It’s not about the number. Or is it? #NumbersThatMatter

I needed a dress. I needed a dress that is appropriate for family member’s wedding (as a guest, not a bridesmaid). So I went to a Kohl’s store to see what I might find. I should say… I do not shop for clothing often, and usually when I shop, I am seeking something specific with laser-like focus. I walked in, and not being much of a shopper, and not seeing any area that had an obvious cluster of wedding-appropriate dresses, I took a brief stroll through the nearest clearance racks to see if there was anything I felt I needed.

I have struggled with ill-fitting jeans since I stopped nursing and started gaining weight – back to my body’s homeostatic size. I looked through the clearance jeans (apparently people are only buying shorts and capris at this time), and came across a pair that I liked. Not too flared, not too straight. As I pulled them off the rack, I looked at the size tag. 17. SEVENTEEN?!? Wha? I held them up to my body, and they appeared to be a little too big, not worth trying on… But certainly not double-plus-one the size I know myself to wear! I was confused. Perhaps they were marked down because they were sized wrong. That’s probably it. And then someone asked if I had any questions.

“Yes, do you have dresses that are formal enough for my brother’s wedding, but not prom-wear?”

“Yes, they are over in the center of the store, around that corner. In the women’s section.”

(I missed her hint.) “Also – I’m really confused. These jeans say they are a size 17. There’s no way! They’re a little bigger than I need, but certainly not a size 17!”

“Yes, well, these are juniors’ sizes. And they usually run a little more… (moves open hands to her hips and squeezes them, as if holding an invisible ball – one that is half her width, mind you).”

“Ahh… okay. Thanks.”  (Letting that sink in. Okay I’m too old now to shop in juniors’. Umm. I’m pretty sure that happened a while ago, but if I find something I like… who cares?) “Wait! So adolescent’s clothing runs smaller, but is called by a larger size?”

She shrugged her shoulders and walks away.

Let me say this: I am not overweight. I am solidly (whatever that means!) a size 8. And apparently I am now firmly in that phase-of-life that makes it appear awkward if I shop in the juniors’ department. Again, I am not a shopper. So much so, that I had completely forgotten than juniors’ sizes ran in odd numbers and ladies’ sizes ran in evens.  These things don’t matter to me. It’s not about the number for me. It’s about the look and feel of the item. So I got curious. I picked up a SZ 15 jean that looked like it might fit me but a little big, a size 11 that looked just right, a size 9, and 7. Then I went to the ladies’ department. I picked up a size 8, and a 10, in either shorts or jeans.

When I was younger (and more appropriately shopping in the juniors’ section), generally juniors’ size 7 was equivalent to ladies’ size 8. Juniors’ 9 was roughly equivalent to ladies’ size 10, etc. When did this change? I still see pants labelled as 7/8, and 9/10, and 11/12… so apparently in some parallel universe that is still the case. But not at Kohl’s.

So I did a photo journal of the experience. These pictures are unedited. As it turns out, it is hard to take in-focus selfies in a mirror.
Please forgive the pale skin (I work indoors), and the insulin pump-parts you may see in the pics (I have diabetes).

These are the “sweet and straight” jeans. They are relaxed, but sometimes make me feel frumpy. These are definitely my “comfortable” jeans.

These are the “sweet and straight” jeans. They are relaxed, but sometimes make me feel frumpy. These are definitely my “comfortable” jeans.

Here are juniors'  Hydraulic size 15 jeans. They are too big for me, and would look funny if cinched with a belt, but not 6 sizes too big! They are made with some lycra, so they stretch some.

Here are juniors’ Hydraulic size 15 jeans.
They are too big for me, and would look funny if cinched with a belt, but not 6 sizes too big! They are made with some lycra, so they stretch some.

These are Angel jeans size 11. These fit just right. Comfortable, with no bulge over the top.

These are Angel jeans size 11.
These fit just right.
Comfortable, with no bulge over the top.

These are a size 8 at Maurice’s. Note the gapping in the back.

These are a size 8 at Maurice’s. Note the gapping in the back.

Now for Maurice's size 9: Close, but too tight in the waist.

Now for Maurice’s size 9: Close, but too tight in the waist.

I did, in fact try on some dresses. For some reason in dresses I needed either a 6 or a small.

I did, in fact try on some dresses. For some reason, in dresses I needed either a 6 or a small.

