Monday, May 27, 2013

Protect Babies, but Also Encourage Them

Radiating goodness
Has anyone else noticed that uncanny thing babies give off that can fill a room and trigger spontaneous facial reactions among folks? I’m not talking about natural aromatic emissions. Instead, I’m referring to that contagious, feel-good energy infants emit that causes adults to put their collective troubles on pause, if only for a moment.

It’s that agreeable cocktail of joy we all have experienced in babies at one time or another, which has to potential to affect even the most crotchety of us. That’s if we allow it. It’s as if a baby’s life force somehow transmits a kind of healing property that helps boost our sense of well-being. Maybe it’s a chemical they give off that triggers the release of our endorphins or whatever. In any case, that special something can instill us with a certain something that envelopes and fills us, at least temporarily, with a satisfying calmness. There’s more.

Ever take the time to watch a baby, really observe one to try and get into its fuzzy little head? If she’s being raised in a safe and nurturing environment, she’ll tend to project a certain fascination about simply being. Talk about living in the moment. When they’re old enough, that fascination gives way to a marked desire to more actively explore their world. This can be problematic when they learn to how to churn their tiny arms and legs and crawl, but I digress.
Love in the palm of your hand

Theirs is a world of wonder and delight. It’s been a while since I was that age but from what I observe, babies seem curious about everything. Unlike adults, unexpected diversions seem welcome, and from moment to moment they are noticing things. People, places, plants, animals, sights sounds – the list is endless and so is their inquisitiveness. It’s boundless. That is until something unfortunate happens, if we’re not careful. Some say if we’re too careful.

Too many times among too many babies their curiosity is bridled. It’s suppressed for their own good, I’ve heard some adults explain. Sure, as grown-ups we’ve learned there are certain realities in this world – dangers that must be kept at arm’s length for the sake of baby’s safety. But must it also be at the expense of an infant’s emerging marvel about the world? At the cost of their sense of independence? Does keeping baby on a short leash enhance their quality of life and potential? Or does it hinder it?

Making the right connections
For that matter, when we as adults move through the world, why must it be in so guarded a way that we often miss certain pleasures? Effortless experiences, like tossing a nod to a passerby for no reason other than to acknowledge their existence? Or chucking a scrap of paper in the trash, just so that someone else doesn’t have to.  Or watching a baby stare with wonder at any object they’ve never seen before. Simple stuff.

Looking for Batman
This all reminds me of a few weeks ago when I saw my first robins of the season foraging in the yard. I stood there for a minute pondering how they knew when the spring weather was warm enough for them to return? And what hidden place in my yard or the next did they make their nest for their soon-to-be hatchlings? Then my cell phone rang and I was back on the clock.

I wonder if this stifling of babies on the part of the adults has more to do with our own states of mind rather than the supposed welfare of infants? Sure our job is to protect them. But shouldn’t part of that role also be to keep babies wanting to learn about their world?

Monday, May 20, 2013

What’s Cooking? Sadly, Not Professional Lady Chefs

Honey, what's for dinner?
Like most men, I don’t cook a lick. That is, unless I decide to. Then all of a sudden I’m Top Chef. Sound familiar? It's funny how that works; men get a pass on having to cook. Or rather we give ourselves a pass by declaring we won't do it. Some of us add insult to injury by tacking on that preparing food is women’s work. Or that we can’t do it because we work all day at the office or factory. For the record, I’m personally not that much of a caveman. Nevertheless, I do have an ever-growing distaste for all of this opting out at home and here's why.

              When it comes to doing what we want and when we want, men stand at the top of the heap. No brag, just fact. In general, we get to dictate how things go or won't go. What we will and won't do. Case in point, cooking. It’s something most men simply refuse to do. Unless…

              What happens when you dispense generous portions of money and power into the mixing bowl? All of the sudden, real men cook. In the blink of an eye we know best, cook best and are the supreme chefs on the planet. What a crock(pot) of hogwash.

              Another fact: according to a 2010 report, women comprise just 10 percent of the executive chef positions in America and earn on average 17 percent less than their male counterparts doing the same job. Why is that? Power and privilege. And that other dreaded p-word: patriarchy.
Old boy's network is in full effect

              Even when money isn’t on the menu – like at a backyard barbeque or ballgame tailgate, who’s usually on the grill? A man. Why? Yet another p-word: Prestige. The grill is often the center of attention and you get to handle oversized tongs. Plus an open flame is involved. Ooo…, the danger.

              But it's no laughing matter how women get the short end of the stick with great regularity when it comes to culinary work, be it at home or in the workplace. In large part, men get to decide if and when we want to participate. If it’s at home and nobody’s looking, forget it. If there's power and prestige involved, suddenly there’s no one better for the job than a man.

              I'd venture to say it's like that with most vocational endeavors. I realize I'm discussing things women already know and understand. It's just that it’s important we serve this up and on the table for everyone to taste. I say that because there are some men out there who truly believe that they can't cook. Or that cooking (and cleaning) is only a woman's job. Again, unless there's money in it.

Chef Kimberly: a rare exception
              Some argue cooking is an historically traditional role for women, and that if it’s worked up until now, why change? But I’d counter with another question: worked for who? Another question: why when you introduce money and power into the equation, does all that tradition fly out the window and suddenly men are the only ones who are qualified to run a kitchen?

              Sure, you've got Rachael Ray, Paula Deen and other women who have wildly popular TV cooking shows. And yes they make a lot of money. But neither has run a restaurant kitchen. That’s not a slam but rather another serious sobering fact.

