Empathy as a Black Hole Revisited

I realize my last post on this topic was largely a summation of the article.  That is disappointing considering the goal of these blogs.  This article is still an interesting read, but I find it most interesting how her speech, or lecture, about dark matter can be easily interrupted to fit the audience.

Yes, it is clearly a talk about empathy, and the invisible lines that connect every interaction and relationship on Earth.  Yes it can be applied to race, socioeconomic classes, and even gender relationships.  This would all be depending on the audience.  It is almost obvious the role getting proxmiate to an issue plays in understanding another person’s life, but as I have mentioned in a previous post, the larger idea of Ubuntu is at play here.  We should get proximate, we should walk in another person’s shoes.  Ee should first overcome a hurdle every person, of any one of the many subsets of the human race struggle with, seeing each other as human, and respecting that humanity.

Response to Evicted

I am not sure if I had said this before, but I grew up in rural Wisconsin.  My mom and dad grew up in rural Iowa and Minnesota respectively.  I grew up about 45 minutes from Milwaukee, and thought that it is what a big city really was.  That was until I lived in a squat studio in Chicago, crawling with roaches.

Reading through “Evicted” I would make note of where the locations were, and if I ever was in that area.  I was frequently in Milwaukee.  Whether is was visiting friends at Marquette, when I was older, or going downtown with my dad to the hospital he worked at, St. Luke’s.  I just loved this town.  This book was my favorite read.  I felt like I connected more to it, and that at times it highlighted how much disparity was present in one of my favorite places.

As you hear about the conditions that the people in this book lived in, and compare it to the places that you have, and do live, you clearly see how important housing is in the lives of all of us.  I grew up in a good home, with loving parents, and 3 older brothers.  I left the loving off of that part, because while they are all good men, growing up in a pack of boys like that, love wasn’t a word used often.  I love them all now, just not when I was getting beat up.  Our house wasn’t anything great, and the yard is where we spent most of our time.  We had food, but everything I had was largely a hand-me-down from Matt, my oldest brother.  I thought my parents were just frugal, but looking back I know there was more to it.  Between our one income house, the family of 6, the distance we lived from my dad’s job to find affordable housing in good condition, my parents provided all they could.

However, the lives of those in the book are much closer to the students and the families I served in Chicago and Orlando.  In Chicago the number of people living in a brownstone was unbelievable.  The fact that you would see wires running out of each walk-up that was stealing electricity or cable showed that people were going to be creative to do what it took to survive.  In Orlando there was a neighborhood a few blocks from our of our middle schools where most of the students came from.  Between Parramore and Catalina there were a number of houses that rarely had running water, the electricity would turned on and off regularly, but they still allowed people to live there, children would come to school on a regular basis because that was the one place that was constant in their lives.  It is so easy for people to drive by these places and just see the ugly buildings and feel pity for anyone living there.  I now drive by these communities and understand the diversity of people living there.  Everyone with their different experiences, goals, and ambitions.  The children living there, and for the most part not knowing much else, and thinking their situation is normal.

For a while I lived in that studio in Chicago.  Mold in hallways, bugs in the studio, one big room with a dumpy stove and sink on the edge of it.  A hallway that was about 3 feet long to my crappy bathroom with the leaky tub and sink.  The constant cleaning I would have to do to keep the mold at bay.  The carpet that covered the floor covered in splatters of paint, burn marks, and stains showed that no one had cared to update the space, and why would you if the tenants accepted these conditions.  My built in AC unit was there for show, and the building managed heat meant I had to open my window in the winter to not pass out from the extreme heat of my place.  I noticed all these issues at first, but soon I learned to watch TV with a can of roach killer at my feet, I learned to to keep a kitchen to limit the bug problem, and I just ended up living my life in that space.  We quickly adjust, and quickly accept our life the way it is.  That might be the biggest challenge to taking the steps to improve the issue (Aside from the obvious challenge of it not benefiting anyone to actually change it other than those living in it), that we can adjust and accept less than decent conditions in a home.

Changing the World Review

Between the article and Bryan Stevenson’s video, the title of this section kept resounding in my head.  Not because of the reading, but because Change the World is half of the slogan for the AmeriCorps program I worked at for 8 years.  Changing the world was something that I was actively taking part in, something I had dedicated myself to, and had given the early years of my career to do.  This is repetitive for those of you following my blog closely (which is all of you), but those 8 years spent working in an urban school that was part of a high school dropout factory matriculation system was the most challenging, and rewarding experience of my career.

