The Power of the Olympics, London 2012

With thanks to artist Pashabo and

I was sitting around the TV with my family and dog watching the Olympics the other night, as the girls competed for the gold on the balance beam. As we switched from women’s gymnastics – a sport evidently designed to crush little girls’ dreams – to men’s vault and horizontal bars, I was struck by the difference in camaraderie between the athletes.

On the girls’ side, none of the athletes seemed to interact with any of the others, and most strikingly, when Deng Linlin surpassed her teammate by a tiny margin of .10 for the gold, Sui Lu, who ended up with the silver, broke out, not in smiles, but in tears. She sobbed on her coach’s shoulder, causing Deng Linlin to cry as well. Sui Lu refused to smile in photos and, once rid of the photographers, promptly ripped off her silver medal in temper. One might judge her for being a snot, but she has been training since the age of three, so one can only imagine the pressure she might have been under.

She’s not the only one who might need a little perspective check. Russian Aliya Mustafina was quoted as saying, “I’m not used to winning just one medal. You get a taste for it and you want a second medal, then a third.” And fellow Russian Victoria Komova expected golds, considering her efforts a complete failure as she only snagged two silvers.

We were kind of used to all that high drama. I still remember watching the Olympics in the ’80s, when the event was little more than a thinly veiled muscle match between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as each tried to prove themselves superior to the other via their nation’s athletes.

Heck, I still remember Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

However, a few teenage-girl snits aside, I began to wonder if there is a change in the attitude these athletes bring to the Games. I watched as American Sam Mikulak kissed the vault and swapped handshakes and high-fives with his fellow competitors after he scored fifth. I watched as German Fabian Hambuchen slipped from top position to second after Epke Zonderland’s stunning performance on the horizontal bars, and Fabian registered his own disappointment only briefly before clapping Epke on the back and shaking his hand in admiration. The two were exchanging hugs and congratulations like dear friends by the time they received their medals.

There’s more, too. We were watching the women running, and feeling a bit of pity for the women whose countries and religions ensured they were covered head-to-toe, as they came in dead last, long after everyone else had crossed the finish line. We speculated that perhaps their countries thought it wasn’t worth investing in those athletes because they were women, and perhaps wanted to prove to their audiences back home that “See? Women can’t perform well.” Except, if anything, it does the exact opposite. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei were pressured to have women compete (thank you, IOC!), and now they are forced to reveal the comparison: how well women athletes perform when you invest in them, compared with the countries who hold them back. It’s not the women who do poorly. It’s about an entire nation’s attitude. Their performance says nothing about the women as individuals and says everything about the power of women’s rights.

Tahmina Kohistani, from Afghanistan, was one such athlete whose nation did not properly support her efforts. But the surprise was, when she arrived at the Olympics, how many others cheered her on. She writes, “I wasn’t pleased with my time – I had trained so much, worked so hard. But it was still a good experience, and definitely the most important of my life. It was so good to be able to learn from all the other girls. I talked with a lot of the other runners, and they were all encouraging me….But I knew I was not going to win a medal when I came here; I am here to begin a new era for the women of Afghanistan to show people that we can do the same things that people from other countries can do. There is no difference between us.” Instead of coming to the Olympics and encountering sour and threatening rivals, Kohistani found support, mentorship, and encouragement. Instead of being trampled on, she was lifted up and given a chance to make a change for women back home.

This is what I believe the power and the promise of the Olympics and events like it can be. When it shifts from a muscle match to a show of true honor and sportsmanship, when competitors are not enemies but mentors to learn from, and when athletes demonstrate through camaraderie and hard work, skill, and determination what people can achieve, the Olympics can help pave the road of progress.

