Sunday, August 28, 2011

"The Help"

My wife, son, daughter-in-law and I saw this powerful movie this weekend. I don't claim to be a movie critic, so won't overly pontificate on the merits and flaws of the movie. I will say that there are a number of extraordinary performances, and I won't be surprised to see Viola Davis's name on the list of Oscar nominees for 2012. 

The story itself, based on the best-selling book by Kathryn Stockett, is one I find hard to shake. (I won't recount it here for the sake of those who haven't seen the movie yet.) My wife was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, and seeing the movie through her eyes made it that much more poignant. My reaction of anger and shame reveals a particular sensitivity to the subject of race relations in American culture -- but we're mistaken if we think this is a strictly American phenomenon. More on that in my next post.

As we whites look at our parents' generation's treatment of blacks, there is a mixture of emotional responses. My Texan grandfather, a barber, refused to cut the hair of blacks or Mexicans. Not all whites were as openly hostile to African Americans; in my wife's Jackson, having black "help" was accepted as a normal part of southern culture. The attitudes of the white employers varied from blatant prejudice and condescension to a much more subtle form of racism. Many black nannies, as portrayed by Viola Davis, were so close to the children they cared for that they were like family. Though it is true that we tread on dangerous ground when we talk in stereotypical terms about that era (the notion of building a separate bathroom for the help, for example, was completely foreign to my wife), we can clearly talk about cultural trends that shift with each generation.
Not all whites were as hypocritical as the movie makes them out to be. Many were sincere, God-fearing families who believed they were doing the blacks a favor by providing them employment. 

"They were doing the best they knew how," we like to say.

While that may be true, it makes me shudder.

It makes me shudder because I can't help wondering what our children will be talking about when they say the same thing about us. I have often wondered about the collective blind spots in our cultures: why did it take so long for us to realize the evils of slavery? Why have women generally had to wait so long for equal rights? Why has democracy still not taken hold in many nations of the world?

But the most sobering question to me is this: what blind spots in this generation will our descendants identify? Of course we are aware that our current world leaves much to be desired and hoped for. But a blind spot is just that -- what is it that is completely escaping our attention? 

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Baby Is Born

After many hours of sitting in my own classroom, so to speak, learning about merchant accounts and all the elements of the back side of the tapestry, the e-book is finally out of the oven.

If I were seeking help and encouragement about a particular subject I was preparing to study, I wouldn't look for a large volume on how to go about it; I would want something concise -- so that's what I've done here.
Part motivation, part practical how-to's, How to Learn a Foreign Language: 7 Tips for Making the Daunting Doable is designed to be a shot in the arm for those who are either considering undertaking a foreign language, or those who have already begun but could use a little fresh perspective.

That word perspective is a huge word in my life. One of the themes of the e-book is the importance of taking the necessary step of lifting ourselves above our cultural assumptions in order to take a fresh look -- in this case, at the language we're tackling -- but it's a principal that applies in all areas of life. 

Perspective comes only when we are willing to loosen our clutch on what we perceive as real and important.

Check out the book for yourself, or forward the information to someone you know who could use a shot in the arm and a little perspective.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Almost out of the oven...

We're almost there -- we just need to make some tweaks to the website where my new e-book will be available. While I'm learning about online shopping carts and merchant accounts, we're getting great feedback and constructive criticism from my test group. Many have said it has made them want to go out and do something crazy like learn a foreign language.

If so, mission accomplished.