Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Swimming Against the Current

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I attended our local homeschool conference this past weekend, run by the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educators Conference (RMCHEC) and held at my parish. It was amazing on so many levels, and exactly what I needed.

The keynote speaker was Larraine Bennet, author of The Temperament God Gave You, who spoke at length on the temperament and how it relates to learning style and your child's homeschool needs. Two things really stood out for me: 1. My melancholic personality is contributing GREATLY to my struggles as a parent and home educator and 2. I don't know what to do about it.

Melancholic characteristics line up very well with the INFJ personality type from Myers-Briggs, unsurprisingly, since I believe that personality types are grounded in truth and therefore each of us will manifest a "type" regardless of which metric we use to assess ourselves. Some of my challenges include:

Tendency towards perfectionism
Strong need for solitude to decompress
High standards for self and others
Extreme sensitivity to others feelings and needs
Inability to take criticism
Insatiable desire for knowledge
Overly analytic and anxious

There are, of course, many great benefits to my personality. I am a rare bird (1% of the population by some estimates) and my intuition and genuine interest in others means I am a loyal and wise friend, and (hopefully) a force for good in the world. But I really agree with this point here:
Life is not necessarily easy for the INFJ, but they are capable of great depth of feeling and personal achievement.
So while listening to the speaker on Saturday, I was reminded forcefully of these truths about myself. I was also able to identify my eldest son's personality (unsurprisingly, the opposite of my own!) and my eldest daughter (the same as mine, which explains A LOT.)

The thing is, I knew all this before. It's not that I forgot it, necessarily, it's just that I can KNOW I have this tendency towards perfectionism but that intellectual truth doesn't outweigh the actual FEELING of failure. Or, I may know that I need to be alone with my thoughts in order to find the strength to continue being the person I strive to be, yet finding time to be alone means allowing things to go undone (or done imperfectly) and my core need for order and control supersedes the other need.

I have been reflecting on what I need to do/change so that I am less likely to find myself overwhelmed and unable to cope, particularly while I am in the throes of the homeschool year. One thing that I know will help is that I am undergoing a particular kind of therapy called EMDR. At its core, this therapy helps speed up and solidify the process of Emotional Regulation, so that my known truths will resonate more deeply in my heart than my feelings. I am also trusting in God that my best is not only good enough, but His will and pleasing to Him. So I plan to actually write down truth statements and post them in areas where they will remind me on a daily basis that it's really ok if things are not going EXACTLY according to plan, and that I am doing a good job, and that my kids will be fine.

The thing is, I know and accept that it's not going to fix anything. I am always going to struggle in this way. And that's all right. I am offering it up for all those who have struggles but don't have knowledge or therapy. And I am moving forward on the path God has called me to walk.

The best thing I got out of the conference is a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. My struggles are normal, not an indication that I'm doing something wrong or that I myself am the problem. It's simply a combination of contrary personalities and deep-seated tendencies that find themselves at odds with each other. My plan, as it always should be, is to be open about what I'm facing, seek understanding and peace, and keep working towards what I've decided is best for my family.

Just keep swimming. (*grin*)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

OJ's America

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Over the past few months or so, my husband and I have spent our evening time together watching both the documentary OJ: Made in America and the dramatized account of the trial of the century The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin. We are both lawyerly (he's an actual attorney, I had plans but ended up with four kids instead!) and thus were interested in the details that surrounded such a high-profile and controversial case.

We are also firm advocates of improved race relations, which is of course at the center of this story.

There are summaries of the story and reviews of the shows available all over the place. This article very succinctly gets to the main point:

[When the verdict was read] I couldn’t grasp sympathy for a man I was told was a killer. Today, I understand. What an overdue epiphany.

I watched these episodes with a great deal of both compassion and frustration. On the one hand, I appreciate the opportunity to understand the mindset of all those who were involved, particularly as most of the people at the center of the event are completely foreign to me. So I now get why OJ declared himself innocent. It's not unusual for domestic abusers to completely disassociate from their own actions, as this article highlights. I also get why Nicole was so drawn to him, why so many people fell for his charm and truly, deeply, found it impossible to believe he could have committed such a horrible crime.

And I understand the position of the defense to attack the evidence rather than trying to prove OJ's innocence. They were trying to draw attention to a larger problem, one that they felt transcended the particulars of this case. The producers clearly articulated the deep-seated need for the black community to have a victory, after centuries of injustice. Johnny Cochran had spent his life fighting against police brutality and bringing to light the egregious manner in which black people were treated. While every white person in the country felt kinship with Ron Goldman's father and Nicole Simpson's sister, every black person remembered Rodney King and felt kinship with OJ Simpson.

But there's where understanding ends and frustration begins. Because OJ Simpson was not an innocent bystander. He was not a victim of racism or police brutality. He was not part of the larger pantheon of black Americans who suffered oppression, tyranny, fear, and other legacies of racism and slavery. Even if he was, it does not heal centuries of injustice against black people to visit injustice on a white person. 

The focus of the case was not on ignoring the victims, of course. It was, as Cochran said in his closing arguments, on taking a stand against injustice and racism. Who wouldn't support such a laudable goal? Why would the jury act in a small and selfish manner to achieve justice for two individuals when they could deliver justice to an entire people?

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we know it didn't work. The reason is obvious: there can be no overarching virtue that is not practiced in the small, immediate, and mundane moments of our everyday lives. Racial inequality is not overturned by a massive court case. It's overcome by countless small acts of fairness done by ordinary people who hear their neighbor speak out against immigrants and say "That's not fair," or give up their seat on the train to a woman in hijab, or come to the defense of a stranger in a restaurant.

It helps to know the background, to have a context that explains why they did it, even if I think they made the wrong choice. For me, the complete disconnect between white Americans' reactions to the verdict and black Americans' reactions were the most interesting part of the story. While I wouldn't be dancing and singing if I heard the verdict read for the first time today, at least now I understand why so many people did.

And understanding this divide is key to how we plan our future as a nation. On the eve of Independence Day, I think it's appropriate to reflect on whether this great country is truly the land of opportunity and freedom that we claim to be. I am myself an immigrant, and have only been a US citizen for half my life. I'm going to spend today and tomorrow celebrating my country, and praying for those whose experiences here are less joyful than mine has been.