Emergency Preparedness #1

Emergency Preparedness #1

Our newly created Emergency Operations Plan defines actions to be taken when a critical situation occurs on the property. This “all hazards plan” identifies twelve situations that could risk personal safety or property damage. Each emergency situation is designated as a separate annex with specific instructions.

DID YOU KNOW?

In several annexes, an evacuation of the building may be required. When an evacuation is ordered, fire and police responders will be on the way. Did you know that many fire trucks cannot come to the building using the entrance driveway? The slope at the top so too great for many trucks. For this reason, fire apparatus will come to us using the exit driveway! The exit driveway must be kept clear! Once you reach your car in the parking lot, do not drive off the property until directed by responding fire and police officials.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN DIRECTED TO EVACUATE?

The following procedures are to be followed:

  1. IF NOT during Sunday services:
  2. All occupants are to exit the building and go to their cars. Then see second paragraph (c), below
  3. IF DURING Sunday services:
  4. Children and staff on the lower level will leave the building at the nearest exit.

That group will assemble together a safe distance away from the exit.

ii,  Adult leaders will take separate small groups of children at intervals up to the front of the building.

iii. Adults upstairs will use the main exits to leave the building.

Parents of children who are in RE classes will assemble as a group a safe distance near the front exits until their children are brought to them.

  1. Then FOR BOTH SITUATIONS:
  2. Parents with children, and all adults will go to their cars in the parking lot and remain there until all the fire apparatus arrive. Many of the larger trucks will enter the property down the exit driveway and must not find cars backed up blocking their way.

 PARENTS – DO NOT TO GO DOWNSTAIRS TO FIND YOUR CHILDREN – THEY WON’T BE THERE! WAIT OUT FRONT FOR THEM TO BE BROUGHT UP.

 

The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Woman

Quotes About Women’s Equality, various

Reading: Sexism is Hard to Explain, Kel Campbell

The Call for Gender Equality, Carol Marion

How Do We Get There? Marsha Howland


Quotes About Women’s Equality

First Reading Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017

First Reader

A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.
            Gloria Steinem

Second Reader

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.
            Kofi Annan     

First Reader

I raise my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard

. . . . We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.
            Malala Yousafzai

Second Reader       

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.
            Nicholas D. Kristof    

First Reader

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.
            Susan B. Anthony

Second Reader

I know of no industrial society where women are the economic equals of men. Of everything that economics measures, women get less.
            Ivan Illich       

First Reader

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.
            Mary Shelley

Second Reader       

Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, boys and girls. It is everyone’s responsibility.
            Ban Ki-moon

First Reader

As women, we must stand up for ourselves. As women, we must stand up for each other. As women, we must stand up for justice for all.
            Michelle Obama

Second Reader       

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.
            Gloria Steinem

First Reader

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.
            Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Second Reader

It’s time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.
            Emma Watson

First Reader

We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons . . . but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.
            Gloria Steinem

Second Reader

Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.

            Hillary Clinton

First Reader

In order to gain gender equality, women and men must work together, equally, to teach our daughters and sons to embrace our differences, respect each others’ opinions, and remove stereotypes to what a girl or boy should aspire.
            Basia Christ

Second Reader

We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.
            Sheryl Sandberg

First Reader

Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much left to be done.
            Susan B. Anthony

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Second Reading:

Sexism is Hard to Explain, by Kel Campbell
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The Call for Gender Equality

by Carol Marion

I am a child of the 50’s. Forced to wear scratchy crinolines under poufy skirts to school, not allowed to use the slide on the playground because someone might see our undies. Taught to be nice and ladylike and to never open a door for myself unless I had to. I am also a child of the 60’s and 70’s. Free love and bellbottoms and feminism. We were equal! We would rule the world! I entered the workforce with a belief that I could accomplish anything. And still men insisted on opening doors for me. Interrupted me in meetings, presented my ideas as their own and basked in the praise. Men got paid more, got more promotions, and called me honey, whistled at me in the streets. I took self-defense classes to protect myself at night. They told me to smile. Praised my work and then told me I wasn’t ready for that raise.

Yes, sexism is hard to explain. As Kel Campbell writes, “The door isn’t the thing. For me, the incident this morning was a bang-on metaphor for my experiences as a woman. The millions of small ways that I’ve been forced to surrender to men, who made me move or change or come to them because they felt like it. The ways that I’ve had to change my path in magnitudes great and small”.

Every woman lives with daily experiences of sexism. It’s such a common thing that many of us don’t even bother to consciously acknowledge it anymore. Or we swallow and carry on. Sexism is often described as gender-based prejudice. But sexism is much more.

Gender-based prejudice is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. Both women and men can experience gender-based prejudice. And it is not just men perpetuating this prejudice. Women perpetuate gender norms and discriminate against women too. When I was Training Manager at New Horizons in Oregon, Valerie, the president of the company, treated men and women quite differently. She was known to belittle, yell, and brow beat women employees. I never once witnessed that behavior towards a man. Studies have shown that women, as well as men, interrupt women 2-3 times more often than they interrupt men[i]. A 2013 study of hiring practices in STEM industries found that: “…when the hiring manager (both men and women) had no other information other than a candidate’s gender, they were twice as likely to hire a man than a woman, because they incorrectly believed that men are more talented in science and math…” [ii]

And yes, men do experience gender-based prejudice as well, but men don’t experience it quite the same way that women do.

