Bias and Prejudice.
To remedy a bias, one must first develop awareness of the bias. This is an active process. I encourage all of you to this examination both within and without. A few examples that I have become aware of in my own life are:
Relating an encounter or experience about another person rarely include an identification that the subject was Caucasian. However, if it was about a person of color, invariably the description includes, "He/she was black". Why are we unconsciously compelled to include that detail when it adds nothing to the discussion?
I recently had a conversation with a person about the challenge a public school had in securing substitute teachers for the significant percentage of the faculty who as Muslims were off work for the holy day of Eid al-Adha. The person's response was to ask, "Do they wear their Hijabs when they teach?" What does that reflexive question indicate? (I'm really wondering.)
When a news story mentions a crime, how many of us look to the picture of the suspect to identify their race? I confess that I found this failing in my own quest of self-awareness. Do we make the same inquiry if the news story is about an act of valor or sacrifice?
A friend that I know to be a model of morality, fair mindedness, intelligence, and an exemplary work ethic, once shared with me that he was an atheist. He was unapologetic and matter-of-fact. I felt an internal reaction that I know would not have been present if the revelation had been that he was Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, or Muslim. My opinion of the person has not changed, if anything it is heightened because of his willingness to share his nonbelief. I was forced to confront my own reaction and reevaluate my own thoughts about the non-connection of faith and the qualities that my friend exemplifies.
I am searching for more examples of overt and covert bias in and around me. I invite each of you to join the hunt!
Peace Everyone. Pete Schloss
The Good Lawyers
Many years ago, an attorney friend, Jim Fluker, began referring to me as "The Good Lawyer". I don't recall exactly how that happened but I have reciprocated to Jim in kind ever since because Jim is a "Good Lawyer".
There are many of us out there. I daresay that most lawyers are "good", as in ethical, caring, and competent. There are exceptions. Most 20 pound bags of potatoes have at least one spud gone bad. The sight of one bad potato in the bunch often results in the customer rejecting that entire bag as "bad" or at least suspect.
I know what attorneys go through in their professional lives. I know the price that we pay. Folks don't usually seek an attorney because life is a bed of roses. Most often they hire lawyers because something has gone very wrong. The problems are often of the client's own creation, and who wants to admit they made a mistake? Even when the problem originates with a third person, the client often resents having to pay for the assistance required to seek a remedy from something that wasn't their fault.
At this point, many of you may reflect upon a favorite lawyer joke. There are few (none?) that I find funny, and over the years I have practiced the art of adopting a dead-pan expression when a lawyer joke is told in my presence. Maybe it's because I recall the countless tragedies that I have helped folks navigate. Death… of a love one, of a marriage, of a childhood… pain and loss that many of us will never experience. Most "Good Lawyers" put their family time and happiness second to the needs of their clients. The last paragraph of our Oath of Admission to the Missouri Bar reads:
"That I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any man's cause for lucre or malice. So help me God."
Good Lawyers live that creed.
Today I visited a "Very Good Lawyer" in the hospital. His wife at his side. He has been a friend for many years, and often a professional adversary. I am again reminded not to put off until tomorrow the things that one may find they are then unable to do.
Peace. Pete Schloss
Of Frogs and Teachers
Years ago, I read that if a frog is cast into a pan of boiling water it will immediately react to save itself and jump out of the pan. However, if the frog is placed in a pan of cool water and the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will remain in place oblivious to the fact that it is being cooked.
I have accepted this account on faith but I have continued to wonder if it has ever been experimentally proven. I would never consider torturing some poor frog to satisfy my curiosity, however recent events have brought me to the realization that the sacrifice of a frog is unnecessary since I have the example of a teacher, my father.
My dad began teaching in 1949, which was the year that he and my mother married. By 1959 they had brought 4 sons into the world, of which I am the oldest. My mother was also a teacher, but she chose to stay home to raise the children until I started high school. Dad's teacher's salary, supplemented by summer work and the small stipends he received for coaching football, basketball, and track, were the family's sole source of support. From his income, my parents provided our family with the following:
A custom-built brick home in south suburban Chicago
Parochial grade school educations
One newer car and a second older car
A camping trailer that we used for annual summer vacations, traveling throughout the United States and Canada
Excellent health and dental care
Undergraduate state college educations for the children that included our tuition, books, room and board
My dad was not a financial wizard, he was a teacher. Teachers in the 1960's, along with firefighters, police officers, factory workers, truck drivers, and a myriad of other professions, were the pillars of middle class America. The real strength of the "American Dream" was not in the strength of our military or the wealth of the "top 1%", but in what average workers could accomplish for themselves and their families.
Had something suddenly occurred in our society to deprive these workers of their ability to provide for their families in the manner that I have described then there would have been a declaration of a national emergency to address the crisis. In other words, the frog would have immediately reacted and leapt from the pan of boiling water. Unfortunately, the America of my youth once bathing in a pan of cool water. The temperature of the water has gradually risen over the last 50 years to the point that the middle class of America it is being cooked out of existence.
As for that experiment, frogs need not apply. We have enough teachers, firefighters, police officers, factory workers, truck drivers…
Peace. Pete Schloss
Words That Matter.
I am back from having spent a long pre-Christmas weekend at my Mother's in my hometown of Crete, Illinois. The weekend was graced by time with Mom and a beautiful 5" snowfall. It also coincided with an informal Holiday reunion of my 1970 high school classmates hosted by a classmate.
In the course of the evening reunion I had the opportunity to discuss with a former classmate the special contribution that one of our teachers had made in her life. In her senior year, my classmate found her life suddenly disrupted by a family crisis that I will only describe as catastrophic. None of us can imagine the strength that it must have taken for a 17-year-old to have endured, let alone flourished, as she did. If ever there is a tale of the "resilient child", hers is that hero's tale. Whatever challenges I faced at that time in my life paled in comparison. However, what she and I held in common was the unique contribution of the same teacher.
Evelyn Evans taught English and more importantly she taught life. She took the time to give some of us a glimpse into the potential that she saw within us. One of my high school teachers once took me aside and expressed his opinion that I might be better served in pursuing a "technical education" … college was probably not a prudent option for me. Mrs. Evans looked beyond my struggles with spelling, penmanship, and adolescence to express a different opinion. There are only two assignment artifacts that I have retained from those days, not because of the content of my classwork but because of the content of Mrs. Evans' comments. Her words mattered and it is not hyperbole for me to express that they may have changed the course of my life.
Each of us has the potential to give the gift of "words that matter" to either encourage or discourage. Be mindful in the exercise of such an awesome responsibility. Peace, Pete
PS: There was also Mr. Robert Dreher. He was a successful attorney in Carbondale Illinois who taught a "Survey of the Law" general education course at Southern Illinois University. On the first day of class he confidently strode to the front of the auditorium assembly of over 100 students and announced, "I'm Robert Dreher, I'm a LAWYER… you may call me Mr. Dreher or Professor Dreher. You may NOT call me Doctor Dreher… because I'm a LAWYER." Mr. Dreher, though short and portly, wore his three-piece suit with the strength and dignity of a medieval knight in armor. The large cigars that protruded from his vest pocket were like a coat of arms. At mid-term we submitted a required essay to him. The day that the papers were to be returned to us Mr. Dreher began his lecture by first asking, "Is Peter Schloss here?" (we had never spoken) I raised my hand and he then asked me to see him after class. My heart was in my throat for the next 50 minutes. After class I walked up to him and asked, "Professor, you wanted to see me?" He looked me in the eye for a moment longer than was comfortable and asked, "Have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer?" "No sir." I replied. To which he responded, "You should". That was the extent of the "conversation"...
Words that matter.
Sacramental Confession, Then and Now
Last week 6 of our grandchildren completed their preparations for the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. In my childhood, this was known as the Sacrament of "Confession" or "Penance". Christine and I were privileged to attend a few of the preparation classes with "the little people" and thus I witnessed the stark contrast of the terror filled ritual that I endured and the pleasant embrace of community love that these children experienced.
