There's been a lot of discussion, this week, about whether President Obama has fulfilled enough promises or expectations of change since his election a year ago. "I voted for him, and I really thought everything would be different," one disappointed voter from Iowa said in a televised interview.
It would be easy to dismiss the expectations of such voters as unrealistic or naive, but we often expect more from big watershed events, and in more sweeping, immediate fashion, than life dishes out. Consider, for example, another important anniversary coming up on Monday: the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
On November 9, 1989, after weeks of protest and slow chiseling away of the East German Politburo's power, the East German government announced that henceforth, East Berliners could travel freely to the west. Faced with massive crowds at the border checkpoints, the guards opened the gates, and people streamed through. A party erupted on top of the wall, and people started hacking away at it with hammers and picks.
It was a celebration and global party; the end of an era that had brought incalculable pain to millions of Germans separated from family members and death to thousands, over the years, who had tried to cross over to the west anyway. I wrote about some of the sacrifices, and the lingering legacy of the Wall, in an essay on this site last May, after a German artist released an exhibit sparked by the anniversary of the Wall's demise.
Given all the damage and fear it caused, the fall of the Wall was truly an historical watershed moment to cheer. But then the celebration and festivities ended, and the real work of reunification began.
In the moment of celebration, it seemed all good. The rift was healed; the country would be united again. Cue the trumpets and national anthem. Roll credits. If the story had been a Hollywood movie, it actually would have ended there, because the morning after is always messier and less satisfying than the triumphant night. Every screenwriter worth their salt knows that.
There were, of course, some things that did change immediately. People could travel back and forth across the border. Restrictions ended. But national, economic, and social integration and change proved far more challenging than perhaps even anyone in 1989 would have predicted.
Many in the West resented the tax they had to pay to upgrade the infrastructure, buildings, and resources in the east. And "Ossies" (Easterners, from the German word "Ost" for East) found themselves in a no-man's land between cultures. They were suddenly without the social security of the Russian/East German state system, but were still often considered second-class citizens by their western counterparts. Their knowledge of Russian and German didn't help them in an economic world where English had become the common language. For all the celebration on November 9th, change brought with it a disruption of the world they'd known ... and gave rise to fear.
In 2004, 15 years after the Wall came down, I spent some time in the eastern German village of Krausnick, in the Spreewald, or Spree Forest. Krausnik was founded in 1004, so it had seen a lot of changes. It has also seen a lot of battles. In 1945, more than 30,000 German soldiers and 10,000 civilians from the area were caught by the advancing Russian army and slaughtered over the course of a week. Looking at some of the dilapidated houses and crumbling stone walls in the area, I could imagine the Russian soldiers advancing over the land, and the terror that sight must have bred.
One would think, after a massacre so terrible, that the Russians would have been hated forever. But when I visited, there was still a memorial in the center of the village celebrating the Red Army heroes who had died there "in the war against Fascism, 1941-1945." The same soldiers, mind you, who had killed so many of the local people. And as I watched, a couple of older villagers carefully cleaned the memorial and planted new flowers in front of it. The Russians had been gone for 15 years. And still the villagers preserved the memorial with loving care.
When I asked about it, several people told me that, in truth, they actually missed the Russians, because at least then, you had security. You didn't have to worry about losing your job or not being able to pay your rent. All you had to do was keep your head down and your nose clean. It was nice, they acknowledged, to not have to wait 20 years for a bad car. But you had new burdens of figuring out how to pay for that car, now.
Twenty years after the Berlin Wall fell, Germany is still struggling to fulfill the promise of that event. And that's a change that, at least in theory, everyone in Germany wanted. Imagine if the country had been deeply split on the basic premise of reunification?
Consider the events of July 2, 1964. On that date, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Its passage was the result of years of effort and struggle, and the signing of that Act separated American history into "before" and "after." As with the Berlin Wall, some things changed immediately. On July 3, 1964, discriminating against a person on the basis of the color of his or her skin was suddenly illegal. But life did not change with the stroke of a pen. Four years later, not only had glorious change not triumphantly come to pass, but both Martin Luther King--who had been present at the signing ceremony--and Robert Kennedy, one of the Cvil Rights movement's heroes ... were dead at the hands of assassins.
