My father, Bill Border, started his life as an artist around the age of 7 or 8 with simple pencil and a legal pad from his dad’s office. When you ask him why he sketches and paints, he responds that he is “simply driven to create.” Growing up as his daughter, I know this to be an honest answer.
Driven to Create
Not only did I watch my father illustrate biology textbooks and interpretive panels until late at night, painting on the weekends, I watched him create in all other aspects of his life. He cared for our mountain home just as if the property belonged on a canvas.
Every brick on our patio he laid to perfection in a perfectly leveled bed of sand. The bricks alternating direction to create a pleasant patchwork pattern. As a kid, my parents paid me a penny per weed-pulled to keep this master piece clean and sully free.
If my mom or I left a grocery list or note on the kitchen table, we returned to find it illustrated with a comical character and an appropriately goofy message. Or sometimes he simply copied our handwriting so perfectly, that we didn’t realize he’d added “56 sardines” after the milk and bread on our list.
My grandmother collected smooth rocks, which she kept in a planter in the corner of her living room. Periodically, they’d appear perfectly painted, a little grey mouse or a bunny with whiskers, peaking out of the greenery…
Make your bed.
A video traversed the web a few weeks ago profiling a graduation speech by a respected general. Start the day by making your bed and you will have already accomplished one task.
This is also my father’s mantra and perhaps alongside his drive to create, the the second indicator of his lifetime success as an artist.
Each night, my father prepares a to-do list on a small yellow legal pad. He preps his coffee machine with fresh water and coffee grounds. And he goes to bed.
In the morning, the very first thing he does is make his bed. If you knock on his door even a few minutes after he wakes up, you’ll never know he slept the night before. The bed will have already been made with military precision.
Before he gets in the shower he lays out his uniform for the day. The outer layer will vary depending on his plans, but the underlayer never changes. Each morning he selects from his dresser drawer, a neatly folded white crew neck tagless undershirt, white boxers, and white socks, rolled up military style.
Maintain a Routine
During my early childhood my dad laid these items out on his bed, before he got in the shower. During my late teenage years a feisty Himalayan cat named Thani joined our family. My dad adored the cat. The cat adored stealing my dad’s socks, while he was in the shower.
Ultimately, my dad had to relocate his socks to the top of his dresser. A few years ago he confided in me that he is such a creature of habit that even though Thani passed over the rainbow bridge a decade ago, he continues to layout his socks up high on the corner of his dresser.
Practice Makes Progress
My dad is now 84. Except for the past few years of his life in which he has unfortunately had to spend a few nights here and there in the hospital, my dad has created art everyday of his life. As his daughter, I can recognize his brush stroke in an instance, but I am continually surprised by the works that come out of his studio.
Recently I heard a rephrasing of the old idiom “practice makes perfect.” The new idiom is “practice makes progress.” I think my dad is the epitome of this philosophy. The act of painting is never to create perfection, but rather as my dad says, “to capture a fleeting moment in time, realistically frozen or perhaps an abstracted essence that flows eternally.”
Whatever you want to be or do. Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for progress. Work on it everyday that you can. And you will arrive.
<h1><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The Complicit Generation</span></h1><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>As a Xennial White Woman, I am obligated to write about white privilege. My generation grew up post Civil Rights Movement. We grew up with Sesame Street, Different Strokes, Dr. Huxtable and Oprah. As a white woman with friends from varied ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds, I once called myself color blind, because I did not personally see or experience racism. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Born in 1977 on a morning supposedly graced by a late spring snow and seven rainbows I am a quintessential Xennial Woman. We ate organic before it was hip and I could watch 30 minutes of TV before being sent outside to play (unsupervised). And, my mom brought home the very first Mac, so she could write her doctorate. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>I attended a magnet school (public) for international and ESL students, so my classmates were actually pretty diverse given the whiteness of Boulder. My fourth and fifth-grade teachers proudly attended the Peace Circles leading up to the shutdown of the Rocky Flats Nuclear plant. </span> <span style=”font-weight: 400;”>My classmates were either the children of hippies or professors (sometimes not a mutually exclusive state), with names like Rainbow, Forest, and Destiny. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>My 7th-grade teacher had a composting toilet. And my school held “Diversity Days.” </span> <span style=”font-weight: 400;”>As a university freshman, I recall sitting in a philosophy class where a student who grew up in D.C. professed that CU Boulder “was too white.” I proudly claimed that “Boulder might be white, but we are colorblind.” No one even whispered a word of surprise or discontent at this statement.</span></p><p><em><strong>I am part of the complicit generation.</strong></em></p><h2><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>I Once Was Blind But Now I Can See</span></h2><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>In 2010 I happened to be watching CNN when a program with Anderson Cooper came on. The show presented the findings of a recently released study on perceptions of race in kindergarten-aged children. If you haven’t seen the show go </span><a draggable=”false” href=”http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/index.html”><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>watch it.</span></a><span style=”font-weight: 400;”> </span><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The frightening take away from the show is that white kindergartners have the luxury of being colorblind. At age 5 they are already recipients of white privilege. On the flip side, black kindergartners already know about race. Society does not give them the privilege of being ignorant about the implications of skin color. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Awareness of race and skin color is evidence that already, white children benefit from white privilege. White children don’t need to worry about race, they have the privilege of being colorblind. If you are a parent of white children think about that for a minute. Maybe you read your kids books about people of different races, colors, and backgrounds. The children’s book, <em>10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes</em>, is a great example. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>You may teach your children to be colorblind, but do you also teach your children that these different backgrounds, mean we also have different life experiences? Do you teach your children to stand for right and wrong? Do you role play with them what they might do if they <br /></span></p><h3><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>An Even Deeper Problem</span></h3><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”><br />For a variety of reasons, some discussed in the study, black families feel the need to make sure their children understand perceptions of race. Some of this is to protect them from racism and some of it is to prepare them for the inevitable. This reality is perhaps surprising to a white person who may not actively see or practice racism; however, it shouldn’t be. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The most disruptive take away from the study, in my opinion, has to do with self-perception. Not only did the study find that black children knew they were black, but that both black and white kindergartners have already taken on societal norms of beauty. Norms that embrace white as beautiful and black as ugly. As a mother, this makes my heart break and my emotions rise up in anger and in sadness. As a human, it disgusts me. </span></p><p><b><i>What kind of world do we live in that tells a child “white is beautiful, black is ugly?”