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Words are like matches - useful - but if they are crafted badly or handled carelessly, they can spark and make you flinch. ~ Brooke Gladstone
I was out for my daily constitution = exercise. It was a sunny new year’s day, 2018 in Honolulu, so my daily constitution consisted of two, brisk laps around Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island, a total 5.12 miles. Bordered by ocean on three sides, small waves lapped at the beach in languid, holiday fashion.
The park was filled with revelers, families with chairs beneath their canopies. Children screeched and splashed in the shallows with water-wings inflated around their tiny, brown biceps. The smell of charcoal briquets and teriyaki chicken rose from hibachis; coco palms bobbed in the north-easterly trade winds.
One large group was encamped beneath a larger shade-cloth. I passed cases of bottled water and blaring Hawaiian music. Balloons bounced on the breeze, tethered at the tent’s corners. As I rounded their encampment I saw the Happy Birthday Luau banner and men tending a pig on a spit. It was another perfect day in paradise, where islanders head for the beach.
Like other parks in Honolulu, Ala Moana has been known for its homeless population. What with access to free showers and toilets, it beats living on the literal streets by a long shot. The city has worked to move the homeless out but some remain.
In my experience, our nation’s homeless are often under medicated and sometimes undiagnosed. Their behavior can be so bizarre that they alienate their families and have nowhere to go. (Such is the plight of those without access to healthcare - but that is another story for a different day.)
A young man whizzed by on a skateboard, highly animated with grand gestures, speaking loudly. A man crossed my path, he paused, his narrowed eyes following the skateboarder. “Satan hides in plain sight,” he announced loudly to his surrounds.
I stopped abruptly and stared with alarm bells clanging in my head. He was of a stocky, muscular build with closely-cropped, graying hair. He carried a camouflage-patterned backpack that lent to his US Marine look. I slowed my stride to keep him out front. His backpack was over-stuffed; I wondered what it contained and I began feeling fear.
Was he a Marine? Or a wanna-be? What’s in his backpack? A semi-automatic weapon in a beach park on new year’s day would cause an unprecedented mass-casualty event. Ala Moana’s massive lawns were studded infrequently with gargantuan trees offering scant defensive cover. He plodded on alone, deeper into the park with all its new year celebrants. I followed from behind, watching his movements, memorizing his dress. He wore a turquoise t-shirt, that’s easy to spot.
I thought about leaving, of driving to Kapiolani Park to finish my walk. I thought about an immediate about-face, to walk to Kapiolani Park and back. I thought my thoughts were ridiculous, that he was probably an upstanding pillar in his Christian Church, a loving father, maybe even a grandfather. I thought how I trusted him less than the boy on the skateboard that had triggered his comment. I thought how I resented him for causing my fearful feelings, all the while knowing that only I was responsible for my feelings. I found my reaction to him curious, that current events of white men with guns and his overtly judgmental assessment had sparked fear in me. I thought of a declaration by my mother, “A pox on all rich, white men,” spoken like a true outsider. It made me smile.
I continued my walk and crossed his path thrice more, the last as he drove from the park. I wondered… if he knew my thoughts, would it make a difference? Would he be horrified to learn that someone found his simple declaration threatening? Or would he justify himself, his thoughts, his bold remarks from a place of God-given righteousness?
Later that same day and concurrent with a radio public service announcement, sirens blared across the island in a ballistic missile attack warning drill. I felt deeply saddened that our perfect paradise and island life had devolved to this.
How had this happened? Words.
On Saturday, January 13th, those sirens blared again. Only this time - it was no drill. Electronic billboards over the highways read: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. E-v-e-r-y cellphone “detected” in Hawaii simultaneously received those same words via text. People had 20-minutes …and for the next 38-minutes, Hawaii held its breath.