That difference is privilege (or power). Men have a whole system of history, traditions, and assumptions giving their words a weight that women don’t have access to. And with that power, gender-based prejudice becomes sexism.

Sexism is ingrained into institutions like the education system, religious bodies, the legal system, the media, governments, and corporations. These institutions have power, and often – intentionally or not –uphold male privilege while oppressing women.[iii]

But we can say, “women now go to space, women run companies, go to war, men are stay-at-home dads. Women and men share family responsibilities like child care, cleaning, and bringing “home the bacon”.” Women today buy their own homes, spend their own money, determine their own careers.

So why do we still need to talk about sexism?

Because just like racism, sexism still permeates every social interaction we have and even influences our inner dialog. And it affects women’s earning power, physical health, and mental well-being.

I realized how oppressive this constant noise was when I first stepped on to “the land”. A fond term for the amazing space created by thousands of women coming together every August in Michigan for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which sadly ended in 2015 after a 40-year run. There were no men. Anywhere. Women built three huge stages, laid pipes for water and electrified all the meeting tents. They chopped wood and tended huge cooking fires to help feed 5-8 thousand women. Women provided spaces and services to support mothers, differently-abled and aging women. The first time I attended, it took me several days to notice the blessed mental quiet and the relief from having to constantly check my surroundings for safety. It was a freedom I have never experienced anywhere else; a sense of safety I have never experienced anywhere else. Women helped women, women supported women. Women built and ran the whole thing with a ferocious competence. And there was a blessed silent space in my head to be myself.

But stepping off the land after a week of living that freedom meant re-integrating into a world permeated with a constant loud barrage of sexist microaggressions. It was always a shock.

What are microaggressions? Microaggressions are defined as “small, subtle, often unconscious actions that marginalize people in oppressed groups”. It was coined in the ‘70s to discuss the subtle acts of racism that were prominent in society. Since then, it has been used to describe the unconscious ways we further marginalize people. They are the little things you do or say every day that are harmful, and oppressive, to women. That hurt. That make us feel less valued. That put us in our place.

They are the jokes “I was just trying to be funny”; the backhanded compliments “You are so strong for a woman”; the unwanted chivalry “let me wrestle this armload of stuff out of your arms and carry it for you”; the unwanted advice about everything, i.e.: mansplaining; the constant interruptions or not even being allowed to speak at a meeting; the co-opting of a meeting by the one man present; the constant coercion to say yes after I’ve said no, and NO; being asked to smile because “you are so much prettier when you smile”.

It’s also the defensiveness and dismissiveness, and sometimes anger, we are faced with when trying to confront a man on his sexist remarks or behaviors.

And we are not immune to these microaggressions here at UUS:E. I witnessed this interaction between an older boy and a younger girl downstairs after RE. “Ah, come on, join in. I know you want to do it.” The girl shakes her head no. “What, are you scared? It will be fun. Come on.” The girl shakes her head and she is now looking down, cowering out of the way. Another girl defends her and says, “she doesn’t want to, leave her alone”. But, the boy keeps pressing, badgering the child for a “yes”. I stopped it with a “That’s enough, she said no”.

Sexism is everywhere and it is learned early.

We as a society, as a community, as people, need to work towards Gender Equality. In education, business, media, simple personal interactions. We must strive daily towards the goal of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

Gender equality was defined by the United Nations in 2001 this way:

“Equality between women and men (gender equality): refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female (and I will add here – or “other”). Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration – recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.”[iv]

Just as with racism, ageism or any other ism, we need to examine our own day-to-day interactions. We need to listen to ourselves, notice our responses. Call ourselves on our own stuff.

So, where do we start?[v]

  1. Educate yourself about systemic sexism and microaggressions in society today. Examine policies, practices and procedures for hidden discriminatory language and actions. Examine your own automatic beliefs and responses. Advocate for change.
  2. Speak out when you witness a remark or action that is inherently sexist. Apologize when you make the same mistake. Defend a friend.
  3. Don’t interrupt. Listen more; talk less. Refrain from offering unwanted or off topic advice.

This one is one of my biggest irritations…

  1. Accept that no, means no. Quit badgering me.
  2. Stop pretending you aren’t sexist.

In the works of Kel Campbell, “I cannot tell a man about the endless parade of minor indecencies, artful put-downs, implicit shushes, subtle dismissals, or friendly coercions under the cover of niceness. Without the experiences to go with it, he simply cannot understand what it’s like to be a woman.”

Thank you,

[i] http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/real-life/women-are-more-likely-to-be-interrupted-than-men-says-new-study-20140511293

[ii] http://www.bizcoachinfo.com/archives/18618 and http://www.pnas.org/content/111/12/4403.abstract

[iii] http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/sexism-vs-prejudice/

[iv] Gender Mainstreaming: Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality, Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women rev. August 2001. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/factsheet1.pdf, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm

[v] Adapted from https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies


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How Do We Get There?

by Marsha Howland

A week ago Saturday, August 26, was Women’s Equality Day in the United States, as established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1971. Show of hands – How many of you knew that before I mentioned it?

I’m not surprised. This is hardly a Hallmark holiday.

