What Language Might Heal Our Family Feud?

By Bear Gebhardt

Let’s pretend that I have an Uncle Waldo and a Cousin Fritz and a Sister Kate, all of whom were part of the minority who voted for the current Minority President. (How could they!) What am I supposed to say to them? How do I say it?

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

I also need to come up with a strategy to talk with those folks on my very block—that construction guy and his wife and that young kid with the motorboat—who actually put up his signs in their front yards.  How do I talk with them?  These folks are, after all, my family, my neighbors.

Do I just not talk to them ever again? Is the gulf between us now so deep, so vast and unbridgeable that further communication will forever be impossible? When I get together with them do I just not mention that huge, snorting (GOP) elephant in the room? How would my grandma and grandpa feel about such a chasm of “non-talk,” here in the family? Or, God forbid, might grandpa and grandma been part of that minority who voted for him (egads!). How do I get out of this family?

Alas, I can’t. We can’t.

We can’t resign from our families. And I doubt we could find a new neighborhood where no one voted for him.

Talk about it: One strategy, of course—a strategy many of us have been forced to adopt here in the early months of this new administration run by the minority 1 percent—is simply not talking about it. But this seems a rather inelegant, inartistic, maybe even cowardly approach to the problem. But simply to keep the peace, it’s a strategy many of us generously, regularly employ.

But, when the time and place are right, I sincerely do want to talk with Uncle Waldo and Cousin Fritz and Sister Kate, in a way that honors grandma and grandpa, about this bully elephant here trampling through the family gardens. The damage being done is simply too great not to talk about it.  It might, at first, be just a quick talk, a casual aside, but something needs to be done—said—to repair the communication breakdown here in the American family. The rift that has opened in our family in these times is as deep now as it was during the American Revolution, and the Civil War. We must begin to heal this communication breakdown before it becomes irreparable.

But how do we even begin?

The U.S.-Mexican border is not the only place where a wall exists. Americans find that communication walls about Trump and other political issues severely divide their own friends and family members.

George Lakoff, a retired Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, suggests “The first thing that …should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue, In general, negating a frame just activates the frame and makes it stronger.”

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Lakoff goes on to observe that, The Clinton campaign consistently violated the lesson [not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing. The Clinton Campaign] kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous. Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!

Don’t empower: It seems like we, the majority, who did not vote for this one-percenter President, all too often fall into the same damned trap. We repeat his exact words and outlandish frames and the words and frames of his millionaire/billionaire buddies he put into positions of power. We repeat them because to us the words and frames sound so obviously outlandish and off the rails. But such repetition just reinforces and empowers those outlandish viewpoints, and keep his base actively supporting him.

Here are a few of the lessons we need to learn to begin to repair the communication “bridge out”:

  • Personal attacks on Trump give energy and credence to Trump.
  • Calling him names gives credence to his own name calling.
  • Making fun of his supporters makes them support him more strongly.

So, how do we begin to talk again with our neighbors and Uncle Waldo, Cousin Fritz and Sister Kate?

Here’s the challenge: We must deeply listen to the real issues behind the fiery words, and then think deeper, feel deeper.

We must look behind the words they give us, beyond the frames they draw.

Erase fears: And then we need to change the language. We need to listen to them, to what they are worried about, what issues they are afraid of. And then think deeper. And offer new frames, new language, to ease their fears. (Wide ranging fear—on both sides—is the dark force that has caused the “bridge out” communication chasm now present. To repair the bridge, we need to lessen the fear.)

Again, it’s worth repeating, as Lakoff observes: The first thing that should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue.

So when Uncle Waldo suggests we should “Build a Wall,” we might first commiserate and agree that current efforts to keep out illegal immigrants just isn’t working. And then taking baby steps we change the frame, if only slightly, “As we all know, we already have 700 miles worth of fences, and concrete barriers and barbed wire, along much of the U.S. border, and how well is that working?”

Offer alternative views: And then we might laugh, remind Uncle Waldo what a great country we (already) have, and that the reason they sneak into the country is because of how much money they can make compared to their own country. If I could make $5,000.00 in a month washing dishes in a restaurant in Canada, I would probably sneak across that border if I couldn’t get a visa. Our own American farmers have been telling us we could go a long way to fix the undocumented worker problem simply by issuing more H2A  visas, get the farmers the help they need, legally. And in the same way we need to issue more J-1, H-3, H2B, L1 visas—help American businesses get the manual labor they need, but legally.  If we granted more visas, offered more work documents, we wouldn’t have so many undocumented workers!

