Public Spheres, Freedom, and Gun Control

Freedom.  Freedom is not anything goes.   Our public spaces dictate certain types of behaviors as appropriate, proper and legal.  Public spaces have a code, a suite of social norms, expectations, and laws governing our behavior.   These norms operate often behind the back – we trust and entrust ourselves to them daily.   When we leave our private residence we have for example, traffic rules (e.g., traffic lights, speed limits, seat belt laws) – all designed to regulate our collective behavior within the public sphere.  We have rules about smoking in public places, spitting and gum chewing, bicycle use, skateboard use – many rules govern our daily life. 

While in a public space, we have a reasonable expectation that someone isn’t going to strike our person or otherwise inflict harm either personally or collectively.  For example, in movies, we see this sort or regulatory action with the silence your cell phone reminders.  People can’t smoke indoors or near public doors; people can’t drink to excess and then drive, etc.   Social groups peacefully live together by their social norms, rules, and laws.  We collectively define what the public experience is like and this definition is experienced as reality, as the way things work and are. 

Collectively, we experience shock and awe following incidents like the Las Vegas massacre.  I experience a deep sadness, grief, particularly because partially what goes through my mind is here we go again.  As a nation, we’ve had many opportunities to grieve, to experience shock, grief, and anger following these sorts of murderous rampages ravaging our public sphere – movie theaters, grocery store parking lot, schools, concert venues, churches – the list goes on and on.  Most citizens say this is wrong and that something needs to be done.  Nothing gets done in part because our collective desperation for safety and security within our public spaces and protections for our freedom to assemble, live, and connect within the public sphere are seemingly secondary to 2nd Amendment protections about the right to bear arms.

Hear me on this – I am not anti-gun or anti-2nd Amendment.  There are many people in the country with guns who use them responsibly with a healthy respect for their distribution and use.  Often though, the default answer to these sorts of events is guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  Well, okay.  That answer is dismissive and one dimensional to the point of being trite especially so in the face of yet another massacre.   The ease with which one can and the freedom to amass weapons regardless of the person’s motive, mental health, etc. creates a scenario by which our collective freedom to publicly assemble and presume safety and security in those spaces is grossly threatened. 

Freedom is not anything goes – it is negotiated within public spaces among citizens using social norms and laws to create a space where all can hopefully flourish.  So, I ask those defensive for gun laws – what are you willing to do relative to gun laws and individual rights that might offer a level of protection, safety, and security for our collective capacity to assemble in public spaces?  How might you balance the freedom to purchase guns with protections that might prevent a person’s capacity to amass weapons that wreak such havoc?  I realize that this is a multi-dimensional challenge – mental health, for example, is important to this discussion.   But it begins with a thoughtful response to gun control and access.   Ultimately, this is a how shall we then live...together sort of question.  

Photo by Diana Feil on Unsplash

Hateful Rhetoric Diminishes Us all

It is cruel, it’s frightening....and the truth is, it hurts.
— Michelle Obama

In a recent speech, Mrs. Obama gave voice to the myriad of emotions, thoughts, and frustrations I've experienced since hearing Trump's sexual assault comments and later dis-mission of those assertions as locker room banter. I am angry for women - sick and tired of sexualized rhetoric that diminishes who we are as persons and of powerful men who persist in thinking this sort of thing is okay. It's not okay. At the same time and equally offensive though is the association of this sort of talk as... something men do. Not the men in my life, not the many men who have supported, taught, mentored, encouraged, prayed for, laughed with, and stood with other women and me. I've been fortunate and blessed with many male colleagues and friends who have regarded me - using regard in the fullest sense of the word. Men who would never think, speak, or act in this way and who would find this sort of aggressive assault and objectification language offensive and demeaning... for us all. Thanks, Michelle Obama for speaking and for the passion with which you gave voice on this issue.

Source: https://unsplash.com/collections/327549/hu...

A response to Prince EA's Why I Think the World Should End video

A daily prayer: May today be about love not experienced as an emotional response...instead, a fierce commitment one to another characterized by:  an acknowledgment of a shared creator, respect and a sense of responsibility for others, and an orientation towards others infused with an ethic of care calling us to action. 

So thankful my parents were people for whom relationship was the most important thing...

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/pCZq5tVnbwU

A Leader's Call to Radical Hospitality Graduate Commencement Speech

What a treat to return to my alma mater, Lincoln Christian University, to speak at the 71st ceremony....  An extra special treat because I was the first woman in their history to speak at commencement!   The speech is entitled A Leader's Call to Radical Hospitality (subtitle:  Lessons Learned from a dog named Lovee).      Dr. Green's  Introduction begins at 10:09 and the speech begins at 21:10 through 38:39.

