Why are Parents Surveilling Their Young Adult Children?

How much Mario Batali, famous chef, and father of two college age sons, do you have in you? Batali in a national newspaper recently:

I still pay for my son’s phones, so they use the “Find My Friends” app, which allows me to track them no matter where they are. If they turn it off, I give them 15 minutes to turn it back on or I turn off their phones. ’Cause if you’re somewhere you don’t want me to know about, maybe you should pay for your own phone.

It’s amazing to me that Batali is not the least bit self conscious about surveilling his sons, meaning maybe you find my reaction more surprising. But before this phenomenon becomes the new normal, let’s “press pause” and think about it a bit.

Some questions for the Batali’s of the world. Why so little trust in your adult children? Was your parenting that bad? How would you have liked it if your parents had used global positioning satellites to keep track of your every move when a young adult? When a young adult, did you have ample freedom to make some important decisions by yourself, including where to go and when? And did you learn anything important from poor decisions? In the end, were you better off as a result of the pre-gps autonomy you enjoyed?

“But the world is a more dangerous place today,” the Batali’s will say, “then when we grew up.” But social science data strongly suggests otherwise. So rampant parental anxiety about their young adult children’s well-being isn’t rational, it’s emotional, which begs a few more questions for the Batali’s. What is your greatest fear? Is it, as I suspect, that your adult children are going to be physically harmed, maybe even die?

How will your technological tethers prevent random bad things from happening? My guess is, and tell me if I’m wrong, the Batali’s can’t quite accept the fragility of life, theirs, and especially their children’s. If we want to truly safeguard our young adult children, we have to ban them from getting driver’s licenses, not allow them to go away to college, and preclude them from being outdoors in public. In addition, we need to strengthen our technological tethers so that we can detect blood alcohol, THC, and nakedness from long distance.*

Last but not least, a suggestion for the Batali broheims and their watched over peers. Scrape together enough money for your own phones. Tell your parents to take their “Find My Friends” apps and shove them. Lovingly of course. Because life is fragile.

* I hope no one in Silicon Valley reads this.

I Double-Dog Dare You

I forced myself to watch this 55 minute-long Frontline documentary on the bike this morning. Pure unadulterated torture. Need a new word to describe it, “depressing” doesn’t nearly do it justice. And yet, it’s incredibly important that we seek to understand how we’ve arrived at this moment.

Postscript: A loyal reader returned serve thusly—Who is getting rich off your student debt? What might we call this evolving genre?

Election 2016-Father-Daughter Dialogue 2

Nice going bubs, you struck a chord with peeps. A couple of conservative friends wonder about my parenting, while one close liberal friend from North Carolina wrote, “You raised a wonderful daughter. You should be proud. I especially love that she uses the word ‘Motherfucker’.” I side with two-thirds of what my liberal friend wrote.* 

Instead of the questions I ended our first dialogue with, I wonder if you could respond to this. 

Ron: You said you watched parts of the recent OJ Simpson documentary. I had a similar reaction to Trump’s victory as I did Simpson’s acquittal. It was surprising, but I found the spontaneous celebration among African Americans in Los Angeles and around the country even more perplexing. How could they cheer a cold blooded murderer? Almost instantly, I realized I didn’t understand their thinking and the onus was on me to try to. More specifically, I was clueless about their deeply troubled relationship with the LA Police Department. Overtime I learned they weren’t celebrating Simpson, instead, they were celebrating the LAPD’s defeat. Finally, someone stuck it to their oppressor. Similarly, after the post-election shock abetted a bit, I realized I didn’t understand Trump voters thinking very much at all. How could the contest be so close that the electoral college eventually tipped his way? I went from “that’s completely incomprehensible” to “Man, I’m seriously out of touch.” But I think the onus is on me to try to understand it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but when I think about your adolescence and young adult life, it seems to me that you’ve been almost completely surrounded by peers very similar to yourself. In high school, most of your friends had similarly liberal parents, were in almost all of the same college prep classes, participated in the same extracurricular activities. Then you guys attended selective liberal arts colleges and continued to be surrounded by smart, mostly well-to-do, liberal peers. I suppose you’ve made some diverse friends at work and in the city, but all of us live segregated lives, not just racially, but politically, economically, socially. How many people do you personally know whose politics are markedly different than your own? How many friends? How many close friends who you interact with on a weekly basis? I feel fortunate to have some close friends who are my political opposites. Sometimes it’s exasperating, but I’ve learned to shift from thinking “How can you be so stupid?” to “Why do you think that way?” Then, the more I learn about how they grew up and their life journey more generally, I start to understand their politics sometimes even to the point where I think their politics are rational given their particular life experiences. Sometimes I even conclude that if my life had somehow paralleled theirs, I’d probably vote the same way as them.