I suspect Uncle Waldo would have to agree, at least a smudge. Again, let’s think deeper, wider, using the facts.

When Cousin Fritz demands, “America First,” we might ask him who should be second? And then ask him if he drinks coffee or eats bananas, and where do we get these wonderful things?

When Sister Kate suggests we “block refugees,” we might suggest the first step might be to stop bombing, stop creating more homeless people.

Instead of talking about “sanctuary cities,” we might talk about “world friendly cities.” Instead of using the words “Fake News,” we can agree that we desperately need “fact-based stories,” that can be verified. We DON’T repeat the Minority Man’s words.

And that’s the point: We must learn not to repeat their words, not to challenge their frames. As Cesar Chavez said, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

Let’s think deeper, think wider, about the issues behind their fearful words and frames. Let’s bravely, openly and lovingly speak our own language, and thus take steps toward healing this painful family rift.

 

 

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Trump Should Study the Koran

By Bear Gebhardt

Although many passages in the Koran seem quite harsh and inhumane, there’s one passage all good ol’ American blue collar workers can quickly agree with: “A worker should be paid before the sweat is dried from his brow.” This is a passage Donald Trump should follow, but doesn’t.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

One way to describe D.T.’s basic business practices is “Donald the Octopus.”  He has many, many arms (over 500 corporations), and each arm has hands, and each hand has fingers, and each finger has digits. Each digit is a corporation designed solely for the purpose of profit, e.g., designed for getting, not giving. Many, many people who have worked for D.T. over the years have not only not been paid “before the sweat is dried from their brows,” they don’t get paid at all or get paid less than he promised.

In the last three decades, the Trump Octopus has been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits.  His way of doing business regularly ends up with his partners, his contractors or subcontractors suing him, or he suing them. Apparently his way of doing business is to delay payments, and often not pay at all.  He disputes, disputes, disputes. Not only is the sweat dried from his workers’ brows, they’ve worked and completed a dozen other projects and he still hasn’t paid.

As USA Today documented, Donald Trump may have learned this tactic from his father Fred, who got him started in business. They both have a long history of not paying their contractors, not fulfilling their end of signed contracts, and lying about their true intentions. Anybody who takes even a cursory glance at the business history of Donald Trump, as this Newsweek article documents, would have a hard time defending such practices.

The contractors who have not been paid, or the business partners who want him to ante up his share, naturally, want to use whatever leverage they can—often Trump owes them millions of dollars for the work and materials they have provided, or the investments they have made on his behalf. So when it becomes obvious workers are not going to get paid, or that he’s stalling about his payments, they sue him, trying to get what they are owed. That’s why he creates a new corporation for every new project, or even a new phase of an old project. Contractors can only sue that one corporation, and not the man himself, hiding behind his many “corporate walls.”

But Donald the Octopus is not afraid of being sued. On the contrary, apparently one of his secret business tactics is lawsuits. So he keeps a Tower full of lawyers on payroll whose only job is to drag out the lawsuits year after year, and/or institute counter-suits. Eventually, the contractors and unhappy investors are willing to settle for anything—for pennies on the dollars—just so they can get paid something, rather than nothing. That’s just how he does business.

And if the deal doesn’t work—if he can’t bully local people into doing what he wants them to do—he can disband that little piece of this business, that temporary corporation. Or simply declare bankruptcy, as he has done on six separate occasions. Again, it’s like an octopus.  You fight one arm, and you can win—but he has many more arms. In Donald’s case, 500 more arms that keeps the octopus alive.

Again, the one passage from the Koran that all American blue collar workers will quickly agree with, and that Donald Trump should take to heart: “A worker should be paid before the sweat is dried from his brow.”

Does it take the Koran to teach this man the honest American way of doing business? Then again, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems pretty clear in itself. For a man whose penthouse apartment is decked out in gold, you’d think the golden rule should apply.

Evidence put forth by some of the most respected lawyers in the country documents sufficient constitutional cause to impeach this man. His lousy business practices give further evidence that this man has not yet learned to be an honest, upright, fair-handed American. He does not represent the best of our people, or our history.