Excerpt:

It seems as though we are at a juncture in human history where we must intentionally consider Francis Schaffer’s question of how shall we than live.   Our human tendency to categorize, connect with those like us, and to declare difference as not right but wrong has profound implications in an increasingly pluralist society.  This is our leadership challenge.  Drath (2001), a leadership scholar questioned “How can people who make sense of. . . the world from differing worldviews” work together? (p. 125).  How indeed?   By demonstrating hospitality we might create more welcoming spaces and orientation towards others.  

Where were you in 1975-1979? Beware A Leader's Capacity to Lead

Some places fill your pores with a sense of memory, foreboding and wariness. Cheong Ek Genocide Memorial, located approximately 15 KM from Phnom Penh is one of many killing fields within Cambodia.  Tuol Sleng - Site 21 was a site of imprisonment, torture, and murder located in Phnom Penh.  Both are reminders of man's capacity to espouse a hateful rhetoric and afflict horrendous acts upon fellow citizens in the name of ethnicity, religion, profession, and political affiliation.  Male, female, young, old - no one was immune from being deemed an enemy of Cambodia and the Khmer regime.  Pol Pot came to power as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea giving rise to the Khmer regime.  For the Cambodian people this rise to power represented an onset of fear, terror, and genocide within the country.  The horrors of surviving this time period where between 1.5 and 2.5 million people are tortured and murdered affects a people, affects us all, really.    

Both sites have signs posted to remain quiet but the signs were unneccessary - my experience while there was of silence except for birds in the trees and chickens roaming the property.  Walking both sites evoked a seriousness and a sober-ness.  Watching others process, observe, react, cry, leave a room, turn away - somehow observing even in hindsight affects us individually and collectively.  I didn't take a lot of pictures at either site - both felt like sacred ground, like places to be still.  

The Memorial Buddhist Shupa at Cheong Ek is multiple stories high acrylic sides with the lowest level including clothes at the site, next levels include over 5000 human skulls, and the upper levels including other bones - all found at this killing field.   

Signs of beauty and life around the Killing Fields.

Tuol Sleng site...

Reflections

1975-1979 - Where were you?  What were you doing during these years?  I finished 8th grade and went to high school - meanwhile, seemingly a world away Pol Pot arose to power.   One account indicated that within 3 hours of taking power, people were being excised from Phnom Penh.    The horrors of surviving a time period where between 1.5 and 2.5 million people are tortured and murdered affects a people, affects us all really.   Only 40 years ago! We're not talking ancient history - within our lifetime!  I found myself concerned at how powerful a leader's ideologies are in influencing a nation to ill effect.   Some thoughts on leadership:      

A leaders's actions and communicated ideologies are derived from his or her deeply held values and worldview.

Those with horrific ideologies believe they are 'right' and represent what's 'good' for a country and her people.  

A authoritarian leader may ~seem~ as though they have the common good at the root of their message and eloquently communicate this sense manipulating people to believe they have people's best interests at heart. 

People (some) will follow and enact an authoritarian ideology focused on difference and perceived categories (nationality, ethnic, race, gender, profession, religion...).  For those who inflicted torture and who murdered, I wonder if afterwards in their life there was remorse, a sense of oh my gosh what have I done...

A regime's first act is to categorize, divide, and exclude people (those for the Regime, those who are not) and to communicate that division, always accompanied by secrecy, fear methods (imprisonment, torture, death), and destruction of cultural artifacts, those things that connect a people one to another.  

Once a regime and its methods get established, the system of abuse, torture, and murder instill a fear and a systematization that can be maintained for a while.

Regimes meticulously document their actions through record keeping, logbooks, and photographs.  There were rooms at Site 21 filled with photographs of those who were housed there. 

Time reveals the truth and extent of a leader's actions, but while it's happening it may be unclear the extent of the horror.  However - words are precursors to action and/or provide clues that we should be wary of (exclusion, boundary setting, hateful rhetoric, gross generalizations or categorizations), etc.

Hope.  Despite a horrific history and collective memories around that history, people trust again, they live a hopeful life, and can go on.   

References

Cheong Ek Genocide Memorial http://www.cekillingfield.org/index.php/en/

Tuol Sleng http://www.tuolsleng.com/

Time Magazine The Legacy of PolPot:  A Photographic Record of Mass Murder.  http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1948150_20http://www.tuolsleng.com/13738,00.html

Adieu Amano Bistro: Loss of a Third Space in South Phoenix

We don't quite know what to do with ourselves on Friday nights.  Our favorite locally owned restaurant has closed - "lost their lease" to make room for a parking lot.  OMG, when I read the Facebook announcement, I felt as though I were punched in the gut.   How many places do you go where an expressed goal is to 'treat you like family?'  Amano Bistro was one - established in 2004 by Eric and Kathy Bower at 16th Street/Baseline in south Phoenix - their vision and philosophy:  

Offer tasty, honest Italian food using the freshest and finest of ingredients. . . do whatever it takes to provide a comfortable and memorable dining experience. . . treat you like family.
— http://amanobistro.com/index.php?p=1_1

