“Extreme Pressure to Succeed or Outdo everyone else”

Ginia Bellafante in today’s New York Times reports: “A few months ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation produced a report on adolescent wellness that listed the “extreme pressure to succeed or outdo everyone else” prevalent in places where the fortunate congregate – the kind of pressure it said that can lead to overwhelming stress and alcohol addiction – as one of the six greatest threats to healthy adolescent development alongside poverty, homophobia and racism.”

My father’s experience bears this out, as I mention in my message below to the two senators from Texas.  The point of my message is to state that Brett Kavanaugh is temperamentally unfit to serve in a lifetime appointment as  Supreme Court Judge.

Email to: Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz

From constituent Mary (Molly) H. Sharpe

Re:  Brett Kavanaugh

The lifetime appointment of a supreme court justice by its nature must require focus on the person being considered.  Brett Kavanaugh proved himself temperamentally unfit with his attacking, partisan testimony at the hearing held September 27th.  No matter that he was under great pressure; the role he is striving for requires personal greatness. For those of us who do not believe his testimony, his lack of proper temperament is one part of the big problem; his willingness to lie under oath in the name of ambition to judge others is another; and the act itself, as was reported to have occurred, is yet another part.

Then there is the sorrow, if it should come to that, of all the men and some women who will potentially vote to affirm his nomination to show that they are still right in their stand.  This is the human condition, for we are all flawed and many, if not most, can get swept into “group think” and complicity.  Still as people, we can be better than this.  Of all the years I have lived, this is the most vivid tipping point I’ve experienced.  May we move out from the shadow and do the right thing by turning back Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.

As an important piece of personal testimony, my story includes a father Charles Francis Hawkins who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law where he served on the Law Review.  He was an alcoholic already at the time of my birth which occurred while he was in law school. He managed to acquire top grades and establish a family even as he was drinking heavily — a life course that resulted in death by pancreatic cancer at age 57. Thankfully, he had approaching a decade of sobriety at the end of his life.  I don’t know how much Brett Kavanaugh drinks, but I do know that people who drink heavily and who have occasional blackouts (which they are not necessarily going to remember) can make top grades and undertake impressive extra-curricular activities.

I am a political moderate who in the past has supported both Republican and Democratic candidates for office, balancing issues of platform, personal effectiveness, and track record for integrity. Sometimes in the past, I have been casual about my responsibilities as a citizen, but that has all changed in recent years; it is one of the most serious aspects of my life, and not because I’m mad, but because I’m worried.

Many of us move onward today, holding a candle for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery:  may her incredible bravery and composure inspire us to raise our own levels of kindness, purpose and hope.

I am the author of a political engagement tool, The Postcard Storm, Ten Outcomes We Should All Want. I have not written this with the expectation of turning a profit (several handfuls of the book sold to date). I self-published it to give away to those who might find it useful, including faith organizations. Kindly a woman who is affiliated with Friends for Civil Action, a group I lead, offered me this review of the work: “Wisdom and politics seldom go hand in hand but in this engaging book Molly Sharpe succeeds. Amiably convincing readers that democracy can’t work unless we inform ourselves and engage in civic action, with her account of the women engaged in a post card storm in Texas, Sharpe provides an interesting example. Just as important, though opposed to the Trump administration, Sharpe is even-minded, also opposes the current tribalism that is causing so much damage to our country. I found this very helpful because, as heated as the conflict is now, in the back of our minds both sides know—hopefully sooner rather than later—that Democrats and what is left of the Republican party, have to work together if our country is to survive.”

Because I believe multiple perspectives are critical to problem solving and because I believe civility helps us hear each other, I’m taking time in my life to communicate with public servants in elected office and encouraging others to do the same. The group I communicate with, about three hundred people, operates like a raindrop, connecting with other raindrops.

