Get. A. Job.
These three words are a common reaction-spoken or unspoken-to seeing people on the streets or elsewhere, who are out of work. We would all prefer that people who are homeless stop living on the streets and start earning a paycheck and paying rent. We would all rather see people who are coming out of the prison system transition successfully to jobs rather than end up incarcerated again.
But have you ever asked yourself if you would hire these men and women?
As I know from my work over the past 30 years, tens of thousands of people here in the Bay Area-and millions nationally-want to work but are regularly excluded from the workforce.
Recently, local news outlets banded together to shine a spotlight on homelessness-and while this was the start of increasing empathy for people in need, many lamented the lack of solutions. But in fact there are proven solutions. Of course housing is critical. But so is helping people who face homelessness and other barriers go to work…so they can pay the rent. And we know how to do that. For example, social enterprises are businesses that hire and assist people to overcome barriers, work, and contribute. For every dollar a social enterprise spends, society and taxpayers receive a return of 123%.
Yet I believe real change will happen at the scale needed only when we double down on both providing solutions for people to turn to, and in turn, changing our own hearts and minds to think differently about people struggling on the fringes of our economy. Instead of viewing them as a burden needing help, we can see people who have lived through tough times as having much to contribute, and plenty of motivation because of lessons they’ve learned the hard way. They can be among the most dedicated, hardworking employees when given a chance.
For most of us, Labor Day is about picnics and sales. But for too many people it is a reminder of their exclusion from the workforce. This Labor Day, let’s help make work a reality for all who are willing and able to contribute by hiring and supporting people to gain the dignity that comes with earning a paycheck.
With a Perspective, I’m Carla Javits.
Carla Javits is President and CEO of REDF, which invests in social enterprises- businesses that hire people who otherwise would be shut out of the workforce.
My son has a Snoopy the Dog book that says this on page one: “Just like Snoopy, what you can achieve is limited only by your imagination. You can be anything!” As a parent, this message – that our kids can do anything if they dream big and work hard – is deeply alluring.
But as a psychologist, I find this well-intentioned message distressing. Why?
Telling kids that they can do anything obscures the critical role of chance in success. As Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman puts it: “Success = Talent + Luck. Great success = A little more talent + A Lot of Luck.”
So skill, and the hard work needed to cultivate a skill, is a key part of success, but luck plays a critical role, too. By luck, I mean all of the varieties of random chance, including opportunity, genetics and circumstances of birth, like poverty.
Despite this hard truth, society often ignores the influence of random chance on success. And herein lies the problem.
When some kids don’t achieve their dreams, those who don’t recognize the role of chance in determining life’s outcomes may blame themselves or stop trying. On the other hand, those who do succeed may overestimate their own role in it, and see those who have average resumes as inferior or less deserving.
It’s simply a statistical fact that not everyone can grow up to be a Supreme Court justice or a best-selling author. Our futures are shaped by many forces beyond our control. Then too, most of us will be average; that’s the definition of average, after all.
But so what? Why do we mourn the idea that our futures are not limitless? Why do so many of us dislike the idea of having average kids?
This is not to say that we parents shouldn’t encourage our kids to dream big and work hard, just that a focus on achievement per se ultimately does kids and ourselves a disservice.
When we create a mindset that high achievement is better than being average, that high achievers are more special or deserving, we diminish our kids’ ability to value both themselves and others.
With a Perspective, I’m Dr. Erica Reischer.
Dr. Erica Reischer is a psychologist, author, and parent coach in Oakland. She is the mother of two.
Franklin Roosevelt said, and Hillary Clinton recently repeated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I don’t think so. Fear itself is not particularly frightening, and even if it were, fearing it would not help. Regardless, what we have to fear matters less than what we do with fear. Do we acknowledge or deny it? Does it teach us or rule us?
Among many other things, I fear the glib adages of politicians, adages that seem sensible, comforting, even inspirational but, on reflection, prove to be empty, deceptive, even dangerous, making the speaker seem wise and trustworthy when his words should give the opposite impression. The most dangerous BS is BS that seems like common sense.
In 2004, Barack Obama famously said, “There is no red or blue America; there is only the United States of America.” Thunderously well received at the time and endlessly repeated thereafter, this statement was deceptive, bordering on delusional. It was destructive, too. We were deeply divided then; we are even more deeply divided now; and the notion that we weren’t helped to perpetuate the problem by piling denial on top of it.