</i></b></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Watching this show I had a breakthrough realization. I could no longer be colorblind. If a 5-year-old kid can’t be colorblind, then as a responsible adult, I needed to make a change. </span> <span style=”font-weight: 400;”>As MJ said, “</span><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>If you wanna make the world a better place, Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”</span></p><h3><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Racism is Real</span></h3><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>In 2012, I married into a multi-racial, multi-ethnic family. My understanding progressed further. My in laws, despite experiencing atrocities and inequities in their life, definitely raised their children with the same ethic as Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.” At the same time, they live a strange dichotomy. </span> <span style=”font-weight: 400;”>As a Malagasy family, their ancestry is both mixed African and South East Asian, which means, for the most part, their skin is on a color wheel, closer to mocha than ebony. And so my family has the luck to experience both active racism with a side of “well-meaning” colorblindness. </span></p><p><em><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>When you live with racism, it is far from comforting to have one white person, often a friend, say to you “well you’re not really black.” </span></em></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The thing is, we live in a world and not just an American world, an Occidental, Western European influenced society, in which the status quo perpetuates that lighter is “better,” but white is best. If you want to read some firsthand examples of active racism I recommend this thoughtful and eloquent piece on </span><a draggable=”false” href=”https://onbeing.org/blog/what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/”><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>the very real experience of racism</span></a><span style=”font-weight: 400;”> by Krista Tippet. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Ultimately, to claim “color blindness” or to deny your part in white privilege really doesn’t do any of us any good, because there are millions of people each day, who still actively experience racism. It’s a real thing. It’s an active thing. And although it may never go 100% away, we need to make an active effort to end it, while also working to heal the wounds. We need internal medicine, not just band-aids.</span></p><h2><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Make An Effort, Not An Excuse</span></h2><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>And so, I write this piece in the spirit of intersectionality. I acknowledge that each of us is unique, each of us has a different experience. Not one of us should judge another before trying to walk in her shoes. Most importantly, I acknowledge that I and that </span><a draggable=”false” href=”https://onbeing.org/blog/what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/”><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>many of my white peers have been complicit</span></a><span style=”font-weight: 400;”> in our experience of white privilege. No excuses.</span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>I think this is one reason so many of us “white and color blind” felt shocked at the recoil experienced in the USA during and following the election of President Obama. In our effort to be color blind we completely discounted the experience of our Black American, Native American, Asian American, Central and South American, and immigrant sisters and brothers. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>But we need to make an effort not to be complicit. We need to think about it and we need to talk about it. And we need to not remain silent if and when we see or hear racist things go down. We need to make an effort, not an excuse because it is the right thing to do. </span></p><p>The fact of the matter is that most white people in the United States (and Europe) live in primarily white neighborhoods. Our communities (for reasons we can debate another day) remain segregated. One reason we don’t think racism exists is that we don’t have the opportunity to see it in action. </p><p>Where we live and most importantly where we grow up, means we often benefit from white privilege simply by the luck of birth. This doesn’t mean that there are not poor or disadvantaged white people. What it does mean, is that we don’t all have the same experiences. </p><p>In the article by Tippet that I link to above, she describes an experience one day in a university course in which a white male student gripes about reading a book on Malcolm X, because he can’t relate to it…</p><p>Think about the books that we read in high school and university. Most of them are by white male authors. How do you think people from other backgrounds relate to these books? This is, in fact, one of the major reason many universities created departments of Women’s Studies.</p><h2><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Racism is Taught</span></h2><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>As the study I mentioned earlier on highlights, racism is learned, it is taught. Babies are not racist. And if we raise our kids thoughtfully, neither are they. White parents, black parents, parents of all backgrounds should speak to their children about race. About the experience of race and about what it means to be a good person. </span> <span style=”font-weight: 400;”>We should build our children up, but not at the expense of others. </span></p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>You probably saw <a href=”_wp_link_placeholder” data-wplink-edit=”true”>this video</a> of a Virginia dad and his beautiful, smart daughter last year, but just in case I will share it with you here: </span></p><p> </p><p><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>My husband also asked that I share a story from our family. Earlier this summer, my husband asked my eldest son (his stepson) who he would marry when he grew up. Would he marry a white, black, Chinese or another kind of person? And our son answered, “I don’t know, skin color isn’t what is important, it’s who the person is…and if I love them.” He may only be 10, but he knows that beauty is only skin deep.</span></p><h3>Bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing…</h3><p>I first heard this saying in my son’s Kung fu class. Kung fu is a peaceful (defensive) martial art. The goal is not to attack, but to be prepared. Black parents talking to their kids is a bit like Kung fu. They are preparing their kids to go out and succeed in the world. Awareness is not an OFFENSIVE attack. It is preparation. </p><p>Similarly, acknowledging that white privilege exists and that if you are White in America you benefit from White Privilege. No matter how poor or rich, how hard you have worked or studied, you benefit to some extent from white privilege. This article does a good job of explaining the inner-workings of the <a href=”https://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/”>uneven playing field</a>. </p><h3>Perspective & Awareness</h3><p>Not all Americans have the same experience of being American. </p><p>What is American to you, may not be American to me. </p><p>American as Apple Pie…?</p><p>Pretty much anywhere you go in the United States of America, you can find an Apple Pie. But is Apple Pie even American? Or is it German? Or Dutch? French? Or Swedish?<br /><br />Pumpkin Pie is likely actually American, as pumpkins are a native fruit from the Americas. But what then about Sweet Potato Pie? Does it really matter?</p><p>My point is, that neither you nor I can precisely trace or claim the origins of white privilege any better than we can the origins of Apple, Pumpkin, and Sweet Potatoe Pie, but we can acknowledge that they all exist. Awareness is vital. </p><p>Once I became aware of white privilege, I started to notice it in action. Sometimes in the form of <span style=”background-color: #f6d5d9;”>simple </span>privilege, sometimes in the form of outright racism against someone in my presence. </p><p>What Can We Do?</p><p>We can be aware. We can discuss the origins and the history of race in America with our children. We can discuss the reality of diverse backgrounds and experience. We can question our assumptions. And we can speak-up.</p><p>Silence is complicit. Awareness is mental Kung fu. </p><p><em><strong>Bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing. </strong></em></p><p> </p><div style=”display: none;”><img draggable=”false” src=”https://alibcandid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Ruth-1-16-200×300.png” alt=”Picture of black hands and white hands being held.” width=”200″ height=”300″ /></div>
Lost and Found
Bookworms and bibliophiles love books. Foodies love food. Oenophiles love wine. As a logophile, I love words. Can you guess my favorite word of all? I’ll give you a clue: at the age of 21 this Colorado girl found love in Madagascar. And then as a result of distance (oceans and continents), time and circumstance, it became a love lost. 12 years later I found it again. Retrouvaille definition: In French “trouver” is to find something. Add the prefix “re” and you “re-find” something. Retrouvaille thus refers to a friend that you have found again, but not just any friend, a bosom-buddy, a BFF, someone who “get’s you.” In English, we find the words to represent these close friendships, but we lack any truly “retrouvaille feeling words” in English, which means that we’ll just have to use the French!
