Labor Day

Labor Day honors the American labor movement which focused on a just society including social equality and good citizenship. We celebrate the contributions workers have made to the well-being of our country. Is there any better way to do that than to support the labor unions that helped create our prosperity? Among other things, we can thank unions for weekends, the end of child labor, and fairer and more equal wages.

I have never belonged to a union nor do I generally think they are necessary for professionals. However, there are times when we require assistance to use our skill for the benefit of others. For example, staffing minimums have a significant impact on the quality of care provided to patients. If nurses could negotiate evidence-based staffing ratios, they would. Progress has required the work of labor unions and professional organizations to push legislation making it a reality in sixteen states.

I am grateful for all labor unions have done in my life. My mother was a teamster, and my father was a member of the Atomic Trades Labor Council. I remember strikes and picket lines, but I also remember being firmly middle class, having good health insurance, and parents that worked 40 hour weeks. I support all those that belong to unions and look forward to a just society where they are no longer necessary for equality and a living wage.

If you hire a union worker, there is no doubt the works are paid a living wage. If you don’t then it is a good practice to ask what the workers are paid. If it isn’t a living wage keep looking.


Finding Clarke in All Places

When I went to Clarke University to teach nursing I felt I found my soul. I was able to let go and be the person I imagined I was born to be and not the one forged by 20 years of federal rules and regulations. As I taught nursing I learned how to be a better nurse. When I left the spiritual safety of a Catholic university I feared I would regress or in some way have my faith diminished by not being constantly in the presence of those dedicated to freedom, education, charity, and justice. What I didn’t know is that everywhere I go they are present.

Today I went to the Catholic Worker House to help prepare food. It wasn’t the organized preparation we had in St. Louis for the St. Patrick’s meals, but rather the Zen method of taking whatever has been donated and turning it into a tasty and nutritious meal to take downtown to distribute in the park.

One of my tasks was to find the scissors and in the process found Sr. Mary Dennis. She quickly introduced herself and told me she was from Iowa. As soon as I said I had taught at Clarke she beamed and announced she was a Clarke graduate and a Presentation Sister from Dubuque. We talked about our love for the place and what it means to us and promised to talk more over coffee.

I came home to Knoxville, but Clarke and especially the Sisters that helped me with the transition to higher education continue to touch my life and faith. In every city I’ve lived in since I left Clarke I have run into a Clarke graduate and without exception, the one thing they have in common is their love for the place and the life-changing impact.

catholic-worker-logo-1I feel blessed that God sent a Clarkie to Knoxville to live in the Catholic Worker house, care for those that live there, and provide hope to those that are homeless in Knoxville.
Sr. Mary Dennis and the people of the Catholic Worker reminded me that it is my job to carry with me everything I learned from the BVMs. There will always be reminders along the way that we are a community of love and part of sharing that love is recognizing the dignity of every human being. It is the education we have and share with others that helps us develop our gifts and share them. I learned to be free. I will always be free.


A Path to Diversity

I spent most of my career taking diversity for granted. Having entered my career at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC my first supervisor was an African American female. When I returned to St. Elizabeths as a new nurse practitioner my medical director and the supervisory physician was an African American male and in fact, most of my colleagues and those that helped me transition into practice were African American. When I left St. Elizabeths and moved to Tucson, AZ my supervisor was Indian American and my most of my colleagues were Mexican and Phillapino Americans. I had no idea at the time how the diversity I experienced in my early career formed and broadened my perspective. Nor did it ever occur to me that the people with whom I worked would be anything other than close friends.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-career that first experienced being pressured to make a choice based on race. I was not asked to hire a less qualified person that was a minority. I was asked not to hire the more qualified person who happened to be an African American female. I was told, “When she fails, and she will because they all do I will hold you personally responsible.” I hired her anyway and she went on to be highly successful. I thought it was an isolated incident, but I never forgot it.

Diversity is a blessing

Diversity is in harmony with justice, grace, and peace. Diversity should be defended as it is representative of the dignity that belongs to each person. It is the uniqueness of each individual – ethnicity, religion, political views, nationality, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities, age, vocation, and thought – added together that makes a strong and more perfect society. The source of diversity and thus the strength of the society doesn’t come from a state mandate but is the creation of God. If an organization lacks diversity, the diversity created by God, then we are going against the natural order and in so doing are weakening ourselves and our society.