My 92.75-year-old mother was offered one of two options. Shelter in place or shelter in the basement. She chose to stay in her unit. “There’s no point fussing about things I have no control over. If we are going to be hit, the basement won’t save us.” She’s right, I concur, better to die in the initial blast than slowly of radiation poisoning. Go to the beach; watch the show.
In the end, it seems a shift change “push of the wrong button” was responsible. I’m sure someone will take the blame and lose a job. But this is NOT about the wrong button being pushed. THIS is about words and this a failure of leadership. Had our President not taunted Kim Jung Un with name-calling (Rocket Man), had he not threatened him with the unleashing of “fire and fury the likes of which have never been seen”, had he not escalated his rhetoric with schoolyard comparisons of “mine is bigger than yours”, the sirens, texts, and billboards might not have seemed as credible, as ominous, or as downright terrifying.
THIS is about words and this a failure of leadership. We (used to) have a diplomatic corp to seek diplomatic solutions to fractious international interests but that seems to have devolved to name-calling and threats. Who knew diplomacy could be so complicated? … er, almost every mature, thoughtful person.
Let me harken back to my blog entitled: This is Political, posted February 2016. (You can scroll to this earlier posting from the sidebar to the right.)
Prior to the presidential election, I stumbled upon an article by Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hurtling, former Commander of US Army Europe and 7th Army. In his article, Judging our Candidates as Leaders, he says candidates should be carefully evaluated on character, presence, and intellect.
He points first to character; do they have the right stuff? Do they understand others; would they apply moral principles in serving our citizens? “The key question one should ask: Do we as a nation trust this leader to do the right thing, for all people, in the toughest of situations?”
In light of the last year, I daresay Trump hardly meets this first test. He consistently disparages those who are different. The litany is long and well-documented, no need to reproduce it here but if you are doubting, I can send the list. We typically hold our President to a higher moral bar. We would like him to put America’s best foot forward. If the man’s words exemplify his moral character than his use of “grab them by the pussy”, “shit-hole countries”, Mexicans are “murderers and rapists” are quite revealing; no?
Second, Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hurtling turns to presence, “confidence, not arrogance. Presence generates a positive perception from supporters. More important, it garners support and generates respect -- not fear -- from foes and sworn enemies.”
One need only to look at the opinions of our international community to see that Trump fails spectacularly in this criteria for confidence, not arrogance, and a presence that generates respect. One can hardly generate respect when one denigrates others.
Lastly, he points to intellect, defined as a profound understanding of critical issues. (Insiders are stunned by Trump's inability to or disinterest in grasping the issues.) “Great presidents, continuously faced with complex national and global challenges, need to be able to build strong teams to assist them in generating sound strategies, and thus require phenomenal interpersonal skills.”
Intellect is rarely found in those who consistently and exclusively seek their own counsel. A stable genius? Perhaps in his own head; which proves my previous statement.
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hurtling closes with this, “As a nation, we have just a few short months to determine who will be our 45th president, so I'm hoping others join me in evaluating that leader with the most potential in these three critical areas.
Read his exposé in its entirety here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/17/opinions/judging-our-candidates-as-leaders-hertling/index.html
Words matter, they have the power to heal, the power to hurt, and when spouted carelessly from the office of POTUS, they can have dire consequence. Words are one window, revealing the stuff of our heart, the mettle of our soul. Don’t miss the irony of Trump defending himself on MLK Day with, “I am not a racist.”
The deed is done. I contend we have a seriously deficient, non-leader in the White House. What do we do now?
Here is January's shortlist:
- Pay attention. Get active. Raise your voice. I do not uniformly oppose Trump but on the issues that I do - I engage.
- Write your peeps in Congress to voice your opinion and concern. Find them here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members
- Call the White House - they have someone who actually answers the phone! (202) 456-1111
- Interested in liberty and justice for all? Attend the Women’s March, Sat, January 20, 2018 (It will be FUN!)
Sacramento’s March info:
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM PST
2115 6th Street
Sacramento, CA 95818
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now... Procrastination is still the thief of time. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: Too late. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.