blue and red galaxy artwork
News, racism

Why I have discontinued the “Contact” form…

This morning, I received an email message from someone named “Mrs. Stull”. She had filled out the now defunct “contact” form, reprimanding me for something I apparently wrote that seems to have upset her. This was the content of her message to me.

Sadly I know about this group too well, we lost many family members to this group.

What caught me was the comment about wealthy white people, when you say white, do you mean, Irish, French, German, Northern Italian, English, Scottish, Swedish, Russian, Slavic, the list goes on? Are you saying that people of colour are not wealthy? I looked at the article, but I was under the impression that you were educated, and a housewife. You have managed to insult everyone by that statement alone, please remove that blanket insult if you want to make a point.

I went looking to find the article to which Mrs. Stull was referring. Often, I can look on StatCounter and see where people have entered the blog and and filled out the contact form. I did not find a StatCounter clue for the article Mrs. Stull was referencing, so I still have absolutely no idea which post has so upset her that she felt the need to vaguely accuse me of racism.

I was about to respond to Mrs. Stull via email, but then realized that the contact form linked to my personal email address, which I would rather not provide to perfect strangers, especially ones who seem to have the impression that I’m a racist and are bold enough to state it. I may have some ingrained racist proclivities, as almost everyone does to some extent, but I don’t generally go out of my way to insult people based on things like skin color or other things they can’t help. And for the record, I certainly do realize that people of all shades and racial groups can be wealthy.

This post is number 1,151. It is not possible for me to go searching through my entire catalog to try to figure out which specific comment of mine offended Mrs. Stull. Therefore, I can’t remove or clarify the “blanket insult” she alluded to in her email, because I honestly don’t know where it is, or to what she is referring.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, I even recently wrote about the phenomenon of people writing to me about certain articles without providing a link to or the title of the post they are referencing. The comment form is also a convenient conduit for spammers, whose comments are always useless and annoying.

I’m writing this post at 6:11am and have only now had my first sip of coffee, so I apologize if this post comes off as a little pissy, but I really did not appreciate receiving that email. Nobody likes to wake up to a random insult from a complete stranger, particularly when what they’re complaining about isn’t clearly specified or referenced.

I was going to respond privately, but then realized that I’d rather address everyone as a whole about this policy change, since it affects all readers. It kind of weirds me out seeing people lurking on that page, anyway, as if they’re hunting for information. Folks, if you have a question or are curious about something, simply ask. There’s a good chance I’ll answer you honestly.

So, from now on, any readers who want to comment about something on this blog will need to do it on the post in question, rather than fill out the contact form. I am going “no contact” with the contact form. It doesn’t work as intended and often leads to confusion and irritation for me. Life is tough enough and too short as it is.

There’s also the Overeducated Housewife Facebook page, for those who wish to comment or contact me privately, but actually, I’m giving some thought to discontinuing that, too.

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Germany, racism

Repost: One story leads to another… or– Mabel Grammer, the extreme “anti dependa”

Here’s a follow up post to the one I wrote about General Nadja West. This post was written August 6, 2016 and appears here as/is.

It never ceases to amaze me how you can go from learning about one thing to another.  Sometimes, it feels a little like digging for gold.  I’ll start reading something, learn an interesting tidbit, then study the tidbit more until it leads to an even bigger and more interesting story.  That’s what happened to me yesterday right after I posted about how military folks often end up marrying, dating, and/or mating out of their own cultures.

Yesterday, I was inspired to write a post about LTG Nadja West based on a short news article I read about her.  Before yesterday, I had never heard of LTG West.  I’ll be honest.  The actual article about her wasn’t that interesting, other than the fact that she’s a very high ranking black woman in the Army who happened to be speaking at an Army post where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up.  What  initially intrigued me was seeing that she’s clearly a product of a collaboration between a German woman and a black man.  Since I live in Germany, I’ve seen that phenomenon many times and it really fascinates me.   

I know I wrote about LTG West yesterday, but I wrote my post before I learned more about her story through an obituary for her adoptive mother, Mabel Treadwell Grammer, who died in June 2002.  In 2002, LTG West was a Lieutenant Colonel, just one rank higher than Bill was at the time.  He would be promoted the following year for the last time, and LTG West would continue to climb to the stratospheric rank she’s currently holding. 

LTG West’s mother, Mabel Grammer, was an incredible woman.  She graduated from Ohio State University and became an activist for civil rights.  She was also a journalist.  As a young woman, she fought the War Department in an effort to desegregate Arlington National Cemetery.  She interviewed Thurgood Marshall and stayed at the then whites only Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  She was a mover and a shaker.  Clearly, Mabel Grammer was a woman who was a go getter.

In 1950, Mabel Treadwell Grammer married her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Oscar George Grammer Sr.  She then became an “Army wife”, like I was, and also like me, was unable to have children of her own.  Like so many other Army wives, she eventually moved to Germany.  Like so many other Army wives, she ended up with way too much time on her hands. 

Mabel Grammer used her time to explore Europe.  During her travels, Mrs. Grammer visited the shrine at Lourdes in France.  According to Mrs. Grammer’s obituary and LTG West, Mabel Grammer suddenly had a “vision” of sorts.  She realized that she had much to offer others.  She decided to devote her time and energy to helping other people instead of focusing only on herself.

Mrs. Grammer went back to Germany and began to visit orphanages, where she became acquainted with “brown babies”.  Known in Germany as “Mischlingskinder“, these were babies who were born to German women and black American servicemen.  Their German mothers couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them, so they were given up to orphanages, where they languished.  These children weren’t adopted by German families because they were mixed race.  Many thousands of these so-called “brown babies” were born in Germany during and after World War II.   

A woman who was adopted in Germany by a Black family. She explains that even though she’s half German, she feels like a tourist in Germany.

In post war Germany, it was difficult for for Soldiers to marry the German women they had been dating.  The Soldiers needed permission from their commanding officers and the women had to jump through many hoops to gain approval.  Complicating matters was the fact that in those days, interracial dating was extremely taboo in both Germany and the United States.  In fact, marriage between races wasn’t fully legalized in the United States until 1967 and even then, it remained taboo for many years.  In Nazi Germany, interracial marriage was also forbidden.  In essence, the babies born to these interracial unions were abandoned by two “super powers”. 

Mr. and Mrs. Grammer decided to take in some of the brown babies they met in orphanages across Germany.  Their first adopted child was a ten year old boy.  That boy had friends at the orphanage, who also found a home with the Grammers.  The nuns who ran the orphanages asked them to take more; they went on to adopt eleven more children, including one son who had already been adopted but was returned because he had leukemia.  That child, named Edward, died in 1955 when he was nine years old.  The last child the Grammers took in was Nadja, who was just eight or nine months old in 1962 when she was adopted from a German orphanage.  She grew up to be a physician, the highest ranking black woman in the Army, and the highest ranking woman to ever graduate from the United States Military Academy. 

As if this story wasn’t enough, I learned yesterday through several sources that Mabel Grammer went on to arrange for five hundred “brown babies” to be adopted by black families in the United States.   Since this was occurring during the 1950s and 60s, much of the work to coordinate the adoptions had to be done by mail.  Mrs. Grammer did not use any help from social services, although according to her obituary, Scandinavian Airlines did help fly some of the orphans to the United States. 

I read in another source that although Mrs. Grammer’s incredible efforts were potentially lifesaving for many of the children, they weren’t without controversy.  The babies were being sent to families who didn’t undergo any background checks.  Mrs. Grammer didn’t meet the people who were taking in the brown babies and there were no follow up home visits to make sure the babies were being cared for properly.  Some of the children ended up in abusive situations.  Still, through sheer determination, Mrs. Grammer continued her work and dramatically changed lives for hundreds of people who would have otherwise been brought up in orphanages.  In 1968, Mabel and Oscar Grammer received a humanitarian award from Pope Paul IX, which was presented to them at Fort Myer by one of the pope’s representatives. 

Mrs. Grammer encouraged her own adopted children to forgive their parents for giving them up.  She also encouraged the children to seek out their biological parents.  She explained to her children that they should be grateful to their parents for giving them life and realize that they couldn’t know what difficult choices their mothers faced. 

According to Mrs. Grammer’s obituary, every one of the eleven Grammer children who survived until adulthood went on to make something good of themselves.  Quite a few of them went on to serve in the Armed Forces.  LTG West has said that several of her sisters were “WACs”; that is, they served in the Women’s Army Corps.  Another sister was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy.   

I am still amazed that I found out about this story by reading a simple article in the Daily Press about Mabel and Oscar Grammer’s youngest daughter, LTG Nadja West, and being curious about where she came from.  I’ll have to do some more reading about brown babies.

A newscast about so-called “brown babies” from Germany.  A documentary about Mischlingskinder is discussed in this newscast.  

Since I’ve found out more about the “brown baby” phenomenon, I see the documentary is being sold through the BRATS Our Journey Home Web site.  I may have to spend some of my husband’s hard earned cash on a couple of new documentaries this weekend.

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Germany, Military, racism

Repost: International collaborations…

I’m sharing this post, originally written on Blogspot on August 5, 2016, because I think it’s a really cool story that is relevant to my experience in Germany. Keep in mind that it appears here as/is, as I am certain General West has moved on from Fort Eustis. I will also share a follow up post written at the same time.

This morning, I was reading the Daily Press, which is the newspaper from my hometown community.  I noticed an article about Lieutenant General Nadja Y. West, who recently gave a speech at Fort Eustis in honor of the 596th Transportation Brigade’s Women’s Equality Day observance.  LTG West is the first black lieutenant general and the highest ranking female to ever graduate from West Point and she once commanded the hospital (now clinic) at Fort Eustis, an Army post that is near and dear to my heart because I grew up nearby.  LTG West is a medical doctor who is currently the surgeon general of the Army.  Her husband is retired COL Donald West.  I see them as quite a power couple!

A video about General Nadja West’s career. I highly recommend watching this video from 2017, which came out after I wrote this post. What a cool lady!

Anyway, as I was listening to LTG West speak on a video that was posted with the article I was reading, I realized that she appeared to be the product of a German and American partnership.  She is clearly biracial and, in fact, has the sort of willowy look of so many German women I’ve seen.  Also, her first name “Nadja” is a very German name.

I went looking to find out what her background is and learned that yes, indeed, her biological parents were a German woman and African American man who was posted to Germany with the Army.  Sadly, LTG West was left orphaned when she was a baby.  At nine months old, she was adopted by Oscar and Mabel Grammer.  Oscar Grammer was a Chief Warrant Officer who worked with the Army in Germany and Mabel Grammer was a civil rights activist and journalist.  The couple adopted twelve interracial children in Germany and arranged for the adoption of 500 more by families in the United States.  LTG West was the youngest of the twelve children adopted by the Grammers.

Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met are biracial.  LTG West is clearly very attractive, but she’s also incredibly accomplished.  I’m sure the people who created her had no idea how far their daughter would eventually go in life. 

Having grown up in the southern United States, I’ve seen my share of racism.  Germany is not immune to racism, although it seems to be directed more toward Middle Eastern people than folks of African descent.  One is much more likely to hear a German disparage someone from Turkey or Syria than a black person.   

German women seem to really be attracted to black men.  In fact, I remember when we moved to North Carolina, one of the movers was a very friendly black guy.  When I mentioned that we’d once lived in Germany, he laughed and said with a big smile, “German women love black men!”  I have since met a number of people who were born to German and African American parents.  In fact, a lot of the people I’ve met have been affiliated with the United States military, especially the Army.  The Army sends a lot more of its people to Germany than the other service branches do.

One of the things I have enjoyed about my years as an “Army wife” is the diversity of people affiliated with the military.  Because servicemembers go all over the world, they often end up in relationships with people from other countries.  Naturally, some places are more represented than others.  For instance, there are a lot of Japanese and Korean women who have married American servicemen (and it is, more often than not, women who marry men, though there are certainly exceptions).  I do know one Dutch guy whose wife is an Air Force officer.  I’ve run into plenty of British folks, a couple of Italians and Greeks, and one or two Portuguese married to Americans, courtesy of the military.  And I have several German friends who married Americans.

