Walk a Mile with a Six Shooter and a Towel

*Originally written in 2013. Updated for COVID19

Do swimming and firearms have anything in common?  They seem as far flung as any two things can be, but the commonality is the passion people have around each. 

For me, it’s swimming. I love to be in the ocean, or a lake, but I’ll even accept a chlorinated swimming pool in winter. Sometimes I swim with friends, but more often I’m on my own, submerging my body in the cool water, and breathing in relaxation. I swim strokes for exercise, but more often I just float and enjoy the experience. In the water, the worries of the day seem far away. 

Of course, I know plenty of people who don’t swim. Many don’t like the water because it is too cold. Others fear dangerous tides or lurking sea creatures. Some people simply don’t like to get wet. The point is, it is okay to not feel a kinship with the water.  

I’m not a gun person. I don’t hunt. I don’t believe firearms are a good plan for self protection. I translate the 2nd amendment only as a law to allow assembling a militia because I do not believe the founding fathers ever intended individual Americans to possess military style assault rifles. But there are plenty of Americans who believe in guns and their right to own them. Holding a gun, sighting the target, and pulling the trigger must give them a sense of well being similar to my enjoyment of being in the ocean.  

On average 6,000 people drown in the US annually compared to 30,000 people who die from gunshot wounds.

Obviously, statistics comparing drowning versus gunshot deaths are not even in the same league, but I believe it is important to walk a mile in the other pair of shoes to see the big picture. So, here we go:

Let’s imagine in an attempt to save the lives of the 6,000 annual drowning victims, the government has decided to impose swimming restrictions on everyone. Swimming would only be allowed in public pools or designated swimming areas monitored by trained life guards during certain hours, and before being allowed in the water, a swimming test was required. Ridiculous, right? Why should I have to give up swimming wherever and whenever I want just because some careless people drown? I learned to swim as a child, and I know my limits. I’m not going to drown. 

As a society advances, it becomes more complex, and requires more rules and less freedom. Technical advancements break down mores that bind a simpler society. The mere understanding of right and wrong can no longer be relied on to direct human actions. The result is that sacrifices must be endured for the greater good; even if it seems unfair, that is the price each of us needs to pay for everyone to live together in (relative) peace.

Understanding this broader view, I reconsidered the question:

Would I be willing to limit my exposure to an activity that I enjoy in order to save the lives of other who may not do it safely?

Only being allowed to swim at certain times of the day and in designated areas monitored by a lifeguard  feels restrictive and unfair, but I would accept this small sacrifice for a greater good. New laws won’t stop rule breakers who choose to skinny dip unsupervised at midnight, and laws won’t stop illegal weapon exchanges, but that doesn’t mean these laws shouldn’t exist.

Laws are a civilized society’s way of saying, “I can handle (this responsibility), but I’m willing to give up some individual freedom because I’m not so sure about that guy over there.”

Look up from the pool of water and admire the vastness of the ocean because the really big issues affect more than just the people in our house, or the neighbors on our street. The REALLY BIG issues, like gun violence, affect everyone. Please stay well informed and consider what is best for society beyond personal wants and needs.

No one ever knows if he will need a towel based on a single drop of water.

Since I originally wrote this the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and a debate has raged over wearing masks, socially distancing and local lock downs. Some Americans accepted the need to make sacrifices for the greater good in order to save lives, but a shockingly large portion of the American population fought against all safety measures. As of today, nearly 600,000 Americans have died of the virus. The infection is being spread in the United States largely by people refusing to take the simple steps to protect themselves and others. Wearing a mask and staying socially distanced from friends and family is a sacrifice, but it seems like a pretty small one in exchange for saving lives.

I stand by my original conclusion from this blog post written in 2013: Stay informed. Gain a broad perspective. Respect others. And please #wearamask

Body Language Bias at the Ford Kavanaugh Hearing

For many, the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing on September 27 cemented already formed opinions, but it did not resolve the issue at hand. As a body language specialist, I followed the hearing with great interest; though not to witness the predicatable he said/she said statments. I watched to take note of the non-verbal indicators that filled in a rich subtext during yesterday’s hearing.

Body language is the primary form of non-verbal communication (the process by which meaning is conveyed without words) and an enormous amount of physical behavior was on display during the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing. For this post, I’ve chosen to focus on Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement only. Most non-verbal spectators would skip his prepared remarks in exchange for more “genuine” body language indicators divulged from unrehearsed responses, but I found his prepared remarks to be suffused with signals revealing a hidden truth he practiced to obscure.

Brett Kavanaugh had been well trained to speak in public. Considering a simple summary of body language best practices including eye contact, visible hands, deliberate posture, and calculated tone of voice, he incorporated each of these studiously. He knew to keep his hands visible to appear more trustworthy. He knew to keep his head and body leaned forward to show he was fully engaged in delivering his message to the committee. He knew that his words must match his body language in order to appear authentic. He spoke loudly. He knit his eyebrows together to convey an angry facial expression. He emphasized his indignation with punctuated pounding on the desk. And thanks to his practiced effort, Kavanaugh’s message did come across clearly; he showed everyone in that room and everyone watching on television how exasperated he was with those who do not support his nomination to the Supreme Court.

The great thing about body language is that even if you are well trained, like Brett Kavanaugh, you cannot completely control your non-verbal messages. Your real emotions will always reveal themselves. After Kavanaugh finished speaking yesterday, I went online, found a recording of his full opening statement and watched again with the sound off to avoid being distracted by his words. I focused on his face, and he did not disappoint. Brett Kavanaugh’s predominant and deliberate anger was sprinkled with flashes of fear, sadness, disgust, and contempt.

The subtle change in his facial expressions could have been easily missed by an untrained eye, and in fact most of what he exhibited was not at all surprising. He would surely be feeling fear at the possibility of losing of his Supreme Court appointment. He was undeniably sad that his family was subjected to such terrible stories, and he never tried to hide his disgust with the Democrats who he blamed for dragging all this up. Contempt, however, is the one to watch. So, when Brett Kavanaugh flashed contempt, I turned the volume back on.

Two of the phrases Brett Kavanaugh spoke immediately prior to showing contempt:

“I’m innocent”

“I’m here today to tell the truth”

Contempt is a defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act of despising, willful disobedience, and open disrespect for a court, judge, or legislative body.”

I do not consider myself an expert in lie detection, and I am aware that any lie detection specialist relies on a cluster of red flags before suggesting a subject is being untruthful, but an inability to hide his contempt did not do Mr. Kavanaugh any favors.

Though contempt alone is not considered hard evidence, I will offer another bit of science about lie detection. When someone lies, the tissue in the nose becomes inflamed. As a result, the liar tends to touch/rub the nose. Kavanaugh, being carefully trained, would have known to actively avoid reaching his hands to his face for any reason. Yet anyone watching him speak surely noticed that Brett Kavanaugh suffered from a terrible case of the sniffles. He sniffed and sniffed and sniffed his way through the prepared statement.  Did you find it odd for someone with such persistent sniffles to never reach for a tissue?

There were enough non-verbal observations from the hearing to fill a book (when he leaned away from the questioner, when he shrunk down in his chair, when he reached across his body and squeezed the opposite arm) but the final body language indicator that stood out from the rest was one unfamiliar to me, though it was hard for anyone to miss Kavanaugh repeatedly thrusting his tongue into his cheek during the second half of his prepared remarks. The conspicuous act of pushing at your cheek with your tongue is not a definitive gesture. It could be an act of self-soothing, an indicator of uncertainty, or simply show the person is being pensive. It would take greater familiarity with Brett Kavanaugh as an individual to understand what this particular body language cue indicates about him. I plan to watch for it again in the future.

Overall, despite his large degree of preparation to come across strong and defiant, Brett Kavanaugh came up short. Subconscious and involuntary body language cannot be controlled or faked for an extended period of time, and his body language during the hearing uncovered red flags that muddied the innocence he professed. Though his body language did not uncover any certainty, it did raise plenty of additional questions. The only complete truth that came out of the hearing was that Brett Kavanaugh and most of his Republican supporters will not back down, and that might mean America ends up with Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

Authors Note: When I set out to write this piece, my intention was to share observations from my background in body language science. The expected result was impartial data. However, by the time the particulars had been included, my bias was obvious. After careful consideration, I decided not to extricate my opinion from my observation. Instead, I encourage other trained observers of the body language to provide alternative interpretations. Thank you in advance for your expertise.

When Life Imitates The Dukes of Hazzard

downloadDo you remember the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard” (CBS Jan ’79-Feb ’85)? Even if you aren’t old enough to have waited anxiously on Friday nights for each new episode like I did, you may have seen reruns on CMT. No? Well, it was a pretty simple premise-a family of cousins with the last name Duke get mixed-up in the schemes of County Commissioner Boss Hogg, who along with his sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane, enjoyed trying to put Bo and Luke Duke in jail for cause or not. Filmed in California, but set in a rural Georgia community known as Hazzard County, the show depicted a sleepy town where not much would happen without the money grubbing ploys staged by Boss Hogg to line his pockets. Does Hazzard County, GA actually exist? Not on any map, but speed traps targeting out of state drivers to generate revenue for Georgia towns are a reality. This vignette is my personal experience of being pulled over by a local county sheriff in Georgia.

Traveling in the middle of a three lane stretch of I-95, I cruised along with predominantly Georgia plated cars. When blue lights flashed behind me, I pull into the right-hand lane to allow the policeman to pass by and ruin someone else’s day. Inexplicably, he stuck to my rear bumper until I eased onto the shoulder. When the policeman insisted I was driving 87 in a 70, my jaw dropped, but as much as I wanted to call out his BS, I was wise enough to restrain myself from arguing with this local county mountie on the side of a highway. Few laudable accomplishments remain in my mid-life pocket, but a clean driving record was one I intended to preserve. After accepting the ticket, I scanned it quickly to find out which day I’d be returning to clear my name it in court.

 In my younger years, I received speeding tickets in other areas of the country, but in those instances, I was guilty. So, I paid the fine by mail and moved on with my life. This time I was ready to fight. Besides, the officer would not bother to show up and the judge would let me off. Isn’t that’s the way traffic court usually works? Well, not in Hazzard County and like that soundstage in Hollywood, this little Georgia town ran its circus a bit differently from most. The two-story brick courthouse was tucked off the main drag just behind town hall. After parking under the moss covered oak trees, I took the five minutes necessary to stroll around town. I read the requisite civil war placard, admired the tidy brick buildings with painted wooden calling cards above the doorways, and marveled at the solitude. Neither tourist nor resident strolled the abandoned sidewalks at mid- day and no cars needed wait as I navigated the four-lane main drag at a snail’s pace in my black flats. This little town was lost somewhere too far from either I-95 or the ocean to be relevant. 

After waiting on a hard wooden bench outside the court room where the other speed trap victims gathered, we were eventually ushered in a slow moving mostly straight line into the old-fashioned wood paneled court room like a chain gang headed for sentencing. Before court began, a jester-like bailiff explained how the judge would call each of us by name and ask how we chose to proceed. Since more than 50 anxious out-of-staters like me fidgeted on the now thinly cushioned benches, it appeared that proceedings might take a lot of time, but she assured us that things would move quickly. “You’ll see” she winked. The judge entered and everyone stood. After being instructed to sit, her honor explained that each of us would be called by name. When our name was called, we should stand, and let her know which if the two options we chose. Option 1: Speak with the prosecutor, or Option 2: plead “not guilty” and set a future date for trial. The crowd began to murmur, but she assured us that after the first few, the rest of us would “get the hang of it”.

 We learned fast that despite the illusion of choice, only one correct answer existed. “I’d like to speak with the prosecutor ma’am” is what her honor wanted to hear. If anyone insisted on pleading “not guilty” she re-instructed them to speak with the prosecutor. After every single person in the room relented, we were lined up in two rows and hurried through our chat with the prosecutor based on our violation. Anyone driving less than 90 mph (in a 70 mph zone) had their charges dismissed as long as they forked over the $180 fine plus court fees (a total of $240) in cash. Luckily, I came prepared after noticing the large bold print at the bottom of my summons indicating that no credit cards or checks would be accepted. Easily 85% of the culprits were set free after paying the fine, though I did see one woman escorted to the pokey (as Sherrif Roscoe P Coltrane of Hazzard County called it) after it turned out she had been speeding at 107mph and (I’m guessing), she was not so flush with cash.

