Where We’re At: Is it U.S.?

A speaker recently talking about a team building exercise casually said, “There were three departments and you know they all hated each other.”  I laughed; it rang true from my corporate experience.  As I ruminated on this “Us vs. Them” mentality, it became clear this duality permeates American culture at every level: politically, it’s Democrats vs. Republicans; in corporations, it’s one dept vs. another (as someone tweeted today, “It’s curious how big of an “us vs them” mentality I see in the consulting/services world. Perhaps that’s a problem.”); in sports teams it’s offense vs. defense (on the same team); and you can find it in city councils, HOA boards, volunteer organizations, even in our own families and sometimes right down to husband vs. wife.  Is there a better example than the hit TV show Glee?  One of its main themes is the football players & cheerleaders (the cool kids) vs. the glee members (uncool kids; geeks).  Why do people do behave like this? I chalked it up as one of the mysteries of human nature that psychologists should do some research on, and let it go.

That is until I read Presentation Zen’s blog post ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight: The power of Japanese resilience:’  http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2011/03/fall-down-seven-times-get-up-eight-the-power-of-japanese-resilience.html. Anderson Cooper was on the ground after Katrina, Haiti and Japan.  He’s seen the conditions and people after each tragedy.  Japan hit the trifecta of tragedy with an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown in a weekend.  They’re not angry; they’re not blaming anyone.  How is it that the people of NE Japan can behave so calmly and with such grace?  And if they can do it, why can’t we?

Still, I needed two more things to happen to fire up this post.  Some may ask how can I even relate these things, but I do.

On Twitter last week someone posted a link to this TEDxAustin talk by Robyn O’Brien:  http://fearlessrevolution.com/blog/robyn-obrien-at-tedxaustin.html. If you eat food in America, please watch this video. (Based on tweets about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution last night, it seems people are concerned.)  Robyn associates the re-engineering of our food with the rise in food allergies, and correlates it to cancer rates.  It’s about how America changed the seeds with which it grows food, but no other country bought into this.  Her talk made me wonder how does this correlate with the astronomical rise in autism?  Does this relate to the increase in obesity?  Is it related to the staggering increase in ADHD?  (How many of you even knew anyone with autism or ADHD when you were growing up?)  Robyn O’Brien is clear, concise and outstanding.  (If you’re a woman, you’ll also note how she establishes her credibility via her career before becoming a mother, because culturally we don’t give mothers much credence.  But that’s a different blog post.)

At the heart of it, I’m probably writing due to cancer and grief.  Too many people in my immediate circle have died from cancer:  Arlene, 1996, metastatic breast cancer; Bruce, 1997, lung cancer; Dudley, 2000, brain cancer; Leslie, 2003, metastatic breast cancer; Spud, 2005, liver cancer; and Ann, 2011, metastatic breast cancer.  An uncle, a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, the mother & spouse of my college roommate and a long time friend.  All of them were under the age of 65 when they died; half were under 50.  Three of them left children under 18.   Over the past decade, I’ve watched my older sister, older brother and a friend, all in their 40’s when it happened, grieve the loss of their twenty plus year spouse.  If you’ve ever watched someone you love waste away from cancer, you’ll never forget it.  But in reality, there’s no way to know if anything to do with our food was a factor for any of them.

As I ate some edamame for lunch on Monday, an impulse buy at Costco, I remembered, ‘Oh crap, Robyn said soybeans are one of the things affected.’  Examined the package to find, “Country of origin of soybean:  China.”  The world citizen in me thought, ‘Wow, how incredibly efficient to grow food in China to ship to the U.S.’ (not)  The American in me thought, ‘So now we’ve even mucked this up to the point where we’re importing our food from China?!’  The front of the package read, “Non-GMO Sweet Soybeans.”  Googled GMO to find out it means genetically modified organisms, so Non-GMO means it was grown from the type of seeds that have existed forever.  Thank you Costco and Fujisan for protecting my health while I wasn’t paying attention.  But since when did we need the Internet to decipher if the food we eat nourishes us or can potentially harm us?  Does anyone remember voting on whether we wanted our food grown differently?   Oliver the remix, “Please Kraft, may I please have the food made for the countries that didn’t adopt GMO?”

I was raised on America, The Remix:  “My country ’tis of thee, Sweet Land of / Liberty and Justice for All! / America, America / I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible / I have a dream / For purple mountains majesties, above the fruited plain / God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  I’ve always believed we were a great nation.  But if this is true, why do we need so many Erin Brockoviches? Why do we need one for land, one for air, one for water, one for food, one for children, one for the poor, one to watch Wall Street, one to protect consumers, one for autism, you name it, WHY?

