The Wayne Foundation

Today, I had the immense privilege of listening to the life story of a very strong woman. Jamie Walton was a victim of child prostitution and currently heads a new non-profit called The Wayne Foundation. She told her story to Kevin Smith (filmmaker and podcaster) on the podcast “SMinterview with @ThatKevinSmith” (Episodes 2 and 3 – free to download on ITunes and worth every minute of your time). What is amazing about Ms. Walton is her ability to forgive, to consider her abusers’ point of view (how many people could or would want to do that?!), and her remarkable transformation into the highly capable, successful woman that she is today. And it is not just her personality that is impressive, it is the mission of her non-profit The Wayne Foundation.

This non-profit is special: not only does it plan to give assistance to young girls who are trying to escape sex trafficking, it plans to give them every tool they need to completely rehabilitate themselves and become productive members of society. Ms. Walton is trying to do for other girls what needed to be done for her, but what didn’t happen. With the loving support of her amazing husband, Jamie Walton tread that path independently. She emerged as an amazing woman who not only survived and overcame her trauma, but was able to transform that experience with a passion I have rarely seen, and she has formed this foundation from scratch to help victimized girls (and hopefully some day the boys too she says). Ms. Walton is not the face you see on TV that reeks of talking points, fake optimism, and a hidden agenda. She doesn’t sidestep the unpretty parts. She takes them head on. She tells her donors that it will take awhile to achieve her goal; that the goals of The Wayne Foundation are large; that if donors are looking for a successful result they may have to wait ten years because that is how long it takes to make this happen. Oh, and she’s not getting paid. Maybe someday with enough support. What’s more, Ms. Walton is eternally optimistic.  When asked how she managed to avoid hating the world for the trauma she experienced, Ms. Walton said (paraphrasing here–), “I embrace the world because even though I recognize there is a lot of evil and nastiness in the world, there are some individuals that are not like that, and if you tell the world to go f#@& themselves, you tell the good people to go f#@& themselves as well. So, that’s not really fair…. I can’t tell those people [that]….  If we all [do that], think about how much worse it’s going to get…. Let’s look at the good part, let’s focus on the positive… it brings people together.”

That type of attitude and perseverance should be celebrated, commended, and mirrored by every member of society. And I think it should be rewarded however we can. I hope you will take a moment and visit The Wayne Foundation website (site still under construction) and listen to the podcasts linked in the first paragraph. You will learn more about their goals, plans, and financial agenda in the second podcast.

Please spread the word. You can also “like” it on Facebook. You can follow Jamie Walton on Twitter: @JamieWalton

And thank you all for reading!

Patriotic Millionaires

Awesome discovery last June:

Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength

Why do I like them? Well….

When all I hear on the news is “the deficit this,” “the debt ceiling that,” and “more taxes, less taxes, no taxes,” I have to be honest: I’m getting really sick of it. Being toward the bottom of wage earners in the country (but so grateful I’m not the very bottom!), it gets a little annoying hearing legislators fight to let millionaires keep so much of their money. If an average American is supposed to make a living on the minimum wage (yeah right), why can’t those who make so much more than them be the ones to give a little more? Maybe you don’t agree with me. That is totally fine, but it is how I feel. And truly, governing seems complicated and I know I’m probably missing a lot of info from both sides of the aisle. So I am still sitting on the sidelines, learning and forming the most well-rounded opinion I can.

But there is a group of people who have formed an opinion, and I LOVE IT!

These wealthy folks are shouting out to everyone: “Please, pretty please raise our taxes!”

They are standing up as an example for other millionaires to say, “For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000. We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more…. Our country has been good to us. It provided a foundation through which we could succeed. Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.”

This reminds me of when Warren Buffett asked millionaires and billionaires to give their money away. It is inspiring, isn’t it?

I have to say, I support these wealthy people. Not only are they thinking about someone other than themselves, they are wealthy in both funds and in their compassion for the needs of a nation.

Read more about these millionaires on NPR here.