After walking out of court, I felt certain to spy Boss Hogg in his white three-piece suit checking his pocket watch as he crossed the town square with Roscoe hot on his heels. I took one last look around the little town that was not named Hazzard but probably should have been, and thought about how I could have insisted on having my day in court where I called out the system for its unfair targeting of out of state drivers and questioned the legitimacy of my infraction, but that would have required a second trip to rural Georgia to defend a not guilty plea. So, myself, and most of my fellow victims (one man drove down from Baltimore, MD to fight his ticket) sold out for an expunged driving record and no need to travel hundreds of miles for a second court appearance. 

I believe we all do our best to stay on the right side of the road in life, but when the potholes grow deep and there is no money to fix them, blazing a new route is the most sensible way to keep moving forward. I could see that this town needed help to survive. It didn’t have appeal enough to draw industry or forward thinking to encourage innovation. Maybe they identified with Hazzard County a little too much. To an outsider like me, it seems unfair and dishonest to prop up a town with revenue gathered from unsuspecting passersby, but it is this subtle style of moral degradation that increasingly permeates current American society, and no one complains too loudly as long the targets are strangers  rather than neighbors.

Take the Hand of the Monster

A few months ago, I realized that the Presidential campaign had infected everyone with an epidemic of negativity changing the daily focus onto what separates us as Americans. Had we forgotten what really matters?

Nostalgia bloomed for the days following the September 11 attacks when we were not individuals, but Americans united in our grief. Neighbors, strangers, black or white we stood together. We helped each other. We cared for each other.  We set aside differences ready to fight against a common (though mostly invisible) enemy.

As friends hotly debated politics during this summer’s picnics, I actually hoped something could bring us together again, and in November that something came to pass. Unfortunately, it was not the election of the first female President of the United States.

Is it fair to equate the 2016 election results with the events of September 11? Definitely not, but the fear is back, and it is as tangible as it was fifteen years ago. Also, for the first time since the closing months of 2001, I see a large percentage of Americans unified, driven, focused, motivated and taking action not for their own personal gain, but to protect and benefit their fellow Americans.

Our enemies have crawled out of the gutter to show their faces this time. They are not in some distant land, nor are they rumored, imagined, or invisible. They are here in our own streets, and there is a long battle to be fought ahead, but groups like #PantsuitNation provide a positive platform to foster enlightenment, a renaissance for unity in America. We are ready to take the hand of the monster and lead it into the light.

 

 

 

Safe Passage

Two days on I-95 north and desperate for the end.

The last of my drive would be the most difficult to wend.

Normal safe passage: Garden State to Tappan Zee, but

Throwing caution to the wind, I drove on to Fort Lee.

Potholes, honking horns, upper or lower? and toll fees,

All obstacles to crossing the Hudson on the GWB.

Rumored the busiest bridge in the world,

Maddow claims here political payback unfurled.

We may never know unless they find a snitch,

and even though I made it over without a hitch,

and enjoyed seeing the skyscrapers of NYC,

Next time, I’ll return to the Tappan Zee.

 

 

 

 

What Do We Do Now?

It kind of feels like Dumbledore died all over again, and Voldemort has risen.

Sadness, fear, and uncertainty are pervasive, and one question lingers, “what do we do now?” The answer is we do exactly what Harry, Ron, and Hermione did-we hunt horocruxes.

The Republican version of a horocrux isn’t quite as hard to find as those in the JK Rowling series. The life blood of a red states is hatred, division, and lies (mostly lies told to kind, trusting Americans to convince them to support Voldemort). We destroy these with truth, love, and acceptance. Defeat the bad with good.

The trickier part of the hunt comes when faced with actual threats of racial bias, intimidation against those of different sexual orientations, misogyny, religious persecution, and a populace educated with an overkill of mis-information.

“If you see something, say something” takes on an additional meaning going forward. It requires each of us stand up for marginalized citizens being persecuted. Not getting involved is the equivalent of condoning bad behavior.

Remember that the final horocrux presents the biggest challenge. To eradicate bias in another person requires each of us to acknowledge our own bias. None of us is perfect. Everyone has a valid perspective. We can learn a lot from others, especially when their words are not the ones we want to hear.

Take a walk in the other person’s shoes. Send your love before you. Be respectful of all.

Give Some to Get Some

Most days I have better conversations with my 8 year old nephew than I do with other adults. Kids are pretty easy, though. Give them a little attention and you’ve secured a captive audience. The same rules don’t always apply with adults.