The Olympics has always been political. But I’m happy when the politics of sports means that countries are pressured to invest in their girls and that competition is not a zero-sum game – there is more to sport than winning the gold. There is teamwork and there is inspiration. Let us do better and be better, not to beat the other guy up, but to make us all the best we can be.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. CaptureShare. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Corinne’s!

we all are patriots

I am so bloody tired of the public political discourse in this country. I’m so tired of the shrill, piercing screams so loud no one can hear what anyone is saying. I’m so bloody tired of people acting like the other side is full of deranged, uneducated, depraved and unconscionable lunatics. I’m guilty of it too. {Totally guilty.} But I want to make an honest effort to not do that. To not assume and not judge. Those who know me well enough probably know (or at least have an idea) what my general position is on some current issues. They probably know what I would say. So I’m not going to beat a dead horse.

But I’m so tired of all the yelling and the screaming and the fighting and the LACK OF INFORMATION. On both sides now.

I want to punch the reset button.

I used to pride myself on tolerance, but I’ve plum run out. I’ve run out of tolerance for the name-calling, hyperbole, and the media feeding on it like maggots in the muck.

I’m pretty certain both sides are operating on a totally different set of facts. But it’s nigh impossible to get to the facts through all the effing ideology-driven drivel. I’m pretty certain we DO have common goals. But it would take a miracle to find them under all the derision.

I’m pretty dang firm in my ideology.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear information that might suggest that, hey, maybe I’m wrong and that there is a whole other set of facts to consider.

If you tell me my values are wrong, I’m gonna get pissed off. Just like I’m sure everyone else would. But, dangit. Why is it so hard now to put that aside and look at facts?

I’m pretty sure other people must be frustrated when they look at the other side and think: why can’t they see they’re being lied to? If they just knew {insert favorite bit of information here}, they would totally see things differently!

Truth? There’s so much lying and covering up, misrepresenting, and misunderstanding going on these days that yeah. We’ve probably all been lied to. The question is: can we uphold ourselves to a standard that the media seem to have forgotten? Maybe we can’t be objective, but can we learn to share information without a dose of vitriol on the side?

{Irony of ironies: some of the same quotes Democrats used to scream upon the lead up to the War in Iraq are now being screamed by Republicans over health care reform. Lesson? We do have shared values – we just apply them in different contexts.}

At the end of the day, I don’t expect us all to agree. At the end of the day, I’m actually quite sure we’d still vote differently from each other.

But maybe, just maybe…we’d understand each other a little bit better.

Maybe we’d have a little more respect for each other. Love thy neighbor.
(Even when thy neighbor is of a different political party. Right?)

And maybe we would be a little less angry when we didn’t get our way. We might actually like living in a democracy and feel represented, even when we are in the minority.

Maybe we can start with this: we all are patriots. We get so angry because we all care about our country.

women unbound – queen bees and wannabes

queenbeesWhat? Two posts in one day? Two Women Unbound posts in one week? What’s going on here? Actually, this post is totally impromptu – I just finished reading a book I happened to come across a reference of, had to read it asap, and was SO ENTHRALLED by it the entire time reading it, I just had to post about it immediately.  And I would say any parent with a daughter over the age of about 7 MUST READ THIS BOOK.

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman is a parent’s guide, but it is a perfect candidate for Women Unbound because it is all about empowerment: empowering young girls to navigate the murky, dramatic, and sometimes crippling waters of adolescent life and still learn how to treat herself and others with decency and respect.

I say this book is a must read because, quite honestly, and as the book makes clear, the world of adolescents today is a different beast than even in my day and most certainly in my parent’s generation. Adolescence, as much as we might cringe to acknowledge, is starting at younger and younger ages because kids have all kinds of social and media pressures to act older – which is problematic because they’re still just learning moral guideposts, but they’re faced with more and more situations where they have to figure out for themselves what the right course of action is within the confines of the very rigid and demanding framework of rules of their social world. And nothing has had more of an impact on their world than technology. When we were kids, if rumors were spread about us, it was by word of mouth. Now, when kids spread gossip about each other, it’s across the school and on the internet in seconds. If a girl takes a picture of her breasts with her cell phone and sends it to a boy she likes, hoping it’ll make him like her, there’s little stopping him from sending it to all his friends or for any of them from emailing it to all the other kids in school, who can all then call her a slut as they pass her in hallways. These kids are on Facebook or other social media sites, often with multiple accounts knowing their parents check one, and they’re very susceptible to “trolling” and acting online in ways you never would in person.