I got proximate, I worked in and spent a vast amount of my time on the Westside of Chicago.  My entire friend network was made up of a painstakingly manicured diverse group of people all dedicated to the same cause.  We went through an ob-boarding called basic training (no relation to the military I promise) where we were “broken”, and our community was rebuilt with the values that our program saw as most important to ensuring we would succeed in our schools, and with our children.

I had dated a young woman from college for three and a half years, until the day she interviewed at an inner city school and told me that she just couldn’t see herself working with those kids.  They aren’t those kids, they were my kids.  Students that I had come to know and love, who’s parents trusted me with their children, that is who she was talking about.  We broke up that same day.  We were in a community that I had spent over a year becoming part of.  You know you make it when the police quit stopping you because they think you are in the neighborhood to buy drugs.

We had little slogans at work like doing 3 “squishy” things a day.  This is about getting uncomfortable.  Through all this I realized the one thing that this work had given me, it gave me hope.  When the last election results came in I did not fear for the worst, I was hopeful.  Our elections are constantly close calls, where it highlights every four years how divided our country is.  We have had womanizers in that office before.  While progress on some fronts may feel like they are stalling, the litany of bad news obscured the fact that recently the bill was signed to promote and advance women in STEM fields.  I know it is small, but it is important to not always focus on the bad news.

This nation is not made of up of the whims of one person, in fact it is the collective humanity that makes America just that, America.  There has been so much focus on what is wrong, when there could also be a focus on walking in the shoes of those that voted differently.  Why did the middle of America feel this was the only way to be heard?  Why did so many pollsters ignore the clear signs of that surge?  Could we all do a better job of listening to each other?  How can we all focus on our small corner of this world to make a difference?

Review of Race Section

There were so many interesting points to extrapolate from the race section, however it started off with a bang discussing the issues involving incarceration and young black men.  The reality that the justice system has long held a skewed practice of punishment for this particular group is troubling, and the fact that continues is even more troubling.  Yes, there is progress.  Progress is made everyday.  But the idea that possible punishment could be used as a deterrent for crimes committed by an 8 year old is ludicrous.

I am not surprised that Florida is one of the 13 states that still do not have a minimum age to be tried as an adult.  Having lived there for a short time, I can attest to how there is no state quite like Florida.  Both in the people, but how troubled and divided the state’s policies seem at times.  I would never support trying a child for a crime, homicide or not.  That is not to say that a person cannot be re-tried when they become an adult, but they should never be put in a traditional adult prison.  Children should not be subjected to the extremes of the adult prison system.  The impacts of time spent in prison can have serious lasting impacts, and do little more than perpetuate violence.

The discussion of the “Hidden Figure” author, and women involved was refreshing.  When I worked in the inner city I saw how much a positive role model impacted our students’ lives.  Not many students were drawn to me right away, but female mentors, or mentors of color were often lightning rods for students.  To have such a public example of strong positive role models can, and will have, an immediate impact on young people.  As I stated in the gender readings, that is critically important for young people to have.

There are many perspectives to consider when it  comes to the issue of racism.  Currently, there are powerful movements that have reignited the civil rights movement.  BLM has united communities, and highlighted the impact and breadth police brutality among other important messages.  When it comes to defining racism, however, I feel things can become complicated.  In the Facebook clip, one commenter was told he could not define racism because of his race.  I believe that racism is a human problem, not a specific community’s issue.  Every group is capable of inflicting and suffering racist acts or tendencies.  Isn’t being able to be a victim of racism give you the ability to say what is, and is not racism to you?  It seems as if telling someone that they cannot define racism because they are white, is to say that they don’t understand its impacts, or what it is like to be discriminated against.  If we are to truly begin to understand each other, and walk a mile in other people’s shoes, I don’t believe this is a good start.

While I agree with the fact that I will never fully understand the challenges of being a woman, or a person of color, I can attest to what it feels like to be mistrusted because of your skin color, or to be made to feel like  an outsider by others because of my upbringing.  There are a litany of other impacts racism has that I cannot say impact me, but I believe that every person can be racist, and every person can be the victim of racism.

Just Mercy Review

Stevenson’s book was honestly challenging for me.  His life’s work is beyond admirable, and his achievements are something that we all can aspire to.  Several times, while reading, I thought to myself, whoa what more could I be doing with my life?  In the end that might be a simple goal of this book.  He clearly does not seek glory, or to share how great he is, but he wants to stretch our social justice nerve to its limit, to spark an interest and a drive to make a change.

I would catch myself getting caught up in rage about the treatment of those he represents, and in the McMillian case (which I had seen a 60 Minutes episode on) I felt beside myself in how a system could so aggressively pursue the punishment of a person without even considering facts.  I would have to calm down in some instances and remember that some of these people did actually commit crimes (but not in every case), and while there was a serious miscarriage of justice, there should have been some punishment and repercussions for people.