Some people never give up chasing flashy things, and not being an expert in attention grabbing, I tend to end up too easily overlooked. But, if I take a stab at self promotion, I feel like an imposter.

How can you be memorable without being famous?

I had been pondering this dilemma when I ran into an old childhood friend. I had not seen much of him as an adult, but we stayed in touch on social media and began to communicate regularly over email. 

As one conversation led to the next, I teased him for being so chatty, but in truth, is he is friendly. With very little effort he demonstrated the secret for how to be memorable, in a not-at-all-flashy-or-self-promoting way. He acknowledges people rather than waiting for them to notice him.

He is simply interested, and that makes him interesting. 

Lesson learned. Just like with kids, when talking to adults, all you have to do is give some to get some.

Scratch Below the Surface

The other day, my nephew was playing with his Lego figurines. His brow furrowed in concentration as he swapped heads and legs, helmuts and hair. The activity mirrored my niece swapping outfits and shoes on her dolls. Same game, different toys.

It occurred to me that adults focus so much energy highlighting the differences among us. Perhaps, if each of us looked more closely, we might notice more of the ways we are alike.

We all have opposable thumbs and pump red and white cells in our blood. We all cry the same salty tears. Too many tears, lately.

The next time hate, anger, doubt, or fear focuses the attention on what separates us, pause and take a breath. Then, try to note some of the ways we are alike.

Different hair color, eye color, skin color: same fears and insecurities. Different religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status: same hopes and dreams.

Scratch below the surface, and recognize we are all human.

Something is Missing

Last night I woke at 2:30am convinced that I’d forgotten something at the dry cleaner. What was it? And where was the little green paper slip I would need to pick it up?

In the dark, I scrawled a note to myself planning to deal with it in the morning, but I was unable to get back to sleep. After turning on the light, I stumbled to the closet, and started pushing through all my hanging clothes. Nothing was missing.

By morning, the incident was like a metaphor. It felt like a whisper from the past, reaching out to remind me of something I once had that was now missing.

Do I continue to search for it? Or embrace the loss knowing that having less makes room for more in the future.

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed, and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries. They were all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal by getting married at age 44.

The newlyweds union was born from online dating. They seemed like a really good match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but two hearts that compliment each other well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my own uncoupled conundrum.

My fatal flaw is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I let him sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, and I pay top dollar, too.  It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proven completely, and utterly false, I dismiss my own history and believe THIS one is different.

On the drive back to the airport, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. The fist that broke her face had struck not too many hours beforehand, but here she was hard at work. It looked painful, but she did not complain, a true physical abuse veteran.

I drove off wondering why anyone would stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly dropped my judgement. Who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the whim of narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but it does leave a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long debate with myself. The other half of the time, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy?

I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I want to blame the guy. I need to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

Mother’s Day Perspective

It’s Mother’s Day, but Hallmark doesn’t make a card for the children who don’t have June Cleaver for a mother. I am one of them.

I remember growing up both confused and awed by the close relationship some of my friends held with their moms. At the time, I couldn’t appreciate how my mom endured sickness, injury, tantrums, and the selfish, ungrateful energy from her four children. She packed picnics, wiped snot, threw parties, swabbed skinned knees, offered encouragement, and restricted empty calories often without a thank you from anyone. I took without giving back. I pushed, tested, and undermined, as my mom struggled.

It’s never too late to say thank you. My mother was far from perfect, but she gave me a gift of immeasurable value. She shared with me a blueprint of life’s pitfalls:

Do not let alcohol take over your life.

Do not use others as an excuse.

Do not say one thing and do another.

Do not double down and dig in when you know you are in the wrong.

Do not focus on the negative.

I spent my early years being afraid of my alcoholic mother while simultaneously mirroring her. Like a crystal ball, her mistakes showed me my future life.  Eventually, I paid attention and quit drinking. I learned to take responsibility, tell the truth, and apologize sincerely. Most importantly, I learned to be grateful. I learned to focus on the good, and find the silver lining during hard times.

Now I practice how to embrace love rather than be swallowed by fear.

As an adult, I witness children challenging their parents, and I understand how my mother’s insecurities plagued her, how her children and husband undermined her, and how her negative mindset fed the depression that pushed her further into darkness, away from the perfect person she so longed to be.

My mother died seven years ago, and I am grateful that in death she found peace.