Posts in Susan’s Musings

The non-Grandmother

November 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

What kind of grandparent are you? Alternatively, what kind of grandparent do you picture yourself being in the future? We have all read of the different styles of parenting. Like the bowls of porridge that Goldilocks tasted, we are told that authoritarian parents are too rigid, permissive parents aren’t rigid enough and authoritative parents are just right. But what about grandparents? Those categories aren’t necessarily relevant.

I ask this question because over the past few years I have noticed that many of the grand-parenting experiences of my friends and relatives are completely different from what we saw growing up.

Here are the three kinds of grandmothers that I see: .

  1. The grandmother who is in the role of mother
    2. The non-grandmother
    3. The more-or-less traditional grandmother

The saddest type of grandmother-mother is the result of tragedy. The parents are no longer alive, or they are ill or missing in action. The grandmother steps in and for all intents and purposes replaces the mother 24/7.

The type of grandmother-mother that I see more commonly, however, is not the result of tragic circumstances but of choice. I am seeing women in their fifties and sixties retiring from their jobs in order to take care of their grandchildren so that their own daughters can focus on their careers.

Some of these women  were stay-at-home moms themselves. They are now putting ‘all-those-things-I’m-going-to-do-once-the-kids-are-grown’ on the shelf and instead they’re digging out Candyland® and Play-doh® once again.

In most instances I’ve observed, the daughters are professionals. After years of training, they  earn good salaries  but their jobs also demand long hours of work and their student debt is often staggeringly high. Even if they are married to hard-working and productive husbands, making a decision to stay at home now would precipitate  an economic crisis. Did the daughters say, “I’ve signed baby up at a wonderful daycare,” and their mothers responded by insisting that they would take care of everything? Did the daughters plead with their mothers, eventually wearing them down? Was the decision somewhere in between? I don’t know.  However, providing the bulk of childcare for a toddler or school-age child is a big responsibility. The treats and surprises that grandmothers love to deliver must fall into second place behind those parenting realities such as nutrition, manners and discipline.

I am also seeing more and more peers falling into the non-grandmother group. They raised their daughters to be career-minded women. They gave their girls pep talks on how they could be anything they wanted to be and encouraged them to set their sights high. They urged their girls to establish themselves in a profession and enjoy a variety of experiences before “settling down.”  What the mothers didn’t realize is that they failed to impart to their daughters the wonder and fulfillment that can come from being a wife and mother.

Some of these mothers themselves didn’t start their families until they were in their late thirties. If they had one or at the most two children at that point and their daughters behave similarly, simple mathematics decrees that the years available for grandmother-hood are limited. They are hurting now, but it’s as if they never looked down the road to see the path that they were constructing.

I do see this phenomenon much more among my less-religious friends than among those who are traditionally connected with their faith. Whether Jewish, Catholic, or Christian, those of us “mature” ladies who went against the cultural messages beamed out since the Sixties often had had more children than the 2.1 fertility replacement rate. We also saw raising these children as our main profession (even if we worked outside the home) and the major source of blessing in our lives. With God’s grace, many of us successfully transmitted that message to our own daughters and we gratefully reap the rewards.

This means that we fall into category number three. While our lives obviously don’t mimic that of our grandmothers, in many cases, as it relates to our grandchildren, they aren’t that far off either. One of my young granddaughters said this to her mother regarding a standard Grandma Camp lunch offering: “You’re so lucky. You could have a chocolate spread/marshmallow fluff sandwich for lunch whenever you wanted!” She did not understand why her mother burst out in hysterical laughter. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that when my mother and her four siblings were growing up in a small apartment in the aftermath of the Depression, there wasn’t an entire drawer filled with comic books as my cousins and I enjoyed at our grandparents’ home.

There are so many by-products of the belittling of marriage, motherhood, and large families that emerged in the past few decades. Among them is that, at the same time as people are often staying vibrant and healthy to an older age, they are missing out on one of the greatest gifts of those advancing years.

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Change of Heart

November 7th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

This week, the young granddaughter of a friend of mine had a heart procedure, part of the continuing treatment of a condition with which she was born. Within 36 hours, she was home from the hospital and smiling. While I don’t know the particulars of her medical circumstances, I think it fair to say that had she been born in an earlier  time she might not have survived the challenges she faced in infancy. Certainly, the continuing care would not have had her so quickly back at home and feeling well. God’s mercy is good and we are grateful for His medical messengers.

Working on our own hearts, however, has not become any easier over the generations. Whatever our flaws, be they a tendency to anger, to envy, to vanity, to holding grudges, there has been no advance in technology that allows us to quickly overcome our internal adversaries. The list in the previous sentence could be much longer and each individual’s particular challenge presents in a slightly different way. Not only is there no quick fix for our character flaws, but our hearts and minds rationalize our shortcomings so that even acknowledging the existence of our defects requires real  courage and honesty.

I once had the privilege of being consulted by a wise woman who was facing secondary infertility. Although her first pregnancy and delivery came with stunning simplicity, the years were passing and a much desired second child was not coming. At the same time, she and her husband were contemplating accepting upon themselves a particular religious obligation. She confided to me that she was nervous that, even subconsciously, she might be making a deal with God: I’ll commit to this behavior  for You  and in return You will give me another child. If God didn’t keep His end of the deal, she might distance herself from Him and resent the observance. Only once she had  worked on herself to separate her prayerful pleas from her commitment to religious growth did she and her husband incorporate this new practice into their lives.

While this couple did indeed welcome a new child within the year, they were correct in recognizing that we don’t make quid-pro-quo deals with God. We can only commit to what we will do, not to His response. This idea was tragically illustrated when, in 2014, three Israeli teenage boys didn’t arrive home when expected. Their kidnapping (by a Hamas-inspired Palestinian) galvanized the Jewish community (among others) around the world. The eighteen days until the boys’ mutilated bodies were found sparked hundreds of thousands of heartfelt prayers and many commitments to good deeds. Speaking of that time, Racheli Frankel, the mother of one of the boys said,

“I thought that prayer had a lot of power to it, but it doesn’t work like an ATM. You don’t press buttons and get results. G-d isn’t my employee. I told my children, ‘We will pray, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu [God]  will act in accordance with His will.’”

Just as we know that God may not respond in the way we wish He would, we also know that He cherishes our growth. We can soften our hearts instead of adamantly defending our right to be hurt, or extend charity and graciousness to others way beyond what we thought we could, or push back in others ways against our often deeply embedded, instinctive way of looking at the world. When we do so, our healing and good spiritual health can be genuine and long-lasting even if we need to work on ourselves for more than 36 hours.

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Tempest in a Handshake

October 31st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

Writing and speaking in a public forum is exhilarating. That means it is both exciting and terrifying. When my husband or I put something out before a listening or reading audience, we sometimes find ourselves completely off target in how we think it will be received. It is as disconcerting to see stony faces after making a joke as it is to get laughs after saying something serious. 

When we publish our Ask the Rabbi column each week, we are occasionally taken aback at the lack of interest in what we thought was a fascinating question or, conversely, immense interest when we didn’t expect it. This week’s question was an example of the latter

My husband and I work closely together. After he writes a Thought Tool, he sends it to me for comments and editing. After I write a Susan’s Musing, I send it to him for comments and editing. Nonetheless, Thought Tools is his work as the Musings are mine. Our Ask the Rabbi column is the closest thing we come to writing in a 50/50 manner.  

Here’s how it usually works. I scan the many questions that come in and choose one for us to answer. I then reflect and write an answer that I shoot over to my husband. He edits what I wrote, adds the product of his own prayer and reflection, and sends it back to me. Sometimes we go back and forth a few times and sometimes we initially discuss the question over dinner. (There is no such thing as a quick bite in the Lapin household.) Eventually, we agree on what to publish. 

