responsibility

October 16, 2012 Redux in 2016

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Oct. 16 ~ My civility is not dependent on yours, or vice versa. #civility

*I want to brag on our 8th and 9th graders at St. John’s. We talked about this same same thing in class, and they totally get it. We were based in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:21-22, but also looked some good stuff from Paul and James: Ephesians 4:29, Romans 12:14-18 and James 3:10. I believe one student said that making sure we aren’t just returning incivility for incivility is the “adult” thing to do. Can we get that message sent to our presidential candidates? 


Someone else being uncivil is never license for me to abandon civility in my responses. The need for civility, the responsibility to be civil, these are mine to carry and hold. The same is true for every person.

Civility breaks the cycles of violence in both actions and words. Civility gets a foot in the door and begins to change the kind of conversations we are having when we allow the other person’s incivility to not be met in kind… or when they grace us by overlooking our incivility.

So yeah, break the cycle. Ignore the incivility on another’s part. You and me, we can model and live civility whether everyone else follows along or not!

Predation is Not Cool

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no sex with minorsI feel the need to say it out loud: Predation is not cool. Adults turning to children for their emotional and sexual satisfaction is not cool. Sound obvious to you? Ok, but there seems to be a missing component for some folks in our culture about what it means to grow up and enter the adult world of responsibility and mature action. It turns my stomach more than a little that it’s so necessary to be talking about sex with minors, even in opposition to it.

Here’s the short version: Leave the children alone. Date someone your own age or at least in the same legal and developmental demographic as you, as in adults need to date adults, not minors. I don’t care if you’re 45 and your life’s love is 25. You’re both adults. Adults: If you know me, then you know I don’t personally care if you’re straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered or still a work in progress, if you date another adult. We just have to leave the children alone when meeting our needs.

I know that High School is a tough time of transition for our young people, moving from minor to adult status. They need our clear and unambiguous help to navigate that transition. They deserve our help when navigating that transition. Too much is at stake. We must be clear on this as a society. Young adults need to know what this time of transition means for them.

There are two higher profile legal cases in the media right now dealing with this problem. One case is of an 18 year old Florida girl (a legal adult) having sex with a 14 year old girl (a minor not able to give consent by law for sexual activities). And another case is of a 20 year old Maine man abducting a 15 year old girl after a stint of Facebook predation, but she dies with duct tape over her face in the back of his pickup. He claims that the abduction was a ruse to later “rescue” her and be her hero/love interest. Again, a legal adult preying on a child, a minor.

Florida

Where were the older girl’s friends? When I was 17 or 18, if I had decided I was crushing on a 14 year old girl and did anything to pursue her, my friends would have mercilessly put me in my place for my stupidity. We did that for one another. The age range is not only HUGE when it comes to personal maturity and responsibility, but there’s a giant legal issue involved.

I might feel some empathy for both young ladies being “in love.” I might understand that both are capable of intense physical attraction and authentic feeling of love for one another. That might even be the most mature 14 year old girl you will ever meet. But it is not the time of her life for a sexual relationship with a legal adult. The gap is too large in their ages. The weight of responsibility weighs too heavily on the 18 year old. Welcome to adulthood.

Again, I don’t care that the two girls are gay. In fact, I don’t think there would be the public campaign on behalf of the older girl if they weren’t gay. The younger girl’s parents have said they don’t care that it’s gay sex instead of straight sex. Florida has said that their law makes no distinction and that they prosecute many of the same kinds of cases every year dealing with straight couples. It’s about protecting our children.

The older girl clearly broke the law. In fact, according to the younger girl’s parents, the older girl removed their daughter from their home without their consent. What parents would not be up in arms about that? They are legally responsible for their daughter, their daughter’s girlfriend is not.

Under the law in Florida, a 14 year old cannot give legal consent for sexual relations. We have these laws for a reason. Our children need the space and protection to grow, even if the person preying on them is a very pretty and vivacious 18 year old girl instead of a scary looking, hairy guy. If an 18 year old guy was charged with statutory rape of this 14 year old girl, there would be very little outcry for him, no massive internet campaigns, whether both were “in love” or not.