So happy for YOU

Eeyore is a Trademarked/Copywritten character of Disney. This image source: http://www.fanpop.com/spots/disney/images/1348371/title/eeyore-fanart

My three-year old nephew is in the stage where he’s learning to monitor his own behavior – namely self-control. After not getting his way at Grandma’s house the other afternoon, Cruz launched into an adorable, yet fairly familiar, “Eeyore” phase. He moped, he sighed, he pouted. Head down, lip out… there was no way this three-year old was going to budge from his gloomy disposition. My mother saw it as an opportunity. She knelt to the ground, looked at Cruz and said, “Now Cruz I know you’re upset, and that’s okay. But let me ask you something. Do you want to be a sad little boy or do you want to be a happy little boy?” He looked up at his Grandma and said, “Happy.” Mom replied, “Well then all you have to do is put a smile on your face and go be happy.” It was that simple. Instantly his frown changed to a grin, and he trotted away to go have fun again – a real life Christopher Robin.

Could it be that easy? Can we just decide to be happy? For the most part, I say yes. In the face of tremendous pain and discomfort, human beings find reasons to smile as surely as they need air to breathe. It is not that we are incapable of being happy. It’s just difficult to feel happy sometimes.

Often it is difficult for people to find joy within their lives, and it can be even harder to celebrate the happiness of others. When confronted with the good fortune of their friends and colleagues many people prefer to remain securely in their “Eeyore” phase, rather than give in to the good feelings resonating from their companions. After all, isn’t it safer to be in the dredges of their misery – a place safe and familiar? Why feel joy for someone else, when they feel none for themselves? If anything, they feel resentment, right? Won’t it just make them more acutely aware of their misfortunes by rejoicing in the goodness within others’ lives?

Not really.

In this economic climate, it is difficult for even the most seasoned professional to procure suitable professional employment. Most artists participate in a constant battle with their esteem and determination in their attempts to access better professional opportunities for themselves. It could be easy to become resentful of others’ successes. But what good would that do for any of us?

A colleague of mine just received a coveted position at an excellent educational institution in the Northeast: a two-year visiting professor position in art. Having received his MFA in 2010 at the same institution I received mine, his invitation to teach at this school was a beacon of light to those in our field. Surely there will be a few of his colleagues or acquaintances who secretly grumble with envy and resentment, but the majority of us met the news with great enthusiasm. A “win” for him is a “win” for all of us.

And for some of us (er… ahem… ME), it was like our own dreams had come true. When I heard the news, I could not stand still! I was like a child – clapping my hands, bounding through my apartment with unfettered exuberance. That night it didn’t matter that I still worked a mind-numbing data entry job. I didn’t feel an ounce of resentment or jealousy. I felt hope, because someone I knew had just received the kind of news we all dream of getting: a job in our field!

Like my little (nearly!) four-year old nephew, we have a choice. We can decide to be happy. We might not always get our way, but we always have control over our perspective.

Think of it as good karma. Think of it as good manners. Whatever works for you; be happy for others.

After all, when it’s your turn to share your good news you’ll want everyone to be happy for your good fortune too!

Feeling a little heated–the debate, I mean

It doesn't really relate, but isn't this the best picture, ever?! Source: http://forums.colbertnation.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=5788

Phew! Politics. Goodness! Is it ever NOT a heated debate about something? Not really. This morning, when I groggily popped onto Facebook, I found my friend had posted a link to an article detailing the latest update on the activities of the US House of Representatives. Anymore, politics are a hot topic for an online debate which can get downright ugly, and often these exchanges become pointless in the end.

(Imagine something like this: “I will yell to prove my point.”…. “NO YOU WON’T! I will yell even louder to prove my point and not concede or find common ground!”…. “Well, I’ll just be extreme to prove my point and do it so loudly you are drowned out!”.. . and so on. You get the idea….)

Because I don’t want to get into a debate here which would detract from the point, I am not going to tell you what the posted article was about. But I will tell you how the responses to my friend’s post went (totally paraphrasing here), with my little “I couldn’t resist! I had to weigh in!” reply at the end including my strategy to diffuse the argument into something effective and constructive. (Note: everything is written in first person, so follow the indents and colors.)