I find myself disturbed by the lack of diversity in academia. Maybe it is the places I’ve been or the limited number of people with whom I’ve interacted, or maybe it is an issue in nursing departments. However, the more I read the literature the more I realize that perceptions are sometimes reality. A quick review of a post by Donna Nelson makes clear that there is a lack of diversity in academia and especially in the sciences. Thomas Pfau implies that while we in academia obsess about academic freedom we are a little less concerned about freedom of speech and certainly diversity of perspective.

What is diversity

Diversity refers to all the ways in which people differ and the effect of those differences on our thinking and behavior. This includes socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, language, gender, religion, and age. A core element of diversity is inclusion, which calls for creating a climate where all individuals are actively engaged, feel safe, and are welcomed. – American Association of Colleges of Nursing

It is not necessary to commit to a substantive definition of diversity and make explicit the normative grounds on which such a definition rests. Diversity is about more than being of different races, ethnicities, or genders or quantifying this many of X and that many of Y. In fact, by adhering to such a definition and quantification one may be missing the attitude of respect that diversity helps to achieve. It may be sufficient to know which affinity group you identify as being important in defining diversity? How would the diversity help you to achieve a more perfect organization or society?

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Socioeconomic Status
  • Nationality
  • Political views
  • Generation
  • Genetic characteristics
  • Abilities (mental, physical, emotional)
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Work experience

It is not sufficient to tolerate others or the practices of others. Diversity is an attitude of respect that must include a  conscious effort to:

  • Understand and appreciate the interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment.
  • Practice mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own.
  • Understand that diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing;
  • Recognize that personal, cultural and institutionalized discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others;
  • Build alliances across differences so that we can work together to eradicate all forms of discrimination. (QCC)

Reading these it is clear that if we practiced this level of respect and did make a conscious effort toward diversity we would be stronger as individuals, organizations, and as a society.

What is getting in the way of diversity

The easy answer is our fear of change, but that is too easy. I believe that the first and primary issue is that we have done a poor job of explaining the benefits and blessings of diversity. We have not made clear the positive impacts on thought, creativity, peace, and justice.

Question: Why did the universe or God put this person in my path? What am I to learn from them and what have I got to offer in return?

The second barrier is the bias in the way we view those that check different affinity groups from the majority. We all have biases, but not everyone lets bias adversely impact decisions. If I am willing to recognize and own my biases it is easier to break down barriers and not let them obstruct desirable and just action.

Question: What biases do I have and how are they impacting my interactions with others? Do my biases prevent me from treating another human being with full dignity and respect?

The third barrier is privilege. Those of us that grew up in the majority have trouble seeing ourselves as part of the problem. We view the world through a lens that has largely lacked discrimination. It is true that women face discrimination when competing with men, but white women are certainly advantaged over African American and Hispanic women. It is also true that some white males have been disadvantaged when competing for jobs as a result of a desire for diversity. However, it is the exception and not the rule. We could walk through every group in this same manner – older/younger, rich/poor, Christian/Muslim, and on and on. The result would be the same. Some groups are now and have historically been privileged and continue to benefit from those privileges which they did not earn, but were given.

Question: What privileges do I have?  How have those privileges made my life easier? Have my privileges resulted in someone else being made worse off?

The final barrier is lack of moral courage. How many of us have seen a more qualified person passed over for the less qualified? There is always a rationale that is offered and too many that are willing to accept the rationale as a reasonable explanation even when knowing that explanation violates our values.

We can and must remain connected to our fundamental values such as respect for human diversity and the need to create and sustain inclusive environments. Those of us who are associated with or work for organizations that have made their diversity and inclusion values public and even published them have an additional responsibility — to call on the leaders of those organizations to reaffirm those values. As Mahatma Gandhi said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

Your values become your destiny.

Five Actions for Diversity officers and Social Justice Advocates – Johnnetta Cole

Question: What are my values? Am I willing to show moral courage and call on my leaders to reaffirm the values of diversity?