August 26 wasn’t chosen at random to be Women’s Equality Day. On that day in 1920, the Constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote went into effect, having been ratified by the states just eight days earlier. (By the way, women of color didn’t have the right to vote until legislation was passed in the 1960s. A topic, perhaps, for another day.)

August 26 was also International Dog Day. I received a handful of emails and Facebook posts about Women’s Equality Day and dozens about Dog Day – and I’m a feminist cat person. Maybe that says something about our priorities.

Priorities – when I was growing up in the 1950s, my priority was having as much fun as possible with my two older brothers and the other kids in the neighborhood, most of whom were boys. I turned into what was called a tomboy. Oh, like Carol I wore dresses and skirts to school and had to behave like a “little lady.” But I was more comfortable in my corduroys, a jersey and my red Keds. I climbed trees, did somersaults jumping off the garage roof, and played sports. My father taught me to swing a bat and throw a baseball, and I got pretty good at the game. My mother taught me to manipulate the boys into fighting over me when they were bucking up for sides.

My parents encouraged me to do anything I wanted to do, and my brothers were with the program, too. In junior high I decided I wanted to be the first female governor of Massachusetts; then I decided that wasn’t good enough, and I wanted to be the first woman president. (Clearly, I got sidetracked.)

In high school I decided I’d had enough of boys running and dominating everything. My varsity basketball team had to fight for practice time; the boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams had the gym all the time. When we threatened not to play unless we got the same practice time, we were bused to a tiny elementary school gym after classes. We won a statewide invitational tournament that year, my senior year; the boys did so badly their won-loss record wasn’t included in the yearbook sports roundup.

And a male classmate of mine – a member of the boys’ basketball team – was adamant that girls shouldn’t play sports.

Boys also ran student government, dominated class offices (and classrooms) and headed most extracurricular activities.

I had had enough. I applied to only one college, Wellesley, which was and still is a college for women only. Women ran every student organization. Everywhere I looked, women were in charge. It was exhilarating.

I took advantage of the education and experiences Wellesley had to offer, and then went out into the world. My first real job was as a sports reporter. A rarity in 1974. You imagine the responses I often – but not always – received. More than once men came to my defense. I wish they hadn’t had to.

In my other jobs I encountered all the sexist stuff you’re familiar with. Men taking credit for my ideas or my work. Sexual harassment. Pay inequality. Being laughed at or sneered at in meetings.

Many would say our society is very different, now. They would be wrong. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris can tell you about being interrupted or denied the right to speak. Women at all levels can attest to pay inequality; according to Business Insider, in this country, white women are paid 75 cents on the dollar compared to men; black women are paid 60 cents on the dollar; Hispanic women, 55.

What do we do about all of this, and the many micro aggressions Carol talked about?

We change hearts. And we begin that by changing minds.

Yes, women must call out the men who tell sexist jokes, commit sexual harassment – or worse – and demand that it stop.

This won’t be easy. Women will get the usual responses like “boys will be boys” and “it’s just locker room talk.” They’ll be subjected to workplace retribution. They will face worse in courtrooms, where they will be bullied and blamed for the assaults that are on trial. Women need to have the strength to stand up to these things, stand up for themselves. We will not always be successful, but more and more successes will happen, making it better for the next generations of women and girls.

Our male allies will have to stand up, too. Women and men will have to work together. We are, after all, seeking equality – not the dominance of one gender over the other.

The most important thing we can do to reach hearts, by reaching minds first, is to raise our children in ways that encourage equality. So far, this effort has mostly focused on girls, many of whom are now told they can do and be anything they want to. Girls are encouraged to play sports, run for – and win – school leadership positions. Real progress is being made.

But what about boys? How do we raise feminist sons?

In a June 1st story of a similar title in The New York Times – one that I recommend ­– Claire Cain Miller argues, rightly I believe, that “boys’ worlds are still confined.” The advice she gleaned from a wide range of experts, she writes, “applied broadly: to anyone who wants to raise children who are kind, confident and free to pursue their dreams.”

In several nutshells, this is what she advises:

Let him cry

(And express all of his emotions, even, and perhaps especially, the “girlie” ones.)

Give him role models

(Strong male AND female role models. Do the same for girls.)

Let him be himself

(Children aren’t born with preferences for dolls or trucks, pink or blue. Until the mid-20th century, pink was the color for boys; blue was the color for girls. So go ahead – put pink parkas on your toddler sons. One of my nephews and his wife did exactly that with their son.)

Teach him to take care of himself

(The author quotes Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive of the think tank New America: “Teach our sons to cook, clean and look after themselves – to be equally competent in the home as we would expect our daughters to be in the office.”)

Teach him to take care of others

(The author also writes, “Enlist boys’ help making soup for a sick friend or visiting a relative in the hospital. Give them responsibilities caring for pets and younger siblings.”)

Share the work

(Probably a no-brainer. Men can cook; women can mow the lawn.)

Encourage friendships with girls

Teach ‘no means no’

Speak up when others are intolerant

(Miller writes: “ ‘Boys will be boys’ is not an excuse for bad behavior” – at any age, I would add.)

Never use ‘girl’ as an insult

Read a lot, including about girls and women

(As Miller says, “Read about a wide variety of people, and stories that break the mold, not just those about boys saving the world and girls needing to be saved.”