In our government, as we saw in concluding moments of the hearing, religion and faith are used as shields and weapons, perhaps even more than as sources of kindness and hope.  I conclude my letter with this point, because questions of religion and spirituality are at the heart of how I try to live. I happened into being an Episcopalian. My parents were, and my husband is.  It has been through this tradition that I have done my exploration of what we can’t see and what we can’t know.  I believe there are many good paths to a kind, purposeful, and hopeful life, but, as my particular religious training teaches through the experience of the Passion Play each Palm Sunday when the congregation is called upon to say “crucify him” (Jesus, that is), we people have a history of falling into terrifying crowd behavior.  You who live in the political realm where power, ambition, and scapegoating are even more prevalent than most us experience have an extra challenge keeping perspective.  I believe, we the people, are called to do the job of helping you in keeping perspective.  A good public servant is a treasure.  We need such people.  We the people need to make that possibility more within reach.

I believe Christine Blasey Ford.  Momentarily, I was thrown off as I heard the vehemence of Brett Kavanaugh’s opening remarks.  Then I remembered to observe behavior and motive and circumstances.  I believe that Judge Kavanaugh’s pain today originates with problems of his own making, mirrored by the problems we all bring to the table.

Using the tool of my religious training, in closing, I’m hoping that all of us, in our various roles, hear the call in the words of Micah 6:8, to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly.

Sincerely

 

Mary (Molly) H. Sharpe

 

As we move onward today, many of us will be holding a candle for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery: may her incredible bravery and composure inspire us to raise our own levels of kindness, purpose and hope.

The lifetime appointment of a supreme court justice by its nature must focus on the person being considered.  Brett Kavanaugh proved himself temperamentally unfit with his attacking, partisan testimony at yesterday’s hearing.  No matter that he was under great pressure; the role he is striving for requires personal greatness. For those of us who do not believe his testimony, his lack of proper temperament is a small part of the problem; his willingness to lie under oath in the name of ambition to judge others  is a horror.  Worse than that are all the men and some women who will potentially vote to affirm his nomination.  As people, we can be better than this.  Of all the years I have lived, never has there been such a shadow on our land that I have witnessed.  May we move out from the shadow and do the right thing by turning back Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Hospitality

Many religions and many sets of ethical behavior hold up the value of being welcoming to the stranger.  For those who pursue kindness in life, turning back immigrants without regard for their human dignity and needs is at odds with this pursuit. To ignore the tensions immigration places on a government overlooks realities, but as people we are called to deal with those tensions in a humane manner.  To boil down immigration policy to a this or that choice between people who are qualified for high-skill jobs versus service jobs or to people who are from one area of the world versus another or to a restriction built around keeping out extended family overlooks who we are as people.  We need help from people up and down the skill ladder.  We all do better when we are in community with people we love and who love us.  Yet, we need diversity, too, not just known people of our particular “tribe,” so that we are learning to open our minds and hearts to new expressions of experience. Public safety is one matter: it involves vetting and security measures, so that dangerous criminals aren’t invited in, putting their new neighbors at risk.  Immigration standards and invitations to live here or stay here for those who already are living here successfully are another matter.  I continue to hope for a United States that welcomes people from around the world. We will be a better place for it.

Respect people by backing up words with policy

George W. Bush said in his eulogy of John McCain, “He was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings.  He loved freedom, with the passion of a man who knew its absence. He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators.  Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.”  These are fine words, and now, what we need are fine policies.    In his final statement to the nation delivered posthumously through family spokesman Rick Davis, John McCain had written, “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”  David Leonardt concluded in his Op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, “the congressional Republicans inside the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday would surely say they came to honor John McCain. But they were there for show. Faced with a choice, they have rejected McCain’s America for Trump’s.”  Whether one prefers on political party’s strategies over another, there are common outcomes we should all want, outcomes that aren’t achieved by simple either/or approaches.  Taking the border wall as an example, early on in its debut as a campaign platform piece for Donald Trump, experts with knowledge of security and logistics pointed to concerns about the efficiency of a solid wall strategy, even before getting to the bad symbolic messaging that comes from trying to wall ourselves off from others.  Yes, people in both parties, regardless of their stances on immigration, want safety that comes from barring as we can cartel action from spreading across the border and from barring other proven violence that puts people at risk.   Yet misspending our economic resources on an extended wall when we could be improving our overall vetting and processing system as well as investing in up-to-date surveillance technology creates not only waste, but also lost opportunity to improve all people’s safety, while respecting all people’s human dignity.