Through specific friendships with a few particular conservatives, I’ve concluded that human decency eclipses partisan politics. I’ve had to acknowledge that many of my political opposites are exceptional parents, friends, people. They’re down to earth, kind, funny, committed to their families, hardworking, a huge net positive in their communities. Dan, who wrote a lengthy heartfelt reply to you is a great example of that. So my questions. Know any Trump voters? Any desire to?

AlisonI wonder if my first response prompted this question or if it came to you outside of that first post. I hope that my anger and frustration would not suggest, somehow, a reflexive lack of empathy for those on the other side of my political views. My entire frustration boils down to a lack of rigorous empathy for people living outside of one’s own experience and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to deny that to anyone else. I’m not always successful in doing so, but it is a process I try to stay continuously and actively engaged in.

The long and the short of it is that no, not many of the people I am close to are Trump supporters. Yes, I would like to know more people who voted for him. Most realistically, I do and plan to continue to take time to read and listen and learn about people who are my political and cultural opposites. I understand that communities I am not a part of, who vote differently than me, are suffering, economically and culturally. 

But, I can understand and empathize with an experience or point of view and still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally. Empathy is not the same thing as forgiveness. The former does not predispose the latter. I want to understand more about what led those who voted for Trump to do so, with my mind open and prepped for the changes that should occur when new information is received. But I also cannot accept that anyone deserves less in life than anyone else and I do believe that voting for Trump imperiled that human truth. He is openly racist, openly misogynistic, openly hateful. I understand that most people do not intend to cause harm with their actions, but the reality of our present situation means that people who have been the subjects of his disparagement are going to fall into harm. Legislatively, culturally, and personally. I don’t disparage the humanity of anyone who voted for him but I do disagree with the decision to vote for him, vehemently and morally.

For a moment, I’d like to step away from your specific question, and address the larger context that it lives in. The question of “How can we better empathize and understand Trump voters?” is an important question, but one that I see taking over the post-election narrative, and I want to push back against that. We need more understanding, full stop. From the left of the right, and from the right of the left. Over half of the country voted for the candidate that did not win. That is a somewhat damning state of affairs for the Republican party and the right should be asking themselves to better understand the lives and struggles of the minorities that overwhelmingly voted against their agenda. In addition, to switch back to the left side of the isle, the fact that the main question being asked is about understanding Trump supporters, and not, “What do we need to do now to help protect the vulnerable?” further serves to erase the marginalized from the national narrative. I am not saying that individual instances of asking this question do this – of course this question needs to asked, and between two white, privileged people like you and I it is especially appropriate – but that as a trend, it does.

Ron: Seems like you jump pretty quickly from “understand and empathize with an experience or point of view” and “still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally.” Maybe it’s too much to ask the most disappointed Clintonistas to take the time to truly inquire into their political opponents’ worldviews. I get that you want to step away from the question in order to “help protect the vulnerable”. And I get that for the sake of my graduate student from Jordan, I need to do whatever I can to make sure DACA is implemented, but I can’t help but wonder whether, at some point, “protecting the vulnerable” becomes paternalistic. I write that, knowing full well in this Day and Age of Hyper-Partisanship, it may cost me the liberal base of the Democratic Party if I decide to run in 2020. More seriously, let me try to pose this gut feeling as a question designed to extend the discussion.

Granted, children living in poverty and victims of sexual abuse, and we could go on and on, need adult advocates like you and me to fight for enlightened public policies that protect them. But what about the Detroit autoworker who lost her job as a result of economic globalization or her autoworker son who makes one-third of what she did ten years ago? Is there a difference between “empowering the vulnerable” and “protecting them”? Where should the agency for more enlightened policy come from? Within historically marginalized communities themselves or sympathetic allies like yourself? Why?

L’eggo My Ego!

That pun will be lost on the youth.