However this election turns out, we will remain deeply divided. We will have to struggle to achieve a sufficient consensus to allow us to progress. It won’t be pretty. We can take a modest step forward by subjecting political rhetoric to the strict scrutiny it deserves. Fewer illusions during an election campaign will make for fewer disappointments afterward, when a new President and Congress will actually have to govern and when campaign rhetoric will no longer obscure the difficulty of that task. If we fear anything, let it be the assumption that a working democracy is easy to achieve.
With a perspective, I’m Jeremy Friedlander.
Jeremy Friedlander lives in San Francisco.
There’s a cold civil war brewing in the US and one of the coldest fronts is where factions attempt to draw the line on political correctness, a term that, for all its power these days, perhaps enough to derail our nation’s politics, few people bother to define.
We’re told PC is wrong, but what is it? One vague notion is that it’s taking offense. If you’re offended by what I do, then you’re PC and therefore wrong.
The main target of PC-policing these days is the left, always fretting about things said by right wingers. Many Trump supporters subscribe to this notion. To them, it’s time to throw off the shackles of left-wing hypersensitivity.
There are plenty of hypersensitivities on the right too, but somehow these don’t count. Fox news fretting about gay marriage, Planned Parenthood, and transgender bathrooms. No that’s not PC, that’s just upholding standards.
The United States is an apt oxymoron of a name for our country. Which are we, a united whole, or individual states? It matters, since they’re opposites.
The answer is both and that’s not easy. Individual states, not just the 50, but our diverse states of mind will clash. That’s democracy.
Whenever there’s conflict the question arises: Who is being hypersensitive and who is being insensitive? It can’t be answered by accusing each other of political correctness, since in conflict, we’re all offended. The touchy, toughy anti-PC police as much as admit it, saying “I’m offended that you’re offended.”
I think a better definition of political correctness comes from taking the term literally. Politics is the struggle for power. Correctness is having the 100% right answer
If there’s anything to police in our country, it’s the trump-card self-certainty that the term suggests when read literally. Political correctness is the tendency for any faction to get on its high-horse, certain that it has the 100% correct solution to our country’s challenges, no debate, no negotiation, just civil war with anyone who disagrees with us.
With a Perspective, I’m Jeremy Sherman.
Jeremy Sherman is an author and a blogger for Psychology Today.
The University of Chicago cleverly cloaks the moment parents let go of their freshman in “tradition.” New student orientation week begins with a move-in day, followed by a gathering of freshmen and their parents in the chapel for a lighthearted but meaningful welcome. Bagpipers—seriously, bagpipers!—then lead a procession of parents and students to Hull Gate, also known as “the gate of tears.”
Perhaps you can see where this is going?
Several years ago, I was one of the parents giving the hugs and goodbyes on one side of the gate, through which parents were forbidden to pass. Beyond it, upperclassmen stood cheering the entering class while we parents mopped our eyes and found our way to a reception with some swanky college administrators we might have loved to meet any other day.
At the reception, we were asked not to contact our children for the remainder of the week.
Or maybe that was at the gathering in the chapel. Maybe it was forewarned in the scads of college-bound materials that blur in a memory that holds, instead, to the high school poker gang gathered in my dining room, the physics catapult that wouldn’t launch despite a team bound for Stanford, MIT, Chicago and Boalt, the last late-night talks with my son.
Whatever. It came as a shock to me. But a good shock, in retrospect, and maybe even at the time. The bandage was ripped off. If I had any urge to be a helicopter mom or my husband a drone dad, my son’s school was making it clear: it was time for all good parents to go leave their freshmen children in autonomous mode.
We spend so much of our time and emotional energy on our children that it’s hard to imagine letting go. But parenting is a job that, if we do it well, by definition obsoletes us. Sure, our children may crash against the walls of introductory architecture or multivariable calculus, but that’s rarer than we fear, and we won’t know if we don’t let them go. More importantly, neither will they.
Meg Waite Clayton is a novelist living on the Peninsula.
A while back my friend told me about a fight she had with her mom after a dinner party with other parents, not my own. She told me about how her mother screamed at her, “Isn’t Sophia the one that was having oral sex in the 8th grade?!”
This was the topic of conversation between parents.
To be fair, I did partake in a consensual, sexual relationship with a boy of an appropriate age when I was 14. What’s odd was that, to the best of my knowledge, none of those parents were there when the event in question happened. None of these parents were affected by it. Yet they still needed to discuss my experiences over wine.
I don’t regret any sexual decision I’ve ever made. Nor do I mind if people know.
What I do mind, is when a group of adults disregard their own lives and begin using mine as a discussion topic.
In that moment my body was a weapon in the party game: Slut shame the teenager.
All that’s needed is a few adults, with lives and interests outside of a teenager, and oral sex she may or may not have had. Within hours, those adults were left to nothing but gossiping about the sex life of a teenage girl.
It’s sad, really.
One of the parents tried to friend me on Facebook. I wonder if she knew about the time where her son slid his hand up my thigh, ignoring the “No’s,” the “Stop touching me’s.”
Did she know that he tried to unbutton my jeans? Did she know that we were in class when it happened? Of course she didn’t. I was probably asking for it.
See, these parents are always down for playing trash talk the teenager. Bad-talking girls like me all they want because their kids are the “good kids.” They don’t get into trouble.
No amount of sexual assault will taint their child’s reputation, but one consensual act ruins mine.
So go ahead, play slut shame the teenager. Use my body against me. But know that it is not just my body.
It is your daughter’s body.
It is your sister’s body.
It is every woman’s body.
More importantly it is not your body, and therefore, none of your business.
With a Perspective, I’m Sophia Linda.
Sophia Linda is a high school junior in the Bay Area.
It’s 3:30 in the morning, and I’m sitting in my favorite chair: a crinkled and worn, brown leather recliner. One of our cats has discovered I’m up, and he’s come to say hello. Miles, our 11 year-old springer spaniel, is curled up on his bed beside me, snoring. Otherwise, it’s quiet, except for the distant humming of an appliance, the wind outside and the creaking of the house.
When I find myself unable to sleep through the night, I grab a blanket and stretch out in my chair in the living room, the light beside me casting a warm, yellow glow allowing me to read, pet the cat, or listen to the night sounds of the house.
About 10 years ago I had my first real bout of insomnia. It was dreadful. For two weeks I couldn’t sleep a wink. Things had changed at work, and I just couldn’t let it go. As each day passed into night, I felt more pressure to arrest this new pattern and finally tumble into sleep. Deep, beautiful sleep. But the more I tried, the harder it became. I was caught in a vicious cycle of my mind. I became desperate and found myself in the ER one night, begging the doctor for relief. He gave it to me in the form of a shot. Finally, my prayers were answered.
But I had entered a new phase of my life. No longer would I take sleep for granted. I created new routines and formed a novel appreciation for the tenuous patterns of the mind.
My relationship with sleep has now evolved to a place where when I wake up in the middle of the night – and by no means does this occur every night – I don’t fight it. I just go with it. It’s strange, but now I almost treasure those nights I find myself in my chair, a cat in my lap, my dog at my feet, a good book in my hands.
It’s actually the best time.
With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.
Pete Gavin teaches 8th grade English at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.
I recently returned from a fishing trip to Northern California. I head up there three or four times a year, like thousands of others, to put myself in that beautiful place where nature is mostly untroubled by human intervention.
I call it a fishing trip, and spend most days with a fly rod splashing through the streams and lakes, but my thrill with these trips isn’t about fish. It’s the way I feel when I’m away from the chaos of city life and closer to that place we all came from.
We are all products of the same raw materials as the trees and the mountains, the ospreys and the bears, and of course, the trout. Thanks to Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and others, we know that we all started as molecules and atoms that through time evolved into astonishingly complex organisms, some who fly, some who swim, and some who think in logical ways. Redwood trees or daffodils, people or bugs, we’ve all made the long journey together.
When we can manage to get away from the man-made things — skyscrapers, bridges, smartphones — and put ourselves among the creatures of nature our bodies and minds seem to remember those beginnings. We become possessed of the calmness of homecoming. I am grateful for stunning architecture, lifesaving medications, electronic marvels, but art and science inspire a different kind of wonder.
That’s why so many of us take ourselves and our families camping or backpacking. We endure the discomfort of tossing around in a bedroll, drinking lousy coffee from a tin cup, shivering in the morning frost, because it’s the only way our minds and our spirits return to that place where we all began.
I’ll be heading back up to the lake in a few weeks. For the first few hours I’ll be dodging semis on I-5. But when I head west into the Trinity Alps, or east into the Cascades, even though my GPS will tell me that I have driven far from where I live, I’ll be coming home.
With a Perspective, I’m Larry Murphy.
Larry Murphy is the retired owner of an Irish pub who lives in Sonoma with his wife, Rose.
Where did we ever get the idea that we’re perfect? I used to think that speaking in public was the one thing that was feared more than death, but after twenty years of trying to get people to resolve their problems by talking with each other, I’ve come to the conclusion that admitting one has made a mistake now occupies the top spot.
The amount of creativity and time wasted by working around this simple act is enough to solve both our energy and employment problems in one swoop. The trust and fellowship that is lost would fill a black hole in space. “Hey, I screwed up” often is enough to put an end to a dispute, and when it isn’t, it’s a good start toward a resolution. Sometimes, it leads to an apology; sometimes, to creating an atmosphere where people are not afraid to give and receive helpful ideas. This applies to relationships across the board: whether it’s a presidential candidate speaking to the electorate, co-workers, marital partners, strangers or friends. You open up, people open up to you.
When Alexander the Great crossed from Europe to Asia, he stopped at a town called Gordium, famous for a huge rope set in a cart that was so intricately knotted that no one had ever been able to untie it. The legend had grown that whoever succeeded in doing this would conquer the world. Alexander strode up to the cart, took one look at the knot, and wasted no time considering what would happen if he pulled this or that strand here or there, or in working out some clever circumvention or self-serving excuse or blaming his failure on somebody else. He had a world to win and only 10 years in which to do it. He drew his sword, and with a single stroke put an end to the knotty problem. And then he went on to conquer pretty much the entire known world.
Alexander might not have made the connection, but if a demi-god, someone close to perfection, could display such humility, isn’t there a chance that we, too, might resolve many of our problems – very few as entangled as Gordian Knots – with a simple “It was my mistake”?
With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.
Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor in the East Bay.
I once voted for Donald for President. Donald Duck was his full name and I remember how virtuous I felt writing in the uncle of Huey, Dewey and Louie as my choice to lead the country. I was very young and like many of my generation, I believed the refusal to vote for an establishment candidate was a statement of great significance. If he and his cronies wouldn’t include on the ballot the poet and freethinker who was my favored candidate, then I would show them!
Well, Donald Duck didn’t win, nor did the establishment candidate I had so righteously stood up to. What I got instead were six years of a President who continued an unwinnable war and sanctioned a criminal break-in to his opposition party’s headquarters. The latter eventually forced his resignation, bringing humiliation not only to him, but to the entire country. In my small way, I had contributed to this shared disgrace. By refusing to vote for my party’s candidate, an experienced man with good credentials who I viewed at the time as a hack, I helped bring America to its knees.
Needless to say, I learned a good lesson from this. An election, and particularly a presidential election, is an emotional process, a time when many of us take huge gulps from deep wells of hope. We want change to come quickly, and believe everything will be so much better when it does. But looking across the decades, I see that good change sometimes comes even when it doesn’t happen exactly the way I want. Two terms of the first African American presidency, and the possible beginning of the first woman’s, show me this. This didn’t come quickly, but it came.
I understand the struggle some voters face having to choose between two major candidates. No one wants to vote for someone who doesn’t touch their deepest hopes. There is a great temptation to write someone in, vote for a candidate who can’t win, or not vote at all. Having done this once, I would not do it again without being fully willing to accept the consequences.
With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.
Carol Arnold is an environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.
Christians, Jews and Muslims collaborating? Aren’t they supposed to be enemies? Not on a hill outside Danville, at San Damiano Retreat Center. There, arranged by a Jewish resettlement agency, nine refugees have stayed over the last year thanks to a multi-faith circle of support.
This improbable cooperation began when Amy Weiss, who works at the agency, was losing sleep. Because of astronomical real estate, she had nowhere to house refugees. She does her work not because refugees are Jewish, but because Jewish people know the meaning of exile. When she sent out a desperate plea, transitional and emergency housing came from an unlikely source; a Catholic friary.
“We’ve got room!” Franciscan Brother Mike Minton responded. In the last year, he’s discovered how refugees bring out the best humanity of all participants. Everyone stands taller: Episcopalians arranged transportation and free haircuts, Mormons donated from their food banks, and Muslims gave clothing. A Methodist minister who’d been making a retreat at the center donated money towards expenses. Later, her Protestant congregation prayed for Catholic Franciscans, in partnership with a Jewish agency, helping Middle-Easterners of various religions.
When a San Damiano employee saw the first resident lifting a laptop high and low around the grounds, she thought he was searching for a signal, and explained he could get WiFi in his room. The boy replied, “I’m Skyping with my mom, so she can see how safe I am.” A Ugandan added: “This is the only place in my life I’ve been fed without expectations.”
Current residents Jamal and Kalal fled Afghanistan 17 years ago when the Taliban targeted their family because their dad served in the army. The older brother wants to be a chef. The younger studies computers.
It’s not idyllic: there’ve been some quarrels and mistrust. But as the world-wide refugee crisis worsens, brave pioneers in northern California are taking tentative steps forward.
With a Perspective, I’m Kathy Coffey.
Kathy Coffey recently made a Muslim-Christian retreat at San Damiano.
When the days are hot and the skies are full of smoke from the wildfires that continue to plague California, I am reminded of a warm and windy Sunday morning in October, nearly 25 years ago.
The fire that began in the Oakland hills swept through neighborhoods in Oakland and Berkeley that day. It came roaring down the hillsides, and jumped over freeways. If the wind hadn’t shifted, people said, the fire would’ve burned all the way to the Bay. Over three thousand homes, including mine, were destroyed in the firestorm. Twenty-five people lost their lives.
When my family evacuated, we had to make decisions quickly. We grabbed mostly what we would refer to now as hard copies: photo albums, baby books, and my Rolodex. My husband backed up the computer onto a couple of square plastic discs. We were luckier than the people who weren’t home that day. They lost everything they’d left behind: all their important papers, all their photographs, all the special — and the ordinary — Items they’d had in their homes.
Someone asked me recently what I would do differently if I had to do it again, evacuate with only a few minutes to decide what to take with me.
Aside from scooping up a few sentimental items, we would make sure we had our cellphones with us. The photos would be saved, the essential documents would reside in The Cloud, and my contacts list would be at my fingertips. I could text friends and loved ones to let them know we were safe. They could contact us in a variety of virtual ways, instead of calling family members on their landlines and having them make notes on those pink “While you were out” message pads.
The things that matter are not any smaller today, but the ways many of us tend to them are. The losses may still be heavy, but the things we save need not be.
Of course, I hope I never have to face that situation again. But if I do, with phone and charger in hand, I’ll be ready.
With a Perspective, I’m Risa Nye.
Risa Nye is a Bay Area native who has written a memoir about losing her home in the 1991 firestorm.
Sometime over the past 20 years, education became a relentless race.
A vogue developed for having one’s very bright pre-schooler jump ahead to start school early. It became a mark of distinction: “My child’s so bright, he’s a prodigy. He should leap ahead!” I’ll say it very clearly: what a mistake that is most of the time.
By middle school, teachers often see the dismal outcome of such well-intentioned yet ill-conceived efforts to rush children towards “success.” Teachers see 8th graders, especially boys, who can’t keep track of their assignments or their sweatshirts. Their manners are bad, their hygiene often worse. They’re brainy, but still dependent on adults.
So here’s a new idea: a year off for these precocious but awkward 8th graders — a gap year — the gift of time to grow up, learn to manage their own lives, before they hit the whirlwind of high school.
As kids mature, there are moments of soaring, but they are accompanied by moments of crawling. We can’t predict which skills children will develop, while others languish for months. Star-struck parents of a four-year-old who can read may not realize he hasn’t mastered sharing the ball on the playground. The nine-year-old who has memorized the state capitals may not be able to write legible ABCs. The 13-year-old math prodigy lacks a social conscience.
Humans need many skills to function well. The narrow competence covered by academics is just that — very narrow, limited. When we hurry children along by observing solely their intellectual strengths, we are blinded to the full range of what they need to grow straight and true.
The root of the word ‘education’ means “to lead forth, to bring up.” Racing through learning, young people are denied deep knowledge.
Let’s not be in such a hurry to have our children spewed out into the world. A gap year offers the gift of extra time to mature, expand, blossom. Nature can’t be hurried. Education is not a race.
With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.
Marilyn Englander is a teacher and head of school at REAL School Marin in Larkspur.