Logophiles love words.
Yep, that’s me. I am a logophile.
As a logophile, I can quickly get excited about the etymology or the origin of a word. I am fascinated by words that exist in one language, but not in others. And, I adore words that have slightly different nuances. As a student of anthropology, I also tend to note how vocabulary reflects the differences between languages and cultures. It’s an inside game for me to modify my word choice to suit my audience, be they American, English, South African or Australian. My thesaurus is a reliable and dog-eared friend. Tragically, my love of words nearly spelled death for my career as a writer. Thankfully, the experience of retrouvaille presented me with the time and the situation to reflect and find my path home, back to the written word.
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How my logophilia prevented me from becoming a writer.
Logophilia & Lover’s Quarrels
As a logophile, I confess that I am apt to get a bit snippy over how people use words. The connotation of a word is critical! If someone (up there) is keeping a tally, the record indeed shows that I am willing to defend the virtue and intent of my word choice. Disagreements of course often stem from misunderstanding — if only everyone paid attention to word choice, perhaps we’d have world peace!
Logophilia comes into play in my life as I search for words to express the perfect meaning or make an underhanded joke (or insult). I am also concerned with the implications and connotations of words. Contextual intersectionality, for example, is an excellent example of how word choice can help us to acknowledge or deny another person’s experience. By definition a logophile, of course, loves words. The root word of “logo” hailing from the Greek verb “to love.”
Logophilia definition: By definition a logophile, of course, loves words. The root word of “logo” hailing from the Greek verb “to love.” Logophilia is then the act of loving words, but also the act of wordplay. When you love words, you can’t help but also play with them!
One of the reasons I love my husband so much is that he also loves words and meaning. He is particularly fond of word jokes with subtle sexual undertones. He too adores riddles that trick people (usually our kids) into saying or doing something silly. One of his favorites is a line of questioning about Napolean’s horse that concludes with most neophytes responding that cows drink milk (not water)!
Some couples argue about finances or the kids, while our most heated and memorable disagreements often center on words. Notable debates include the following words: silly, indigenous, and mammal. Not all on the same day or even the same week mind you, and yet these were severe disagreements involving dictionaries, raised voices, and internet research.
For better or worse, my arguments with my husband over the connotation of words and appropriate vocabulary choice is not a solitary experience. I’ve been getting into trouble over words my entire life. From the time I spent a morning in the quiet room as a three-year-old, to just last week!
A Personal Retrouvaille: Me, Myself and I
Sometimes our best friend is not waiting to be found, but already inside. Rediscovering my love of writing and embracing my love of words is like rediscovering a best friend. Finding purpose at my keyboard is exhilarating. And helping others to find themselves through words and language is inspiring.
I have arrived. I am home. I might be feeling a bit precocious.
If you need to say something with words, but can’t find the right ones or are not sure what to say, ask me, I am at your service.
The Greatest Retrouvaille of All
We are not yet at the end of the story. The most noteworthy reason for my love of the word retrouvaile, is that my husband is the greatest retrouvaille of my life. We first met in 1998. I’d flown half-way around the world from Colorado to Madagascar for my semester abroad.
While in Madagascar, I lived with my husband’s family, falling in love not only with him, but with his entire family. The experience changed me forever on a spiritual and an intellectual level. But at the age of 21 I didn’t really believe in true love nor did I know how to make an international relationship work.
Fast forward 12 years and my husband decided to take a road-trip across the United States. The moment we saw each other the electricity flew. The greatest retrouvaille arrived at my front door and life forever changed. Not only did we find a way to write our own story, but the experience cracked me open in a way that continues to provide opportunities for me to grow and discover.
Do you have a retrouvaille story of your own? Are you a logohpile? Share your stories of retrouvaille or the written word below — I want to know!
If you follow Facebook or LinkedIn any number of articles appear in your feed (or at least in mine) each day about all the little things successful people do to be successful. So what happens when either you do all these things (or at least enough of them) and yet you seem to be stuck? Why do some seemingly successful people always feel stressed or anxious? Why do some people fail and keep going, while others fail and call it quits?
Maybe when we get desperate or anxious or lose our way, even when we think we do all the right things, maybe what we really need is a change of perspective….
I talk a lot about gratitude because I have found it to be a foundational component of my own feelings of happiness and success. Gratitude is a commonly accepted character trait and practice of successful, happy people. If you read certain texts or books you might come away thinking that gratitude is the magic bullet to a happy life.