Reading the book I could imagine the students that I mentored in after school programming on the Westside of Chicago being clients for Stevenson.  When Stevenson shows us the long standing societal bias against communities of color, and how they can be abused by the system set out to protect them it makes it easy to understand why some of the students behaved the way they did.  I remember a moment two years after I stopped working at Bethune Elementary in North Lawndale, in Chicago.  I was at my desk about to make a school visit when someone told me that Damarious, one of the students who attended our after school program all the years I was at Bethune, and who I had developed a relationship with, had brought a gun to school.  Fortunately for those at the school he had brought the wrong bullets.  The constant presence of violence in his neighborhood, aided by the mass incarceration of the men in his community and the culture that develops, created a world where he thought his actions were the right solution.

I know that students bring guns to school in different types of communities, for different reasons, but the fact that Damarious had previously brought an exacto blade to school while I had been working there was starting to form a pattern for him.  I knew his grandma was overwhelmed with he and his brother, I knew that his dad was inconsistently present in his life, I did not know his mom, and I knew that Damarious was a young man who was able to excel at math, he was able to make you laugh by telling a goofy story, and in a fight he could make contact with his fist in a blink of an eye (I saw it on a couple occasions out front of the school).  He loved football, and wanted to play in high school and professionally, he had never considered college in his life (and that is understandable considering no one he knew personally had ever gone).  I knew the gun was going to be a big strike against him, I knew it would follow him as he grew up, and if we did not intervene soon, it could escalate.  He was immediately removed from Bethune, and sent to a special school for students with more serious challenges.  Our window to reach Damarious had closed.  I do not cry at work often, but I did that day.

Breaking a cycle is hard, especially when it is so deeply rooted.  Stevenson’s work is taking a real approach at addressing part of the challenge, and righting some egregious wrongs, I can’t help but feel the need to intervene sooner.  To step in at younger ages, and work with communities to change things, would have a large impact.

Response to Feminist Fight Club

There was such a relatable aspect to this reading.  The humorous tone more easily connected me to the issues, and identifying clear behaviors.  Putting names to those behaviors has made me laugh a few times at work lately.  I caught myself writing the different names of actions of men I work with in margin of my notebook at work in meetings, the Dismisser is the most common one.

I have noted in other gender readings that I enjoy talking about the ideas and issues behind the gender gap in our workplace, but I really get behind the actual tactics that can be used to reduce, and eliminate, this gap.  Of course, the suggestion of leaving Lean-In around your office was helpful, although I don’t see many men picking that up for a read.  I don’t know if I agree with the philosophy to be like a mediocre man.  I understand where she is coming from, but there was this twinge inside me that a woman should not have to act like anything other than herself to succeed in the workplace.  I know, that is me living in a paradise that has everyone treated as equals.

Women should be able to operate normally in the workplace, they should be able to express themselves as they are most comfortable and not be penalized for this.  There is often talk of the role of the government in corporations, and what is too much.  I will stay away from that quagmire.  I will say I believe that there could be government incentives for companies that adjust their corporate culture to provide more equal appreciation for all employees.  One example would be “blind” hiring practices used to hire new employees that would reduce the chances to use gender, or race, as influencers in decisions.

Seeing my wife go through looking for a job while pregnant with our daughter, and all the reading that followed of how other countries handle maternity leave, I became acutely aware that there is a culture in the U.S. that does not encourage women, or motherhood in the work force.  This may be me spiraling here, but the thought that a woman would leave the workforce because she feels she might not be able to get a promotion, or raise, after having a child because she will be perceived as less dedicated to her job than a man is insane to me.  Most mothers in the workforce, that I know, are incredibly dedicated to both their job and family.  And a corporate culture where a woman might feel penalized for having a child is simply the wrong culture, because it is perpetuating the gender gap by discouraging women to work.  Standard maternity leave, by law, would go a long way to ensure women feel protected and appreciated, in my mind.  Again, if mandating something for private companies feels wrong to you, can’t it be an incentive system that reward companies for adopting a more pro-female culture?

Gender Readings in Review

Gender readings shed a great deal of light on women in the workplace, and the regular disparities and challenges they face.  I have worked with both men and women in the past that when you would talk about these challenges, the response was a simple, that’s just the way it is or it isn’t that bad.  What I become the most concerned about is the lasting impact that not addressing these challenges now head on will have on future generations.  We can raise children to be more inclusive, and welcoming of everyone, but there is still a chance that once boys and girls go into the workforce as adults they will simply fall into the traditional corporate culture where women are under appreciated, and even made to feel like an outsider.