Someone has probably already done this, but I think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of international love matches that occur between American servicemembers and host country nationals. Naturally, not all of these “matches” work out.  I have one friend who barely knows her father, a Puerto Rican/African American Army veteran.  She grew up in Germany not really knowing her father, though she did eventually reconcile with him to some extent. 

A lot of people who have no experience with military folks think that they are a bunch of knuckle dragging lunkheads.  What I’ve found is that the military is full of people from diverse backgrounds and many are open-minded and intelligent.  It’s true that a lot of veterans are people who come from small towns without much opportunity.  Many people join the military to escape poverty or bankroll an education.  But then they end up in faraway places where they meet and mingle with the locals.  They collaborate to create another subset of diverse people. 

The same thing happened in my Peace Corps group.  About half a dozen people who went to Armenia with me ended their service married to host country nationals.  Many people think of the Peace Corps as a very liberal group and a lot of Volunteers are pretty liberal.  However, in some ways, the Peace Corps shares some similarities with the military.  It’s very obviously a government agency.  In fact, PCVs even take the same oath military servicemembers do.  I have been surprised to find Bill working with at least one of my former Peace Corps colleagues who went on to work for USAID.

I have an Italian friend who constantly disparages the military.  He thinks it’s full of idiots who just want to destroy the world.  As someone who grew up an Air Force brat and later married an Army officer, I have found that many people with experience in the military are well-traveled and open-minded.  The ones who stay in the military tend to be pretty savvy about world affairs and they often have opinions shaped by real life experiences outside of the United States.  I know a lot of people think the US military should leave foreign postings, but I think these opportunities to live and work abroad are good for American society.  Too many people in the United States never go anywhere and see anything.  At least people in the military get the opportunity to look beyond the borders.

Hanging out on a military base can be an interesting cultural experience.  Hell, just shopping at a commissary stateside is interesting, especially when you walk down the international food aisle.   You’ll find a number of exotic products stocked for the spouses of servicemember Americans who came from somewhere else. 

I think it’s really cool that LTG Nadja West has done so well in her career.  I enjoyed learning about her and would probably find her fascinating to talk to.  She’s quite a role model all women.

ETA:  I just read the obituary for West’s mother,  Mabel Grammer, which I linked to earlier in this post.   I highly recommend reading it if you’re intrigued.  She was clearly an amazing woman.   

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musings, racism

Repost: Is Liam Neeson guilty of a “hate crime”?

Here’s a repost of an article I wrote for my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife. It originally appeared February 6, 2019. I’m sharing it again, because last night, I watched Liam Neeson’s Taken series– three movies worth– because Bill had to work very late. As I watched Liam’s character, Bryan Mills, kicking the crap out of bad guys in a very satisfying way, I was reminded of this post I wrote just before I had to shut down access to my old blog. I think it’s worth another look.

I believe that old song in Avenue Q.  I think everyone’s a little bit racist, even though some people believe that you can only be racist if you’re a member of the “dominant” racial group.  Actor Liam Neeson is a White man who recently confessed that after a friend was violently raped by a Black man, he prowled the streets with a club, looking for a Black man to beat up.  He said he was actually “hoping” to be approached by someone giving him an excuse to beat the shit out of them with a “cosh” (British word for club).

Neeson’s violent revenge fantasy occurred about forty years ago.  He never did beat anyone up. He was simply very angry about the violent crime committed against his friend and he wanted to avenge her.  He says he’s ashamed of how he reacted to the rape and sorry for having those violent impulses to hurt other people.

Liam Neeson talks about that controversy from 40 years ago. I think he should be commended for his honesty and integrity.

Naturally, the papers have been having a field day with the story.  Lots of people seem to think Mr. Neeson needs a good public flogging for something that happened 40 years ago.  I don’t condone Neeson’s violent impulses to hurt just anyone who happened to be Black.  However, I do feel like he should be commended for his honesty.  It’s not an easy thing to do, admitting those feelings publicly, as hateful and hurtful as they are.  It’s awful to hear about them, but it does get people thinking and talking.  Is that a bad thing? By the way, I HIGHLY recommend listening to Neeson speak in the above video. He makes a lot of sense.