Change--especially nationwide change--is a slow-moving train. Power shifted with the Civil Rights Act, and the wheels of change were set in motion. But a year later, a black person--especially in the South--might not have noticed that much tangible difference in their life. Forty-five years later, we still fight some of those battles, as the events of the past year have certainly illustrated.
Symbolically, many things can change in a day. A law is passed, a wall comes down, a couple gets married, or a person is elected President. The event that initiates the change is called a watershed, because it marks the moment and place where the course of things turn in a new direction. But even in the best of circumstances, it takes a while after that event for any visible shift to become evident. Especially in a deep, complex, and layered environment where all the currents aren't headed in the same direction.
It's a point worth remembering. Too often, we look to those big, symbolic events as magical tonics that will change everything overnight--maybe because we were fed so many "and then they lived happily ever after" endings. More than one person has imagined that when they got married (or became a parent, or got that new job, or that new ... fill in the blank) they'd magically become happy ... only to discover that it takes a lot of work, patience, and time to make the promise of that symbolic change anything close to real.
The truth is, even events as big as the demise of the Berlin Wall don't change a country or the world overnight. They just make a new kind of change possible. Even if the journey turns out to be longer, rockier, and more complex than we wished or imagined ... or a Hollywood screenwriter would have written it.
Photo Credit: Flickr User antaldaniel, wikimedia commons
Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.
Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.
Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people. The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year.
Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were. Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?
The current system for gaining entry to elite colleges discourages unique passions and deems many talented students ineligible.
March madness is almost here. No, I’m not referring to the college-basketball playoffs; I’m alluding to the anxious waiting of young people and their families of word about their fate from the highly selective colleges of America. And I’m talking as well about those who are about to venture forth on the ritualistic campus tours to determine where they will apply next fall. What few of these families realize is how broken the admission system is at these selective colleges.
At these institutions of higher learning, the goal is to “shape a class,” which involves trying to admit qualified and diverse students who will learn from each other as well as from their experiences in the classroom. These are the students who have the greatest potential to use their education in productive ways and to contribute to their own well-being and to the needs of the larger society. Diversity is not defined here as solely pertaining to race, ethnicity, or gender, although that weighs on decisions, but also on a range of interests and talents that students can develop and share with others during their college years. These are high-minded goals.
On Saturday, the GOP dispensed with concern about keeping up appearances—and put long-simmering anger on display.
Perhaps the most haunting memory of the night will be the audience. Previous presidential debates have banned cheering and booing. Saturday night’s Republican debate in Greenville was marked by both. Permitted or not, the rowdy crowd ventilated its feelings without concern for how it looked or sounded to the viewers at home.
This unconcern for appearances was a Republican theme of the weekend. Hours before the debate opened, news broke that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died. Candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio promptly issued statements opining that any appointing any replacement should be left to the next president. It’s not unheard of for candidates to express emotive positions adopted for political advantage. But that same evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined in, with a statement ruling out any Senate action on any Supreme Court nominee, no matter who it might be.
The staunchly Catholic U.S. Supreme Court justice was known for his acidly conservative opinions, but ultimately, he prioritized the Constitution over the Church.
“How can the Court possibly assert that ‘the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between … religion and nonreligion’?” the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2005, arguing that two Kentucky counties should be able to display the Ten Commandments in their courthouses. “Who says so? Surely not the words of the Constitution.”
This moment, with Scalia’s trademark snark, nicely sums up the paradox of how his religious views influenced his Supreme Court career. The justice, who died Saturday, consistently argued that the United States is fundamentally religious, meaning that the government shouldn’t have to avoid religious displays—nativity scenes on public property, prayers at townhall meetings, and the like. His Roman Catholic faith often seemed to lurk in the background of his opinions, especially in cases involving abortion and homosexuality. But above all, he was committed to a literal, originalist interpretation of the Constitution, along with strict attention to the texts of federal and state laws. His views didn’t always align with those of the Church, and he didn’t always side with people making religious-freedom claims.
