There’s a saying in Boston that every lifelong Democrat gets one mulligan. Mine went to Bill Weld in 1990; I have friends already planning to use theirs on the miraculously bipartisan Charlie Baker’s reelection. In the hope that Republicans have the same concept, I’m expending a lot of emotional energy these days trying to convince the diehard GOP women in my family – swing state voters, all! – to use theirs for Hillary.
Truthfully, I can’t understand why every woman isn’t supporting her. How can we not? Granted, it’s easier for lefty liberals who already agree with Hillary’s policies to tap into the feel-good feminist frenzy her candidacy is generating. Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina might be tougher for me. But here’s the thing: Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina would never make it this far. The painful truth that the ‘sure, I want a woman, just not that woman’ camp won’t admit is that Hillary Clinton is not one of many options we’ll be presented with to elect a woman to the most powerful position in the world. For the foreseeable future, she’s the only option.
I met Piedmonter Freda Zeitlow at a lovely event she organized last spring for a group of professional women. Over a delicious lunch, Freda gave a thought-provoking talk about happiness, specifically about the ‘U-curve’ theory of lifelong satisfaction.
The pattern, confirmed over the past decade in dozens of international studies, shows that most peoples’ happiness and life satisfaction over time follows a ‘U’ shaped curve. In childhood, people generally report being very happy, but happiness and contentment begin to fall in the teenage years. Happiness hits a low point somewhere in middle age, but begins to climb again in the last few decades of life. So a 65 year old might feel as happy as she was at 25, a 75 year old as joyful as a teenager. This U-shaped curve remains when you control for factors such as physical health, income, number of children, marital status, and education.
I’ll admit it. I was a major grump when Pokémon Go exploded onto the scene in early July. The graphics confused me, hearing the word “Jigglypuff” during bathing suit season made me sad, it was draining all our data, and I read that hapless hunters were being lured into unpopulated areas and getting mugged. Plus like all the other moms in the universe, I feel under constant siege by Phones and Snapchat and YouTube and all the other iThings that have sapped the ability of everyone under 18 to look anyone in the eye.
What is it about human nature that compels us to see every issue as a zero-sum game? The most demoralizing example of this phenomenon is on display this week. Angry partisans have staked out unenlightened corners of the internet, convinced of an inherent conflict between renouncing senseless violence at the hands of the police and renouncing senseless violence toward the police. You’re either “pro-law enforcement” and “anti-#blacklivesmatter” or the reverse. And if you’re not on ‘my’ side, you’re a barely human, simpering excuse for a misinformed Neanderthal.
I’ve always been a sucker for the overly simplistic dichotomy. Lover or fighter? Boxers or briefs? Fox or Hedgehog? An all-time favorite is the exercise of declaring people and their life philosophies either optimists or pessimists: is someone a ‘glass half full-er’ or ‘glass half empty-er’?
Cut to a couple of days ago. I was pondering why Piedmont’s July 4th celebration is so profoundly moving and absurdly sweet. Beyond the toddlers in their red-white-and-blue Baby Gap finest and those strangely compelling inner tube sailor dudes, there’s the sheer hubris of throwing an exuberant, raucous birthday party for a nation that we’re all quite happy to gripe about throughout the other 364 days of the year. What’s up? The juxtaposition of criticism and celebration doesn’t cause us a bit of confusion, because we’re convinced there’s a reason to celebrate. Our country, despite its flaws, is the best one out there, and we’re all going to make it better. Here’s the thing: Americans are nothing if not optimistic.
Though it’s probably unwise to admit this publicly with so many years of carpooling still ahead of me, here it is: I’m a below-average driver. It’s something I came to terms with years ago. I don’t really like driving, and also I’m not very good at it. While learning to drive last year, my daughter was quick to confirm my self-evaluation. Now that she’s licensed I have officially dropped to third on the list of family drivers.
You like to think you would have been on the right side of history on the painfully obvious moral questions of the ages. You’d help hide Jews in Nazi Germany; you’d actively rebel against the horrors of slavery. You certainly wouldn’t tut tut about how awful it all is, then go back to raising your family amid such injustice and danger, securing your own comfort and achievements without much thought to others’ suffering.
The PHS Parents’ Club held its December meeting at Mulberry’s Home on “Giving Tuesday,” and it was an opportune time to feel thankful about the focus of all of our Parents’ Clubs. As Principal Daniels pointed out, we’re not in the position of other Bay Area districts forced to talk about escalating violence on campus, or an emotionally stifling, pressure-cooker academic atmosphere. Instead, we discussed professional development for the World Language department and the ongoing evolution of the math curriculum.
Like that sad, neglected dish of creamed onions we feel compelled to make every year, this column has become a Thanksgiving tradition I can’t shake. I didn’t submit it last year and got some grief from folks on the trot that they missed it, so I decided to give it a record fourth airing. When you bow your head this year before your feast, please join me in giving thanks to the professional turkey ‘stimulators’ who have made your entrée possible.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. A common Mulberry’s Thanksgiving question (second only to “where’s your bathroom?” post-Turkey Trot) is whether we’ll be selling turkeys this year. We’d love to. We’ve looked into it, too, but realized that the logistics aren’t on our side. Turkeys are enormous. There’s space for approximately 4 ½ turkeys in our walk-in. So you see, we couldn’t have much of a program.
Have you heard the term ‘slackivism’? Coined in the era of Stop Kony and #BringBackOurGirls, it’s a negative-leaning term used to describe political or philanthropic actions some suspect provide more comfort and utility to the giver than to the intended recipient. It encompasses everything from temporarily filtering your Facebook profile photo to demonstrate your solidarity with marriage equality or Paris, to those websites my mom finds where you can click to send a daily bowl of rice to an impoverished child.
But here’s the thing. As Nicholas Kristof famously pointed out, armchair slactivism is a whole lot better than armchair apathy. And some of the initiatives dubbed ‘feel good’ by the cynics have produced tangible results on the exact issue they were intended to impact.