The fact is that there is NO consistency in sizing for junior’s or womens’ clothing! No wonder it takes women so much longer to shop than a man! I can go into a store and KNOW that any pair of pants I pick up that are sized 34×30 will fit my husband. I know he needs a size large shirt. That’s it. It is not the same for girls/women.

Now, I am a counselor. I have seen clients who have what I consider to be significant body dysmorphia (meaning, they don’t have a realistic image of their body shape/size). I have worked with people with have eating disorders. Too many young people have unrealistic standards that they are trying to live up to. The inconsistency in sizing for our clothing cannot be helping this situation! A teenager who is my size may consider herself “plus sized” because the number on her pants is 1.5 x the number on mine!

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life (Smolak, 2011).” Age 6!!!

According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD):
• 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
• 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.6
• Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
• 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
• 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.3
• The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
• Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
• In a survey of 185 female students on a college campus, 58% felt pressure to be a certain weight, and of the 83% that dieted for weight loss, 44% were of normal weight. • 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
• 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
• 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

These numbers matter! These are lives we are talking about!

Somehow, I grew up to be at home in my skin. In part, it was related to my parenting, and genetic make-up, sure. And I am fortunate in that. But do not read that to say that I have not shared in these struggles. I tried, at one point, to be anorexic. It turns out I do not have the necessary gag reflex. I binged, I compulsively exercised. I gained and lost weight and gained again. I eat my feelings. These are real battles for too many women! But basing your perception and value of yourself on something as arbitrary (see above documented examples) as the size noted on your clothing is not helpful or fair to you, or any other woman you meet.

Ladies, that number on your clothing tag does not matter. You do.

I hope to raise my daughter with the light of knowledge that this variability exists and is real. I hope to raise awareness that the clothing makers seek to manipulate behavior by sizing things inconsistently. The way juniors’ clothing is sized effectively reinforces the lies that our girls hear day in and day out: You’re fat. You don’t measure up. You need to lose weight to be loved or acceptable.

Ladies, can we demand that clothing makers develop a consistent sizing regimen, so that the Sevens and Lucky’s and MissMe’s can’t make wealthier buyers feel better about themselves by being able to squeeze into a size___? Can we simply start labelling our clothes with actual, meaningful sizes? (Lucky already does this – their ladies’ jeans are labeled by both traditional American sizes and actual inches. My label says “8 / 29.”) Can we stop deceiving ourselves about our own body shape/size, because it’s my totally unfounded suspicion that’s how we got to this arbitrary sizing scale anyway.

Tweet this, share it, and tell your stories, using the #NumbersThatMatter hashtag.

As always, feel free to join the conversation by commenting below.

Misogyny, masculinity, and violence

I am aware of the increase in conversation recently about the mysogyny in our culture. This has buzzed recently, because of last week’s murders. I didn’t plan to weigh in on this one, because those that know me could predict my take… but a strange confluence of events beckons words from me.

I have paid little attention to the rise of the popular #YesAllWomen hashtag. I don’t tweet. I don’t have an account. I am, however thrilled that there is increased conversation (at least for now) about experiences that are alarmingly common in women’s lives, combined with the dismissiveness of  many, but certainly not all men (we’ll call them “non-feminists”). A feminist is simply someone who espouses the following beliefs/activities:

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests (From Merriam-Webster‘s online dictionary)

In the last 48 hours, three women in India have made international news because their deaths were related to ideology that calls a woman’s body and sexuality property, and that considers women less-important beings (than straight men, presumably).

I read this article that made me sad, and reminded me how pervasive these experiences are for, #YesAllWomen.

I was promptly faced with a challenging client who complained of being perpetually maltreated, and frequently asked to leave the facility. This client was male, somewhat intimidating. He postured, peacock like, puffing up at any perceived provocation. He went on to tell me that in the past, he has been prone to conflict with any other males he comes across, “because they all look at me like I have a big ol’ coochie right there (pointing where you might imagine).”

“That was entirely inappropriate,” I said. “You are aware that I’m a woman, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t mean no disrespect, but they always be looking at me like I got a pussy or something.”

Both times, this man utters his selected vaginal nickname with disgust… like the word is bitter leaving his throat. Clearly, the worst, most disgusting and offensive thing that could happen to someone would be to have a vagina.