But then how do you explain the experience of a highly successful entrepreneur who practices gratitude and yet is perpetually anxious? Or how can we explain the thousands of stay at home moms (and dads!) who have everything they need, who adore their children, who are so grateful to have the possibility to stay home, and yet they feel incomplete or stressed?
They say you are a success, but you don’t feel it?
As I discussed in my post Satisfaction and What is Next setting, tracking, and achieving goals results in candidly quantifiable feelings of success. And indeed, “successful people” are often known for not only practicing gratitude but also for setting specific goals and working diligently to achieve their goals. People with GRIT learn from their mistakes when they fail.
So, let’s say that you are both a goal setter and you practice gratitude. You are extremely grateful for all that you have and that you have achieved. And yet, you still get caught up in the “what ifs.” Maybe you lose perspective when watching the success of your peers. Or maybe you have a list of things that you should have done or could have said…you still can’t find those feelings of contentment with your success.
Maybe you regret the paths you didn’t take or the actions you did take. Maybe you wonder how your neighbor always manages to buy a new car every three years or why someone else has just taken the vacation of YOUR dreams.
What is going on? Maybe it is not what you are doing right, but something else?
The longer we live and the more we do, the more people cross our lives and touch us. Some people make an impact that is unforgettable. Sometimes they are unforgettably good, sometimes they are unforgettably bad! When I was younger, I used to get worked up about all the bad things or bad people that had crossed my path.
Starting when I was about 10 or 11 I would often lay in bed at night going over the things that I could have done or said differently, to have obtained a different outcome. I was a good student. I was kind to my friends. I was funny. I was not a particularly anxious person, but at the same time, I let guilt and anxiety weigh me down. In secret.
As a young college graduate, my ability to think strategically to solve problems and my drive towards perfection, led me to positions of responsibility that are most often given to individuals of greater experience and age. I always did a good job, but I was always sure that a fuck-up was just around the bend or that I could have done an even better job. I had about 7 years of hospitality experience under my belt before I realized that 1 complaining guest out of 250 was actually a really good ratio. That a night in which 99.6% of our customers went to bed happy was in fact amazing.
A Shift in Perspective
One day about 12 years ago, I was sitting in a large hotel conference room. The general manager of our hotel was hosting an all employee training. John is what one would call a servant leader (I’ll write about servant leaders another day). He earned this title because he considered himself more a mentor than a boss and he did everything he could to make his employees feel like part of something bigger. John would take a chance on just about anyone who was willing to put in a little sweat.
At the same time, he wasn’t a softy. One of his favorite activities was going to baseball games. Although, unlike an umpire, he practiced two strikes and you’re out (versus the traditional 3) policy. His logic was that anyone can make a mistake once, but if you do it again you are either stupid or not to be trusted (not his exact words, but you get my point).
He was also the kind of person who believed in continual learning and self-improvement. This is one of many reasons that John had been brought on board by the hotel’s owner to fix a problem of inconsistent customer service. Hotels are traveler’s home-away-from-home and a successful hotel doesn’t just meet client expectations, it exceeds them.
What is more, is that people who travel tend to be tired and not necessarily on their own best behavior, and so successful hotel staff also need to be somewhat forgiving or at the least thick-skinned. There is nothing better than a customer service employee who can turn a frown upside down!
The day I realized that one bad apple doesn’t ruin the bunch…
During this particular all-employee training, John brought up a topic that I will never forget. He said that in his experience, there were for emotions that he saw people get caught up in that contributed to bad customer service and generally unhappiness.
Most companies have training manuals, codes of conduct and staff training. In the service industry these tomes and training, of course, tell staff to be nice to the customer. But they often don’t talk about how to be a better person or more effective. They don’t explain how customer service affects the bottom line nor how all the pieces of the company come together to make one whole.
John did all of these things and more. Not everyone appreciated the detail, but those of us who took the time to listen had the opportunity to learn and grow our knowledge not just in the field of hospitality, but also in the game called life.
Four Wasted Emotions: GUILT; WORRY; REGRET; AND, JEALOUSY
Boy did I have an “ah-HA!” moment during this talk. I had been weighed down by the big FOUR on a daily basis for YEARs. I was guilty of imperfection, I was worried about the consequences, I was jealous of the perfect people, I regretted the mistakes I’d made…
John explained that when we encountered these emotions, our initial emotional response itself was normal. When bad things happen, we get upset. And then we can either learn from the problem or we can let the problem eat us. Too often when we get hung up in life, it is because we don’t let our problems go.
Let’s look at the healthy way to address each of these emotions:
GUILT: You do something wrong or you make a mistake. Accidentally or intentionally, it doesn’t matter, both instances require that you recognize what you did wrong and that you resolve to do it differently in the future. And then, you MOVE ON.
WORRY: You recognize your concern, you determine if it is something that you have control over. If yes, fix it. If no, let it go. MOVE ON.
REGRET: You can’t fix the past. Recognize what happened. If it is in your control, figure out what you need to do differently in the future. MOVE ON.
JEALOUSY: It doesn’t change anything. It hurts you. It hurts other people. Set your own goals, focus on yourself and don’t worry about other people.
Now, a lifetime of guilt, worry, jealousy and regret cannot be erased overnight. And to be honest, even a decade later, I sometimes revert to old patterns, especially when I am pressed for time, overtired or sick. But. BUT. Since the day John gave that talk, I have been a different, and happier woman. I have been able to recognize these emotions and learn from my mistakes.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes either, I do. I do make mistakes. Sometimes daily, but I don’t get bogged down in worry, regret, jealousy or guilt. I notice. I recognize. I use my BREATHE app to meditate. And, then I practice gratitude for having people in my life like John.
Do you get caught up in any or all of these emotions? Have you ever? Do you think that they have had an effect on your happiness? Your feelings of success?
