MANY CHILDREN ARE HOMELESS AND HUNGRY in our nation. Knowing this, is it morally ethical for us to host big, expensive weddings for our children, go on vacation, or even go to a movie or buy new shoes? Where do we draw the line? What is our social responsibility to other human beings? Do we have the luxury of luxury?
Throw this question into the hat at your next Saturday Salon and you’ll be surprised at the diversity of answers, many of them strident. Here are some sample responses. Each person gets a chance to answer the questions and give their opinion, then passes the Talking Stick to the next person. In a Saturday Salon, you don’t argue, but you are free to passionately disagree when it’s your turn to talk. Which answers strike a chord with you? What would you say if the Talking Stick were passed to you?
“Hi, my name is Amy. To me, it’s simple. Their parents should take care of those kids. Why aren’t they working and holding down jobs? You shouldn’t have kids if you can’t take care of them. My going to a movie or going without air conditioning isn’t going to help them anyway. Government shouldn’t do the job of parents.”
“I agree parents have the main responsibility, but not all parents are responsible. I don’t think kids should have to suffer because their parents won’t or in many cases, can’t, find or hold down a job. I have heard some Native American tribes consider wealth to be a sickness. They believe that all resources should be shared. They believe everyone should have enough to meet their needs. Beyond that, why would you want to accumulate ‘stuff’? This question is motivating me to take another look at my own life and streamline.”
“Well, we don’t live in tents anymore, Bob. I don’t think Julie would live in one, anyway. (Julie is Bob’s wife. Group laughs at the idea of her living in a tent. The woman wears makeup to the grocery store.) They weren’t better people back then, they just couldn’t lug extra stuff around. They were nomads. Here’s my answer: A lot of those poor kids come from illegal immigrant parents. Yes, I feel sorry for them, but if we keep taking care of their kids for them, and giving their kids automatic citizenship just for being born here, illegal immigrants will keep pouring across the border. Americans are pushovers! This has got to stop. It seems cruel, but we’re not doing these kids any favors by encouraging illegal immigration. If we stopped paying for health care, housing, and free school for these kids, their parents wouldn’t keep coming. It’s as simple as that.”
“It’s not the kids’ fault. Every child should be cared for. Period.”
“Hi, I’m Jared. I agree. Maybe their parents can’t find work, or lost their house like my friend’s parents did. I’m a student. I will buy a homeless guy a hamburger, but I barely have enough money to take care of myself. I think the best way to help is to work towards solving the reasons we have these issues in a country as wealthy as ours. When I graduate and get a job, I am planning on donating money towards supporting candidates and legislation that solves the underlying issues. Right now, I have to focus on getting through school. I can’t help anyone if I don’t help myself first. I also work part time.”
“My being miserable isn’t going to help the poor. They’re poor for a reason, and it’s not my fault. I’m tired of being made to feel guilty by rich liberals.”
“I hear you, Sharon, I don’t think feeling guilty solves anything. I don’t have a clear answer – for me, it’s all about balance. I give some, I also enjoy my life. Really, this question gets to the heart of this year’s election issues. I am not rich, but I’m definitely a liberal. I like the Democratic Socialism idea from Bernie Sanders’ campaign: I want the freedom to be entrepreneurial – the incentive to be creative and get ahead for my family, but I also think everyone’s basic needs for housing, shelter, health care, and education should be met before I spend a dime on luxury items for myself. I just think that’s morally the right thing to do. I try to live that way, but I am sure I fall short.”
OPENING A NEWSPAPER IS A DANGEROUS THING TO DO before I’ve had my coffee. Wars, corruption, starvation, more war, willfully ignorant idiots with a pulse and a government office. All that is weak and evil in the human species is on display on page one.
Where is the good? Where is the hope?
If you begin to despair and feel so overwhelmed you don’t know why you bother to do the dishes or go to work (what difference will it make anyway?) STOP! There are good people doing good things in the world. Find – or create – a good cause and you’ll find a good reason to get up in the morning. Give time or money – whatever you can, and don’t give up! (Is it any surprise my husband calls me Pollyanna?)