Recently, while training indoors for next summer’s Tour de France, the DVR offered slim pickings, so I ended up watching an ESPN documentary about the mid-90s Orlando Magic. As the story goes, one year the Magic got to the NBA finals thanks to the play of two young superstars, Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Then they got swept by the Houston Rockets in the Finals. The next year they got swept by the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Then Shaq left for Los Angeles largely because he couldn’t stand sharing the spotlight with his increasingly popular running mate. Twenty years older Shaq admits “it was ego” that got in the way of him staying, and realizing, the Magic’s obvious potential for championships.

Then after a couple of championships in LA, he left largely because he couldn’t stand sharing the spotlight with his equally, if not more popular, superstar teammate. Recently, he’s expressed regret that his “ego” got in the way then too. At the end of the film he says if he could do it all over again, he never would’ve left Orlando. He’s also expressed regret for leaving the Lakers when a few more rings were clearly within reach.

In the end, Shaq won half as many championships as he could’ve because he chose to be “the undisputed man” on lesser teams.

Daily it seems, I see examples of the downside of ego, both the more common male version, and the less familiar, female. Granted, more subtle and nuanced examples than the Big Aristotle’s, but still consequential. The challenge is for leaders to combine self confidence with a Buddhist-like selflessness. Whether star athletes, coaches, teachers, principals, pastors, politicians, or businesspeople. Leaders who don’t need credit for what their team’s accomplish. Leaders who let their legacies take care of itself.

Why did Shaq Daddy so desperately need the brightest spotlight? Why couldn’t he share the credit for his team’s success?

Why do we? Why can’t we?

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Postscript. This just in. Adrian Wojnarowski on George Karl’s new book, Furious George. “Truth be told, Karl was everything he said he disdained about all his players, he was all about the next contract, all about the attention, and always about himself over the team.”

 

Election 2016—A Father-Daughter Dialogue 1

If you subscribe to the humble blog you received a link to a post a few weeks ago about my eldest daughter and her friends who were still struggling to come to grips with the U.S. Presidential election. Compared to them, I wrote in the post, I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved. My elaborating on why I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved upset my daughter so much she asked me to take the post down, which I of course did.

A few days later, an important mentor of mine wrote me a tactful but poignant note asking me to consider how my privilege might be preventing me from empathizing with my daughter and people like her who were still bitterly disappointed with the election results.

When I started this blog I wrote that “I’d get some things wrong.” Turns out, I got that right. I deserved Alison’s and Richie’s criticism. Normally, I’m very cognizant of my privilege, but this is a case where I have not been. In hindsight, I should have gone full-Socrates with questions about things I need to understand better.

When I asked if she’d engage in a blog-based dialogue with me, Alison responded enthusiastically. So here’s “Take Two”.

Ron: What are you most angry about? More specifically, who are you most angry with? Why?

Alison: I am angry that, as a country, selfishness and greed were valued more than empathy and compassion. I am angry that the health and safety and dignity of the same people who have always had their health and safety and dignity denied was devalued. People of color and women and gay people and immigrants were told explicitly that their right to life and safety was less important than the distress of Trump voters. I am angry because so many people have fought so hard, have sacrificed and died to make the progress that is now being washed away. Because a group of people are now in power (Trump and his advisors and appointees) who are going to work to restrict women’s right to make choices about her body, to destroy the environment, to cut social services, to delegitimize LBGTQ relationships and identities, to deny safe haven to refugees, to enable the proliferation of guns, and to divide immigrant families.

I am angry because injustice makes me angry. I am angry because seeing my friends suffer and grieve makes me angry. I am angry because the results of this election go against what I believe to be most fundamentally true and essential and against who I was raised to be. I am angry because the elections results weren’t a fluke. I didn’t think it would all add up to a Trump presidency, but I was angry about the way the election was being conducted and reported – the motherfucking false equivalences – as it was happening. I am gutted because Trump was not held to the same standard that Hillary was. Because he was not criticized, was not condemned, was not interrogated. I am angry because Donald Trump is a perpetrator of sexual assault and was not disqualified for that. That his criminal, violent offenses were treated with less interest and gravity than Hillary Clinton using an email server set-up that was exhaustively investigated and found to have no malicious intent or harmful consequences.

