faves: Harry Potter, The Tapper Twins, Raymie Nightingale)

*Star Wars Battlefront

*Taking photos

*Babies

*Hamilton

*His family

*Grandpa’s steak

*the beach

*Spring

And you know what makes my heart sing?

Him. ❤

Happy Birthday Liam!

 

Peacemaking

Peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking.

Peacekeeping involves silencing marginalized voices to create an absence of conflict. It values lack of conflict over true justice.

Peacemaking knows there can be no real peace while there is injustice. It acts in love towards the creation of true peace, but it does not silence the oppressed and it faces conflict head on in order to make right what is wrong.

Peacekeeping seeks unity for unity’s sake, even if that unity is merely an Instagram filter slapped over a broken situation.

Peacemaking insists we remove the filter and do the hard work of reconciliation, so that we don’t need a filter in the end. The actual photo will made beautiful by true unity.

Peacemakers, take heart. There will always be those who will choose the absence of conflict over true peace, but know your choice to make peace instead of keeping it is the work that changes the world.

I Lift My Lamp

To say that my heart is broken feels like a trite understatement. I just looked at the news after a migraine-induced nap, and even though I knew this was coming it still hurt like hell to read the details.

I’m not going to rehash my support of refugees in this post. Here’s a link to an essay I wrote a couple of years ago. I feel the same now as when I first wrote those words. But I’m also not going to stop talking about this. Ever.

We ask the boys how they want to serve our community every week, and we take at least one action step to do so. Last week, we set aside a full day of service. One of the things the boys were concerned about was what would happen to refugees seeking asylum in the US when the new administration took office. I didn’t mince words. I told them that our country would shortly be banning some refugees for an unknown amount of time. Then I told them that we would continue to support those refugees in camps on the ground through our financial donations. I told them that we would keep supporting the refugees that are already here. And I told them we’d never stop advocating for those without a country to call home.

So we did this tiny thing, and we looked up the current needs of refugees settling in St. Louis, and on that wish list was tea pots. Liam loves tea, so naturally he gravitated to that. We bought a few and made these tags for them, ready to deliver them to our dear friends who set up apartments for refugees upon their arrival. They are still sitting in my garage.

It’s unconscionable what happened today. On a day set aside to remember the horrific murder of millions of Jewish people because of their religion, some that our country turned away at our shores during WWII, our president signs an executive order to ban specific refugees from our country based in part on their religion. If this breaks your heart too, please join me in one of the many ways you can support refugees. Donate to organizations that are helping refugees around the world:

https://www.whitehelmets.org/

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org

http://www.preemptivelove.org

Read about the lives of people fleeing violence:

http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories

Educate yourself on the vetting process for refugees and the facts about refugee crime rates (which are extraordinarily low):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/26/trump-says-syrian-refugees-arent-vetted-we-are-heres-what-we-went-through/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.90b9366d468e

http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

Educate yourself on how this actual impacts our national security:

https://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/607/didn’t-we-solve-this-one

https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/01/27/if-trump-issues-an-executive-order-on-refugees-it-could-alienate-some-of-americas-staunchest-allies-its-interpreters/

Attend a march or vigil to show your support:

https://www.facebook.com/events/650320751796304??ti=ia

Donate or volunteer with a local refugee agency:

https://www.iistl.org

http://www.irwp.net

We are a nation of immigrants, of refugees, of native indigenous people, of ancestors of slaves. We are many things at once, never monolithic, never one race or one religion. That is our legacy and our future. This is an ugly chapter but this story is not finished. However, we have to keep writing it together.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Line in the Sand

