A Folding Chair: Chains, Peace, Leaves:

Please receive my sincerest apology and regret for being late with the blog! It is an essential neglect issue and certainly a value and intention of mine to be reliable and consistent. I am so sorry I failed at that this week!

It is Black History Month here in the US, and I have been pondering about how to address it in at least one blog before the month is out. Now as the weeks tick away I still have yet to come up with a topic that might be interesting, relevant and fresh. All my life I have been haunted, plagued and compelled by the seamless interplay between micro and macro where trauma and neglect are concerned. Having two terribly traumatized parents, who were deeply injured by both, it is in my bones, as is some sort of mandate to act. I have always and continue to struggle about where to direct my energy and time which is never enough. And admittedly getting older does not much help. Oy vey, but I don’t stop trying even as the world seems to be getting more complicated and in some ways worse. As the Chileans say, “El mundo es al reves…” The world is spinning backwards.  

Admittedly I am humbled and somewhat bewildered by my impoverished knowledge of Black history, and how badly neglected such a huge and blighted narrative could be, by my public school education. I have to hope things have improved, but sometimes I am not so sure. Much of my growing up took place where Silicon Valley has sprawled, although it certainly was very different then, with peach and persimmon orchards on hills that are now crowded with corporate skyscrapers. It was a great bicycling country. The gap between haves and have-nots was not as wildly extreme and glaring as it is today. Meanwhile, I attempt to scramble and catch up with my missing education, at this advanced age (I might recommend a spectacular new book by a local author, George McAlman: Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen). And I have been reading the biography of basketball legend Magic Johnson, who is only a few years younger than I am, so his is painfully recent history. He was a brave ambassador of integration in his teens; and a remarkable human being endowed with brilliance and charisma of many kinds.

And I do remember a little from my own life experience. My mother who was always a champion of the “underdog” loved Harry Belafonte, and taught us little bits and pieces of history that she knew, feeling her identification with a rejected race. And I remember from when I was three and our dad had his first student cantor position at a little congregation in Manhattan, he “went to bat” for Muncie the Black custodian, who was grossly underpaid. I remember our mom being proud that he “stuck his neck out” for Muncie that way. I did not really understand what those expressions meant, but somehow, I knew it was a good thing. And I knew that Muncie was a good guy.

Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, it seemed as if the imperative of institutional change was actually materializing at least in some ways. We saw the emergence of a new field of “DEI,” diversity, equity and inclusion, teams in many business workplaces. It seemed to even be a new specialization emerging in business schools. Having been in private practice for almost 40 years (a certified child of neglect!) It has been that long since I have had bosses and co-workers. And I have never had employees. So of course, I am clueless about workplace dynamics, at least first hand. But I heard plenty from clients both about race and DEI in the workplace. Yesterday’s paper reported that DEI programs are being cut back and even phased out in many places, or scaled way down. And there has been plenty of noise wobbling in recent years, about affirmative action in both workplaces and school admissions. How are we to correct our course? To break the chains of intergenerational trauma and neglect, and shackles of all kinds? Microaggressions are perhaps not so micro!

Peace


I learned from Ta-Nehisi Coates that race itself is a racist construct. Why should differentness be such an issue that we must create such, categories, such distinctions, and hierarchies? Why would it not be like flavors and colors, a palette of richness? I think of the worlds of art, or cheese! Among cheeses, some are hard, some mushy, some stink others odorless, some are ready immediately, and others require months or years of ageing. We may have, our personal favorites, or even no interest at all. But attributions of superiority, of power or intrinsic value, or morality?  What is that? I constantly wondered as much beginning at an early age, what made me so worthless? How could I compensate or measure up, or do or be enough? Why did others seems of much “better?” As a couple’s therapist, I hear it daily., So much of the mire of daily life layered over attachment trauma and all the other kinds too, are questions and contests of differentness.

I heard an interview the other day (NPR Hidden Brain), with a psychologist named Peter Coleman who runs a program in New York, the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, and also teaches at Columbia University. He was talking about seemingly intractable differences, both his own and also research experiences; and around finding the way. What he discovered was not really surprising, but certainly interesting and worthy of exploration and practice. He found that understanding why whatever the point of view, is so hugely important to the other, truly understanding that, can be the game changer. Certainly not necessarily quickly, but completing that process.

Admittedly I have historically been perhaps stubborn and sometimes averse to the question “Why?” I remember my therapist saying to me “Why is a 19th Century question?” And I probably associated it with orthodoxy or defensiveness. My husband being a scientist would readily ask why and I would hear it as somehow critical, or a demand to “justify” my feeling or point of view which of course infuriated me. I have certainly loosened in my views and understand that explanations, certainly scientific or developmental ones, have their place and can actually be illuminating and even calming. But this idea, that true comprehension, empathic curiosity, patience and attention, and time, can make a great deal of difference in what may seem irreconcilable. It seems at the very least a worthy experiment.

Leaves


I have found hope and inspiration in the notion of turning over a new leaf. Perhaps the Year of the Dragon brings that to mind. In Chinese culture, the dragon is a symbol of supernatural power, wisdom, strength, and hidden knowledge. Perhaps ushering in this year may bring more of that. I hope so. As I slowly learn to grow my orchid plants, a new passion of mine, I am readily heartened and surprised when I see new leaves and even buds appear on plants I have almost lost hope for. A good reminder.

A hero in Black history, and certainly in my book, was Shirley Chisholm. She was the first Black woman to be elected to the US Congress in 1968 and served for seven terms until 1983. She even had the guts to be the first woman, let alone a Black woman, to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. What a role model! Chisholm was known for saying “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. We must reject not only the stereotypes that others have of us but also those that we have of ourselves.” Words to live by. 

Today’s Song:

“Sociostasis”: Words, Husbands, Attachment

I do love words. I asked my husband, does everyone read books with a massive dictionary at their elbow like I do? I am fairly literate, but I don’t want an interesting new one to get by me.  He usually knows them all, so he doesn’t need to, but he

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Tailwinds: Attachment, Winds, In Loving Memory

What do Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams, Jackie Robinson, Robert McFerrin Sr., Raven Wilkinson, and Misty Copeland have in common? No this is not a joke or a trick question. All are objects of great admiration of mine, not only because of their brilliance, but because all

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On Service: Altruism, Neglect,  Love

I happened to catch an interview the other day with US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. I had heard him before but I was in the car, and there was nothing else on right then. He wrote a book not long ago about the “epidemic of loneliness” in this country, and

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