I then spent the next several hours trying to tune out his rants in our lobby, including his retelling of his version/interpretation of the above interaction and who I am as a clinician/human being to every other (male) client that entered the building. This is the choice I had to make: Does this client need access to our services more than I need to not be on the receiving end of his verbal vomit/intimidating behavior? But the worst part is, THAT IS A CHOICE I HAD TO MAKE!

Admittedly, this man’s apparent disgust for vaginas is, perhaps, the least of his problems. But I have to admit he got to me. It got to me — probably due to my feminist filter being primed and ready. The whole huge systemic ugh-ness of it got to me. This is not about mental illness. This is about misogyny, masculinity, and violence. This is what we do to men when we draw a hard line between male and female, rigidly dividing what we consider appropriate for either gender – when we conceptualize gender as a firm dichotomy. This is the cost of requiring boys to meet certain behavioral and ideological criteria to be considered a “man,” rather than simply, “Do you identify yourself as male in gender, and have you reached a stage of maturity?” Because that is what makes a man, to me. But what do I know? I’m just a woman.

This is the cost of teaching boys that violence is a prerequisite to becoming a man, or that being kind, soft-spoken, sensitive or (gasp!) feminist makes one less of a man (ergo less important?). This is what it costs when we rank manliness on a hierarchical scale… creating and reinforcing a culture in which men have to compete, and are ever-striving to find their place in some pecking order (violence).  This is what happens when we tell boys to “be a man….” This is what happens when we don’t allow a young boy who is gifted in physical movement and grace to dance, because “dancing is for girls.”

If the above client believed women were equally as valuable as men in this world, all the sudden the threat of being perceived as more or less manly is null and void… BECAUSE BOTH MEN AND WOMEN ARE WORTHY OF DIGNITY AND RESPECT! But no. His hostile reaction to the idea that someone might think him less “manly” (read: dominant, powerful, aggressive) belies the belief that to be a woman is to be less-than-desirable.

I’m going to stop here, because I am aware I lose readers if my posts are too long. (We seriously need to consider the evolutionary damage we are doing to our attention-spans!). But for additional interesting readings/videos, here are links to a few of my favorite recent reads on the subject:

From BelleJar: Virginity, Violence, and Masculinity

From Laci Green: More than a Madman

 

As always, I want this to be a conversation, so your comments are always welcome below!

 

Teaching Sex in a Healthy Way: How I Hope to Keep my Kids From Growing up Naked and Ashamed….

In her essay, Naked and Ashamed, Amanda Barbee critiques the way the Christian Church has dealt with the physical body and sexuality. Barbee discusses the ambiguity with which the Church has handled the human body in general, and then presses in to discuss the consistency with which women’s bodies have been maligned in Christian tradition. She lands more recently upon recent research that reveals  abstinence curricula like “True Love Waits,” increases shame responses for children/adolescents. This shame has been found to have similar effects on intimacy later in life to childhood sexual abuse.

Wow.

Shame is a potent tool and one that has been used by parents, churches, and teachers–especially in the realm of sexual development/exploration–far too often. It worked, or at least appeared to on the front end. I’d like to believe that those pushing for abstinence only sexual education may not have known of the damaging effects of shame on the psyche. When shamed, we isolate. In isolation, our secrets become more powerful. We focus increasing energies on not letting others know of these parts of our selves/thoughts/or actions of which we are ashamed. We become compartmentalized in how we relate, and develop huge tracts of taboo in the landscape of our relate-able selves. We then feel increasingly disconnected from others around us, and unable to risk the further shame that we assume will result from being authentically vulnerable with others.

Not only is abstinence-only teaching shaming and potentially harmful. It is ineffective at its primary goal. According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 – after more than 20 years of abstinence/purity movement sexual education curricula in our public schools, Texas ranked 5th highest in teen pregnancy!

Abstinence-Only Programs Do Not Impact Teen Sexual Behavior

In early November 2007, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released Emerging Answers 2007, a report authored by Dr. Douglas Kirby, a leading sexual health researcher, discussing what programs work in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The report found strong evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not have any impact on teen sexual behavior.[i] Quoted from SIECUS fact sheet.