              This disparity has to change; not just among professional chefs but across all sectors where women are systematically excluded from top jobs. A double standard exists and the time has long since come for it to stop.

              Equality. It’s what’s for dinner.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Learn to Listen With More Than Your Ears

We all have untapped brain power
Ever find yourself in a sort a mental zone where things are amazingly clear? It’s that gray matter sweet spot in which you have so much clarity about a thing it’s almost scary how much insight you have. If I’m lucky, I get to experience that rare state of being a few times a year and here’s how I do it.

It's taken a long time for me to figure out certain things in life. One of them was how limiting it can be to use just one or two of my senses to understand the world around me. I’m referring to matters such as life lessons, the true nature of things, and what people are really up to behind your back. For way too long I relied way too much on what my eyes saw and ears heard only. I hardly ever considered other senses could also help me. And I don’t just mean taste, touch and smell. I’m talking extrasensory perception. ESP.

This isn’t about sorcery or Jedi mind tricks. When a particular mental state is achieved and really working, my whole body becomes a sensory organ. It helps me make sense of things (and people) in ways I didn’t used to think were possible. Maybe a better way to describe this is simply ‘listening to one’s self.’ Some call it intuition. Others place it in the category of just paying close attention. However you phrase it, on those rare occasions when it all comes together, I feel unstoppable.

I'm not talking Jedi mind tricks
A key component to achieving this state of being is getting quiet. That is, bringing your body into a level of calm that allows your entire self to tune in on what’s happening around you. When I get that way, I just don’t see things and hear them; I feel them. It’s experiential. At the same time, the biggest barrier to my ability to tune in to that sense has been my own impatience.

Over the years, I’ve grown to understand what patience means and what it can do for me, which has better enabled me to practice it. Even still, it's taken a lifetime to get this far and I still don’t have it down. Perhaps a trip to a Himalayan mountaintop on a llama is in order.

Now I consider myself to be slower than most people. That is to say, it takes me several tries at doing something the wrong way before I finally get it right. This is especially true when it comes to listening to my own body.

When I do listen to it, my body tells me what it needs. Water, food, rest, a workout – you name it. If I don't listen there's eventually a reckoning. For example, over the weeks spanning Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I’ve learned that in order to survive the season without falling ill, I have to eat and drink in moderation. Easier said than done. I also need adequate sleep. Darn near impossible. However, if I don't pay attention to my body and what it’s saying, I’m usually good for a winter cold at best; or the flu at worst. And it can be one heck of a price to pay when you’re a working person.

I imagine most folks out there regard what I'm spouting as either common sense or nonsense. In some respect, I can appreciate both views. In any case I’ve learned over the years to listen more and more to my instincts. In my experience I’ve learned it is something people ignore at their own risk. As for me, like I said, I've learned it all the hard way.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Giant Step Forward on Gay Rights Issues

Jason Collins: out of the closet, still on the NBA floor
The national news that has tongues wagging concerns professional basketball player Jason Collins. According to reports, the 34-year-old NBA center is the first active male athlete in the four major American sports leagues to come out publicly and state he’s gay. The fact that he’s the first to do so is groundbreaking.

              Collins received a call from former president Bill Clinton, the support of current NBA Commissioner David Stern, and is contemplating a future on-air appearance with Oprah. His bold move is producing ripples of awareness concerning the human rights of folks in the lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) community. At the same time, this news has implications that extend beyond one gay professional athlete.

              There’s another story. The one closer to home. It’s about normal, ordinary people in the community who are compelled to hide their full selves and therefore live outside the margins of Main Street. They are forced to hide all that they are, not because of what they do in public but rather what happens in the privacy of their homes, which should be nobody else’s business in the first place.

              Growing up, I remember the younger brother of one of my close neighbor friends. He was full of life and energy and was an incredible creative talent. He’d shoot baskets with us in the driveway and hang out sometimes in the basement when we were playing ping pong or pool. But what he excelled at was tennis. He also enjoyed the arts: especially photography, acting and performing.

Collins: ordinary person, extraordinary deed
              That he was gay wasn’t an issue. Truth is, he never directly told me his sexual orientation. But why would he? I didn’t tell him mine. Besides, what difference does that make when you’re shooting a layup?

              For me back then, what ‘being gay’ meant wasn’t really even on my radar. I guess I held a vague understanding. But it was more in the vein of guys not going with gals rather than guys preferring guys. I’m told my friend’s younger brother left our community many years ago for a place where he could more fully (and openly) embrace his true self.

              What I should have appreciated more when he was here was just how much not having his talents here diminished the quality of our overall community. It makes me wonder how many other folks have left or remain hidden because of intolerance, discrimination or worse.

              For those who choose to stay, many go to great lengths to conceal their complete selves, and who could blame them? I imagine it takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret as hiding who it is you love, not to mention the suffering caused by being robbed of their American right to the pursuit of happiness.

              The lesson in all this has been learned time and again by the way we have historically treated people who are different. Yet it also continues to be forgotten and bears repeating: without fierce vigilance, American civil liberties can slip away quickly. If we’re not watchful as a nation, the inequities of such doctrines as Plessy v. Ferguson – that fateful Supreme Court decision that made the phrase “separate but equal” famous – will always be waiting to rear its ugly head from the shadows of prejudice and intolerance.

              It’s hard for me to understand why so many people of so-called good will discriminate against an entire group of people just because they want to love another consenting adult. But the tide is rising toward change and so are attitudes. The message Jason Collins issued by stepping out makes him taller than his seven foot stature. Time for America to stand with him.