And it’s frustrating for parents or others who are trying to be good role models for these kids because it’s an age when the kids are trying to pull away from their parents. They alternate, sometimes without any apparent rhyme or reason, between being insecure and needing your hugs and rolling their eyes at you and treating you like you’re the biggest jerk ever. Ironically, I found it actually comforting that it’s completely normal to have moments where you really just DO NOT LIKE this kid and wonder how your sweet, wonderful daughter turned into this crazy person overnight. And it’s not just your kid…it’s pretty much every kid. Because whether they’re the Queen Bee, the Torn Bystander, or the socially outcast Target, they all have some role to play in their world. They all do something that maintains or challenges the social order and their actions affect their relationships with other kids AND what they learn about intimate relationships that can have repercussions throughout their lives. Even if their daily actions don’t, they will almost inevitably face moments where they will have to make critical decisions. And they bring that baggage home with them and it affects their moods and how they deal with family and others.

We’re all familiar with this because we all lived through this before too. But I think the reason this book is so helpful is because Wiseman (who is an educator who spent over a decade compiling observations and talking to a wide range of girls and boys and having them look over her drafts to ensure accuracy) helps explain things in the framework of the logic of the girl’s world. We, as adults, usually forget how this logic works because we’ve grown up. We see things with an adult perspective and respond in kind. In a certain sense, having an adult perspective means you see some things more clearly than your daughter does – and so you wonder why she puts up with it when others treat her like crap, or when she is the one being bossy or judgmental when you certainly didn’t raise her to be that kind of person. But sometimes our knee-jerk reactions (like when we say “Just ignore it” or “They’re just jealous of you”) don’t make sense in the framework of their logic and so are ineffective strategies.

And what is extra amazing about this book is that at the end of each section, Wisemen takes a moment to have parents reflect on their own experiences as adolescents and whether those experiences are informing how parents are acting as role models. It made me really reflect on some of my more formative experiences. For example, I think one of the biggest experiences happened to me in high school – and I didn’t even really recognize how big of an impact it had on me at the time; only with hindsight do I see its effects. In my junior year, I developed a crush on a friend (we’ll call him Daniel) and I found out he liked me too. But before anything happened between us, I went to Washington, DC for a week (it’s amazing how much can happen in a week when you’re a teenager) through an extracurricular school program, and when I came back I discovered after much drama and a flurry of back-and-forth phone calls that my friend (we’ll call her Alice) had gotten jealous and decided she liked Daniel too. And Daniel liked her back. And Daniel (oh, aren’t boys so sweet?), caught in the middle, came up and told me he liked both of us and wanted to date both of us simultaneously.

I was like, “Fuuuuuuuck no.” (Pardon my French.) Actually, I didn’t cuss him out. I just told him that if that was how he felt, he and Alice could just have each other. I was NOT going to be involved in that. I’m glad I stood up for myself and didn’t let him use me that way. But the whole experience did have a very dramatic impact on my ability to trust girl friends after that. And it was a long time before I could really develop female friendships with other girls that were really based on equality, trust, and mutual respect.

So it helps to think through what our own emotional baggage might be, to see how that might color the kind of guidance we give as role models.

And the key, fundamental guidepost behind the strategies Wiseman offers (that have been checked and approved by adolescents themselves as being helpful) is a core commitment to decency and respect – and giving kids the tools they need to act with that commitment in mind in a way that makes sense to them.