“[M]any abstinence-only-until-marriage programs rely on fear, shame, and guilt to try to control young people’s sexual behavior. These programs include negative messages about sexuality, distort information about condoms and STDs, and promote biases based on gender, sexual orientation, marriage, family structure, and pregnancy options. It is never appropriate to give young people inaccurate or biased information about their sexuality.” Quoted from SIECUS

In her article, Barbee also discusses the uneven impact/burden the purity movement places upon women. One particularly offensive result is the burden this places upon women to clothe themselves with caution, being ever mindful of the stumbling blocks their beautiful bodies lay before the men of the world. I have previously dealt with this stumbling block theology and have excerpted the guts of it below:

I have heard the argument that women need to use more care to not place stumbling blocks in front of men for more than a decade, from well-meaning women, mostly. I believe this argument is harmful to men, women, God and the Church as a whole.

It is harmful to men because it degrades a man’s ability to develop and act out of self-control. It excuses men for their failures and implicitly blames the woman for not being more mindful of his weakness. How emasculating is it to set the bar so low? And how am I, as a woman, to respect a man (for that is what I am called to do) for whom the bar is set so low?
It is harmful to women because it demands that women work harder to maintain the moral righteousness of men than it asks of the men. This is a patronizing idea from a patriarchal time when women had very little voice in the church and fewer rights as human beings: women were blamed for men’s failures and it is still happening. I cannot realistically be expected to accurately assess the potential weakness of every person I could interact with on a daily basis. If a man stumbles because I happen to be wearing a fitted shirt on any given day, that’s on him. That’s between him and God. I also happen to believe that Christ’s sacrifice is enough to appropriately deal with that.
Consider the effort it would take for a woman to evaluate every issue/article of clothing, make-up, accessories, manner of movement, emotional availability… the list could go on ad infinitum. Where do we draw the line about what is ridiculous and too much? It’s all gray-space. And what is a stumbling block for one man or woman may not cause another to stumble. We are not all psychics. Alternatively, each and every man knows when he is tempted. He knows his triggers. Why is it that we feel comfortable asking a woman to be aware of and respond appropriately to the potential triggers for all men, but we are uncomfortable asking one man to be responsible and aware of his own triggers and to respond appropriately by averting his eyes or exhibiting self control?
It harms God. Consider what kind of God would hold women responsible for every questionable thought or action that arose in the untempered mind/body of anyone she had contact with. That is not a God I would want, not a God of mercy or even reason. That is a vengeful, punitive, unreasonable God.
It harms the Church. Excusing men or women for not growing in self control cannot benefit the Body of Christ at large. Instead, it encourages weak men and the ever-mindful caretaker woman to be the norm in both our culture and our churches.

When I consider the impact and ineffectiveness of abstinence-only teaching in general, and the uneven impact/burden the purity movement places upon women, I am relieved to feel like I understand the roots of my own ambivalence about being an embodied woman in the Church. As a parent now, I cannot justify raising my children with an abstinence-only approach to sexual education. I will not raise my children according to the “True Love Waits” curriculum or others that teach abstinence as the only morally appropriate engagement of sexuality outside of marriage. I do not want my children to believe that their sexual bodies/desires/enjoyment are or even should be shameful.

It grieves me to imagine how confused my children may become as they receive various educations on sexuality from our local church youth group, their peers, the public schools of the deep South, where religion and politics are strange but familiar bedfellows. Will my children notice and be aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the conversations we have had with them and what they are hearing elsewhere? Will they talk with us about it? I can only hope so.

I have a proposal…

This is what I will teach my kids regarding the theology of their bodies, and sexuality. Although I write from a Christian orientation, I believe this approach can be easily modified and applied to a non-religious context (such as schools or a non-religious home).

1) You have a body. It is yours and it is borrowed all at the same time. It is the only one you’ll get in this life, so use (or better yet be in) it accordingly.
1 (b) Your body parts all have names and purposes. Some are more dignified than others, but none of them are inherently bad.

2) All people are sexual beings, and exist on a continuum which allows for some to have greater or less desire than others.
2(b) There is also a sexual desire continuum that varies for many individuals across his or her life/developmental stage.

3) Your body was made to enjoy sexual experiences, and sexual experiences can bring great joy and pleasure to both you and God… for God made you that way.

4) When it comes to sexual experiences, I will encourage abstinence, on the basis that this a practice of self-control… one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As you grow in your self-control, you are living more fully into this gift, and honoring and pleasing the Giver.
4(b) Sexuality is a key area for developing self-control because if you can manage your sexuality in a healthy way (definition admittedly debatable), you will struggle less with self control in other common areas for relational and personal sabotage: finances, what you share on social networking, drug/alcohol use, etc.