Don’t be timid

It takes moral courage and effort to make diversity a priority. If one is to move an organization the first thing to do is acknowledge that people will be uncomfortable and accept that it is necessary for change. There will be no room to be timid.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (Timothy 1:7)


Saint Louis Prays for Peace

If you are a nurse you probably remember the moment you felt the need to care for others. Nursing is more than a job for most of us. It is a vocation that we feel comes from God. Today at the prayer for peace in St. Louis one of the ministers suggested that the loss of public education and poverty results in much of the injustice that exists in our society. I could not help but wonder how many students we price out of nursing by the ever-rising tuition. How many students struggle and fail not because of inability, but because of financial barriers. And, how much inequality and injustice results from lack of access to education?

IMG_1964Standing in the shadows of where Dred Scott appealed to the justice system and found no justice, we joined together in prayer as one human family in solidarity for justice and peace. If we are to realize that prayer it requires that it result in good works and action from the whole community.

We can wonder if our prayers are heard or we can open our ears to hear. “Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deuteronomy  16:20). Are we able to recognize that many in our community are following their consciences to be civilly disobedient to an unjust law? Are we able to say what we can do to address injustice?

Whether we see justice as emanating from God or simply as fairness we should all be able to enter into a civil conversation about the issues and to do so we may need facilitators to help. I think today we meet many of those potential facilitators and they came in the form of Priests, Ministers, and Imams.

Whether the injustice your conscience calls you stand against is the use of force, escalating college tuition, health care for all, or the attack on the public school system you must stand and act. We are all called to pursue justice.

What does God want us to do? Only that we do justice.


Don’t Let Wrath and Anger Define St. Louis

The dignity of the human being is fundamental to a moral society. We often hear that human life is under attack from abortion or the police or violent criminals, but I say human dignity and human life are under attack from wrath and anger. Last night people joined together in a desire to see social change and others joined to support friends and the community. Sadly, the night ended with civil unrest turning to violence and destruction. The morning brought out two kinds of people, those that wanted to help the Delmar Loop recover and those that wanted to throw more stones – not the ones that break windows, but the stones that break hearts, spirits, and incite further wrath and anger. Those that come to help have engaged in the community with courage. Those that throw stones have let their fear and anger control them.

 

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Broken Windows

 

We are created as social beings. How we organize ourselves and how we create and enforce laws directly impacts human life and dignity. It is time for us all (young and old, rich and poor, religious and atheist, majority and minority, liberal and conservative) to consider how the labels we assign to ourselves blind us. We all have a duty to work for the common good and we must recognize that if we fail to protect human rights we are failing in our responsibility as members of a community.

It is not necessary, nor helpful, to stand with the police and against the protestors or with protestors and against the police.  By doing so we are labeling them as one and not many. Just as there are police officers that fail in their duties there are citizens that break the trust of the community. Until we recognize and commit to fixing the breakdown in trust and the failure to be good citizens and good neighbors we can protest every day and not solve any problems. Our elected officials and police can shout from their bully pulpits about being tough on crime and not tolerate violence or property damage and will solve nothing. Indeed all that will occur is further division, further fear, and growing self-righteousness on all sides.

Broken windows are symbolic of our broken society that has lost its moral compass. We see it in the vitriolic posts on Facebook and Twitter that encourage people to hate and fear. There are far too few people willing to engage in a compassionate conversation where one is open to listening and willing to consider other perspectives. We also see it in politicians that forget that they serve the whole community and not just their base. They post things that are clearly intended to incite passions and pit groups against each other. Yet that would not work if we let go of our fears and anger.

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Today, those that love St. Louis came together in peace and love and helped the community to heal. The message of love and support should inspire us all to do better and to be better. We can begin by embracing this message and work together in a productive manner to change the rules on the use of force and address crime within our community that invariably results in confrontations with law enforcement.

It is time to let go of wrath and anger and be a city of peace and love. If you participate in the die in today let your wrath and anger die there. If you are not participating take the time pray for peace and love. Let us commit to compassionate listening today and every day.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults (Sir 27:30-28:7)