Neeson eventually came to the conclusion that violence begets violence.  He found more constructive ways to deal with his rage, to include power walking for two hours a day.  He spoke to his friends and a priest.  He also said that if the man had not been Black, he still would have had those same feelings of primal rage and wanting to get revenge. In this case, it was apparently a Black man who perpetrated the crime against his friend.  It could have been anyone, though.  Also, consider that this happened in Northern Ireland forty years ago, during “The Troubles”.  It was a pretty violent time all around, particularly between English people and Irish people.  I’m sure that contributed to Neeson’s state of mind.

In my opinion, Liam Neeson’s situation isn’t really the same as Governor Ralph Northam’s situation in Virginia.  He’s under fire for having been in a racist photo 35 years ago.  Governor Northam is in a leadership position, though, and is a physician.  The photo was taken when he was in medical school.  And it had nothing to do with being justifiably angry.  That photo was about simple mockery of people not like him.  To my knowledge, it wasn’t prefaced by violent crime or anything that would cause a person to feel “passionate”.  It was just plain stupidity.

I can understand being so angry that one becomes blinded by rage.  I don’t condone acting on that rage. It turns out, Neeson never did. He never hurt or killed anyone in reaction to his friend’s rape.  Soon afterward, he was ashamed of himself and took active steps to mend his ways. Forty years later, people want to cancel him for simply admitting that he had these dark thoughts after a dear friend was raped.

Is it awful that Neeson had those violent and racially biased fantasies?  Yes, I believe it is, although I think having them is pretty “human”.  Is it awful that he publicly admits to having those fantasies?  I don’t think so.  Why punish the man for simply being honest?  At least he’s worked on his issues.  At least he acknowledges them.  Apparently, that incident from Neeson’s past has also been used as a tool in his movies, like Taken and Ransom.  That just goes to show that even the worst impulses can be used for something positive if we’re careful.

Another perspective from the other side of the pond. Quite interesting and refreshing.

I do think people should be able to live down the things they did in the past, particularly if they acknowledge them and show that they’ve tried to make amends. We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done or said or thought… or, at least I believe we should be. I think Neeson has taken steps to make amends for having those violent, racist impulses over forty years ago.  Northam, to my admittedly limited knowledge, has also apparently tried to change his ways.  He supposedly has a good reputation as a physician and as a governor, aside from this unfortunate relic from his past. 

Of course, now there’s been talk of a sexual assault claim against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who would be poised to take Northam’s place if he resigns.  Personally, I think the hullabaloo in Virginia is more about people upset about Northam’s comments on abortion and desperate folks wanting to get the Democrats out of office in Virginia.  The timing of this is just too funky.

As for Liam Neeson… I think people should stop and think before they pick up their torches and pitchforks.  Should we be more concerned about people who are honest about having racist feelings or those who hide them?  Truly, I think everyone has prejudices.  No one is immune to preconceived notions about other people.  I, for one, think Neeson was brave to share his story, knowing how public backlash can happen and what it can lead to.  It’s good to think and talk about these things.  But then, Liam Neeson is probably in a position where he can talk about these things and not fear losing everything.

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communication, racism

Getting a grip with the “super woke”…

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this morning. My mind was a bit fuzzy after having been awakened at 4:00am by Arran, the barfing beagle. Actually, all he did was retch a bit. He was hungry, so Bill fed him and all was well. I was annoyed, though, because the retching woke me from a pleasant dream. And when I woke up and got out of bed, I wasn’t as “woke” as I could have been. 😉

I started reading The Washington Post, as usual, and sure enough, found myself a topic. It came from an article about Vietnamese tenants in Manhattan who received an official letter from a city worker addressing them as “Chin Chong”. Included with the article was a photo of the correspondence– a window envelope with the words “Chin Chong” visible.

Apparently, this all started when an older White man came to check on the heating and water at Duc Pham’s New York City apartment. Pham said he seemed “polite and professional”, and took down the floor and apartment number but did not ask for names. Last week, Pham’s roommate woke him to show him a follow up letter sent by the city addressed to “CHIN CHONG”. Pham and his roommates are all Vietnamese.