Friends, let’s talk about our freedom to seek the truth.
Trump is on Twitter this morning asking why possible Russian interference in the election wasn’t brought up before the election. Most of us can remember things that happened only two months ago, but either he can’t, or, more likely, he’s being purposely deceitful. But for anyone who needs a quick refresher course, here’s just one example of this being discussed before the election, by Trump himself.
Every time this man lies, we are left collectively dumbfounded for a brief second. There’s always the pause. “But, didn’t he say…?” or “I swear I remember him saying …” and we momentarily doubt our own memory. It feels almost Orwellian. But it’s not Orwellian. Which is deeply troubling in its own right. Let me explain.
If you haven’t read 1984, you should, but here’s a spoiler-free explanation of what I mean by Orwellian. In 1984, the main character Winston works for The Ministry of Truth, where he changes historical documents to fit the needs of the current ruling Party. For example, the people in 1984 are told that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, but some remember things differently. Here’s the difference between Orwell’s world and the situation we are in now: the people in 1984 had to rely on their own fuzzy memories, as all documents were altered and there was no proof of actual history that remained. Additionally, if they did mention or even think differently than what the Party allowed, they were threatened with torture or death. We, on the other hand, are still entirely free to call into question the truth. We can listen to statements from our President Elect and then find and share hard data (aka- videos of him talking) that completely negate what he just said. Not only is this information available to us all online, but for those who are worried about tampered digital documentation, we have archived newspapers and many people keep records in their own homes of history- because they have a love of history and because we are allowed to do this. We are a free people.
So, what’s troubling about the Orwellian comparisons is that despite us still living in a free society, so many of us are choosing to believe falsehoods of our own accord. We are willfully refusing to look at evidence contradicting our preconceived notions about this man we have elected president. It happened over and over and over during the campaign and is still happening now. Since Russia is in the news this week, I’ll share another example of this that relates to Trump’s lies about his correspondence with Putin. In a debate in October, Trump stated “I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.”and “I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me.” And yet, in this video, he states, “When I went to Russia with the Miss Universe Pageant, he contacted me and was so nice.” (4:58 mark)
Friends, this stuff isn’t even hard to find. We aren’t living in Orwellian times. Not yet. We are still free to inform ourselves, question authority, and seek truth. But, in order for this freedom to continue, we must exercise it. When we hear the highest elected official in our country lying, we must collectively hold him accountable. This isn’t a partisan issue. This isn’t an issue of “Well, the other side lies, or what about Hillary?” The election is over. Trump is President Elect. It’s time to hold him accountable for his actions, based on the standards we hold for the highest office in our country, not based on some school playground defense (“She did it first!”). Come on now, we expect more from our young children than that.
My heart hurts from watching people I know personally go from vocally admonishing this man in the primaries to begrudgingly voting for him to publicly defending his every move. The allegiance to party is blinding.
My husband, who rarely comments online about these things but discusses them freely in our home, had an idea that struck a chord with me this weekend. It was more of a suggestion, and I want to share it with all of you. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Anarchist alike, this is for everyone.
Take out a piece of paper and put the date on it. Then, write down on the piece of paper what it would take for you to stand in opposition to your President, or elected officials. What is your line in the sand? Not your party’s line, but your own line based on your own moral understandings of humanity. Would you stand up to the President if he proposed internment camps? Religious registries? Would you stand up if there were new levels of surveillance? Try to ignore who the President is, and ask this question of yourself in a vacuum void of partisanship.
Write it down, sign it, and keep it. Hang onto this piece of paper. Because history shows us that when political upheavals occur, the best of men and women have abandoned their own principles in the face of fear. Keep this paper as a reminder of the things you stand for, and be ready to question even your own party if they ask you to go against your principles. And in the meantime, it is up to all of us to expect the truth. It may be naïve or foolish to expect this from politicians, but the quickest path to total corruption is the expectation and allowance of it. When our President Elect lies, call him out on it. If someone repeats those lies, correct them.
We are not a ruled people. This is not 1984. We are free. It’s time we acted like it.

Opinions. We All Have Them.

Good morning friends! It’s Wednesday! Halfway through the week!

Let’s chat for a moment about opinions. Everybody has them, right?

Here’s the thing about opinions. You have the right to an opinion. You have the right to share your opinion. But merely having an opinion does not make you right.