Escaping the Trump Tower Prison

By Bear Jack Gebhardt

Isn’t it funny how often we dream in metaphors? And, when we pay attention, our dreams can help us to better understand and more artfully deal with the challenges of our waking life.

For example, I recently had a dream in which I was arrested for murder, and held in prison in the Trump Tower. The charge against me was so serious that I knew I would never be released from the Trump Tower jail.

Bear Jack Gebhardt has written for many national magazines and published books on various topics. Learn more about him…

The dream went deeper:

Donald Trump himself singled me out personally for perverse psychological experiments. He would have me removed from the cell, take me into the glitzy lobby of the Tower, and tell me falsehoods to see if I would believe them. He obviously didn’t care whether I believed him or not. He even let me walk around the block, there in New York City, as if I were a free man, enjoying the sunshine and the ordinary movement of daily life, all the while knowing I was still his prisoner, with no chance of escape unless I wanted to live a life on the run.

Curiously, waking from this dream, I found I could breathe easier, psychologically and emotionally speaking—easier than I had in months. Through my dream, I had been presented with an accurate scenario—outplaying—of my inner life. With such a glimpse, I felt more empowered to deal with real-life outer circumstances.

“Hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.”

The contemporary Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, observed, “Hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.” My dream pointed out how I had inadvertently fallen into a mood–an attitude, a worldview–of hopelessness, which, in Brother David’s view, would be a condition of spiritual fragmentation.  (If you are arrested and charged with murder, there’s little hope for escape.)

The reasons behind my mood, this attitude, were likewise plainly presented in my dream. Our current political upheaval had obviously captured my mood and emotions in a way that feels life-threatening, without hope. In my dream, many others were likewise held in the Trump Tower prison, though for some reason—probably just because it was my dream—I had been personally selected for Donald’s psychological experiments.

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My daughter, Annalee Moyers, is a lucid dreamer, and over many decades we have learned together to work with our dreams—play with our dreams—in a way that most often makes our day-life flow more smoothly. One of our dream practices is to go back, after waking, and “fix” our troubling dreams, sometimes on paper, sometimes by talking them out together. Playing with the exact images our subconscious has offered up allows our mental and emotional and sometimes even physical infrastructure to be repaired.

So, for example, I can go back into my dream, here as I write this essay, and have a fair-minded judge deliver papers to the Tower prison ordering the charges against me be dropped, because they were all based on insufficient and possibly even fraudulently fabricated evidence. While I’m at it,  I’ll have further papers delivered charging the Trump organization with false arrest, false imprisonment, not only for my case (my dream) but for all those who have been likewise imprisoned in the Trump Tower’s jail.

Since it’s our dream, and we can do what we want, we may as well send in blue-helmeted United Nations’ soldiers to open all the prison cell doors, release all of the prisoners, and haul all the Trump guards and prison administrators into waiting paddy wagons.

There. Doesn’t that feel better?

We do need to guard against being imprisoned in the Trump Tower. More specifically, and more importantly, we need to guard against the rising sense of hopelessness, this tweet-induced mental and emotional fragmentation.

Here in our day life, we are whole beings—beings who are nourished by the arts, all of them, and Meals on Wheels, and offering a helping hand to the poor; our compassion as non-fragmented beings leads us to help the refugees, and all those who have been made homeless by our own military and economic actions.

Let us not lose hope. We can wake from this nightmare. We all must work to stay healthy, mentally, emotionally and physically, in both waking and sleeping, in order to artfully meet the challenges we now face. Sharing our dreams, both daytime and nighttime, is an essential part of our healthy healing process.

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Pot and Copernicus: See You in Court!

By Bear Jack Gebhardt

I don’t smoke a lot of weed these days, though I have old time friends and young time family who make it a regular thing. Can’t blame ’em. Life’s short. Grab a grin where you can. (As the iconic Wavy Gravy once said, “only the jailers are against escape.”)

Bear Jack Gebhardt is the author of eight books and articles that have appeared in Reader’s Digest, The Columbia Journalism Review, Modern Maturity, and other national magazines.

Bear Jack Gebhardt is the author of eight books and articles that have appeared in Reader’s Digest, The Columbia Journalism Review, Modern Maturity, and other national magazines. Visit his website to learn more about him.

