September 10, 2015

(roujo / flickr)
(roujo / flickr)

A while ago, I mentioned that I’d found [X]-adjacent to be a helpful category when the X in question was bad.  E.g. rape-adjacent sex (unclear consent) may not break any laws or result in anyone feeling violated, but it makes it harder to identify predators, and it’s good to avoid sex that falls in this grey area.  Catherine Addington extended the idea to brutality-adjacent policing in an essay at AmCon.

And I wondered whether there was a flip side of [Y]-adjacent actions, where Y was a good thing.

Is there any morally good Y such that I would want to encourage people to start doing something that was close to that good thing, but not quite the same, in the same way I’d encourage people not to have ambiguously-consented-to-sex, because I thought increasing the prevalence of the X- or Y-adjacent thing would increase the prevalence of X or Y?

Ross Rheingans-Yoo took a crack at my challenge, offering both a few specific examples, and a general rule for when X- or Y-adjacency is a useful idea to bring up.  Here’s one of his suggestions:

Less Meat Mondays

  • Adjacent to: Vegetarianism

I think this one pretty much speaks for itself; it seems to fit the bill of

[Y]ou wind up wanting to promote the close-to-Y thing, in order to ease the way to really doing Y()

more than it represents an object-level moral good by having people just eat a lower volume of meat per anum. After all, I’ve found that pescetarianism+milk+eggs is a surprisingly not-large deal for me, and so I think that (1) giving people a chance to experiment with it and (2) giving food service providers some incentive to provide non-meat-based options in at least part of their menu is a very clear win.

Essentially, good Y-Adjacent actions are gateway drugs.  They give you a chance to try out a way of living that may sound too scary to commit to, but winds up feeling more natural after you try it out in a weaker or time-limited way.  Or they might make the boundary between Y-adjacent choices and full blown Y blurry enough that you slip from one to the other without making an active change.

But Ross has a good way to distinguish between X,Y-adjacent actions and anything else that’s just a weak version of a stronger action

{X,Y}-adjacent actions are usually at least somewhat per se {harmful,helpful} (or in some cases, risk being so). As Leah points out, though, there are some actions whose adjacency to greater {harm,good} is really their predominant moral characteristic — more so than their object-level (de)merits. It is these, I propose, which it is most useful to talk about as {X,Y}-adjacent actions, since we already have the moral vocabulary to discuss things which are object-level X or Y.

I like this way of putting the distinction!  I still can’t think of that many good-adjacent acts that I’d like to promote, but I think Ross’s typology gives me a better shot at noticing them in the future.



August 13, 2015

(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

Catherine Addington wrote a great piece on police brutality for AmCon (that happened to riff on one of my posts about unadvisable, rape-adjacent sex):

Bland’s death remains under investigation, but the dashboard camera footage of her interaction with Encinia shows the escalation of a warning for the failure to signal into the forceful detention of an epileptic woman. Surprisingly, much of what occurred between Encinia and Bland appears to have been legal, if imprudent. Encinia’s tactics could be called “brutality-adjacent policing,” in which the standard for behavior is the bare legal minimum rather than actively good policing.

The phrase comes from Leah Libresco’s reflection on California’s “affirmative consent” law, which Libresco called an attempt to minimize “rape-adjacent sex”—the “gray area” into which many rape cases fall, in which one partner believes he or she is behaving appropriately, while the other partner experiences the interaction as rape. Libresco continues, “Rape-adjacent sex gives cover to serial predators, who are believed to be the main driver of sexual assaults on campus, since the kind of sex they’re trying to have doesn’t look very different from the sex everyone else is already having.”

Brutality-adjacent policing works in much the same way: the officer believes he or she is behaving appropriately, while the civilian experiences the interaction as brutality. This way of policing gives cover to bad actors, because the kind of policing they are exercising doesn’t look very different from the policing everyone else, “good cops” and “bad cops” alike, is exercising.

I recommend Addington’s piece in full.  Seeing her extend my [bad thing X]-adjacent language got me thinking about where else this concept could be helpful.  I’m pretty confident there are a lot of [Bad X]-adjacent behaviors that are useful to make as such, where the X-adjacent thing gives cover to the really bad X, and is undesirable because it means you could slip into X when you thought you were doing ok, and it makes it harder to identify people who are deliberately doing the bad X.

But I’m wondering what happens if I talk about [Good Y]-adjacent behavior.  Is there any morally good Y such that I would want to encourage people to start doing something that was close to that good thing, but not quite the same, in the same way I’d encourage people not to have ambiguously-consented-to-sex, because I thought increasing the prevalence of the X- or Y-adjacent thing would increase the prevalence of X or Y?

The easiest thing I can think of is pro forma politeness and courtesy, which is sort of kindness-adjacent — you’re doing the thing you would do if you did care for the person, but not out of genuine care for them.  But normalizing the kind thing makes it easier for people to slip into the same pattern and offer something to others (even if not always wholeheartedly).

I’m kinda skeptical of my proposed extension, because politeness may be kindness-adjacent, but it’s far enough away from love that I’m not sure how much I expect people to slip from one category to another.  It fails the “Are you training the skill you actually want?” test — I don’t actually desire a world where doors are held so much as a world where people are sensitive to and wish to support the needs of others.  Holding doors is a knock-on effect of the attitude, but I don’t value it in itself.  Plus, I don’t really want the real Y (caritas) to become indistinguishable in people’s minds from the kindness-adjacent courtesy.

Can you guys think of any good Y for which Y-adjacent behavior is a useful category?  And do you wind up wanting to promote the close-to-Y thing, in order to easy the way to really doing Y, or do you wind up wanting to limit praise for Y-adjacent actions, so people don’t plateau?

February 12, 2015

I’ll be sending the monthly update on my book Arriving At Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers that Even I Can Offer next week, and if you get the email, you can enter a lottery to get an early copy.  

( / Flickr)
(Jeffery Kontur / Flickr)

After I wrote a post on practical questions to ask about consent and coercion (and the way making a habit of these questions can develop your care and compassion), one of my commenters was concerned that telling people how to have sex more ethically is unethical, if I wind up implicitly condoning premarital sex.  Martel wrote:

Leah, I’m just curious as to what you think the point is of analyzing contemporary extra-marital mating rituals, which are gravely immoral on account of taking place outside the bond of marriage? To take an extreme analogy, it’s a bit like discussing the parameters and nuances of how a person ought to go about copulating with an animal. Or, to take a less extreme analogy, it’s like evaluating an ethical situation on the assumption of the validity of utilitarian moral principles: a purely academic exercise of little to no value–unless, that is, it’s intended as a reductio ad absurdum of utilitarianism.

And I’d respond, first of all, that asking questions about consent and trying to lessening the cost of “No” is certainly something married couples can and should think about in their sex lives, but it’s also completely relevant to couples who are going steady (or thinking about doing so) and not having sex.

Thinking considerately about consent, from the “How can I be good to my partner” perspective, not the “What exactly are the limits of what I’m allowed to do?” one isn’t a kindness that should be limited to the bedroom.  It’s a good disposition for all parts of a relationship, including, say, when trying to cajole your wife, Cathy, to attend one of your book release parties (Last 5 Years comes out tomorrow!).

We tend to talk most about consent/consideration in the context of sex, because (a) it’s topical, (b) it has legal ramifications, and (c) for many people, sex tends to feel much more physically and emotionally risky than other “asks” in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean we have no reason to try to develop and deploy care in other spheres of a relationship.

(Lkovak, Wikimedia Commons)
(Lkovak, Wikimedia Commons)

Now, on to the broader question of giving advice that is applicable to premarital sex and isn’t simply: don’t do it.

There are two parts of doing the right thing: one is desiring to do the right thing, and the other is knowing what the right thing is.

A lot of the time, when writing, I’m more focused on the former than the latter.  A desire to do the right thing will spur people to keep reading and thinking and working on error checking their understanding of “what the right thing is” because their desire to behave well/love others properly/etc is strong.  Someone who is asking “Are the costs of my partner’s “No” low?” is cultivating a care for and attention to their partner that should lead them to discover other behaviors to alter, as they become closer and more caritas-y.