Does this meet any of your experiences? For those of you with adolescent daughters, have you had times where you were just at your wits’ end about how to guide her? Have you found her or her friends doing mean things over text message or the internet? Or has she been a target of such meanness? Do you have grade school experiences that have shaped you?

Constructing our memories

doorsI recently listened to an NPR podcast about how digital technologies are becoming a surrogate form of memory. Facebook, blogs, even iPhone apps store data about our lives to such capacity that they can record events that we wouldn’t even remember unless we went back over the data record and rediscovered something that happened or that we said or thought. The discussants in this particular show also dealt with the issue of privacy and how these technologies record our lives in a public domain and all it takes is someone with enough will to access just about anything they want about us that has been digitally recorded.

There’s so much to think about with this issue, but what really struck me was at one point during the show one of the discussants expressed an inordinate amount of smug glee over what he perceived as the stupidity of people talking about private things in their lives (like affairs, for instance) in their emails, which he argues are public (because anyone with enough will and $100 can access them, i.e. angry exes). I felt so affronted by his cavalier notion of privacy (not that I’m standing up for philanderers or anything, I’m just talking about the everyday person’s need to discuss things with friends and family over email that may not be appropriate for others to read). Just because people can access such material does not mean it’s not private. That’s tantamount to saying that if someone broke into your house and went through your private letters in your desk, it was public because they could. If I really wanted to, I could riffle through my husband’s email, but I don’t because it is his private space. Privacy is a social construction; it’s an agreed upon space where the walls are just as real and important whether they are made of bricks and mortar or megabytes of data. If someone violates that tacit agreement, it is not that you have stupidly made private information public, rather it is that they have invaded your privacy.

The reason I take such offense is not because I’m a particularly private person. I take offense because I feel such sentiments induce fear in people: fear that they cannot be real, or that they cannot be open with others without extreme caution, for fear they will be judged or persecuted later in life by God-knows-who. Half the time we say things, they’re only truth for the time being anyway: our understanding, our feelings, our hopes and dreams right now in this moment. We change, we adapt, we learn, and we shouldn’t fear condemnation for the private thoughts we had along the way. And I think those who seek information with which to judge and condemn others (when such information is so wholly unconnected to themselves) are petty douche bags sorely misguided individuals. But then, I’m the type who cocks an eyebrow at employers who look at prospective or current employees’ Myspace and Facebook accounts looking for reasons to deem the persons unprofessional by actions they take outside their profession. (Is it hypocritical of me to judge the judgmental?)

I believe such actions reduce our honesty and replace it with fear. People fear having real experiences in life because of what the neighbors might say. People fear being their true selves and people fear participating in life because some schmuck others might judge them and meet them with suspicion and anger, rather than charity and understanding. And I believe we should not be confined by someone else’s closed mind, lest we be reduced to the path of least imagination. What is beautiful about humanity will suffer, if we let such a mentality take hold. Right? Otherwise, how will privacy and individual expression survive the digital age?

Here’s to keeping it real.

Waiting For the Other Shoe to Drop

I am thankful to say I’m past the blues which plagued me yesterday. However, there is a certain bit of anxiety I still face today. Recently, I told a certain person off, something I almost never do because I tend to shy away from conflict. I tend to choose understanding and forgiveness, and tell myself this is the higher path; though if I am being honest, sometimes it is because I lack the courage to face the conflict directly. But I am trying to be better about facing conflict more honestly, and more maturely, with a level head, and fair mind. And I had quite literally reached the end of my rope with this person, and I felt I needed to stand up for myself, and not allow them to treat me with such little respect simply because they are used to treating everybody in that manner. I realize part of the reason I am so highly offended is related to some degree of cultural difference, but I think most people would agree the basis of my complaint is reasonable, even if they don’t find it quite as offensive as I do. (I hope it is understandable that I don’t divulge the particulars publicly.)

