Summer camp

Imagine yourself as a teenager. Now imagine spending three days with your mom at a conference on teen dating violence and healthy relationships.

Yeah…we just did that.

Here’s the set-up: so you know how we haven’t figured out how to end domestic violence? Well, a lot of us are hoping the younger generation will get this whole abuse mess straightened out. The theory is that helping young people develop skills for healthy relationships and healthy sexuality will go a long way towards ending violence.

Only one problem: what do we actually do or say to help teens develop those skills? Lots of folks have been trying lots of things, but the truth is we haven’t figured it all out yet. We sometimes (er, often) don’t even know what to say to our own teens. 

So, we pulled some domestic violence advocates and their kids together for a little summer camp.

Three days later, what can I say? I was part of an incredible experiment. We laughed, we cried, we gave free hugs. My heart is still warmed.

What stood out for me:

  • These moms love their kids. I mean, really love them. And these moms have experienced and seen so much suffering, so much abuse, that all they want to do is create a big bubble to keep their kids safe from harm forever and ever. And…they recognize that they can’t do that. They have fancy theories about violence against women and how pop culture can be a bad influence, and they’re trying hard to talk about all this in a way that’ll actually help their kids.
  • Teens, on the other hand, get it (for the most part). They understand the difference between abusive, oppressive behavior in video games and TV shows vs. how humans are supposed to treat one another. And they don’t want to act like jerks. But they do want to have fun, and they don’t want to spend all day talking about violence. A little conversation about these topics goes a long way with teens.

Now I’m back in my office with the happy realization that teens are already on board for doing violence prevention work―and the even better news is that they’re hipper, more creative, and more tech savvy than we are. They will take the baton and run with it. It’s up to us to pass it to them, even if we feel worried about letting go.

Unite – not for a party but to work

photo via http://www.sideofsneakers.com

I was taken aback by the celebratory reactions to Osama bin Laden’s death. I watched people chanting U-S-A in sportsman spirit and rejoicing outside the White House. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, messages of hate were directed towards Muslims. While President Obama was clear in his message that bin Laden’s death was not an attack on Islam, post 9/11 government policies on immigration and “counter-terrorism” have had a huge undertone of racism.

So were the celebratory chants of vengeance appropriate? Some certainly don’t think so.

In trying to sort out what bin Laden’s death means, I found myself saddened by the “us vs. them” reactions. “Us vs. them” doesn’t get us where we want to go. As Nelson Mandela said upon his release from prison:

We enter into a covenant that

we shall build a society in which all South Africans,

both black and white,

will be able to walk tall,

without…fear in their hearts,

assured of their inalienable right to human dignity

– a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

Nelson Mandela’s release could have caused a backlash for white South Africans. But instead, he urged all South Africans to work together to build a diverse and stronger nation.

In Mandela’s words, I found some clarity. Bin Laden’s death does not mean that we return to a pre-9/11 world. What it means is that we need to move past “us vs. them” and work together.

We have to unite with citizens and immigrants alike in the fight for immigrant rights; and

We have to unite with Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the fight for religious freedom; and

We have to unite with LGBTQ people and straight allies alike in the fight for equality; and

We have to unite with men and women alike in the fight for gender equality and relationships without violence.

Because uniting to protect each others’ rights does not threaten or diminish our own.

New Year’s Resolution

Lately, I’ve been ruminating about sound bite messages – those short, memorable, repeatable phrases that say a lot in a few words.

Sound bites remind us how to be safer on the roads, like Click It or Ticket. And thanks to Michael Pollan’s brilliant brevity, we know to eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

We live in a sound bite world, which is rather unfortunate for those of us working to end super- complicated problems like abuse and rape. We haven’t yet developed clear-cut, resonant phrases to describe how to have loving, safe, and fair relationships.

I loathe seeing complicated issues reduced to sound bites, but why shouldn’t we use strategies that have been proven to work? I recognize that brevity reigns supreme, so it’s my New Year’s Resolution to hop on the sound bite bandwagon.

But where to start?

Google “healthy relationship” and you get pages and pages of text. I’m looking for a handful of short phrases: a to-do list for our daily lives that will move us in the direction of cooperation, liberation, true love.

I’m only on day 4 of my resolution, so I haven’t any brilliant Pollan-esque slogans to offer. I know it’s a tall order, but anyone have an idea?