For inspiration, check out this group:
The Green Belt Movement (GBM) is an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods. GBM was founded by Professor Wangari Maathai in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. GBM encouraged the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive a small monetary token for their work.
A values-driven society of people who consciously work for continued improvement of their livelihoods and a greener, cleaner world.
We strive for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement using tree-planting as an entry point.
1. Love for environment conservation
2. Self and community empowerment
4. Accountability, transparency and honesty
WHAT IS AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD? Many of this year’s candidates have made statements about what America’s presence and influence should be in the world. What do you think? Should we mind our own business and take care of our own here at home? It’s not like we don’t have an entire national infrastructure to rebuild and other pressing needs. Or is it our responsibility to our allies to do what we can to keep peace in the world? And is that what we’re really doing, or are we really just looking after the selfish, financial interests of a few, large corporations? Even if we orchestrated coups and kept military bases scattered around the globe just for the best interests of the American people, is that a good enough reason? Aren’t we supposed to care about all people? Isn’t what’s good for everyone, good for us?
If you’re thinking of hosting a Saturday Salon, combine it with a summer BBQ, then throw these questions in the hat to get things started. Aim for a mix of serious, personal, political, and religious – explore this site to learn more about how to have deep, satisfying conversations without fighting or losing your sense of humor!
- Pragmatist or Idealist? Can you be both?
- How in the hell are we supposed to eat healthy when they keep changing the rules? Fat/No Fat…Caffeine/No Caffeine…Carbs/Paleo…
- Tell us about one of your favorite childhood memories.
- Now that we’re living longer, is marriage still a valid institution, or is serial monogamy more realistic? Can people be happily married for 60+ years? What is your opinion and how is it influenced by your religious upbringing?
- What is the purpose of education? To get a job, to become a well-rounded person, to create an intelligent electorate, or…?
- If public schools are the foundation of a healthy democracy, what went wrong? Why are so many factions fighting against public schools, teachers, etc and pushing for charter and private schools?
- What do you think of unions and do we need them today?
- What’s your biggest fear?
- Of all your accomplishments so far in life, tell us about one you are really proud of.
EVER WISH WE HAD A THIRD POLITICAL PARTY here in America? Based on the emergence of candidates Trump and Sanders, we obviously don’t want the status quo. Maybe the only way to get what we want is to start from scratch. Just because we’ve had 2 parties for a long time, doesn’t mean we necessarily will always have 2 parties, or that those parties won’t change. America is a very young country. We can create what we want, we just have to have the ability to visualize it and the will to make it happen. Most people don’t agree with me, but change is inevitable. What form that change takes is up to us.
Curious about this topic? Here are some links about this year’s election, and the 3 largest alternative parties:
IF YOU WERE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT, what would your platform be? None of us seem to be happy with any of the candidates currently vying for the highest office in the land. We’d like to pick and choose from among the various planks of their platforms and stump speeches. One is all for regulating the big banks, but is too hawkish. One wants to build a wall and doesn’t want to let in Syrian refugees, which is pretty xenophobic, but we like his ideas about keeping our fingers out of everyone’s political pies. So, this morning, over hot coffee and oatmeal, I did a little Presidential day dreaming. Who would my ideal candidate be? What would they say?
First of all, I wouldn’t care if they were male, female, Republican, Democrat, black, white, Latino, or as my mom would say “pink and purple polka dot”. I just want them to have integrity. And I take that back about the political party affiliation. I doubt that any candidate that comes up through the ranks in one of the major parties would be free enough from party politics to tackle the issues that are gumming up the current system. Before you read my list, create your own. I’ll bet most Americans, liberal or conservative, when it comes right down to it, want many of the same things. We all agree we need to clean house – and we don’t just mean the White House. The Legislature is even worse.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM This has to be first. Get the money and corruption out of the system. Every person pays some small, mandatory fee ($5.00) each year along with their taxes. Every candidate gets equal time on national TV. Every candidate gets a website. Debates are actual discussions of policies vs character-attacking slug fests.