5) You will get different messages about your body and your sexuality from school/friends/church/mentors/family members/the culture at large. Some of these messages will conflict or may be confusing. We’re here to talk about it, if you want.

The key for our family will be to talk about this in a way that demonstrates to our children that these conversations are not taboo, and that there is room for differences of opinion. I share this approach freely, because I know this is a difficult subject for many parents. and many families apparently just don’t talk about sex.

I would love and welcome your feedback on this approach, as I expect to have several more years to refine it and ease into it before we will be having the majority of this conversation with them.


[i] Douglas Kirby, Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, (Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007), p. 15, accessed 5 February 2007, <http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf&gt;.

An open letter to my soon-to-be-kindergartener

Hi Love,

I read this Washington Post blog today about kindergarten “standards,” and skills testing that determines students’  placement on a continuum of readiness for public school. It made me sad and concerned me.

Your Daddy and I have debated on-and-off for almost a year whether to let you start kindergarten early (this Fall) or to wait until you are officially 5. You’ve always been small… and starting you early may make this an issue, when it has never been one in the past for you. You are very intelligent (even taking into account my presumed bias) and you’ve always demonstrated a distinct preference for interaction with older kids, if given the choice. You are already reading some words, and not quite 4 years old. You share well, take turns, and tolerate frustration (but not failure) pretty well. I know you could do it, and you might really love it.

For me, the decision was made when I toured a private pre-school/Elementary school in our area. It was a highly structured program, and the director proudly told me that the children there are reading and writing independently by kindergarten. Gulp. Was this a reality-check? Maybe you aren’t the genius I think you are. Maybe you’re just a little bit bright. Then I asked how they accomplished this lofty goal. He proudly spoke of the school’s nationally recognized curriculum, and that many of their kindergartners have been learning in their programmed environment since ages three or four. We then talked about the programs for the three- and four-year-olds. I asked about free play, and was told that free play was allowed during the transitional times from 7:30-9:00 am, and then after 3:30 pm for the kids with parents who were unable to pick them up after the curricular class time.

I just left that school feeling… heavy.

Your Daddy and I have deliberately chosen child-care settings that offered preschool curricula-based programming. You have thrived and excelled in these settings. Where you are, you practice writing letters and tracing things on a daily basis, but you are also given tremendous free time to play with your friends. And you are happy, well-mannered, and socially-adept.

That did it for me. No school for you! Well… not yet, anyway. I want you to have as long to just be a kid as you can. I want to shield you from arbitrary standards and the competition that is inherent in applying those standards. I want you to remain blissfully unaware of the “otherness” that flows from ratings and scores. I am confident that you are ready and would succeed in kindergarten if you began this Fall. But Daddy and I agree that you will not suffer for having one last year to play.

The above blog was a nail in the coffin for your early entrance into big school. You see… you will be graded, rated, tested and placed for (presumably) 13 years (at least). Currently, you are not mindful of your own successes or failures on a regular (much less daily or hourly) basis. You just are. You just do. You just play and learn by default. Let’s keep it that way.

When I was in kindergarten, the biggest concern I had was developing my next scheme for trying to get moved to Emily’s (Yes, Auntie Emily’s) class. The only distinct memory I have of that year is getting in trouble once, because I told my teacher I didn’t want to be in her class. In my defense, I had known Emily for 5 years, and Ms. Sanders (not her real name) was new to me! I had no loyalty to her. And this is as (I think) it should be. Play and learning valuable social skills of frustration management and how to make new friends. (“Hey Mom, I have a new best friend!”)

Daddy seemed most passionate about advocating for your regular (not early) entrance into kindergarten. And no wonder. You see, Kiddo, Mommy grew up quickly–forgetting all too early how to play. By the time I finished college play was a foreign matter altogether. And it took years of therapy (thank you Jewelanne, Trapper, Kindra and Andrew) and retraining (thank you Daddy) for me to dare enjoy it again. I still struggle to play, as evidenced by my antsy-ness after 10 minutes of playing cars, but I’m working on it. And I don’t want you to have to work this hard at it. I want you to play with reckless abandon.

It’s a violent world…

Aside

“First, let me ask you a question… What do you think about gun control?”
This is how a dear friend began a new part of our recent three hour conversation. I found her asking ironic, because just that day, I decided that I was due for a blogging date, and felt I had something to write. Strangely, I have no readily formed argument for or against guns. I am reminded of a scene in Jane Eyre’s Mansfield Park, where Edmund asks Fanny for her opinion on something and she answers, “I do not have a ready opinion on it.” He responds teasingly, “Oh Fanny, I suspect you are almost entirely composed of ready opinions not shared!” (Please forgive any misquotes, as I am writing from memory).