True confession time. This week, I did something that I don’t remember ever doing before. In addition to a chock-full schedule tidying up after the month of holy days and catching up on things I had missed,  I found myself immersed for many hours in an unexpected but urgent project. I had not begun to pick an Ask the Rabbi question and answer and I had used up everything ‘on the shelf’ during the past month.  The post was due to go out and the clock was ticking. I reached into the archives and pulled out a question that we had run from a decade ago, written by a woman who was not comfortable shaking hands with men. At that point, even though it was early in the evening, my equally exhausted husband and I turned off for the night. 

We awoke to find more comments on this column than we had seen on any Ask the Rabbi column in a long time. Furthermore, the comments came from many different viewpoints, ranging from those who for physical reasons find shaking hands challenging to those who think that not shaking hands with everyone is standoffish verging on insulting and possibly unAmerican. 

What a wonderful reminder on a relatively minor issue as to how difficult it is to mix different cultures. A woman visiting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue and throwing her arms around the rabbi after the services will make him highly uncomfortable.  In turn, any woman offering a warm and platonic hug would feel hurt by a man recoiling away. Assuming that someone with Asian features should be greeted with a bow rather than with a handshake might insult a third-generation American of Asian background while embracing someone raised in a formal British environment might be seen as a brazen and rude intrusion.

Since we cannot hand out questionnaires to those we meet and with whom we interact, it behooves us all to be aware that the joys of having a diverse group of acquaintances is dependent on assuming best intentions until proven otherwise and to remember that what we assume to be normal and customary may not be so for others.  This would be a huge improvement on today’s cultural message that we should find offense in any behavior or thought that is not exactly in line with our own. What a better society we would live in if we all were more sensitive to others but far less easily nettled ourselves. 

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When Satire Becomes Reality

October 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

What adjective is associated with British humor—or humour, to spell it more appropriately? Surely, the answer is ‘dry,’ though other than saying that one knows it when one hears it, I’m not sure what the technical definition of dry humor is.

However you describe it, my husband is a master at it. For this reason I don’t get surprised when a rather large percentage of listeners to his podcast don’t recognize when his broadcast  is in parody mode. Our children and I have had our turns of belatedly realizing that our legs were being pulled with such craftsmanship that we had no idea we were participating in a parody.

Like many Jews, our family has just concluded a month full of holydays. We have spent an amazing amount of time praying, eating and enjoying the company of relatives and friends. The days between the holydays were filled with preparation for the next special day as well as trying to keep up with ministry and business on a three-day-workweek schedule. Between not wanting the external world to intrude on these festive days and not having enough hours for everything I needed to do on regular days, I spent much less time than usual following the news.

This led to a feeling that my computer had been taken over by the Babylon Bee (a satirical website) when I once again began looking at email newsletters from conservative sites. Either that or my husband had gotten into my email account and was playing an elaborate hoax. Could Always® brand of feminine products actually be removing a female symbol from their packaging to be more inclusive? Could a jury in Texas (Texas!) actually have rejected the claim of a father to save his very young child from life-altering gender transitioning being pushed by his ex-wife? Could intelligent, seemingly rational people actually be championing the end of women’s sports by insisting that biology is irrelevant in deciding whether one can compete in a girls’ or women’s event?

There was a third possible explanation for what I was reading. In their desperate quest for eyeballs, websites were producing inaccurate and misleading headlines. So, I did a bit of searching. That hope collapsed  when USA Today, certainly not a bastion of conservative propaganda, reported, “Procter & Gamble brand Always® is removing the Venus symbol, commonly used to designate “female,” from the packaging around its sanitary pads in an effort to be more inclusive.” No sarcasm, no witty satire, just a company that for decades  has marketed feminine hygiene products now making a business decision in a world gone mad.