I’m seeing this more and more often, someone trying to shut down a conversation with the statement, “Well, that’s my opinion” when the subject at hand is, in fact, based on facts. As if the statement “Well, that’s my opinion” somehow inoculates one from being wrong. When we use that statement to stop a conversation in which we are being presented with actual information to consider, it doesn’t make us right, it makes us willfully ignorant.

Here’s a grossly exaggerated example of what this looks like:

Person A: 2+2 = 4

Person B: No. 2+2 = 3

Person A: No. When you add 2 to another group of 2, you end up with 4.

Person B: Well, in my opinion you end up with 3. That’s my opinion and I have the right to my opinion. You have your opinion and I have mine. Agree to disagree. End of discussion.

People who value reason and facts, we can not allow this to be the end of the discussion. The discussion has to continue and it could sound like this:

Person A: Your opinion is wrong. It’s not based on evidence or facts. I’m happy to share more information with you about basic mathematics but I’m not able to agree to disagree.

I know that can be uncomfortable. But not all opinions are valid and if we are living in a “post-truth” world (aka- lying world) we have to push back against this idea that all opinions are valid and deserving of equal consideration or that there is no such thing as an objective fact. We need to become more comfortable both saying and receiving the statement, “Your opinion is wrong.” There are plenty of conversations where all opinions are equally valid – conversations that revolve around personal taste or preference for example. We can argue all day long over things like “Tea or coffee?” or “Ukuleles vs. banjos” but let’s not conflate those with conversations involving facts.

Okay, back to my coffee. Which, in my opinion, is better than tea. 😉☕

A Confession and a Promise

This is a confession and a promise. 


I’ll start with the confession: I’ve spent the last couple of days in serious judgement of women who are defending the words and actions of Donald Trump.


Here is what I know to be true about judgement. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I find myself judging someone else, it’s really about me.  It’s usually my own shame or fear grabbing a megaphone and drowning out everything else. I know that in moments of judgement I have two choices – condemnation or curiosity. And I also know that curiosity is always the right choice. I have a practice in place, and usually, I stick to it. The moment I recognize judgement, I get quiet and ask myself the following questions: Am I ashamed of something in myself that relates to the behavior I am judging? Is there a part of myself that I fear shares the behavior I’m judging? The answer is almost always yes, and the faster I get to curiosity, the faster I can both learn more about my own true self and also get back to the most important job I think I have on this planet- love people, with ever-widening empathy and compassion.

So, I’m ashamed at how long it took me to put this practice in place this time around. I did not choose curiosity. I chose condemnation.  I found myself asking questions like “How can any woman support the words and actions of Donald Trump when we know who he is, what he does, what he celebrates, what he condones?  How are we not collectively rising up against him? What is wrong with these women?” But I used more colorful language than that in my head. I asked the questions, but I didn’t listen for the answers.  Not right away. It took me over 48 hours to get to curiosity. I’m not proud of this.

And when I finally unplugged, got quiet, and listened for answers, here is what I found. Yes, part of my judgement comes from a place of shame. I didn’t know I still carried it. I didn’t know that this shame had become so intrinsically wound into the fibers of my being that it could still hurt me. I thought I had already done this work. Let me explain.

When the #firstassault hashtag started trending on Twitter on Friday night, it gave me life. I had already shared one story of assault on Facebook, though it was not my first assault, and was simultaneously sad and empowered to see so many women sharing theirs as well. I started to think back to my first assault, and when I had a hard time figuring out which one was first I got angry. Angry that my body has been grabbed enough times without my consent that I couldn’t remember when it started. Angry that questions I thought I had long since answered came to the surface, questions like:

Did it count if you were wearing a bikini at a pool when he grabbed you? I mean, you were “strutting around in that tiny number” right?

What about if you wanted to make out with that boy? Did what happened next count as assault when you gave consent for him to kiss you?

Did it count the time you got away? If he attempted the assault but you were fortunate enough to fight back?

I was astonished to find shame still taking residence in my soul.

