Originally Published at The Good Men Project
To Err Is HumanWe live in a country that glories in other people's failures. We demand perfection of our movie stars, athletes, politicians, and business leaders. When they turn out to be human, we hammer them for it. Reveling in the demise of others is the sum total of today's news industry.
Here's a news flash: We all make mistakes--sometimes huge, dumb, and devastating ones. I certainly have. To me the real question is, what happens after you make that horrible mistake?
Rather than taking so much pleasure in others' failings, shouldn't we be rooting for them to get better as men and women, fundamentally changing themselves in ways that show they will not do the same thing again? I am a big believer in the possibility of redemption. The true beauty of humanity isn't in being perfect but in making mistakes ... and then waking up from our stupor and doing something about it.After getting thrown out the house some 15 years ago for being a drunk and a cheat, my now-deceased grandmother--a Quaker woman of great strength of character--told me, "It's not how you fall in life; it's how you pick yourself that counts."
Next: The True Cost of War
---Photo Stefano Mazzone/Flickr
The Human Cost of WarAll returning soldiers have stress psychological stress injuries; it is just a matter of degree. There's no bright-line test for who has PTSD and who does not. The longer-term impacts of the brain damage from repeated head trauma are just now being understood. There have been 2.2 million soldiers in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The RAND Institute believes 20 percent have suffered brain injury. While those injuries vary in severity, research at Home Base (a joint venture between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation) shows that over time, those injuries---which affect roughly 500,000 American veterans---will become much more acute.
---Photo Michael Kamber/The New York Times
Vanishing DadsAccording to the U.S. Census, in 2006, 26 percent of American children live in single-parent homes (22 percent of white children and 48 percent of black children).Nearly 84 percent of custodial parents where mothers. Put another way, 17.8 million children are growing up without their fathers.
Next: Coffee-Savoring Sloths
---Photo Michael Foley Photography/Flickr
But society hasn't completely caught up with this newfound fathering instinct. Stay-at-home dads are often viewed, as ("End of Men" writer) Hanna Rosin recently put it, as guys who live "at a slower pace, picking up contract work, savoring his afternoon coffee." Really? Would we describe moms as savoring their afternoon coffee rather than doing something productive with their lives (beyond raising children, that is)?Increasingly, men view being a parent as their most important role. We should do everything to encourage that instinct, rather than discourage it--and that goes for both sexes.
The Pornification of AmericaPorn is everywhere. It is has driven the development of Internet media and still does from Huffington Post to Gawker. Ask most any teenage boy whether he looks at porn and he will admit without guilt that he does. Why aren't we talking openly about the huge business that is pornography with the profound impact it has on how we think about sex, manhood, and how to treat women?
For a while there it seemed like people cared. In 2001, Frontline did an excellent piece on porn and in 2003 60 Minutes aired a report as well, but since then we seem to have given up on the idea that porn is a story. It's too big, too ubiquitous, too accepted--and yet it is having a huge impact on us all, most particularly our young people. We should be talking about it more than we do.It is not just a matter of the recent dust-up over sexting or the way women are treated in the sex trade, but it goes to our fundamental beliefs about each other as men and women. Is buying and selling sexually explicit pictures and videos the primary way we engage now? I am all for sexual liberation, but not when it reduces everything to a two-dimensional come shot.
Next: Death Penalty
---Photo César Augusto Serna Sz/Flickr
Death PenaltyWe criticize Muslim fundamentalists for stoning innocent people to death for adultery--but is our death penalty all that different?
There have been 267 post-conviction DNA exonerations in U.S. history; 17 of those were slated to be put to death. Seventy percent of those exonerated were black, the vast majority of whom were sentenced by all-white juries based on faulty eyewitness testimony (from whites at the scene of the crime, no less).Source: The Innocence Project
Next: We Are All Immigrants
---Photo Marion Doss/Flickr
ImmigrationSince when did we decide that immigrants are the source of all of our problems?Didn't some of us kill the Native Americans with smallpox and others capture black men and women in Africa and drag them over here? Didn't many of ancestors come to this country from Ireland or Italy and suffer discrimination because our grandparents didn't speak the language or professed the wrong faith--only to rise to prominence? I know plenty of illegal aliens personally, and they work their asses off. They contribute just as much to our country as those of us, like my family, who have been around for ten generations. America's greatest strength is our immigrant heritage. Believing in the American dream means not shunning those who show up at our borders just because we got here first.
PrisonThe United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.
One in 77 adults is behind bars and the U.S. correctional population--those in jail, prison, on probation, or on parole--totaled 7.3 million, or one in every 31 adults. Of the 2.3 million criminals behind bars, almost half are African American and the vast majority are male.
Nearly one in three black men aged 20-29 is under criminal justice supervision, while more than two out of five have been incarcerated. One in 15 black children and one in 42 Latino children has a parent in prison.Our prison population is the sum total of our education, drug, racial, and social policies. By any measure, we are failing.
Next: Gone Learnin'
---Photo Courtesy Stephen Sheffield Photography
Education is fundamentally not about a test. Testing ourselves to death to prove that no one is learning doesn't change anything.
We need is a culture of intellectual curiosity in our country, a culture where learning isn't viewed as a means to some other end but as being valuable for its own sake. And when I say learning, what I am really talking about is intellectual adventure and developing skills of reasoning and debate--the very ability to be informed citizens of the country and the world.
A friend from England recently explained to me that the "A-levels" have for generations determined English citizens' futures. While I still don't buy that we should be testing at all, he told me something very interesting: No part of the test is multiple choice. Whether English, math, or science, the test requires long-form answers and essays where the test-takers prove their critical thinking skills rather than just giving an answer. Therefore, there really is no way to study for the exam or short cut the educational process; you either have developed the intellect to be able to answer long-form and complex problems or you haven't.We would do well to abolish standardized testing altogether and focus on learning itself. Or if we are going to test, do so broadly like the A-level rather than narrowly as with so many of our current tests.
---Photo sean dreilinger/Flickr
Where Is the Love?In politics, on the news, on the Internet, in the streets people are just angry. I walked out into a crosswalk yesterday and nearly got run over by a guy in a late-model Mercedes. I tapped his bumper to say, "Hey, you almost ran me over." He stopped abruptly, got out, and barreled into my chest, shoving me, nostrils flaring, as he shouted at me about daring to touch his car. I told him calmly that the state law is that cars need to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. He continued to push and scream that I should call the police, finally getting into his car and storming off when he realized I wasn't going to fight back.
I was shaken by the experience--not because I was in any real danger (he was smaller than I was) but because of his level of rage. It symbolized for me the same confusion I feel when I witness the hate all around me on the national stage. Like with the guy in the car, it's totally disconnected from any rational objective. That guy wasn't going to get anything good out of screaming at me, nor is the nastiness of anonymous Internet commenters or watching the national news.All I remember is that guy's flaring nostrils. As a country we have flaring nostrils right now. I feel bad for that guy and I feel bad for our nation. What has caused us to become so bitter when there is so much to be grateful for, despite all the challenges we collectively are facing? Shouldn't we be talking more about love and less about hate?
---Photo Robbie Veldwijk/Flickr
Follow Tom Matlack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tmatlack