Friday, February 21, 2020

Reverence For The Wrong Thing

Since about the dawn of civilization, depending on where you place that on the timeline of humanity, our species has claimed divine relationships, yet held a far less righteous agenda. Prior to that, when there were fewer of us, scattered farther afield, conflict was rather rare, resources abundant, and sentiments towards other populations relatively benign. Those phenomena out of our control we assumed were the doings of gods, and we had proper reverence for them. Salmon runs. The wet season. Our lack of knowledge kept us in our place: frightened on the one hand, grateful on the other. My how times have changed.

The consequences of our changing social and cultural climate have resulted in divisions and hostilities we should have averted, but must now devote considerable resources to mediate, repair, and end. This is not going to be an indictment of science, but a reminder of our animal nature, our ability to overcome it, and a plea for a shift in focus.

…. we revere religion above God. We hold sacred our technology instead of creation. We aspire to material wealth instead of peace, enlightenment, and humility.

As biological entities we are selfish organisms, like any other primate, mammal, or even insect. We have to be that way if we want to perpetuate our genes. Science has revealed that we are not as special a species as we would like to think, and we react angrily to that notion, especially if we are of certain religious persuasions. We should find joy and solidarity in our fundamental instincts and shared physiology with other animals, yet we actively deny it instead. This attitude serves not the Creator, only our own ego.

Today we revere religion above God. We hold sacred our technology instead of creation. We aspire to material wealth instead of peace, enlightenment, and humility. Do you sense the pattern here? God is good. Religions, at least the militarized ones? Not so much. If you are fighting your holy war with anything more violent than battle hymns, you have pretty much broken your covenant with God and taken up with the Devil. The means of asserting your rights have violated your belief system. Your definition of God becomes “warrior” if not executioner, or plain thug. No one considers God villainous until their religion needs It to be.

Religion, we should remind ourselves daily, is a human institution, and as such serves a human agenda, not a heavenly one. We conveniently interpret scripture, from whichever source applies, to uphold the favor of our race, our male sex, our male gender, our perceived dominance over other human individuals and populations, as well as other species. God is most certainly not a specific race, sex or gender, nor even a species. Other living things have souls, or none of us do. Why create a living being and then not give it a soul? Religion has created more atheists than science ever will because of its insistence that we are somehow a product of greater divine attention than anything else.

One aspect of humanity that does make us unique is our ability to recognize ourselves as animals, with all that this implies, and yet behave in ways that avoid obvious self-interest. We can put others of our species, or our entire species, ahead of ourselves if we so desire. The more specialized we become as individuals, too, the more it behooves us to preserve our collective diversity. To put it another way, the less well-rounded we are in tasks, knowledge, and social interactions, the more we need others to cook for us (speaking personally here), solve complex problems, and resolve large conflicts, to name but a few important skills.

”…. meaningful change will happen from individual choices made daily in the marketplace, the workplace, the church congregation, the public agency, the private enterprise, and the personal household.

If our human diversity is so vital to our collective survival, then why are we still at war, why is there still racism and other forms of discrimination, and why does poverty exist? If we have the capacity to acknowledge the negative ramifications of purely selfish acts, why are we so reluctant to be altruistic, charitable, and accepting of each other? Simple, and yet complex. The human institutions we have created for the organization and advancement of our species have proven terribly vulnerable to corruption, abuse of power, and other inhumane and criminal actions. Government and business and religion are all rife with atrocities that amplify our worst individual tendencies. Politics compounds the dissonance created by the other three institutions, framing everything as an us versus them scenario.

How do we overcome? Some advocate anarchy or libertarianism. Others see democratic socialism as the answer. Ironically, perhaps, meaningful change will happen from individual choices made daily in the marketplace, the workplace, the church congregation, the public agency, the private enterprise, and the personal household. Choosing to reward your definition of excellence, asserting your right to freedom from violence and discrimination, and committing to a better understanding of others will be how we solve our most intractable problems. Speaking honestly and authentically, and doing our best to withhold judgment of others, is the process.

Celebrate the right things, resist the temptation to confuse the divine with the human. Hold yourself to higher standards. Be critical of your own choices not only in the voting booth, but in products and services. Spend as much time as you can listening without speaking. Admit your mistakes and squelch the impulse to put down others for theirs. Realize you are going to fail, repeatedly, until all of it becomes second nature. Forgive yourself in the meantime.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Impeachment and the Super Bowl

The past few days have brought us events that offer a stark contrast between spontaneous generosity and orchestrated greed. We can learn from both, and demand better from ourselves.