Loopholes and “Merchants of Fake Change”

Today’s Thought:  Anand Giriharadas, author of  the forthcoming Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, has received recent coverage in The New Yorker and The New York Times.  Here is a quote from Giriharadas’ book which brings forward a nuance to remember when we think that philanthropy alone is an answer to a social problem:  “Fake change isn’t evil; it’s milquetoast.  It is change the powerful can tolerate. It’s the shoes or socks or tote bag you brought which promised to change the world.  It’s that one awesome charter school — not equally funded public schools for all.  It is Lean In Circles to empower women — not universal pre-school.  It is impact investing — not the closing of the carried-interest loophole.”   My belief about this quote from the opinion page of The New York Times on August 26th is that we need both strategic and compassionate private sector philanthropy, and we need holistic public policy that isn’t a reaction to what has already happened, but anticipation of what’s going to happen in the next five and ten years and beyond.  This is quite a battle, requiring that we the people speak up again and again.

Background about The Postcard Storm: People participating in The Postcard Storm with Friends for Civil Action have a variety of religious and secular viewpoints and political outlooks, but share a common desire for an inclusive, kind world.  As a political moderate, I personally am interested in political policies that focus on outcomes.  The Friends for Civil Action movement looks at ten outcomes we should all want: a habitable planet, good healthcare, quality public education, public safety, economic well-being, freedom, enrichment of experience, problem-solving capacity, hospitality, and kind behavior.  Because these outcomes are largely interdependent, reducing tactical options to either/or actions will rarely effectively address the complicated matters at hand; yet, that seems to be how options continually get framed.  The likelihood of the political arena beginning to function at a high enough level to meet all the facilitation needs government faces in these highly chaotic times seems slim to me.  A partial promise lies in speaking up for what we believe is right. Governing is complicated, and the voices of we, the people, are needed.

For people and groups interested in learning more about The Postcard Storm, ten outcomes we should all want, copies of a short book describing the collective actions of Friends for Civil Action is available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Onward we go in pursuit of kindness, purpose, and hope.  Molly Sharpe

Faithful Action

Today’s Thought: People participating in The Postcard Storm with Friends for Civil Action have a variety of religious and secular viewpoints and political outlooks, but share a common desire for an inclusive, kind world.  Today’s thought comes from a story in The New York Times headlined A Leader in the War on Poverty Opens a New Front:  Pollution.  In the article, a Baptist minister in North Carolina the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, is quoted as saying, “Jesus said love your neighbor. I don’t care how many times you tell me you love me, if you put coal ash in my water, you don’t love me.  Because if there was nothing wrong with the coal ash, then put it in the wealthy communities.”

Background about The Postcard Storm:  As a political moderate, I personally am interested in political policies that focus on outcomes.  The Friends for Civil Action movement looks at ten outcomes we should all want: a habitable planet, good healthcare, quality public education, public safety, economic well-being, freedom, enrichment of experience, problem-solving capacity, hospitality, and kind behavior.  Because these outcomes are largely interdependent, reducing tactical options to either/or actions will rarely effectively address the complicated matters at hand; yet, that seems to be how options continually get framed.  The likelihood of the political arena beginning to function at a high enough level to meet all the facilitation needs government faces in these highly chaotic times seems slim to me.  A partial promise lies in speaking up for what we believe is right. Governing is complicated, and the voices of we, the people, are needed.

For people and groups interested in learning more about The Postcard Storm, ten outcomes we should all want, copies of a short book describing the collective actions of Friends for Civil Action is available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Onward we go in pursuit of kindness, purpose, and hope.  Molly Sharpe

 

Let’s Ask the Right Questions

This past Sunday at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin during adult class, I heard J. Douglas Harrison, an ethicist and technology expert, talk about Artificial Intelligence.  He raised questions about the impact the coming switch-over to automated transportation will have on the economic future of many people:  over the next fifteen years people who drive for a living will lose their jobs. I thought for the first time about how the President is addressing the wrong question as he works to roll back emission standards.  Certainly, why he would do that or why Congress or a State Legislature would abdicate the facilitating role they should be undertaking with industry, scientific experts and economic experts is a question for our time, impacting all time on our planet.  Around us record wild fires rage.  However, in putting the focus on car emissions, we root ourselves in the past.  We’ve got new and bigger problems.  Going back to previous standards doesn’t help.  To arrive at useful answers, we have to begin with the right questions.  Then we need to get informed people, from many sectors, at the table to discuss and implement workable transitions.  If we just jerk from left to right political postures and back again, we aren’t problem solving or dilemma managing.