As for the Texas jury, I tried to find the story on CNN websites and couldn’t. I then searched Fox News’ website and didn’t find it there either. Either the story isn’t as clear-cut as reported or child abuse in the name of progressive ideas has become so normative that it isn’t news. I don’t know what the full story on this one is.

When it comes to girls being set up for failure in sports, I’m afraid that story is already so old that I know it to be true. Reading these accounts  in the news after a hiatus simply hit like a blast of cold wind after I had spent a month treasuring and enjoying days full of warm spiritual and physical truths.

A story is told of a far-off land where the king and prime minister realize that all their country’s water sources have been contaminated with elements that will cause everyone to go insane. The prime minister suggests to the king that they each paint a blue circle on their foreheads.

“How will that keep us from going crazy?” asks the king.

“It won’t,” replies the prime minister, “but at least when we see the dots on our foreheads they will remind us that we actually are crazy.”

Is it time to purchase pots of blue paint?

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Library Shaming?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 39 comments

I have an emotional attachment to libraries.  When I was young, our family didn’t have a car. Before I was old enough to travel by myself, my mother regularly took me on the bus to the library. I was a voracious reader and there was an absurd limit on the number of books one could take out so this trip was a frequent occurrence. 

Libraries stayed in my affection and my routine from that time on. As a homeschooling mom, our family was well known at our local branch. This should help explain why, despite the many momentous events happening in the United States and around the world that will impact millions of lives in frightening ways, I don’t see my concern this week as trivial. Retaining the structure of civilization no matter what turbulent  maelstroms are swirling around our cultural foundations not only keeps us better able to cope with life’s vicissitudes but actually affects the bigger picture as well. 

Years ago, as part of a program that helped a beleaguered New York City become a desirable location again after years of decay, the police department began cracking down on “small” crimes. They started fining and arresting people for jumping the turnstile in the subway, for blocking intersections with their cars rather than stopping at the red light before entering the intersection and they paid attention to littering. Lo and behold, when they enforced the law on minor infractions, an atmosphere of law and order prevailed that helped reduce major criminal activity as well. As things go, that style of policing seems to be out of vogue and New York is dirtier and more crime-ridden again, but the point stands. Sometimes, focusing on the micro-issues keeps the macro-issues under control.

Hence my sadness at hearing that an increasing number of library systems are choosing to forego fining readers for returning books after their due date. Recently, Chicago joined the list of cities determined to end “library shaming.” Inevitably, articles on the subject trot out middle-aged women who have avoided libraries since their ten-year-old selves  couldn’t locate their copy of Anne of Green Gables or sitcoms where characters wallow in shame decades after losing their copy of The Yearling. 

A spokesman for the Urban Library Council said, “We’d rather have you come to the library and engage in our services,” rather than feeling guilty. I admit to being a guilt-inducer of the highest order when my children were younger. I’m not saying for sure, but I might have implied that if books weren’t returned on time and in good condition, pictures of the miscreants would appear in the post office right under those featuring the FBI’s most wanted list. I wasn’t trying to stop my children from reading library books and, indeed, we took out —and returned—thousands. Rather, I was trying to instill the following messages that I had been given. 

  1. Growing up is about accepting responsibility in exchange for being granted more privileges. I recall practicing writing my name in cursive neatly enough so that it would fit on the small library card I desired. Even at the age of six, being allowed to take out books under my own name rather than having them taken out by my mother, signaled that I was getting older and more mature. I needed to prove that with the dedicated hard work of perfecting my signature. (Cursive, of course, is no longer a part of many schools. You will not be surprised to hear that studies show that writing in cursive plays a role in brain development.)
  2. I am expected to be a responsible member of society. My nation/state/city/neighborhood/family have so much to offer me. In return, I, too, need to give to them. 
  3. I must treat others as I want to be treated. If I want access to thousands of well-kept books, I need to treat them properly and return them on time so that others can have similar access. 
  4. I must be accountable if I mess up.  Did I take a book to the park and leave it there? Did I spill a glass of milk on a book? Did I lose track of when my book was due? I need to face the librarian and pay my fine. Wouldn’t we be better off if today’s children practiced owning up to mistakes from an early age on minor issues?  

