Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dear Republicans, an opportunity for patriotism, pragmatism, or opportunism.

Dear Republicans, Patriotism, pragmatism or opportunism?
(I may be dreaming, but could the president be the catalyst to bring the parties together?)

Those who “understand” politics will tell you that it is a matter of compromise. Parties must adjust, give up on absolutes and accommodate to the circumstances. This is realistic, but a worrisome situation when we see that politicians are willing to compromise their integrity. Skill at rationalizing comes in handy in this process.
Those less skilled at rationalization, some loyal members of the Republican party, now seem to be trapped in an uncomfortable place, presenting both moral and practical dilemmas. It’s not an uncommon occurrence, having to deal with a very “difficult boss.” For their own safety or ambition, they must. Others are in the middle of a slow walk back to integrity.
 Those who spoke out early no doubt harbor a fear that he will retaliate. Mr. Trump is famous for his capacity to get back at those who have crossed him. Some Republicans had a moment of principle, when the tape of him bragging about grabbing women in the genitals came out. They spoke out, and now have to deal with the foreboding and cloud of what might be the consequences for this “lapse.”
Even those who didn’t speak out, now deal with the growing number of situations that make them wonder how long they can be silent, how long they can convince themselves that their silence will help them achieve the goals that fit with their politics. Goals that they hope will be facilitated by Mr. Trump’s position.
Some are willing to hold on until the bitter end, trusting the ends justify the means. But there are a few who are coming to recognize that such times create the opportunity for patriotism, even heroism
Some are so committed to the country and to their own personal integrity that they will oppose what is going on.  Moreover, there are members of the Republican party with such solid positions that they may not be vulnerable. They have less to lose in their opposition regarding the administration. There may even be some willing to risk their wonderful committee appointments or even their reelection to do what is right. Such leaders may give courage to others.
Others are astute at sniffing the air – they know the direction things are going and opportunism is their motivation. They have seen things in their constituents that have made it clear that they cannot just go along with situation in the White House.
         A third group is just practical. They’re the ones saying,
“What?” What’s being proposed from the White House just does not make sense. They look at the prioritizing of the funds that hard working citizens must give up to them. They see themselves as responsible to carry out duty as honest, practical fiduciaries. They want to make careful, thoughtful decisions about the resource they control? 
So whether from heroism, opportunism or pragmatism, there are those in the Rebulican party who have an opportunity to step up and to do what is right
During my graduate research I studied the development of moral reasoning, analyzed my data in the morning and watched the Watergate hearings in the afternoon.
I feel a bit of Deja vu—I watched the testimony of people at the lowest levels of moral reasoning, controlled by self-interest, authority or affinity to a group like them. It was rare but exhilarating to see the few who functioned at the true level of principle. There are signs of it now in the Grand Old Party.
When this heroism, pragmatism or even opportunism emerges, our job is not to gloat, not to say, “It’s about time,” or “I told you so.” Whichever reason is the foundation of their behavior, it will take a measure of courage. We must not celebrate, for some this step forward carries with it significant loss. Loss of position or loss of faith in the party they were devoted to. Some quiet respect and and some admiration is perhaps the best reaction for those of us who see the dilemma that they have had to struggle through -- to reject the crazy, hateful and inept leadership. Perhaps they will even be the new leaders that can find the nirvana of common ground with the other party.
Ironically, this president may actually be the catalyst for what many thought impossible. The common “enemy”, so obsessed with self and with so little concern for the country, may bring the sides together to find shared goals and realize they must work together for the good of our country.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

GOP = Administration?

This piece is maybe even more relevant than when published in the Chicago Tribune  five years ago. Some judge all Muslims by the actions of terrorists and some judge all Republicans by the actions of the current administration. Time will tell.