I am angry because misogyny was at the core of why Hillary lost and it’s being written out of the story – either by not being addressed or by being denied as a valid argument. I’m angry because racism was at the core of why Trump won and it’s being masked under a veil of economic populism. After being confronted with the most horrifying and overt display of racism and sexism and generalized hatred for anyone not white, male, and straight, this country still does not have the guts to look at our illnesses for what they are. We can’t handle looking our own weakness in the eye. It would be too scary to admit the extent of our sickness, too daunting to face, so those of us with the resources to have strong houses are turning a shoulder against a wind that’s tearing everything else out of the ground and pretending it’s not as strong. This self-serving cowardice makes me furious.

I am fucking furious that poisonous hatred and violent misogyny and racism and xenophobia and homophobia found a stage and a microphone and were applauded. I cry because people who hold these beliefs had them validated on election night. Because they woke up on Wednesday morning strengthened and affirmed in ways that will result in the suffering of vulnerable populations. I laid in my bed on Wednesday morning, unable to get the images I’d seen and stories I’d heard of Trump rallies out of my mind, frozen and scared and horrified in a way that I had never been before. And now I spend my days ricocheting between trying to keep myself afloat, and fearing, above anything else, no longer feeling devastated, no longer being angry. It’s left me stumbling.

The Sunday after the election I went to church. I needed to sit next to other people who were grasping, inside a structure that was built to house prayer, and for someone to tell me that this was all awful, all truly, truly awful, but that we would fight it. The churches in Boystown are great for this. I had spent the night at a friend’s apartment and accidentally thrown away my contacts the night before, so I sat in a pew, unable to see, and therefore feeling less able to be seen, listening to the pastor’s impassioned, furious sermon, weeping. She said a thousand things that I needed to hear, but this is the one that has stayed with me: don’t break ranks with the vulnerable. The advantages of my privileged birth afford me the possibility to turn into my own life, into the comforts I can provide myself, but that is unacceptable. There are people suffering, without such an option for relief, who are shouting as loud as they can that they are afraid. Therefore, the only possible course of action is to stand with them, because we share the same sacred humanity, and because I can not accept that anyone deserves less than another. Do not break ranks with the vulnerableI’m aware I strayed away from the main question, sorry!

Ron: Thank you for not giving up on me! I better understand and appreciate the depth of your anger. In Arizona sometime in early October I think, Trump gave a truly hateful, anti-immigrant speech at a large rally. I challenge anyone to find a more hateful, unAmerican, anti-immigrant speech in the U.S. presidential campaign archives. Truly historic in the worst way imaginable. And yet, it got little play the next morning. Where we may differ is that despite that, I don’t think media coverage explains the election result. I think of the media’s coverage of the candidates like I do bad sports officiating, incompetent coverage of both sides tends to balance out. So that begs the question, what does explain it? Is it too soon to ask that question? If so, when can I ask my next, more analytical question? It’s Saturday, so church is out. Therefore, I’m going to watch the Bruin basketball team take it to the Ohio State Buckeyes while I anxiously await your reply. Despite the swearing, love you as always.

 

Paragraph to Ponder—Trump Downward Spiral Edition

If you’re like me, the worse Trump does, the better you feel about the country’s future. So despite it being gray outside, I woke up Saturday a bit more bullish about things. But thanks to John Cassidy of The New Yorker for the proverbial, political science slap in the face:

“Another argument you hear from Trump supporters, and even from some nervous Democrats, is that the polls might be understating his chances. That could be the case if pollsters are systematically underestimating the likely turnout among groups who like Trump, or they are systematically overestimating the likely turnout among groups supportive of Clinton, or both. It’s also conceivable that some Trump voters are reluctant to reveal their support for him to pollsters. These sorts of things can happen. Look at Brexit. Most of the polls in Britain got that result wrong, partly because their assumptions about turnout turned out to be mistaken.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on O.J. Simpson

I hadn’t yet learned that black people are not a computer program but a community of humans, varied, brilliant, and fallible, filled with the mixed motives and vices one finds in any broad collection of humanity. More important, I did not understand the ties that united Simpson and the black community. When O. J. Simpson ran from justice, returned to it, was tried for murder, and eluded justice again, it was the most shocking statement of pure equality since the civil-rights movement. Simpson had killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. I suspected that then, and I am sure of it now. But he’d gotten away with it—in much the same way that white people had killed black men and women for centuries and gotten away with it.

The essay in its entirety.