I’m sure there were more lessons I learned as I was given the key to the wondrous domain of the library. My children learned those lessons too. I truly see the change in libraries today as a tragedy. Libraries shouldn’t be about inculcating children into the latest political fad (such as today’s Drag Queen Story Hours) or providing children with a place to play computer games. They shouldn’t be about a child’s “right” to books without any expectations. They should be about how reading opens millions of doors and how honored and grateful we should be to join the ranks of those granted such a powerful key. 

P.S. I was amused to see how many of my previous Musings mention libraries. Here are two of them from years past: A Library Love Letter and Frigates, Coursers and Librarians.

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Recycle Your Recycling Ideas

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

One of the most influential lower-court judges in American history was Judge Learned Hand who served during the first half of the twentieth century. . If you know Hebrew, his name is an especially intriguing one. As my husband and I explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, the Hebrew word for child, Y-L-D, is composed of the Hebrew word for hand, Y-D, with the letter whose sound is ‘L’ and whose meaning is ‘learned’ in the middle. In other words, when all goes well and you are blessed, your children become extensions of you, extra hands that learned your teachings and can carry them forward. Alas, Judge Hand’s name did not come from his parents deep understanding of the Hebrew language but rather because Learned was his mother’s maiden name. Nonetheless, his name always makes me smile.

The above should give you some idea of the pride with which I read a letter one of our daughters and her husband wrote after hearing that two mothers of girls in their daughter’s class had spoken to the class about the importance of environmentalism and recycling. I have redacted identifying information and added some explanatory words in brackets, but I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Dear [names of mothers],

Thank you for your dedication to [name of school].  As you were introducing recycling projects through the school last year, I had some thoughts that I did not get down on paper till now and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I shared with you some of my thoughts on recycling.

I know that nowadays in the secular world, recycling is seen as the ultimate good project for the future of the world, and I do think recycling is fine as long as it is taught from an authentic Torah outlook.  I don’t know how it was introduced to the students, as my daughter wasn’t in class when the projects were introduced, but these are my thoughts on the matter.

My hope is that recycling can be taught within the framework of the following 3 ideas.

Recycling should not be taught as if it is a mitzvah. It is not. It may be good for the planet but I don’t think it can be considered a mitzvah unless Hashem [God] gave us the commandment as one of our 613 mitzvos. [a mitvah—plural, mitzvos or mitzvot—is often translated as a good deed, but that is incorrect. It is a deed that God commands, whether or not we, with our limited human understanding, think it is good or not.]  Non Torah-observant Jews call it a “mitzvah” as part of “Tikun Olam” [a favorite phrase of secular Jews that means improving or correcting the world. However, that phrase is taken from a prayer where it is actually followed by the words, “with the Kingdom of God.” In other words our obligation is not to fix the world based on our own ideas, but only on His.] which is simply a cloaking of their ideals in religious garb without any basis in the Torah.  To borrow the language of those who have abandoned our tradition is damaging to our tradition. 

In the secular world, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, people who don’t recycle are considered “evil” or “bad.”  I would hope that our children do not receive this message in any way, and are corrected if they put together a statement on their own, even if it is as simple as “It is good to recycle, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are bad.”  Or “Recycling saves the Earth, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are destroying the Earth.”

In the last century, there has been much emphasis placed on coercing people to do things based on fear.  Of course, this has spread to recycling as well.  Children’s books, television programs, etc, are full of the message that if one doesn’t recycle, the Earth will fill up with garbage and we won’t have anywhere nice to live or the Earth will fill up with garbage and the animals will die.  Sometimes the message is given in the reverse as in, “Recycle to save our planet,” which in fact teaches that the Earth is in danger and is meant to inspire fear among those who care about the Earth and their own lives.  I would hope that any recycling program introduced to [name of school] students does not have any element of fear.

