Respect

How do you celebrate Veterans Day? How should we? I think that varies with the individual or family, whether one is or is not a veteran, and sometimes which war hits closest to home for us.

A Veterans Day parade in Milwaukee, WI, complete with banners, flags and uniforms.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a good parade, honor ceremony, or display of the flag. In many places you can buy a remembrance poppy, evoking memories of World War I, and a tradition in English-speaking countries since the 1920s.

I sometimes feel that the trappings of patriotism–the outward signs, such as a flag pin on a lapel or a patriotic meme on a Facebook wall–get more focus than actual, substantive ways to support veterans and their families.

Last year I posted some thoughts on how to thank veterans that might be worth another look, if you’re so inclined. But it seems to me that we as a nation need to think long and hard about how we treat our active-duty military personnel and our veterans. It’s easy to wave a flag and say “Thank you,” and I’m sure many feel good to be publicly appreciated–but is that the supportiveness they truly need?

If we, as citizens and taxpayers think veterans should be better-served than they currently are, we first should educate ourselves about where the needs truly lie–then get active on a local, state, and national level. To me, that’s the best form of patriotism: the hands-on, trying-to-make-it-better kind. P.S. Did you vote for better government last Tuesday?

If we’re paying enlisted personnel a living wage, why do so many of them end up as prey to the predatory payday lenders whose businesses cluster near military bases?

Back in 2011, I wrote about dilapidated schools on military basesMany were still struggling to improve their facilities as recently as 2015, though academic scores were rising.

If we’re so grateful as a nation to our veterans, why don’t more employers make a point of hiring them

Why are there so many homeless veterans? Also, what can ordinary citizens do to help them? Why are social and mental-health services spread so thin that veterans too often fall through the gaps?

Why do so many veterans commit suicide? How can we stem this trend?

Looks elegant–but are we making it REAL? That’s an open question, I fear.

It seems clear to me that we still have many serious “system upgrades” to put in place, before any “thank you for your service” we say won’t be at risk of seeming kind of hollow, to all too many of our returned warriors.

No matter how sincerely we mean it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Honor Our Military (based in Milwaukee, WI) for the photo from their 2014 Veterans Day Parade; to the Remembrance Day Pinterest page and Pin for the poppy-themed thought (photo sourced from Hubpages); and to Ultimate Medical Academy via Pinterest for the quote image about real heroes. Thanks are also due to Diply via Pinterest for the Mark Twain quote about patriotismFinally, I am grateful to the National Veterans Foundation for the “dog tags” Thank You image.

Counting our . . . you’re kidding, right?

As I write this, we are one week and counting away from the most feared and dreaded election in recent memory. The news stories and commentary, and all too often our social media, email inboxes, offices and homes are rife with discord and polarization.

Seems like a strange time to talk about gratitude for blessings.

Yet, here we are at the dawn of November, the month of Thanksgiving. Traditionally, this is a time for Harvest, for in-gathering and coming together, and yes, for a time of meditation upon our blessings.

As you’ve possibly noticed, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’ve been following monthly themes in the images, quotes, and at least some of the articles I’ve been posting this year. Months ago, in my editorial calendar, it seemed a good idea to make this month’s theme “Creatively Grateful.”

I’m not sure what I was thinking. It’s certainly true that many of us are gonna have to get real creative to find anything at all to be grateful for, in this scorched, cratered battlefield of a social discourse.

Or so it seems, at first knee-jerk.

It’s true things have been tough, lately. We’re only gradually pulling out of a “jobless” recovery, and income disparity is wider now than many realize. Worse, that disparity may be polarizing us into ideological ‘tribes,’driving us further and further apart.

But with all these forces driving us apart, how can we buck that trend, and work together?

I’d like to start by invoking, with gratitude, the bedrock values that we’ve used as a guide and touchstone in the past: that we’re all created equal, that we all have certain rights, including the right to be heard, to follow our conscience, and to think for ourselves. We can’t dictate how others must believe–and, just as important–no one else can dictate how we must believe. 

Whatever happened to justice for all, and innocent until proven guilty? Whatever happened to generosity, and neighbor helping neighbor? Whatever happened to reaching across the aisle, and working for the common good?

We can reclaim those values. We can demand them. We can live them, no matter what others do. And when we consistently live them, we can change the climate of our social and political lives.

But first we must look beyond our fearful little tribes and realize we’re all just people. We may not see eye-to-eye on all things, but we also know that blood in the streets is not the road to peace. There is a more excellent way.

It starts with gratitude for our society’s foundations, and it blossoms into respect for our fellow citizens.

Let’s be grateful for an institutional framework that has kept our elections mostly un-rigged, our successions of power mostly peaceful, and our rule of law–while clearly not flawless–founded upon a thirst for true justice.

Let’s extend a hand, and curb our impulses to name-call and denigrate each others’ ethics or intelligence. We can do better. Let’s make that roll-call of blessings. Let’s remember the vital ties that bind us together–even now.

We can do well by ourselves, our neighbors, our political allies and opponents. We can do well by our country. Hope yet abides, and blessings abound. Can you count them?

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Sustainable Leader, for the “political tug-of-war” image, and to Lori Rosenberg for the meeting-of-hands image, and Hideaki Matsui for the handshake photo.

Peace and Justice and Black and Blue

The events of this month so far have left me feeling torn in pieces.

From Dallas, before the attack. Can we see more of this, please, and less of what came later?

Anyone who reads my blog from time to time will likely have noted that I am interested in, and largely sympathetic toward, law enforcement. Yet another dominant theme for me is social justice Indeed, on July 2nd, I announced that my theme for the quotes and images of this month would focus on diversity as a major strength of my homeland, the United States of America.

I chose it because the ugly rise in open racism that I have seen in recent years troubles me deeply, and I believe the most patriotic thing I can do is oppose that trend. I’m not the only one in my country who feels torn by seemingly competing loyalties, or betrayed by the oversimplifications it’s too easy to fall into.

If I am supportive of the police, am I automatically unsympathetic to the minority communities that have so often been targeted, or oblivious to the seemingly-endless cases of unarmed black men (and boys) killed by police?

If I affirm that the protesters often have an all-too-valid point, am I undermining the authority and values of law enforcement, or denying the value of the rule of law?

No. I want a third way. I want a way where everyone’s intrinsic value is affirmed: where ALL neighborhoods have access to good food, good education, health care, and job opportunities, and where the presence of the police is honestly welcomed.

As President Obama said in Dallas, we must keep our hearts open to our fellow Americans. “With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just [to] opponents, but to enemies.”

I pray he was right when he said, “I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace.” But it won’t happen if we stay back in our bitter, angry corners and refuse to see each other’s humanity. Each one of us has a responsibility to step up: to do all we can to make that vision a reality in our world.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Quartz, for the photo of the protester with the cops. 

We are America

I was sent a video on Facebook the other day that seems the very soul of my theme for this month. It’s part of the “Love has no Labels” campaign from the Ad Council. I thought I’d share it as a follow-up to my 4th of July post.

There’s not a lot I can add to what John Cena says in the video, except to endorse the message wholeheartedly. 

We can only be our best United States of America when we are a whole USA. The great thing about this country is the rich diversity of all of us, because our diversity gives us such deep and amazing range. 

VIDEO: Many thanks to the Ad Council and YouTube for this video. Thanks, guys! I couldn’t have said it better myself!