Long Time Coming – I’m a Vegan

I recognized long ago that there are problems involved in eating meat. Over the years, I shifted more towards a plant-based diet and tried to pay attention to sourcing and avoiding factory-farmed products. But, I continued to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products even as I recognized that it was not consistent with my values. All the while I believed that I was moving towards a more ethical way of living. Still I ate meat.

And, then there is the environmental factor. During the People’s Climate March in New York, I saw someone with a sign that read “Meat Eaters are Phony Environmentalists”. That stung. I knew it was true. Although I drive a hybrid car, have solar panels on my roof, and contribute to environmental causes, I knew that the most significant change that I could make to reduce my personal carbon footprint was to adopt a vegan diet. Still I ate meat.

There are many conversations with vegans and vegetarians that have stuck in my mind. Despite the opinion of them held by some, I found them to be open and accessible. I explained my reservations and my struggles. I told them of my efforts to shift to a plant-based diet and how I tried to make more of my meals animal product free. They encouraged me. They told me that eating less was good. They did not shame me. But, I knew they were right. And, still I ate meat.

Sometimes, a person just needs the right influence at the right time to make a meaningful change. And, sometimes it is a confluence of multiple influences. For me, the impact was a book – Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy. This wasn’t the first time that I had read books of this type. But, Joy’s discussion of the justification for Carnism impacted me. Specifically, according to Joy, meat-eaters generally justify their diet with the belief that eating meat is “normal, natural, and necessary.” I had used these same justifications myself during the times that I bothered to think about the origins of my food. In the book she sets out to rebut those justifications.

The reason that this argument influenced me so much, though, was because of my observations from another book that I was reading at the same time – Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States. This book, by the way, is phenomenal, and I highly recommend it. It is, however, very long, and I have been reading it very slowly. I happened to be reading about the build-up to the Civil War at the time that I was reading Joy’s book. And, I recognized that these justifications for my diet were exactly the same justifications advanced by those who sought to preserve the institution of slavery.

That shook me up. After making that connection, I knew that I could not continue as before. But, this wasn’t my first attempt at a Vegan diet. I took a stab at it about eight years ago, and that lasted for only about two months. That time, I went cold turkey. This time, I decided to make a gradual transition.

First food to be eliminated was beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat. I also started to cut back on all other animal products, including eggs and dairy, while I started introducing new foods to crowd out what was being reduced. After several weeks, poultry was eliminated. A month later, I stopped eating eggs. And, as of April 7, I have been fully vegan (although I may still eat honey -I’m not entirely convinced about the argument against that). The entire transition took about two months.

Writing this blog article is about all that I plan to do right now to advocate for a kinder and more sustainable diet. I generally avoiding discussing my reasons for this change. I have no wish to judge the decisions of others – it took me many years to make this decision, so I have no moral authority to fault others.

I’m grateful to the many vegans and vegetarians that I know who have accepted me despite my former dietary habits. Whether they realize it or not, they were a significant influence on me. I plan to reach out to some of them and let them know. Maybe some day someone will tell me that I was an influence on them. That will be a very good day for me.

Cheers!

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Does It Count if I Only Read It?

I had never spoken the title and the name of the current occupant of the White House in the same sentence. Never.  It wasn’t anything deliberate at first. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it. I had never written it, either.

It reminds me of a lunch with a conservative friend about five years ago. He was not a fan of President Obama (did you see what i just did? I wrote “President” and “Obama” right next to each other. I just said it aloud. “President Obama” It felt good.)

I noticed that this friend was avoiding Obama’s name. I called him on it. “You can’t even say his name!” I chided. He objected. “I can say his name . . .  [long pause] Obama.” It was visibly painful, but he said it.

That was more than I could do. I could say “President”. And, I could say “Trump”. But, I couldn’t do it in the same sentence. After a few months, I realized that I had never said it. After a while, it became a point of pride. I sometimes bragged about it.

Then, last week, Linda and I were at sitting at the table, and I was reading the newspaper. I saw something interesting and, as I frequently do, I read to her aloud from the article. Just a few sentences. Then I paused. Apparently, the newspaper reporter and editor did not share my aversion.

“Oh, shit. Do you know what i just did?”

“It doesn’t count” Linda said. “You only read it.”

But, I had said it. I had spoken the words “President Trump”. Damn. Now I’ve written it.

Maybe it is time for me to take a deep breath and explicitly acknowledge this reality. I remember an interview of Senator Elizabeth Warren explaining her decision to attend the inauguration. She wanted the image “burned in [her] eyes” so that it would help to motivate her for the work that she knew had to be done.

Last week, I was privileged to be chosen to be president of Hartford Area Humanists, a role I had served before, when the group was first created. In addressing the group at our annual meeting, I appealed to the members to get involved in fighting for Humanist values in the face of an administration that actively opposed those values. I told them that our political times demand that all people of conscience take an active role in opposing this president’s agenda.

I didn’t say the words then, but I’ll write them now. This time on purpose. People of conscience must oppose the agenda of President Trump.

I just read that last sentence aloud. That’s not so bad. It’s that agenda that really hurts.

 

 

Responding to Racism

Earlier this week, I was meeting with a client. She is an elderly black woman. During the meeting, she made an outrageously racist comment about HIspanics (in reference to a dealership employee). Specifically, the employee threatened violence against the client’s brother, and the woman “observed” that Hispanics are prone to violent behavior. I gently pointed out that she was stereotyping, and she immediately backed-off.

Only several days later, when thinking about the current occupant of the White House’s racist comments regarding immigration, something occurred to me. If my client had been white, I think that I would have reacted much more strongly to that comment. I went easy on her. I wasn’t even terribly upset about it at the time.

 I reacted much more strongly when an Alt-Right type made a comment that was far less offensive during a client interview.  He wasn’t the potential client, but he was a close family friend. When I was explaining to the potential client about the problems of forced arbitration on consumers, he responded “Do you mean to tell me that, even though we’re white, they’re treating us like we’re not?”

Yes. It is really ugly for someone to explicitly claim white privilege. That statement presumes that it is one thing for businesses to take advantage of minority consumers but, because he is white, he should receive better treatment.  That is really ugly. But, I don’t think that it is as bad as characterizing an entire ethnic group as violent. At least I don’t think it is any worse.

 But, I responded much more aggressively to this racist statement. I stared him down with harsh, prolonged eye contact, which caused him to state in a diminished voice, “I’m not a racist.” I raised my eyebrows and held the stare for about 5 more seconds. He broke the impasse by excusing himself to smoke a cigarette, and when he returned, he didn’t speak for the rest of the meeting.

Maybe I reacted less harshly to this elderly black woman because of her age or her gender. But I think my more measured response was, at least partially, because of her race. Did I give her a “pass” on her racism because she’s black?

 I’m not certain what it all means, but it certainly raises some provocative questions about race and racism, including questions regarding my own tendencies. Bottom line is that I called her out on her comment. I’m glad that I did. And, I don’t regret that I did so gently.

In retrospect, I now realize that I should have been more gentle with the white man who made the racist comment. In that case, I let my anger control my response. It would have been more productive if I had calmly explained to him why his comments were so offensive to me and tell him that all consumers should be treated fairly, regardless of race. No, it probably would not have caused him to be a better person.

 But, it would have made me a better person.

 

Dilly Dilly

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One of my favorite lines from any movie comes from Smoky and the Bandit. The characters portrayed by Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields are discussing their differences, and the Bandit observes: “When you tell somebody somethin’, it depends on what part of the country you’re standin’ in… as to just how dumb you are.” I was recently reminded of this.

For the past two weeks, Linda and I have been in Key West. Last week, I was hanging at the Hog’s Breath Saloon, one of our favorite places to chill, have a beer, and listen to live music. It’s the kind of place where you can easily start a conversation with a complete stranger.

That’s where I met Jay, who was visiting from Quincy MA with his wife and grown kids. We were about the same age, we’re both from New England, and we both love Key West. That’s enough for a drinking-buddy relationship to form, and Jay offered to buy me a round.

At one point, one of the more colorful Key West locals walked through the bar. We see him every year at Christmas time, wearing a winged Santa costume with a thong-bottom. Jay had not seen him before, and he whispered something in my ear. I couldn’t quite make it out due to the music. Rather than get dragged into a potentially homophobic conversation, I tried to divert, saying, “Yes, we see him every year, usually riding a bicycle”.

Jay then said something else. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded like “Something. Something. Dilly Dilly”. I looked at him quizzically. “What?”

“You, know, ‘Dilly Dilly'”

“What’s Dilly Dilly?”

“You don’t know Dilly Dilly?!!??”  I had obviously displayed unforgivable ignorance.

“No”.

“Sure you do. You know! The Bud Light commercials they show during the football games.”

I could have just told Jay that I’ve been boycotting football for five years. but that would only make me more of a pariah, so, I just told him “I don’t know watch much TV”. Jay was a good sport about it, though, and he even offered to buy another round. But, I could tell that he saw me as someone who didn’t quite fit in. Standing in the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West, FL, I was so dumb that I didn’t know about “Dilly Dilly”.

Linda points out that I’m dumb about a  lot of things when I’m standing in a lot of places. But, at least I’ve been getting out of the house!

Dilly Dilly!

Counting (And Savoring) My Days

Marthas Vineyard Wedding 2016

As I write this in the early morning hours of August 19, 2016, I am anticipating my 20,000th sunrise. No, I have not actually watched 20,000 sunrises, but that’s how many times the Earth has spun around since I’ve been around. .

I was born on November 16, 1961. A few months ago, I had stumbled upon the concept of marking the 20,000th day. So, I found a handy calculator and determined that my 20,000th day would be on 8/19/16, fate willing.  So, I marked today on my calendar. Happily, it is a Friday, and Linda was glad to join me in taking a vacation day.

I’ll save you the math – 20,000 days is a little more than 54 years and 9 months. But, this isn’t midlife crisis time for me. I did that 4 years ago. Over the course of a single year, I turned 50, celebrated 25 years of marriage, and marked 25 years of practicing law. And, we saw Eric, our youngest, graduate from high school and head to college. So, I thought that it was a good time to take measure of my life and think about what was next.

I enrolled  in The Humanist Institute. I had become increasingly active with a local group and wanted to study Humanism in depth. So, I went to Washington, DC for the first session in December 2012. I shared a room with another student, and we discussed our reasons for attending. I told him about turning 50, empty nest, etc., and he said, “Oh, you’re having a midlife crisis!”

Oddly, I hadn’t recognized my behavior as symptomatic of a midlife crisis. I thought middle-aged men in crisis did things like buy fancy sport cars and divorce their wives. I realize now that I was only partially right. That’s how some men (and some women)  react. And, it is really sad. They’re pursuing hedonic pleasures that will not make them truly happy. Fortunately, I had already figured out enough by then to know there are more important things.

Although I didn’t know the phrase at the time, I was more interested in eudaemonic happiness. Realizing that I was much closer to my death than to my birth, I was seeking to live a more fulfilling life by making myself a better person and by increasing the positive impact I might have on the world. Our lives are works in progress, and mine is no exception. I have learned a few things on this journey; I hope to learn much more. I have made some positive changes; I hope to make many more.

For my 20,000th day, I hope to do ordinary things. I intend to do them more mindfully than I have in the past. Today is a day to savor. A trip to the gym. A bike ride. A walk around town. Reading in the park (maybe drink sangria?). And, I will spend some time thinking about how I got to this 20,000th day and the people with whom I have shared this journey. But, mostly, I’ll do ordinary things. Today is a day for reflection, not celebration.

I began this morning with a cup of coffee and a book.   Then, I sat down to write this blogpost. The 20,000th sun will soon rise. I am about to go outside with a second cup of coffee and watch the colors change and the day begin.

Then, I will go upstairs and say good morning to Linda.  Today we will do ordinary things together. And, there is nothing that I would rather do on my 20,000th day (or any other day) than ordinary things – with her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Not Dance on the Grave

  • Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitIt is hard for any liberal
    • (particularly a lawyer) to not contemplate the possibilities upon learning that Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has died in the middle of a court term. I have publicly criticized Justice Scalia in writing and in talks that I have presented. I particularly abhor certain statements that he has made regarding the death penalty.

    Yet, I bristle at seeing so many rejoice in his death. Justice Scalia was a human being. And, notwithstanding my disagreement with most of his stances, he was a public servant. He dedicated his life to jurisprudence, and he effectively and enthusiastically advocated (and as a Supreme Court Justice, implemented) his honestly held views.

    That does not make him an evil person. Does anyone seriously believe that he acted with evil intent? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg certainly does not. She and Scalia were extremely close personal friends. Surely, she is in a better position to judge his intentions than anyone outside of the Court.

    Let us be gracious in our view of those with whom we disagree, even as we are zealous in our diagreement.

     

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Stoic Week 2015

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I first became interested in classic Stoicism after reading Massimo Pigliucci’s column in the New York Times earlier this year.  Stoicism is a philosophy of life that is compatable with many world views, both theistic and atheistic. I find that it blends well with my own Humanist lifestance. Contrary to popular opinion, Stoicism does not entail suppressing all emotions – although it does offer techniques that enable practitioners to constructively deal with negative emotions.

The main focus of Stoic philosophy is on meditation, mindfulness, and the classic virtues (Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance). It is similar in many respects to Buddhist teachings, but it is firmly grounded in the Western philosophical tradition.

Modern Stoicism is experiencing something of a resurgence, as philosophers and medical health professionals are combining efforts to bring the benefiits of Stoicism to a larger audience. The interest of the mental health community is no accident, for Stoicism is the philosophical root of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and  Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, which are considered to be among the most effective treatments for depression and a wide variety of other mental disorders.

Every year, the Stoicism Today project conducts a free “Stoic Week”  to introduce people to Stoic practice and to test the benefits that that Stoic practice brings to the participants. There is no charge for enrollment, but participants are asked to participate in a brief survey both before and after the program so that the organizers can study the results of the program.

As Massimo Pigliucci stated in his column, “Stoicism is simply another path some people can try out in order to develop a more or less coherent view of the world, of who they are, and of how they fit in the broader scheme of things.” While I don’t think that Stoic practice is right for everyone, I believe that many would benefit tremendously from exploring these ancient techniques. If you’re curious, I suggest that you check out Stoic Week to learn more. It starts on November 2, but there is still time to register.