Celebrate boyhood

The author writes: “Teach boys to show strength ­– the strength to acknowledge their emotions. Teach them to provide for their families – by caring for them. Show them how to be tough – tough enough to stand up to intolerance. Give them confidence – to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.”)

Good advice all around.

I believe that we, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely prepared to do all of these things. Our first principle, “To affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” is a very deeply held belief. The word “affirm” conveys that belief; the word “promote” requires us to take action on it.

Other Unitarian Universalist principles support this principle. “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations” and “The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all” are also deeply held beliefs that we bring to life with our actions.

There are many feminists in this room, both female and male. We are more than strong allies; we are sister and brother believers – and we are committed to living our beliefs, to bringing them into the wider world, to modeling what our beliefs can accomplish.

When it comes to women’s equality, we still have a long way go. Let us lead the way.

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September Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

As summer begins to wind down, I begin my 15th year as the Unitarian Universalist Society: East’s minister. If I have my facts correct, I am now the congregation’s longest-serving minister in its 48-year history!

This congregational year will be different than usual in that I will be taking a long overdue sabbatical from October 2nd to February 3rd. During my sabbatical, I will be working on a novel that I started on my first sabbatical in 2007. My goal is to complete this novel, though writing fiction is so different from writing sermons, that I have no idea whether achieving this goal will actually be possible. I am very much looking forward to this project, and I cannot express enough my gratitude to the Policy Board and to the congregation for granting me this time.

Ministerial sabbaticals can be anxiety-producing for members and friends who rely on the minister’s presence, especially on Sunday mornings. Please know that the Sunday Services Committee is working with me to plan compelling, life-affirming worship services during my time away. Local UU ministers will be filling the pulpit on many Sundays. The Sunday Services Committee is a talented group of people, many of whom were on the committee during my last sabbatical. They know what to do! They will provide excellent services in my absence.

For pastoral crises that require ministerial presence, we will have a list of local UU (and possibly other) clergy who are available. In the event of a pending death or an actual death, I will certainly come away from my sabbatical to provide care and to conduct a memorial service. All the other regular caring activities performed by our Pastoral Friends Committee will continue without interruption during my sabbaticals.

If you have any questions or concerns about what happens at UUS:E when the minister is on sabbatical, please do not hesitate to contact me. I like to think we are taking care of every important detail, but you may have a question or concern we have not yet thought of. And whether or not we’ve thought of everything, UUS:E has strong leaders and a strong staff who function wonderfully whether I am present or not!

Despite my absence this fall, UUS:E is brimming over with activity and there are many exciting ventures, including our Youth Group “Experilearn” project, our congregational growth initiatives, work on our new congregational vision statement, and our discernment around what it means to be a “Sanctuary Congregation.” All of this is over and above our long-standing programs such as children’s religious education, adult religious education, music, sustainable living, membership, social justice, the holiday fair and much, much more.

When I return in February, I am looking forward to teaching courses on UU Humanism and UU Paganism, updating UUS:E’s Safe Congregation policy in light of new “best practices,” finalizing UUS:E’s vision statement, and hopefully adding a part-time Membership Coordinator to our staff.

As always, there is much more that lies ahead. For now, our annual season of Homecoming is here. Though our spiritual community never officially stops, we do say “welcome home” in September. So, WELCOME HOME friends! I hope you have a wonderful year at UUS:E.

With love,

–Rev. Josh

What Do We Really Know?

First Reading.  This from former Senator, scholar, and public intellectual, Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.  The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” (March 2003)

Second Reading.

From financier, philanthropist, and statesman Bernard Baruch, writing in June 1950:

“Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

And this from former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, at a February 2002, press conference on the lack of evidence linking Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

I know I swore at the television when I heard Donald Trump enthuse about his love for the “poorly educated” after his primary win in Nevada last year. Among the countless cringe-worthy comments made by candidate Trump, this one really got to me.  It was one more sign of the shrinking respect for learning in our society. We are witnessing in our public life, the continued, and too often deliberate, corrosion of our commitment to rational inquiry, deep learning, and the institutions that sustain them.

My fear is this: If we Surrender to Stupid, we, as a liberal democracy and religious community, will forfeit any claim we have to the values that define us. We cannot be complicit in allowing trust in the promise and ideal of learning to crumble.

At the core of this threat is a personal and collective hubris, an extreme and unjustified claim to superior knowledge, an overblown sense of self-assurance, an excess of arrogance, and an inflated sense of competence. If we talked about sin here – which we don’t— I’ve talked to Josh about it –intellectual hubris, or more properly, the hubris of ignorance, would rank right up there.  As an open invitation to bad choices, it’s not a good basis for trying to build the free, fair, just, and compassionate society to which we aspire.

I remember when my father would greet his friends, typically by a “Hey,what do you know?”, or, more accurately, “Whaddya know?”  The response was almost always, “not much”, sometimes,  “nothing”, “how about you?”

Researchers have continued to increase understanding of how we think and how we come to know things. It’s no big surprise that my Dad’s generation was not far off. In computer terms, one researcher calculated that, give or take, we each store about 1 gigabyte of information. I don’t know whether that’s a lot or a little, but I can tell you we just bought an SD card smaller than a fingernail that holds 64 gigabytes of memory.  The real issue, however, is not how much information we store, but how we use it to think, to anticipate how to act based on information and experience, make some inferences about cause and effect, and with that, hopefully, make good choices.

