Smarter, kinder and living in 2017

Laughs are precious these days. I turn on the news or open my computer with a vague feeling of dread. It’s always nice to be surprised by a little humor instead, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorites from Facebook. Links to like are at the bottom of the post. Please do.

Along with my growing appreciation of anything that gives me a smile, I notice that I am also becoming bolder in expressing my opinions. This week I had my first letter to the editor published in our local newspaper. Encouraged by how easy that was, I just sent in my first ever Op-Ed piece, a guest editorial on North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill. In case you haven’t heard, you are watching NCAA championship games being played in South Carolina right now because North Carolina has a law that so blatantly discriminates against the LGBT community that even the NCAA will not hold games in our state.

These days I find myself compelled to share my true beliefs with friends, relatives and strangers once they confront me with theirs. I’ve never been one to argue politics, and I still won’t be the one to bring the subject up first. I like getting along with people. But I’m also finished pretending to be disinterested, uninformed or hard of hearing when others express opinions with which I don’t agree, or worse yet which I find abhorrent. I wish to treat people gently and to listen to them with respect, but allowing myself to thoroughly disagree has improved my state of mind almost as much as the humor.

Part of my growing politicization is that I have decided that I do not have to apologize for thinking the following:
1. Education is a wonderful thing. However you make your living, knowledge makes you a better person.
2. Open mindedness is a wonderful thing. What ever your religious beliefs, being hateful to any group does not please anyone’s God. I think every holy book on the planet is pretty clear about this.

This does not make me an elitist or a snowflake. Education makes us smarter. Open-mindedness makes us kinder.

Finally, the past few months have brought me back to reflecting on two of my favorite topics: time and change. I am astounded that a large group of Americans (larger than I thought) believed that they could live in the same town they grew up in and do just what their parents did and they were somehow guaranteed that would make them a good living. This is basically an assumption that society won’t change over time. Of course it will. Moving, learning new skills and adapting to a changing world are part of survival.

Furthermore, much of this same group seems to believe that someone promised them that their culture, ethnicity, religion or social beliefs would always reflect the majority view just because they once did. Demographics and societal norms change. It makes more sense to work to improve the world that it is, than to fight to make it the way is used to be.

Most people like their cell phones and enjoy their iPods. I suggest that they wake up to the fact that that those are not the only ways that 2017 is different from 1957 and consider embracing this new millennium. They might find that it has a lot to offer everyone.

(If you enjoyed the humor, please go to Facebook and visit and like Neil Degrasse Tyson Fans, Paid Liberal Troll, and Liberal Progressive Democrat.)

Have you ever broken a law?

I used to teach a class in ethics as part of a training program for my company. My co-instructor liked to start off with this question. Have you ever broken the law? Most people would shake their heads.

Didn’t borrow any of the down payment for your first house from you parents? Never tried recreational drugs? Underage drinking? Never saw any of it occur and failed to report it?

By this point much of the class was shrugging or looking sheepish.

guidelinesNever ran a stop sign? Crossed the street on a red light? Exaggerated the value of your clothing donations on your income return?  Never double parked or jaywalked or even drove a single mile over the speed limit? Ever?

She had their attention then, and we generally went on to have a pretty lively discussion about what it means to be a law-abiding citizen. I liked to talk about Jack Sparrow’s famous quote that his pirate code was really more of a “guideline.” The fact is, we all consider some laws to be guidelines, particularly when we believe that consequences of our breaking them will not hurt anyone. The perception of which laws this applies to changes over time

In this class we talked about bank robbery versus littering. When I was young my parents would never have considered robbing a bank, although they did habitually take towels from hotels, assuring me that it was included in the price of a room. I later learned otherwise. My parents certainly considered laws against throwing trash out of the car to be a suggestion, along with any requirement to wear a seat belt. Like I said, times change.

Laws change, too, as do penalties and enforcement. When society begins to deem that “this law is serious” the hope is that the increased scrutiny and greater fines are made public first, not used as gotcha fundraising, and that the changes are uniformly enforced among all income levels and ethnic groups. (I know. That’s the hope.)

insider-tradingMuch of the purpose of our particular class was to end up in a discussion about business ethics. My company worked with many different countries, all of which had laws against bribery, but many of which had cultures that considered those laws as guidelines. We also talked about insider trading, and how its acceptability has changed over time. I like the example from the 1980’s movie The Big Chill, when Kevin Kline tries to help his close friend William Hurt by tipping him off that a company is about to be acquired and its stock will shoot up. A friendly gesture? Or ten years in jail? You be the judge.

nutshell I’m remembering those lively discussions and wondering how my former co-workers back in the Houston area are feeling about illegal immigrants. It’s an emotional topic, today more than ever. Because z2 is partly about immigration, I did a fair amount of research on the subject as I wrote. My main source was a wonderful book called “Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell” by David Weissbrodt and Laura Danielson, which used humor and antidotes to help illustrate the changes in both law and perception over the decades.