Remembering, these are not normal times…! Here’s what’s happening as the General Convention of the Episcopal Church comes to Austin. Some of you will know the Presiding Bishop as the preacher at the recent Royal Wedding.

The message below was sent today from Chuck Treadwell, rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church, to his congregation as the parish prepares on the occasion of Austin hosting the General Convention. Westboro Baptist Church is sadly known as a hate group that has staged demonstrations different places around the U.S.

As you all know, we have the great joy of hosting General Convention this week and next. We anticipate having a lot of visitors at St. David’s, particularly at our worship services on Sunday, July 8. We have recently learned that we are attracting some other visitors who take exception to who we are and what we do.

Westboro Baptist Church has invited people to protest at St. David’s on Sunday morning. Their website says they will be here from 8:30-9 a.m., but we don’t know for sure. In preparation for this, we are asking you to do a few things:

  1. Please avoid the surface lot. Please park in the parking garage. We will have attendants here to help you get in and out, and there are handicap spots on every floor.
  2. Please do not engage the protesters. They are professionals at this twisted work and are known for trying to illicit angry and violent responses and then suing people. So please simply ignore them.
  3. Come to church and bear witness to the God of love, in whom there is no darkness or hatred, and pray for a change of heart for those who spread hate in God’s name.

We will have extra security and two off-duty Sheriff’s Deputies on campus to make sure everyone plays well with others. I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday!

Peace,

The Cultural Vacuum

Author and co-founder of The International Congress of Youth Voices Dave Eggers writes in today’s New York Times of the present void of culture at the White House. He concludes his observations with these words: “with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles. It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others.  When we are without art, we are a diminished people–myopic, unlearned and cruel.”

We DO Care.

On June 22, the day she traveled to view a shelter for immigrant children in Texas, Melania Trump was photographed in a jacket that read in capital letters “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?”

Those of us who are bewildered or angered by the message on Mrs. Trump’s jacket have some options.

For those of us who try and live by a “love our neighbor” or golden rule guideline of “doing unto others as we would have them do to us,” this means channeling our concern and outrage in a constructive and civil manner.

We need to focus on building compassionate community.

Here’s how:

  1. Find out the facts and discern the implications those facts hold for the outcomes we seek.
  2. Speak out on behalf of those outcomes with our voices and our votes.

Here are worthy outcomes that should matter to us all:

  1. A habitable planet
  2. Health care access
  3. Quality education
  4. Public safety
  5. Economic well-being
  6. Freedom
  7. Enrichment of experience
  8. Problem-solving capacity
  9. Hospitality
  10. Kindness

Here are a few current amplifications about a few of the outcomes we should be seeking.

  1. Public safety: requires realistic laws that are humane, consistent administration of those laws, and practices that promote community caring, versus driving people into the shadows where bad things happen.
  2. Economic well-being: too many people can’t afford decent, much less desirable, shelter or other basics and most don’t have enough money for a $500 emergency.
  3. Freedom: when we have a President who regularly scapegoats an entire race, a religious practice, a political party, a nation, or a group within his own party that disagrees with him, our freedom is being threatened.

We need to speak out against wasting resources. Wasting energy on trying to bring back coal, failing to use the power of collaboration when working with world leaders, undermining the healthcare network to take aim at the other political party while ignoring the need to make accessible healthcare for all people a reality, failing to fund the education of our young, disregarding the plight of our aging poor, calling all regulation bad when facts prove that some regulation is vital to our future  — all  of these actions are harmful and expensive.

People in positions of influence have the opportunity to bring people into positive political action.  The Postcard Storm provides bipartisan guidelines for political action to people in  that seek healthy, caring community life.  If you would like for me to help with a plan for your group, let’s talk.