Human Rights and Globalism

Hearing about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at yesterday’s NYU reunion got me thinking. I freakin’ love global movements for peace. And just because I have a global mindset, this does not mean I do not love my own country any less. It reminds me of the hymn, “This is My Song,”

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

Why do people — the pres’s base — hate globalists? Why do they cheer when this president calls himself a nationalist, implying he is a white nationalist? That is so creepy, harkening back to racist days of the kkk, antisemitism, hate crimes.

I understand patriotism, I love my country. But I refuse to accept the notion of nationalism — that one country or race is superior to another. This line of thinking leads to ethnic cleansing and Nazism. And I’m not going to let us go there. On a far less deadly trajectory, I equate our nationalist leader with a teacher who chooses favorites. It is a dangerous slope. A country’s leaders must care for all citizens, not just those who cheer at his rallies. And supporting other countries diplomatically is not a sign of weakened borders but of mutual respect.

I love and wish we would follow the Declaration of Human Rights. It makes so much sense. I also love the United Nations. I understand that it is flawed and bureaucrats are silo-ed and sometimes they talk for the sake of talking and they don’t do enough. Despite its imperfections, the UN is the best international vessel we have for agreeing on rights — such at the prevention of torture.

cvt-stp_640Once I visited the Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul, and the dark paneled walls of this suburban home-like office were decorated with bright quotes from the Declaration of Human Rights. The words comforted me, reminding me of our shared humanity. At that time, about 2005, McCain had crafted legislation, this was during the Bush era, mind you, banning torture. This is why I have always respected John McCain — not that I agreed with him on everything, but I agreed with him, unequivocally, on banning torture.

Well-crafted declarations like the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms our connection across the human race. We are more alike than dissimilar. This matters. We, as a nation, must not impose superiority over other nations or peoples who may appear different than the white males in power. How would we feel if other countries did that to us? We must all work to end intolerance, bigotry, hatred, nationalism — white people, like me, especially.

It is no surprise that having worked at the General Board of Global Ministries or other international church agencies for practically my entire adult life, I would find the term ‘globalist’ inoffensive. Working in tandem with brothers and sisters and all people across country demarcations only makes sense to me. It is my Christian witness — to care for one another, near and far, in their need and/or in their abundance. I want for all of us to be good stewards of our shared earth and our human family.

This Is My Song
Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness

…My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

This post was inspired by Jennifer Butler’s Why Nationalism is Dangerous and Incompatible with Christianity at the Red Letter Christians. Why Red Letter? ‘By calling ourselves Red Letter Christians, we refer to the fact that in many Bibles the words of Jesus are printed in red.’ 


NYU Alumni Weekend

Here are a few quick snapshots from my reunion today down in the Village. This ‘playable actions’ slide, a call to remember our purpose in public speaking, is from a workshop in finding your voice. The leader, Jackie Miller of Be Spoken Partners, reminded us that actors trains for six, eight, ten weeks so when doing public speaking, we should likewise train and be well prepared. The gifts of having an actor’s training with emphases on breathing, posture, focus, all translate well in daily, needed communication skills. Her exercises were experiential and fun. Image-1

This first workshop I attended, basically on disputing fake news, was led by Michael Posner, who runs the first ever human rights discipline in a biz school, Stern School. On the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt) — and on a day like today, with, God help us, a horrible synagogue shooting  — we must know that all humans have rights simply by being human. Rights to worship, learn, be safe. This is the universality of humanity. This is our right.

Posner made an interesting point when he said he used to ask Secretary Clinton at the State Department, “Why do we have an ambassador to Benin and we don’t have an ambassador to Walmart?” After all, he reported, the economy of Walmart is bigger than Chile, and Apple is bigger than Bangladesh.

He also called upon the digital platforms to do a better job of prioritizing information. “The most divisive posts become the most amplified.” We react to emotion — fear and anger, mostly.

“You’re not editors, but you’re prioritizing information,” he would say to those who run search engines and social media. And the companies have a responsibility, to take down, “not just what’s illegal, but what’s not right.” And to call out the bad actors, like Russia, who plays upon a country’s divisiveness.


And, finally, as I was leaving my NYU reunion day, after a lovely breakfast, lunch, and evening party, as well as additional workshops, I saw this message at Judson Memorial Church. It is why I love the village and have always loved NYU. The community opens your mind. Image


I am part of an imperfect tribe in an imperfect world. I am not alone. No one is.

There were several small things that happened during this last week that made me doubt myself, made me wonder if I want to keep teaching, or had the strength to deal with the changes in my family life.

I can look around and feel that I am all alone. It seems that everyone else has it all together.

Then I remember that adage, “Don’t compare your insides to other’s outsides.” I may not look like others, but I can still be okay. I have so much life experience and patience. I know I am an excellent and affirming listener, a good teacher, and a wonderful part of a bigger family.