My one grandfather was brought here at two years old and never knew the country of his birth. I’m pretty sure that all eight great-grandparents of mine arrived from Russia with no paperwork; some of them didn’t even know what country they were going to. Half of one family ended up here, half in Argentina. Oh well, at least they weren’t in Russia, where authorities were cracking down on them for having immigrated from Germany a century earlier.

taboojive2You see, at one time the world was a place where people fled danger, hoping and expecting that those elsewhere would allow them to start a new life if they just worked hard and didn’t make trouble. Paperwork was a guideline. As long as they didn’t hurt anyone, it was really okay.

We live in a different sort of world now, but not everybody has caught up. We have people who were brought here as children by well meaning parents who didn’t think they were doing something that awful. We have those who came here even recently believing that the worst a generous and kind country like ours would do to them would still be far better than what they were facing from tyrants where they were.

We have every right to make our borders completely non-porous today if we so choose. Cost versus benefit, compassion versus safety; these are debates worth having. But when it comes to how we treat those already here, it would serve us well to remember.

choicesThe text we used for our ethics class was a wonderful  book called How Good People Make Tough Choices by Rushworth Kidder. It talked about the main ethical dilemmas facing moral people. Loyalty versus truth. Short term thinking versus long term thinking. Individual rights versus social responsibility. And my personal favorite, mercy versus justice. Our most passionate discussions were about this last one, as we tried to get our participants to understand how often we as humans want mercy for ourselves, our loved ones, and those like us, and how stridently we demand justice for everyone else.

I’ve been thinking about that class a lot these past three weeks, and wondering if I could try just teaching it to passing strangers on street corners. Would anyone stop to listen?

Change is good?

Though I heartily oppose the idea of treating corporations as people under the law, I do have to admit that in someways a corporation can behave like a sentient life form. It can easily be selfish and self-serving, and has a much more difficult time being compassionate. Sounds sort of human, doesn’t it?

rulerBack when I spent more time immersed in the ways of the corporate world, I got a kick out of the various slogans that would come and go to serve the needs of the corporation.  “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter” wins as my least favorite of all time, but there is so much to say about that one that it needs to be the subject of whole ‘nother blog post.

changeOne of others I had the most argument with was about the very subject matter of z2. Change. A corporate reorganization was in the works, and the slogan “change is good” began to appear everywhere.

“No,” I said. “Change is different. Change, at least slow change, is inevitable.  But whether the change is good or not depends entirely on what the change is.” Most of my co-workers looked at me and shook their heads. They realized, perhaps well before I did, that I wasn’t as good a fit for middle management as I ought to have been.

So I will state my case again. You and I may have very different views on life, but surely we could agree that a new law mandating the death penalty for going more than two miles an hour over the speed limit would not be a change for the better. In that vein, I do not doubt that you can come up with twenty or so clear changes for the worse in less than a minute. If anyone sends me such a list, I will happily include the most outrageous in a second post on this subject.

Costa Rica 2parkingMeanwhile, here is a picture from last week on the left, where I was enjoying an amazing vacation. Here is a picture leaving work this week on the right. Ah, the parking garage after almost everyone else has gone home.

Is change good? Sometimes. Not this week. But the good news is that change keeps happening.

How things change: being thoroughly modern

Visit Caitlin Kelly

Visit Caitlin Kelly

I’m waist deep into research for the fourth novel in this collection, and am spending way too much time thinking about human trafficking and involuntary prostitution. It is a horrible subject to have take residence in your head. Then it occurs to me. Could there possibly be a worse subject for a Broadway musical? Except for the intentionally awful “Spring time for Hitler” of The Producers fame, I think not. And yet, a few years ago I saw such a musical on Broadway.

Let me back up. I was still a child when my sister and I were allowed to see the Julie Andrews movie Thoroughly Modern Millie in which a heartwarming small town girl sets out to marry her rich boss but first must evade an Asian “white slavery ring” and assorted comical mayhem ensues. My mother, to her credit, asked me after the show if I had any questions about the plot and I assured her I did not, even though of course I did.  She left it at that. My sister and I loved the flapper dresses and the long cigarette holders and a tipsy Carol Channing  gushing “raspberries” and declared it our favorite movie ever.

So when my own children were mostly grown, I found myself in New York with them and my sister and guess what had just opened on Broadway? “We have GOT to see it.” My sister and I jumped up and down.  “This is going to be great!” Only it wasn’t. Since the movie came out in 1967,  I had acquired two teenage daughters and several Asian friends. Girls marrying for money wasn’t so funny. Caricatures of Asians were less so. Drunk overdressed rich women? No. And kidnapping young girls so they could be forced to have sex? By intermission I was thinking that this had been a very bad idea.  My kids were giving me funny looks. The world has changed so very much, I thought that night, and I’m glad that it has.

However, the Broadway musical went on to win six Tony awards, including best musical. It spawned three traveling productions and, in the words of Wikipedia “has since become a popular choice for high school productions.” Yikes. High school productions.

Okay, so maybe the world isn’t quite as different as I sometimes think that it is. Sometimes, it’s me that has changed. And I’m glad that I have.

For more on how things change with time, visit my x0 blog here for thoughts on veggie burgers, humor and empathy. Also visit my y1 blog here for thoughts on gay psychiatrists and my hoarding disorder.