Of course, even as a country of law, we have considerations. In Florida I am given to understand that if their ages were closer, the law has some considerations that come into play. If they were only a year apart or if the younger girl were closer to the age of legal consent. But 14 is simply too young. These two girls are not a fairy tale love story… that happens between consenting adults who are responsible for their own lives.

He’ll Kill Them, But No Sex

god bless americaIf you’ve never seen Bobcat Goldthwait’s movie, God Bless America, then you probably shouldn’t. I was drawn in by the hope a far lighter and comic plot line than I got from the movie. It’s a nihilistic parade of two spree killers sucking all meaning from life and the human endeavor. It’s guaranteed to make you depressed. BUT! Here’s the deal: In the middle of this movie is a little story line about an adult male who rebuffs the sexual advances of a teenage girl. He’ll gladly kill an annoying teenager, but he won’t turn to one for his sexual needs. He says, “You’re a child.” Here are a few lines from the movie:

Roxy: You’re seriously not interested in me at all as a girlfriend?
Frank: What the hell are you talking about? I’m not a pedophile.
Roxy: So we’re Platonic spree killers?
Frank: Yeah. And that’s all. 

I’m pretty sure I don’t want anyone using that movie as an an overall framework for ethics or morality, but at the same time, I’m also sure that there’s a serious discussion to have about that story line in the movie. Children do not exist for the sexual gratification of adults, even if they say they want to. It may be easier for us to look at a person in their 40’s or 50’s and say “He’s an adult, sex  with her is wrong.” But the law sees adults and minors, period. And the minor’s need for protection is the same, regardless of the age of the adult.

Maine

Ok, the 20 year old guy from Maine? That story is tragically stupid in too many ways. If you’re 20 years old and you decide that the love of your life is a 15 year old, that’s a cue to enroll in counseling, plain and simple. You don’t abduct her. When you’ve crossed the line into adulthood, you carry a mantle of legal and moral responsibility for your actions.

I’m not sure it matters to me much whether he intended to fake rescue this girl after he kidnapped her or not. Maybe it can play to his defense in the sense of removing premeditation in the murder charge, but he definitely premeditated many crimes here, while knowing right from wrong, and kidnapped a young woman, and while knowing there would be some bodily harm to her and wrecking of her life, for his own gratification. And that happened after he preyed on her through Facebook, using lies and social media to entrap her. He should face the lawful consequences of his actions.

Again, it seems too obvious to have to say it. Life doesn’t work like that! You don’t abduct anyone, much less a minor. You don’t prey on minors with fake Facebook accounts! You don’t enter their life and achieve their love by means of criminal activity. Minors need our protection for good reason, and when you enter the adult world, you must begin to shoulder your part of that burden.

Sad Realities

These are both very sad stories. I feel relatively sure that the 18 year old young woman in Florida did not set out to prey on a underage minor and break the law by committing statutory rape. I think she fell in love with a bright and beautiful young lady, a fellow student, and then lacked the moral or ethical compass to further navigate the aspects of their relationship that come into play because of their age gap. I am sad for her at the thought of her carrying a conviction and the stigma of “sex offender.” But do we really want to set a legal precedent as a society that it’s ok to for an adult to have sex with a minor who is only 14 years old, for any reason?

I’m not simply equating the two cases. They are totally different in many respects of the relationships involved and the crimes committed and the outcome of each. What brings the two cases together is the basic wrong of predation on a child, a legal minor. An adult cannot turn to a child for his or her sexual, emotional and relational needs.

Our culture is in need of some new voices and new ways to be saying this out loud: Children must have the space to grow and develop their lives without the intervention of a sexually needy adult! Let’s get both these accused people some help. Get some counseling and help for both the 18 year old woman and the 20 year old man, yes. But for our children’s sake, let’s not ignore the realities of their crimes.

Predation is not cool. Our world is filled with bright and beautiful 14 and 15 year olds who deserve better. Our world is also filled with the moms and dads of bright and beautiful 14 and 15 year olds who need our help and support.