Before I proceed to complete that story, I will take a brief detour into my past: My grandmother Labibi (Arabic for Mary) was as incredible in her spiritual devotion as she was in her ample physical presence. She was love personified, attending daily Mass, volunteering her time to the Church, and like a gunslinger she performed a "quick-draw" of her rosary from her purse whenever we drove past a cemetery… adding yet more unknown souls to her never-ending litany of prayer. Although I was only 6 or 7 years old I was troubled by the paradox of her every Friday visit to the confessional. What could this saintly woman possibly do each week that warranted a ritual cleansing of the soul?
Perhaps it was the not-so-secret animas between her and my great uncle Solomon (aka "Simon") who lived across the street. Simon was my grandfather's cousin and business partner. He was also the focus of my grandmother's distrust. For Simon, the feeling was mutual. They lived in West Virginia, their mid-nineteenth century homes facing across a pre-Civil War cobble stone street. From their large raised porches they would hail greetings to one with the fixed rictus of feigned affection. On one such occasion I was with Simon when we both observed Labibi step out onto her porch. Simon slowly extended a parade-style wave and loudly called out in his thick Middle Eastern accent, "Hey Labibi…". While she reciprocated the greeting he continued under his breath,"…you beeeech!".
My own "First Confession" also began with preparation classes. I had not yet learned the prudence of being seen but not heard, and when I asked the Sister what to do if I didn't have anything to confess she immediately replied to the amusement of the other children, "Mr. Schloss, are YOU saying that YOU have NEVER fought with your brothers, that you ALWAYS obey your parents?!?" Thus, without intending to do so the Nun indelibly scripted my monthly confessions for the remainder of my parochial school years… "Bless me Father for I have sinned… I fought with my brothers 3 times and disobeyed my parents 4 times…" I would usually switch the numbers around, finding that 3 and 4 times was kind of a "sweet spot" for confession, not so infrequent as to seem insincere, and not so often as to earn a big penance.
I ceased regular participation in Confession once I reached high school. However, there have been four occasions that I sought penitential guidance in Confession as an adult. Each of those occasions were spiritually rewarding and provided me with a personal affirmation of my self-worth. Perhaps I will share them some day.
Back to the "little people": The six grandchildren were actually eager for their First Reconciliation (as it is now referred to)! There was no fear, no hesitation, and no memorizing a prescribed litany. "Kids, you can read from the card but honestly the priest likes you to just talk to him", said the instructor. There was no "dark closet", no shadowy silhouette of a man through a small framed opening, no rock-hard kneelers… I was born about 60 years too soon.
The kids were appropriately reverent as they waited in line, displaying only hints of pent-up energy. Each one's visit lasted about 10 minutes and upon returning from the priest each child detoured to an empty pew for a few minutes private contemplation before proceeding on their mother and grandparents. There was one exception… one of the children having concluded his meditation immediately proceeded back to the line for Confession. His mother called out, "Where are you going?", to which he replied, "It's ok mom, I just forgot to tell him something!"
…and so, one of my grandchildren celebrated both his first and second Confession on the same day. "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been 3 minutes since my last confession…"
Sorry Labibi, your weekly confessions seem a bit ordinary now.
Peace. Pete Schloss
"A Visit from Bill"
We have become accustom to visits from random strangers interested in our home, our Casita, or both. This morning was no exception as two such visits occurred while I was engaged in the task of removing 7 plus weeks of road grime from "Rigel", our home away from home. It is the second of these visits that has given me pause to share with you.
As a liberal application of "elbow grease" was slowly turning a grey wheelwell once more white I became aware of the presence in my driveway of an older Buick that had seen a better day. A wizened man, on the north side of 80 years old, exited the Buick and approached me with hand outstretched. He introduced himself as Bill, and turned his eyes to Rigel. "She sure is a nice trailer… looks like you have done some traveling." I thanked Bill and acknowledge that the map on the back of the trailer accurately displayed the 42 States that we had visited in the last 17 months. "Wow", Bill remarked, "Mind if I look inside?" I ushered Bill to the door and became a bit concerned as he reached for the handle and displayed a large purple bruise that extended the width of his arthritic hand. His step up into the trailer was tentative and uncertain, but to my relief successful. He stood in the entry and with a wistful, almost vacant gaze he scanned the interior. "When my wife finally passes from her Alzheimer's, this is what I want to do." We both stood silent, Bill continuing his imagined travels and me allowing his words to sink in.
