The power of the positive call

On Tuesday night, at the Washtenaw County Courthouse, I sat for over seven hours in a conference room with two young men — Rick and Christopher.  They had been hired by the Associated Press to report the vote count, just like I had been hired by Reuters. These guys were old pros, I was the rookie.  They had done this job all through undergrad and were now in law school and pharmacy school, respectively.  They each had to get up for 8:50 class the next morning, but were glad to stay up late phoning in results because AP pays them ‘a ridiculous amount of money’.

You can’t sit in a room with two others for that long without having a little bit of banter going back and forth, even if you are making phone calls or entering data into an app. (Isn’t it cute that the young guys had to call in their data and the middle aged woman got to use her app?) We all had our Mac books open and were watching the screens for updated counts.  We were also clicking on news websites to see how the media were reporting the results.

One of the guys observed that the media only reports the bad stuff that politicians do.  He asked, what would it be like if every day at the end of the day, someone announced only your mistakes and none of your accomplishments?

Today in Ann Arbor, a middle aged woman slept in very late, stayed in her pajamas until mid afternoon, didn’t comb her hair at all, forgot to feed the dog, left dirty dishes in the sink, and ignored a call from a friend. 

Wow.  What a loser. I would prefer the following:

Today in Ann Arbor, a lovely wife and mother enjoyed a luxurious morning of rest, was greeted by her loving golden retriever, shared lunch with her husband, enjoyed a work out at the local gym, and made delicious black bean nachos for dinner. 

I asked the guys what would happen if at the end of each day the news media reported all the cool things that the president and his ‘buddies’ accomplished?  One of them quickly replied, “We would turn the channel.”

Can you imagine it?

Today in Washington, for the two thousandth day in a row, the president arrived in the oval office, dressed and pressed, at six a.m.  He led his staff meeting, gave a press conference, met with a foreign dignitary, and consulted with the joint chiefs, all before his noon lunch meeting with the secretary of education. 

Instead we get carefully constructed sound bytes meant, quite frankly, to draw viewers and increase ratings. Almost without exception, they are framed as bad news.  And, hey, we’re human. We can’t turn away when we see the collision on the side of the road.

And then, fueled on negativity, we rush out into our circles of people and  share ‘that horrible thing’ that we just saw on the the television.  “Did you hear…”

What would happen if we just as enthusiastically ran to our people and shared the good stuff that we see?  Well, first we would have to notice the good stuff, which might mean that we have to turn off the negativity for a moment. We might have to actually demand more of our media and insist that they report the good things that are happening in our nation.

Educators learned a long time ago the power of the positive call.  Imagine you are sitting down to dinner with your family, asking everyone, “how was your day?” when the phone rings.  “Hello, Mrs. Smith, this is Mrs. Rathje from Junior’s high school.  I just wanted to let you know that Junior arrived to class early today and straightened all the desks for me before everyone else arrived.  That really started my day off well and I just wanted to let you know what a fine young man you have.”

Did you smile when you glanced over at Junior who was sitting looking at his plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes?  Did you walk back to the table, look Junior in the eyes, and say “That was your teacher, she said you made her day today.”  Did you see Junior look up, meet your eyes, and smile sheepishly? Did you see him sit up straighter when you beamed at him?  Did you hear him start to tell some details about his day?

It took the teacher time to make that phone call, but first it took a decision to notice the kid who was doing something right in addition to the one who was doing something wrong.  It’s easy to get consumed with putting out fires and noticing the troublemaker in the crowd.  In fact, some kids cause trouble just to get noticed.

It takes a mature, seasoned teacher to notice Junior in the back of the room doing what he is supposed to be doing for the two thousandth day in a row.  It takes a counter-cultural move to focus on him, to publicly praise him, and to celebrate his consistency with the people who care about him.

It’s not as exciting to report on what is going well, but it’s much more productive.  It draws people together instead of putting them at odds.  It breeds a spirit of celebration rather than cynicism.  It inspires a shared, “Go, team!” rather than a divisive, “You suck!”

I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye to corruption or to real problems in the world. I’m just saying it might be nice to give the good and the bad equal time.

Ephesians 4:29

Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful

for building other up according to their needs,

that it may benefit those who listen.