:)

  • THIS SUCKS! WHAT A BUNCH OF BALONEY! The “issue at hand” is important for America! Why is it being attacked? It is so much more than the Congress’s simplified notion of being related to the “bigger issue!” GRRR!
    • I have no sympathy for you because I’m on the other side of the “bigger issue” and I blame the “issue at hand” for much of it.
  • Well, what about problems A, B, and C mister? You ever thought of that? The “issue at hand” is essential for dealing with those things.
    • Oh yeah, I’ve thought of A, B, AND C, but those are taken care of elsewhere. The “issue at hand,” however, is involved with the “bigger issue” so the “issue at hand” is on my naughty list.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #1:] Well, don’t you think “elsewhere” also contributes to the “bigger issue?” It’s not only their fault!
    • I seem to be on the defensive. Now I will use an extreme example to support my argument and detract from the validity of your point, while also illustrating my contempt for the “bigger issue”.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #2:] I don’t think you know anything at all. You sound stupid. Here are the reason facts A, B, and C are so important, and why they make the “issue at hand” so necessary and not evil. The “issue at hand” is separate from the “bigger issue”.
    • Why do you try to confuse the topic? The “issue at hand” is definitely what I’m mad at. The “issue at hand” is to blame 100% for the fact that A, B, and C exist in the first place. If the “issue at hand” didn’t exist and a few other extreme measures did, we wouldn’t have these “bigger issue.”
  • [Continued counter-argument from friend #2:] I am really mad at you now and am going to tell you that you are full of crap. And I’m going to reitirate the need for the “issue at hand” in order to deal with the very real problem of A, B, and C. So there!

At this point the owner of this Facebook page is completely out of the conversation. This has become an all-out Facebook debate-style war. What would happen if the argument was diffused with a little recognition of the complexity of the issue? I decided to test the theory (I swear there may be a formula to this!) while providing a counter-argument as well.

  • [This is me now:]  …. Step 1: I need to inform you of some facts to legitimize the necessity of “the issue at hand” to deal with A, B, and C. Step 2: (This could also come first in many cases:) I recognize your position and the complexity of the “bigger issue”. I am going to use statements that do not begin with “I” or “you” or personal opinions so the energy of the previous confrontations are removed. Now I will gently reassert the importance of recognizing the value in the “issue at hand.”
    • Reply to previous comment from friend #2 with a “my way or the highway, all-or-nothing” agenda. I’m going to come from nowhere to bring up another really “controversial issue” to make my original point more clear.
    • Reply to the new comment comment with a much more chilled out perspective (this is 10 hours later, which proves that “getting some air” might help), citing personal second-hand experience with the “bigger issue” that has shaped my perspective.
  • I choose to ignore your rather simplified–and outrageous–statement about the “controversial issue” in your first reply, because it would cause another angry debate. Instead I am focused on the calmness of your reply and the submission of a personal connection to both of the “issues.” Step 3: I see a common ground here. In a neutral voice, I relate the conceptual basis and underlying facts of human behavior to the “bigger issue” to explain why your extreme solutions won’t work for everyone. Humans are to blame, not the “issue at hand.” Step 4: I restate something about your argument that I can agree on to enforce that you are being heard. I acknowledge your passion for the issue. Step 5: Without using “should’s,” I express my optimism and hope for a way you could communicate your passion that could positively affect others on the “bigger issue” as well as problems A, B, and C. Perhaps you could advocate for the facts at the heart of both the “bigger issue” and the “issue at hand.” Step 6: Express gratitude for the civility in our discourse, which includes listening to my perspective.
    • I feel the change in tone. I am grateful for the constructive idea. I regret being so aggressive with my wordage at the start. Acknowledge my passion. But… what about this aspect of the “bigger issue?” Doesn’t that support my all-or-nothing assertion?
  • Acknowledge the logic of that perspective but cite the inability for any of us to control the actions of others. Praise your own self-control in relation to the “bigger issue” and named problems A/B/C, but discuss that not everyone may have the same extent of control. Acknowledge that there is not one solution, but that the best thing you or any of us can do (in this case specifically) is model the behavior we wish to see in others–or the behavior we see in others that we admire–to try to encourage our viewpoint.
    • Personal account for what informs my perspective and explains my anger. Acknowledge the points offered–”I have something to think about,” I say. I can see the validity in what you say. Expression of gratitude for the exchange.
  • My expression of gratitude as well. (happy face included)

