Courage

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner. One of the controversial aspects is whether her coming out as transgender was heroic. This got me thinking about what it means to be heroic or courageous. To me, those are pretty similar concepts, but I’ll concentrate on the “courage” side.

What does it mean to be courageous? I believe there are a few aspects of courage:

  • Doing what’s right, even if it’s difficult
  • Being vulnerable
  • Putting others ahead of self

In some ways, I think those are alternative definitions — you might be courageous by exhibiting only one of those. But they can also work together.

Doing What’s Right

So was Caitlyn Jenner coming out “right”? This is probably the most controversial factor. People who don’t believe that being transgender is “right” couldn’t possibly believe that coming out as transgender could be right. ”Right” is a matter of culture and the times, and to some degree personal taste. Our society is (fairly quickly) accepting LGBT people though, so it seems that the number of people thinking being transgender is “wrong” will quickly dwindle.

Put it this way — Martin Luther King was pushing for civil rights when that was not popular in the greater society. But now, the ideas are accepted as mainstream, and the idea of withholding basic human rights from black people is seen as wrong by almost everyone.

So I’m not sure I can make a very good determination on the rightness of her coming out. I believe it’s right, but I don’t believe that “right” can ever be objectively determined.

Doing Something Difficult

Apparently, Bruce Jenner knew from an early age that he was experiencing gender dysphoria. To wait for over 50 years to publicly disclose this was obviously not an easy decision. As with anyone coming out as having an identity that is not (yet) socially acceptable, she’ll be subject to public scorn and ridicule. That can’t be easy.

Being vulnerable

Courage seems to involve an element of risk. In the stereotypical act of courage, the hero puts themself at risk of personal physical harm. But I don’t believe that the risk has to be physical. Emotional vulnerability is often more difficult that physical vulnerability.

One thing about emotional vulnerability — definitely the case here — is that it’s more likely to be pre-mediated than a physical act of heroicism. Caitlyn must have spent years thinking about whether to come out. The fact that she still made the decision despite all that thinking about the consequences shows an even higher level of courage.

Selflessness

The remaining question is whether Caitlyn’s coming out was for herself or for others. Certainly there’s an aspect of freedom in revealing your true self. I think that was probably her main motivation. I don’t think that there’s any self-promotion involved here — she’s already got plenty of fame and fortune.

The fact is, by seeing a famous person come out as transgender, young trans people will have a role model — someone to look up to. Transgender people have a ridiculous suicide rate (40% attempts, as opposed to 5% for the general population). Having someone to look up to will help some of these people cope better.

So Caitlyn coming out will save lives. And I think we can all agree that saving lives is heroic.

Too Damn Loud

I’ve gone to several concerts and shows over the past few weeks:

  • Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally (May 10 – Peabody)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (May 13 – Peabody)
  • Rush (May 14 – Scottrade)
  • Zac Brown Band (May 21 – Riverport)

I enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

But I was rather disappointed by Rush. As seems to be the case too often, it was just too loud. It was so loud as to hurt my ears. More importantly, the loudness seriously distorted the music, making it hard to listen to.

All 3 members of Rush are known for their technical proficiency. To distort their music to that degree is an unforgivable sin. I was bored the first half of the show, because I had a hard time picking out words and melodies. I’m not a Rush superfan, but I’m pretty familiar with most of their music (excluding the last few albums). And I enjoy their music enough that I can appreciate listening to their songs that I’ve never heard. But not when it’s a jumbled mess.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We were in the pit in front of the stage at Zac Brown. I was directly below a huge stack of speakers. It was loud, but not to the point of hurting or distorting the vocals or music. So I know it can be done well. And I’ve been to concerts at Scottrade Center that weren’t so loud as to be distorted. (Although the problem seems to be a lot more common at Scottrade.)

So I don’t understand why bands would allow such crappy sound at their concerts. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason for it, and it detracts from the concert-going experience.

Finding your way

I’ve been following the situation in Ferguson pretty closely over the past 6 months. I’m not sure what happened between Mike Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. I think my sister-in-law said it best when she said that they probably both ended up operating from their “lizard brains” — adrenaline and emotions taking over — and the result was more violent than it otherwise might have been.

Whatever did happen on that August day, the subsequent events that unfolded brought a lot of issues to my attention. I obviously knew that black people in this country have a more difficult time, but I didn’t really understand the extent of the problem, and how systemic it is.

I believe that every kind of oppression needs to be stopped, and if it’s in my own back yard, then I should especially be willing to take a stand to stop it. So I’ve tried to figure out what I can do. I’ve gone to marches a few times. And while it feels good to help amplify the voices that aren’t being heard, I don’t feel like it has a very big effect. So I’ve struggled with how I can have a real impact.

Back in November, Alex Miller from Strange Loop tweeted a GoFundMe link called “Build Ferguson Youth Tech Program“. They wanted to raise money to teach underprivileged youth a course in web development. I immediately sent the organizer an email volunteering to help.

This past Saturday was the first class. There were 10 students, from about 17 to perhaps 24 years old. There were 8 mentors, a couple organizers, and a couple instructors. Each student was given a Mac laptop and we started teaching them HTML. It was a long day, but they got to learn how to put words on a web page, and made some good progress. Classes are Saturdays for the next 6 weeks, plus Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

I don’t know how much these kids are going to learn in 6 weeks. They certainly won’t be expert web developers. But that’s not really that important; what’s important is that they get the opportunity to become web developers if that’s a path that they’d like to pursue. Opportunity is what’s missing in these kids’ lives.

The other important thing is that I found my way to make an impact. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the workshop is called “Tech Impact”.) Thank you so much, Abby Bobé for organizing this. You made it really easy for me to find my way.

If you’d like to help, please sign up here.

 

 

One Person Can Change The World

I grew up in North St. Louis County, a few miles Ferguson. My family has roots in Ferguson. My grandpa had a barber shop there. I remember visiting my great grandmother in Ferguson. My mom said when she was a kid, she liked to go there because they had squirrels.

I live 25 miles from there now, so I’ve not been directly affected. But it’s had a strong effect on me emotionally. It hurts me deeply to see people oppressed, especially in my own community. But to have that oppression continue and worsen for 4 days was even more heart-breaking. I’ve been sad and angry, but like the people in Ferguson, felt powerless to make a difference.

I had strong emotions again today, but of a different sort. When Senator Clair McCaskill spoke, she spoke with compassion and understanding. She gave us hope that she could help make things better. Then when Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson was put in charge, there was more hope. Hearing that Captain Johnson was standing down the SWAT teams, and then seeing him talking to and walking along with the protestors, it became clear that tonight would not be like last night. Then seeing all the pictures from across the country for the National Moment of Silence brought more tears to my eyes.

All these things turned hopelessness to hope. I know that we’re not going to solve the problems with oppression in this country overnight. But at least we’ve stopped the bleeding. Honestly, the hope we have tonight feels like the night Barack Obama was elected. I feel like we might have a chance to make a real difference.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this change was the quickness of it. Literally one day. And the majority of it because of one man. So I decided to write him a letter, which I’d like to share.

Dear Captain Johnson,

You showed leadership, courage, and heroism today. I’m sure you’re a humble man, and don’t think of yourself as a hero. I’m sure you had many people behind the scenes helping you, but you showed the leadership that was so lacking and so necessary. You were the one person today who made a tremendous difference in the lives of so many people.

To those in Ferguson trying to express their feelings, you gave hope. You gave them back their freedom — to assemble, to speak, to seek redress from their government. You lifted the boot of oppression from their throats.

To those of us in the St. Louis area, you brought pride. Many of us were disgusted by the actions of the police this week — stifling protestors, arresting reporters, denying people their rights, and inciting more violence. You showed respect to the people you serve, took their concerns to heart, and did what was right.

To those in the United States of America, you showed that policing doesn’t require a show of force. Today will hopefully be a turning point, proving that the militarization of our police is counterproductive. You learned the lessons that the former Seattle police chief has been trying to teach. You showed that power comes from cooperation and doing what is right, not from force.

From all of us, thank you for making a big difference in our lives. I’m once again proud to be a St. Louisan.

Sincerely,
Craig Buchek

So I hope everyone reading this will remember that this one man made a difference in so many lives in a single day, just by having the courage to do what was right.