Derrick Nnadi, Kansas City Chiefs
© Wfla.com

In the wake of winning Super Bowl LIV (54), Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi announced that he was paying the adoption fees for ninety-one dogs at the Kansas City Pet Project animal shelter. This is old news, it turns out. He has been doing that the entire season after every Chiefs victory. Wait, there’s more. “Tackles For Kids” was another season-long campaign in which Nnadi invited fans and supporters to pledge money for every tackle he made. Alternatively, you could make a flat, one-time donation. Proceeds went to Boys & Girls Clubs. Nnadi also founded the Derrick Nnadi Foundation, based in Atlanta. The non-profit helps families and children in need in Kansas City and Virginia Beach, Virginia, Nnadi’s home town.

Another story has been making the rounds in social media that purports that Super Bowl LIV MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes once paid the checks for everyone at a pizza parlor as thanks for fellow diners leaving himself and his girlfriend in peace during their meal. This may or may not be true, as a nearly identical tale was attributed to NFL Hall of Fame inductee Troy Polamalu back in 2009. Neither report has been verified.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senate impeachment hearings have only reinforced low public opinions of Congress, and exposed once again the devotion to self-interest of a majority of politicians. Being selfish is not in and of itself a crime, mind you, all individual humans are selfish to one degree or another. What should be unforgiveable is disguising selfish desires as something that benefits the greater good. This was an actual argument put forth during the hearings by Presidential attorney Alan Dershowitz. Various interpretations have been offered, but even in defending his argument against impeachment, Dershowitz stands by the idea that if the President believes his re-election is in the interest of the nation, then soliciting campaign help from a foreign government is not necessarily a criminal act all by itself.

Regardless of the validity of those arguments, it appears obvious that the intent is to protect not only the President, but an entire political party that has fallen into chaos, and sunk to a new low in a desperate attempt to protect extreme white male financial privilege at all costs. Only a tiny fraction of the nation has its interests protected under this kind of….rule.

How ironic that we continue to expect the worst behavior from supposedly “entitled” professional athletes, who are mostly people of color, while we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge evidence of willful, unethical acts by our elected officials, who are usually Caucasian males. Cultural and institutionalized racism, and oppression of women are two reasons why. What are we so afraid of? When did sacrifice for the greater good go from being a virtue to a sign of weakness?

Yesterday, my wife and I were presented with an opportunity to benefit a charitable organization that was tabling in the cold and snow outside a dining establishment here in Colorado Springs. ChildHelp.org is a non-profit that has existed since 1959, but maintains a low profile to reduce overhead costs. The current mission, as the two spokesmen explained to us, is to provide backpacks, basics like a toothbrush and toothpaste, school supplies, and toys for abused children, locally. I decided to purchase two.

We went to buy groceries after that, and I was surprised to find my card was declined. I was able to resolve that a couple hours later at my bank. The charity transaction was interpreted as suspicious activity, and perhaps now I know why. Childhelp has a reputation for turning one-time donations into recurring, automatic transactions. Wow, no good deed goes unpunished. I am not looking forward to the problems others have had with this organization. I decided to call the bank today to preempt any further transactions, but the one has not posted yet. I'll have to call again tomorrow, after it is posted, to avert recurring charges. I do not trust ChildHelp to behave itself.

I hope I can maintain my good will towards others, but maybe I’ll have to start my own foundation, like Derrick Nnadi, instead of entrusting others who may or may not be on the level. Further erosion of public trust, and trust in our family, friends, and neighbors, is going to be the death of our civilization. We must correct that before we can accomplish anything.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thanks For "Listening"

Earlier this week I attended two local events billed as opportunities for civic engagement. I am still trying to decide if they were a waste of time. One was a “listening tour” of a state non-profit organization that serves as a liaison between Colorado government and a handful of other non-profits concerning disbursement of lottery funds to outdoor recreation and protection projects. Attendees did most of the listening, to presentations outlining updates to the goals of the organization. The other, larger event was a mostly one-sided panel-and-moderator discussion of the future of urban growth in Colorado Springs. The two forums did open my eyes to something I had been blind to, though. We collectively fail time and again to accommodate, let alone welcome, marginalized parties, at least in meaningful numbers.

