Posts Tagged 'Never Trump'

Stuttering Club: Empathy and Leadership

As I have explored in the paststuttering, also known as stammering, is most commonly associated with involuntary sound repetition, but it also encompasses the abnormal hesitation, blocks,  or pausing before speech. Stuttering is generally not a problem with the physical production of speech sounds or putting thoughts into words. Despite popular perceptions to the contrary, stuttering does not affect and has no bearing on intelligence. Apart from their speech impairment, people who stutter are normal. Anxiety, low confidence, nervousness, and stress therefore do not cause stuttering, although they are very often the result of living with a highly stigmatized disability.

Although the exact etiology of stuttering is unknown, both genetics and neurophysiology are thought to contribute. A variety of hypotheses and theories suggests multiple factors contributing to stuttering. Here I want to forward two theories as to the cause of stuttering. There is evidence that stuttering is more common in children who also have concomitant speech, language, learning or motor difficulties. Auditory processing deficits have also been proposed as a cause of stuttering. The evidence for this is that stuttering is less prevalent in deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and stuttering may be improved when auditory feedback is altered. Although there are many treatments and speech therapy techniques available that may help increase fluency in some stutterers, there is essentially no “cure” for the disorder at present.

I was thinking about this last night when watching the Democratic National Convention. There thirteen-year-old Brayden Harrington  spoke to millions of people tuning into the convention. In February Brayden met Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in New Hampshire. When Biden, a fellow stutterer, learned about Brayden’s speech difficulties at the rally, he invited him backstage. There, Biden showed him the speech he had just delivered and the annotations he used to signal when to breathe, and gave him advice and exercises for overcoming his stutter. Watch this video:

“It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice-president. He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read out loud to practice,” Brayden said. “He showed me how he marks his addresses to make them easier to say out loud. So I did the same thing today. And now I’m here talking to you today about the future, about our future.” As Dan Rather described, Brayden’s speech as “pure, unvarnished courage.”

In Brayden’s address, the teenager said that “without Joe Biden I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” and that during their first meeting, Biden had told him they were “members of the same club”. This amazing story of courage of thirteen-year-old conquering his fear and talking to millions of people made me think of another very important leader in history who is part of that club- Moshe.

When Moshe is called to be God’s messenger, he resists saying, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words…. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). From this the Rabbis concluded that Moshe had a stutter.  Rashi  explains k’vad peh, “heavy of mouth,” and k’vad lashon, “heavy of tongue,” by which Moshe describes himself, as stuttering. Rashi translated it into medieval French word balbus, stuttering or stammering (from which comes the modern French verb balbutier, to stutter).

This issue is particularly interesting to me this week due to Brayden’s story and the timely reading of Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the establishment of the court system and the most famous quote:

Tzedek Tzedek-Justice, justice shalt you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. ( Deuteronomy 16:20)

Why the repeating word, “Justice”? Most commonly it translated to assume that it is emphatic. As to say, “Justice you will surely pursue”. But, I think this reading overlooks the speaker. As we know, Moshe was a member of the club and had a stutter, and this is the text recording his stammer.

If this is true, why does the Torah represents Moshe’s stuttering in print at this moment? Maybe it has something to do with the pursuit of justice itself. In the past I have explored other ideas , but this week Brayden’s story inspired a different reading. As we heard in his story and many other’s shared at the DNC, Biden’s leadership is founded on his empathy born out of personal hardships. We all know bullies prey on people who are different or weak. To truly pursue justice we need to connect to our own experiences of being marginalized. Like Moshe before him, Biden’s commitment to pursue justice is founded on his own experience of stuttering.  There is a profound strength of leadership founded on vulnerability.

We should never make fun of people just because they are different than us. To work for justice we need to have empathy for those who are experiencing hardship.  Let’s surely vote out the bully on November 3rd.