Recycling is fine for those who are inclined to do so, but I honestly believe that the secular world has gone too far with the idea that if more people recycled, the world would be different. I think that sometimes it is hard to focus on what the Torah and authentic Judaism teach about the matter when the world is screaming differently.

In closing, I value our friendship and would love to discuss these ideas further if you would like.

[Signed by our own “Learned Hand” daughter]

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(Days of) Awe Inspiring

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.

If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her,  she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.

I did not follow the details of the trial, but at the end of it, after she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison, the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you,” and then asked for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. That act of grace and compassion took my breath away.

There are so many elements of the killing and what followed it that can and should be discussed in the larger picture of our judicial system, our police, racial tension and other matters. The judge’s actions after the trial, too, when she also gave Amber Guyger a hug along with a Bible, provide an opening for discussion. This exchange of ideas should not be the domain of internet trolls and angry, vulgar diatribes, but of actual meaningful conversations. As worthy as those conversations are, I am not going to discuss those matters here.

I simply want to say that in a society that sometimes seems to be full of incitement towards hatred from so many different avenues, Brandt Jean’s words and actions stand as a beacon of light. During this unique time of year, a period known as the Days of Awe, each of us who tries to maximize our opportunity is aware of not only needing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed but also of being in the position of granting forgiveness to those who have harmed us. In doing so, we are reminded that God judges us as we judge others. If we are quick to assume error rather than ill-will on the part of others, God will lean towards leniency when assessing our own actions towards Him. If we show compassion to others; God will similarly show compassion to us.

There are hurts that go deep beneath the surface and losing a beloved brother ranks high on that list. Mr. Jean’s largeness of spirit, fueled by his Christian beliefs, challenges us all to become greater people able to relate to others soul to soul. He is probably unaware of how the timing of his beneficence coincides with this period in the Jewish calendar when God judges all mankind, but for me and others the power of his lesson is truly magnified at this time.

P.S. Writing and speaking in public, as I do, is scary. Not only are mistakes “out there” even when later corrected, but each reader comes with his or her own perspective. At this time, I do ask forgiveness if something I wrote or said over the course of this year caused pain to any of you.

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Defending Justin Trudeau???

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 87 comments

I am a bit nervous about publishing today’s Musing and so will issue the following disclaimer: I am not trying to be provocative. I simply want to ask an honest question. What exactly is wrong with dressing up as someone of another race? I’m not even sure what the word blackface means and I don’t know that anyone else does either.

I used to think that  the word meant a vaguely insulting parody of a black-skinned person in the manner of Al Jolson in the movie, The Jazz Singer. (Disclaimer #2: I haven’t actually seen the movie, but that is my understanding of it.) I’m sure there are dozens of images in movies from the 1920s that would be unacceptable today. I get that. But the assaults on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam using that word, confuse me. Let’s be clear. I do not agree with either of the men’s politics and would not vote for them if I was an eligible voter in a race that included them. Nonetheless, I despise the idea that disagreeing with someone politically, even vehemently, means that you should try to destroy them personally. I also object to combing through people’s pasts and judging them by standards that didn’t exist at that time. However,  I’m even having trouble understanding why today’s standards see what they did as offensive.

What am I missing? I understand that costumes can be worn that are in bad taste verging on hateful. I would put dressing in a Ku Klux Klan outfit in that category. I would put dressing like a Nazi  officer in that category. Doing either of those things shows at a minimum poor judgment, historical ignorance and a lack of sensitivity and, depending on the venue and the person, might well reflect worse. (Even so, destroying people for behavior when they were, in the words of George W. Bush, young and irresponsible seems cruel and counter-productive to me.)