I tried to be as fair as possible without getting mean at all and even made several efforts to compliment them where I felt it was due, though let’s face it, criticizing someone is never a pleasant prospect. Perhaps it wasn’t my place to say some of the things I did, especially since there is a high probability that others might be affected by my decision. But I did feel it was fair to tell them that I did not appreciate their conduct towards me, whatever anyone else might feel with regards to themselves. I made a pact with myself that I would only say it this once, so that my feelings at least be made known, and this person can choose to consider them or not. At least I know I’ve made the effort, and the person will know why I might be distant and reserved around them.

But I told the person my feelings about a week ago, and I still haven’t received a response. I’m not sure if the person will respond outright, but it’s a bit nerve-wracking waiting to find out the consequences of my actions. I will try to face them honestly, whatever they are, and not back down simply because conflicts make me nervous. But the more time goes by, the more nervous I become waiting to discover the result.

Lessons From My Father

1. We are always on stage. Whether we like it or not, we always have an audience and should dress and behave accordingly.

2. When you love someone, you take care of them. You find ways, little or big, to show you care, without having to be asked. To do for others is to show them they are loved.

3. To always be gracious, say thank you, and genuinely appreciate the gift, even if you hate it.

4. Hopskotch is the happiest time.

5. Appreciate good wine, good cheese, good friends, and good music.

6. Sometimes capturing footage of a rampaging elephant is more important than staying in the safety of your vehicle.

7. Sometimes making your loved ones happy is more important than being right.

8. Always act so that you’ll be proud of yourself 5 years from now. And 10 years from now. Live life with no regrets.

9. Start with an outline: who, what, where, when, why and how. Can you say it in 25 words or less? And look it up in the dictionary.

10. Always explain to your children why. Punishments are never unjust when kids understand why what they did was wrong, and thus the lesson will be much more quickly learned. Treat kids like adults and they will act with maturity.

11. Library is NOT pronounced “lie-berry”.

12. I can do anything I want, if I want it badly enough.

13. I have many talents and I can be a little good at a lot of things, or really, really good at just one thing, and this is the choice I must make.

14. A woman can never have too much adoration, especially from the special men in her life.

15. Sometimes you just need to let a man make his mistakes.

16. Parenting is on-the-job training. Have pity.

17. Let the man pay for dinner. It’s good for his ego.

18. No matter what happens, there is never any reason you cannot come home. Your parents will always be there for you and always love you.

19. There is nothing you cannot tell your parents. (But there are things you probably shouldn’t tell them.)

20. English muffins topped with sour cream and boysenberry jam is heaven on earth.

21. Tea with honey and lemon works wonders on a sore throat.

22. Sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them. If you wrap them first in saran wrap and then in tin foil, they’ll stay fresh through lunchtime.

23. Hugs and snuggling are always wanted.

24. Take every opportunity to learn foreign languages. You never know when Norwegian or Zulu will come in handy.

25. Don’t get high on acid and burn your dissertation. As much as you might want to, it just makes for a depressing story.

Things I Learned From My Mother

1. Arrange food artistically when serving it. Food tastes even better when it looks appetizing.

2. Respect your elders, even if it seems they do not deserve it. There is always something to be learned from them, if only a lesson in your own humility.

3. A good chef knows if food is well-prepared just by the smell, when there is balance between the salty, the sour, and the sweet. I think there’s something true about life here too: it’s about finding the balance between salty, sour, and sweet.

4. Be frugal if you must, but never in food. You can scrimp and save everywhere in life, but when it comes to food, eat like kings.

5. It is our actions, not our words, that define who we are.

6. It’s the little feminine touches, like lotion or body sprays, that take no effort but make all the difference when you’re traveling.

7. Laugh often and uproariously. Life is meant to be laughed at and there is no shortage of ways to find pure glee.

8. Sometimes you say the most when you say nothing at all. Well-placed silence can often be more effective than the slickest words or loudest shrieks.

9. It can be a powerful tool when people don’t quite know what to make of you.

10. Family, above all else. When you are at the end of everything, when there is nothing left, only family can be trusted to be there.