The things is, in the classroom, I often feel like a policeman. In fact, during this summer seminar on classroom management, one of the leaders suggested to us, new-ish teachers, we must act like the new sheriffs in town. Oy! I think that children have internalized enough of the insecure feeling of “I am wrong. I am not enough. I ought to be punished” Simply listening to and accepting a student (or anyone!) can free a child to be themselves. I suppose that the behavior problems I encounter come along with the hive mind and the group think; boys will, many of them, try to get away with whatever they can get away with. I want to have high expectations and yet be prepared when lessons go awry or boys do not listen well.

My goal is to listen deeply while emphasizing a positive attitude and acknowledging a growth mindset. Listening, accepting, empathizing can free a student to truly be themselves more and to grow in knowledge and understanding. The truth is we are all flawed. We are all human.

I truly believe that instead of acting like the new policeman in town, I should be the most authentic and best me I can be. Not to enforce arbitrary rules but to foster the greatest growth for the greatest number of students.

We probably all, teachers and sheriffs alike, need to step away from our perfectionism, to laugh more, to share our humanity. To realize that our desire to appear perfect keeps us from sharing on our deepest level.

Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield. – Brené Brown

umw run
This was the intrepid crew with whom I ran a 5K a year ago. I’m going to do it again to raise money for United Methodist Women. 

Support me at: MoveforMission5K.marybethcoudal



Group Think

When one of my students complains that they are being singled out for disciplinary reasons and others were doing it (whatever the transgression) too, I say, “Hey, I saw you. And the tallest flower gets cut down. Don’t stand out.” I know there’s something a little nefarious about this admonishment — after all, we want our children to be unique, to stand tall, but, hey, if they take the lead in mischief, I have to call them out and have them cut it out.

Creativity is such a shimmering, malleable thing. You can be creative when you take the lead — for mischief or for good. And you can be creative when you swim against the stream.

I’ve written about the collaborative nature of creativity. But there’s also the solitary work of it. For example, over my lifetime, I’ve worked on several novels. Many times, I stopped midstream on a big writing project because I lacked a tenacity of imagination. Or maybe it was purpose. Or I needed encouragement.

I think what I truly lack, at times, is the comfort of group think . This is why I love a writing workshop. There’s something about our shared purpose. We are all doing something separately, but doing it together.

I once interviewed a biker for breast cancer who said motorcyclists feel this on a long ride. They feel a great sense of purpose, being alone together. It must be biological — why we seek our tribes and want to be together.

When I toured the art studios last week, I met a photographer who captured beautiful pictures of starlings in flight, crisscrossing the sky at dusk. The birds were expanding, contracting, creating patterns. It was almost like they were breathing into formation and breathing out.

I’ve since learned  this is called murmuration. And it is so beautiful.


The creatures cover the night sky — alone together — like artists in studios, bikers on a long ride, or writers in a workshop.

For creative people, sometimes you fly together, sometimes alone. And the trick is feeling empathy for yourself whichever way you fly. And finding beauty in the journey and in the patterns in the sky.

A Spoken Word Kind of Poem

never give up
never stop fighting injustice
a rhetoric of hate is not good for this country
it is not good for any country
it is a dangerous road to travel
tell the leaders — abstain from vilifying the poor and the hungry and the needy
those who need bread and sanctuary
i am grateful when people ask me for help
children innately respond positively to this teacher’s request
“who is a helper?”
our country can be one of helpers not hurters, not fear mongers, but fish mongers
(that reminds me, i bemoan the loss of the charming local stores in NYC)

last night i had a dream of teaching a discussion about race
and gender
and another teacher called a girl a boy
and we all were insulted
and the girl said something wise
and more than half of the kids’ hands went up and i said
You’ve started a great discussion
and I woke missing teaching my high school English class,
the bigger discussions you could have with older students,
where it wasn’t all about getting them to behave but it was about getting them

to think, to share, to build on and from one another — not tear down

i was really into the Starz documentary of American and Me
my childhood friends Nancy Irvine and her mom Mary Ann were in it
they were so good. so honest. so like themselves.
ordinary, extraordinary.
and that is probably why i had that dream.

wanting to be like the dedicated teachers, parents at the school
and I connected with so many of the Oak Park River Forest high school kids
those who were not sure of their place

or those who used spoken word to convey their truths
spoken word was not a thing when i was young
but man, i love the spoken word raw energy, their radical stories of growing up
and finding their voice
i missed all that
and Ms. Stovall’s honest dialogue on race, so cool. so good.
permission to talk about difficult topics — the places and ways we need to grow.
so needed. don’t sweep it all under the rug.
talk about your identity, how you see yourself — your flaws with authenticity.
be an ally. love the human race.
but do not deny that many have it harder than you based on their skin tone.
acknowledge that there is bias – which is different than prejudice
find your space
notice your privilege. we’re not going to get it perfect. but we have to try
we have to strive to live in the community
the neighborhood
the glorious melting pot
with each other

random thought: i miss my kids
but it’s a kind of missing them from an earlier age
and i miss my younger self too
i miss the early days with Chris
for who we are now is not who we will always be.
and i worry
i go down that worry road and doubt the future sunshine

tomorrow might be sunny
it might rain
i’m not giving up
not at all
not me
not today

gotta keep going

put hate away. tell the country’s leader to stop hating on the poor.

we’ll give up another day. until then, we love, we go down a road for justice

When my kids were little, we’d lay on the floor and look up at the Great Blue Whale at the Museum of Natural History. It was as if we were deep under water. I miss those days


Going To the Movies

I don’t know why I loved the movie First Man with Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong so much. Maybe it was the footage of Kennedy calling on Americans:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…

I want to enter a time in this country when we seek greatness through difficult shared tasks and achievements and good old-fashioned self sacrifice.