© nbcpalmsprings.com

The attendance, and leadership, at both events overwhelmingly reflected white privilege, and mostly on the elder end of the age spectrum, too. That this has become what I expect is a tragedy in itself. I am modestly proud of myself for starting to notice, finally, and not being happy about the lack of involvement by people of color.

The urban growth event was so heavily weighted towards seniors that one of the speakers was the Colorado head of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It became a running joke that each of the panel members, five of them, all white men, were either members already, or had recently received an invitation to join AARP.

What do I mean by white privilege in the context of the attendees in civic engagement events? Simple. We have the luxury of free time. We are not working a second or third job, or a second shift, in the late afternoon or evening when such events take place. We have the luxury of at least a modicum of disposable income for communication technology, and to fuel our vehicles to drive to meeting locations. We enjoy the advantage of not being hassled by law enforcement when we show up in locations where non-whites would be met with suspicion, if not hostility. We are able to understand everything being said at meetings because English is our first language. We know our opinions will be met with respect from our white peers, and that no one will question the authenticity of our experiences because they are shared by others. You can probably add additional points to this bullet list.

Oh, I already have another one. The “listening tour” did provide an opportunity to take a survey….by texting. I have a flip phone with less than instantaneous speed. Luckily, a paper-and-pencil option was available, but increasingly there are assumptions made as to the minimal level of technology utilized by citizens. This further marginalizes people who cannot afford those devices, wireless networks, and other supposedly universal products.

The responsible growth forum addressed Colorado Springs and El Paso County, an area that is expected to exceed Denver in population and geographical urban footprint in the not-too-distant future. The only thing worse than unbridled urban growth is growth for whites only….but that is the direction we are headed if we continue to prohibit equal participation in public conversations like this event. I will give civic leaders the benefit of the doubt and suggest that overwhelmingly white participation in public policy-making processes is not by design, but it still reflects a willful ignorance of the factors limiting participation by non-whites, and those who do not speak English.

The treadmill process that yields white privilege authority figures occurs when you have white privilege participation in all civic matters from voting to public hearings and meetings, resulting in the election of white privileged public officials, who then assume their constituents all enjoy the same circumstances as their white privileged benefactors and supporters….In instances where a person of color is elected or appointed, white privilege still colors their agenda, still enforces the boundaries of any meaningful reforms that could result in broader participation and increased leadership by people of color. Shameful.

Does it make me a “white savior” to be pointing out these systemic problems, these unquestioned attributes of institutional racism? I hope not, as that is not my intent. I am sharing my personal observations and interpretations, not putting words into the mouths of others, even fellow Caucasians. We have to start stepping back, take supporting roles, and even then, only when invited to do so. The irony is that all people will benefit and advance from diversity in leadership. I am supremely confident of that.

Monday, January 20, 2020

We Still Have a Long, Long Way to Go

On this day of celebration of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., at least one journalist is daring to point out something that demands earnest reflection, appraisal, and commitment to a different, better future. Jenn M. Jackson, in Teen Vogue, assesses a “whitewashed” legacy that does not do justice to the radical agenda of Dr. King. It is unfortunately an appropriate expression for this day and age, when it appears we have slid backwards.

As a Caucasian male myself, I recognize I have no right to pretend to know what any individual historical or contemporary black experience is like, nor define the boundaries of rights and expression for an entire race. What I can do is listen better, get a firmer grasp on the extent of my white privilege, support and advocate for black leadership roles in all arenas, and be willing to sacrifice in ways that might make me uncomfortable. No one should be living in constant fear for their lives, no one should view their future as limited in any regard.

Many of us Caucasians, including truly well-meaning individuals, equate racism with white supremacy, period. That was pretty much my own logic until relatively recently. Then I learned about institutional racism, cultural appropriation, and white privilege. Does it make me uncomfortable when someone points out that I am privileged just for being white? Yes, of course, because I was born that way and there is nothing I can do about my physical appearance and genetic makeup. Thankfully, that is not the only thing that defines me, and I have the freedom and ability to become more empathetic, by choice.

The first step on that road to empathy is to stop defending yourself as a white person. Pause to listen to voices you are have ignored previously. Not everything is about you, but it is often reflexive to assume a comment about your white privilege is accusatory or at least personal. Mental and emotional re-training is never easy, as any recovering addict can tell you. You and I are going to be works in progress, emphasis on work.