Without further comment Bill sighed, smiled, and began the difficult task of stepping back down from trailer to driveway. He once again extended his hand and thanked me. He looked tired, but at the same time grateful. I expressed to Bill my wish that matters resolve kindly for him and his wife. With tears in his eyes Bill nodded and again thanked me. He returned to his car and left me to ponder what had just occurred.
Bill and his wife are traveling a difficult journey. For a few minutes he borrowed our trailer and found peace in an imaginary detour to a different destination. He also reminded me that his path is one that we may all share one day. Oh, one more thing… as Bill left I became aware that my stereo was playing the sad strains of Jeff Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah".
God, Gott, Dieu, Yhwh… and Allah.
God by any other name is still Creator. To borrow further from Shakespeare, "Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself,…"
According to Genesis mythology God created the heavens and the earth, light and dark, the plants and animals, and then humanity in God's image and likeness. God toiled for 6 days and then "rested" the 7th day. Perhaps a more accurate description is that God either retired or took a sabbatical because from that point forward humanity took up the task of creating. We created nations, language, and religions… religions that define god in our image and likeness. In my country most call the Creator "God". My German paternal grandparents named the Creator Gott, and my Lebanese/Syrian maternal grandparents (who were Christians) prayed to Allah. "Allah" is not a word unique to a theology, it is merely the Arabic word for God and the Arabic language predates Islam by centuries.
Humanity created all that divides us and in our division we imagine that the Creator takes sides in wars, politics, and sporting events. We created rituals that we imagine are necessary to communicate and entreat with the gods that we created. If God is universal, all powerful and all-knowing then I doubt that God is confused by the names that we choose or the manner by which we address or invoke God. I doubt that God favors one archaic ritual over another, one nation over another, one political party over another, or one baseball team over another.
If there is a Universal Creator (a topic for another time), then I pray that God comes out of retirement and begins work on the 8th day to create peace, love, understanding and respect among those created on the 6th.
Voting: Not Just a Right, but a Duty
It may surprise you that at the birth of our Nation the Constitution did not define voter eligibility. This was left to the individual States. Most States denied the right to all but white males who owned real estate. From that point forward the right to vote has been a focal point in the struggle for true representative democracy.
Even though the Civil War emancipated millions of people from their forced servitude, it was not until 1870 that the 15th Amendment expanded suffrage to persons without regard to their "race, color, or previous condition of servitude".
It took another 50 years for the right to be specifically extended to women, not to be withheld "on account of sex". 19th Amendment, 1920.
The pervasive specter of racism and segregation was found in various barriers to voting in the form of "literacy tests", "poll taxes", and other Jim Crow laws. It was not until 100 years after the Civil War that in 1964 the 24th Amendment sought to redress these ills.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to grant supervisory and regulatory authority over State and local governments that had resisted the expansion of voting rights to those who had historically been marginalized.
In 1971 the 26th Amendment expanded the right to vote to those who were 18 years of age. While it had long been acceptable to call upon these people to die in the service of our country, the right to vote was previously deemed too great a responsibility for those patriots.
Today fictions of rampant "voter fraud" form the basis of efforts to hinder or obstruct exercise of the right. State Legislatures continue to push the envelope in defining voting districts (known as "gerrymandering") in a manner that will favor the party in power, or otherwise dilute the influence of a targeted population.
If the right to vote did not matter then these struggles would not have occurred. If YOUR vote did not matter then millions of dollars would not be spent in each election cycle to woo and sway your opinion and the opinions of those in your community. You stand on the shoulders of generations that preceded you, people who fought and sometimes died to expand this precious right to YOU. If you claim to be an American, if you make claim the heritage of unalienable Rights to "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" set forth in our Declaration of Independence, then exercise this most American of rights. On each election day there is nothing more important.
This Is Just About a Tree.
Remember, this is just about a tree…
I don't recall exactly when she first came to my notice, but when she did there seemed so little hope for her.
