Category Archives: Reflections

50 / 50 ≠ Unity

Carol A. Hand

As I watched the electoral maps change when the election results were tallied this week, the micro-divisiveness within and among states was so obvious. So much for “the united states!” I was momentarily saddened because the “blue wave” that was supposed to end poverty, war, hunger, homelessness, imprisonment of migrant families, police brutality, and oppression didn’t happen. And then I realized that many of the races, especially at the national level, were almost equally divided between the “blue wave” and the “red tide.”

2018 U.S. Electoral Map

(Interactive maps, Huffington Post)

From the perspective of someone who has witnessed the divisive effects of 50/50 “democracy” for Indigenous forms of consensual governance, that’s not surprising.

While watching the maps change, I thought about the students I have taught in the past and continue to work with now who come from many of the slightly tinged “red” or “blue” communities. It’s a nation divided. It’s not what I want the next generations to inherit.

To be honest, I don’t have time to write a thoughtful well-researched analysis. But I do want to make a point about the value of education. Hopefully, education can help pass on the knowledge and skills that enable us to reach across divides to understand each other and build common ground. We do, after all, need to work together if we really want a peaceful world and healthy environments and communities.

These reflections bring to mind Jane Addams and the women of Hull-House. Their legacy is often unknown, even among newer generations of social work students. Together, they demonstrated how to work with knowledge, empathy, and passionate compassion to build solidarity and create respectful, inclusive alternatives to discriminatory, divisive, and punitive policies. They lived among the poorest new immigrant arrivals in Chicago. Instead of fostering divisions, they brought people together to learn and share. Among the issues they successfully addressed were child labor, unfair treatment of workers, infant and maternal mortality, tenant rights, city sanitation, and the creation of juveniles courts.

My hope is that the students I work with will learn from the examples of the Hulll-House women. Students are already familiar with life in divided communities in the forgotten little towns of this nation.

These are the kinds of students I prefer to teach. Early in my late-life career when I entered academia to become a scholar and educator, I made an important decision. Instead of choosing to work in prestigious research universities that served students from privileged backgrounds like the schools I had attended, I chose settings with students from backgrounds similar to mine. My father had a 9th-grade education, and although my mother did have a degree as a Registered Nurse from a prestigious university, she grew up poor on an Ojibwe reservation. Her education was made possible by the kindness of a wealthy Euro-American woman who owned a resort where my mother had worked as a teenager.

My mother repaid this gift by sending me off to school in the city where she studied decades before. Chicago. It was there that I met the educator who showed me how to teach, Sister Lorita. I wrote about her gift in an older post, “The wonder of life in a blade of grass.” Her example and caring affected me more profoundly than I realized at the time. I was my grandson’s age then, 19.

I am much older now. And I am very fortunate to still be able to teach a subject that is perhaps the most important foundation for life, research. As a former colleague, Maxine Jacobson,  observed, we are born researchers, inquisitive about the world around us. We lose our sense of wonder and curiosity as we age, though, through the processes of socialization. My job as an educator is to try to unlock those gifts once again, to help students remember how to be curious. To notice, explore, observe, reflect, and test the limits of what they’ve been taught and what they know.

I wonder what would happen in all of the “red” and “blue” communities if the people who lived there had a chance to be curious. The phenomenon I would like them to consider and explore is the miracle of life in a drop of pure water. Water is something that connects all life on our plant. We can’t live without it. I wonder if there is a way to refocus peoples’ attention on things that really matter.

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Amity Creek – September, 2018

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This semester, my colleague and I are trying an experiment. Students are working as teams to explore the quality of water in their communities by designing little research studies, talking to community members and staff in local agencies in charge of water treatment about the quality and threats for this resource, and planning community awareness activities. As “emic” (insider) researchers in their communities, what they learn is more likely to be useful to other residents including their own families.

I also wonder what would happen if education focused on awakening curiosity sooner than college. Youth would grow up more aware about the health of their communities. That is exactly what happened in a Photovoice study of water that involved Indigenous youth. I wonder if similar initiatives during elementary and high school years could bring the children from red and blue families together to understand, care about, and protect a precious resource they all need in order to live.

I do envision the possibility of a “blue wave” in the future, but it isn’t one that divides people along political ideological lines. It’s one that unites us to care for each other and the “pale blue dot” we all share in common.

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Perspective

Carol A. Hand

Feeling chilly and achy today

as little viruses have their way

making my body their temporary home

My muse visits easing distress with a silly poem

and with memories of times long ago

about how differing perspectives

profoundly influence what we think we know

***

Perhaps many of you are tired of my stories about teaching research, but increasingly my muse insists I do so anyway. She tells me to write about my own life and experiences, to speak from my own heart regardless of what others find amusing or meaningful.