Black History Month will be upon us shortly. The media will tend to focus on figures of historical importance, in roles we do not typically associate with blacks. There are scientists and doctors, artists and writers, inventors, athletes….They will be referred to as “exceptional,” but the implied emphasis will be on “exception,” because the expectations of white privilege are so narrow when it comes to other races. You do not get a pass simply because your expectations of black people are not in the thug, drug dealer, or welfare queen categories.

We seem to be comfortable with black people as either entertainers (including spectator sports) or servants. There is that word “comfort” again. This is one race defining what is acceptable for another race, and you should personally have no tolerance for that. Collectively, we should find this kind of racism abhorrent. It is no better than assuming a black male is a criminal or out to take your job through Affirmative Action.

Am I making you squirm by suggesting you have more in common with a confederate flag-waving white supremacist than you thought you did? Good. That is the only way we are going to get anywhere, by confronting our own biases that we did not know were biases, because no one looked that hard before.

We have to be open to criticism, sometimes delivered with hostility, from those who have suffered and continue to suffer, even if we are not personally responsible for that suffering. Then we can begin to alleviate that pain through self-examination, increased empathy, and truly beneficial action.

The celebration of life for my late father was held at his favorite place, a yacht club. I remember it from my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s, and it is still just as old, white, and male as it was back then. It pained me that I could not call out the membership right then and there. Maybe I should have.

I remember driving through Over-The-Rhine, a black neighborhood in Cincinnati, with a friend on a summer day. She asked in a rather concerned tone why black people were on their stoops, out in the street, some loud music here and there….Back in the 1990s I did not have an answer, nor did I think it was an unreasonable question. Today? Today I would ask her “Why aren’t (white) we out on our stoops, out in the streets, enjoying the day with our neighbors?”

What are your experiences and expectations and assumptions? Why are they that way? Please, start asking yourself.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The U.S. Economy is a Dysfunctional Ecosystem

Economies might do well to emulate at least some aspects of biological ecosystems. Our American economy has somehow managed to magnify the undesirable characters of ecosystems while failing to adhere to the fundamentals that make such systems work. Meanwhile, our economy is undermining natural ecosystems that are the foundation for the economy.

Before I proceed farther, in accordance with a recently self-imposed personal law, I must disclose that I fall into the category of white privilege. It is important to remind myself that however I perceive my own circumstances and point of view, my status, for lack of a better term, is still greater than it should be when compared to other demographics that are not Caucasian nor male nor straight, and so forth. We need to hear those voices also.

How can one claim that economies are in any way like ecosystems? There are many similarities, but the most obvious is the idea of niche. Ecosystems are full of niches, each occupied by one or more species. Some, mostly plants and marine algae, are producers that take energy from the sun and convert it to biomass. Other organisms consume those plants, while still others feed on the first tier of consumers in what is properly known as the food web. Decomposing organisms help recycle deceased organisms back into the soil.

Economies are full of niches, too, but all of those niches are filled by one species: Homo sapiens. Niches in economies are called “jobs,” but it goes beyond that if only because, increasingly, one person may hold more than one job such that they can have the ability to consume more (or break even). Further, machines are filling more and more niches formerly occupied by persons as a result of automation. Society functions best when we do not limit the definition of an individual to their occupation. Human economies are more than simple transactions involving goods and services, they involve investments of intangibles like emotions and social capital.

The most profound similarity between ecosystems and economies is currency. The currency of ecosystems is energy, pure and simple. The currency of an economy is money. The only way an ecosystem functions properly is if energy flows freely, cycling ceaselessly for the benefit of all organisms. There is very little banking of energy, at least in the short term. Look at water and carbon in the natural world and they cycle endlessly.

Meanwhile, in the American economy at least, money is not viewed as energy. It is seen as power, and therefore hoarded, failing to flow as it should, despite the claims of those who subscribe to “trickle down” economics. The tap is perhaps dripping randomly. Worse yet, it is often only those in the white privilege category that receive any sustenance at all. This causes a cascade of negative effects that further erodes the economy. Entire segments of society are left without niches to fill, and therefore no way to participate in any part of the economic cycle, from production to consumption.

Among the negative side effects of an exclusionary economy is the rise of predators, parasites, thieves, and other criminal enterprises. While predators, for example, are one category of niches in natural ecosystems, there should be no place for them in an economy. When crime becomes a survival strategy, it is time to re-think the structure of our economy, question our aspirations to gratuitous material wealth, and tolerance for continued economic injustices.

