Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Hidden Hunger

February 23, 2013 (3/20)

Hunger in America

Recently I attended a county mental health advisory Board meeting. I did not like what I heard: that there is a rising population of the homeless hidden among the affluent. A school administrator reported on how he encounters children every day in his suburban school district who are in need of food and shelter.
 When we hear the word "homeless" we, unfortunately, need to expand our images from the lonely man, chronically mentally ill, who has been discharged from the state hospital 10 years ago.

 Include now working families living out of their cars or hopping from acquaintance to friend for shower and bed. These are real cases in our community. We used to have strong safety nets but with the tea party tenor of the times those safety nets are being ripped asunder.

After the meeting as I drive back to my office I turn on NPR. Synchronistically, I hear being interviewed two documentarians, Lori Silverbush and Kristy Jacobson discuss hunger in America. They have just directed their film, A Place At the Table which airs in March, 2013. They noted that 80% of  the families receiving food stamps (the SNAP program) are working fulltime. In other words, many hard working Americans are not earning a living wage. These researchers also report that there are children in the schools who can't concentrate for lack of nutrition. Our brains do funny things to us when we are hungry, actually starving for the nutrients we lack even if we appear "well-fed". One little girl in the film says she is told to focus but when she looks at her teacher she imagines her to be a banana... She is malnourished. Silverbush and Jacobson cite the term "food insecurity" because the hunger may be invisible hidden in the bodies of those who are obese due to lack of proper diet and nutrition. Cheap and filling food is not usually healthy food.

Meanwhile the expectation is that churches will do it all.I am a Red Cross volunteer and I know how difficult it is to recruit volunteers. Volunteerism can be inconsistent and spotty, and we are all busy! So we expect the homeless and hungry to be cared for with stop-gap emergency measures in the basement of the non-profits. Yes, these are great assets to a community but they depend on volunteers and cannot serve everyone. Moreover, the fact that we need them in the first place is scandalous!

That the need for food banks and shelters is  on the rise is a disgrace in an affluent, developed country.The greatest nation in the world we are wont to say.

We may think, what, whoa, not in my neighborhood! I live in a prosperous county of Pennsylvania, yet on my drive from that mental health meeting, the story of homelessness and hunger was being played out before me. I noticed in the coffee shop I visited, there was a woman sleeping in the corner, big bags at her feet. I thought, hmm, this may be her safe place of refuge for a few hours. Not 15 minutes later, I noticed a man with a burlap sack on his back, other scruffy bags in hand, walking along the road. My guess is that  he is holed up somewhere in the woods between the Mc-mansion housing developments.

Meanwhile, blind to the common good, the Republicans have morphed into the most belligerent and obstinate of patriarchs, aligning only with the plutocrats. Between the wall of gilded plutocracy and the wall of leaden patriarchy, humanity is being crushed.

Remember Wonder Woman? There is a story where she and her male cohort are trapped between two  monstrous steel walls that are closing in on them. Wonder woman, of course, saves the day. But it is not the archetype of one strong goddess we need here to power away the smothering walls of patriarchy and plutocracy. What we need here is the power of the feminine principle infused in all our actions no matter what they are. The patriarchy in its rigidity is sterile callousness; the plutocracy in its greed is inflated hubris. Both can be transformed when the feminine principle of relationship and care and connection is invited in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Diffuse Awareness or Single Focus?

Recently, I consulted at a local bank to do crisis intervention  with the employees after a robbery the day before.My experience at this intervention was not unlike others I have facilitated, particularly one where the young woman assistant manager was considered vulnerable, especially by her male colleagues. However, what I discovered  was that she was the most perceptive and aware, competent and courageous of the team.It was she who safely handled the robbery incident, picking up cues even before the event occurred.Meanwhile the men had sat at their desks unaware of what was occurring.

Again, in the more recent robbery, the assistant manager, another young woman, displayed insight.She too went on the alert early on, as she observed through the floor to ceiling windows of the bank,  two men walking towards the door.She noted her concern to the female colleague stationed at the counter with her. Her colleague agreed with her assessment.As the men entered, the assistant manager pushed the panic button. And then the robbery began with at least one of the men brandishing a gun, demanding money.Another teller, who had been working behind a wall at the drive-through window, entered from the side. The gunman pointed his weapon at her as well.The three women followed the protocol in which they were trained. During the event they were calm and competent. Their traumatic response of crying, tremors, anger, etc, arose after the  robbers left with a  small amount of money and ,fortunately, with no one harmed, at least physically.

While the robbery was in progress, the manager was present and was at a desk focused on some project.Just as in the earlier incident where the men were unaware of  the robbery, so was this man  unknowing of the events that were unfolding.

Two stories do not a truth make, but there is a trend here. And that is about how men and women may meet the world differently. Where women have a diffuse awareness,an open focus, taking much in at once, men seem more focused on one point, one goal at a time.Stereotyped as this might be, it does behoove us to see value in both modes of meeting the  world. One of my father's favorite maxims was"your virtue is your vice." In other words, without balance and moderation , virtue is handicapped.

We have lived in a goal-oriented,"blinders-on"  "man's world" for eons and it has achieved much.However,lost in lopsidedness,there is a dark side to this narrow focus.The feminine principled diffuse awareness brings enhanced perception of the world around us  and allows for the inclusion of care.

Interesting to note that  the women  I interviewed, who have experienced various bank robberies, report worry and concern for the other people in the vicinity of the gunmen. They recounted that they were concerned  for the safety of  co-workers and customers during the events. This concern was integral to their decisive responses to these incidents.What might this imply? Perhaps that feminine principled diffuse awareness  allows us to see the bigger picture of connection and relationship--even in a bank.