While the guy and I did not come to an agreement on the “bigger issue,” or the “issue at hand,” we both managed to have a civil conversation and we left with perspectives we hadn’t considered before. It reminded me that at the center of many of these arguments is someone who has been hurt, and who may have formed incredibly strong feelings about the issue because of it.

Reading this without the specifics of the argument, maybe it seems very confusing or reactive. And much of the discussion was. The way facts are emotionally communicated seems to produce this super-charged outcome. If people try to find common ground, or be willing to hear the logic of the other’s argument (to suspend their emotional appeal for the moment), we might make headway on many issues. There will always be disagreement. But perhaps our ability to consider the motivations behind our opponents’ viewpoints will yield a better resolution to these controversies than what we’ve seen in the past.

Unfortunately, I know I will always have a chance to test my theory on communication. The good news is that I live in a country where I can communicate my opinions freely and expect them to be heard by someone. What a gift!

:) Have a great day!


Nearly a decade later and none the wiser

Image source: drudgereport.com

Since when did Islam equal terrorism? Well, if you watch the news lately, it does right now.  No one is saying it, but what those who oppose a mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York seem to be implying with their objections is that a religion is responsible for the acts of a few extremists. These sentiments are bubbling with intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance, as well as a fear of being insensitive to the survivors and families of 9-11. I mean no disrespect for these victims, but I must question the logic in the mosque’s opponents’ arguments.

Extremists attacked the World Trade Centers. And yes, they were Muslim. But are those two thing inextricably linked? No.

I am of German heritage. Am I a Nazi? No. Do I hate Jews? No.

Does the events of 9-11 indicate that every mosque is full of extremists ready to bomb American locations? No.

It makes me sad that nearly a decade after the terrible events of 9-11, people are holding prejudice for a religion, and its practitioners, due to the acts of a few individuals.

My great-uncle (may he rest in peace) was a Catholic priest. Was he a child molester? No. But based on the assumptions made in people’s vehement protests against the mosque, I should assume that all priests are child-molesters and I should feel it would be a “slap in the face” to build a Catholic church near an elementary school. It just doesn’t make sense. And it makes Americans appear ignorant, bigoted, and judgmental.  Aren’t we better than that? Aren’t we more enlightened?

It was wrong and awful what happened to those people who died in the World Trade Center attacks and its aftermath. It is sickening what is still happening to those emergency response workers. But how is this reaction to the mosque going to support one of the founding the ideals of the United States: freedom of religion? How are we modeling  the ideals of what most religions preach (including Jesus, and I am certain Mohammed as well): tolerance. An open mind. Forgiveness.

I know this is a hot issue. And it is an emotional one. I’m not denying what happened in 2001 was absolutely devastating. It was. I can imagine how people could be feeling (a mosque towering over a site where so many souls perished, mocking their deaths, taunting the survivors….), and although I don’t feel that way myself I can imagine many do and I can empathize with their concerns. But the issue isn’t with the religion. It’s with the perpetrators of the crime.

I have confidence that we as Americans can model the forgiveness and acceptance the world needs to see right now in order to become a more peaceful place. Let them build the mosque at ground zero, and show the world just how compassionate, forgiving, loving accepting, and open- and fair-minded America can be.

SOME LINKS

Son of 9-11 victim says the mosque should  be built where it was planned

Ground Zero Mosque on the Move

President Obama weighs in… sort of

Fox news article

I married myself

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My body and I have arguments. Pretty much every day. They go something like this:

Emotions: I want chocolate.

Logic: No you don’t. You shouldn’t eat it. It’ll upset your stomach and you’ll gain weight.

Body: OOOOH! CHOCOLATE!