One insistence of capitalist economies that is completely incompatible with natural ecosystems is the idea of infinite growth as the ideal. There can be no such thing, as human history has demonstrated repeatedly with the collapse of one civilization after another. Failure to accept the finite nature of natural resources, and/or partition them responsibly, has led to the fall of many empires, and it would appear that this is now a genuine threat to the entire globe.

Markets, like the biosphere, are also finite, despite efforts to expand them. Furthermore, while we claim allegiance to the idea of the “free market,” there is in reality no such thing. Were it true, then the U.S. auto industry, multinational banks, and other American corporations would have failed by now. Instead, we prop up those businesses artificially through government bailouts, tariffs, and other subsidies as corporate welfare that is deemed acceptable while social safety nets are allowed to unravel or are intentionally dismantled.

What does all this mean? It means that we need to look more critically at how we live our lives, what constitutes our premiums (Convenience? Value?), and perhaps seek to align our economy more with the functioning of the natural world. It is not a question of prosperity versus austerity, unless you are the ultra-privileged and your idea of austerity is one less yacht.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Art is What You Make (of it)

What do a banana taped to a wall and snowshoe tracks in a mountain landscape have in common? Both qualify as art, or not, depending on your point of view. Debating the definition of art is a useful and important exercise, if only within our own individual minds. It informs our personal and collective aesthetic, and our morality.

© abcnews.go.com and Maurizio Cattelan

The wall-mounted banana by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan might have made the news just for the $120,000 price tag it commanded, but the ingestion of the piece is what got the attention of the media. Evidently, the man who tore the duct tape off and consumed the fruit, David Datuna, is himself a performance artist who claimed that his act of eating it was itself a form of art. Here, it would appear that art is a matter of convenience, publicity, and questionable ethics. Is art for the sake of fame and/or notoriety really art?

Meanwhile, in mountain landscapes around the globe, Simon Beck creates stunning, large scale patterns by tromping across the snow in snowshoes. He gains inspiration at least in part from the intricate designs of snowflakes themselves. He will be coming here to Colorado in January to no doubt make something magnificent. Beck has also done similar work in sandscapes.

The personal choices of the artist, and the range of interpretations among the audience, make art the most universal expression of freedom that there is.

Both the banana and the snow tracks are ephemeral. Fruit spoils, tracks are quickly obliterated. One thread I read in social media asserted that Beck’s work was not art because it “has no meaning.” I found myself boiling at that remark, but was not sure why. I started writing….

”Wow. One could ask what is the meaning of a sandcastle, a snowman, an ice sculpture, a decorated cake, or any other ephemeral piece of art. If anything, I think this is astonishing precisely BECAUSE of the labor involved knowing the results could be gone in the next hour. The message? Appreciate the NOW, that is all we have."

This goes to the root of what makes art such a volatile subject. Art is whatever you make of it, but the intent of the artist is key. Art can be used as a weapon, as a way to empower or a way to oppress. Art can be propaganda or it can be a tool of social change for the better. Art can be whimsical or profound, humorous or gut-wrenching. The audience decides whether to elevate works to an iconic level or deem them worthy of the trash bin, but there will always be dissenting voices. The personal choices of the artist, and the range of interpretations among the audience, make art the most universal expression of freedom that there is.

It may be telling that I am personally much more likely to hold contempt for those offering derogatory opinions and comments about a given work than I am for artists who I still may not celebrate as genius or buffoon. You have the right to create something and call it art, but then again you do have the right to your point of view as an onlooker. What sparked your outburst of praise or condemnation, though? That is what I want to know. You were moved, but why? Honest conversation should be valued more than it is, and is itself a form of artistry we should all aspire to.

I was living in Cincinnati at the time that Robert Mapplethorpe’s posthumous “The Perfect Moment” came to the Contemporary Arts Center in 1990. Controversy surrounded the sexual and homosexual images in the exhibit, and protests and a trial ensued. I felt it was my civic duty to patronize the exhibit, regardless of whether I agreed with all aspects of it. Yes, there were photographs that made me uncomfortable, but many more that made me laugh, or simply gawk at the jaw-dropping beauty of orchids and the human figure. Besides, exposing yourself to discomfort is underrated. It tends to cultivate empathy. There is no doubt in my mind that Mapplethorpe fully embraced, and celebrated, everything that makes us human, from an appreciation of the natural world to our sexual proclivities. There was zero malice to be found in his intent.