Not just for women, but about women

When did the shift happen?  When did it become ok to portray women as competitors and even enemies of one another?  Do you know what I am talking about?  The images are everywhere — magazines, television, movies, books.  The idea that I need to be better than other women — thinner, smarter, more powerful, sexier, better dressed — permeates our culture in such a way that potential allies are turned into suspects.

I believed the lie for quite a while.  Very few women passed enough tests and criteria to be allowed into my inner circle of trust.  Once in, they were placed on an extremely high pedestal from which they will surely never fall.  But getting there took a pretty special combination of traits — honesty, humor, authenticity, strength, and the resilience to let my crap bounce off of them.  Few were chosen.

Many were kept at arm’s length for whatever reason — I could fabricate a reason in a heartbeat.  I missed out on the blessing of many female friendships because of my insecurities and the belief that I needed to be suspicious of the enemy.

That belief is a lie of the one and only enemy.

Women need one another.  

I knew I needed my inner circle  — I had a best friend all through elementary school who remains so high on the pedestal that the mention of her name brings me pause. I had a partner in crime through middle and high school whose name can still bring out the mischievous teenager in me.  I bonded with a dear friend in my freshman year of college who was so steadfast that though our time together was short, she remains on the pedestal today.  My dear friend from the rest of undergrad has earned the title of aunt to my children and godmother to my baby because of the way our hearts are knit together.   These women…they had a hand in shaping me.  I didn’t suspect their loyalty.  I didn’t question their motives.  They unconditionally supported me.

But I believed they were rare and that real women didn’t act that way.  Real women wanted to judge me and outdo me.  They were suspect and not to be trusted.

I was wrong.

We all need each other.  We need encouragement.  We need eye contact.  We need to be heard and understood.  We need affirmation and acceptance.  Unconditionally.  When we don’t get it, sometimes our claws come out.  We start thinking that others are the competition. We even behave as though we are trying to outdo one another.

I have been noticing a lot of women lately.  I have been noticing they aren’t out to get me.  They are reaching out to me: inviting me to lunch, or to go on a walk, or to visit their church.  They are encouraging me: through email, text, Facebook, and in person. They are befriending me.

I am beginning to believe that most women really want to be in relationship with one another, not in competition with one another. Is it possible, that our media is (gasp) giving us an inaccurate portrayal of reality? (It’s just a question, folks, not a political statement.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here.  Instead of trusting my long held and faulty beliefs, I am going to trust God and take a few chances on some women. I think they can be trusted.  I mean, they are taking a chance on me. 

Romans 12: 10…16

…be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves…

live in harmony with one another…

On a soapbox

I was going to write about the fact that we are still going through changes here in Ann Arbor, but then I got to thinking about the news feed and all that is going on around the world and I thought to myself, “your life is pretty mundane and insignificant in comparison.” 

The media has got it pretty good right now, don’t they?  They seem to feed like buzzards on the physical, spiritual, and moral death in the world.  And we eat it right up with them.  Extremists trapping the helpless faithful.  Nations at war in the Middle East.  A celebrity takes his own life.  Racial unrest in the heartland. We read and click and read and click.  They’ve set their bait carefully, and we have nibbled.  The more we nibble, the more bait they throw out.  The more they throw out, the more we ingest.  It’s a feeding frenzy!  

As I read, I begin to wonder if bad news begets more bad news.  How much power does the media have?  Does a reporter’s ‘take’ on a situation influence the outcome of the situation?  And, if so, do reporter’s take that responsibility seriously?  Do they frame their reporting in a way that will cause resolution?  Or in a way that will generate more news?  

They are just questions.  I am not saying I have the answer.  I am saying that I, like others, can’t seem to look away when I see the suffering of others.  I am ashamed by that.  Ashamed that I am not really working toward resolution, either, I am just watching to see what happens next.  Like it’s a movie, and not real life.  

But it is real life.  People are suffering.  And they are not suffering for our entertainment.  They are suffering.  Period. 

I have a very cushy life. I get to wake up when I want, write whatever words I want in my blog, eat whatever I want in my kitchen, watch whatever I want on my TV, read whatever I want on my computer.  I have no one aiming a gun at me, no one telling me how to live my life.  I have all kinds of free time.  

Today I am not going to use that free time to feed on the misfortune of others.  I am going to pray for those who are suffering, I am going to pray for resolution to crises, I am going to pray that God, who is still God, will bring order and peace to our world.  He alone is able.  

With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. 

Matthew 19:26