And that’s when I got very curious. I took a closer look at the words people used to defend Trump’s actions. I’m setting aside the defenses that begin with the statement “But Hillary…” because what I want to talk about here actually has nothing to do with partisan politics.  That’s an entirely different topic – one that delves into the over-identification with a political party and cognitive dissonance– and not one I want to get into today.  So, if you set aside those responding from a place of deeply-rooted partisan identity, these are actual comments I have seen and heard:

“That’s just locker room talk.”

“ALL men talk like that.”

“Go into any male-dominated space and that’s what you’ll hear.” 

“Don’t be so naïve.” 

“Grow up. This is the real world.”

“How sad. This was eleven years ago and you can’t forgive him.”

“That’s not sexual assault.”

“I don’t hear them complaining. Most of those women probably liked it.

And I realized that these defenses speak volumes about how we got here in the first place. I started thinking about the ways that women are conditioned, starting in childhood, to expect this kind of behavior from men. 

“Don’t be so naïve.  Of course he demanded more from you. That’s what happens when you go into a private room to make out. At least you learned that very young, so you didn’t make that mistake again.”

“How sad. That was eleven years ago and you can’t forgive him.  You’re the one with the problem.”

“That’s not sexual assault. If you allow that to happen with one guy, then you like it, and it can’t be assault with another.”

Some of us were explicitly taught these things. Some of us were told that this is just part of being a woman and we might as well get used to it. We were taught that men will grab any part of us they can, and we should always walk in pairs or maybe carry a can of mace to defend ourselves. We were taught that men can’t really control themselves, and we have to keep our guard up. We were handed such low expectations for the behavior of half the population, that when a presidential candidate allows his own daughter to be called a “piece of ass” or discusses grabbing women “by the pussy”, there are women willing to defend that behavior as “boys will be boys.”  

And I realized that this conditioning was not only the reason I was angrier at the women defending Trump than the men (my expectations were lower for the men), but that these women received the same conditioning I did. In fact, they likely received worse. I thought back to the homes of friends from my childhood, the ones with garages lined with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editionphotos, the ones where their fathers openly talked about women in terms my father never dared utter in my presence, the homes where those fathers directed sexual comments at me and my friends.  I thought about women I know today whose own husbands speak like this in front of them, in front of their children.  And I realized that many of the women defending Trump likely grew up hearing or currently live and breathe in a space that contains so much sexism that they have internalized misogyny as normal male behavior.

And that was when I recognized that I had a failure of empathy on my hands.

That was when I remembered the sisterhood. I heard my own words echoed back at me, “I want to have a conversation about what is possible when we refuse to participate in an orchestrated argument with one another and instead reach out and boldly declare that we belong to each other.”

So here is my promise:

If you are a woman who won’t speak out against Trump’s actions, I’m not fighting with you. It is no more your fault that you have deeply internalized unacceptable behavior from men as normal than it is my fault that I still carry shame for sexual assault.  

I will not fight with you. I will fight FOR you.

I will fight for you, even if you can’t yet fight for yourself. 

I will fight for a better world for you, your daughters and your granddaughters.

I will fight for your sons and for my sons too. 

I won’t blame you for something that is larger than you. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. 

I’ve got your back, sister.

And I have a lot of hope. We’ve come a long way in just the past couple of generations.  One generation ago, women were silenced about sexual assault, burdened by the idea that they would bring shame to their families because they were attacked. That generation did the best they knew how by raising my generation with lowered expectations for men, even if that contributed to the problem.  I have no animosity towards them for teaching us to watch our backs. I know this was both an earnest attempt at keeping women safe, and a psychological shield against the sexism they faced on a daily basis.

But I see something new happening in my generation and the one coming of age now.  Women are saying that men can and should be held to a higher standard.  That “boys will be boys” promotes rape culture.  And strong men are echoing their calls.  They are asking to be considered fully human too, not treated like a barely evolved version of a human.  Because the truth is- this impacts all of us.  Women AND men. None of us are whole until all of us are whole. This is work we will have to do together.

And we have a lot of work to do.  There’s no better time to start than now.