It often happens that teaching brings new insights that I didn’t really think about before I needed to explain something to students. It happened again during this semester when I was pondering how to explain the importance of perspective. There is a quote that I think about every time I take a photo.

“Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent.” (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

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Looking East from Enger Tower – October 14, 2018

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I remembered a study I did when I was completing my last degree. We had to analyze the effectiveness of a social welfare policy using empirical data. Big words, perhaps, but that’s academia, making obvious and simple concepts somewhat obscure. The meaning of empirical asserts that what we can see and measure with our own eyes is somehow more real than things we imagine or feel.

Empirical means – 1: originating in or based on observation or experience, 2: relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory, or 3: capable of being verified (proven accurate) or disproved by observation or experiment. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Take elder abuse. At the time I was enrolled in this class (late 1980s), elder abuse was a topic that was gaining national attention in the United States. States across the nation had enacted reporting laws similar to child abuse reporting laws passed during 1960s. Both statutes required key professionals to report suspicious injuries to state authorities for further investigation. And similar to child abuse, the most commonly substantiated category for elders was “neglect.”

For children, this meant neglectful parents from the perspective of investigators. For elders it meant “self-neglect,” defined as doing things that were considered foolish, unhealthy, or life-threatening.
When the professor asked members in the class to describe their topic, I was told that my topic was foolish.

It’s obvious why elders are abused,” he definitively asserted. “They’re a drain on families and society’s resources.

Research on elders suggests otherwise,” I replied, before listing a number of studies that identified strengths on many levels. As the professor with a national reputation, he was not inclined to yield to a mere student’s views. He proceeded to tell me how stupid I was in front of the class. Several times, I replied calmly with yet more research that supported my perspective. Finally I had to interrupt this repeating cycle by smiling and gently stating, “I think we need to agree to disagree about this topic, Professor.”

In a prior job, I often had to confront ageism among social service practitioners. I remember standing before large audiences of service providers a number of times, asking them to introduce themselves to everyone by name, title, and chronological age, At least one third of each group, primarily middle-aged Euro-American women, refused to state their age in visibly angry ways. It underscored the point I wanted to make about the power of social stereotypes about aging and elders. I wondered if my graying-haired professor held the same fears and denials of aging.

Of course, I couldn’t resist following up the next class by giving him a gift, a little badge with a message printed on it – “Aging, all the best people are doing it!” Needless to say, he wasn’t amused and he did make me work incredibly hard to pass his course.

But the topic wasn’t through teaching me about perspectives. I gained access to the state’s elder abuse reporting system data set through another professor with a national reputation. “I want you to do a simple analysis,” he said, “to show that the system does a good job serving populations of color because they are more likely to be reported.” This time, I took the path of diplomacy and remained silent. I thought about the disproportional representation of people of color in the prison system and knew it was not something I would mindlessly support to please someone in power who probably shouldn’t be publishing research findings.

I met with a former research professor and asked for help to design a different study. Unlike the other professors, he asked me what I wanted to know. “I want to know if the legislation improves the lives of elders,” was my honesty response. “Well, let’s figure out how you can do that with this data set, then,” he replied.

It wasn’t an easy task. The study he helped me design explored how well the elder abuse legislation in a particular State met two competing goals, protecting elders from harm or allowing them to exercise their right to self- determination. The paper that resulted was titled “Elder abuse legislation: Protecting vulnerable citizens at the expense of personal freedom and self respect?

The findings of the study were complex and inconclusive, but ultimately they raised ethical concerns. Statutes that require professionals to report abuse should be accompanied by sufficient funding to support appropriate interventions that help survivors and perpetrators heal and preserve or regain a sense of worth and dignity.

I am grateful for the lessons and memories of years past, and perhaps to the little viruses, too. Sometimes it takes feeling a bit under the weather to force the choice between writing rather than grading papers with a somewhat foggy mind.

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Look west from Enger Tower – October 14, 2018

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Illness certainly gives one a different perspective. Yet the central point remains. Perspective matters. One can use neutral tools like research to perpetuate stereotypes and power-over approaches or as a way to explore more liberatory possibilities. Sadly, it has often been used by those in power to support the legitimacy and supremacy of their particular agendas and lenses.

Source Cited:

Benjamin F. Crabtree and William L Miller, eds., Doing Qualitative Research, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1999), 3.

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Neither One Thing Nor Another

Carol A. Hand

 

Catfish or Eagle Clan? (drawing by Carol A. Hand, photo of drawing edited)

***

Born in between
neither one thing nor another
a mercurial shape-shifter
one moment flying high
above the clouds
the next plunging
to the murky depths
of nutrient rich swamp bottoms
where the roots of water lilies feed
experiencing both
the freedom of flight and far-vision
and swimming deep
surrounded by the rich abundance of possibilities
exploring alternatives and seeking wisdom
rather than choosing
to remain in the darkness
constrained by conforming ignorance
and spirit-freezing fear

 

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Just Wondering…

Carol A. Hand

Teaching always makes me wonder about taken-for-granted assumptions passed down through the generations and how they affect our ability to really see and understand the world. For some reason, this morning I couldn’t help thinking about the way we refer to everything in the cosmos as the universe. The prefix uni- means “having or consisting of only one.”

 

Abell 520 – Hubble Image

 

Initially, I viewed the suffix, verse, literally, suggesting that universe meant one shared story. But that didn’t make sense after viewing the definitions of verse:

“writing that is arranged in a rhythmic pattern; poems: one of the parts into which a poem or song is divided: or one of the short parts into which the Bible is divided.” (Cambridge Dictionary)

Next, I explored the meaning of the word universe as a whole.

Universe – “All existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos. The universe is believed to be at least 10 billion light years in diameter and contains a vast number of galaxies; it has been expanding since its creation in the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago.” (Oxford Dictionary)

That didn’t satisfy my curiosity about the origins of meaning, and why we need to characterize of the cosmos as one. I explored the etymology or origins of the term universe and learned the following.

“Borrowed from Latin universum (“all things, as a whole, the universe”), neuter of universus (“all together, whole, entire, collective, general, literally turned or combined into one”), from uni-, combining form of unus (“one”) + versus (“turned”), perfect passive participle of verto (“I turn”).”  (Wiktionary)

Still, I wondered why “all that is everywhere through all of time” has been viewed as one. We certainly don’t act as if we view other beings who share this reality as really one with us. But we do expect others to see the world as we do. We expect others and nature to comply with our immediate and personal wants and preferences.

What would the world be like if we thought about the cosmos differently? If we saw the cosmos, or even our world, as collections of multi- (many) verses?

Would our imaginations be open to an infinite number of new possibilities? There have been times in my life when I read science fiction and fantasy novels, especially when facing problems I couldn’t solve without first breaking through limiting assumptions. The global appeal of other worlds presented by creative literature, art, music, and films has been enduring and well-documented. So many of us long for a better world, although we may define what better means in many different ways.

I found the concept of multiverses appealing today.

“The multiverse is a theoretical framework in modern cosmology (and high energy physics) which presents the idea that there exist a vast array of potential universes which are actually manifest in some way.” (Thoughtco)

It satisfies my need to continue to explore the question I ask myself each time I teach research.

“Is there one truth, or are there many truths?”

 

A Cosmic Couple

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Reflections about Dimensions of Reality

Carol A. Hand

Awakening suddenly
in the semi-dark before dawn
cold
because the pile of blankets shifted
The only light muted yellow
from the streetlight shining
through the window to the north
filtered through blinds and curtains
Opening my eyes to readjust covers
I notice a strange lacy pattern
covering the wall next to my bed
Despite blinking, the pattern remains
With a sense of curiosity
tinged neither by fear nor wonder
I reach toward the wall

***

Lace – the closest I could find to illustrate what I saw using Microsoft Word clip art

***

The pattern begins flowing
and shimmering with light
Is this a dream of waking
within a dream, I wonder?
or an illusion of my hypnagogic state
halfway between waking and sleeping?
or is this a deeper vision of reality
the patterning of interconnecting
molecules that comprise matter
and give the comforting illusion
of solidity to material objects
thus making it easier to function
in a world constructed by
others’ notions of reality?
I don’t know the answer
but just for now
I feel the need to put wonder aside
to focus on tasks that need doing
in the socially constructed reality
I share with others in this time

***

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The First Day of Fall – September 22, 2018

Carol A. Hand

“Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.” ( Wikipedia)

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Teaching requires discipline
“Acting when the time is right”

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Looking East at the sun rising – September 22, 2018

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I arise early on class day
to give myself time to reflect and prepare
greeting the morning just before sunrise
gazing up at the cloudy grey skies
transforming miraculously before my eyes
ever pinker flowing clouds glowing above
trees of shimmering gold, orange, and red
an important foundation for
contemplating the things I love

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Preparing enough to put stage fright aside
(still a constant despite decades of teaching and public speaking)
enabling me to be present in the moment
to adapt approaches spontaneously
and address whatever needs arise
trusting the step by step process
of opening hearts and minds
to creative, constructive possibilities

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Looking west at the sun setting – September 22, 2018

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Giving thanks at the end of the day
for opportunities to model stewardship
for the sake of future generations

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Sunset – September 22, 2018

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Reflections about Learning Compassion

Carol A. Hand

A fervent wish –
May the bullies and narcissists
of the world
both the petty and the powerful
one day awaken
and realize
with piercing empathic pain
the harm they have done
to others and the earth
and with great sorrow
understand
they are teaching
their children
to do
the same

***

Narcissus (1590s) by Caravaggio (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome), Public Domain, Wikipedia

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Remembering Too Many Tragedies

Carol A. Hand

Listening deeply to inner silence
Here, but also present in another reality
Aware of fear,  dis-ease,  loss,  and violence
while feeling the   poignant ache   of possibility
Seeking courage moment to moment to make a choice
to allow wisdom,  compassion,  and joy  to guide my voice

***

Ava swimming in Lake Superior, Photographer – Jnana Hand

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Reflections about Giving

Carol A. Hand

Ultimately we are all alone
in a universe that seems indifferent
to the suffering of so many
our hearts may sometimes feel the pain
yet we can do little to understand or change
the ongoing forces of destruction and oppression

The only response may be doing what we can
to at least ease distress in the moment
when someone knocks on our door
not asking for healing or sanctuary
but merely a temporary respite
from chaos and imminent threat

The forces of harm remain unabated
attracting those who feel they have no worth
like moths mesmerized by a candle flame
that will surely consume them
unless they wake up in time

Perhaps kindness from a stranger
who asks nothing in return
will be enough to lighten the burden of aloneness
for both the askers and the givers
temporarily revealing the importance of compassion

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A Candle in the Darkness

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Inspired by real life and two differing perspectives. The first is a reminder of the work of Albert Camus (1913-1060), who

“… introduced and developed the twin philosophical ideas—the concept of the Absurd and the notion of Revolt—that made him famous. These are the ideas that people immediately think of when they hear the name Albert Camus spoken today. The Absurd can be defined as a metaphysical tension or opposition that results from the presence of human consciousness—with its ever-pressing demand for order and meaning in life—in an essentially meaningless and indifferent universe. Camus considered the Absurd to be a fundamental and even defining characteristic of the modern human condition. The notion of Revolt refers to both a path of resolved action and a state of mind. It can take extreme forms such as terrorism or a reckless and unrestrained egoism (both of which are rejected by Camus), but basically, and in simple terms, it consists of an attitude of heroic defiance or resistance to whatever oppresses human beings. In awarding Camus its prize for literature in 1957, the Nobel Prize committee cited his persistent efforts to “illuminate the problem of the human conscience in our time.” He was honored by his own generation, and is still admired today, for being a writer of conscience and a champion of imaginative literature as a vehicle of philosophical insight and moral truth” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

The other is from Kosmos Community News,

“When did the world break open for you and reveal its radiant light?

“I’m guessing we all have had fleeting revelatory glimpses of the sublime, the numinous. Sometimes it takes a great loss or crisis to trigger the moment of grace….

“These diamond-sharp moments cut through our haze, yet inevitably fade. We may relegate them to a corner of mind as moments of madness or anomaly, but such non-ordinary experiences seem to be in the increase and may be showing us a world more real than the one we think we know” (Kosmos).

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Evening Reflections – August 2018

Carol A. Hand

Venus glowing in the western sky
the only light visible as clouds pass by

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Venus in the evening sky – August 4, 2018

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Known as Ikwe-Anang – “Women’s Star”
rising in the east just before dawn
and lighting the west just after sunset
in a nine-month repeating cycle
the gestation time for human life-givers (1)
reminding me of the Ojiwe Midewewin code
“Honour women;
in honouring women, you honour the gift
of life and love” (2)

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Venus setting – August 4, 2018

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Sources Cited:

(1) Annette S. Lee, William Wilson, Jeffrey Tibbetts, and Carl Gawboy (2014), Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide: An Introduction to Ojibwe Star Knowledge. North Rocks, CA: Lightning Source: Ingram Spark.

(2) Basil Johnston (1990), Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, p. 93.

Another resource link:

http://linearpopulationmodel.blogspot.com/2016/04/ojibwe-star-map-constellation-guide.html

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