What is your own threshold for “art?” Does it hinge on the degree of effort exercised in executing the piece? What about the degree of effort you put into making your interpretation? Do you scoff and move on? How do you express your appreciation? Is it by assigning an arbitrary monetary value to it at auction? Do you leave flattering comments in the guest book at the gallery? There is an art to evaluating art, wouldn’t you say?

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Innocents and the Bigots

Recent experiences in social media have led me to the conclusion that we tend toward a very narrow window in assessing each other’s intentions, treating all communication as black and white, good guys and bad guys. We all have our blind spots, and/or are emotionally damaged. In fact, emotional damage has a profound effect on how we perceive the world, other people, other belief systems, and how we see ourselves. Inflicting more damage, even if unintentionally, does nothing to improve matters.

My interactions with diverse individuals and social categories of our population reveals that unless I am a clone of that particular person or an individual within that category, I probably have no place commenting on their circumstance or struggles. Attempting to embrace and validate their experience becomes an exercise in futility or worse if I take the conversation public. I then have no control over the input of others.

One of the unfortunate consequences of having a social network that spans the socio-economic-political-religious spectrum is that you are going to be called out as a bigot if you “protect” anyone else perceived as a bigot by those with differing experiences and views. The assumption is that everyone is already cemented in their views and not open to any additional information. We assume they know full well they are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, God-denying haters, and not that they are simply uninformed or uneducated. They must be professional trolls.

There is a difference between an annihilist who desires to obliterate everything and everyone “different,” and someone who is simply comfortable with their own identity but uncomfortable with the new normal or having difficulty comprehending the territory. There is no way we can possibly put ourselves into the minds and bodies of others if we are not ourselves Black, homosexual, transgendered, or otherwise a “minority.”

It is my belief that there are many innocent people being labelled as bigots simply because they lack full understanding of the issues at hand. If you do not know where the mines are, you are eventually going to step on one. If you do not recognize the triggers, you will pull one at some point. When someone talks about “dog whistles” to the bigot camp, it may be that you do not hear yourself blowing one. The wrong intent is assumed. Groups that are trying to assert their long-suppressed rights, who are understandably angry at being marginalized and abused, if not murdered, begin to interpret every attempt at understanding, or every question pertaining to the historical “norm” as somehow a threat to be met with hostility, assigned to the domain of true bigots.

Me? I am the product of an overprotective mother, and an angry father on alternate weekends. It has taken me decades to undo the damage and I am still not a finished product. The truth is that we have no idea what anyone’s personal history is, what horrific experiences or sheltered lifestyles have shaped their views. It is impossible to know this unless they fully disclose personal information that they may feel leaves them vulnerable to ridicule and persecution themselves.

This blog is where I often articulate publicly the struggles I am having privately, in my own head, striving to be a more understanding, humble, and loving human being. Others choose to do that through social media where they make posts, or comment on the posts of others. Increasingly this is asking for abuse rather than clarification, understanding and patience. Boom! You are an instant a$$hole if you use the wrong words or admit your current frustrations or misunderstandings. Zero leeway, no empathy, nothing positive.

God forbid that you defend the wrong person, too. You are then a bigot for defending a bigot, guilt by association. Whatever happened to assuming the best about people, or at least having an open mind? Your experience with a person may be drastically different than mine. I am likely to keep both of you as friends until it is demonstrated by repeated behavior that you are not worthy of my emotional and intellectual investment. I can decide for myself who to keep in my circle, and I reserve the right to recall people I have kicked out, if they agree I am worth having back in theirs.

Perhaps that is our common ground, then, that we are all flawed; and all too eager to turn others into villains to advance our cause, make ourselves feel better, morally superior, and justified in our values and beliefs. That is a terrible way to receive validation, at someone else’s expense. We can do better. We can start by admitting we are incomplete, utter amateurs in the interpretation of the experiences of others. We can listen more, not reserve judgment but abandon it completely for tolerance, if not acceptance.

Can we hate bigotry without categorizing any one individual based on one conversation or comment thread? The scientific method demands reproducible results. We might apply that to our relationships. One bad event? Maybe the benefit of the doubt is in order. Repeated instances that reflect bad character? Now you have cause to re-evaluate the relationship. Each of us has a different threshold, and a single violent action should immediately end further interaction, but there is a fine line between cautious optimism and giving up on someone as a lost cause.