Sunday, December 27, 2015

Guest post-The Little Red Hen

This post was written by my soul-sister Laura Byrd. Thank  you Laura for your wonderful writing and I hope you all enjoy!

The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite children’s stories.  Just like some of my other favorites, when I reflect further on its meaning, I understand more about the value of the story.  One night while reading, I asked my children what they thought about the little red hen eating her bread all by herself.  One son said, “good for the little red hen, she does not need to share with them.”  My other son said, “Aw, she should share her bread with them anyway.  They look so sad watching her eat that bread.”  That was the start of many conversations in which I became acutely aware of their stark differences.

To me, this is a story about takers.  We all know them; always looking around for what they can get from a situation or what they can take.  They have little awareness or concern for the impact they or their actions have on others.  They have a real block to having any insight into themselves but every once in a while they will express a desire to change.  This can be a seductive glimmer of hope until it becomes clear that it is only because there is something they believe they can take in return.  Expressions of this desire to change become short lived; especially after someone finally figures out they are dealing with a taker.

I appreciate and relate to my child’s sensitivity when he said, “Aw, she should share her bread anyway.  They look so sad watching her eat that bread.”  Unfortunately, I feel less worried about my other child who said “good for the little red hen, she does not need to share with them.”  He will be better equipped to handle the takers of this world.

Some argue the takers are people who utilize government assistance.  In my experience, takers are way too savvy to resort to such measures of taking.  The takers I’m referring to are much more dangerous.  They prey on people’s sensitivities and often blame those from whom they take.  One could also argue that our economy has been built on the savvy of such animals; paying manual workers minimally yet blaming them for utilizing necessary resources.  The culture of poverty is real and does include an entitled attitude, but let’s be clear. The real takers are the ones who have the power to create a new culture and choose not to.

This story is dedicated to all the little red hens.

There once was a little red hen.  One day she found a grain of wheat.  The little red hen asked some animals she thought to be friends, “Who will help me plant this wheat?”
“Not I,” said the cat…”unless you plant it next to this tree that I like to climb.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless of course you plant it next to the cat’s tree.”
“Not I” said the pig, carefully taking direction from the others.

The little red hen thought the cat must really love her to take such interest in where she planted the wheat.  The dog seemed so cheery, she must also know of the cat’s love, so the little red hen planted the wheat next to the cat’s favorite tree.

The little red hen watched the wheat grow.  Soon it was tall and golden.  She asked her friends, “Who will help me cut this wheat?”
“Not I” said the cat…”.unless you pay me for my time.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless you pay the cat.”
“Not I” said the pig as her knees wobbled in fear.

So the little red hen paid the cat for cutting the wheat.  She was so busy cutting the wheat herself, she did not notice that the cat just lounged in his tree watching her cut the wheat all by herself.

It was time to make the wheat into flour.  “Who will help me take this wheat to the mill?”  asked the little red hen.

“Not I” said the cat…”unless you clean up your house.”
“Not I” said the dog…”unless you clean up your house and put my furniture in it.”
“Not I” said the pig…”unless you do exactly as the cat and dog say.”

The little red hen was starting to read and talk to other hens about the situation that saw things differently.  They told her to be careful of the cat and dog and even the pig and not to lose herself or her wheat when dealing with such animals.

So the little red hen decided to take the wheat to the miller herself.  The miller ground the wheat and put the flour in a sack for the little red hen.

Now it was time to bake the flour into bread.  “Who will help me bake this flour into bread?” asked the little red hen.

“I will” said the pig quickly.  So the little red hen and the pig baked the bread together.  The little red hen was comforted by this since she had started to learn that both the cat and the dog’s behavior were not loving at all but controlling and abusive instead.  “At least the pig is a real friend” thought the little red hen.

The entire time the pig and little red hen baked the bread together, the pig tried to convince her to do as the cat and dog said.  She sympathized and even agreed with the little red hen about how it felt to live under the thumb of both the cat and dog, but made it clear she would not speak up for her.

When the bread was baked, the little red hen took it out of the oven.  It looked delicious.  “Who will help me eat this bread?” she asked. 

“I will” said the cat, as he lounged in his tree overlooking the wheat.
“I will” said the dog, as she busily prepared a very pristine nest in the cat’s favorite tree.
“I will” squealed the pig; relieved that both the cat and dog had finally agreed to help the little red hen.

The little red hen was at a crossroads.  Would she share her bread with those animals or eat the bread herself?  The little red hen sat by the fire as the cat, dog and pig pressed their faces to the glass window outside.  She knew they were takers yet somehow still grieved the loss of them.  She longed to return to the days before she found the grain of wheat and pretended not to know the truth. Slowly, the little red hen began to eat the bread all by herself.  She ate as she noticed the anger well up inside of her as she thought about the cat lounging in the tree, taking her wheat while refusing to work.  She felt so empty and found temporary comfort with each piece of bread.  She ate as she remembered earlier times as a child when she felt so sad, confused, and rejected.  She ate as she felt the fear about not being able to protect other little red hens from such animals.  And she ate as she looked at the faces of the animals pressed to the glass window.  When she finished eating she felt so full she thought she might burst.

The little red hen slowly began to feel all those same painful feelings; all the anger and sadness, confusion, rejection and fear.  Overtime she ate less bread and even managed to use the wheat as a source of income for herself.  She found herself ministering to other hens, sharing her story and her pain.  Other hens began to open their eyes to the truths in their own lives.  They felt much comfort from the little red hen who was now filled with so much love and compassion.

The little red hen often wondered if life would get better.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015


When I was a little girl, I remember going out to eat with my family. I was five years old, chatty, and like most five-year-olds, enjoyed taking the hand of an adult and gamboling alongside. To this day, I love that picture of children beside their parents, smiling and happy in their own world.
And their world is good. Adults are to be trusted. They have none of the hardness of the world and all the softness of a hopeful heart. That day, when we left the restaurant, I took the hand of a man I thought was my grandfather. I chatted happily and walked off with this man, not even looking up to notice this wasn't my grandfather until I realized his silence. In that brief moment, I was embarrassed and scared and ran back to my family, who had been watching and wondering what I was doing. They laughed, I sought hugs and comfort and found my grandparents.
Last night, in celebrating the solstice, I took a friend and we arrived late to the bonfire among rather magical mist and stones. We separately, and hurriedly, wrote on a small slip of paper what we wished to let go of...what no longer served us...for this coming year. I didn't hesitate, since an aching awareness has been coursing through me for some time now. I was aware that my situation, my being made an enemy and scapegoat, had reordered everything I thought I knew about people. I realized the places where I had given the benefit of the doubt, where I never believed that people could deliberately be so cruel, where I deemed them wounded instead of angry. The awareness that people exist who actually enjoy the suffering of others is a painful grief, a loss of hope for all of us.
The current rash of cruelty towards fellow human beings in the news seems far away and detached from my own life. I cannot feel as one with people who are hell-bent on dominance, punishment, and destruction of life. But there was a war and it happened in my own circle, in my own life; it keeps going, and it broke me in a way that I have struggled to explain and process ever since.
I used to say it would take a crowbar to open my heart, and that was for good reason. I still cannot fathom exactly why someone would betray a once-beloved to such a degree, what river of anger never ceases to flow, what causes such an extreme compulsion to dominate and control, indeed, to show, on all levels, how you simply do not matter, not even as a mother, what motivates someone to make an enemy out of a co-parent. I cannot understand how the moments of my own life are so casually distorted to fit the purposes of a controlling, angry man and his family. I am condescended to, judged to be lacking credibility simply because I am the narrator of my experience. Whatever the cause of their vitriol, the river flows on, seeking to flood and wreak havoc, and I must adjust.
It made me afraid, this betrayal of trust, this turning of love into hate, this faking of a relationship. If I could so completely be drawn in and, well, utterly duped by a person and a family...if I could give my love and my whole self to a relationship and the building of a family only to be turned against, mocked, and cruelly betrayed...what hope is there?
And so I adjust by returning to the softness of my heart, toward finding compassion for myself, and opening myself to the compassion of others. I realized that my heart is still tender, but the tenderness could be loved, could be open to love. I could not let the lack of integrity of a group of people, whether it is a group hurling their venom towards me, a group seeking to destroy those they do not agree with, punishing an ethnic or religious group, or shooting innocent children in a school, keep me from holding on to hope. These blights on humanity do not define humanity, and someone declaring themselves my enemy does not define me or name my life in any way.
I wrote "fear" on the slip of paper, folded it neatly, and placed it into the fire. I will be open, soft, and vulnerable, in the right places. I will be fearless in my voice, will take chances, will love this hardened, broken world with all my heart and will seek to not add to the brokenness of the world through my own blind spots and humanity, will allow my huge love for my children to be infused with resolve.
Goodbye, fear. I slip my hand out of your hardened, gnarled fingers and into the soft hand of courage.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gift of Compassion

"Maybe you are grieving the loss of someone or something this week. In so many ways, we all carry both sorrow + joy, often at the same time. As we move into this week of Christmas, I pray we resist the temptation to dissect the mystery of our neighbor and instead practice a holy curiosity for the experience of others." -Emily Freeman

For many reasons, I find it difficult to write this. There has been so much to write about my journey, and the things I've learned, and sometimes this learning continues way too quickly.  Lately, I've had another wave of feminist awakening. Not since I read "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess" have I had such a strong reaction and arousal of anger at the condition of women.
I give credit to my Gender and Communication class. The textbook is outlining how language and social constructs affect the position of women. This fits right in to what I've learned with regard to abuse and abusive attitudes towards women. I think once anyone truly learns about how women are still not equal, one cannot help but become a feminist, which, in my opinion, is really a human rights stance and means you oppose discrimination of any kind.
I am always amazed at how cruel some people can be during a divorce situation. From my first divorce, I learned that the suffering situations of other people bring out all the well-meaning, good-intentioned, but often judgmental and overly biased opinions of others. These expressions can be very hurtful, and neutrality brings more harm than good. It's human nature to take a side. As a culture, we love performances. We routinely reward, collectively, people who perform Male Whiteness. We love it when people perform Religion, and Family, and Morality, and Politics. Knowing that a person has another side doesn't quite make sense to us. It causes us to challenge our tendency to put people on pedestals or label them as "good" or "bad". When people are so inherently divided, when they perform "righteousness" on the surface but behind the scenes are acting out "lying", "immorality", and "deceit", we must make a choice about that person, for there is not one person, but two very distinctly different personalities being shown. The show, of course, depends on the audience.
Einstein and Gandhi come to mind. These were great men, who by all accounts, had beautiful, spiritual things to say, and who effected great changes in the world. There is no doubt that they had a heart and a destiny. But Einstein had no heart for his wives. He was terrible at nurturing a marriage relationship, and even gave his first wife a cruel list of requirements for being with him. By today's standards, he was emotionally abusive. How could such a great man, who seemed to have such compassion and wisdom, also be abusive? The same with Gandhi. Perhaps his alienation from his family was based in cultural and spiritual paradigms, but nevertheless, he alienated his family and his sons suffered greatly in their lives.
In this day and age, with so much of the world seemingly falling apart, and so many hateful groups and countries and people proliferating, it is important that we start, on a grassroots level, to think. When we vote, we must think. What is the character of the person who we are voting for? Do his /her actions and words match up?
When we hear a friend's divorce story, we must think. Is he really a victim? Do his words and actions match up? Is he saying he wishes no ill will while inflicting a court battle? Is he saying she is a good parent while withholding the children? Is he saying he cannot pay child support when he is hiding resources?
I have put together a list of some of the things I see bystanders say in a nasty divorce situation, with an emphasis on empowering women who have experienced any kind of abuse, and encouraging empathy.
1. She did things too.
Yes, anyone who is in an intimate relationship will "do things". An abused woman starts to become extreme in her reactions due to the abuse.But she is only responsible for the things she did, not for any established pattern of abusive attitudes and behaviors.  People get the two confused. Any issues after a divorce: financial, parenting, communication, CANNOT be solved until abusive attitudes are addressed.  I am quite certain she TRIED to use all the communication exercises, to cajole, to compromise, to defer, to let go, to stand up for herself...she tried using both sides of the double standards for women's behavior. It didn't work. There is  nothing SHE can do by way of adjusting HER behavior to effect a change in HIM. That is just another way to help HIM avoid responsibility for his actions, and get away from his goal of power-over.
2. But he is so calm and nice, and she is so emotional. He must be right when he says she is crazy.
Congratulations! You've been duped. It's an ancient story: calm, controlled abuser looks better than freaking out, protesting woman. You are believing the side of him that is calm and controlled and cannot imagine that he can be abusive so her reaction looks out of proportion.
If she has been abused, especially emotionally, she is going to look "crazy" since a hallmark of emotional abuse is an abuser doing just what you are buying into:"looking good while doing bad. Similarly, a woman can do everything she is supposed to do but make no mistake: a person she loved has declared war on her and made her into an enemy when she did nothing to deserve that designation. She is allowed to be angry about it. It's immoral, unfair, abnormal, and supremely ridiculous for him to launch attacks then blame her.
3. She should build  him up to the kids.
No, she should heal her wounds, be authentic to herself, and model for her children how a strong woman stands up for herself and does not allow abuse. Their father is not going to provide an example of how to respect a human being, ESPECIALLY if that human being is their mother, so she has to do it for herself and her kids. Dishonesty is never a good thing to teach children.  HE should be addressing his issues and stop attacking the mother of his children. HE should stop modeling "looking good while doing bad".  HE should figure out why he has an overblown need to make an enemy of his ex-wife. HE should stop modeling a double standard:" it's ok if I hate and bully my ex-wife, but if she says anything about it, she is being cruel to me." That makes no sense whatsoever and it is a terrible thing for a father to model to the kids. HE should step up to the plate and be the kind of father who respects the mother of his own children.
If she can't honestly say he is a good father, that is not the same as overtly telling the kids he is a bad father. She simply has to say nothing and just validate her children in ALL their experiences with their father, teach them how to stand up for themselves, appreciate the good things he does, and teach them how to set good boundaries.
4. Oh, it's both their faults. They both have their issues.
 Everywhere else in the world, someone is at fault and has to be accountable. But people want to remain neutral in a divorce so they say things like this. EVERYONE on this planet has issues, but that does not excuse abusive behavior. Abuse is never the fault of its recipient. Again, no issues can be resolved until the coercive control problem is addressed, and honestly, it takes a REALLY special, courageous man to admit his issues and work on them. Most of the time, you have to give up on these men because they will not and cannot change. It's deeply disappointing.
5. The courts would protect a woman. People don't get their kids taken away if they are good mothers, and courts don't give that much custody to emotional/financial/physical abusers.
Family court is not a perfect system. It is true that sometimes justice is done, but often, it is not. In family court, lies are not cross-checked, and often the sympathies and biases of the judge directs the verdict. There are many stories in the news nationwide of children being given to abusers and pornographers and child molesters simply because the woman opened her mouth to protest. People who work in family court say how stressful it is and how hard it is to make these decisions.
Hopefully in our lifetime we will see family courts that are trauma-informed, educated about abuse and personality disorders, and intolerant of financial and emotional abuse.
As the mother of daughters, I am passionate about teaching them how to be a strong woman. But we live in a world where sometimes, it is dangerous for a woman to speak up about abuse and injustice. women are more readily accepted if they perform Male Whiteness (see Hillary).
6. But he complains of how SHE is victimizing him.
This is called "manipulation" and this is where it helps to think it through. Don't fall for bullshit. The man whose parents bail him out of every financial situation, leaving him with the knowledge that no matter what, he does not have to be accountable, who uses family resources to pay for expensive court, stops working to avoid child support, and uses the kids to manipulate perceptions of him and to get to his ex-wife is not being a good father. He will pay for court but not tuition. He will take credit for the accomplishments of his children but not contribute to their success unless it is something he agrees with. If he plays on stereotypes of women as crazy, and twists his choices to appear as if he was the victim, he is going to get your support. Make no mistake, you are then being played. Don't allow yourself to be played. Listen to her side of the story so you can make an honest decision about where you stand. But don't be blindly loyal to dysfunction and inadvertently participate in his abusive attitudes.
7. He still loves her and that is why he is so angry.
No, he is angry because he has a continuing abusive anger problem, not a continuing love problem. Normal people do not keep going with their anger and scapegoating behaviors for years. He invests in anger and subversive attacks because he chooses to, out of a deep and overblown sense of entitlement. Chances are, anger is the only emotion he knows.
8. He's wounded, that is why he is angry. Hurt people hurt people.
This may or may not be true, but it still does not excuse his behavior. It would be like cleaning up after an alcoholic so they never have to face their problem. Everyone has choices about their behavior, and abusers choose to abuse. If he is wounded, then why doesn't he get help and stop hurting others out of his wounds?

Give the gift of compassion this year. Ask yourself if you are inadvertently supporting an abuser, no matter how credible he sounds. Let a woman who has been vocal about her abuse know that you stand with her against his abuse and all acts of cruelty towards another. Ask her what she needs. Listen to her story for the hundredth time. Give the woman (or man) a huge hug for all she has been through!Blaming a victim of abuse, neutrality, and outright supporting an abuser is abuse in and of itself. Bystanders have the potential to do great harm or effect positive change.