Emotions: See, I want chocolate. My body wants it. I NEED it.

Logic: No, your body wants it because YOU thought about sweets, but if we ate it we wouldn’t enjoy it and we would feel guilty after eating it. Don’t have the chocolate, you’ll just regret it…. Have fruit instead.

Emotions: Forget fruit! chocolate chocolate chocolate chocolate….. What reasons can I think of to have chocolate? Hmmm…. I’m stressed. I just went to the doctor. I’m PMS-ing. I am tired. I had a bad day. I feel like it.

Body: Sounds good. Chocolate.

And then, I eat chocolate.  90% of the time I regret it.

The arguments started in my early twenties. I was in college and as I gained weight year after year with processed food and drinking on the weekends, my digestive system decided to revolt. So in 2004 I went through this unplanned 2 year process of cleaning out all the crap in my life: negative friendships, unhealthy eating habits, personal setbacks. It was hard, but at the end of it I was 65 pounds lighter, in a healthy relationship (he’s now my husband), had rewarding friendships, was doing what I love (art and writing), and was 75% less affected by my digestive condition.

And then I went to grad school. And I moved 1000 miles from my family. And then came: emotional eating. I gained back 10 pounds. Doesn’t sound like a lot, and it’s not bad. But if you were always chubby and you got down to a size that was smaller than you were in junior high, you really don’t want to go back. And that’s where the battle is: I want two things. To eat crap from time to time, and to stay thin. Over and over, I fight with temptation. And sometimes, I lose.

Being a newlywed I think about the elements of a life-long commitment a lot. Why is it that I can commit to another person for my entire life, but when it comes to committing to myself for even 3 weeks, I balk? I could chalk this lack of self-commitment up to a heap of things: external rewards are easier to come by than internal rewards, a brownie can’t hug me, and it’s easier to have fun with cake or my husband than to exercise control by a living a consistently healthy lifestyle. Regardless of the reasons, I recently realized my personal expectations were pretty ridiculous.

With food and exercise, I haven’t allowed myself any leniency. My eating rules have been so rigid, I could have never succeeded at them for life. They’re just too hard (things my body physically protests : sugar, alcohol, sulfites, MSG, nitrates, fried or spicy foods, high amounts of fat, enriched carbs, dairy, caffeine, green/black tea, and–yes– chocolate)!

I am aware that being married for a lifetime means I will experience disappointment, heartache, and pain. I know we’ll each slip up somehow. But I adjust for these things by acknowledging that we aren’t perfect. We each might take an appreciative look at a cute guy/girl who walks by. We might make flirtatious conversation with the opposite sex. We will likely take pleasure knowing “I still got it!” when we get hit on. I know I do! And that’s okay. I have learned from my grandparents that a little leniency and a little innocent “sinning” goes a long way for marital bliss. Like my grandma says (her qualifications? Married almost 60 years, faithful loving couple, raised 7 kids): Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re dead. You can look, just never touch!

So I have adopted a better attitude. I am marrying myself.

If I marry myself, I commit to loving myself in spite of all those things that bug or disappoint me. I accept that my desires, interests, and needs will change over time. I offer myself compassion and leniency, support and encouragement. I commit to staying healthy physically and mentally so that I can continue to find myself attractive. I am dedicated to balancing my needs against the needs of others. I put the love I have for me above the love I have for my family (I can’t do much for others if I secretly loathe myself–and loving myself well also means disallowing myself to become a jerk or egotistical).

I commit to the up’s and down’s that I’ll have over the years. I’ll exercise regularly for awhile, but there will come a month where I don’t get to the gym as often. I will remind myself that marriages take work. I can’t just lose 65 pounds and stop trying, just like I can’t be faithful before my wedding day and then “drop the act” (as so many do) once the ring is on the finger.

I am committed to make this relationship work, so I have to keep working at it. Forever. Because just like I don’t know what great things are lying ahead for me and Jake, I also will be pleasantly surprised at what’s lying ahead for me and my body and mind!

:)

Thanks for reading.