Predation is not cool. Not then. Not now. Not ever. Do you see it happening in the life of someone around you? Does it seem that someone you know is being preyed upon or preying upon another? Be wise. Ask some questions. Speak up. Intervene. Do you have a young adult in your life who is making this transition from minor to adult status? Is someone you love making their entrance into legal adulthood? Help them out. Talk to them about the changes in their life and their evolving responsibilities. We have a moral and social obligation to say this stuff out loud. Predation is not cool.

Facebook Etiquette: An Exercise for Us All

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facebook shotEveryone should write a blog on Facebook etiquette. It just makes sense that if we are going to use a social media tool as much as we do we should be thinking about how we use it. So right away, I want to say: I’m not writing this piece as only a corrective to some naughtiness I’ve noticed in others, but also as an exercise for myself.

I’m not writing out of any pet peeves about vague posts, TMI posting or vague posting, but just a simple frustration that so many people ignore basic concepts of civility and courtesy on Facebook. The nature of social media gives us a creative and powerful platform for misbehaving.

I’ll try to distill my thoughts into a few simple ideas, “best practices” as it were. These are ideas to which I personally aspire, even if I don’t always manage to hit the target. And though they would save me loads of frustration if more people followed them (and i did a better job myself), they would also help make some generally smart people look a lot wiser than they seem when posting. So here we go…

1. You’re Never Too Old to Do Some Homework

Since the dawn of the internet it has been a home to sometimes entertaining and often frustrating urban myths, fictional anecdotes and intentional misinformation. We are human, and so we are frail and prone to screwups. We all have our blind spots and we all have our prejudices, even if we are working hard to overcome those prejudices. Too often the false stories and alarmist anecdotes that circulate Facebook and other forms of social media strike at the heart of our seen and unseen prejudices, and finding fertile soil they take root and grow into annoying shares and posts.

So when something comes along that looks like a perfect stone on which to grind your political, religious or social axe, do some homework first. Check a story out before you post it or share it. Check the sources. Check the source on Facebook, and see if you can check other sources online or offline… did someone really say what is being said they said? When someone shares a quote from our President (Republican or Democrat) in which they admit to practicing Satanism to win elections and brainwash school children into becoming Duran Duran fans, ask yourself how silly you’ll look for posting it if they didn’t actually say it. If the photo or story was originally shared on Facebook by “I’m a Communist Donut on Steroids” or “Screw All People Who Don’t Think Like Me” you might want to rethink sharing the gem. I made those names up just now, but they probably exist and will troll me next week. Oh well.

Even if it’s a heart-warming story or feel-good anecdote about human goodness, check it out before posting. I have a theory that all the fake feel-good stories that circulate and make the rounds, just to be later debunked, are just adding more cynicism to the world. Then there’s the “God did this…” stories about atheist professors and beakers or chalk and the triumphant young Christian student… all not true. Falsehood and misinformation, even if intended to inspire, will only inoculate us to sincere and meaningful engagement with the true stories of human goodness and inspiration that come our way. A great resource for this homework is Snopes.com! We also have be to careful of parody news sites. Most of know by now that The Onion is all in jest, but I’ve recently seen people expressing genuine angst over stuff from Larknews.

2. Be Happy in 3rd Place

This really goes along with the first thought… we need to slow down and stop trying to be the first to post everything. This speed and haste is just making us sloppy and discouraging us from taking the time to do the meaningful homework. Besides, some jerky friend with more followers than you will just share your story or post it without giving you credit anyway, and they’ll look like the trendsetter. =) But the peer pressure to be first and fast is real as more and more internet sites prod us to be the “first of your friends” to like, share or recommend something. And who doesn’t like to be the first among their friends to get some laughs with the latest angry cat pic?

But really, let’s slow down. One of my favorite sayings from East Africa is “Haraka haraka, haina baraka.” It translates as “Hurry hurry, no blessing” and means, “Slow down, dude… hurrying only makes trouble for you.” We need to stop and think about what we’re posting and why. Is it a post I want to live with a year from now? Is it a true post, accurate and authentic as it’s represented? This is an important question when it comes to “re-sharing” many things that roll across our Facebook feeds. It might take time to find the answers.