It’s a behavior that expects and accepts complexity and rejects simplism.  This really is a word. I looked it up. It does not have the virtuous connotation of “it’s a gift to be simple,” or the concession that a complex issue is being introduced in a simplistic manner.  Rather, it suggests a much more pervasive set of perceptions and behaviors, much like those captured in terms like sexism, ageism, or racism. The first time I heard Donald Rumsfeld’s tongue twister about the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown knowns, I thought it was just more babble from the Bush people. That reflexive reaction, grounded deeply in my distaste for President Bush, his men, and his policies, was a great example of doing what I’m criticizing here, namely, responding emotionally and mindlessly to words that made no sense to me at the time. In hindsight, it turns out to be a pretty good framework for untangling complex issues. It’s the difference between the problem-solver and the know-it-all. I probably don’t need to tell you that these are folks whose natural habitat seems to be everywhere. They speak with convincing certainty and will beat you up verbally until you agree that they’re right. These folks, I’m sure, inspired the term, “knows just enough to be dangerous.” You don’t want to talk politics or religion with them.

Cognitive researchers have confirmed what people have suspected for thousands of years, namely, that we think we know more than we do, and that individually, our smarts don’t take us very far.  It is true that we sit at the top of the food chain, and we’re smarter than all the other plants and animals. At least as far as we know.  But can you describe how a toilet works, how an ATM gives you money, how a zipper works, how the best ice cream is made? Or why the snorer can’t hear the snore? Could you fix any of them? Could you write a 10 page essay on the life of Martin Luther King based on what you know right now?

Here’s the reality. First, except for the very few things that we’re especially skilled at, we know just enough to get by. With few exceptions, our knowledge of the world around us and how things work, is shallow and superficial.  The typical analogies are “just the tip of the ice-berg”, or “a mile wide and an inch deep”.  Perhaps a better image is of a tree, which we see above ground, but know that there is a deep and complex root system that has nourished, shaped, and secured the small part we can actually see above ground. We are limited by time, energy, and memory in our ability to fully understand the complex ecological, mechanical, and technological systems that engulf us. So, we learn enough to function reasonably well in our daily lives, despite our personal limitations.

Second, what enables big things to happen in society is not any one individual, but many people with distinct, specialized skills working in some kind of collaborative fashion. Because we just can’t know everything we need to know to survive and thrive, we must trust in community to divvy up and share the mental and physical labor that keeps us going. The concept is as simple as it sounds. Different people in the community have different gifts and graces from which all may gain or lose.

Let me give a quick example.  The day after I met Judi, who is now my wife, I took her to lunch at my favorite restaurant. Once we had worked around the splinters in the picnic table bench, I asked her what she liked to do (I was a pretty smooth talker back then).  She said she liked to cook. I said I liked to eat. That sealed it.  Details continue to be refined, of course, but it began as an excellent and satisfying division of labor. Now just imagine the range of specialized knowledge and social interactions required to a build our cars, planes, cellphones, and computer networks.

Here’s where the Hubris of Ignorance gets to be dangerous. If citizens have an exaggerated and unjustified view of their intelligence, they’re not likely to do the hard work of learning about complex systems. They’re way more likely to embrace simplism than acknowledge complexity.

And we live in a society that strives to simplify complexity.  This is certainly true for our technologies.  We used to have to go to the bank, the hardware store, or the pharmacy. My grandmother told us stories of using the crank phone to call the operator. I grew up in a house where you put your finger in a dial and spun it until you had all your numbers. Now we just press, swipe and tap.  To buy, we open a keyboard, link to Amazon, search, enter, tap, and open the box one or two days later.

These efforts to simplify our lives gives us what we need to help make our way in an society disrupted by rapid social change. Just think about the term, ‘user friendly.”  The danger here is when we begin to feel that our mastery of a few basic keystrokes, or mere mention of a president’s name is the same as understanding how a smartphone, computer, or presidential administration actually works.

There’s no evidence that Americans are any less smart than they were 50 or even 100 years ago. The problem is that at least some people think they’re bright when they’re not. It’s even got a name, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, after the psychologists who described it in 1999. What they found is that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you are not actually dumb.  Although they refer to these folks in correct terms as “unskilled” or “incompetent”, their key finding is the same: “Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” (Death of Expertise, p. 41) We should be careful, however,  not to imagine an ‘us’ and ‘them’, when these traits are likely spread throughout the population.

That said, their vote counts the same as yours.

Now to be fair, we all overestimate what we know. Once we see that we don’t do so well on a task, however, we scale back our self-assessment. The difference is that the “unskilled” or “incompetents” do not have the ability or self-awareness to know when they’re not very good at something, by stepping back, looking at what they’re done, and recognize that they’ve done it wrong.

Moreover, there is simply no way to educate or inform these folks, who, when in doubt, will make things up. For example, in one cluster of surveys, the researchers asked if their subjects knew about certain technical concepts from physics, biology, politics, and geography.  Most said they were familiar with genuine terms like centripetal force and photon. But they also claimed they were familiar with plates of parallax, ultra-lipid, and cholarine. These are all made up terms. In another study, nearly 90 percent claimed some knowledge of at least one of the 9 fake concepts in their survey. (Death of Expertise, pp 45-46)

Let me share one more example.  In 2015, a survey asked Democrats and Republicans if they would support bombing Agrabah.  If you’ve watched survey reports, you know how dramatically these two tribes differ in their responses to policy and opinion questions. Nearly one third of the Republicans expressed support for such action; 13 percent opposed it.  Only 19 percent of Democrats supported bombing, while 36 percent opposed.