A profanity-filled new self-help book argues that life is kind of terrible, so you should value your actions over your emotions.
Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking "closure" with your peevish co-worker. And please, don't bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. That’s the argument of Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett, the father-daughter duo behind the new self-help book F*ck Feelings.
The elder Bennett is a psychiatrist and American Psychiatric Association distinguished fellow. His daughter is a comedy writer. Together, they provide a tough-love, irreverent take on “life's impossible problems.” The crux of their approach is that life is hard and negative emotions are part of it. The key is to see your “bullshit wishes” for just what they are (bullshit), and instead to pursue real, achievable goals.
Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.
Rather, it is what she calls a "micro-moment of positivity resonance." She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in "It's a Wonderful World" when he sang, "I see friends shaking hands, sayin 'how do you do?' / They're really sayin', 'I love you.'"
Trump’s prescient opposition to the invasion is an important part of his claim to sound judgment. And he is making it up. I would know.
I respect and admire Donald Trump (yes, I wrote those words to begin a sentence) for flat-out arguing to GOP crowds that the Iraq war was a catastrophic mistake.
It was additionally amazing and heartening to see him, in last night’s WWE-style brawl-debate, finally call B.S. on a persistent and amazing claim by the otherwise-generally-reality-based Jeb Bush. When pressed about the Bush-Cheney record on office, Jeb’s final line of defense throughout the campaign has been, “whatever else you can say my brother, he kept us safe!”
Yes, perfectly safe! Except for, ummm, that one time. Trump finally had the lack of politesse to say so directly to Jeb Bush, only to receive boos from the crowd.
"It was rich, a perfect match for my body and myself."
For a long while, and I really don't wish to say when it was or how many years it lasted, I chose to live in what was perhaps the worst insubordination of our times: I had no sex life. It is true that those years were in large part filled with sensuality, when dreams alone gratified my longings, but what dreams! And if I felt drawn to anything, it was only in my thoughts, but what thoughts. . .
I realize now what that life was made of: a life in no way insignificant; on the contrary, it was rich, a perfect match for my body and myself. Yet nothing was simple, and these words I write would once have seemed leaden to me, so ashamed was I at times of my singularity, a strangeness worse than difference. Everyone knows that even people who are different have a certain sexuality worthy of the name, things to show for it, defeats they can lay claim to. Whereas we, the loners, an army that does violence only to itself, a small tribe, unavowable and hence unknowable in number, we understand instinctively that speaking out will allow the world to send us deeper into exile--and foster the kind of stupid nonsense people say about whatever they cannot comprehend. They turn us into scapegoats who reassure all others on this point: however problematic their carnal pleasures might be, we offer proof, through our most definite exclusion, that their circumstances are still better than nothing.
The Republican frontrunner repudiated a long litany of party orthodoxies in a contentious debate—but will that hurt his candidacy, or help it?
Donald Trump blamed the Bush administration for failing to heed CIA warnings before 9/11; denounced the Iraq War for destabilizing the Middle East; defended the use of eminent domain; promised to save Social Security without trimming benefits; and credited Planned Parenthood for “wonderful things having to do with women's health.”
He’s fresh off a crushing victory in New Hampshire, and the prohibitive favorite in the polls in South Carolina. Will his flouting of Republican orthodoxy sink his chances—or is it his very willingness to embrace these heterodox stances that has fueled his rise?
Even his rivals no longer seem certain of the answer. Jeb Bush, at one point, called Trump “a man who insults his way to the nomination.” He sounded like a man ruing a race that has run away from him.
The iconic conservative justice, who died Saturday at age 79, left an indelible stamp on the nation’s courts, its laws, and its understanding of itself.
Antonin Scalia, the judicial firebrand who stood as the intellectual leader of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative wing during his three-decade tenure as a justice, died Saturday at a ranch in western Texas. He was 79 years old.
“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on behalf of the Court.
President Obama, who will have the opportunity to nominate Scalia’s successor, offered his sympathies to the justice’s family on Saturday night. “He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges to serve on the Supreme Court,” he said.