The last straw was last week’s near government shutdown.  The Twittersphere was all a buzz, as was Facebook, with comments like, “Does this mean I don’t have to pay my taxes April 15th?”  “Um Congress, if I have to figure out how to balance my budget so do you.”  As someone who’s looking for work, all I hear/read from networking groups, job blogs is, “You have to show value!  You have to show them how you can solve their problems!”  Anyone working now knows that if you show up at midnight on the day something is due and say to your client, “Well, the good news is that we’ve figured it out, the bad news is that it’ll be done in a week,” that your client will accept it because they have no choice, but they won’t come back.  It was a Piers Morgan tweet on 4/7 that captured my attention:  “As a naïve Brit working in U.S. is it impertinent to ponder why Americans ALLOW their Govt to ‘shutdown’? #soundsutterlyabsurdtome”

So I hit Google to see where we stand in the world.  It’s not a pretty picture.  The only thing we’re at the top of anymore is obesity and disease.  We don’t even make the Top 10 healthiest.  We’re 20 something in education.  We barely make the Top 10 happiest, and this I question.  If you don’t read all the links, at least read the one on how our vacation ranks; while it’s abysmal, the captions are funny because it’s written like everyone will flee after reading it.  And then there’s our economy.  The middle class is shrinking.  Add to this politicians now think it’s acceptable to throw down on Facebook, post targets on websites; even the analysts on CNN covering the deal brokered to avert a shutdown were fighting … um, we’re seventeen months away from an election.  Now politicians have to wonder if they’ll get shot when speaking in public.  There are people in Nordic countries who routinely leave their babies outside of shops and restaurants while they’re inside and here we have to watch our kids every second for fear that someone will abduct and do God knows what to them; all the while instilling fear and hatred in our kids.

I’m not sure how or why this happened; clearly it’s been gradually over time.  But if you’re still reading this and have the time to read the links below, you will find that there are industrialized countries who have figured out how to house, feed, clothe, educate, provide day care, health care and all sorts of other things for their people, and lo and behold, the people trust their government.  Will wonders never cease?  Have you ever met a person who told you they *didn’t want* a safe home, pure land, air, water, food, an education, something meaningful to do, people to love, and health care when they need it?  I never have.  If other people can figure out how to do this why can’t we? To be clear, I have no desire to debate our current political system or parties or who is to blame.

Part of the problem is that so many people are on the “Work, rinse, repeat” cycle, they barely have time to have a life let alone pay attention to these things. But we are at a cross roads.  As I examined the countries who seem to have their act together, it struck me that they’re all homogenous.  The Japanese were all raised that way, of course they behave with decorum.  Do you hear the French fighting with the French, “Hell no we shouldn’t have four to six weeks of vacation?”  No, because they all accept it.  Without sounding blasphemous, perhaps it’s our very diversity, which has been touted as our strength, that is our downfall.  Or maybe it’s our size.  If you overlaid America over Europe, it would probably be 30 countries (didn’t calculate this, it’s a guess).  Or maybe it’s capitalism, whose very competition by nature creates a winner and a loser.  As I searched for answers, this became clear:  it really doesn’t matter why.  This is where we are; what are we going to do about it?

On her February 8th show, Oprah gave this quote that I have hanging on my office wall, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been different.”  It’s really acceptance, but maybe that’s all forgiveness really is; acceptance so that you can move forward.

So people, we were all so angry after 9/11 that we unanimously agreed to go to war for the past 8 years which has caused trillions of dollars of debt.  We were all so enamored with the American Dream that after we could no longer export anything we based the American Dream on the American Dream until the house of cards crashed.  Now there are millions still without jobs.  And people are threatening to use my new love, Twitter, to further battle it out for the next 18 months.  Forget whose fault it is; forget the past four decades and multiple administrations that changed the laws to create the environment that pushed us into our worst position since the Great Depression.  What are we going to do to fix it?

So here’s my call to action (finally):  when you feel the urge to go into “Us vs. Them” mode, please fight it. Please find the divine in the other.  We truly are all one.  We truly will succeed or fail as one. And please send notice to all politicians that we expect civility and SOLUTIONS.  Freedom of speech is not license to act like animals.

Someone posted Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ on Twitter the other day.  “I need your grace / To remind me / To find my own.”  Clearly we need Japan’s grace to remind us what it is and how it could help us handle our current situation.

As the song goes, “America, America, God shed his grace on thee!”  God, please do; we really need it now.  Amen.










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