Here at Alibcandid, I share my experiences, my lessons learned, and even daily existential crisis. I also talk about my lessons learned. My hope is that together, you and I will learn to live authentic, intentional and satisfying lives. That we will find a path to true gratitude and experience all the happiness and success that the abundance in our life offers. To learn more about my professional services please visit Alison Rakoto. To learn about my infatuation with food and fitness please visit American Bakery (in French) or Health and Fit at Forty (under construction).
To start off today, let me be frank, you may not agree with my point of view, but that is the beauty of living in a free world. We can agree to disagree. This will be the last politically bent post you see from me for a while, perhaps for three years or more (French politics or American politics). I am going to focus on my own business and my family, but before I do so, I want to cause a few people to question their own beliefs. To question what you think are the meanings of “left” and “right,” “conservative” and “liberal.” Who makes these definitions, who promotes them in the media, and what is it that we as citizens really want and need from our governments?
Living overseas, living in an interethnic and interracial family causes me to question the status quo more often than I would have expected before I made the plunge. I used to think I was well rounded and open-minded, but what I learn each year, is that although I have basic values at my core, my beliefs and my experiences are very one sided. As an American, I am continually challenged to see things in different ways.
As an American, my roots are more complex than some non-Americans might imagine. I grew up in a family represented by “self-made” men and women: Colorado cowboys, potato farmers, teachers, and cattle ranchers. The immigrant roots on this side of the family go back a few hundred years, but religious freedom and respect for diverse beliefs were important parts of my upbringing. From Mary Baker Eddy to Ralph Waldo Emerson, reading, free-thought, debate and non-judgment were a major part of my early education.
The other side of my family has more recent roots as immigrants. My grandfather’s parents were poor German farmers and he was very proud to have not only gone to university but studied for a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. This side of the family is more decisively “liberal” and yet the belief in hard work and the protestant ethic came across strong in my upbringing.
How do we learn to question the status quo?
I share this information, because from my perspective, as the child of a university professor in a liberal town, I had a relatively well-rounded and open-minded upbringing. And yet, my life’s activities, from a semester in Madagascar in 1998 to travel in West Africa for a month in 2000, and then working for a few years in a rural area of Haiti, I have learned that other people have had very very different world views and experiences than my own.
As an American, I have had the privilege of living a very privileged life. I have never had to consider the risks of boarding an overcrowded boat in Guantanamo bay with the hope that we will make it alive to Miami. My grandfather was not killed in an uprising against the French. As an American, I have benefited, when even others around the world have been struggling. Every year, maybe even every day, I learn something that I didn’t know before, especially when I am traveling or listening to those who have grown up with vastly different histories than my own.
The Real and the Imagined Fight between “Patriots” and “Globalists”
For the last year or two, much of my TV and social media world has been infatuated with the so-called British, American and French political fights between “patriots” and “globalists” or “fascists” and “liberals.” I could go on with the comparisons, but really, listening to the debate as an American living overseas I feel somewhat disconnected from it all. As an American the “challenges” to our various “western” political establishments have been particularly, interesting learning experiences.
With the American 2016 presidential election, I watched my blood relatives split down the middle in regards to their viewpoints. Friends have surprised me by tipping one way or another. And I have wondered how others remain mysteriously tight-lipped. All sides, of course, think they are right. Personally, I think that perhaps no one is right. This would perhaps make me the perfect conspiracy theorist, but I don’t like conspiracies either. They are inefficient.
No one is right…
Ultimately, politics and voting are selfish. Normal people are too easily motivated by fear and self-preservation. A few people try to look towards the future, at cause and effect, but more people look to the past. And, it seems that many people shut down new and or different ideas before they even get a chance to listen.
Yesterday, I attempted to comment on the Facebook post of a writer that I had come to respect in the Seattle area regarding Macron’s election being a “win against Fascism.” As an American living in France, my hope was to shed light on why not all French people supporting Le Pen should be considered crazy fascists. Within a few seconds of posting, before anyone could have possibly tried to think about what I wrote, I’d already been publicly labeled a “Fascist Racist” myself. Mon dieu!
Immediately, the preconceived notions of this author and her followers associated me with their image of a “Trump supporter” and a white elitist Fascist. The author and her followers also pegged me as a privileged white person (which I am) with my head up my ass (it’s not). What they missed, is that if we want to achieve progress we need to make fewer assumptions and do more listening. Americans also need to realize that they as a category are also privileged when it comes to Americans versus the World. And so, what the author missed in my comments is that more important than me being a privileged white person, I am a privileged AMERICAN.
What is Privilege?
I am also a privileged citizen and resident of several countries that got rich off of colonialism and slavery. I tried several times to get the author and the other commenters to see the point I was trying to raise, but they simply couldn’t get past their belief that as a privileged white person, I was trying to normalize hate. If they only knew that hate is probably the last thing you will try to find me normalizing. Indeed, I am writing this post, because I don’t want to live in a world that is fueled by fear and hate.
Countries like Madagascar and Haiti are poor because the colonial powers became rich off the backs of the citizens of these countries. And yet, most Haitians and most Malagasy, don’t hate Europeans or Americans, but if they wanted too, their hate would certainly be justified.
Africa made Europe rich.
But which Europeans? The average citizen voting for Melanchon or Le Pen? Simply signing off Le Pen supporters as crazy fascists, ignores the very real reasons that she got so much of the vote this year. I guarantee you that 34% of French people are not fascist racists and that black, brown, Jewish and Muslims voted for Le Pen. Obviously, such voters are not to be found in great enough numbers, but they do exist and they exist for a variety of reasons. And I would argue that their vote for Le Pen is not equivalent to “normalizing hate.” In fact, can also be a statement against hate, fueled by a desire to fight against the ruling parties and individuals that they see as disconnected from reality.