My ideal candidate would have a clear mission statement that would say something to this effect:
As President I will work to create a peaceful, prosperous, safe, healthy America, without harming other nations or the planet.
Then I’d list a few specifics:
SIMPLIFY THE TAX CODE I’m fine with a flat tax, close ALL loopholes and everyone pays their fair share – a straight percentage. You’d have to ease it in so people wouldn’t lose their homes and small businesses wouldn’t go under, but this could be done tomorrow if anyone really wanted to.
STREAMLINE THE MILITARY Since there will always be bullies on the block, you need a strong military; but we don’t need to be all over the globe, trying to control everything. It’s not possible anyway, as we’ve seen time and again. The military should be focused on defense. A side benefit of not meddling in everyone else’s business is that we may not need as much military because we’ll stop pissing people off.
BASIC HUMAN HEALTH, HOUSING, & FOOD The problem with all of our current systems that purport to help Americans is that they don’t actually help. When someone is sick, out of a job or injured, they should receive the maximum help for the shortest amount of time. Currently, it’s just the opposite. I’d focus on prevention, not sweeping up after the fact, or keeping someone dependent for years, but not helping them become independent. Every American deserves to have their basic needs met. Then, if they want more than that, they are free to invent, innovate, work hard and live the American dream.
EDUCATION Every American child deserves an excellent education. In order to do that, we’re going to have to revamp the way education is funded in America. Every school should be funded equally – not based on local taxes. Every classroom should be designed for optimal learning and equally equipped. Every teacher should be of excellent caliber – a person who wants to be a teacher. Finland put its children first by deciding to pay its teachers a higher salary than its engineers, and that kind of investment takes political will. We are currently too worried about protecting states rights. We need to stop worrying about looking good, and focus instead on being good. We’re so worried about test scores that each state tries to outdo the others in having the ‘most rigorous’ standards, they make it almost impossible to speak the truth, based on international research, which is that students learn more when they master basic concepts first. But, states won’t lessen the number of standards taught in K-3, for fear of lowering their academic expectations for students.
THE JUSTICE SYSTEM We would have one. Currently, we don’t. Putting kids away for years for minor drug offenses, jails for profit, caring more about looking ‘tough on crime’ vs actually doing those things that would prevent crime and be tough on actual criminals – these are the issues I’d tackle.
IMMIGRATION Who is an American? Who do we let in? Who do we keep out? That question has been answered in many different ways – most of which were unfair to someone. We are a very new country, and our immigration history is messy. My Irish ancestor’s arrival on Ellis Island and some of my students who were born here, but whose parents are undocumented. As of now, both are citizens. Who’s to say who should be a citizen or can become one? Well…we have to. At some point, we need to make some firm decisions and decide what is beneficial to our nation, while not harming others, and then apply the policy promptly and fairly. In general, I think that if we stick to our democratic principles, we will let more people in legally, with shorter wait times, after thorough vetting to protect health and safety, and simultaneously reduce incentives for illegal immigration.
GOD, RELIGION, ABORTION, RACE, GAY MARRIAGE and all other sticky topics… We have a separation of church and state for good reason. People should all be allowed to worship freely as long as they do not harm others. Every American is entitled to holding a strong opinion – whether that opinion is based on religious beliefs, education, or life experience doesn’t matter. That’s what makes us Americans. What doesn’t make us American is to try to push our religious beliefs on others or do harm to someone else because of their religious beliefs, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or color of their skin.
Maybe someday I’ll hear a Presidential candidate say these things…
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SAW A LARGE ANIMAL IN THE WILD that really had an impact on you? How important is it that we create and keep wild spaces for large animals? Is it just nice to have wild animals around, or necessary to our survival? Narrowing that choice down a bit more, is it necessary to our souls or spirits, or just our physical survival? This Saturday Salon question opens all kinds of discussion doors.