Does anyone know about Agrabah?  It’s the setting for the Disney feature, Aladdin. And before you dismiss this as a gotcha’ moment, grasp the reality here: 43 percent of the Republicans and 55 percent of the Democrats took a clear position on bombing a fictional place in a cartoon.

Now, let’s give a little boost to the Hubris of Ignorance, by stirring in our natural inclination to seek opinion and information that reinforces our prejudices and preferences, and emboldens us to disparage and dismiss contradictory information. This is the now famous Confirmation Bias. We all do it.  If we don’t like what we read or hear we dismiss it and look somewhere else. That’s what Google’s for. For me, Fox is hard to watch, but for many others, it’s the information and attitude source of choice.

Consider how you feel about fossil fuels, immigration, vaccination, tax reform, gun control, opioids, white supremacists, or anything to do with the production or consumption of food.  Now think about why you feel that way and where you get your information. Finally, ask whether you could conduct a balanced three- hour workshop on one of these without doing any further research.  These are rhetorical questions, so we don’t need to have a show of hands.

This human tendency to exaggerate what we know, to be unaware of the limits of our own knowledge, and to select for reinforcement of our deeply held values, may be annoying or distracting at a personal level. Put this together with a cultural tradition of anti-intellectualism, extreme egalitarianism (“I’m as good as you and the next guy”.”); aggressive substitution of personal opinion for factual reality (“I’ve been in the real world, and I know just as much as the nerds with the white coats.”); a sense of grievance, victimhood, and unfair treatment (“They don’t work, and the government still sends them a check.”); a preference for force to resolve conflict (“I like that he doesn’t back down to anyone, he just pushes right back.”); a strong inclination toward simple rather than complex realities; and a lack of respect for expertise, and you’ve got a volatile, unstable mix. You don’t have to look any further than Charlottesville last week.

Let me give you an example of how hard people work to find information they like, and reject that which they don’t. White supremacists have been quick to adopt the easy to use genetic testing services to prove their racial identity, then discuss the results on on-line forums. Craig Cobb, described as a “gun-toting white supremacist” went on daytime TV for a reality moment that went bad when the host read results that showed he was only 86 percent European, and 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. Cobb, like many other white supremacists, found that their ancestry was not as ‘white” as they had hoped.  Their response was to urge one another to rethink the validity of the genetic test, and then, get retested by another service.

I suspect that the exaggerated sense of personal knowledge, hubris, confirmation bias, and a preference for simplism over complexity, has also inspired a new vocabulary, likely unknown to the Founding Fathers, terms like alternative facts, post-truth, post-factual, or false amplifiers. In 2004, President George Bush’s political advisor, Karl Rove invoked the phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community”, he told a reporter, “believe that [the] solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality…. That’s  not the way the world really works anymore.”

And this from Stephen Colbert, in his persona of the right wing populist pundit, introducing the Word for the night, Truthiness: “Now I’m sure some of the ’word police’, the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.  They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true.  Or what did or didn’t happen.  Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books – they’re all fact, no heart…Face it, folks, we are a divided nation…divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart…Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”

Colbert does what the best political satire does: focus with laser precision on a wonky corner of our politics.  This celebration of instinct (the “gut”) and rejection of reason (expertise and learning) explains much about the fractures in our society. Rove clearly recognizes the traditional expectation that policies will have some basis in “discernible reality”, but then cynically recognizes the new reality of unreality. Politicians, predominantly those on the right, have been vocal in their attacks of science, especially the environmental (they don’t like climate research) and social sciences.

You see it clearly in their budgets. One of the best examples is the congressional ban (engineered in collaboration with the National Rifle Association) on the Centers for Disease Control from spending money to research the effects of gun violence.

This mix of shallow knowledge, willful ignorance, sustained and fueled by the hubris of shamefully wealthy patrons, is a toxic recipe for undermining a representative democracy.

Why does this matter to us?  Because we are called,  in the spirit of prophetic witness, to raise our voices whenever, wherever, and in whatever ways, freedom and human dignity are under attack. To promote– with malice of forethought– the corruption of reason and knowledge in a democracy is such an assault. It is a moral affront to both our civic and religious society. If we are blind to these assaults on reason, we give up a core piece of who we are. Lest we underestimate how much we cherish these values — dignity, freedom, justice, equity, compassion, democracy, peace, and harmony with the earth–just remember how you felt after the 2016 election when it seemed that these had been stomped and crushed.

We will not reverse this slide on our own. We’re limited in time, numbers, and resources. We also have our own blinders.  There are some things we just don’t talk about. (Because we don’t talk about them I won’t say what they are.) But our most important asset for pushing back against Willful Ignorance is to support and nurture this place not just as a spiritual home, but as a place of learning.  Here, through sermons, lectures, workshops, art, literature and film, and the unique knowledge of friends and members, we can learn things that matter, and re-learn the enduring truths of love, compassion, justice, and care for the stranger. We can support one another as we write, call out deceitful politicians, and, dare I say, speak with the confidence of an educated elite — in the appropriately humble manner, of course.