11. When you are broken and bleeding, a mother’s hand upon your face can work magic.

12. Tell your children you can’t always afford to buy them the toys they want (even if you can) and make them do chores (even if it would be done more efficiently by you). This instills the value of money and hard work. They’ll grumble, but they’ll appreciate you for it later in life.

13. Stupid rules are meant to be broken. But always be prepared to pay the consequences—or at least to outsmart the authority figures.

14. Life’s too short to wear uncomfortable shoes. And if you can get away with it, bras should be discarded for the exact same reason.

15. Diamonds really are worth it.

16. You should never be too uptight to enjoy a good joke about sex.

17. Do not imbibe margaritas when you should be cooking dinner for your husband’s boss, who is about to arrive.

18. Don’t be afraid to wear bright beautiful colors. Do it tastefully, but do it.

19. Don’t be rude, not even to people who serve you or work for you.

20. Watching movies with someone, even when neither of you are talking, is spending quality time together.

21. This too shall pass.

22. Fear thy mother’s wrath.

23. Weekends are for fresh-baked bread, smoked salmon or foie gras, shallots and lime. Paired with a good sauvignon blanc.

24. Travel while you’re young. If you wait until retirement, you’ll be too old and fatigued to endure the travails which inevitably come with travel.

25. Families require management. As a woman, it is your job to manage the family and do it in a way that they don’t realize they’re being managed…and yet they always come to you for advice.

This I Used to Believe

Once upon a time, I used to believe it was of utmost importance to command the respect of my significant other in my relationships. I choose those words precisely. I say “command the respect” because, in my little belief system of the time, it was more than just having his respect. The way I understood respect was something more along the lines of having him bow at my feet. Whatever I wished, he would make so. If there was anything I did not wish, he could not press me. I thought it was my duty as a woman of the modern age, my duty as a feminist, to have total, complete control in the relationship. Of course, that also meant respect was a one-way street. For how could I respect a man who did not stand up for himself, even if it was me he must stand up against?

My command of my boyfriends’ respect sounds atrocious now put in such words, and in all honesty, I am exaggerating to some extent. I am not unkind and I do care for the people in my life. I do try to please and find ways to make my loved ones happy. But when push came to shove, there is more than a kernel of truth to my statement above. Part of it came from having a supremely strong mother, and part of it came just from what I understood it meant to be a strong woman. And I was happy because I pretty much got whatever I wanted. And the men I dated were happy to supply it. And when I was ready to move on, well…I’m sorry darlin’, but it was good while it lasted, right?

But then I fell in love. And I don’t just mean the love you feel for really special people in your life. I mean real, head over heels, no one but him kind of love–where rationality has no place because logic–or even Haagen Daas ice cream–can’t fill the hole in your soul in which only he belongs. Where you can’t even put up any defenses, because somehow he got past them when you were looking the other way. And then I discovered there is no such thing as feminism in love. There’s no such thing as ‘commanding’ respect. Because when you love, when you really love with your whole being, there is no room for pride. There is no ego; there is only the two of you.

And then respect becomes, unerringly, a two-way street. Because respect is intrinsic to true love; without it, love wouldn’t exist. Love wobbles without trust, but it perishes without respect. You don’t have to fight for your rights as a woman, you don’t have to prove your equality. You just are and he just is, and everything clinks into place. Gender roles don’t matter. You just do your thing and he does his…and on everything else you meet in the middle. Because really, who the fuck cares who does the dishes and who smashes the big, scary bugs? At the end of the day, all that matters is you take care of each other. Not saying it is easy, not by a long shot. Just saying, in true love, there’s no such thing as keeping score.

I heard a segment on NPR today discussing “This I Used to Believe”. It’s not about what you believe now, but what convictions you once held. It’s less about who you are now, and more about how you’ve changed and what brought about that change. So I invite you to comment: What did you use to believe?

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