If you take some time, reflect on something and refine the ideas you really want to communicate, you just might find that “third place” is actually a big win. When big news hits or controversial ideas start rolling around, and people immediately begin glutting our social avenues with partial, misinformed or inflammatory responses, you might find that a day later you have an eager audience for well-thought and well-worded reflections of your own.

3. It’s Called a “Meme”, Not a “Mean”

Yeah, I was trying to make a pun with that one, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway. And I’m pretty serious… the mean memes that just want hurt people, ridicule others and divide us into us/them pockets of angst-ridden combativeness really suck eggs IMHO. Many of the mean memes I see are pics that started funny, but someone altered or redirected them to grind a political, social or religious axe. Yuck.

Does anyone honestly believe that a mean-spirited political meme is going to score some actual influence or alter another person’s view? It’s a meme, dude. My advice is that we keep the memes light and humorous. Let’s not try to get real deep, hoping to explain global economic perspectives with a one-frame visual and less letters than a 140 character Tweet. I’m raising my hand as one guilty of tying. A good rule of thumb might be that if my meme is going to attack or mock someone, it should attack and mock me. I mean, there’s just not enough self-deprecating humor in the world, but it’s usually the funnest if not funniest because of it’s obvious rooting in the truth.

This is a matter of civility. A mean meme attacks, but doesn’t offer any chance for a rebuttal, defense or dialogue. Because of this one-sided nature a meme is typically going to be grossly unfair in it’s attack. I’ve been told that I’m maybe just a bit too “thin skinned” when I talk about this stuff and I need to “man up” and “thicken my skin.” Thanks, but I really don’t want to. Why would I thicken my skin and pitch in with one-sided attitudes of attack and point-scoring when dialogue and civil exchanges accomplish so much more? Let’s just chose our memes wisely and with a bit more whimsy. I promise that this will be my goal.

And this is no just about moving away from meanness in memes, but I would say all meanness in our postings. A noticed a friend of mine recently on Facebook had to say something like, “If you keep using comments to my posts to attack [a particular religion] with nasty statements and meanness, I’m going to delete your statements and unfriend you.” It is so heart warming that we have to police our religious conversations with such justified threats, isn’t it? No, it’s pretty sad. Meanness sucks. Meanness doesn’t score points or win big in any arena of competing ideas and ideologies… maybe one day we’ll have a “Facebook Penalty Box” where we can send our naughty friends for a few days of timeout, so we don’t have to unfriend them.

4. Use Your Powers for Good

Social media has given us all a voice. Like never before each person can broadcast their best or worst, even if our respective audiences differ. We can blog, vlog, update our status in a hundred forums, tweet, post, like and share! Indeed, my friends… we have super powers. We have new strengths of reaching out with our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and reflections. So let us remember the great medical axiom, primum non nocere“First do no harm.”

We should use our powers for good. We must seek the good, own the good and advance the good. This is the higher calling of social media, beyond the drive to be first, be humorous and even be heard. Trolls know the lessons well. I can be crass, mean and vulgar, and draw a great crowd for my antics. I can be funny, at the expense of others, and be heralded and be made a superstar. Or I can add to the world what is needed most, a voice of peace, hope and good, even when trying to be funny, honesty and true.

Beyond what might be considered “basic etiquette” lies the green fields and golden hall of Social Media Valhalla, the expanse of glory that is being a voice which builds up, carries forward and makes goodness in a world in which no end of ill words and images can be found. Even super powers require effort. It’s no wonder that meanness and crassness come easier to social media than goodness and constructive effort. Choosing the brighter road requires strength and determination. 

Trolls don’t change the world. Heroes daily raise the world from the morass of darkness. Embrace the calling in your social posting and feel the difference. Be honest, be questioning, be true to yourself and be open to others. Be a woman or a man of convictions and hopes. Let your posts show this difference. Those posts may not garner as many shares or as many likes, as when posts play to the base prejudices and fears of others, but they are more powerful for it, and the brighter posts mean more to the few than do the darker to the many.