I don’t automatically put dressing in a costume to look like a person other than oneself in the same category. Isn’t that the whole idea of a costume or a dress-up party?

When I was a child, probably around second grade, I owned a book called Taro and the Tofu. To me, it was a tale of a far-away country where people ate exotic food that I had never seen. A few decades earlier, a number of my uncles had fought against Japan in World War II. There was actually something quite amazing about the fact that I wasn’t expected to hate the Japanese, but was instead being introduced to their culture. For Purim (a holiday on which Jews dress up in costumes) one year, a friend of mine who had once lived in Japan wore a beautiful kimono. I don’t remember if she used make-up to give herself Asian features, but I can’t understand why it would be wrong to do so. Isn’t that what dressing up means?

At the same age as I read Taro and the Tofu, I also owned a set of miniature international dolls, each one robed in the traditional dress of his or her country. I believe the collection was bought in the gift store of the United Nations. While a modern Dutch girl most likely doesn’t walk around in wooden clogs, if I wanted a Dutch costume, that’s probably what I would have imitated. I’m hard-pressed to understand if that would be seen as wrong by the politically correct crowd today. Or maybe that would be o.k., but I mustn’t think that I should try to look like the doll from Nigeria? What exactly is the difference?

There are Black rap artists today who dress in Hasidic garb – the clothing of certain sects of Jews. In and of itself, I don’t see what is wrong with that. If I want to dress up as for a party as Hillary Clinton or Melania Trump, am I allowed to do so because I’m a white woman? But if I want to dress up as Michelle Obama that would be offensive because I’m white? The only way I can read that is that I must define Black people as “the other.” Isn’t that a step backwards for society?

After  Mao’s communist revolution in China, people were forced to issue humiliating public apologies for past misdeeds. Those “misdeeds” were newly created sins. There was an endless supply of them as new categories of wrong were created. Millions of people suffered as this type of society took control. America today is far from that, but I do worry that we are moving in that direction.

As I said, I’m not a fan of either Prime Minister Trudeau or Gov. Northam. Yet, I would cheer if, instead of apologizing, either of these men declared that the emperor of cultural appropriation has no clothes. Mr. Trudeau said that he should have been more sensitive as to how his actions showed intolerance and discrimination. How exactly did dressing up as he did for an Arabian Nights party do that? Either I’m missing something or this entire ramping up of ways in which we are offended sows division and hatred. It is beyond my understanding how that leads to a better world.

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Does Financial Independence Sound Appealing?

September 18th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

I may not be exactly the audience the Wall Street Journal’s money advice for those starting their careers is targeting but, nonetheless,  I was interested in what they had to say. Five successful business individuals wrote short pieces sharing their wisdom. I recognized names like former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson and I had heard of the companies that these professionals lead like Land o’Lakes or a subset of Merrill Lynch. There was only one  exception – Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble.

Ms. Herd stood out on a few fronts. Not only did I have no idea who she was or what her company did but looking at the drawings of the featured three women and two men suggested that she was the youngest of the group. Most importantly, her advice was of an entirely different type than everyone else’s.

If, like me, you aren’t familiar with Bumble, it is a dating app. Its unique property is that it gives women sole control of the first point of contact. What interested me, however, wasn’t the company but its thirty-year-old founder and CEO’s advice. You could file all the other respondents’ advice under the category of financial literacy. They included concepts like understanding debt, valuing savings and measuring job opportunities by looking at growth potential and skill acquisition as well as salary.

Ms. Herd’s succinct advice? “Never be financially dependent upon anyone else in your life. Don’t rely on a parent, a spouse or a boss. It will only erode your self worth and negatively impact the important relationships in your life. Instead, learn to save money, make money and then you can rule your own world!”