I speak to this in my Feminist Fight Club post, but there needs to be an overhaul of the corporate culture to create a more welcoming environment.  The tendency for us to prioritize our work over everything flies in the face of people having families, and finding an appropriate work/life balance.  The Lean-In presentation talks about making workplaces more family friendly.  Ensure that people know it is ok to prioritize a family, and express their challenges with traveling and being away.  I appreciate my current job so much because I work on a team where everyone has a family, and when we talk about the difficulties of being away and relate to each other and empathize.

In my former role the workforce was largely made up of young, ambitious people who were 110% devoted to their job, and to talk about a struggle of being away from your family was often thought of as weird.  One of my last bosses was actually very challenging with women in the office that would want to leave work at 5 pm on the dot to get back to their children.  She did not have children of her own, and her habits in leadership, at times, were very male like.  Looking back, I can see how the culture of the workplace had influenced her and how she led.  Her boss, a male, was just like her.  He would always want people to stay late, put in difficult to maintain hours, and for people to devote everything to their work.  He was just as unpopular, and often seen as the driver of the culture our local boss was enforcing.

The one reading I found upsetting was the instructor bias.  I look back at my higher education experience and it was filled with male professors, a lot of them.  Most of them are a blur by this point, we didn’t have intimate class settings at Northern Illinois University often, but there will always be my sports and culture professor.  Sarah was a great teacher, was a clear expert in the field of sports and culture, and she made the materials so relatable.  I understand the science and research behind that bias, and it is proven, I just think about some of the great educational experiences that people are closing themselves off to for a bias they are not willing to address.  A lot of that bias is hardwired in, but where along the line in our schooling do we begin to see women as less of an expert compared to a man.  Our earliest educational experiences are filled with female teachers!

Poverty Readings

The remainder of the poverty readings were centered around welfare benefits, and the lasting impacts of poverty, both on a community and on the individual.

The individual impact is most telling of how poverty is such a clear cycle that continues to feed itself.  If growing up poor causes you to develop at a slower rate, which can create some of the stereotypes connected to those living in poverty, which in turn leads to a lack of opportunity, then what is created is a self fulfilling prophecy.  It is no wonder that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to develop slower with regards to their intellect.  Any normal person would struggle with the everyday challenges and stressors of living each day with uncertainty of your next meal, of without knowing where you will sleep at night.  I have mentioned this before in a poverty post, but as long as we are not meeting those lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid, you are unable to begin to address the higher levels (belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization).

When people profit from something, there will be very little honest drive to change it.  No one will want to hurt their profits, and absorb that personal cost. Allowing poverty to be a profitable industry only allows the issue to persist.  Real change can only come from making the end of poverty profitable.  How do we focus on rewarding programs that reduce community poverty, how can we reallocate resources to penalize profiteering from others misery, and ensure that programs are working and achieving?  Too often organizations struggle to perform and grow at a steady rate, often a determining factor in continuing to receive funding, because there is more support needed ,to ensure success, from more than a grant.  A problem should not be simply throwing money at it, but it should be a refocus of all resources to turn ending poverty into the real money maker.

Considering how poverty impacts every facet of society, and the work to continue to support poverty creates a substantial burden on our economy, shows that there is a real need to begin rolling up our collective sleeves and to begin addressing this challenge head on.  We talk about how the social safety net is often under attack in federal budgets, and this one in particular.  I wish we had a more deliberate conversation on how to create a societal resource net for poverty.  How to hold corporations accountable, how to garner support from every corner of our society and economy to pour resources into changing the tide.

Poverty and Rich People

There were a lot of points made in this piece, but the life expectancy is what stood out.  Each time I hear that fact it is jarring.  I feel it goes hand in hand with the kind of food those who liven poverty are force to consume, or from a lack of better education around healthier habits.


In this article they talk about the issues that involve rural communities and poor health habits and conditions.  There is a cycle here that poorer communities live in, that proves harder and harder to break each passing generation.

Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

I struggle with this article.  While I feel that this inequity will continue, and only hurts America in the long run, I can say that I plan to give my daughter every single advantage that I can.  Although, I don’t have affluent access to give her amazing advantages.

There needs to be a better focus in society to balance this issue.  There are ways to create opportunities, and improve earlier education to erase those disparities as they take root and grow as kids get older.  I fully believe that a first step to address poverty is education, and addressing it as early as possible.  But there is a whole different discussion around education funding and support that needs to addressed and fixed first!