The external discord and ugliness which emerged from 2016 ignited for many, similar strife internally. The effort to find the balance between compassion and outrage frequently felt like an exercise in futility.
I’m grateful for the quiet spaces between the ying and yang as that is where I would usually find perspective, and a glimpse of sanity.
While not sure how a potpourri of reflections on racism, vulnerability, transgenderism, trauma, the personal narrative, science and political unrest fit together, I do know that each in their own way contributed, like a patch on quilt, to a more birds eye perspective that no doubt will come in handy when navigating the storm of political and social issues 2016 unleashed.
A New Year’s shout out of gratitude to the following seven thinkers for providing in their own unique way a needed mix of empathy, humor, wisdom, understanding, awe, enlightenment and motivation.
- Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.
Written as a letter to his young son, Between the Wold and Me weaves the historical with the personal in such a way that I felt like I had been granted a privileged visit inside the author’s very body and soul. Coates offers the reader a strikingly visceral and perspective changing peek into what it feels like to be black in America.
Using her skills as a researcher/storyteller, Brene Brown applies hard data and evidence to what countless people have known for years but have been unable to prove: “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Brown’s TED talk and books have been life changing – particularly for a number of men; Though given our present political climate, clearly not enough of them.
While attending a recent talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson, my seventeen-year-old son turned to me and whispered, “Best thing you’ve ever taken me to.” I received more insight, entertainment, education and incentive from two hours with this remarkable scientist than any motivational speaker or religious leader. DeGrasse Tyson reminds us of the profound beauty of what is right in front of and within us and most importantly, encourages us to never stop asking questions.
I listened to Adichie’s TED talk in the car and made a note to share with my children. The Danger of a Single Story is about what can happen when human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative as Adichie found out herself upon arriving in the United States from her native Nigeria only to discover she didn’t quite meet the expectations of what the “typical African” should look or act like. Adicichi reminds us why it is essential for us to learn how to hold more than one version of somebody or something in our head and our heart.
Though a fan of Solomon’s for years, particularly his insight on depression and anxiety, it was the Transgender chapter in his book Far From the Tree that offered an aha moment on a salient issue on which I previously had little understandig and admittedly some skepticism about, particularly given that Caitlyn Jenner was my sole barometer. Given we will no doubt be hearing more from the transgender community as society evolves, its more than worthwhile to take time to meet the diverse, complex and lovely families Solomon introduces us to in Far From the Tree.
A good deal of my time and energy this past year was expended on joining the voices of outrage over the rise of a president elect who is so transparently unbalanced, bigoted, emotionally reactive, and misogynistic. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of the bestselling book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Susan Faludi, momentarily took me out of that bubble offering a broader and less reactive, albeit it equally disquieting, understanding of the kind of underlying societal conditions that can fuel a Trump America. While working on a book about her elderly father’s decision to become a woman, (“He had decided at the age of 76, that he’d had enough of, ‘impersonating a macho, aggressive man.’”) Faludi spent time in Hungary where she noted parallels between Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Trump that led to her later penning the illuminating essay, Pity O’ God The Republican.
“But the parallel that most strikes me (and strikes fear in me) isn’t the kinship of two despotically inclined politicians. It is the kinship of national mindsets. Yes, Trump, like Orbán, is a bully. And yes, they both make hay of bigotry. More essentially, though, they both have a combustible social mixture to make hay with. The base ingredients of this mixture have more to do with grievance and a sense of violation than with the hatred and xenophobia the American press likes to harp on. I’d observe them in their elemental form in Budapest.”
The follow up medical care my son received after suffering a traumatic accident at the age of seven was excellent. However no one told us that the trauma and subsequent stress would also seriously impact his ability to learn and succeed in school. It took years before we discovered that what presented itself as ADD and“processing” difficulty was in large part post traumatic stress.
Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, in her must-see Ted Talk, draws needed attention to the impact exposure to chronic stress and trauma has on kids health and school performance. Something every parent and teacher should watch..
“The scope of the issue is huge—it’s massive. It’s a public health crisis. And it’s been a largely unrecognized public health crisis, the link between trauma and health… Children are particularly vulnerable because their brains are still developing. So exposure to trauma is particularly toxic for children. In the medical community, the way that trauma affects the brain and body of a child—we call that toxic stress. The reason we call it toxic stress is because it actually creates change.”
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris