The Plagued Parent

posts about surviving our children, the Baby Boomers who raised us, and everyone else with an opinion...

Damned if you do; Screwed if you don’t…

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?

— Rabbi Hillel

 

The problem with civic engagement is that it takes time — time to join, time to plan, time to meet, time to act, and time to see results. This last point, waiting for results is what tries the patience of most people and frays their last nerve just before they walk away.

Honestly, for most of my adult life I have towed the line making sure to rock the boat as little as possible. I have been opinionated all my life, but acting on those opinions has never really been a strong suit of mine. Under certain circumstances I have acted — signing petitions, fighting to move a dangerous bus stop, writing a letter to the editor, speaking out on union issues — but overall, like most people, taking action has not been a strong suit of mine.

If you stay quite though, the odds of getting steamrolled become exponentially greater. Ironically, speaking up often gets you labeled as a trouble maker and you can end up ostracized, isolated. The benefit to speaking your truth is that at least you said something. Apathy makes one absent from the processes of change. Apathy also erodes community in its various forms. With apathy at the helm, we cannot engage. We fail to connect on any meaningful level be it in the micro (our individual and family relationships) or in the macro (our schools, our work, our governments). Apathy fosters ignorance and out of ignorance a climate of disaffection is bred. In this climate of disaffection we lack the will to seek out information and information is the key to civic engagement.

Woody Guthrie wants you to remember this land is your land.

Woody Guthrie’s guitar has a sticker on it that reads, “This Machine Kills Fascists”, 

Over the last six months or so, I have tried to adopt a new philosophy which can be summed up as, well, “F@ck It!” I’m damned if I speak my mind — I become a trouble maker. I’m damned if I don’t speak my mind — I get walked all over. This metamorphosis has its origins in a variety of locations, from recent conflicts with extended family, to changes being implemented at work, to inconsistencies I notice in local government.

I firmly believe that maintaining this blog and keeping to a rather routine publishing/posting schedule has honed my voice as well as my indignation. If I have something to say, I say it. This blog has provided a means to flex these opinionated muscles of mine. It has allowed me an opportunity to stretch philosophically, emotionally and linguistically. It has allowed me a forum to contribute on a community ideas. And the best part about this is that the community responds. The exchange of opinions and ideas has honestly surprised me.

Recently, I discovered the writings of political and social activist Paul Rogat Loeb. He writes that with “our political voice muted, guilt about inaction and memories of frustrated hopes may actually make it harder to recommit ourselves than it would be to get started had we never gotten involved in the first place.” And this is a truth. I see this currently in two aspects of my life: fighting against the PARCC and the struggles we are having at my institution as we attempt to battle an out of touch legislature trying to change my college’s mission.

I have spoken to many parents, parents who I know are active in other facets of their child’s education but when it comes to challenging the status quo they wonder aloud, “Will it even make a difference?” Additionally, I have colleague who has spoken truth to power, gotten punished, spoke up again, became ostracized and now refuse to engage. This refusal comes at a critical juncture where if we turn from this fight at our college, our students may lose out dearly. This is what Loeb refers to when he suggests that we find it “easier to remain disgruntled spectators” turning our “attention to easier tasks, we become what political theorist Hannah Ardent called ‘inner immigrants'”.

If we let the doubt, the psychological intimidation and any lack of experience halt us in our tracks then we and we alone have to live with the consequences of inaction. There are a million reasons not to do something, but really only a single reason to take action. When we abstain from the fight due to apprehension, that is a selfish act and to return to Rabbi Hillel, what are we if we are only for ourselves?

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Updated: March 22, 2015 — 9:00 am

14 Comments

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  1. “I firmly believe that maintaining this blog and keeping to a rather routine publishing/posting schedule has honed my voice as well as my indignation. If I have something to say, I say it. This blog has provided a means to flex these opinionated muscles of mine. It has allowed me an opportunity to stretch philosophically, emotionally and linguistically. It has allowed me a forum to contribute on a community ideas. And the best part about this is that the community responds. The exchange of opinions and ideas has honestly surprised me.”

    Yes, to all of this (from one opinionated person to another 😉 )!

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      Your agreement is totally appreciated!

  2. I think there has to be a motivating incident. A fight is not meaningful until you see how it affects you. And that’s why fewer people engage. ‘Course there’s also people who grew up in families of activists (like my husband) or in religious communities that call for that kind of social action (again, my husband). I’m glad you’re feeling motivated to speak up. It’s all the individuals who end up amounting to a movement.

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      More people need your husband’s ethos. Too bad many don’t. Thanks for reading.

  3. I’m a trouble maker, too! I would rather stay quiet with my tea but I can’t help it. I hear my great grandmother was a suffragette of sorts and had ten children, laundry stuffed into closets because she’d rather be writing/cooking/talking to her kids. Great post and I dig your reason for this blog. Kuddos!

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      Your great-grandmother sounds freaking awesome! I’m picturing this late 19th century, Emily Dickinson or Louisa May Alcott type, in the yard causing mayhem with the children and raising eyebrows for carrying on with her hair down in public in an inappropriate fashion. All of us need to channel our inner suffragette great-grandmothers and raise a middle finger to the man! Thanks for the support.

  4. Ha, I too was going to quote what Keisha said.

    There is such a fine and somewhat frightening line when speaking one’s opinion. Keep up the hard work, fight the good fight! I will be right here cheering you on!

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      And, I will be cheering you as well. Looks like we are all in the same boat…

  5. Keep fighting that good fight.

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      You can’t see it, but my fist is in the air. Well, not know because I am typing but after I hit *post*, my fist will be in the air.

  6. Ah, Rabbi Hillel, such a wise man. I will remember to raise an extra matzoh to him at Seder this year for that statement of his.
    Aside from the question of whether speaking up will make any difference (and being convinced that it won’t, so why bother), I think many people who may feel that change is needed won’t speak up and challenge out of fear, plain and simple. They don’t want to be the boat-rocker. I also think there is still a mindset that somehow the great Educational Powers That Be know what’s best and who are we to question that?

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      We need actively cultivate citizenship in our classrooms rather than corporate cogs and worker bees. So from one fellow boat-rocker to another lets capsize this mother… Lisa, thanks.

  7. This post is exactly why I am running for our local school committee. Because it begins with us, those who are willing to do more than just complain and become action in motion. I needed this reminder today, so thanks for that!

    1. plaguedparent@gmail.com

      I hope you win. You might like Paul Loeb’s book Soul of a Citzen: Living with conviction is challenging times. He has been doing tons of political organizing on college campuses lately and he really is an inspiration. Good luck with you campaign. If I lived in your town I’d vote for you. Thanks for taking the time…

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