Finally, we need to nurture, sustain, and protect a still, quiet place, a sanctuary that provides respite from the unsettling changes, social turbulence, and coarseness that swirls around us.  Even as we engage these challenges to freedom and equity, we still need our bridge over troubled water.  We need a place that welcomes and accepts simple mysteries on their own terms. They are just what they are. I don’t need to know about the atmospheric physics or chemistry that turns the sky pink and blue-gray at dusk to get great pleasure from it.  And I know from hearing your stories that you find great joy in such simple mysteries as well.

There is no way I could express this idea any better than Mary Oliver does in her poem,

“Nothing is Too Small To Be Wondered About”*

The cricket doesn’t wonder

            If there’s a heaven

Or, if there is, if there’s room for him.

 

It’s fall.  Romance is over. Still, he sings.

If he can, he enters a house

            through the tiniest crack under the door.

Then the house grows colder.

 

He sings slower and slower.

            Then, nothing.

 

This must mean something, I don’t know what.

            But certainly it doesn’t mean

he hasn’t been an excellent cricket

            all his life.*

So, what should we really know?

 * From Mary Oliver, Felicity – Poems, (Penguin Press, New York), 2016

 

by Lauriston King, Unitarian-Universalist Society: East, August 27, 2017 (Revised August 28, 2017)

 

Sources and Additional Reading:

Curt Anderson, “How America Lost Its Mind”, The Atlantic, September 2017.

Al Gore, The Assault on Reason, (Penguin Press, 2007)

Jerome Groopnik, How Doctor’s Think, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007)

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise – The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, The Knowledge Illusion – Why We Never Think Alone, (Riverhead Books, New York, 2017)

Part-Time Job Opportunity – Nursery Coordinator – Filled

FILLED.
If you enjoy caring for babies and toddlers and can commit to being in the nursery every Sunday during the 11 AM service this position might be a good fit for you.  Qualified candidates must be at least 17 years of age, have experience caring for infants and toddlers, enjoy working with volunteers and establishing relationships with families, and pass a criminal background check.  The position is year round and pays $20 / week (10:45 AM – 12:30 PM).  Think you might be interested?  (Or know someone who might be?)  Contact Director of Religious Education, Gina Campellone at UUSE.redir@sbcglobal.net to learn more.

Black Lives Matter Sign(s)!

Black Lives MatterAt the 2016 Unitarian Universalist Society: East annual meeting, the congregation agreed to put up a Black Lives Matter sign on the roadside in front of our meeting house. Well, we’re now on sign number 5. You may have noticed that it’s no longer on the ground but up in a tree. The previous signs have all been removed by passersby who, we suspect, disagree with the message. Luckily, we bought a few backups and were prepared for this disagreement. We’ll see if they feel strongly enough to bring a ladder, climb up, take out nails and make off with this last sign. If that should happen, be assured we’ll order more signs and maybe find a more permanent way to display them. In cement?

We’re moving into a climate where intolerance is coming much more out into the open. As UUs, it’s important that we be just as open about our support for Black Lives Matter. It matters to those targeted by racism, but it’s also just as important for our own spiritual well-being for us to take a courageous stand.

White Supremacy at Unitarian Universalist Society: East?

A reflection from the Social Justice / Anti- Oppression Committee

With all we do to foster positive relations and support for people of the global majority, how can Rev. Josh (in his May 7 sermon) possibly say we are susceptible to white supremacy? We are not trying to squelch the right to vote or defending the police when another young black man is shot for a minor offense or sometimes for no reason at all.

What makes the unconscious sense of supremacy so difficult to perceive is its quietness. What we do actively as a congregation is very much trying to support people of color in achieving equality in education, in treatment by police, and in many other areas. But because the vast majority of us have grown up in an essentially racist society, we have become used to the many ways that people of color remain at the edges rather than at the center of life in the United States.

Much of this is unspoken and difficult to notice if one is not paying close attention. A young child of color might be punished more severely in school while a white child might just get a call to a parent or a reminder from the teacher for the exact same behavior. And it might even be more subtle than that, an omission rather than a commission. As Rev. Josh pointed out in his May 7th sermon, UUS:E has not set a formal goal of hiring a racially diverse staff. No one deliberately set out to exclude anyone—it just doesn’t occur to us in the normal course of events to encourage people of color to apply for jobs at UUS:E.

In the same way that women can recognize sexism in operation when men see themselves acting as they’ve always acted—what’s the problem?—people of the global majority can pick up on the minor, quiet, ways that white people and institutions reveal an unexamined sense of superiority. “This is how we do things.” And some of it is not even spoken—just a quiet assumption that whiteness is the standard by which everything else should be judged.

Here is a link to an online test that measures our automatic (as opposed to stated) preference for one race or another. Try it out—it’s pretty interesting. http://www.understandingprejudice.org/iat/racfram e.htm

We have much work to do in this area, personally and collectively. Watch for more on this topic.

June Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

The following meditation, entitled “Cooling Down,” is adapted from our new publication, Hear the Earth Call.

