Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Just a Kansas Mutt

I am just a Kansas mutt.  I mean really, I claim an "Irish" heritage, but back in whatever grade that is that they have you trace your family lineage- I am just a mutt of a bunch of European areas.

It wasn't until I was much older and started filling out demographic forms on a regular basis that I realized how slanted and biased those forms were.  There were boxes for many specific nationalities, sub sets of our American fabric; but for me- Caucasian. How generic. Once this realization hit, I was really torn with a desire to always mark "Other" and write "mutt" or "American Mutt" out to the side.
 I have absolutely no frame of reference for understanding cities where having darker skin can be (and all to often is) dangerous. None. ABSOLUTELY NONE.  In Kansas, life has been for the most part blessed for me. There have been trials and tribulations, but the closest thing I ever experienced to discrimination was "Oh, you live on that side of town."  To be honest, when that was said to me, I didn't have any clue that was a bad thing and totally missed the put down it was intended to be.  I am an avid reader both of fiction and non fiction material.  I have lost myself in the stories of people who looked like me, and people who were profoundly opposite of me.  However, I can never truly understand what it is like to fear the people who are supposed to protect you, to fear walking down the streets of your own neighborhood.  I have never lived that life or walked in those shoes.  I can not speak to that fear, nor can I pass judgement on its legitimacy.

I can however, admit it to myself and those around me that it is okay to not know first hand, but it is ignorant to pretend that it does not exist.  There are LOTS of really great officers of the law out there that work hard to protect everyone.  There are lots of people who are living in a world of misguided fear right now because of the way information is being disseminated and given to the masses.

Here is the cold hard truth from this Kansas mutt's eyes- there are bad people in every race, every religion, in every profession, in every demographic we use to group and measure people.  That is the cold hard reality of life.  However, on the flip side there are also a LOT of really great, wonderful people full of hope, love, kindness, caring, joy, support and comfort.  At some point we have to chose to focus on those people- the majority of people.  We have to stop blaming the small portions of people who make bad decisions, who chose hate and violence.  Each of those individuals never represent ALL of anything.  

Change the rhetoric- change the words!  Words have a power we underestimate, and right now we are letting those words turn us against each other. The words that are doctored for sensationalized headlines and 40 character tweets are turning us into a people who no longer question and challenge the information that is put before us.  Instead of demonizing the people who are trying to bring focus, attention, and change the conversation- shouldn't we be asking why they feel they need to in the first place.  Maybe we should stop and ask ourselves- are we missing something?  I think we just might be.

But what do I know, I am just a Kansas Mutt.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

365 Days of Birthday Shout Outs!

365 Days of Birthday Shout Outs!

"Today's Birthday shout out goes to a girl who set out to put the personal into Facebook, who for 365 days checked to see whose birthday it was and remember something special about each one, me! Here is to another year of being the change you want to see!"

You may have seen my posts this past year and been curious about the sudden motivation behind them.  To be honest, in the last year, the birthday shout outs have been the vast majority of the posts I have made to Facebook.  It has truly been an interesting year and for those wondering I thought I would illuminate the purpose and motivation for this challenge that I took on.

First: I am always humbled and amazed at all the posts of birthday wishes I receive on Facebook.  As I looked through the posts on my birthday I found myself thinking about memories associated with each person but yet how removed we can be from each other on Facebook.  I teach interpersonal communications class and part of what I teach is the loose definition of the word "friend" as it specifically is used by Facebook.  It can be a bit misleading as some of the people we have in our "Friends List" are more acquaintances.  These two things lead me to want to put a bit more "personal" into my Facebook connections as the people in my list were at some point a part of my life and those memories mattered to me.

Second: I am also really bad at remembering birthday's in general.  I am usually aware that it is coming up, or even know when the day is; but, I seemed to get sidetracked and end up forgetting to call, message, post, or mail a card.  Additionally, equality is a big deal to me. I don't like to slight people or leave people out.  So I find it hard to post to one if I don't post to all.  

So this lead me to the following guidelines:
  1. I would post a shout out on my wall for every birthday notification that Facebook gave me.  If there was someone who did not share the birthday info on Facebook, but I knew it was their birthday I would add them in the comments.
  2. Every post had to have a personal element. A reference to the memories and times we shared, or a particular aspect about them that I remembered.

This seemed fair to me and met the goal of trying to put the personal touch back into my Facebook connections.  So on April 1, 2015 I started the challenge.  Wow- I don't think I fully realized what I was getting into.

The first few posts were pretty bland and not well thought out (Sorry April Birthday people). However, as each day passed I got into a rhythm and routine about when I would post and how the post was sort of put together.   It began to get a little easier and was going pretty well.  Then I started to realize- I have a lot of friends on Facebook.  Holy cow! I was posting a birthday shout out almost every day and often there were several people on each day.  It got a little hard to keep coming up with unique hopes and wishes for each of these birthdays, but the personal element- that was always the fun part that kept me going.  See, that was where the unexpected bonus was.

The last year has been rough, and filled with a lot of negativity. Campaigns, bombings, disasters, political drama, and losing people who meant something to me.  Every year has it ups and downs, that is a normal part of life.  In the midst of those moments, I had this crazy birthday challenge I had put myself up to- and it was the bright spot in my days.  Every time I went to see the notifications list, I had to stop and think about where each of these unique souls fit in my life. How do I know them? What was our time together like? What makes them great, unique, wonderful people?  Each time, memories of laughter, smiles, adventures, school, activities, trips came flooding back to me.  It would lift my soul and remind me of all the good in my life and in this world.  

I really hoped that each post meant something to the person I was sending wishes to, but in the process I found it meant so much to me as well.  This past year was my 40th year of life, and in that time I have made a lot of memories with a lot of really wonderful people over the years.  When I started this almost a year ago, that reality of 40 years on earth had not yet quite set in, but life has a way of pushing you to do the things you don't yet fully understand.  It really has been a wonderful year of remembering the life that has been lived and hoping for the life yet to come.

The hard reality that is beginning to set in is that I can not keep this up.  As much as I would love to and as wonderful as it has been, it is hard to come up with the right words (and there were several times this year where the words were not so great).  I am also going to try to back off of Facebook for the next year- removing the phone app so it is not so "easy" to access when I am bored or need distraction.  This next year I am hoping to focus on what is here, what is now, and what is meaningful in my life.  

In other words, please don't be sad when new "Birthday Shout Outs" no longer appear on your timeline.  I am still going to be thinking of each of you on your special days- because I am very happy that you are a part of this world and that you were at some point a part of my life! However, I am only human and I must admit to some limitations; so next year I must scale back and adapt to what is more manageable!  Love and hugs to all and thanks for 365 days of memories from 4 decades of life!