In short, on lots of ethical issues, but especially the ones where I think I might be writing to an audience that doesn’t share a lot of premises with me, I want to give my reader a bearing, not a destination.  I want to suggest a habit of thought that is likely to strengthen the intellect and/or the conscience and allow the person I’m talking to to rederive what’s important ethically.  It’s more robust than trying to just hand off rules I suspect they don’t agree with.  For this reason, I’ve frequently recommended some of Dan Savage’s writings to my friends, including Catholic friends who won’t be taking some of his “when it’s ok to cheat” advice.  I recommend him because Savage is good at the rules of inference part of sexual ethics, and he communicates clearly, vividly, and briefly.

One of his best maxims is the Campsite Rule (a must, he says for the advantaged person in any couple with a big power dynamic in play–age gap, professional gap, etc–but encouraged for anyone).  The Campsite Rule is just applying to people what you’ve already been told to do to literal campsites: Leave this place/person better than you found it.

Now, obviously, there’s a big free variable lurking behind “better.”

Someone who just reads Savage’s description of the Campsite Rule or me saying things about “willing the good of a partner” or Kant on “treating people like ends-in-themselves” will still need to work out what “better”/”the good of the partner”/”ends-in-themselves” actually looks like.

The way I think of it is with a computer science metaphor.  Savage and I are giving people a general algorithm and a pointer to where some of the data they need to run the algorithm is stored.  But, when we hand off this rule alone, we’re not checking the accuracy of everything that’s stored under “better” just saying that you need to pull up that list and use it as a criteria when you check how your relationship is going, or whether it’s a good idea to start one.

That can be a massive improvement for someone (let’s call her Alice) who was previously just using an ethical algorithm for looking up whether she was happy (for whatever criteria she stored in her “happy” list) and whether her partner, Bob, was objecting (for whatever counted as enough reluctance to make it to the “objections” list she had stored).

If Alice were my friend, I might have a number of disagreements with the contents of her “happy” and “objections” list — maybe she doesn’t have “silent, but unhappy seeming” as an implicit “objection” that should trigger reflection and is concerned only with Bob’s explicit “No.”  But trying to get Alice to change what’s on her “happy” and her “objections” list would be a secondary priority to getting her to add another list — something more about “Signs of Growth.”  Right now, she’s mostly concerned about enjoying her relationship with Bob, without pushing him over some unhappiness threshhold.  I would want her to add a filter, and to check that her relationship is making both her and Bob more of their best selves.  Which, again, would introduce a new list of what “best self” looked like, and then Alice and I might have some argumentative bookclubs on the subject of teleology.

But it’s a lot easier to argue about the contents of a list once your friend has agreed to create and use one.  It’s easier to talk about what Alice should do to will Bob’s good than to try to sneak it onto her list of what makes her happy, and leave her general outcome unchanged.  Plus, once Alice cares about the “Growth” list, she may wind up discovering criteria that belong under that heading, including ones that I’ve left off my own list due to obliviousness, pride, or acedia.

And then, it’s my friend’s to figure out how to nudge me toward wisdom.

February 11, 2015

Traffic Light Tree, London (Martin/Flickr)
Traffic Light Tree, London (Martin/Flickr)

A friend of mine shared an excellent essay with me on ways to understand consent.  Everyone is pretty familiar with “No means no” (even if the applications of sometimes remind me of what law school friends have sometimes told me about police executing unwarranted searches — in one case, asking if they could search, removing the resident from the premises when he said no and cuffing him, and then asking the open door of the house, not hearing an objection, and walking in).  Still, it feels like more of the writing and discussion I see is about when to go on — is non-objection a yes, is only enthusiastic consent meaningful consent, etc.

In an post titled “Under Duress: Agency, Power and Consent, Part Two: “Yes”” the blogger at A Radical TransFeminist has laid out one of the best, short idea on how to parse consent that I’ve seen; one I’d recommend to my friends as a guide for behavior.  I’m only excerpting the takeaway of the blogger’s point here, but the post includes a lot of thoughtful writing on all the (legitimate) constraints this approach is trying to satisfy.

I suggest a non-binary power model of consent, under which we understand the word “yes” to mean:

I choose to say “yes”, understanding the consequences of saying “no”.

The word ‘choice’ here is not used in a liberal sense and does not imply a free choice; the more punitive the potential consequences of a “no”, the less free the “yes”.

