Giving Voice to Changing Paradigms
Paradigm shifts are occurring in many areas of society, from how we think about education to how we define gender, from models of patriotism to how we see racism in outmoded displays of public tribute, to how the blatant abuse of power and sex can be ignored or accepted as part of the way things are.
We simply don’t see things the way we used to.
For the most part, this is a move in a more positive direction. These shifts represent a broader understanding of our needs, of our humanity, of how we are perceived or want to be perceived.
In the midst of all of this lie enormous questions as to how to talk about who we are as a nation, how we explain what is happening to our children, how we refrain from framing our responses so negatively, both internally, within the realm of thought, to externally. How can we use the power of words in public or private discourse to help shape positive change? How do we effectively share information in the interest of the same goals?
How far is too far?
As I was looking at Andy Borowitz’s latest via my Facebook feed recently, I did a double take:
Trump Says He is Only President in History with Courage to Stand Up to War Widows
I have to admit that Borowitz has done this to me before, as I suppose he is meant to. But this one seemed particularly visceral. War widows, I thought? I pondered its appropriateness. Then after about 60 seconds, I gave him and myself a break. These are indeed desperate times, and we do need the brilliance of Borowitz to keep us alert, to keep us pushing.
Of course, there are precedents for this, and predecessors. Comedians like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and others whose humor pushed the envelope but whose words went too far but for the good reason of questioning the status quo. Borowitz takes us further than we think we should go, and we go there, and we realize he has articulated our own thoughts for us in a highly cynical and clever manner.
How open is too open?
What is most surprising about the recent #metoo campaign may not really be what has brought these stories to light, as we may have originally have thought. The daily body count regarding Harvey Weinstein’s transgressions is horrific, no doubt. But the openness with which his victims and others have come out is a huge shift in how we have related to one another about sexual abuse and harassment.
It is hard to believe that once out, this very public discourse regarding the abuse of power and sex will go underground again.
We have given voice to something that should never have been acceptable in the first place.
Do all our heroes have feet of clay?
As the statues continue to topple, and as the five remaining presidents take to attending rock concerts with Lady Gaga, and of course, as 45 refuses to give up his Twitter account, the way we look at our leaders, past and present, changes.
To understand how painful the veneration of the confederate past and its leaders is to many people is a huge move forward. We have not been living truly as one country indivisible under God or any other entity. And we won’t be until we continue to work toward true racial equality. Re-examining our past, and toppling those misguided leaders of the past is key.
As is the language with which we discuss it.
Reporting on the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from the city of Charlottesville Yoni Applebaum in the August 13, 2017 issue of the Atlantic wrote:
The statues will be moved, the streets renamed, and the military bases will honor patriots who fought for their country and not against it. Because a century and a half after Reconstruction began, America is still working on the project of constructing a more equal society, and reinvesting in the experiment of a multi-ethnic democracy.
The united efforts of Presidents Carter, the Bushes elder and younger, Clinton, and Bush to raise around $33 million for their One America Appeal for Hurricane Relief is unprecedented, as is the way the exes have chosen to speak out against 45.
“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we had put that to bed. That's folks looking 50 years back. It's the 21st Century, not the 19th Century." While each of the former presidents may have had individuals causes they were devoted to, returning to the national stage to advocate for people suffering under the duress of the current leadership is truly unique and may set a new standard for presidents-in-retirement for the future.
Forty-five calls into question just about every concept, image, and definition of “presidential” we may have ever considered. While neither of the Bushes really shared the eloquence of their counterparts, none of the five were ever known to abuse the platform for personal attack. Of course, the campaign trail does lend itself to particularly aggressive tones, but there too, we have never seen the likes of what 45 brought us during those unfortunate days.
Examples of 45’s worst Tweets are available everywhere and not worthy of repeating here. But what is relevant to this discussion is that aside from random Facebook and Twitter followers, he remains the biggest perpetrator of the vile Tweet. This is his unique leadership trait, and I don’t see this behavior seeping into the way in which leaders will communicate in the future.
There are some models of leadership that are worth adhering to. Some of them are even alluded to in the U.S. Constitution.
Enter Senator Jeff Flake and his announcement that he will not run for reelection in 2018. Flake seems to speak for so many of us in calling out the "coarseness of the national dialogue" that has plagued us since the campaign days:
In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order – that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue – with the tone set at the top.
I'd argue that "the new normal" can be used to refer to any number of changes, not always undesirable, that gain societal acceptance, such as same sex marriage or unschooling or recycling, for example. But Flake uses the term to make a good argument comparing today's Congressional complacency with what he calls the "old normal" of Article 1 of the Constitution, namely our system of checks and balances.
When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do – because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam – when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.
While the former five may have stepped back into the limelight and out of their previously acceptable roles as retired presidents to help salvage our democracy, Flake is removing himself from a system he feels is so very tainted in an effort to save it.
What we talk about when we talk about love
Other than this being the title of a frequently assigned short story by Raymond Carver, what we talk about when we talk about love, and the words we use to discuss it, have evolved.
The entire concept of romantic love, for example, is no longer restricted to love and marriage between a man and a woman. The relationship in any romantic relationship no longer requires one person to play a specific role at the expense of the other. This is all rather freeing and subsequently requires a new set of parameters and lexicon for communicating them. Parental love, or the practical expression of it at least, seems a bit more balanced these days. Men of my generation were probably the first to use the expression “playdate” with any regularity and to be capable of arranging one. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been modeling the concept of “paternity leave” with the birth of his two daughters, and propagating the notion through regular Facebook postings.
It’s more than a few words, of course, and the fact is that many women are still more likely to bear the brunt of the childcare in working families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In 2016, 95.6 percent of employed fathers worked full time, compared with 76.3 percent of employed mothers. Among employed mothers, those with young children were somewhat less likely to work full time than those with older children. Employed fathers were about equally likely to work full time, regardless of the age of their children.
So, while some people may feel these changes in roles and responsibilities within two-parent households have been completely mainstreamed, we still have some ways to go.
Comparatively, measuring time in decades rather than years, we have only begun to recognize that there is a needle to be moved the acceptance of and discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Because the range of diversity is so broad and so new to so many people, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has provided a glossary-of-terms for the purposes of facilitating conversations on these topics. In their own words:
Many Americans refrain from talking about sexual orientation and gender expression identity because it feels taboo, or because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. This glossary was written to help give people the words and meanings to help make conversations easier and more comfortable.
Changing paradigms do require a changing lexicon, and we have seen what can happen in the absence of the lack of proper vocabulary, or when people choose to either remain ignorant or simply revert to the most base language available to them.
The HRC has, of course, gone far beyond words and taken a great deal of action ranging from supporting kids in school and families in their communities, fighting for equality on campus, supporting adoption in the LGBTG community, the effort to end hate crimes, and much more. The HRC also works with Equality Federation Institute to compile the annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), a national rating of LGBTQ inclusion in municipal law and policy.
While it stretches the imagination of a great many people that such a dataset would be necessary, the MEI is a handy tool for today’s LGBTQ individuals or families who are looking to relocate, maybe for their personal safety, livelihood, etc. Particularly telling is the news that 60 cities earned perfect scores for inclusive policies and practices, despite statewide efforts attacking equality. This is compared to 47 in 2015 and 11 in 2011. Also important to note is this is the first year that points have been deducted from cities with policies prohibiting use of public facilities based on their gender identity. “It also created a new category of points to recognize cities that are offering transgender-specific city services” says the HRC. New paradigm. New phraseology. New conversations.
No more either . . . or
We no longer live in a binary world, and this is confusing for a lot of people. Phrases that would have been oxymoronic or at the very least confusing years ago make perfect sense: working mother, stay-at-home dad, transgender, Mr. and Mr. Smith, gender reassignment, etc.
The very ties that bound and may have restricted us were the same rules and regulations that provided a sense of order for others. For some, the sense of order was even a mask for misdeeds, and even a delusion, that questions, and until articulated, was allowed to exist in excess for way too long.
This is why we need to bust paradigms, and why we have to rewrite our story.