I also don’t carry a green card, though again, old friends and new relatives carry their green as a daily obligation. But just because I don’t personally smoke a lot of pot, or carry a green card, doesn’t mean that I’m not locking arms and standing strong with friends and family who do.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently suggested that the new administration may be more aggressive in trying to enforce the scientifically baseless, ever-unenforceable, never-appropriate, violently disruptive and blatantly unjust federal regulations against recreational marijuana, though probably not medicinal marijuana. (Let’s don’t make silly distinctions: As all old timers know, “all use of marijuana is medicinal.”)

As with most of the other fear-based, backward-looking proposals coming out of this administration, I say, great, bring it on, let’s test it. As this prez once succinctly put it, “see you in court.”

Seeking the divine: Here’s how I think we should proceed: I’m active, here in Colorado, with the New Buddhist Methodist Church, Satsang and Art Studio. As Buddhist Methodists (but mostly artists) we recognize marijuana use as one of the legitimate “methods” for artistically seeking the divine, e.g., for exploring, integrating and expanding this miracle of consciousness that we all share. Like all methods, including prayer and meditation, pot smoking has its advantages and disadvantages for such explorations. (see “A warning about methods” where we recognize that “Methods make good servants, but terrible masters.” )

As an artistically religious community, we would not hesitate to go to court over any attempt by this administration to restrict our religious freedom. For many years now, (long before smoking pot was legal here in Colorado) members of our communion referred to the imbibing of weed as “taking sacrament.” Many of us, ex-Catholics and fallen Baptists and a few rogue Jews, have directly experienced the uplifting effects of this sacrament much more immediately, much more directly than our childhood experiences of the wine and wafers or unleavened bread.

With the sacramental bud we just felt holier, more open and reverential, more mystical than we generally did with the officially “approved” wafers and bread from our childhood. Is the state now going to tell us what is a “real” sacramental experience and what is not? Does the state have the right to tell us what feels holy and what doesn’t?  Hmm…  What would the courts say?

Hear ye, hear ye: On a purely secular level  (some of us doubt that such a level even exists, but that’s another story) . . . on a purely secular level, we’d love to have the evidence weighed in court by an impartial judge or jury. As a plethora of both physiological and sociological research has consistently proven over the last half century, the current Federal regulations classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance are scientifically baseless. We welcome the opportunity to bring into an impartial forum the scientific evidence for and against. We’re grinning even before the bailiff says, “Hear ye, hear ye…”

To site only one ironic case: As far back as The Shafer Commission, formally known as the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, appointed by U.S. President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, the scientific evidence has been overwhelming in favor of decriminalization of marijuana possession.

Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission because he wanted scientific evidence against marijuana. They couldn’t find it. So Nixon ignored the evidence, and started the war on drugs,  and more particularly the war on marijuana. Inarguably, the laws against marijuana have proven much more damaging, more costly and socially disruptive than any perceived physical or moral dangers of its use.

I’m not naive about the downsides of regular pot use. I even wrote a book in which I detailed many of the problems as well as its advantages.  (See The Potless Pot High: How to Get High, Clear and Spunky without Weed.) I spent many years as a drug education and treatment counselor. But as I wrote at the start of my book, “the two biggest problems with pot are: 1.) you keep coming down; and 2.) it’s mostly illegal.” There are other problems with pot, but they are relatively minor compared to these two.

Back to the secular: For an administration trying to turn back advancements in environmental regulations, social programs and sexual equality under the guise of “states’ rights,”  the suggestion that states should be able to determine their own environmental pollution regulations but not their own pot laws is comically hypocritical and patently ludicrous. Again, see you in court.

As Victor Hugo famously observed, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”  The basic idea “whose time has come” is not that marijuana should be legal—though that’s a powerful idea in itself. No, the more fundamental idea is that we have the right, and duty, and opportunity to explore new ideas, to develop new ways of seeing ourselves and the world. Pot sometimes helps us do that—to think in new ways (and yes, sometimes pot just makes things fuzzy.)  But whether we use it or not is not a decision that the guy from Oklahoma—the new Attorney General—has the power to make.

“Good people don’t smoke pot,” the Oklahoman said here recently. “And it’s obvious the sun goes around the earth,” he would have told Galileo and Copernicus.

If the Attorney General wants to make regulations about the inalienable rights and free uses of mother nature’s wonderful weed, okay, “See you in court.” Copernicus and Galileo are anxious to present their evidence, for our grinning side.