In doing research for my next novel, I am learning about the southern sea otter – where it went and when and if it’s coming back. It got me to thinking about the impact catching a glimpse of a magnificent wild animal thriving in its natural habitat has had on me. I remember a quiet, solitary morning hike interrupted by the thundering of hooves. Not sure what it was, I sort of froze in place and looked around for the source of the noise. A magnificent buck with an impressive spread of antlers and three does had been grazing peacefully on the downhill side of the trail. When I came around the corner, they galloped across the open path to the safety of the thicker forest uphill to my right. In an instant they were gone. They were healthy, strong creatures just doing their thing. I felt lucky to have seen them. It’s not like deer are an endangered species or anything, but still – it was cool.
It is counterintuitive to think that saving large animals means saving ourselves, but it’s important to understand it’s a pragmatic choice, not just a touchy-feely tree-hugger choice. I don’t pretend to be a zoologist or environmental scientist of any kind, but here’s a short and sweet youtube video that explains it simply, using elephants as an example.
ARE YOU AS TORN AS I AM about whether to vote for someone whose ideals you cherish, or someone you think is not only electable, but may get SOME of the things you want done, while making sure current ground gained is not eroded?
If you’re a Democrat, we’re talking about Bernie and Hillary, if you’re Republican, Donald Trump and Mark Rubio or Ted Cruz probably come to mind. If you’re an Independent, God knows what you’re thinking at this point.
What are you thinking, America? And do these tough decisions drive you to or away from the voting booth?
I USED TO BE AWESOME AT SETTING AND REACHING GOALS.
I got over a back injury, out of debt, through undergraduate and graduate school while raising my two sons. I started two new careers, finished several books, and eight years ago, met the man that would become my husband. Whatever I set my laser focus on, I seemed to be able to achieve.
But for some reason, I’ve lost steam…can’t figure out if I’m just content and wiser or lazier. I don’t think that means I’ve accomplished everything I need or want to accomplish. Not sure what it means – I’m going to have another cup of coffee and give that some thought…
Good Questions for your January Saturday Salon hat:
- Do you set goals? If so, how do you select what goals to set, and what results have you had?
- Describe a goal you reached, but wished you hadn’t.
- Describe your most successful attempt at reaching a goal, whether you achieved it or not. Did the process teach you anything about yourself?
- If your spouse (close friend or family member) sets a goal for themselves to lose weight or save money, how can you support them without nagging or being critical?
- Have you ever had someone else set a goal for you? If so, how did that turn out?
- What do you think your single most important goal should be this year?
As a Saturday Salon host, part of your job is to stimulate conversation with well-worded questions. Each guest can write their own questions to put in the hat, but you want to make sure you add a few or your own. Here’s how you do it:
Aim for 3-5 questions covering a wide range of topics. It’s always good to write a funny one such as “What is the proper way to load a dishwasher?” Then look at areas such as Religion, Politics, Health, Education, Relationships, and Family – topics people want to talk about, think about often, but rarely have a safe place to discuss.
Let’s say you are writing a question for Politics. You could focus on News – how we get information that forms our Political opinions. Make sure your questions can’t be answered with a simple Yes or N, but are designed to elicit thoughtful responses. Two part questions are fine. Here are a few samples:
- Where do you get your news, and how reliable do you think it is?
- The media has often been called the fourth branch of government – what does that mean to you, and how do you feel about the media here in America?
- How essential is a free press and which, if any news outlets are free of bias, influence, or corruption?
- With the presidential election coming up, how do you assess the value of candidates? What is your source for news about them?
- Online vs Paper – how do you get your news, and is one better than the other?
- How does the American media compare to International sources? Do you ever listen to or read Al Jazeera or the BBC or ???
Don’t wait for ten minutes before guests arrive (although I am guilty of that!). Write some now or check out the Topics page on this site.