Summer approaches in earnest. May’s cool, dry, sunny days give way to June’s drenching, muggy heat. We melt. We wither. We stick. We shrink. We welcome any rain, any breeze. We welcome an ice-cold drink of anything on these hot, humid June afternoons. Whatever cools us down we welcome: lemonade, ice cream, popsicles, freeze pops, Italian ice, gelato, sherbet, sorbet, swimming pools, fountains, sprinklers, shade, shadows, clouds, dusk, sunset, evening, vespers, twilight, night,

A life of the spirit is like this. So often our greatest spiritual insights, our greatest truths, those elements of human experience that link us to the sacred and the transcendent—love, beauty, sorrow, joy, suffering, death—so often they too inhabit the cool places, the dark places. So often we encounter them in the life- giving shade, the cooling rain, the gentle breeze, the roaring thunder, the darkening night, the deepening dream, the widening ocean, the quenching of our thirst. So often we encounter them not in the glaring light and blazing heat but in the cool, dark places where we perceive less with our minds and more with our hearts.

As summer approaches, as the temperature and humidity continue to rise, along with our anxieties about what things cost, about war, about violence, about the earth; as we welcome that which cools our bodies, may we also welcome that which soothes our spirits. In our moments of spiritual melting, withering, sticking and shrinking may we welcome, too, those insights, those truths, those sacred and transcendent experiences that provide respite from whatever wears us down and dries out our souls. May we welcome and drink in the deepest truths of our lives, like the sip of a cold glass of lemonade, out on the porch, as a cool evening breeze begins to whisper on a hot June night.

Hear the Earth Call is a collection of my nature writing, accompanied by the photography of Duffy Schade, and designed by Sharon Gresk. The first printing will be arriving soon. If you have not yet purchased a copy and would like to, please contact the Unitarian Universalist Society: East office. All proceeds from book sales go to Unitarian Universalist Society: East.

Our ministry theme for June is “journeys.” As summer approaches, as the heat and humidity rise, it is my hope and prayer that each of you, in the midst of whatever journey you are on, has the opportunity to pause and to find rest, respite, insight and wisdom in the cool places, in the afternoon shadows, the evening breeze, the silver night, the morning dew. May the coolness refresh you and make you ready to continue on your way

With Love, Rev. Josh

Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act in the Time of Trump

Adult Religious Education Program Announces

Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act in the Time of Trump
Monday, May 22, 2017, 7 PM

Attorney Judith Stein, founder and executive director of the non-profit Center for Medicare Advocacy, will discuss “Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act in the Time of Trump”, on Monday, May 22, 2017, 7 PM at Unitarian Universalist Society: East.  Free and open to the public.

Contact us at 860-646-5151 or uuse153@sbcglobal.net.

May Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

It’s been a rough few months for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). As many of you know, in early April, the Rev. Peter Morales resigned as President of the UUA in the midst of allegations of racism in hiring practices. More resignations followed. What many of you may not know is that, in the wake of these resignations, there has been a great deal of conflict, much of it playing out on social media among clergy and other religious professionals. While some of the conflict is productive, some isn’t. People aren’t treating each other well. At times it feels like our faith is being torn apart. This is heart-breaking.

White supremacy is at the heart of this conflict. It feels really, really important for me to name that and for all of us to stay focused on it. When it became apparent that hiring decisions at the UUA were consistently favoring qualified white candidates over qualified candidates of color, something had to be said. Because the UUA has a stated commitment to hiring a diverse staff and a long-held commitment to conducting itself in antiracist ways, something had to be said.

Unitarian Universalist religious professionals of color were the first to say it publically in early March. Very soon after that, many religious professionals of color and their white allies starting referring to “white supremacy” at the UUA. The organization Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and some of its partners called for congregations to dedicate their worship services on April 30th or May 7th to a “white supremacy teach-in.” (We will be participating!)

Much of the current conflict has spun out around the use of the term “white supremacy.”

This should not be hard to understand. We typically think of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo-Nazis and other hate groups as white supremacists. During last year’s presidential campaign, so many of us were upset that Donald Trump’s team intentionally courted voters of the “Alt-Right,” a code-word for white supremacist agitators. But Unitarian Universalists? How could anyone in their right mind use that term to describe us? How could “white supremacy” apply to our justice-seeking, Black-

Lives-Matter supporting, refugee resettling, criminal-justice reforming, earth-saving, GBLTQ- welcoming, answering-the-call-of-love, liberal faith?

Well, unfortunately, it can apply, and, all too often, it does. But I want to be crystal clear that attaching this term to Unitarian Universalism is in no way an attempt to equate our beloved faith with the KKK and other hate groups. To speak of white supremacist outcomes inside an organization (e.g., only hiring white people) does not mean that the people in that organization are white supremacists. But it does mean that the culture of the organization may harm people of color despite the good intentions of white leaders. That is what happened at the UUA.

I also want to be crystal clear that Unitarian Universalism isn’t somehow alone in this. Virtually every historically white institution in the United States has embedded within it some degree of white supremacy. This goes back to the founding of the United States and its legacies of genocide, colonization and slavery.

The question is, are we willing and able to recognize it? If religious professionals of color say it, can those of us who are white refrain from reacting negatively to the use of the term “white supremacy,” and instead open our hearts, approach the conversation with curiosity, and try to learn—really learn—why the term is being used? I hope and trust that we can. See you on May 7th!

Amen and blessed be.

Rev. Josh