I agree that we cannot nor should not normalize fascism or hatred in the form of white supremacy or any other “supremacy.” However, do we so easily forget that the wealthiest nations and corporations also made their fortunes off of backs of others? Is the Front National really our greatest enemy? Is the Front National really a greater enemy than Brussels? Or, from a different point of view, is Brussels really the true friend of the immigrant? Or is Brussels using the immigrant as a pawn in a complex game of oligarchical chess?
The far left in France also sees Brussels as a threat.
People around the world live or die as the result of American politics and American money. How many people have died in the last 100 years as a result of American foreign policy? How many people died as a result of colonialism and slavery?
50 Shades of Grey should be about politics…
Sadly, the book 50 Shades of Grey is about sex, because it really should be the title of a book about politics. It is so easy for good well-meaning citizens to get lost in political parties and in sound bites. We let those already in power buy and sell our news and we lose sight of the real goal of government to represent the people. As Americans, we tend to think that America only does good, but there are millions of people around the world that will tell you otherwise.
During the American election campaign, I was at a dinner party in France where individuals from several different countries said that they would relish a Trump win, simply because it might weaken and destabilize American domination of the world. That is not the kind of statement that an American wants to hear, nor is it the kind of thing that you will hear, without venturing out into the world. It was also not the first nor probably the last time that I will hear a citizen of another country bemoan American influence or the strength of the US dollar.
Macron does not have the widespread support reported by American news outlets…
I read a breakdown of Macron’s vote and if you take out the people that voted for Le Pen, voted white (blank ballots) and those that abstained, Macron actually only won about 30% of the total French vote. I am not sure if that is something to be celebrated. At the least, it is something to be questioned.
In the numbers of French casting a “vote blanc” or voting, but not choosing either candidate, a larger percentage of these voters were youth and or unemployed (25% of French youth also happen to be unemployed). Really, in either the American or the French election, who had more power the citizen voters or multinational corporations like Bouygues, Google, Exxon Mobile, and the Waltons?
Earlier this year, before his victory was even known, Aljazeera posted an article discussing the unfair presence given to Macron by the French media. Melanchon, a Vegan Socialist, who got 19.6% of the vote in the first round, also supports negotiating the treaties surrounding the EU and NATO. And Melanchon would have raised taxes on the wealthiest of French even more. Here is a quote from the article regarding one of the first debates:
And in the aftermath of a national TV debate, bringing together five of the 11 candidates, almost all major media outlets anointed Macron as the most convincing personality of the debate. A simple critical look at the debate in question would suffice to see how Macron’s performance and discourse were banal. In contrast, far left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who had distinguished himself during the debate both by his innovative political proposals and his provocative style, did not get the media coverage to match his ground-breaking political platform.
The Oligarchy versus the average citizen…
Melanchon and Le Pen both ran campaigns against the Oligarchy. Oligarchy is a term we heard a lot during the French campaign in reference to Macron and it is one reason many people, myself included, would call him representative of the Oligarchy. I would call Trump the same. Indeed, in many ways, the French far left and the French far right meet in the middle in their fight against the oligarchy. Both sides see that money talks. And money votes. Personally, I don’t know which of the French candidates I could have really gotten behind if I had been able to vote. I can’t honestly say that any one of them offered a platform that more than 50% appealed to my American background and my personal goals for the world. French politics and French political parties are quite different from what we are used to in the USA. I am not convinced in a 100% socialist state nor do I think the EU should be ended. At the same time, in today’s world, who has more power? The oligarchy or the average citizen?
Now, if the woman who called me a “racist fascist” yesterday had taken the time to listen and to consider what I was trying to write, perhaps she would have more accurately called me a naive anarchist. I just want to live in a world in which people get along, respect one another and take care of the vulnerable.
And so, while I sign off politics to focus on my own life, family, and finances for the next three years and maybe longer, let me leave you with the statement that I saw another friend post on Facebook today. “A Macron presidency does not necessarily spell out “hope” for the French.” And, in saying that, I hope that I am proven wrong.
I want my children to grow up in a world where I am proud to be a citizen and where the vulnerable have a chance to win the game.
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A tale of Language and Privilege
How do you define indigenous?
Each of us is a product of our background. In life, we often look for ideas and people that reinforce the way we think and thereby validate our values and beliefs. As a kid, my mom shared office space with several other women at her university. Together they worked on gender and diversity issues in education. The women my mother worked with self-identified as Chicana, Black, and Native American. The result is that from an early age, despite being a little white girl from a Colorado Ranching family, my exposure to other experiences and cultures started early. At the time, I didn’t know the difference; I simply saw strong, intelligent and passionate women who inspired me to be my own person.
Recent events and discussion about white privilege have led me to understand how this inclusive and intersectional experience of my childhood prepared me to be open to diverse ideas and probably led to my decision to study abroad in Madagascar in 1998, which is where I met my husband. This “tale of Language and Privilege” is an exercise in thinking, not an argument for or against the usage of the word indigenous. I invite you to read it, to think and to discuss.
De-Nile is a River in Egypt
This is a post is best read slowly and thoughtful with a cup of coffee or tea. When you finish take a moment to sit a enjoy and to be followed by a long moment of contemplation.
My look at the word “indigenous” is a look at semantics and language. At meaning and usage. At language and privilege.
Specifically, I would like to show you how I transitioned from seeing the word “indigenous” as a conscientious word to describe native peoples, to a word that instead highlights a history of White Privilege and Colonial Imperialism. Although not everyone will agree on intent, the way that Indigenous is generally applied to populations around the world also implies “primitive.”
This subject has been brought to us originally by a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. When our discussion started, I was very very lost on a long ride down the River De-Nile. My guess is that most of my readers are probably also bobbing along on a raft that is not as sturdy as they once thought…
This conversation originally came to my attention after a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. When our discussion started, I eventually found myself very very lost on a long ride down the River De-Nile. My guess is that most of my readers are probably also bobbing along on a raft that is not as sturdy or directed as they once thought…
My husband and I grew up several thousand miles apart, but in families that value respecting individuals and cultures for their face value. We don’t judge. We walk our own path.