-Also see Stammering Justice

-Also see Revisiting Stammering Justice

 

The Tower of Trump: On Civic Ignorance

In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

 I was most struck when he said:
I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.
Civics is important. We need to know who is responsible and then we can demand performance from those people. If we are ignorant of civics, we are at risk of peril. This is not a risk from the outside, but the inside. Like Augustus, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, Donald Trump has come forward seeking power, assuring the public that he’ll solve our problems, exploiting fears and civic ignorance. Trump will not make American great again. He is an outgrowth of our civic ignorance. Trump really just wants to make his name great.
I was thinking about this in the context of Noah, this week’s Torah portion, where we learn about the Tower of Babel. There is says:
And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11: 3-4)
Modeled on his gauche Trump Towers his campaign is built on the disturbing idea of building a wall on the Mexican border.  Trump is not offering solutions to real problems, rather he is offering the confused ( read here mivubal) masses a just a place to  ” let us make us a name”.
In Souter ‘s remarks he references a quote from Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson said:
If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.
I think we need to reflect on this before we vote on Tuesday. We need to vote against the bigoted  anti-Intellectualism of Trump.  I am not saying that Hillary is beyond critique, but she is no Augustus. To save our republic we need to elect Hillary and bring down this Tower of Babel on which Trump is trying to put his name. On Wednesday we will have to do the hard work of dealing with our widespread civic ignorance.

Not Being There #nevertrump

One of my favorite books Being There by Jerzy Kosinski. In this 1970 novel  the writer explores a satirical view of the absurd reality of America’s media culture. It is the story of Chance the gardener, a man with few distinctive qualities. To Chance the whole world was a garden, but others mistake this simpleton’s description of an actual garden for an extended metaphor about the economy. Chance emerges from nowhere and suddenly becomes the heir to the throne of a Wall Street tycoon and a presidential policy adviser. His simple and straightforward responses to popular concerns are praised as visionary despite the fact that no one actually understands what he is really saying. The book was turned into a famous movie with Peter Sellers.

Today in the context of the Donald Trump’s presidential campaign Kosinski’s words seem prescient. For example Trump said that he would build a wall along the border between Mexico and the U.S. to curb illegal immigration — and has vowed that Mexico would foot the bill. Trump said, “It’s gonna be a great wall. This will be a wall with a big, very beautiful door because we want the legals to come back into the country.” When Trump “speaks from the heart” you cannot be sure if he is being literal or metaphoric. We are left thinking that Trump is either a simpleton way out of his element who is not fit to be the president or an evil narcissist who should just never be allowed to have any more power. In either case we need to look in the mirror and ask how he got to be a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. What is the nature of our media driven culture that would allow the rise of Chance?

Doomsday Machine: Matot Masai and Voting Against Trump

In Matot- Masai, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the horribly disturbing genocide of the Midianites. How can we understand Biblical justice  regarding the war against Midian particularly?  After the war the boys and women were brought back as prisoners of war. Moshe was upset with the soldiers and orders them to kill the boys and the women who are not virgins. Today we would call that a war crime. All the commentaries I have seen give answers I find troubling to some degree.

I am not sure that there is an answer, by searching for some shred of meaning in this horribly meaningless mass killing got me thinking about their situation wandering in the desert and their sense of fear. They were a group of landless and vulnerable refugees. Maybe killing the Midianites sent a clear message to all of the neighbors. Maybe it was some sort of deterrent. Do not mess with us.

This reminds of the scene near the end of Dr. Strangelove. A rogue missile was deployed at Russia and they are trying to stop a full out nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove says,” Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, EH?” Ambassador de Sadesky replies,”It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.”  It is clear that Moshe had this power as the leader, but just because he could do this does not mean that he should have. Ultimately genocide begets genocide, violence begets violence, and hate begets hate.

Sadly it seems that Trump has not yet got that message. As Joe Scarborough reported recently, “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them.” This is troubling to say the least. This is no secret. If we have questions about Moshe’s leadership, I have none about Trump. Trump is unfit to govern or lead and he should not have his finger on the nuclear codes. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yes people are afraid and feel lost, but the answer is not hate, violence, and it certainly is not Donald Trump. Love Trumps Hate. Enough complaining lets get out the vote. Stop Trump.


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