So Pham did what everyone seems to do nowadays when they get offended. He posted the offending correspondence on social media. That action led the city housing authority to issue an apology. Further, an employee was suspended without pay, and the authority has launched an investigation into the matter. Given the recent uptick in racism against Asians in the United States, to include racially based attacks on Asian citizens, scapegoating Asians for the pandemic, and the deadly shootings at three Asian-run spas in the Atlanta area, this case is especially newsworthy and troubling.

Now… when I saw the words “Chin Chong”, I knew they were offensive. But I’m just one person. As I read the comments for this article, I came across one written by a guy named Bruce, who says he’s 67 years old and has never encountered the term “Chin Chong”. He wrote:

I am not trying to start a fight here, but I am 67, I have lived in or near NYC all my life, and I have never heard this phrase, and would not have known what it referred to.

Bruce was immediately taken to task for this comment by a woman named Michele, who wrote:

…you understand that the absence of you never having heard it doesn’t in any way negate it’s existence and the experience of those it’s directed towards? You understand that this statement is an example of minimizing and a microagression, yes? Finally you understand that stating “I am not trying to start a fight” isn’t a blanket excuse to say something so utterly nonsensical in the discussion correct?

A long thread ensued in which they went back and forth with each other. Honestly, I don’t see anything in Bruce’s initial comment that indicates any kind of micro-aggression on his part. Maybe, at most, Bruce’s comment just seems obtuse. Obviously, Pham and his roommates were offended by being called “Chin Chong”. Perhaps Bruce could have Googled the term, rather than asking about it on The Washington Post. I haven’t looked yet, but I’ll bet Urban Dictionary has it defined… Actually, in Urban Dictionary, it’s “Ching Chong”, and it’s described as a pejorative used by English speakers to mock Asian languages, especially Chinese.

Okay… so it was Ting Tong vs. Ching Chong…

I’m 48 years old, at this writing, and I do remember hearing that slur used when I was a kid, both in England and the United States. Most recently, I heard it used on Little Britain, which was a British comedy show that often included skits that were kind of racist. That show aired some time ago– from 2003-07– and I read last year that the creators, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, have said they are “very sorry” for playing characters of other races. However, I don’t remember hearing that term used nearly as often as I have heard other racist epithets that will remain nameless. Moreover, I don’t know Bruce. Maybe he really hasn’t been exposed to that term. His question actually could have been innocent.

Anyway, before I knew it, I had read the whole thread. Below are the screenshots.

I won’t be surprised if someone accuses me of being a racist because I left the last comment. I don’t think what I wrote was racist. I simply don’t think that it’s necessary or helpful to attack people and make negative judgments about their characters simply based on a single comment on a news article. Granted, perhaps Bruce’s original comment was perhaps a bit “tone deaf”, but being tone deaf doesn’t make someone a racist. I gleaned a lot more about Michele from her aggressively “woke” comments than I did about Bruce. I haven’t looked at either of their profiles, but frankly, I would much rather have a conversation with Bruce than Michele, even if what she writes about him is 100 percent true… and I am not convinced that it is.

I know we’re living in challenging times. Racism is a huge problem worldwide, but especially in the United States. I understand that there are people who feel the need to “educate” others about it. A lot of them assume the mantle with gusto and go on full bore flame wars against anyone they perceive to be “insensitive” or unaware. I don’t think there is anything wrong with combatting racism. However, I do think that verbally attacking people– especially people you don’t know– is unhelpful in combatting racism.

Most people don’t like being publicly chastised or condescended to, especially when they truly meant no harm. While Michele obviously interprets Bruce’s comment as minimizing and “micro-aggressive”, to me, she comes off as openly aggressive, hostile, superior, and rude. I wouldn’t want to have a discussion with her, having witnessed that exchange. I think, if Michele’s goal is truly to defend the marginalized, she should change her approach to one that is less threatening.

I’ve mentioned this before in my blog, but I’m going to mention it again. I think there’s great value in the gentler approach. For some reason, Americans haven’t gotten the memo and feel like they have to aggressively denounce anyone who isn’t fully onboard the politically correct bandwagon. So they attack people– often total strangers– who post something that could or could not be construed as “offensive”. It’s one thing if someone posts something that is obviously belittling and nasty. It’s another, when something is only potentially so, and that could only be gauged by non-verbal cues that are simply unavailable in a written sense.