He grew up in the Antanosy region of Madagascar. I grew up in the State of Colorado, in the United States. Despite the geographic distance in our upbringing, it is often surprising how much we think alike. At the same time, we have had very different life experiences. Sometimes these experiences mean that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes these experiences mean that we have experienced very different things. Racism. Sexism. And, the vestiges of Slavery and Colonialism.
Madagascar is just off the tip of South Africa and is on one of the trade routes from Europe to India. As a consequence, for many years ships with slaves, pirates, and various individuals intent on colonizing or just taking a break (for a few years or twenty), stopped off to settle and to terrorize in my husband’s hometown of Tôlanaro. A town that has two names, one used by the locals and one used by foreigners and given to it by the French (Fort Dauphin).
Because of the already diverse cultural heritage of the Malagasy, the people of the Antanosy region are long accustomed to the idea that not everyone looks the same. Because of the passing of Indian (from India), Asian, Middle Eastern, and East African peoples, walking down the street you can see people that are clearly of mixed heritage. Blue and green eyes, deep pool black eyes, tufts of blond hair, straight hair and curly hair can be found.
Certainly, the Antanosy tribe has a particular look, as do each of the 18 tribes in Madagascar, but historically, the Malagasy have not really been caught up in this idea of race. Foreigners are called Vazaha, which translates to “stranger” or “foreigner,” but not in a derogatory sense. Malagasy people simply consider themselves Malagasy rather than get overly caught up in origins and shades of skin color.
Growing up, my husband knew that some people were foreigners, but he didn’t know that racism existed. Some people were Vazaha, but people were people. And guests were to be honored in your home. Growing up in Tôlanaro, his parents were particularly interested in the foreigners that came to town, inviting them into their home, and learning as much as they could from the outside world. As far as my husband knew, guests and visitors were to be honored. And the color of your skin or the birthplace or birth status of your parents had little if anything to do with your personal value.
And then he moved to France.
In the last 15+ years, my husband has become well versed in racism, white privilege, imperialist thought, and every other repulsive thing that goes alongside. This essay is however not a pity party and I won’t get all the details, but I do want to share with you just enough that you can see how moving from Madagascar to France, changed his world view, forever.
I also want you to think about what his experience might have been if he had been white (say British or American white). Or if he had been a Black American coming to France. Let’s note during all of this that my husband has passed down through his family, French Nationality, so when arriving in France, his legal status never has been that of an immigrant. He arrived in France, legally, French.
Language and privilege: American versus African
When I was home in Colorado a few months ago, I had the honor of joining my mom’s book club. The members had just read a book by a contemporary Black American Author. He, like so many other Black Americans traveling to France (particularly Paris), thinks the French are not really racist because as Black Americans, they don’t experience the same racism they experience in the US. If you are reading this and you are a Black American, I want to you to think twice about what you experience in France.
For example, if my husband dresses in jeans, flip-flops, and an American flag t-shirt, and he speaks English, he can get into a fancy cigar club on the Champs Elysees, no problem because the doorman thinks he is AMERICAN. If he returns with his Senegalese friend (who parks a Maserati and Aston Martin in his garage in Miami) dressed in a suit jacket and nice jeans, but speaking French, they will be turned away from the same club, because they don’t meet the “dress code.”
In other words, they are guilty in the eyes of the doorman of being African and not French or American. Being rich doesn’t even make a difference, which is surprising to an American. Poor Americans rank higher than Rich Africans and French Africans in France. Ponder that.
Imperialism (usually White Capitalist Occidental People’s superiority complex)
Americans (both black and white) are known in France to be hard workers, but people of more recent African heritage (immigrants and born French alike) are not. Many white French consistently and publicly espouse the view of Africans as lazy. As uneducated. My nieces and nephews who attended a French school in the Seychelles arrived in France confronted by the assumption that they would be behind.
A few months after my arrival in France, I attended a CV workshop, on the recommendation of the French Employment office. The white French woman running the workshop started off by asking us to introduce ourselves. When I introduced myself as an American the woman responded, “Great! You shouldn’t have a problem getting a job, everyone knows that Americans are hard-workers, unlike Africans….” Um. Um. Ok. So Americans may be loud and impolite, but we work hard…
The aftershocks of colonialism and the imperial point of view, also continue to ripple through the United States. I grew up in Colorado. My mom’s family had been homesteaders around the turn of the century (1900). I grew up proud of my heritage and my family’s work ethic (I still am. Cowboys and Cowgirls are to be respected). We were tough, proud people.
As a child and as a young adult, road-trips often included visits to regional museums, which in an attempt at Grace, often focused on the people who had lived in the area before white (and black) settlers came to the region. Boulder had been home to the Arapahoe Indians and numerous streets, neighborhoods and even towns (Niwot) are named after local leaders and tribes. One of my favorite childhood storybooks was about Sacajawea and I knew plenty about the history of the Native Americans or American Indians that had lived in the region.
Museums cover the past. History is a study of the past. My experience (and I assume that of the majority of white and black Americans) was as though Indians were mythical romantic creatures of the past. We studied them in school. We visited heritage sites and museums. When I traveled to France, I was asked if Indians really wore headdresses and rode horses. My AP US History textbook (you know the same one that a conservative school board in Jefferson County, CO tried to ban because it is too LIBERAL) had a section titled the “Noble Savage.”
We studied dead Indians, but we never studied living ones. Well, I studied them, a bit, as part of my Unitarian Universalist 9th Grade-trip. We spent 10 days between the Navajo and Hopi Nations in New Mexico and Arizona. We stayed with homestay families. We took walks. We visited the longest operating Trading Post in the United States. We also visited the longest inhabited village in the Americas. Old Oraibi.
Maybe it was my own naivete, but the trip was still more like a trip to the past. I didn’t really stop to think about the separation of living American Indian society from mainstream (primarily white) American society. The people I met seemed more like ghosts from the past than living people. I was disconnected and I didn’t stop to consider what it must be like to be a First American, living amongst the vestiges of colonization. Getting up each morning and stepping out to be a part of “American” society.