Not my father's Grand Old Party 
By Susan DeMersseman
May 27, 2012

I miss the GOP, the Grand Old Party. I grew up in a Republican household in a Republican state. My dad was an adviser to the governor; my brother was a Republican state legislator. When I was little I wore an "I Like Ike" button. I'm registered in the Democratic Party now, but I miss the GOP, the grandness of the GOP. I am sometimes embarrassed for my family and friends who are Republicans in the old way, the thoughtful, principled way — the grand way. They were people who paid attention in history class, in science class and to the well-being of their neighbors.
It sometimes seems as if the party has been hijacked by groups of narrow-interest voters or ones so angry they would sacrifice their countrymen to beat an opponent. The natural and healthy differences within the party seem to be forbidden.
Some leaders in the party behave as if their job as legislators is to make sure that the rich stay rich or get richer. I know many people of exceptional wealth and very few have backed politicians to make sure that they are protected from paying their fair share. Many appreciate the system that has allowed them to maintain or gain their wealth and they realize (those with enlightened self-interest) that a society in which all have opportunity benefits them as well. They see it as a bubble-up rather than a trickle-down economy.
Some political leaders and commentators like to call it "class warfare" when those on the lower rungs want a better chance, but I do not see most at the top wanting to engage in that mythic battle. For a small group financial domination has become a sort of sport, but in the corporations and government there are thoughtful people who want all to do better. I want them to step up and to speak up.
I miss the days when I could watch a debate based upon thoughtful differences, rather than one in which debaters are simply trying to score points or pander. The Democrats are by no means perfect. I believe even their discourse could be elevated if the worthy opposition were indeed worthy. Currently, the extreme behavior of some in the GOP makes the Democrats look more dignified and sensible. But I would sacrifice that for sensible dialogue.
I once wrote about how politics has morphed into a sport where we cheer for our team and celebrate the fouls and missteps of the other. Now, I think the sport has descended into mud wrestling. I miss the grand part of the GOP. If there is a silent majority, I hope it is those who will soon step up, speak up and take it back.
When my brother gave into the cajoling of his children and opened a Facebook page, he described himself as a "Big Tent Republican" and the "me too" responses poured in. Those thoughtful, generous, dignified members of the GOP still exist in my family and I believe in other families too. Our country will be better when their voices are heard again.
Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist who lives in Oakland, Calif. She grew up in South Dakota.
Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune
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Monday, January 9, 2017


Outrage Fatigue? Then Join the “Persistence.”
People who work in the helping professions often experience a state described as “compassion fatigue” or burnout. They deal with so much that their capacity to feel can become dulled. The current situation following the campaign and election of Donald Trump has brought about a similar experience for many. That is “outrage fatigue”, the result of the almost daily news that is beyond belief, outrageous in words and actions. Since there seems to be no end in sight, how do we process this?  Can we sustain this level of upset without harm to our health?
I see some people so worn out, that to protect their mental health they have started to view the craziness and cruelty as the norm. Out of self defense, they are no longer outraged. Others have quit paying attention entirely, putting their energy elsewhere. Some have settled into the Kubler Ross stage of acceptance in the grief process. I have come to a stage of acceptance too, but it’s not the acceptance of this political situation; it’s an acceptance of the new role that I and others must now play as citizens of this wonderful country.
Psychological research indicates that those who are active in the face of a tragedy do better mentally in the long run. I and others are developing active strategies to respond to each new outrage that comes from the president-elect, his people and family. My menu of coping strategies includes a list of organizations that I send small donations to and a group of friends to call and rant with for a moment. But we don’t get stuck in a mutual hand wringing. Instead, after a little venting, we talk about what we are doing in response. And for comic relief, old episodes of SNL to watch again.
            Among my friends are ones with a specific cause or concern. Many are promoting more climate awareness and action. Some support initiatives in science and education. Others, civil rights organizations and issues. A few will work to protect Social Security, health care and other threads in the safety net. People are joining groups and starting groups. 
 I write letters to law makers on both sides. I wrote one to a Republican who has shown some evidence of a moral compass, concern for the country above party (I believe more will surface). I write to journalists and thank them for their work. I exchange emails with friends, sharing links on projects and organizations.
My small donations don’t amount to a lot. But each one soothes my spirit and keeps me from falling into a sense of powerlessness. Feeling powerless breeds lethargy -- why bother if you can’t do anything? Well, we can! It might be baby steps but there are millions of us taking those steps. We must not just be the “resistance”, but must be the PERSISTENCE—persevering toward specific positive goals. Among these are supporting journalists who find and tell the truth, schools that make our children smarter and kinder, institutions that create a more level playing field --where a true meritocracy exists.
Our power is in the truth and the faith that it will eventually prevail. Our power is in the kindness and compassion we will show to those who believed in Mr. Trump and eventually find themselves to have just been the most recent victims in his compulsion to self aggrandizement. Our power is in our restraint, when we want to say, “I told you so”, knowing that this phrase can often make people cling to a flawed path. We have to be careful not to fall into the efforts of some to emphasize the division. Ours is already the bigger tent and we can make room for more.
We also need to be mindful of how this situation and our reaction to it impacts our children. We have to modulate our own fears to protect them. While we might hold very strong views about Mr. Trump and his plans, it’s important that we provide some child-friendly reasons for why we hold these beliefs -- his disrespect for women, his tendency to lie, his arrogance, and his bullying behavior.  Equally important is having children see us do positive things to cope with and improve the situation.
I’m deeply troubled by the circumstance that brought us to this point, but I am heartened by the many actions that I see being taken. There are reports of a significant increase in newspaper subscriptions and growing numbers of people involved in individual and group efforts. There is a ground swell, a bubbling up of energy.
 The sleeping giant is awake. We may be a little stiff from our long nap of trust and comfort, but we are moving and speaking out. Since there are more of us, our voices together will drown out the ignorant prejudice voices, not with angry shouts, but with a hopeful chorus.
I’m angry, but I’m excited by the energy I see around me. At one recent holiday party we concluded that many of the young people are so busy working to afford their rent that they can’t lead the “persistence”; it’s up to us, retired and semi-retired, to take up the cause. Even if our knees don’t make marching the preferred action, we have other methods.
The path ahead, given the mercurial personality in charge, is unpredictable, but we are not. We know that we have to focus and not get distracted by the “shiny object” that is frequently dangled to distract us from real issues. Soon the press and everyone else will be wise to that, and when he starts tweeting about locking up flag burners or about the nonexistent war on Christmas -- we will all respond, “Oh, shiny object again, now what is the real issue we are being pulled away from?" We will be smart, kind and united. Through many paths, we will move in a direction that considers the well-being of all – including the ones that once believed him.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Where to get the book.