I found it fascinating, if not surprising, that the youngest member of the group offered the most personal and emotional advice. It turns out that Ms. Herd isn’t advocating living life alone. She married a few years ago and is expecting her first child. Interestingly, the articles I subsequently read about Bumble featured quite a few women who were economically independent but who were finding it very difficult to meet a worthy man with whom to share a life. Many of these woman were of an age where children may no longer be a reality. Recent studies have shown that younger people in general value marriage and children less than earlier generations did at the same age. Is Whitney Wolfe Herd an outlier as a strong, effective woman who at what today is considered a relatively young age is combining business success with marriage and family?

Her advice reminded me of the advice my generation of women received when we were in our twenties, “Don’t sign any documents your husband hands you without investigating and understanding it yourself.” In theory that sounded reasonable and prudent; in real life it wasn’t so simple. After all, pretty much everyone today checks a box that reads, “I have read and agree to the terms of service,” when we have at most read the first few sentences of legalese governing how we will interact with online companies.

The advice to independently assess insurance documents, house deeds and other legal contracts was spurred by fear. What if your marriage fails and you find out too late that you signed away your economic interests? What if your husband is actually a horrible person who is looking to cheat you? The most benign interpretation was, “What if your husband is incompetent and financially foolish?” After all, if you trust your spouse, there is no need to duplicate effort and spend time and possibly money by having separate lawyers and advisors walk you through verbose and confusing documents.

Everyone giving the advice knew of or had heard of someone who had been hurt by a “bad guy.”  They did not want another woman to fall victim in the same way. Those of us getting married did not think that our chosen loved ones were bad guys or would become so. If we did, why would we marry them? And, as always, time and money were at a premium and the desire to wade through boring papers was well under control.  We signed the papers put in front of us. In the overwhelming majority of cases, everything ended up just fine. In a rare case, it did not.

I assume that Whitney Wolfe Herd, like many of her generation, has been raised to value independence over relationship. The fact is that each time you trust another person and each time you attach a piece of your heart to another person, you cede some of yourself. I read that as a result of her pregnancy, the CEO is prioritizing childcare initiatives at Bumble. Yet, no matter how good the childcare, chances are that a piece of her heart will ache if she misses her baby’s first smile or if she has to walk away when a feverish baby clings to her. When you love, you lose some of your independence. That is true in all relationships. Financial independence can protect us from one type of harm, but seeking it may lead to other damage such as missing out on marriage and family in a timely fashion while we are busily pursuing our economic goals.

John Donne’s oft-quoted poem begins, “No man is an island, Entire of itself…” His words speak of the larger world, but they are true in our innermost lives as well. I don’t have a brilliant way to make sure that no one is harmed by someone they love and trust. I do believe that operating from a belief that we should be complete in ourselves, on whatever front, results in more of us being alone even when we don’t want to be. Linking our parents, spouses and bosses together as if our relationship with each is identical results in placing barriers on our hearts that keep out feeling as well as danger. Linking our self-worth too tightly to the economic arena limits our worth in other areas. I wonder if asked to comment on the same question in forty years, Ms. Herd’s answer would be the same.

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Love Yourself – Forget the Neighbor

September 12th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

The impetus for this Musing came from two disturbing clips I heard on National Public Radio’s This American Life program.  Each on its own is minor, but I wonder if, together, they do represent a larger issue.

A little background. My preferred exercise class is a twenty minute drive from our house. This travel time is perfect for listening to podcasts and This American Life is in my rotation. Each week’s episode has a specific focus and listening for few minutes usually tells me if it will be a worthwhile investment of my time. The show gives me insight into the lives of Americans I might not otherwise meet and topics  I might not encounter.

Two of the shows I recently heard revealed a common problem. It didn’t have to do with the topic of either show, but each show included a throw-away statement that caused me to gasp. Both shows were repeats having first run a few years ago, but I doubt that the troublesome attitude has improved over the intervening years.

The problem was insufferable self-centeredness. Most troublesome was that the hosts interviewing each of the individuals involved didn’t seem in the least bit troubled. They seemed to accept their subjects’ words as perfectly reasonable and possibly even amusing.

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