The keen-eyed will see that this is actually not a model of consent. It is in fact a model we can use to comprehend the meaning of consent acts such as “yes”, when made under multiple systems of domination.

Nonetheless, it embraces both the “my yes means yes” of agency feminism and the “yes means maybe means no” of radical feminism. From within the experience of a person asked for consent, we can understand “yes” as the best possible choice in their situation given the possible consequences of a “no”. From outside the experience of the person asked for consent – for example, as a person asking for consent in good faith, or as a bystander – we can understand that the strength of the relationship of this “yes” to a genuine “yes” is in inverse proportion to the severity of the anticipated consequences of a “no”.

This still doesn’t give what some folks seem to want — the equivalence of a whitelist-test for when it’s kosher to have sex, in the way that “no” works as a blacklist, but I don’t think such a thing exists, especially not in the abstract, as opposed to as discussed with a specific partner.

But it gives a general heuristic for how to move your encounters in the direction of the ethical — make saying “no” easy and as close to costless as you can.

For a fictional example: in the Glee episode “The Power of Madonna,” Emma (an adult) is a woman who has never had sex and has OCD that interferes with her day to day life.  She and Will (her boyfriend or fiancé at this point, I don’t remember) are preparing to try out sex, and, when the escalation is uncomfortable for her and she says no, Will respects her no–doesn’t push the encounter–but also immediately totally disengages from her, moving away from her, not touching her affectionately again, etc.

This changes the consequences of Emma saying “No.”

There isn’t a way for her to pause things with Will and continue being physically affectionate for him at the level she’s comfortable with if a “no” to an escalation functions for him as an emergency eject from the whole encounter.  If she could, she might be tempted to grit her teeth and see what she could handle, in order to “not ruin everything again.”

Will, in making her feel this way, certainly isn’t doing anything he’d be criminally liable for, and my best guess is that he’s not intended to be read as deliberately manipulative, let alone malicious.  (Glee’s characters tend to be self-centered, short-sighted, and thoughtless, in order to propel plots, conflicts, and cathartic ballads).

If he thought the whole thing out, Will probably does genuinely prefer that Emma feel more comfortable communicating with him, so that she doesn’t aggravate her anxieties and so that he’s not in a position where he trusted a reluctant “Yes” and wound up upsetting her without meaning to.  But he (and the show’s writers!) don’t have the habit of asking “What are the consequences of Emma saying ‘No?'”

Back to the non-fictional world: an inattention to the consequences of saying “No” was at the heart of discomfort about Elevatorgate (the blogo-brouhaha about atheist blogger Rebecca Watson singling out (anonymously) the man who hung out with her and then propositioned her in an elevator at a conference as an example of behavior that discouraged female engagement with the movement).  Waiting to make your move in an elevator late at night, rather than in the hotel lobby/bar where you’d been talking is raising the possible consequences of a “No” since it’s riskier alone, with no exits than it would be in a semi-public place.

The offending guy here is like Will — it’s totally plausible that his actions were neither deliberately manipulative nor malicious, that he wanted as private as possible a place because he felt shy, or that he didn’t get up the gumption to ask until the last possible moment (helped by the pressure of a deadline).  But, like most people, he may have been thinking mostly about how to make the ask as easy as possible for himself, rather than the pressure he’d place on the askee.

(cc Ed Schipul/Wikipedia Commons)
(cc Ed Schipul/Wikipedia Commons)

Once you’re thinking in terms of lessening the consequences of no for the person you’re hoping says yes, you can do some generally useful things (ask people out in public spaces, don’t tell (or have!) a lot of “but the bitch was crazy” stories, adapt middle school strategies of indirection, etc), but I have one more to add — ask out people you know well enough to know something non-generic about the consequences of their “no.”

The more generic the path to your hookup (take club dancing->sex as one end of the spectrum) and the less you know about your partner, the more liable you are to not have a good sense of “the consequences of ‘no'” and the more limited your ability to parse a “Yes” will be.  And, meanwhile, for your partner, the less they know about you, the more uncertain they will be about what exactly the consequences of saying no will be.

The less two partners know about each other, the easier it is for someone to be hurt or feel they’ve been offered a Hobson’s choice as the result of negligence and carelessness.

October 22, 2014

From Strong Female Protagonist
From Strong Female Protagonist

I’ve seen a bunch of pieces about California’s proposed Yes-Means-Yes law (which only applies to public college disciplinary hearing, not criminal standards), saying that the proposed law, requiring affirmative consent, isn’t realistic.  Sex is too ambiguous for students to be confident, in any given hookup, whether they’re having kosher sex or committing rape in the eyes of the law.

I do believe them that there’s plenty of sex happening now, that isn’t experienced as rape by either partner, that doesn’t meet the affirmative consent standards proposed.  That could include sex where both partners kind of just leapt into the act, not checking in with each other, but not hitting any snags.  Sex where one or both partners was somewhere past tipsy and within sight of “too impaired to consent” but no one pulled out a breathalyzer and both parties felt ok in the morning (aside from the headache).  Sex with coercion/pressure, where one partner didn’t back down after an initial “No” or “I’d rather not” but the reluctant party felt more like someone who’s been guilted into going to a boring party they would have preferred to skip, rather than someone who was violated.

All of these could hit the proposed new definition of rape, without being experienced as rape every time they occurred.  And all of these might be pretty common at present.

The goal of the Yes-Means-Yes law in California is to kibosh a lot of this gray area, rape-adjacent sex.

Rape-adjacent sex means that one partner can think ze is behaving appropriately, having sex as they’ve done it before, while zer partner experiences it as rape.

Rape-adjacent sex gives cover to serial predators, who are believed to be the main driver of sexual assaults on campus, since the kind of sex they’re trying to have doesn’t look very different from the sex everyone else is already having.


The proposed law is one way to engineer a retreat from the gray area and it may well not be the best way, but the strategic withdrawal itself is a very good idea.  Whether you live in California or not, it’s a good idea to take up the mission to discourage gray-area sex, whether using institutional or personal pressure/support.  Here’s one good tool, especially for students.

In college, a number of student groups had a designated door watcher for parties.  This person (or these people, if they were doing it in shifts) were supposed to hang around near the exit of a party and check to see if anyone leaving seemed to be heavily intoxicated.  They were basically doing what Allison of Strong Female Protagonist is doing in the comic featured above (minus the superpowers, and plus some attention to people leaving the party alone who might need to be screened for alcohol poisoning). Not a perfect system, but just posting a watcher (and discussing that you will at party planning meetings) changes people’s expectations a little about what kind of behavior is appropriate.

Another strategy really is just not having sex with people you’ve just met.  If it’s hard to read the tacit, non-verbal signals of a stranger, one solution is to wait to sex them up until they’re not a stranger, proroguing sex until you’ve both had experience reading each others cues in less intimate, intense situations.


Of course, the complaint about these interventions and other like them is that they’ll derail plenty of would-have-turned-out-ok sexual encounters, without offering people another script to use to pursue sex.  That’s the problem one college guy, writing in to The Atlantic encounter, and why the affirmative consent, Yes-Means-Yes policy didn’t feel workable to him, even though he appreciated the intent.  He cited one specific almost-sex with a partner that was short-circuited by the process of confirming consent:

One night I ended up back in a girl’s room after a first date (those do happen in college). She had invited me in and was clearly attracted to me. We were kissing on her bed, outer layers of clothing removed, but when my hands wandered downward she said, “No, wait.” I waited. She began kissing me again, passionately, so again I moved to remove her underwear. “Stop,” she said, “this is too fast.” I stopped.

“That’s fine,” I said. I kissed her again and left soon after, looking forward to seeing her again.

But my text messages received only cold, vaguely angry replies, and then silence. I was rather confused. Only many weeks later did I find out the truth from one of her close friends: “She really wanted you, but you didn’t make it happen. She was pretty upset that you didn’t really want her.”

“Why didn’t she just say so then, why did she say we were moving too fast?”

“Of course she said that, you dumbass. She didn’t want you to think she was a slut.”

Talk about confusing. Apparently in this case even no didn’t mean no. It wasn’t the last time I’ve come across “token resistance” that is intended to be overcome either. But that’s a line that I am still uncomfortable with testing, for obvious reasons.

To me, it seems like exactly the right thing happened.  If the woman was only comfortable having gray-area, rape-adjacent sex, and her partner, not knowing her well, is making an active effort to avoid having sex in that zone, the upshot is that she won’t get to have sex.  That’s a-ok with me.

If guys conduct a reverse-Lysistrata, where they don’t have sex with girls who don’t say they want to have sex, that will turn out a heck of a lot better for the women who are having trouble having their “Nos” heard and honored.

As for the people who don’t want to provide their partners with a clear “Yes,” they can decide which is more important — not acknowledging their own desire or having sex, and they can pick whichever course of action suits them better.


Making an effort to denormalize rape-adjacent sex will involve having less sex, at least during the near future.  I think that’s a pretty good tradeoff for drawing some clearer boundaries, so that it’s easier to identify predators and harder for well-intentioned people to hurt their partners.  During the transition, people can work on how to rescript some kinds of casual, tipsy, or unresponsive sex, and, if it proves very hard to find a new way to have those encounters, it will probably be worth asking if they were kind, compassionate, not-treating-people-as-things encounters in the first place.

September 30, 2014

modern family-wallpaper5

This weekend, when I was hosting a debate on “R: Send Your Children to Public Schools” one of the speakers said she thought the most destructive assumption of the public school system was that children should all be partitioned into same-age groups, moved about in those sets, and that any cross-age interaction is abnormal and disruptive.  (I’ll note that this tends to hold for most non-public schools as well).  Critics of homeschooling tend to bring up worries about “not being socialized” but, as my friend pointed out, the kind of socialization we set up our schools to promote is odd.  And novel.

The Boston Globe would argue that, once we’re out of school, with its age-linked grades, age segregation isn’t de jure (though there are more exceptions than you might expect) but it does remain in effect de facto, with pernicious consequences:

Senior citizens live in nursing homes where they mainly see other very old people, while new retirees now often buy condos in age-segregated communities where younger people aren’t even allowed to live. Adolescents, who in a previous era might have spent significant time around adults while farming, apprenticing, or helping with the family business, spend their after-school hours on social media, talking mostly to one another. It is possible, today, for a middle-aged office worker to go to sleep on a Friday having interacted all week with not one person more than a decade older or younger; the same could well be true for her daughter in college, or her parents living at Pleasant Oaks Village. According to one study, Americans over 60 said that only a quarter of the people they had discussed “important matters” with during a six-month period were younger than 36; if they didn’t count relatives, the number dropped to an astonishing 6 percent.

…Age segregation can even have costs among more closely linked groups. A study by husband and wife anthropologists Beatrice and John Whiting looked at age-mixing among children in six different cultures, and found that older kids who spent time with younger ones learned to be nurturing, while the younger ones learned valuable lessons about how to be part of a system where they were less dominant. Kids who only played with their exact peers, on the other hand, learned to be competitive.

“We have a lot to learn from people who are in different phases of life than us,” said Barbara Rogoff, a psychologist at the University of California Santa Cruz who has studied age segregation for many years.

Rogoff said she is particularly concerned about kids in modern America. People “think of children as having a whole different life than adults,” she said, “but that’s not necessary, or even a common way for children to grow up.” One study, conducted by University of Arizona anthropologist Alice Schlegel, looked at 186 pre-industrial cultures around the world and compared them based on the amount of interaction kids had with adults outside their family. Schlegel concluded that “age segregation was related to features of antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.”

Rogoff, for her part, has compared the relationship between kids and adults living in West Newton and the Guatemalan town of San Pedro. She found that the Guatemalan children spent a lot more time around adults who were doing work, and frequently emulated work in their pretend-play—for instance, making imaginary tortillas out of dirt. In West Newton, Rogoff said, children seldom saw adults working, and time spent with parents was more often devoted to “child-focused activities” and conversations about “child-related topics.” “We’ve overdone it,” Rogoff said. “We wanted to protect kids from working in factories 100 years ago…but we have excluded so much from the life of the community that they don’t feel like they have anything to contribute, and they don’t have as much opportunity to learn.”

One of the suggestions the article makes is blending college towns with senior centers, so that it’s easier for the elderly to audit classes and join the university community.  There are fewer suggestions for how to integrate working adults with the elderly or the young (or even differently aged working adults).  Presumably, some of the urban design discussed by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (strongly recommended) could help get people out of their houses and into relationships with their neighbors in neighborhoods where people do live in mixed-age neighborhoods, but don’t interact.

Personally, I mostly encounter people outside my narrow age range only at church (and that still tends to be brief, “How old are your kids? What a shayna punim” encounters).  It means I see a narrower slice of ways to live than I would if my social circle were more diverse age-wise (or even if the people in my age bracket were a little more diverse in their activities — I have a lot of friends in law school, and only one with a child).  I tend to learn more about what I might be or do when I grow up from reading, with all the bias that method of observation entails, than by interacting with older adults and being integrated into their lives.

Maybe age segregation is part of what drives the popularity of Mommy Blogs.  I like reading Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism (see here for a particularly good post) because it offers me a lens into what it’s like to raise children thoughtfully and lovingly.  It’s not just that I might one day need to know this for my own hypothetical kids, but that I think I learn more about how to interact lovingly with children and just with people by taking a closer look at this particular class of relationships–interactions that don’t crop up naturally in my 20-something life.

At our public schools debate, we wound up having more age-integration than usual, when a mother in my apartment building stopped by and asked if I’d mind if her 12-year-old son sat nearby to eavesdrop.  (We debate on the roof, and they’d apparently enjoyed our debate the previous month).  Naturally, we invited the middle schooler to join us, and he asked some questions and made a speech himself.  If I had been hosting the debate in my living room, rather than one of the common spaces of my building, I wouldn’t have known he was interested, and his mother wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ask.  We all got lucky.

I’d like to rely on luck less often, and I plan to put a little more work into thinking what I can do, within my apartment building, to offer hospitality and to create opportunities for new relationships, with people that my current life doesn’t introduce me to.  Have any readers had luck in fostering community in ten-story buildings?  Or have any clever ideas to try out?

The easiest thing seems to be baking on a weekend, and then putting a notice in the elevator (or just on my floor) that there are fresh-from-the-oven cookies available.  Odder things might include finding a way to be useful to a particular group of people within the building (probably can’t run an Estes rocketry class from an apartment, though).  Your thoughts?



Today is the eighth day of a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux, timed to end on her feast day (Oct 1), which is also the One Rose Invitation Day, sponsored by Imagine Sisters

April 27, 2014

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, which providentially turned out to be the day my friends and I are holding our debate on the Brendan Eich donnybrook.  But, since both faith and works are both required to save us, I’ve also thrown together the NYT Best Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe, so that we can all break bread (or better than bread) together.

(My mother alleges that I’ve put in too many chocolate chips, but I am perplexed by this paradoxical assertion).

But, while I’m occupied with my gavel and the oven mitts, I think I do have an appropriate story for today from church. Some indeterminate length of time ago, I was upset with a friend-or-acquaintance-who-will-remain-non-identifiable.  The person had inconvenienced me in a way that upset me, but, by this point, I was doing much more damage to myself by holding on to anger and resentment than the person-in-question had managed to hurt me in the first place.

I could even recognize that my behavior was counterproductive, but I couldn’t stop my mind from drifting back to my frustration and general peevishness.  I had gone to Daily Mass during my lunch break, which was lovely, but I was still ruminating and disagreeable.

Afterwards, when I was walking out, I saw a gentleman in a Roman collar a little ways ahead of me.  He wasn’t the priest who had celebrated the Mass, but he was priest, and I asked him if I could borrow him for a moment, explained my problem in brief, and asked if he would bless me and pray for me to be delivered from my anger.  Because, at the very least, if I couldn’t stop being angry, I could at least consent to be stopped if anyone else cared to stop me.

Then, as I shook his hand and thanked him, a little old lady, who had apparently been standing behind me, came up to the priest and asked excitedly, “Are you blessing people?  Would you bless me?”

I couldn’t help grinning when I left.  I didn’t exactly let go of my anger all at once, but getting to give someone else the opportunity to ask for help by asking for help myself was a very nice reminder of what I was giving up by holding my resentment so close.  I was exchanging peace for a little bit of security (and unhappiness!) through a petty righteousness.

But the lady who followed me was a nice reminder of how much power we have to be kind to others, and how offering even a small blessing or act of forgiveness may embolden others to ask for more and reveal needs you didn’t know you could serve.

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