We had purchased a home in an old established part of Kansas City. The home was a derelict sitting upon a long neglected yard gone wild. We contracted to deconstruct the residence and donate the salvaged materials to Habitat Restore. The foundation could not be salvaged so heavy equipment was called in to fracture, crush and pulverize the concrete. Machines tore the earth leaving a crater where once there stood a home. The yard, where it could still be identified as such bore the scars of tractor treads and heavy trucks. Two wonderfully monumental trees gave their lives, doomed by the crush and cuts to their roots. They were obvious casualties. Virtually unnoticed and soon forgotten were the destroyed flower beds, plowed roses, uprooted shrubs… the plantings that had adorned the property and once given it character. The wildings, vines, weeds, and assorted volunteer foliage were no less the victims of the onslaught, but they were always destined to go unmourned.
Perhaps she was one of the last plantings of the former owner, a five dollar sapling found in the backlot of a Home Depot. Perhaps she was just another volunteer that had sprung from the earth in the eternal competition for sunlight and water…
Construction of the new home proceeded. Endless sorties of men and machines savaged and then reformed the earth as wood, iron, and stone were dropped, saturating the site and crushing life. Materials slowly and methodically became structure.
I recall a fork-loader lifting a huge pallet of lumber. A small sapling rebounded from the horizontal press that had been enforced upon her. The earth around her had been scraped bare. I thought nothing of her at the time…
Over the months that followed minerals and metal, never alive, products that were the creation of industry, and wood that had once known life, were forged into a reality that had been the spark of an architect's inspiration. It lacked only landscaping to transform the ravages of construction into the peaceful repose of a dream that my wife and I had shared. Even here the process of cladding the soil with man cultivated sod required more equipment to make a final assault upon the ground. To this it surrendered the last bits of its former identity.
She was still there! Not quite straight but there was a spring in the few pencil thin branches that had not been torn from her. The long deep scars on her inch diameter trunk did not encircle her and I knew that there was a chance she might live. In that moment I appreciated that Nature may give life but it is for us to grant opportunity. I found a piece of orange flagging and tied it near her crown, just 4 feet above the ground. I asked the workmen to leave her undisturbed. I asked nothing of the tree.
I watched her grow that first year. I watched the scars become bordered with new wood. I watched buds become leaves, and I watched leaves become crimson in the Fall. In the second year she reprised the first but with surprising vigor. She was strong, straight, and tall. Her smooth sapling bark was developing the lines and grooves that would, along with her leaves, identify her kind. She is a Sweetgum.
It is year three and she is over ten feet tall! I have shared her story with my grandchildren. They love the tree, often walking up to her and hugging her broadening trunk. She is special to them as she is special to me. Her wounds are nearly healed, but she will carry the elements of damage deep inside of her long after any outward sign of her struggle has vanished. I know that she is not a tree favored by many. Her kind is vilified for the spikey seed balls that they produce. She is not like most trees that are chosen for planting. But out of the opportunity that she was given she has returned a lesson to me and my grandchildren. She brings a smile to me whenever I gaze upon her. She offers the promise of shade and she is a glory in the Fall. Those of my generation with whom I share her story often think no further than those "spikey balls" and counsel that I should cut her down. Those of my children's generation tend to smile politely, giving salute to my eccentricity when I speak of her as a friend. It is the third generation, my grandchildren, that grant the refugee tree full acceptance and love.
Maybe this was about more than just a tree.
"The Only Think We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself": Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 Inaugural Address)
The following are the most currently available statistics for the top 15 causes of death for the United States of America for ONE YEAR (2013), as published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Heart disease: 611,105
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
Alzheimer's disease: 84,767
Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149
Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: 36,427
Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease: 30,770
Parkinson's disease: 25,196
Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids: 18,579
FROM 2001 THROUGH 2013 (13 YEARS) THE TOTAL NUMBER OF DEATHS IN THE UNITED STATES FROM TERRORIST INCIDENTS IS 3,380. That number includes the 2,977 who died on 9/11.
Daesch's greatest weapons are not firearms or bombs, it is our fear.
Contrast the political and media hyperbole of today with these opening words from FDR in his first address to the nation as President:
"I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."