That is so gay

This is the #1 result of a google image search using the title of this post. Image source: http://beinglatino.wordpress.com

Have you ever gone to therapy? I have. On three different occasions.  I don’t remember every tool I learned there off the top of my head, but I do remember my counselor saying this: you cannot make anyone feel anything. I was feeling guilt, assuming I made people feel badly even though they probably weren’t feeling anything bad at all, and my counselor was trying to help me realize I shouldn’t hypothesize constantly the impact my words have on others. He said,  “We all choose how we feel when people say things, whether we feel good or bad. We are responsible for our own emotions, not for everyone else’s. If we hurt someone’s feelings, they have a responsibility to tell us so.” But that got me thinking (probably way off of where the counselor was going with his point, but whatever! It’s still an interesting thing to consider…). Is that always the case? Am I never to blame for how others feel as a result of something I said or did?  If I cheated on my husband and he felt hurt, angry, dejected, and insulted, does this mean I can release some of the blame for the way he would be feeling? I don’t think it works quite this way, and while I know I would never take advantage of this perspective, I am sure there are thousands of people out there who would.

Like this guy I knew once upon a time, who regularly said unnecessarily cruel and critical things to unsuspecting people, all-the-while using the disclaimer, “Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just being honest.Yeah right. My theory is this guy got sadistic pleasure out of making people feel insecure or miserable. Messing with people’s heads was this dude’s personal enjoyment. I imagine he was doing it because he  wanted others to be as miserable as he was; or maybe that was just his personality; or maybe he really did think that was how psychology students were supposed to behave, as he said on many occasions. But the truth is, what he said made people miserable and it gave him pleasure. Whether or not what he said was true was not nearly as important as what were his motives. And those were selfish and unkind in nature. Lucky for us, there aren’t too many of people like this guy wandering around. No,… I would say, mostly all of us do our fair share offending and being the offended.

People say and do things that hurt people’s feelings all the time. Often people hurt others without the self-awareness to realize why they behave as they do (like girls in junior high who rip on other girls because deep down they are insecure about themselves).  They don’t fully understand why they are doing it, and don’t necessarily care to find it out. It’s just easier to keep doing what feels good.

And more commonly there are people who hurt others’ feelings without ever intending to do so, and without realizing what they said could be hurtful. Many times they are ignorant of what they are saying. Take the people who say, “That’s retarded,” or, “I jewed him down,” or, “I got gypped,” or, “That’s so gay.” Now, I’m not trying to be the language police. Matter of fact: I am a major user of swear words–it’s a vice I try to avoid but cannot eliminate, and often it’s one that I indulge pleasurably. In issues of language there are people on both sides of the fence (homosexuals who say, “That’s so gay,” and so on), but depending on your audience, those phrases can offend people. And this is something we should try to be aware of. My swearing offends people, and presents me in a less-than-flattering light, so I need to choose my audience carefully. And what the offended folks must remember is: some people don’t realize what they are saying is offensive. It might be a cultural thing, it might be badly phrased, it might be slang.  So before reacting, try informing them first. We’re all guilty of this offense in some form at one time or another.

And finally, there are the people who say 100% innocent things that are only offensive to a particular person with a particular point of view or private history. Everyone has had experiences we cannot know ahead of time that shape their attitudes and perceptions, and often something we say innocently can offend others.

So how can we manage this fact in a world where people are (endlessly!) offended by any number of things?

First, have compassion if you have been offended. You’re no perfect plum yourself.

Second, I say operate on this principle of forgiveness: unknowing offenders should be forgiven immediately–and when worthwhile–the offender should be informed of your feelings (nicely!) to help them avoid repeat occurences. Try not to judge their character, when it could be a simple issue of misinformation or ignorance. But do take note of those who are continually offensive, mean, or corrosive to others’ self-esteems and identities. Those people are toxic and should probably be called out on their behavior, or avoided. In those cases, chalk it up to their personality, and don’t waste time or energy being hurt by their musings. State your position, be open for a good dialogue, and if all else fails, deny that bummer-of-a-being your totally awesome friendship! There are tons of people out there just waiting to offend you unintentionally! Better you spend your energy on them!