I had a dear childhood friend with whom I spent hours playing after school. Our mothers were friends and had offices in the same building at the University of Colorado. At some level, I knew she was Indian, Navajo to be precise. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, she told me that the Navajo’s true name was actually “Diné” and that it meant “the people.” Navajo was actually a name given the tribe by an opposing tribe. I don’t recall it’s meaning, but it is not a complimentary name.
After this, for many years, in fact, I tried using the name Diné, but just about nobody, outside of people from the Four Corners region, has ever recognized the term. Many people, to my surprise, are not really even familiar with the term Navajo, and yet the Diné is one of the largest tribes remaining in the USA (of the 560+ that are recognized).
Despite our friendship, I never realized the implication of our diverging backgrounds until my husband and I started to discuss the word Indigenous. I frankly never thought to ask my friend about her experience growing up in Boulder. Never. I may have been raised in an open-minded, politically correct family, but I was still the recipient of white privilege and I had no reason to consider that her childhood experience was any different from mine.
I don’t remember how the subject came up, but I argued my point valiantly, for probably a week or more, before I finally saw it from my husband’s point of view. Growing up, I had been introduced to the terms Indian, American Indian and Native American. At the time indigenous referred to what I perceived to be semi-wild and innocent people still living in the bush in Australia, the Amazon, various islands or even parts of Africa. Aborigines. Bushmen.
And then I took a trip to British Columbia and went to the Royal Museum and I was astounded at the exhibit on Indigenous Peoples. As a student of Anthropology, I was in awe. Wow! I thought that the use of indigenous to describe Native Americans or American Indians was magnificent. Of course in ecology or plant biology, we talk about indigenous plants, so what better word, to call native peoples than “indigenous?” Or so I thought.
And then I took a trip to British Columbia and went to the Royal Museum. The museum had an in-depth and thoughtfully done exhibit on Indigenous Peoples. As a student of Anthropology, I found myself in awe and I left with a new perception and understanding of the word indigenous.
No longer did “we” need to worry about what “Native” and “American” meant, we should simply follow the step of the Canadians and call Native Americans or American Indians instead “indigenous peoples.” Of course in ecology or plant biology, we talk about indigenous plants, so what better word, to call native peoples than “indigenous?” Or so I thought.
And so, for the next 15 years or so, I proudly called Native Americans, “Indigenous peoples,” when I referred to them in conversation. Just as I did when talking about Pacific Islanders or the Kung! and others who suffered under the invasive regimes of Occidental Colonialism. Until that fateful day, in which my husband said, don’t use that word. I hate that word. “Indigenous” is a dirty, dirty, and demeaning word.
It gets complicated: implications of usage
I proudly paraded my open-mindedness until that fateful day, in which my husband said: “Don’t use that word. I hate that word. ‘Indigenous’ is a dirty, dirty, and demeaning word.” What? How? Why?
I tried to argue. I told my husband all the ways my usage of “indigenous” in fact demonstrated an open-minded and respectful usage. He told me I had a serious case of white-privilege. I was shocked. I was outraged. My own husband telling me — ME! — of all people that I was practicing imperialism in my speech absolutely scandalized me. And then I let it sit. And I started to think. And I started to question.
I felt feelings of shock and outrage. How could my own husband tell me — ME! — of all people that my speech and my thought process demonstrated my privilege and embraced imperialism. I felt scandalized. And then I let it sit. And I started to think. And I started to question. And I saw my privilege.
Think about the following countries and list off the ones which you personally think of supporting populations of indigenous peoples:
What qualifies a group of people as indigenous? Why have “indigenous” populations failed to embrace certain or many aspects of so-called “modern” society? What is the difference between a poor developing population and an indigenous population? The lines may not be clear cut, but hopefully, you can see what I am trying to demonstrate.
Why don’t we study “indigenous Koreans?” Or “indigenous Norwegians?” Why is it that the Maori are an “indigenous tribe,” but the Danish people are just…Danes? As an adjective, indigenous is indeed accurate to describe American Indians, but if we are going to call Indians “Indigenous” with a capital “I” then maybe we ought to also call those of European, Asian and African descent who live in the USA, “Invasive.” As we should anyone living in New Zealand or Australia, whose ancestors arrived sometime in the last 400 years.
Let’s look at the definitions of the two words according to our old friend Merriam-Webster:
1: produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment indigenous plants the indigenous culture
1: of, relating to, or characterized by military aggression
2: tending to spread especially in a quick or aggressive manner: such as of a non-native organism: growing and dispersing easily usually to the detriment of native species and ecosystems
“A non-native organism: growing and dispersing easily usually to the detriment of native species and ecosystems.” Are we talking about thistles? Or Colonialists? I can’t tell. As adjectives, indigenous and invasive are appropriate, but as nouns, especially proper nouns they are not. Why? Because it is the Invader who identifies the Indigenous as so.
The Imperialist Perspective
In other words, my white privilege, the same privilege, that never called me to question my girlfriend’s perspective growing up, led me to see the word indigenous in a very different light than my husband.
Growing up in Madagascar, my husband went out into a world in which he saw the unequal usage of the word indigenous. He saw that by classifying a population as Indigenous they suddenly become fragile and weak. Children to be protected by the laws and the money of dominant world powers.
Now, I acknowledge that indeed certain populations embrace the word indigenous and that there is value in the distinction “indigenous” makes when looking different groups around the world. Furthermore, many groups that choose to use the word “indigenous” do so in trying to make amends for previous wrongs.
At the same time, let us not forget that the individuals making these decisions still tend to come from positions of imperialist power and privilege.
You may not understand what I have shared with you today, you may even disagree, but I ask you to let it sit. Think about it. Contemplate it. And then think about how your experience and your perceptions may be different those that you encounter in your daily life. At work. At school. In the supermarket. How does our background or our origins influence our world view and how the world views us?
For further reading: