We were on our way to Garner State Park. It was after church, so my wife packed a lunch for the drive out. Everyone was enjoying each new treat until my youngest daughter discovered the Mint Milano Cookie she was eating would be her last. Her wail was heartrending. At two and a half-years of age, she knew the decibel limits allowed in the car, but she was distraught. Her sorrow knew no bounds.

As I turned to reason with her I was astounded to discover her mouth was full of cookie. It’s hard to cry with your mouth full of cookie. I thought, “What’s this? Your taste buds are slathered in scrumptiousness while your mind is roiling for want.” Weekly sermons make me mindful of illustrative material. I knew human nature was unveiled – we spoil good moments fearing future events.

During this time of National Thanksgiving, we can miss the pleasure of a thankful heart. Like my daughter we can miss joys of the moment worrying about the future. Likewise, past regrets can spoil good times. I’m speaking now in the comfortable offices of KQED. Most of you are listening from comfortable homes or comfortable modes of transportation. Our moments are mostly pretty good. I will return to a household where preparations are being made for a Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends. I have helped others to obtain rich fare for their tables. I live in a country of magnificent abundance and a spirit of giving that blossoms especially well in this season.

These examples are just a few of the blessings afforded to us as Americans. Abraham Lincoln was right to establish the 4th Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving. In the midst of a horrible Civil War, he knew life is made worse by failing to recognize the gifts we do possess.

We shouldn’t miss simple pleasures worrying about the future, regretting things that will not change or being caught up in frustration. So if that line at the supermarket gets you down, take out some Mint Milano cookies, share them with those around you and let everyone know how glad you are to live in a country where store shelves are full.

With a Perspective, this is Steve Torgerson.

Steve Torgerson is a retired Air Force chaplain. He served in Iraq and was wing chaplain at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

It’s an old saying: You are what you eat. But more and more Richard Swerdlow finds the people he knows turning the old saw on its head.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, that holiday where everyone overeats, I’ve been noticing our local fixation with food; what we eat – and what we don’t eat.

Sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free… I’ve been to dinner parties where the entire meal conversation consisted of guests boasting about what they do not eat. Food avoidance as competitive sport: no-fat beats low-fat, vegetarians one-up gluten-free, and vegans one-up vegetarians.

Lactose-free, soy-free, no carbs… not an only-in-the-Bay-Area phenomenon, but here, it’s remarkable how so many people seem bizarrely preoccupied by what they decide – or decide not – to eat.

Yes, some have serious, even life-threatening reasons for eliminating certain foods – allergies or medical conditions. And, of course, everyone should maintain a reasonably healthy diet.

But fashionable food abstinence one-upmanship has reached near-fetish proportions. Who hasn’t been food-shamed by a food snob who is judging your lunch, bragging that’s something they don’t eat? The coolest thing about a lot of people is what they don’t do, rather than what they do do.

How ironic, in a city famous for food, many people’s identities are invested in what they’re into not eating. The privileged hipster, grabbing a vegan organic kale green juice at the alternative grocery cooperative as she rides her bike to yoga is a Bay Area stereotype. But at some point clean eating can morph into eating disorder. Does no-meat, no-wheat, no-sugar eventually become a no-food diet?

I’m not against healthy eating, but I hope this recipe for being cool is more than just a trendy list of the latest item to leave off the menu. Because no matter how hip, being a picky eater stops being cute around age five.

I’m probably going to get a lot of hate about this. But that’s OK. They’re just grumpy because they’re hungry.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Digital learning is supposed to be not only a plus but also a necessity for a modern school. But Martin Turkis isn’t sold on the notion that better technology equals better education.

On a recent tour of one of San Francisco’s sexiest public schools, the principal proudly pointed out that the kindergartners use iPads to complete much of their classwork and that by third grade they’re expected to be adepts with Google’s G Suite. Many parents of prospective students were impressed. My wife was horrified.

The topic of screen overload for kids inspires heated debate: While many experts argue that it contributes to ADHD, inability to read human emotions, difficulty with logical reasoning, and a general decrease in mental health, the fact that it’s very difficult for researchers to move beyond correlation and prove causation gives many parents and educators a pass for going with the techno-flow. Thus youngsters pick up tablets rather than books.

But there’s another reason to challenge the prevalence of tech in schools: Despite the enormous cost of such gadgets, research indicates that they don’t improve educational outcomes and may even hold students back. One international OECD analysis finds “no appreciable improvements in student achievement” in nations with tech-laden learning. A more recent study at West Point found that students who used tablets or laptops in class significantly under-performed their paper-and-pen peers. And these findings aren’t outliers – they represent the trend in serious investigations of techno-educational efficacy.

Why, then, do so many favor digitizing our children’s learning? Starry-eyed futurism? The white-knuckled economic angst of tiger-parents? Gadget-worship? The corporate colonization of classrooms? All of the above? Whatever the case, the money thrown at ed-tech might be better spent decreasing class sizes or paying teachers in San Francisco a just wage.

Years ago, as a young English teacher, the room filled with the rising chatter of laughter and conversation when I ended lessons early. Not so now. Just last week we wrapped up before the bell. The classroom remained sadly, sullenly silent – students gazing dumbly at their phones, fingers feverishly twitching out texts.

There are some helpful classroom technologies, so we should remain open – but the instructional value of such “innovations” mustn’t be taken on faith when children are on the line. So my wife and I will be scratching that sexy school off our list.

With a Perspective, I’m Martin Turkis.

Martin Turkis is a teacher, musician and writer. He lives in San Francisco.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the Perspectives series and external links in this text are those of its commentators and not necessarily those of its funder or KQED Public Radio.) 

It was only 7:30 am but already I was in a foul mood.

I was running late for work. My coffee maker was doing that thing again. I’d changed my outfit three times and still didn’t like what I was wearing. And it was raining, hard. My shoes were soaked from my five-block walk to the carpool pick-up spot.

I was drenched from the knees down by the time I climbed into the front seat of a mini-van. The driver — a kind-faced, 50-something year old woman — was dressed all in shades of vibrant blue, from her earrings down to her tennis shoes. She was like a Caribbean sea in human form. But instead of warming from her glow, I recoiled further under my dark cloud.

As we inched through the traffic on 580, the driver hummed along to a song on the radio. Something light and poppy, inane. I thought, “How can she be so damn cheerful?”

And then I noticed the directions mapped out on her phone, and realized that she was on her way to the Breast Health Center.

Since childhood, breast cancer has been firmly lodged into the back of my mind. My mother had — and thankfully beat — it when she was two years younger than I am now. I’ve been checking the box for “immediate family history of cancer” at the doctor’s office for years.

There is nothing cheerful about breast cancer.

The woman in the mini-van wasn’t dressed for a job interview, and I reasoned that she wouldn’t need directions if she already worked there. I could only conclude that either she or someone she cared for was visiting the center for the reason we hope we never need to.

We continued to inch across the bridge — the driver still humming to the radio — and again I wondered, “How can she be so damn cheerful?” but this time it was with awe, not irritation.

At last we made it downtown, and as I exited the mini-van, the woman called out, “Hope you have a great day!”

I looked back at her in her blue glow, and said, “I hope you do, too.”

And I meant it.

With a Perspective, I’m Lisa Thomson.

Lisa Thomson is a marketer and writer. She lives in Oakland.

I walked along the leaf-strewn path flanking the eastern base of Mt. Tamalpais. A soft fog floated aimlessly between naked trees and redwood groves. A gentle rain was falling. The only sound was the crush of my boots against a tapestry of fallen leaves. Nothing stirred. I was an intruder almost in a glen stilled by winter, eerily motionless. How calm, how quiet, how. . . misleading.

I stooped to pick up a fallen leaf; vivid splashes of red and gold but crimped by age at the edges. A dead leaf, yes, but also a symbol of renewal. This panoply of leaves on which I walked would gradually decompose, providing sustenance for insects and fungi which would, in turn, produce a nutrient-rich soil for future growth; a constantly on-going, recycling process where nothing really dies but merely changes character, from leaf to mulch to growth again. And though the process is terrestrial, it requires an orchestration of sun, wind, rain and soil in the miraculous recycling of Earth’s components.

The sky opened up as the gentle rain turned to a heavy downpour. My usual reaction would be to run for cover, but this time, I lifted my face to the rain, and tasted the sensation, realizing at once, that we, too, are a part of this renewal process. At the end of the path, I spotted a sapling, alone but well-nurtured by the process that had brought is this far. I looked back at where I had strolled: nothing was really calm or still in this glen. Rather, it was all a staging area, a reassemblage of energy poised and ready for the next Spring.

With a Perspective, I’m Deidre Silverman.

Deidre Silverman lives in San Rafael.

Although schools are intended to be a place of tolerance and equality among students, for Youth Radio’s Arnav Gupta fissures appeared in how he views his community.

I attend an elite private school. It’s like a tiny utopia, within the already liberal bubble of the Bay Area. But recently, my perception of my school community as an accepting, tolerant place was shaken dramatically.

It started when my best friend and I got selected as advice columnists for our school newspaper. We sent out an online form to the entire campus, soliciting questions for our column. We were asking people to bare their souls, anonymously of course, revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings.

But those unspoken sentiments… well, they weren’t exactly what we expected.

“Why is your nose so big?” “When are you two getting married?” “Why are you perpetually single?”

My best friend and I are both Indian in a student body that’s majority white. So it’s hard not to read some of these statements as racially charged. At the very least, they were cruel. They didn’t have playful or joking connotations – they were incredibly personal.

Once my classmates had the opportunity to speak anonymously, it was like an entirely new side of them came out, one of fervent hatred and unashamed criticism. They went after my physical appearance, quirks and characteristics, relationship status, while at the same time smiling at me in the hallways.

Knowing the disparaging things that my peers are thinking about me, it affects me on a daily basis. I have no idea who submitted these statements, no way of tracking them down. I unconsciously view classmates with inherent suspicion; unsure if the persona they’re projecting outwards is just a cover for their internal hatred.

It may be naive, but before seeing those survey results, I felt protected from this kind of bullying. My school especially, has preached the virtues of embracing each other’s differences, of standing strong together as members of a tight-knit community.

I’m still mourning the sense of safety I lost, but deep down I knew it couldn’t last forever. I’ll have to confront these prejudices everyday anyways, might as well start training early.

With a Perspective, I’m Arnav Gupta.

17-year-old Arnav Gupta is a high school senior and lives in Fremont. His Perspective comes to us from Youth Radio.

Many of us associate getting old with diminishing capacity, both physical and intellectual. Pete Gavin doesn’t see it that way.

An old friend and teacher of mine has an exhibit in Berkeley on what it means to be old, something many of us don’t think a lot about – at least not directly. Or…we think about it too much, though not in a welcoming way. Yet, there are many advantages to aging.

When interviewed on television and asked what his favorite word was, Anthony Hopkins said, “No. Because it took me a lifetime to learn to say it.”

As I age, I worry less about conforming to rules of decorum and etiquette. I have license to be true to my real self. Life is too short to do things I don’t want to do.

Another benefit of age is learning what’s really important. Things that once caused stress or anxiety sort of wash away because in the big picture, they don’t matter that much. Like my wife reminds me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”

As I start to shed my rigid self, I’m exposed to thoughts and experiences previously not possible. I am learning to be more open-minded, more accepting, and I see beauty in places I never did before. By letting go, I open up.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I think he meant younger folks take things for granted. As I age, I pause and notice beauty, humor, contentment, a warm soothing breeze, a stranger’s engaging smile, the freshness of a piece of fruit. It’s easier to laugh at myself when I do something silly or stupid because my ego is less controlling.

When I was a kid, lying awake at night imaging my future life, I always thought my 20s would be my favorite decade, but what I found was the opposite. Every decade was better than the one before. I’ve had a good life, but I wouldn’t want to relive it. I’m grateful for the memories, but I’m even more excited for what’s coming than what’s been.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired teacher of middle school English.

We almost didn’t find it. Our 1960s map showed the archaeological site along a creek by a trail. No one had seen it since. We crisscrossed the area. About to give up, we checked the thick brush, and peeking out from the poison oak were clam shells, obsidian and dark soil. I scrambled through and dropped down into the creekbed. There, in the cutbank, was a black band of soil, the remnants of Coast Miwok habitation here in Point Reyes from centuries ago.

When the first archaeologists were here, this was ranchland, and the ground was exposed. They saw everything, whereas now we’re lucky to get to it. The coastal chaparral is so dense that it’s hard to get anywhere without a machete.

It didn’t look like this when the Coast Miwok were here, either. This site was open, as were all of the occupied places along the coast. By changing the landscape to what we thought was a pristine environment, we’ve taken humans off the land. This is not the same as returning it to what it was before white people came. Recent research from UC Berkeley has found that Coast Miwok have periodically burned portions of Point Reyes for at least 2,000 years. It kept grazing land clear, parasites down, and enriched the soil for young plants.

The tribal community has been telling us for centuries now that people are part of the land, part of the seasonal rhythms of plants and animals, and they help shape the world they live. If we wanted an environment before humans, we’d have to go back to the Pleistocene. Unless we reintroduce Colombian mammoth, we’re not going back to a pre-human natural landscape. What we’re left with now are public lands choked with brush that are both a fire hazard and a challenge towards maintaining biodiversity. The time has come to revisit our land management policies, and bring people back to the land in ways that build environmental resiliency and long-term health in our parks and forests.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Mike Newland is an archaeologist.

Hello, I’m Paul and I am a member of the coastal elite. I’ve been told I live in a bubble.

Now if this really were a 12-step group you’d all greet me in unison and then I would share my tale of woe. But that’s not going to happen.

Instead of expressing regret, I want to give you a tour of my bubble.

When I leave for work and walk down my block I pass by homes where men live with their husbands and women with their wives, because in my bubble, people can love as they choose without fear of persecution and harassment.

When I get to the BART station I don’t expect everything to be in working order. But there is one thing I can count on: the train I board will be filled with people drawn from every continent. The family connections in my bubble extend to the four corners of the Earth.

My commute takes me under the bay and then emerges above ground in West Oakland. Here is the evidence that not everything in my bubble is state of the art and new and shiny. I can see what happens when jobs leave and the government response is inadequate or misguided. In my bubble the plight of the white working class has been the struggle of the black and brown working class for decades.

My commute ends in downtown Oakland, a place where all the challenge and promise of urban America intersect. In my bubble the work continues and it is never finished.

In the evening when I return home, depending on the season, I walk in sunshine or fog, in the wind or in the rain, and this reminds me that my bubble is part of something larger: a fragile green and blue sphere that calls for stewardship, not exploitation.

This bubble is where I live with the people I love and it is where I will take my stand. I am not looking for guidance on how to accept the things I cannot change. Instead, I am vowing to change the things I cannot accept.

With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.

We do what’s important to us. And for Maria del Rosario Chan that meant giving her great uncle what he wanted and need most as his health was failing.

I gave him something he didn’t have much left of, and that was time.

Every day, I called him around 5 pm. Any later, he might be asleep. He would have good days and bad days. On his good days, I might be able to sound out the words he was murmuring. But on his bad days, he couldn’t even respond. All he could do was listen. The one-sided conversations with their long silence made me uncomfortable. I would just wait for his next utterance and think of something next to say.

Kao gong, my 78-year-old great uncle, lived in a nursing home in Las Vegas. I used to see him every day growing up. He drove me everywhere and did every kind of errand to make my life better. Whatever I wanted or needed, he gave me. I had to be careful not to mention if I liked something, because the next thing you know, there it was; not just one, but a hundred of them.

Eventually, the acts of generosity stopped when Kao gong moved to Las Vegas. I missed him terribly and would only call occasionally. But as his condition worsened, the phone calls became more frequent and my nightly prayers got longer. Regardless of what I was doing, I dropped everything and called him. My great aunt would tell me if I made him smile, and if he ate well or looked alert. I prayed for good days like that.

Teenagers are not known to be so affectionate with the elderly. We may not have the patience to converse and keep them company. For me, there was nothing I loved more than to talk to my great uncle and hear that he was doing well. I wanted him to eke out one more day, to have one more tomorrow.

On my last call, I told him we would be visiting in two weeks and that maybe I could take him out to walk around the garden. That was one of our best calls. He responded with energy and clarity–because he was using all the strength he had left.

The next day, I did not have to make that call at 5 o’clock. Kao gong’s time was up. And I didn’t know what to do with that extra time. All I could do was miss him.

With a Perspective, I’m Maria del Rosario Chan.

Maria del Rosario Chan is a sophomore at Piedmont High School.

If any one should be able to exercise neutral objectivity, it should be a professional mediator like Richard Friedlander. But it’s easier said than done.

An urban legend tells us that anything that happens to you has also happened on Seinfeld. Which is quite something for a show that was was about nothing. The same could be said of mediation. Not that it’s about nothing, but the problems of communication also visit Seinfeld. When I was learning the mediator trade in a community setting, a sacred cow mooed that mediators had to share the same ethnicity or gender as the parties to mediate a dispute. To me, this was utter nonsense. After all, mediation is the belief that parties can settle disputes by themselves, that what counts is the mediator’s ability to listen, categorizing is irrelevant, and after all, mediators are neutral.

If I ever believed that categorizing didn’t matter, I was being naive. People are inclined to believe someone of their own background will understand them better than an outsider. And psst!: no mediator is completely neutral.

Profiling also has a major role on Seinfeld, since it’s something we do every day, often without thought: a precondition to reducing the world to a manageable size. For instance, I can’t read every book ever written. The unwitting shadow cast by an author’s name, photograph or bio I find hard to ignore. In legal speak, I am accepting ad hominem evidence: reacting to a person rather than to whatever they might tell me. Thus, he, being a he, is automatically barred from writing on women’s issues; and, of course, vice-versa. And yet, her natural female bias must naturally taint what she says about women, and ditto for men. Hence, I am caught in an illogical cleft-stick of my own making.

Being an outsider does not necessarily disqualify our views any more than being an insider validates them. Sometimes, outsiders can see a forest where insiders see only trees. Ignoring my reading prejudices might open me to worthwhile adventures. Parties that can accept a mediator from another tribe just might resolve their problem. If not, the world isn’t a village; it’s a closet. And not as funny as Seinfeld.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor. He lives in the East Bay.

Early morning weekday mass is a quiet scene. About two dozen folks show up for some meditative time and scripture, prayers of intentions and gratitude, Communion, some socializing.

On any given morning there is an eclectic mix of attendees; a young Hispanic mom with two kids, older couples, a nun in a windbreaker and khaki pants, a young person or two on their way to school or work, a shy homeless gent by the door with his gigantic backpack, elderly ladies quietly telling their rosary beads.

One of the regulars is a cheerful, diminutive Hispanic woman, well into her 70’s who, despite the predictable eighth-decade health issues, shows up rain or shine, and often does the scripture readings. Over the years I’ve known her, I’ve seen her at peace demonstrations or politically related events; cooking enchiladas at fundraisers or feeding the hungry in our community. This, of course, when I was usually busy with much more “important things” to do.

On a recent morning I was looking for her after mass to share some news. I found her in a small alcove of the church standing before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, head bowed, the bright morning sun streaming through the stained glass, illuminating her head of cropped, white hair. I stood at a distance until she turned and recognized me with her familiar smile. We spoke briefly, and I helped her push open the heavy church door, as she ambled out into the morning on her new knee, and the door thudded closed behind her.

For a minute I thought about what little I really knew about her life’s journey and the principled spirit that I see quietly burning in her. I’d like to think, I have to think, that the world is full of people like her – non-celebrities who don’t take themselves too seriously but who take on what they do with purpose and humor.

Incidentally, her first name is “Esperanza”, Spanish for “Hope.”

Remarkable.

Hope.

A good idea, that.

With a Perspective, I’m Joe Pramuk.

Joe Pramuk is a retired physician. He lives in Napa.

My name is Fay and I’m a recovering alcoholic. I grew up in the Bay Area and went to college, got a masters, married, raised kids, and built my career. During most of that time, alcohol and drugs were my fuel.

I started using as a teenager when my brother died. That didn’t make me an alcoholic. It was just the reason I turned to drugs and alcohol. I felt uncomfortable, lonely, and different. Drinking and drugging changed that. Partying meant no pain and not being alone. I spent most of those years buzzed, but the good grades, sports, leadership positions, and promotions – they were proof that life was on-track.

In college, I discovered most people don’t blackout when they drink. But, alcohol and drugs were a social norm and part of the fun. And I fit right in.

Two decades later, they stopped working for me. I began to feel a bit insane. I couldn’t stop using and wouldn’t ask for help. So I divorced, moved, got in better shape, changed jobs, cut out sugar and flour. Yet, the insanity was I couldn’t cut out drinking.

Nine years ago this week, I got sober. The journey back to life has been incredible. I have ups and downs, of course, but I no longer seek escape through alcohol or drugs. Yet so many friends didn’t understand why I stopped.

Addiction is isolating, insanity-making, debilitating, and goes largely untreated due to stigma, ignorance and shame. Those of us who get sober stay silent to avoid judgment. But by sharing our stories we can change understanding.

Addiction is not a choice, moral failing, or sign of weakness. And recovery can look like you and me. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area living successfully in recovery, yet they are virtually invisible.

Today, I am using my voice to call attention to the health, happiness and healing possible in recovery. I know this. My life is proof. Its time to end shame and open up about recovery.

With a Perspective, I’m Fay Zenoff.

Fay Zenoff is executive director of a San Francisco nonprofit working to erase the stigma of addiction and promote the benefits of recovery.

Wildlife doesn’t exist only in the wild, and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has some tips for how we can be better neighbors.

The animals who live among us are part of our communities; they are residents, cohabitants, contributors — not outsiders or intruders. What’s more, our assault on them can be viewed as harbingers of our larger environmental destiny. If we can’t attend to the animals in our own backyards, the long-term chances for biological diversity in the rest of this world are grim.

Every animal whose space we share in our urban and suburban neighborhoods — from the diurnal deer, squirrels, bees, and birds to the nocturnal foxes, skunks, rats, raccoons, mountain lions, and opossums — face challenges that threaten their very survival every day: noisy leaf-blowers and unleashed dogs, speeding cars and light pollution, chemical runoff, rampant habitat loss, and a human species so hostile to their existence we install non-native landscapes they can’t eat, delicious plants they love but are hindered from or punished for eating, and fences that inhibit their ability to travel freely to find food, water, or shelter.

Biological diversity in our urban and suburban areas is declining at alarming rates, and since the underlying cause is easy to identify — human behavior — the underlying solutions are equally apparent: human behavior.

A few changes can make all the difference. We can:

*Stop planting non-native landscapes. Animals can’t survive without the plants they co-evolved with.

*Give plant-eaters a break. Yes, newly planted trees and shrubs will be tested by hungry deer, but just keeping new plants protected from these natural herbivores for the first few years means they can withstand a little nibbling once they’re more mature.

*Stop using netting to protect those trees. Animals who get caught in them suffer tremendously.

*Stop poisoning rats. If not because there are more humane ways to deal with uninvited critters in our homes, then because rat poison hurts everyone in the food web.

*Create wildlife corridors to allow animals to move freely through our yards without risking the dangers of the road.

It’s not that we can make a difference in this world. It’s that we do make a difference. Everything we do has an impact on something or someone else. The question is: do we want that difference to be negative or positive.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and writer living in Oakland.

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