Maybe if Bruce and Michele had been speaking to each other in person, she could have concluded he was being offensive by his mannerisms or tone of voice. Or maybe if they’d had a recurring dialogue online, she could have more correctly gauged whether or not he was minimizing the plight of marginalized people. But I think it’s hard to accurately make those conclusions based entirely on the written words of a perfect stranger one has only encountered once in a lifetime. I didn’t get the sense that Bruce and Michele had ever met prior to that chance encounter on The Washington Post’s Facebook page.

I’ve found that gentle probing is good for finding out someone’s true intentions before you lower the boom on them, so to speak. To further illustrate what I mean, here’s an anecdote from my past. Back in the late 1990s, I attended Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings. I went, mainly because at the time, I was living with my parents and having to deal with my alcoholic dad, with whom I often clashed.

One time, a young, attractive woman who was studying massage therapy came to the meeting with some kind of putty. When it was her turn to speak, she told us about how she was learning how to treat the tough knots that plagued her clients. The putty was used as a training tool in that endeavor. She showed us how, if she attacked the putty aggressively, it wouldn’t yield to her touch. It would be resistant and rigid. But if she gently pressed it, the putty would slowly become more malleable and she could manipulate it with much more ease. She passed the putty around so we could experience it for ourselves. Ever since that presentation, I’ve thought of that lady with the putty whenever I witness someone aggressively attacking another person in a well-meaning attempt to do “good”.

I think this was the stuff she used.

If you want a more cliched idea about effecting change, there’s always that old saying, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” If you’re kind, understanding, and trying to see the other person in a good light in your approach, others may be more inclined to listen to you. Most people are normal, and don’t want to be hurtful or cruel to others. If they are not normal, you will eventually find that out if you maintain contact with them. At that point, you can change your approach accordingly. For most online interactions, you probably should consider trying to be somewhat reasonable and understanding… at least at first.

On the other hand, this is also true… And who wants to attract flies anyway, except maybe frogs or spiders?

I highly doubt “Bruce” and the others in that thread who were responding to Michele learned anything new in that exchange, other than Michele is not a very nice person. I also doubt her efforts to make them more “woke” had much of a positive effect on them. Instead of focusing on what she was trying to say– which I assume was well-meaning– they were being defensive and had focused on the aggressive nature of her communication to them. She may have felt better in being so direct and condescending, but I doubt that approach led to anything good. I was uncomfortable and offended reading it, and I wasn’t even part of the conversation until the very end. I forced myself to read the whole thing, but I’ll bet a lot of people chose not to read it. We’ve got enough reasons to be hurt, offended, or irritated these days.

I was glad to see some people defending Bruce in that thread. It’s not that I don’t think his comment was a bit obtuse. It kind of was. I just don’t think launching a full blown nuclear attack against him, posting to him like he’s stupid, and assuming bad things about his character is useful, particularly when all he did was ask a question. There really is a dearth of mutual respect in our society and it’s having a serious effect on freedom of speech as well as mutual understanding. Angrily attacking people just leads to more attacks. It isn’t helpful, and doesn’t teach anyone anything. However, I also understand that people get frustrated and feel the need to vent. I just think it’s better to take out those frustrations in another venue, rather than in a public forum with perfect strangers. (which doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes slip up myself)

As for Pham and his roommates, I am truly sorry that they had that experience with the city worker. I don’t know what it’s like to be Asian American, so I can’t personally relate to what they went through. But I’m willing to hear what they have to say and offer respect and kindness the best way I know how. I think everyone is deserving of at least that level of respect until they show the world that they’re not worthy. For example, Donald Trump has pretty much lost all of my respect, but that’s because he shows so little to anyone else. When it comes down to it, Bruce’s initial comment wasn’t, on its face, offensive. A “woke” stranger assigned a motive to him and attacked him, rather than giving him the benefit of the doubt. A more gentle probe, rather than an aggressive reprimand, would have likely been more effective and educational for everyone. Or, at least that’s my take… but again, I’m only one person.

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