Jonny and I found Amano's when we moved in 2008, we were eager to find a locally owned place with good food, you know, a non-chain place to hang out.  After a time we moved from sitting at tables to hanging out at the bar where it was even more relaxing and fun.  At the end of a long work week, physically tired, maybe tired of it (work, people, responsibility, an endless list) - we would often say, let's go to Amano's for pizza, salad, and vino.    Sitting at the bar, we would eavesdrop, observe, hang out, listen to music, talk about food, travel, work, life, cool stuff, stupid stuff....oh yea, and eat good food.  It really didn't matter what the food was.  Food was secondary to hanging out in a welcoming place, seeing people we liked, and sharing in one another's lives. Somehow a night at Amano's enabled us to transcend the week and fatigue associated with it.  Amano's departure and our sense of grief is about a loss of community and connection.  Oldenburg's concept of Third Places offers an explanation why.  

Third Places

Ray Oldenburg is an urban sociologist who contrasted home and work places with what he called “third places” which essentially serve the community, are inclusive, and local (2001, pp. ix, 21).  A popularized Third Place was the Cheers bar depicted in the show by the same name.  Third places are purposeful in the way they bring people from disparate backgrounds together.  “When the good citizens of a community find places to spend pleasurable hours with one another for no specific or obvious purpose. . . there is purpose” (Oldenburg, 2001, p. ix).  The social aspects of informal public gathering spaces are purposeful and meaningful in and of themselves.   Third places contribute a space for exploration and in doing so provide meaning, contribute to a sense of belonging, and provide a release from daily responsibilities.  Characteristics of third places include:

Hospitable, inclusive, and diverse.  Anyone can come, participate, and join in.  Third places offer a cross-section of diverse people with potentially differing backgrounds, ages, concerns, etc.  Oldenburg (2001) described this inclusivity in terms of being a “leveler” because people are able to transcend their social roles and are generally accepted for themselves (pp. 24, 25). 

Neutralilty.  The Third Space is the host, all other participants are guests (Oldenburg, 2001, p. 22).  This distinction is significant with regard to social norms, expectations, and a sense of welcome experienced by those who enter.  

Social Norms.  Regulars, those who seem to know everybody, help to assimilate newcomers to the place including expectations, behavioral rules, andetiquette.  Some of this may happen overtly - grab your menu there or through observation - watching how people move within a space to see what they do.  In this sense, third places serve to unite a diverse set of people and coordinate their actions within a  place. 

Friendship and Camaraderie.  People come to third places because they want to, a context where the “fundamental motivation is neither personal advantage or civic duty” (Oldenburg, 2001, p. 26).  Camaraderie is the goal and conversation is the main activity.

Perspective.  Third places provide a home away from home, a place of experienced connectedness thus contributing to a sense of rootedness and belonging (Oldenburg, 2001, pp. 39, 40, 50-52). 

Play and Laughter.  A lack of scheduling, freedom from responsibility, and independence from the daily routine are all found in a third place thereby providing a place to hang out and simply be (Oldenburg, 2001, pp. 37, 45-48). 

Spiritual Tonic.   Participation in a third place (not home or work) serves to raise one’s spirits, make a person’s day, provides a release from duty and responsibility, and a breaking of monotony (Oldenburg, 2001, p. 55-58).  

Oldenburg noted, “Nothing contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community as much as ‘membership’ in a third place” (p. xxiii). 

Oldenburg, R. (1999). The great good place: Cafés, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of a community. New York: Marlowe.  

Reflection

Upon arrival at Amano Bistro, people said hello, gave hugs, asked how you were, and shared a laugh.  This place oozed welcome and hospitality.  It was a a place where you could slough off your many roles and just be.  It truly was a Third Place in the sense that Oldenburg described.  Within a space decorated with local artist's works:  ready banter, a steady stream of regulars, chocolate pot de creme, and Eric's caramels further characterized our experiences.   We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, shared meals with visiting friends and family, and truly looked forward to being there.  

Now it is gone and there is a vacuum in South Phoenix where chain restaurants tend to be the norm.   I know, I know - our economic and land ownership sensibilities often indicate that profit and land ownership can (should?) dictate the terms related to our decision making related to land use.  So it is that the owner of this property elected to turn the lot into a parking lot choosing not to renew Amano's lease.  I guess on solely economic terms perhaps this was a more financially viable option.  However, this decision has high social, cultural, and human costs in terms of community, relationships, and connections.  See, Amano's wasn't solely about transactional or functional eating - there's plenty of that to be had at McDonalds, Applebees or a plethora of other chain restaurants at 24th/Baseline.  Amano's was about friendship, family, relationship and community.  No parking lot regardless of the revenue generated can even come close to the relational toll this decision has enacted on our community.

So it is that we are filled with glorious memories and sad, grieving and experiencing a sense of loss.   Thank you Eric and Kathy for your vision and commitment to neighborhood and community - sharing food together was a wonderful experience contributory to our collective sense of purpose, meaning, and sense of connection to place.  Bless you in your future and all you do!