So, what do I think about gun control? I am conscious that my pacifist leanings should lend a readily-available response, but I don’t believe guns are inherently wrong. I think they are misused, and I struggle to imagine a peaceful purpose for owning or firing one. As a pacifist, I believe that there is always a potentially appropriate non-violent response to a situation. But, I also believe that while I am entitled to this belief, but I am not entitled to compel others to agree or act upon that belief. Guns are objects that in themselves call forth visceral responses of fear and respect. People love and want them in part because they offer a sense of power and control that few other weapons so readily bestow. But they are weapons. Guns will always be weapons… intended to harm, whether they are aimed at an inanimate target, dinner, or a perceived threat. When used well, a gun is a tool for the destruction of its shooter’s target.

I married a Marine. Yes. Irony upon irony, I am the pacifist-leaning wife or a Marine. Go ahead, you can laugh. Anyway – that’s not my point here.

Recently, as a break (read ‘escape’) from the heaviness of my work, I took a drive. During that drive, I was surprised by my visceral reaction to a news story regarding a teenager shooting three other teens outside of a school in Pittsburgh. My visceral response intrigued me. I am a bit of a news junkie, and began to wonder about why this particular story elicited the response it did from me. I am mindful of the sheer number of news stories involving gun violence I have seen or heard recently. Here’s a smattering of the stories that have recently touched my eyes/ears:
Teens shot near Pittsburgh school
Prep School gun on campus
LA Airport Shooting
NV Middle School Shooting
In-school suicide

Perhaps my response is exacerbated by my husband’s recent narrative regarding a gunshot in a neighborhood. By his report, others present apparently had been so desensitized to the sound of gun-shots that they just continued whatever they were doing. I find that sad… and perplexing.

I recognize that our 24-hour news cycle contributes to the availability and dissemination of stories of violence. But… wow.

We live in a violent and broken world.

Once we get a taste of the immediate sense of power holding a gun gives us, it becomes difficult to remember the ways we previously handled conflict, or met our needs.

I work with mentally ill individuals. I believe that in some cases, mental illness leads someone to do harm either to themselves or others. I am aware that many are calling for background checks that include searches for mental health treatment and diagnoses. There are other things that influence and or drive people’s choices to perpetrate violence with guns; things like a culture of violence, feelings of powerlessness, and previous victimizations.  In this most recent story, it is easy to imagine where the alleged shooter learned the possibility of gun violence as a solution to his reported earlier conflict with the victims,  but where could he have learned other, less violent possible responses? Who in his life could have empowered him to use his mind, his words, and any other available non-violent resources to deal with his situation? Are there voices, influential people in his life that could have helped him to think through other possible responses? Where were those resources? Did they try? Why did it not work in his particular case? Is it just too easy for someone to yield to and accept the sense of power that holding a firearm gives?

Non-violent responses often take more time, and more mental work on the front-end. They can leave us vulnerable, and I am unsure whether some people will ever believe the payoff vulnerability offers is worth the cost. It is my opinion that our larger cultural concept of vulnerability needs adjusting. Without vulnerability, intimacy does not exist. Depression rates are increasing, and with all of our technical connectedness and social networks, many people feel more fragmented in their relationships than in the past. Brene Brown, PhD teaches that those who do vulnerability well struggle less with shame, and have more fulfilling relationships than those who spend more of their energy defending against vulnerability. Life and liberty are at stake here, but not just life and liberty – happiness, fulfillment, a sense of being a whole person… being loveable – warts and all.

As a parent, I am aware that I am raising my children in a violent world. I am disturbed by this, and saddened. I wish it were different. But currently, it isn’t. There is no safe place. My child could be injured at the park, traumatized in the grocery store, or movie theater, or school. I do my best due diligence not to wantonly send them into potential danger. But as a parent, I also must gauge the appropriate level of distance and control to maintain. I do not wish to be a helicopter mom. And I do not want to worry myself into an inability to experience revel in whimsy with my child(ren). Because there is really no safe place, I wish to be a safe person, and relationally offer a safe space for my child(ren) to become comfortable enough with vulnerability to not spend their lives defending against it.