There’s a weird recurring motif in the movie where Armstrong remembers himself slightly younger with his family, wearing a red baseball cap. What is the symbol of the red hat conveying to viewers? That Armstrong is the America that was once great (as in, make America great again)? However. He places the hat on his infant daughter — and that is my takeaway: children make the world great.

Certainly, Armstrong was amazing, but his era was fraught with divisiveness — as in, the Viet Nam war. There’s a beautiful moment in the film of a beat poet reciting Whitey on the Moon (by Gil Scott-Heron). Here’s a glimpse:

I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)

There is someone sketching for a moment in the film too. And the music is sublime. Science, poetry, art, music — these matter. They must savored, not dumped for the worship of money.

The film’s subject matter inspired me. The moon landing was such an incredible achievement and so many lives were lost to the dream of humans walking on the moon. That dream deferred, that dream now lost. There is also a melancholy I feel when I think about the lack of awe we, as a society, have towards science.

The moon landing still seems so extraordinary. Here we are, a lifetime later, and the achievement cannot be replicated. This milestone was achieved in the 1960s — when I was just learning to walk and when people smoked like chimneys.

And in the film, the spacecraft seems put together with aluminum foil and lug nuts. Every close up of a screw in the hull of the rocket’s interior saddened me, reminding me of the Challenger shuttle’s fiery explosion.

I want to step into a dream of greatness for this country — something great for everyone, not just some. Some step towards an overarching unity. But that greatness must be in the future, not in the past. For the future of our children. And perhaps our greatness will lie in the U.S. contributions to science and the arts. And we will achieve difficult things, and that is why we do them.

I wanted to write today about this simple truth: when you teach, you learn. The other day at school, I taught a lesson in sketching spheres. This was my attempt. 

Free Write and Gratitude

I don’t want to grow old but, you know, like they say, consider the options. One upside to aging? Higher cheekbones. One downside? Lower boobs.

One upside? I tan easily. One downside? Skin cancer — but mine’s basal cell, the least problematic type, so I’m cool with that. I really shouldn’t complain.

The thing I’m really not loving about growing old is the way that you gain one pound a year for 10 years and then suddenly you’re like 10 pounds more than your ideal weight.

But wait, let me remind myself. I have had friends and colleagues, younger than me, who have been diagnosed with cancer. And many survived and a few are no longer around. And they’d all probably remind me to not worry about weight. So seize the day.

I am reminding myself to take nothing for granted. I’m happy today’s problems include:
1. I don’t feel like writing right now.
2. I don’t feel like emptying the dishwasher.

Sure, I sometimes feel sorry for myself. Chris is really having more troubles with his Parkinson’s and the tasks of daily living. This worries me. A lot.

Let me grind my gears back to a place gratitude.

Here’s today’s gratitude list:

  • Citibike – commuted home today although it was cold. It feels so good to sail through the beautiful streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
  • My two good legs — to power the Citibike and take me up and down so many flights of stairs at work.
  • My fitbit — although my battery does not stay charged for as long as it should. (Don’t we all wind down as we age?) I may not have achieved my 10,000 steps for today, but I have been active nine out of nine hours.
  • My beautiful big apartment. It is always a work in progress. But it’s been the perfect place for raising my beautiful family and occasionally hosting the fabulous dinner party.
  • My washer/dryer and dishwasher — true, I don’t feel like unloading the dishes, but, wow, I have clean dishes. Such a gift.
  • Big one here — my kids. Love love love these nerds. As my neighbor upstairs used to say, “Not one is a shrinking violet.” Nope. That’s the way I like them.
  • Chris. Yes, he’s a handful, but we do connect on a deep level.
  • My excellent job — sure, it’s not perfect — I’m far too nomadic, moving from one class to another, but I have wonderful colleagues and generally look forward to going to work every day (and coming home at the end of the day). Several days a week I have to take the little guys to the bus and guess what? On those days, I hold hands with kindergartners and cross them safely. How lucky am I? Kids are hilarious.
  • My writing — whether it’s my journaling or my humorous essays or these half-baked blog posts.
  • My attitude. New York City is known as a FuggetAboutIt kinda place. But actually, most people are cool. They’re just in a hurry. Me? I’m naturally happy-go-lucky.

So, I’m grateful that I’m growing older, that I have my health, that I am loved and that I love well. What else is there? Unloading the dishwasher? Ah, FuggetAboutIt. I’m going to watch TV. Yes, grateful for my TV too.

Snapseed (6)
So many bridges in Central Park. The chipping paint looked like lace on this one.