Responding to questions about the book. It's appropriate for parents of children from 5 and up. It's only in a few book stores in the Bay Area, but it's available on Amazon. Some are giving it for a holiday gift. Thank you.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The day after the day after election day

From Anger and Angst to ACTION

I know that I have a lot of company in current extreme emotions -- sadness, shock, disbelief, disgust, anxiety.  The stages of grief described by Kubler Ross are present at different levels all around us.  But fortunately, embedded in these emotions, is the question, “What do we do now?”
I’m a big believer in personal action to improve things - help a neighbor, tutor a child, be polite in traffic, etc. But lately I’ve been looking for a more formal, organized way to deal with these emotions. I don’t want to neutralize them; I want to “actionize” them.
To this goal I’ve been gathering information from the media, the web, from friends and from overheard conversations at the gym. What are we going to DO? The time for the stage of hand wringing is over.
 While I continue to believe in and practice personal behaviors to improve things, it also feels as if it is time to become part of an organization.
My list grows by the day: the ACLU, Amnesty International,, Common Cause, the Democratic Party, and Sierra Club are a few. Even making the list has been encouraging. To see so many ways that people are trying to address the current “situation” and make things better.
         I’m at the research stage, but am getting close to finding the right place to focus my energy and skills. I don’t have a lot of money to donate, but my experience as a writer and psychologist are valuable. This is leading me to Tom Steyer’s organization. Its main issues are climate and kids. I like to concentrate on actions that will yield the most bang for the buck, and it’s also good to deal where there are plenty of bucks. Steyer’s organization seems, for me, to be a good place.
Long range, the emphasis of Steyer’s organization on education could bring about a populace more employable and, equally important, intelligent enough to sort through some of the flurry of information and misinformation that is dumped upon them. In the current election this is a skill that could have come in handy.
This brings up another action we can take. Even though journalism is not a group or organization we can join, we can support it through subscriptions, letters and viewing habits. Yes, much reporting on the recent election became a kind of click bait, but we also saw some signs of real journalism. There were good follow-up questions, unrelenting efforts to get an answer, and journalists able to not be distracted by the “Shiny Object.” Some were even taking risks to their own safety to seek and tell the truth.  They are my heroes, (along with classroom teachers and parents.)
Many otherwise sedentary people are trying to figure out what action to take before the energy wains and “settling” takes over again. This time and this situation might have brought a lot of us awake. So in that respect, maybe it could be a good thing. Many artists describe the experience of working on a piece where there was an obstacle or a mistake. As they address and work around that mistake they create an even better work of art. I’m trying to see this situation in that way. How can the mobilization of this sleeping giant of good intentions awakened into action create a more beautiful outcome?
Some will be satisfied with rallies and marches and the benefit is to let the opposition know that we are here, but those expressions are at their best if they mobilize us to action and let the other side know that we are here to DO something. If the anger is energizing us, then stay angry - but let it help us also stay focused, active and hopeful.
The advice around safety is, “If you see something, say something.” Another piece of advice around our safety might be, “If you feel something, do something.”

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